Mon Jun 18th, 2007 at 05:05:51 AM EST
bumped by Jerome. An appropriate title and diary after the left's much better than expected showing in France's elections yesterday...
[Friday], the union of the East German PDS party and the West German WASG movement into the hard-left Left Party (Die Linkspartei or just Die Linke) became final and official.
On the occasion, Guido Westerwelle, head of the (neo)liberal FDP party, warned of a left swing (Linksruck), declaring that people must choose between - you never guess it - freedom and Socialism.
|Infamous "Red Socks" campaign poster from 1994, with socks symbolising all left-wing parties.|
Meanwhile, a top industrial council member of that last textbook example of the West German consensus model of capitalism, automobile maker VW, resigned his post in course of that firm's corruption scandal.
For details, sail below the fold.
What is the Left Party?
One of the forerunners, the Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus (PDS, Party of Democratic Socialism) was the heir to the East German monopolist party SED. Among former East Bloc post-'communist' heir parties, it takes up a rather special position, owing to developments forced by a special circumstance: in re-unified Germany, while it was firmly established regionally, it was damned to permanent opposition status federally.
PDS was formed by the Party's idealist reform wing, but took up a lot of old unreformed cadres. However, it also successfully integrated left-alternative youth groups, and had some charismatic leaders that helped to project a new outward identity.
In the time of chancellor Helmut Kohl, the paradigm was to treat them as extremists as or more dangerous as right-extremists, despite no calls for armed overthrow of democracy and no party activists beating up capitalists on the street or hanging them on lampposts. (But, you know, the Overton Window had to be pushed right...) This meant in practice that the Constitutional Protection (a special internal security institution with secret service powers, one created after WWII with the aim to prevent another defeat of democracy by its own tools like Hitler's) kept PDS under observation for more than a decade -- but found nothing incriminating.
PDS established a stable voting base consisting of a fourth-third of East German voters, but couldn't break through in the West (see comments in this diary on its federal election success). But in a number of East German states, it could get into government in coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD). I note that while the PDS sought to appeal to a lot of hard-left people, and earned some credit with actions like say spearheading anti-far-right local initiatives; in government, they showed so much pragmatism that they have been attacked even by some of the tamest hard-leftists: for consenting to some neo-liberal 'reforms' and austerity packages.
|The co-heads of the Left Party: former SPD heavyweight and WASG 'star' Oscar Lafontaine (left) and former PDS 'star' Gregor Gysi. Photo from Stern|
The Wahlalternative Arbeit und soziale Gerechtigkeit
(WASG, Election alternative Labour and Social Justice) started out as an association of mainly West German leftists displeased with the 'reforms' of chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrat(SPD)-Green cabinet. They came chiefly from the SPD.
For the 2005 elections, there was a sudden movement, also pushed by some prominent politicians, that PDS and WASG should join forces. While the two groups had very different backgrounds, and both PDS's cadre and a large part of WASG's base had serious misgivings about the other bunch, the pressure was so strong (and the potential to get into parliament so tempting) that they managed to at least form an election alliance. It was a tricky construction in which PDS renamed itself Die Linkspartei.PDS, and took up WASG people as candidates.
While the coup successfully propelled them into parliament, ever since, there was a big battle over an actual merger. Some local branches, like the Berlin WASG and PDS, failed to cooperate even in local elections. But this spring, the party congresses of both parties voted for the merger, and today it's official.
The neolibs fight back
As we saw before and after the Bremen elections, the very existence of a viable hard-left party moves the discourse left (moves the Overton Window), and we also saw how the other side took notice on the pages of the Financial Times.
In terms of shifting public discourse, consider that currently, the Grand Coalition members are in clinch over social issues like kindergartens, and that the boss of the SPD (no member of the party left wing) publicly accused the CDU of "neoliberalism". The shift also involved private TVs doing shows in which a reporter tries to survive on the reduced long-term job/social benefits granted by the infamous Hartz IV law.
This time, the FDP (Party of Free Democrats), a liberal party with long West German history that included coalition governments both with CDU and SPD, but currently the advocate of the most dogmatic neoliberalism, held a party congress just at the right time. On the congress, party boss Guido Westerwelle's speech focused on attacking the Left.
For those unfamiliar with German politics, Westerwelle is a bland yuppie who gambled to gain votes by being unserious but hip and controversial -- the Spaßpartei = fun party concept --, but some far-right-skirting escapades and corruption scandal of his second hand, who in the end committed spectacular suicide (didn't open his parachute on a PR jump) collapsed that dream, after which he switched to the current line. (However, in that he wasn't the pioneer, his predecessor started it. Back in 1994, the campaign slogan Partei der Besserverdienenden = party of higher-earners brought them big losses, but the party changed, and so did Anglo-Saxon-worshipping upper-middle-class public opinion...)
Westerwelle went into full attack mode.
|Ich will nicht, dass die geistige Achse dieser Republik verschoben wird in Richtung Gysi und Lafontaine||I don't want the intellectual axis of this republic be pushed in the direction of Gysi and Lafontaine|
He spoke about "Neosocialism". About democratic socialism, he told he is against the "reanimation of a mouldy corpse", and called the term a "self-contradiction like vegetarian slaughterhouse".
Westerwelle also attacked the main parties, that is their pre-emptive reaction to the left swing, and accused the CDU of social-democratisation(!). He said the CDU no more fits as pro-freedom counterweight, and accused Merkel of presidential governing style.
And then the slogan-like talking point came:
|Deutschland muss sich entscheiden, ob es mehr Sozialismus oder mehr Freiheit will!||Germany must decide if it wants more socialism or more freedom!|
He upped the idiocy by calling his party the only real counter-power of the middle. Middle??? Since when is the party of the better-earners the middle? And a reformist push not extreme? Westerwelle should look for self-contradictory terms much closer to home...
Endnote: the social liberal side of FDP is not totally dead.
Former high-profile presidential candidate Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger [CORRECTION: the candidate for federal president was another left-liberal, Hildegard Hamm-Brücher, in 1994; but in a 2004 internal row, S. L.-S. was the leading voice demanding an own candidate for the FDP instead of supporting the CDU's neolib candidate, Horst Köhler] held a speech appealing for a focus on equal opportunities, she said that it doesn't suffice to "set only on the growth powers of the market".
A corruption scandal showing the German model in crisis
The so-called German model of cooperative capitalism essentially encompasses the cooperation of unions and management in directing companies, with the state sometimes helping as negotiator. Both the CDU and the post-WWII SPD was a believer in this. Car maker Volkswagen (VW), which was a semi state-owned company of Lower Saxony state (from where Schröder came), was an embodiment of the system.
However, the German model didn't just suffer from the neolib assault and the naive America-mania of both managements and public, but internal rot, too. I see the chief failure in the corruption of supposed workers' representatives.
Like another German flagship, the today much more Anglo-Saxonised Siemens, VW is plagued by a series of corruption scandals involving top union and work council members. Those already netted include the author and name-giver of the infamous Hartz-IV law, VW human resource manager Peter Hartz, as well as an SPD member of parliament.
Now the scandal forced the resignation of Günter Lenz, who was at the same time the work council head for VW's utility vehicle branch, a member of VW's oversight board, and a member of the regional parliament for SPD.
He is under investigation for visits to brothels on company money.
The accusation comes from an also netted human resource manager. Lenz denies the accusation. However, earlier prostitutes have confirmed his story in the case of the top work council man, Klaus Volkert -- who now sits in prison. The payments for the prostitutes were approved by Hartz himself.
|Those were times: top work council leader Klaus Volkert and top human resource manager Peter Hartz in the same car. Photo from Auto Bild|