German war hawks beat the drum for war on Russia
New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party at a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 10, 2021. NATO, with the support of German militarists and arms-makers, are pushing to escalate tensions with Russia. | Olivier Matthys / AP

BERLIN—Political leaders in Germany are using the results of the recent September elections here to build support for the anti-Russia hysteria being pushed now by NATO and the U.S. The armament makers and militarists in Germany are backing the Pentagon’s dangerous push for deployment of military forces around the world, just as they backed positioning of German forces for so many years in Afghanistan and as they back these days placement of German troops in countries that were once part of the Soviet Union itself.

The media here contains constant, often daily warnings about Russian plans for aggression against Ukraine. The so-called Very High Readiness Joint Task Force has cut the time allotted for going into action from seven to five days. What was lacking, however, was any evidence of anything else but the stationing of Russia’s forces within its own borders, while the military forces of 15 NATO countries, including the U.S., Germany, and Britain, conduct annual maneuvers—far from their homes but all along Russian boundaries.

When Sevim Dagdelen, the most militant deputy of The Left Party (Die Linke) in the Bundestag, used the question time to ask what the basis was for the frightening build-up of support for war in Germany, the official answer was: “In this exceptional case, security requirements make it impossible to give you an answer.” Video on TV of Russian tanks sitting near the Ukrainian border shows no activity at all but is used over and over, obviously for lack of anything more convincing. The media’s blood-thirstiest warrior among the newspapers, the Springer company’s Das Bild, printed a map with arrows showing Russian strategy plans. But—oh dear—the name given Lviv (or Russian Lvov) was Lemberg, not used since 1945; they seem to have used an old Nazi-era map (or older). (Note: The far-right Springer Co. now owns the news agency Politico, which seems to be just as alarmist.)

And who is now in charge of German foreign policy? It is Annalena Baerbock, the Greens party leader and always among the loudest in belligerent, bellicose statements against Russia, and now China, too.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at the National Defense Control Center in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 21, 2021. The Russian president recently reiterated the demand for guarantees from the U.S. and its allies that NATO will not expand eastward, blaming the West for current tensions in Europe. | Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

German foreign policy has long been divided between the “Atlanticist” position—all for armaments and maneuvers along Russian borders and in the South China Sea, the more the better—and the commercial position, reflecting the need for trade with Russia and even more with China, its main trading partner. Merkel was caught in the middle. Some in the SPD may also prefer trade and diplomacy to belligerency or war. The Greens leaders (though not all of their grassroots membership) are avid Atlanticists. Baerbock made that clear: “We stand by our responsibility within the framework of NATO and the EU and also for nuclear participation… We have to procure the successor system for the (atom bomb-carrying, VG) Tornado because the conventional capabilities have to be replaced.”

Although a majority of Germans want no military action, a third group, the peace movement, though valiant, is still far too weak and splintered, and currently even sidelined by weekly protest marches by the COVID-downplaying anti-vaxxing crowd, which includes both leftists as well as far-rightists.

The Left Party is not part of the new coalition resulting from the recent German elections. The three “partners” in that new coalition are the Social Democrats of the new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, the Greens, and the Free Democrats. Thus far, the Left Party has been the only peace party with seats in the parliament.

Some in the party, unfortunately, want to downplay Left Party opposition to the placement of German troops anywhere outside of German territory. Among those who would be open to such compromises—compromises that would essentially take away the party’s reason to exist—are a few who would equate Russian President Putin’s placement of troops on his country’s own territory near the Ukrainian border with Pentagon placement of troops all over the world and along Russia’s borders.

The main political parties in Germany also continue to disparage the German Democratic Republic which, of course, went out of existence more than 30 years ago. Some in the Left Party have been willing to avoid challenging these attacks even though the main purpose of the attacks today on the GDR are efforts to discredit not just that country but socialism in general.

The majority in the Left Party seeks to take militant positions against the billionaires, from Krupp or Lockheed-Martin or Amazon to Facebook, Daimler-Benz, and Bayer-Monsanto. The hope is that that majority will see the eventual need to send all of them off to the moon, or Mars, or any other number of choice locations in outer space.

Ukrainian soldiers use a launcher with U.S. Javelin missiles during military exercises in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Dec. 23, 2021. |Ukrainian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

After the German elections on Sept. 26, 2021, it took, as usual, weeks and weeks for the three coalition parties to agree on one program, full of compromises, pledges, and promises and to resolve quarrels over who gets which cabinet seat. The answer to that old question, “Who’s on first?” was clear; Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrat (SPD), became chancellor, after 16 years of conservative Angela Merkel. Finally, on Dec. 8, he and 16 cabinet ministers were sworn in, nine pious ones adding an appeal to the divinity, “So help me God!” while the five Greens ministers and three of the six Social Democrats, including Scholz, decided to risk the job without His assistance.

Pious or not, they were faced by the old truism, “Two’s company, three’s a crowd.” The SPD still calls itself “left” and tries somehow to appeal to workers or at least union leaders.

The Greens, once the party of rebelliousness, still stand for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, opposing neo-Nazis, and far-right xenophobia. But they have grown tamer and tamer. While still playing their basic environment-ecology card, they often cozy up to monopolies who like to talk green but always think first of their bank accounts.

In southern Baden-Württemberg, the Greens’ one and only state governor gets along fine with Daimler-Benz, which is centered there. In Hesse, as junior coalition partners of the Christian Democrats (CDU), they have had no known run-ins with the bank interests centered there in Frankfurt/Main. All the same, the media still classifies those two as “left”—or at least “center-left.”

But the third partner, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), is unabashedly right-wing and pro-capitalist, at least in all economic matters. Despite the fewest popular votes of the three, its good-looking, well-spoken one-man boss, Christian Lindner, has a loud voice, and it is he who grabbed the powerful job of Finance Minister and has taken a no-compromise stand against raising taxes on the super-rich (using the same leak-down arguments relied upon by the right in the U.S. since Reagan). While the SPD and Greens have ties with the monopolies, they occasionally move them to limited concessions, like raising minimum wages, some aid to children, and a few more euros to the jobless. But Lindner and his FDP belong outright to the biggies. Whether the pandemic wanes or worsens, working people, the jobless, the elderly, and several millions with precarious, temp, gig, part-time, and unprotected jobs will have to exert strong pressure “from below” to hinder further stagnation or worse.

Getting back to the Left Party, what explained its disappointing results in the September elections?

The disastrous results (4.9%) have been blamed on all sorts of things, often on the stress by the left-wing of the party on opposing NATO and any deployment of German soldiers abroad.

But far more convincing is the charge by the fighting wing of the party that the major mistake was the dream of many party leaders of becoming the third party in a coalition with the SPD and Greens. This led them to resolutely attack the Christian Democrats, who were never their rivals for votes, but to spare the rod with the Greens and SPD—in hopes of being accepted by them as partners in a new government.

But this did not spoil them at all; if anything it brought them votes which might have gone to The Left. In the election, the Christian Democrats lost and so did The Left, which sadly neglected its two major playing cards—as a militant spokesperson for working people, the jobless, and poorly paid, and as the only genuine party for peace. With the collapse of the war in Afghanistan, it passed up the opportunity to loudly recall: “Only we, alone, opposed that war from the start!” and “We must never again engage in a NATO war or any foreign war!”

More basically, just one major candidate of The Left, co-chairwoman Janine Wissler, hesitantly attacked the whole billionaire-led system. It’s a daring stand, risky, but gaining ground even with young Americans. If matched by a genuine street-for-street fight for people’s rights, it can have surprising results; a Communist woman recently won out as mayor in Austria’s second city, Graz.

The city-state Berlin also had elections on Sept. 26. For five years, it has been ruled by that very same SPD-Greens-The Left coalition which some in The Left dreamt of achieving on a national scale. In vain! But in Germany’s capital and biggest city, the state election results made it logical, arithmetically, to renew that coalition for five more years and avoid upsetting the applecart.

Then how could anyone favor breaking up this ruling trinity? There were some possible reasons. The five past years in government had cost The Left votes; it had dropped from third place in 2016 (with 15.6%) to fourth place, with 14.1%, now behind the Greens, plus a loss of its traditional first place in three East Berlin boroughs. Almost every time The Left manages to join a government coalition, it loses votes in the following election; for protest voters, it has become part of the Establishment.

Now, as the weakest partner, it lost its key cabinet post, Housing—after its disappointing (because greatly obstructed) record in building new apartment houses.

But the overriding issue was the amazing initiative demanding the “confiscation” (though paying for it at market prices) of all housing owned by the seven companies with over 3,000 apartments, especially Deutsche Wohnen, which owned 243,000 of Berlin’s 1.5 million apartments. Members of The Left had outdone themselves to get this initiative on the ballot, collecting 350,000 signatures, while its coalition partner the SPD opposed it and the Greens waffled and dragged their feet. This was the biggest truly fighting step The Left has ever taken.

Protesters attend a demonstration against rent increases in Berlin, April 6, 2019.  The slogan in the foreground reads ‘Stopp Deutsche Wohnen (housing company).’ Voters in a referendum last year ordered the city government to prepare for the expropriation of large apartment owners like Deutsche Wohnen. | Michael Sohn / AP

All Germany was amazed when over a million Berliners voted a resounding “Ja”—59.1%, to 40.9% voting “Nein.” People everywhere, hit hard by rapidly rising rents and fearful of being forced out of their homes (and in Germany, a majority live in rented apartments), hoped the move might spread beyond Berlin. The real estate giants, nearly all foreign-controlled, feared cuts in their big profits and grand gentrification plans and had exerted every possible form of pressure—but lost!

However, the vote was only a requirement to put the matter on the agenda of the Berlin legislature, not to enforce action. And that meant trouble, most clearly in the form of Berlin’s new mayor. Franziska Giffey of the SPD, young, attractive, popular, once a borough mayor in West Berlin, then a cabinet minister in the national government—until it was “unearthed” that, in the 205 pages of her doctorate dissertation,  plagiarism was evident in 76 of them. Goodbye to her degree, goodbye to her national cabinet seat! But, amazingly, she landed on her feet back in Berlin; her SPD got the most votes and she became its first woman mayor. And Giffey, like her party, rejected confiscation. Her plagiarism could be publicly proved; her (and her party’s) ties to real estate interests could not.

Should The Left buckle, accept her flouting of over a million Ja voters, and join again in the city government? Yes, said right-leaning party leaders, who wangled a “compromise”—a three-party commission plus experts to “study the legal and financial questions involved in confiscation”—for a year of deliberation, then report on their conclusions after which further measures could be taken. It was clear to everyone what this meant: side-track it until enthusiasm and activity had subsided, then fully dilute or quietly bury it, i.e. postpone it to “Sankt-Nimmerleinstag” (“St. Neverman’s Day”).

Adding to this, the Left would lose the important Housing department; it gets the departments of Culture, Social Services, and Justice (largely about the prisons). All have importance, but none are crucial or can win back many voters. In a first debate on the question of maintaining the status quo, 40% were opposed. But in a write-in vote of the entire membership, three-quarters of those who took part favored staying in the ruling coalition. And so it will be.

Such differences on the state level reflect the worrisome condition of the whole party. It is divided, partly due to some East-West differences, but also to personal animosities, often paired closely with political views. Two one-time stalwart militants, Sahra Wagenknecht and her husband Oskar Lafontaine, a major party founder, have zig-zagged enough to move them to the party periphery, and there has still not been any open debate as to why the party lost so disastrously in September, and what meaningful consequences—even painful personal ones—which that requires.

A basic question remains: Will the party continue urging some reforms and voting against arms sales and military deployment abroad, but playing down any basic condemnation of NATO and the Pentagon’s dangerous belligerency and unceasing push on all continents for world hegemony while equating this with Putin’s attempts at self-defense of Russia? Will it join the crowd in a continuing disparagement of the GDR, really aimed against socialism in general, or will it take militant positions, opposing the billionaires?

That would require The Left’s support for strikes, for those evicted, for all laid-off and underpaid working people, not only in the Bundestag or state legislatures but at direct ground-level, primarily in the workshops, job centers, offices, universities—encouraging people to have a goal, for which they can fight together, march together, picket together, and also sing together.

The next big meeting of The Left, probably only viral, is planned for February. Perhaps new methods and directions can gain ground—and save the sagging party before it is too late.

 


CONTRIBUTOR

Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled his U.S. Army post in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive, and became a freelance journalist and author. His books available in English: Crossing the River. A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany. His latest book,  A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, reasons for the fall of socialism, and importance of today's struggles.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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