War and profiteering hurting German workers and the national economy
German politician Sahra Wagenknecht sits down during the presentation of the party 'Buendis Sahra Wagenknecht - fuer Vernunft und Gerechtigkeit (Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance - Reason and Fairness) at the Federal Press Conference in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024. The high-profile German opposition politician on Monday formally founded a new party that combines left-wing economic policy with a restrictive approach to migration and other positions that some observers believe could take votes away from the far-right Alternative for Germany. | Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP

BERLIN—Looking down from my window onto Berlin’s broad Karl-Marx Allee boulevard a week ago Friday, I saw hundreds and hundreds of green tractors moving in two disciplined lines towards central Brandenburg Gate. Similar lines all over Germany were angrily protesting government measures, based on budgetary or ecology concerns, but which cut farm income, especially for struggling farmers.

Hostile placards on the tractors denounced government ministers; a few added makeshift gallows with their names. On Monday they converged for a giant national protest.

In an overlapping action, a three-day railroad engineers’ strike demanded a 35-hour week for shift workers, with no cut in pay. Freight traffic was hit hard, also New Year’s vacationers and urban commuters, with city transportation lines sharply curtailed.

Small private lines settled, but unless the semi-independent state railroads and the powerful union can agree, a longer stoppage is due.

Last month 80,000 state employees—kindergarten teachers, office secretaries, garbage collectors—walked out briefly and won wage hikes. Even doctors closed down a few days to support medical assistants. And this Friday truckers drove together through Berlin with their demands.

Things have really been stirring after those rough, tough COVID times, with signs of new militancy trying to keep pace with prices on meat, cheeses, fruit and vegetables.  Or the upward bubbling of gas rates at the pump!

Bills getting bigger fast

Bills for home heating and electricity were climbing frighteningly, and  before the usual  fireworks had died down on January 1, medical insurance rates had edged upwards. Spreading hospital privatization, now at over a third, meant 34 hospitals going bankrupt last year, especially in rural areas, while medical staff are still short despite the influx from Asia or Africa.

(I felt this personally while awaiting diagnosis for my broken rib!) The minister of health, facing loud opposition to his plan to rate rural and urban hospitals according to service levels, fled debate on this flop with a minor sidetrack issue – on cutting health insurance support for homeopathy treatment.

In the schools, with PISA results sinking, overworked, over-bureaucratized teachers are quitting overfilled classrooms while college students, though public universities are tuition-free, must still shell out an average € 900-1000 a month for fees, food, books and, first of all, a room—if they can find one.

Worst of all, while gentrified housing blossoms alongside grand high-rise office buildings, nearly a million affordable new homes are desperately needed but only a pitiful fraction are being built. High taxes, interest problems, costly material, strict regulations and bureaucracy are blamed.

Actually, affordable housing offers too little profit and thus lacks foxy, well-heeled lobbyists. Though not like in the U.S., evictions are increasing; so are the ranks of those sleeping in the streets and sad lines at free food pantries, which can often not meet demand.

Somehow, no one dares recall the giant GDR housing programs, with no profit worries, and tenants paying less than 10% of their income, with evictions forbidden by law. No one slept in the streets. And food pantries? Unknown!

But halt! I must avoid a one-sided picture of one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Joblessness is not all too high, much of the population lives relatively well. But things are very patchy in the East and raggedy around all the edges for pensioners.

Immigrant or single-parent families, even when not hungry or cold, face worries about the prices, predicted recession and their children’s future. A majority disapprove of the disunited, seemingly helpless coalition on top and turn to tractor marches or, 22% of German voters, to a hungrily eager Alternative for Germany (AfD), now in second place nationally but leading in all five East German states, mostly at over 30%, with three, Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg, facing elections in September.

AfD leaders avoid visible goose-steps or raised arm salutes, but old uniform colors often peek out from correct business suits. Their leadership in small-town soccer teams, fire and police departments and local festivities causes prosecutors or mayors to either go along—or set up cameras around their homes.

Thus far all other parties have kept to a seemingly irrevocable taboo against coalitions with the AfD. But since its shocker victories in a small town, two rural counties and then for mayor in oh-so-picturesque Pirna on the Elbe (pop. 40,000), some Christian Democrats are reconsidering.

The exposé of a secret hotel meeting of AfD men, neo-fascists, businessmen and two Christian Democrats devising plans, “after victory,” to expel millions of “foreigners” from Germany got huge media attention. Quasi-official anti-AfD rallies were quickly organized in many cities, also at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

Their rejection of xenophobia was impressive, and inspired debate on whether to seek a court ban on the AfD or stick to the ballot boxes. But somehow, amidst genuine fears of AfD gains (and resulting damage to Germany’s reputation), some like me could not forget decades  of German politics intertwining with war criminal corporations and banks.

Or influential far-rightists like Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the Federal Office to Protect the Constitution from 2012 until 2018, when he over-exposed himself as a too close friend of the AfD and had to be ousted, just one of multiple such scandals. Or the polite, even friendly TV opportunities for AfD spokespersons.

A mysterious meeting

In fact, there were even questions about that mysterious meeting, which lacked convincing evidence. Was it just possibly timed—like recent big rallies against anti-Semitism—to deflect or counteract a new, progressive wave moved by the devastatingly frightful pictures of a wrecked Gaza and a million present-day refugees?

The anti-AfD rallies edged out nearly all reports on the annual Luxemburg-Liebknecht memorial walk and march on Jan. 14 and the international Luxemburg conference the day before. The former was troubled again this year by a nasty baton and pepper spray set-to with the police, evidently because some marchers dared to use the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which is semi-officially verboten except when Netanyahu uses it to describe Israeli aspirations.

The conference, again organized by the leftist daily Junge Welt, was bigger than ever, with participants from all over Germany (and elsewhere) and as always a spoken message from the radio-journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, framed and imprisoned in Pennsylvania without a fair trial since 1982. But this year’s conference, though totally agreed on opposing the three-party “traffic-light-coalition” government (nicknamed for the party colors green-red-yellow) and the “Christian” opposition, displayed sharp disagreement on German leftist politics.

Hardly represented if at all were the “reformers,” the ruling element in the LINKE party, symbolized by Minister President Ramelow in Thuringia and those in coalitions governing Berlin until they and the Greens got kicked out. They are the ones who dreamed that by “getting along” with NATO just a little they might some day be able to join a national government.

They rarely engage in militant fights “in the streets,” cultivate ties with a few union leaders but all too rarely with working people. They stress the rights of immigrants and refugees but then worry about gender punctuation and the history of patriarchy.

It has been their compromising, denounced as “opportunist selling out” by some, which caused desperation, with many leaving the party and some hoping for a new, truly leftist, socialist party, one which recalled the names and perhaps a few of the teachings of mentors like Marx (and even Lenin).

Many saw Sahra Wagenknecht’s decision to break with the LINKE and form a new party as a fulfilment of such hopes. She was popular even in wide circles of conservative West Germany; the media often invited her (with 2-3-4 opponents) because she attracted viewers.

She wanted no compromises with NATO and while condemning  Putin’s march into Ukraine (as required) she explained it as basically a defense against continuous, mounting USA-NATO advances. And she attacked the total economic break with Russia, which was causing Germany’s sharp downhill slide and largely represented a kowtow to U.S .economic pressures, always aimed at preventing any German-Russian coexistence, seen in Washington (or Wall Street) as contrary to their goal of world hegemony.

She also stressed the fight for German workers’ gains (while dismissing gender-debates as a distraction by professional or academic sectors of the LINKE). At last, said many; a party they could join with heart and soul!

On Jan. 8, Wagenknecht and nine other Bundestag members quit the LINKE caucus and founded a party temporarily named Sahra Wagenknecht Bündnis (Alliance). This left the LINKE one delegate short of the requisite number for a caucus, thus reducing its speaking time, cutting rights to question ministers, to committee memberships and, sadly, cutting finances, meaning firing up to 100 staff members – aides, researchers, advisers, secretaries who may well  become jobless. As for the ten who quit, including Wagenknecht, they remain Bundestag members as an even smaller group.

Will hold founding congress

The new party will hold its founding congress on Jan. 26-27. With no state groups as yet, about 450 delegates will be chosen by the new leaders. Until then Wagenknecht will provisionally share the chair with Amari Mohammed Ali, until now co-chair of the LINKE caucus in the Bundestag  (who, though with an Egyptian father, is very much a Hamburg German). The congress will decide on a new name and write a program, especially important since it wants to enter the European Union elections in June and the three state elections in September.

The new party, Wagenknecht stated, should have four basic principles: peace, social justice, economic reason and freedom. All her adherents supported a “foreign policy that once again relies on diplomacy instead of arms deliveries,” with a call for peace negotiations to end the Ukraine war and pursue peace and renewed trade with Russia.

On other points there were questions.  While she called for higher taxes on the wealthy and plans for government-regulated price ceilings to protect consumers, the idea of state “supervisory bodies” to oversee companies’ production activities and other proposals seemed to hint at a turn, or return, to old fair-and-square market economics like in West Germany’s post-war years.

There seemed little mention of a militant working people’s struggle. As for freedom, she wanted greater tolerance for ideological diversity, with no marginalizing or ostracizing people because of their opinions. Good sentiments, no doubt, but here, too, not much about that old “class conflict,” or about replacing the world’s billionaire powers with some form of non-profit socialism.

Most controversial in Wagenknecht’s program has been her position on refugees and immigrants, not completely shutting the doors to Germany but keeping them less ajar, not beyond the ability to house, feed, school, and integrate them, especially those coming not to escape repression but simply to find a decent living standard.

What was widely considered Wagenknecht’s hope to win over or win back non-fascist Germans who voted AfD because it rejected immigration sometimes seemed too close an approach to AfD words and thoughts, with too little loyalty to leftist internationalism. Yet many of the small group of founders have themselves “immigrant backgrounds,” including the temporary co-chair Amira Mohamed Ali and the distinguished foreign policy expert Sevim Dagdelen.

Some who are remaining in the LINKE have always opposed the “reformers” and its tilt toward Social Democrats and Greens with their big business ties and status quo positions, and their “Ja” votes for bigger weaponry and foreign military involvement. But they also oppose Wagenknecht’s breakaway and say: “It is better to remain in the LINKE, to keep fighting it out with the reformers but not further divide a leftist force which is already split so damagingly.”

They believe in continuing efforts to put new energy into the party, to wake it up where it has been dozing or subsiding into Keynesian attempts to rescue a basically big-biz-controlled social system. The swords in such in-party battles can be very sharp! But, they insist, this strategy is correct and necessary. Which route is the better one? Is it possible that, in the end, rivalry between the LINKE and Wagenknecht’s new party may recall that little A.A. Milne poem?

There were Two Little Bears who lived in a Wood, And one of them was Bad and the other was Good.

And then quite suddenly (just like Us), One got Better and the other got Wuss.

First polls confusing

The first polls are still confusing, some showing high figures for Wagenknecht’s new party, others with low ones. The LINKE results also vary. I see several possibilities in the coming elections. Wagenknecht’s new  party may indeed flourish, winning dissatisfied East Germans who only chose the AfD (or stayed home) for lack of any convincing protest party—or other dissatisfied LINKE and Social Democrats.

Then, too, the LINKE may regain new life, and both parties may gain and move upwards, perhaps in non-hostile rivalry. But the most worrisome possibility is that the LINKE and Wagenknecht’s new starter may both fizzle, leaving Germany with no real visible, audible left party opposition.

The LINKE was once a force and a model for many left-wing parties in other, smaller European countries! Could one of the two regain such an urgently needed role? As for me, I am still uncertain as to which strategy was wiser, and must recall Mark Twain’s response to a religious question: ”I don’t like to commit myself about heaven and hell – you see, I have friends in both places.”

Meanwhile, Germany, Europe and the world are facing giant, frightening menaces! One, ecological devastation and climate warming, is joining with increasing conflicts and on-going post-colonial exploitation and forcing more and more people to leave their homes and search elsewhere for survival, often in northern directions.

Another menace, closely related, is the diabolic misuse of these refugees who are fleeing drought, floods, joblessness, hopelessness and ugly slums to rabble-rouse working people in the more favored northern countries and direct their anger about increasing domestic exploitation against the refugees instead of against the true instigators who, when it seems necessary, turn to violent suppression, with fascism cultivated as a possible last resort.

But the third giant menace has become most threatening of all. It is war—very dangerously so in connection with Ukraine. Despite the misleading media, this threat did not begin in 2022. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference: “Since 2014 NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense in a generation. With, for the first time in our history, combat ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, with higher readiness, with more exercises, and also with more defense spending…So when President Putin launched his full-fledged invasion last year, we were prepared.”

This kind of “defense” is currently being dramatically enhanced: “NATO is launching its largest exercise since the Cold War, rehearsing how U.S. troops could reinforce European allies in countries bordering Russia and on the alliance’s eastern flank if a conflict were to flare up with a ‘near-peer’ adversary. Some 90,000 troops are due to join the Steadfast Defender 2024 drills that will run through May, the alliance’s top commander Chris Cavoli said on Thursday.

More than 50 ships, from aircraft carriers to destroyers, will take part, as well as more than 80 fighter jets, helicopters, and drones and at least 1,100 combat vehicles including 133 tanks and 533 infantry fighting vehicles. Cavoli said the drills would rehearse NATO’s execution of its regional plans, the first defense plans the alliance has drawn up in decades, detailing how it would respond to a Russian attack.

“Steadfast Defender 2024 will demonstrate NATO’s ability to rapidly deploy forces from North America and other parts of the alliance to reinforce the defense of Europe.” The reinforcement will occur during a ‘simulated emerging conflict scenario’…During the second part of the Steadfast Defender exercise, a special focus will be on the deployment of NATO’s quick reaction force to Poland on the alliance’s eastern flank. Other major locations of the drills will be the Baltic states which are seen as most at risk from a potential Russian attack, Germany—a hub for incoming reinforcements—and countries on the fringes of the alliance such as Norway and Romania.”

Get fit for war!

In preparation for such events, Boris Pistorius, Minister of Defense (and a Social Democrat) told an audience: “We need a change of mentality.  It is already fully underway among the troops…when we speak about the Lithuania Brigade. But very importantly, the change of mentality in society is also the right thing to do. We have to get used to the idea that the danger of war in Europe could be imminent, and that means that we have to become fit for war, we have to be able to defend ourselves and prepare the Bundeswehr and society for it.“ Frightening words!

Are these men right? Does Russia really threaten Germany? Has it taken a  single step in that direction since it moved all its troops out of East Germany in 1994, expecting the other side to follow suit, as promised?

That assumption proved very false as NATO, with its weaponry, moved closer and closer to Russia—aiming to surround it in Georgia and Ukraine, but always using those key words “defense,” “Russian expansion,” “Putin imperialism.” I have never heard a clear answer to the question: If China and Russia sent maybe 90,000 troops to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean for “exercises” with “more than 50 ships from aircraft carriers to destroyers, more than 80 fighter jets, helicopters and drones and at least 1,100 combat vehicles including 133 tanks and 533 infantry fighting vehicles” would American counter-measures be described as “imperialist aggression”?

I have become convinced that the major threat in today’s world is not from Putin, Russia, or China either, but from a giant steamroller aiming at world rule and trying to eliminate any and all obstacles. Its main motor since 1945 has been in the U.S., the list of its victims is long and bitter: Guatemala, Iran, Congo, Vietnam, Chile, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya are a sampling. It is steered by a mighty conglomerate of Brobdingnagian giants, above all in the fossil fuel, chemical, armaments and hedge fund/financial sectors, but including others: fast food and beverages, seeds for farmers, pharmaceutics, also mindbenders in media, publishing, films and, more and more dangerously, Amazon and the offspring of Silicon Valley. The number of rulers in each field is narrowing, the value of their estates moves faster into the billion levels. There are billionaires in other countries as well, also in Russia and China, but Wall Street, Pentagon (with Langley) are major masters.

The strategy of the U.S. dynasts includes close ties with brethren in three junior partner countries. One, now very wobbly, is Britain. A second one is Germany, whose power is based on autos (VW, Daimler, Quandt), chemicals (Bayer, BASF), weapons (Rheinmetall, Maffei, Heckler & Koch), and  Deutsche Bank. It too is threatened economically; that not all too mysterious pipeline explosion in the Baltic was a hard blow (strangely forgotten by the media!). But the ambitions of its historically so evil forces aim further at dominance in Europe and continued eastward expansion.

Third of all, currently expanding most tragically, is Israel which, though small geographically, considers itself nobody’s junior partner. The pictures and reports are so appalling, the excuses and defense of its mass murder so terribly out of proportion to the event which unleashed it, bloody as it was (though many relevant questions are as yet unanswered), that I can only wonder if those still supporting a Netanyahu, or generals who demand death for all Palestinian “human animals,” even have a heart. Or if they have ever grasped the full meaning of the words “Never again!”—which apply to all human beings, yes, also to Palestinians.

I cannot refrain from quoting Joe Biden here. After the Uvalde tragedy in May 2022, when 19 children were killed, he said in moving tones: “There are parents who will never see their child again… To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away… It’s a feeling shared by the siblings, and the grandparents, and their family members, and the community that’s left behind…Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with it and stand up to the lobbies?”

But after five weeks of Israel’s bombing of Gaza, the director-general of the World Health Organization already reported that children were being killed at an average rate of six per hour…Nowhere and no one is safe.” In December, Biden voiced worries about “indiscriminate bombing”

There are rumors he urges Netanyahu to avoid hurting civilians. But despite any misgivings or admonishments, the U.S. has been sending, among many other items, thousands of 2000-pound bombs to Israel – described in the NYT as “one of the most destructive munitions in Western military arsenals…a weapon that unleashes a blast wave and metal fragments thousands of feet in every direction.”

By mid-January, 60,834 Palestinians were listed as injured in Gaza, more than 25,000 had been killed, about 70% of them children, with an uncounted number buried under rubble. I wonder how many of them had taken part in the Oct. 7 raid.

About a hundred courageous journalists have been killed in Gaza, mostly purposefully, by well-aimed Israeli bullets or missiles. Also buried are numerous talented or young hopeful artists, musicians, poets. I do not know if Khaled Juma survived. After an earlier bombing of Gaza, in 2014, he wrote this very short poem, which I will close with.


Oh rascal children of Gaza,

You who constantly disturbed me with your screams under my window,

You who filled every morning with rush and chaos,

You who broke my vase and stole the lonely flower on my balcony,

Come back –

And scream as you want,

And break all the vases,

Steal all the flowers,

Come back,

Just come back…

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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 latest book,  A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, the tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, the reasons for the fall of socialism, and the importance of today's struggles.