Mon Aug 8th, 2005 at 08:45:08 AM EST
Promoted by Colman: this diary, and the comments in it, are too good to miss.
The Federal Republic is currently expecting a massive shake up of her political system. As many of you are probably aware, national elections are expected for September 18, 2005.
This in itself is unusual. The current 15th Bundestag - the German parliament - was elected for four years in 2002. Under the German constitution, called Grundgesetz ("Basic Law"), parliament cannot be disolved by the chancellor like i.e. the British parliament can dissolved by the Brititsh prime minister at any time of poltical convenience.
The constitution provides for the possibility of new elections, in article 68, but only under very specific and limited circumstances. The chancellor has to lose a vote of confidence in parliament. Then the president can chose to dissolve paliament.
Much of the debate in Germany was focused on the constutionality of the presidents decision to accept a faked vote of no confidence and the chancellors wisdom to go for new elections when he was at 25 percent in the polls. Still Germany's supreme court in Karlsruhe could stop the proceedings, most likely triggering a constitutional reform.
These debates miss the point. Regardless the question whether Germany will vote in September, we are seeing the manisfestation of a change in the German political sphere. I will argue below the break, why I believe these are much more important for the rest of Europe than currently expected.
First, one should have a look at the German post-war history. Particularely at the development of the political party system - which is the real "wunder" of the post-war period. The development of Party systems are always closely related to the economic, cultural, regional, religious and ideological factions of a society at a specific point of time. Another important element are age groups in the political elite.
Some Party systems also tend to live longer than the conditions that created them. Some parties may adapt, some dissappear.
With respect to the Federal Republic of Germany, founded in May 1949, we can see something rather surprising. After a period of 7 years, a stable party system was created whose basic elements survived until today. This was an enormous achievement.
Take a look at the West-German society: 30 percent of the polpulation were still living in agriculture. The war had been lost and most of the main cities were destroyed - though the industrial infra-structue remained intact. The population of this second republic had only a few years ago been the the population of a totalitarian state. This society had just committed the worst crime in history by sending millions to the gas chambers and shooting other millions - let alone the slave laborers and the 3.8 million soviet soldiers starved to death on purpose. How to build a democracy with that kind of society?
Another important point is, that due to the loss of one third of the former Germany's territory, 13 million (!) refugees added to an already needy population of around 45 million.
It is a defining moment, that at this point of time 3 main partys developed: the christian democrats (CDU) and the social democrats (SPD) plus the tiny Free democrats (FDP) - a mixture of classic liberalism and nationalism.
Both the christian and the social democrats intgrated the right and the left of the German political spectre. With the Bundestag as the political arena, they managed to create an accepted and trusted political system, based on a stron federal level and weaker but not unimportant states ("Länder"). The important thing is that no radical or revanchist party developed.
Due to the worldwide economic upturn, the "gilded age" (E.J.Hobsbawn), the massive growth of industrial production managed to provide more than enough jobs for the workforce. At least on the econimic level an integration of the refugees from the east took place and neutralised their potential political influence to an acceptable degree.
Additionally, the first parliaments did not only pay off the Reich's debts - reestablishing Germanys financial credibility, but they also shifted the direction of the German ideological spectre "west-ward": Towards European integration, international organisation. Another important element was anti-communism and massive hostility against the East. Also, they created the German social system.
More than in most countries the social net in Germany is linked to the nation building process. It was the core element, providing legitimacy to a new political system and creating a new state-citizen relationship. This may be important information for those who are always fast at calling for cuts: this goes to the very heart of the acceptance of the German poltical system as a whole.
One other point: those who are argue in the current debates on Iraq that Germany is a positive example should note that all those positve democratic discoursed where there in Germany at least since the failed revolution of 1848, but were always countered by a conservativ cultural/political/ecnomic power structure. With this struture delegitmised in 1945, those old tradiotions got through. just for the record.
Under the Leadership of the conservative CDU, Germany lived through economic prosperity and cultural backwardness. This was not a happy land. And change was about to come in the 60s. Among the best things the U.S. did to Germany, was to send Elvis Presley on military duty to Germany. Because in the 60s, when Germany's middle classes were developing and for the first time youth was growing up with significant economic resources, rock and pop music hit Germany like and cultural tornado and wouldn't be the same since.
The Late 60 saw a generational change in the German electorate and a cultural change as well. Thus in 1969 an coalition of young urban voters, new urban middle classes and the old working class (already breaking up - but still there), voted for the first social democratic government on national level. This is the second important development, because it came with a cultural change of the political discourse and with a positive and progressive model of reform. The athmosphere of these years provided for a new generation of political leader - now coming from the middle classes. They believed the situation in Germany could be changed more drastically, they fought against the war in Vietnam (the defining moment for all of them) and most of all, the believed the social democrats did not deliver.
So, within the SPD and outside in the New social movements, like the anti-war movement and anti-nucleat energy movement - all of those able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people - new political concepts developed and a new generation of political elites started to emerge.
At this time the to main parties were still representing destinctive social and ideological groups of th German society. The exemption being Bavaria with is conservative, catholic, bavaran political party, which was allied to the conservatives on the Federal level.
Now, at the end of the 70s, the Social democrats missed the point to intgrate the new social movements into their structures. The Greens were created: A party based on cultural and ideological representation and not so much attasched to distinctive social groups. They are the only new political formation that managed to enter parliament in 1983. And they are probably the most successfull party of the last 30 years. The pushed their issues: ecology, womens rights, human rights and so on right into the center of the political arena. Suddenly everyone had to talk about green issues. Politically, they have been so successful, they actually are no longer politically necessary and are desperatly trying to develop a new profile somewhere in the dubios "center".
Anyway, the 1980's saw a new conservative government and in opposition a mixture of social democrats and greens and people engaging in social movements. The important issue with respect to the topic here is that at some point the memberships of the parties stopped to regenerate. They started to lose their represenative function to a growing part of the electorate. Voters moved more quickly from one party to another. Call it progress, call it crisis of legitimacy: the party system was starting to lose the contact to society on a very structural level.
In 1990, Germany was about to vote for another parliament. All available polls show that the coservatives under Helmut Kohl were to be thrown out of power. This actually triggerd a rebellion within the CDU, which Kohl killed, thus berobbing the CDU of most of its intellectual figureheads. More important though, the Communist East collapsed economically and within a year East German socialist dictatorship was transferred into 6 new states within the German Federal Republic.
This was pushed theough before the elections, guaranteeing Kohl a victory. He stayed in power for another 8 years. This time, 16 Million people arrived in more critical economic conditions. West-Germany was a fantastically rich state. It has been able to power 1.5 trillion Euro into the new states. Look at the situation of infra-structure, social services and income in Poland or the Ukraine in comparison and you can see what has been achieved.
Again, these 16 million people had no place in the political system, they were practically forced to align themselves to a political system that wasn't desdinged by them. At the same time, the fragmentation of West Germany's social and idological formations continued. The East saw over 90 percent of the workforce to change their jobs. Imagine a whole nation to disappear. All rules changed and no more certainties. The fertility rate went down to nearly 0 in the years 1990/91. Imagine 5 states in which no child is born. This shows the dramatic extent of the transformation.
One new party was added to the system: the former socialist party of the East entered parliament and due to the charismatic talent of its chairman in parliament and a very stron social formation in the East the managed to be elected into the Bundestag for 2 more terms. The PDS tried to be a socialist party for all of Germany. But this could not have been successfull.
Those who might have been attracted to such a party were still betting on the great generational project of the western politcal left: a coalition of the SPD and the Greens. And it happened in 1998.
The thing is that most underestimated the dramatic ideological changes in the social democratic leadership and the extend to which the party was only an empty hull. Schröder formed a power base based on charism, not on concepts. He was elected with a mandate for change, but the change he was about to brung over his country was not the change, his voter wanted.
Future historians may judge his political substance, but one thing I blieve is sure: Schröder perfectioned the pseudo-presidential chancellorship. Parliament lost its role as the center of political debate.
Under his leadership, his party broke into pieces, with 150.000 people leaving it. Generally it can be said that within the last 7 years, the lowest number of people in the history of the Federal Republic has felt represented by any of the political parties.
It was interesting to watch the social democrtatic elite pushing through an agenda which lead to one election defeat on state level afer another. 11 in a row, and still, they didn't an inch.
The elections of 2002, were supposed to be pivotal. But the red-green coalition managed to pull a victory based on its stance against the war in Iraq and the - overlooked - complete failure of the conservative candidate. Thus what we are experience now, is a delayed 2002 election: The difference is that people are even more disaffected of the political system as a whole.
The nation is less than 2 months away from an election and no one cares. The next election will probably mark the end of a political generation that dominated German politics for 30 years. Also, it will mark the end of a political project.
The real story of this election has so far been the foundation of a new pary the "Leftist PartY" (Linkspartei) of which I have to admit I am a member. It is a coalition of socially conservative groups in the East, young disaffected middle class students and the groups of the Unions and former SPD members.
Anytime a new party shows up and is at 12-14 percent in the polls within a week, one should be very cautios because it indicates serious instability. And this is never positive.
Currently, there is a certain feeling of emptiness in the politcal sphere.The whole system seems to suffer a burn-out sydrom.
The problems are alarming: Germany is getting older, Unemployment is high, inflation adjusted wages did not rise for 15 consecutive years.
But for me the upcoming election will mark the point when the German party system finally and officially lost their representative function. They all became small power factories. They are trying to appeal to charisma, and charisma only.
If charisma is the last resort of power in a democracy, it is a danger to the democratic formation of a society as a whole.
I fear, a lot of taboos will be broken: First, Germanys pro-European stance will get in trouble over the accession of Turkey, which at the same time will force the ethnically German population to face the issue of integration of ten million migrants, many of them of Turkish origin. Second, liberties within will be lost. I believe it will take progressive forces in Germany 10-20 years to recover from the loss they are about to suffer - or already suffered. With or without social-democratic ministers in a conservative government.
The next 10 years will be interesting - and not in a good way.
As a historian I know how acadamically inappropriate the approach hear is, so I admit: this is my narrative of what is happening today. A diary, in the true sense of the word. Not cross-posted anywhere.