Monthly Archives: September 2009

A New Hope in Germany

It was a good night for the left but a bad night for social democracy in Germany.

In particular it was a good night for Die Linke (The Left) taking 11.9% of the vote and electing 76 MPs (including it seems Christine Buchholz and Andrej Hunko, previously mentioned on this site)

The regional state elections earlier in the year where pointing to a real breakthrough for Die Linke in the western states. Though it will take a much more comprehensive breakdown to be done than is possible at this point in time the figures seem to be suggesting very real gains in across the country for the party.

election results
Before looking at the figures a quick word of explanation on how the electoral system works may be in order.

In Germany for elections to the lower house Federal Parliament, The Bundestag, people have two votes: one for a constituency MP and one for a party list. An MP is elected in each of the 299 constituencies.

But it is the vote for the list that is more important. The number of votes received by the party on the list decides by how many each parties’ number of MPs in the Bundestag are topped up.

Party list results by constituency

Party list results by constituency

This means that a party cannot elect any MPs at a constituency level, but as long as they pass the 5% will gain seats in parliament.

Virtually all constituency seats are held by the big two parties the SPD and the conservative CDU/CSU. The “smaller” parties (the liberal FDP, the Greens and Die Linke) tend to get all their MPs elected from the lists, and hence don’t put much effort into the constituencies)

The continued rise of Die Linke

Nationally Die Linke took 11.9% of the vote (up 3.2 points on the 2005 elections) and polled 5,153,884 votes in the party list ballot. It also got 11.1% (or 4,790,007) in the constituencies.

Their best results, as might be expected, came in the Eastern states taking 29% in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, 28.5% in Brandenburg, (beating the CDU into 3rd place), 32.4% in Saxony Anhalt and 28% in Thuringia. In Berlin (in the East, and previously divided, they took 20.7%.

Though Die Linke was expected to do well in the Eastern states, the results do not reflect a party just resting on its laurels. In all five it increased its percentage of the vote (up 5.3, 1.9, 5.8, 2.7 and 3.9 points respectively compared to 2005).

Die Linke also won 16 constituency (all in the East) a considerable improvement on the three won in 2005. (The Greens only won one constituency , the FDP won none. All the other constituency seats were divided between the CDU/CSU.)

Progress in the Western States

In the western states Die Linke also increased its vote.

In the country’s most populous state, North Rhine-West Phalia, it took 8.4% (up 3.2 points on 2005). Saxony 24.5 (+1.7), Baden Wurtemburg 7.4% (+1.2), Hesse 8.5% (+3.2), Rhine land Palatinate 9.4% (+3.8), Saarland 21% (+4.7).

Even in generally conservative Bavaria it went up 3 points to 6.5%.

In the city-states of the west it took 11.2% (+4.9) in Hamburg, and 14.2% (5.8) Bremen.

In other big cities it also increased its vote, for instance in the constituencies of Cologne it took 9.6% (+3.5), 7.1% (2.3), 10.2% (+); in Dortmund 11% (+4.7), 11.5% (+5); in Stuttgart 9% (4.1) or in Frankfurt am Main 11.2% (+4.1) and10 %(+3.5).

Even in Munich, capital of Bavaria 6.8 (+2.8), 6.6 (+2.9), 6.9 (3), 6.7 (+2.8).

These represent much bigger increase than in the national vote. In Hamburg Die Linke’s vote went up from
59,463 to 98,696 (a 60% increase), in Bremen from 30570 to 47,895 (a 56% increase) Stuttgart’s two districts from 12,218 to 20,874, ( a 70% increase)

Disaster for the Social Democrats

The leader of The SPD Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the results as a “bitter day for German social democracy”. And he was right.

It is the lowest national vote the party has received since the Second World War on 23% down 11 points on 2005. Or to put it another way their vote of 9,988,843, represented a drop of 17% compared to the 12,077,437 they took in 2005.
German_parliamentary_elections_diagram_de
One might well note that this is the kind of vote that Labour is heading for in next year.

Both parties have self destructed by their craven embrace of neo-liberalism, or their failure to come up with any alternatives, in fact their decisive rejection of any, in the face of the crisis.

However there is no Die Linke to rally people towards a different way of running society.

Failure of the far right

The SPD may have nose dived, and the Die Linke may have picked up a lot of its votes, but where did the rest go?

One thing is clear, the far right has not benefited. The main fascist party the NPD only took 1.5% of the vote, a drop of 0.1 points. That a far right party should do so badly even after as steep a slowdown as suffered by the German economy in the last couple of years seems strange.

NeonazimarchIn the Eastern states the party got 3.3% in Mecklenburg Vorpommern (-0.2), 2.6% in Brandenburg (-0.7)
2.2% in Saxony Anhalt (-0.3), 3.2% in Thuringia (-0.4), and 4% in Saxony (0.8).

In the western states the results were as bad for instance taking only 0.9 (+0.2) in North Rhine West-Phalia ( where the SPD dropped -11 points on 2005) or 1.1% in Baden Wurrtemburg (where the SPD dropped -10.8 points)

Now, the history of Germany does in some ways mitigate against a revival of fascist forces, but on the other hand the same could be said of Austria and Italy. In Austria however in last year’s general election the (departed) Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party took 17% and in a regional election at the weekend doubled its vote.

And of course in Italy the former leader of “post fascist” National Alliance is now speaker of the lower house of parliament.

In the post unification period the German fascists managed to reestablish themselves as a small presence on the political scene. In 1990 Republicans took 1.2% and the NPD 0.3%, in 1994 Republicans 1.9%, 1998 the DVU 1.8%, and in 2005 the NPD 1.6 (+1.2 points).

For a time it had seemed that they could grow much bigger, especially in the depressed East amongst disenfranchised and disillusioned young men.

The failure of the fascists to break out of their marginality, has many reasons. But compared to the rest of Europe their failure to make any progress seems surprising. It is difficult to say at this point in time but threre is a good possibility that the rise of Die Linke may be acting as an effective block.

the fact that Die Linke took an extraordinary 25% of the vote of the unemployed seems to suggest this might be the case.

What next?

The election represents a very good result for the Die Linke, and a disaster for the SPD.

How this will pan out is difficult to say but the opportunities are great.

Die Linke is growing and spreading across the country. Putting done deeper roots in the working class and drawing in new forces, especially the young should help to stabilize what is still a quite heterogeneous formation.

After all success is a powerful centripetal force.

But hard times will also be more difficult now that the SPD is in opposition and is no longer in the grip of the Grand Coalition government with the CDU.

However the SPD is likely too continue to be in the grip of neo-liberalism. Every experience in Europe has shown following defeat by the right, social democratic parties have only moved further in that direction.

the reason for the defeat of the SPD is not that Die Linke took votes from them, it is that the SPD inspired no one. With this great step forward for the left there is a god chance that the politics of a real socialism can bring hope where there is now despair.

For a full list of the election results try the returning officers’ website click here

Portugal aslo had a general election at the weekend. For an article on that try the Tendance Cootsey blog, click here

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Victory for strike at Tower Hamlets College

Teaching staff at Tower Hamlets College voted to go back to work on Thursday after winning victory in their month long indefinite strike.

They seem to have completely rolled back the attack and the college principal has now promised there will be no compulsary redundancies.

As previously reported here over the summer the college had announced that there would be 13 compulsary redundancies and 300 places cut on ESOL courses.

All out indefinite strikes have become something of a rarity nowadays as unions have prefferred one day strikes causing minimal disruption, as a show of strength, before entering into negotiations over cuts behind closed doors.

This tends to mean that cuts and attacks only get slightly mitigated.

This type of srtike action means for most workers just a day at home. They assume apathy amongst workers and and so doing create it. All too often union members end up wondering why they lost a day’s pay on strike when all that results is slightly re-ordered set of cuts.

An indefinite strike like the Tower Hamlets though shows that victory is possible if you go all out.

Not only did they go all out they went on strike during registration week, the time that would hit management hardest. It may have caused some disruption to students, but nothing like as much as the years of cut backs that Further Education has faced.

The mass meeting on Monday when staff voted to reject the previous management offer drew 170 to it.

All out action draws people into action, it gives them something to do, it lets them act for themselves. Strikers were involved in picket lines, mass meetings, going out to the community for support and raising money.

In the processs they gained confidence, connections with the community and other workers and built union organisation. The strike has left them immensely strengthened and better placed to stop any more attacks, and to fight for education in one of the poorest boroughs in the country.

This kind of action shows the way to rebuild the unions and to stop the massive cuts which are heading our way; not passivley waiting for union bossses to lobby behind the scenes or hoping against hope that Brown might just win the election and that he might just cut a little less than the Tories.

To read the UCU (Universities and Colleges Union) statement click here or to read a report from Socialist Worker on the victory click here or on earlier developments inthe strike click here

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Germany’s election and Die Linke on the Web

lipglossAhead of Germany’s elections tomorrow a survey of articles available on the web on the rise of Die Linke (The Left) seems to be in order.

The British media is not known for its interest in the politics of other countries, other than the United States.

The lack of coverage of elections in Germany (Europe’s largest economy and most populous nation, worlds largest exporter) compared to the wall to wall coverage of the US presidential elections is instructive.

What happens in Germany is important from any point of view. For the left it has an added importance.

The meteoric rise of Die Linke and the profound effect it is having on the countries politics should be of utmost interest to the rest of the continent’s left.

Though there is plenty in German, this is a language that is little spoken in this country (and as an article in Tuesday’s Education Guardian pointed out, the study of which is in decline

Material in English on Die Linke is in short supply.

The Guardian has run a series of articles on the elections this week including a couple on Die Linke: Die Linke is riding a wave, but for how long? by Jan-Werner Mueller and Die Linke party wins German votes by standing out from crowd by Kate Connolly in Erfurt (yes of the eponymous Programme) and Berlin

For some background on the main developments in Germany society and politics over the last two decades since the fall of the wall you could do much worse than to read Perry Anderson’s article “A New Germany” in the New Left Review.

The breakthrough by Die Linke in state (Länder) elections elections in the West of the country is the cause of much of the breathless expectations of the results of the die Linke tomorrow. For details of those results you could look at these pages: Saarland, Saxony, Thuringia

marx21For a some perspectives form the German revolutionary left you could try an article by Stefan Bornost on the these elections. He is the editor of Marx21, a magazine produced by comrades who were formerly Linksruck, German affiliate of the International Socialist Tendency (linked to the Socialist Workers Party in Britain), in last week’s Sociaslist Worker Breakthrough for German left

Previously he has written in the Internatioanl Socailism Journal on the situation there Germany: the rise of the left” in Issue: 108 (2005) or Germany’s political earthquake” in Issue: 116 (2007)

He also did an interview for the ISJ “Germany’s strategy debate” in Issue: 111(2006) along with long time member of the IST in Germany, Volkhard Mosler and a younger comrade Christine Buchholz, who is standing for the Bundestag in tomorrow’s elections. She also has a rather nice website.

Another perspective comes from Andrej Hunko. You can watch a video of him speaking at Socialist Resistance’s day school on Broad Parties in London last year. He is also a candidate in the election tomorrow and has a campaign website. He was previously a member of a predecessor of Linksruck, the SAG.

The Fourth International has two sections in Germany, the RSB (Revolutionary Socialist League) and the ISL (International Socialist Left)

avanti-titel-2009-09The RSB decided not to join Die Linke. Some perspectives on why they did this can be read in the article by one of their comrades B.B. Herbst form 2005

Build the extra-parliamentary opposition or join the Left Party?

at the International Viewpoint site

The FI’s other section in Germany, the ISL, decided to join Die Linke.

soz0909For their perspectives you could read a couple of articles by Manuel Kellner Crisis of the SPD and the New “Left Party” or Die Linke”, a new party between hope and adaptation (2007)

And of course there is the Die Linke site itself, which also has an English language section

You can also download a rather nice PDF (in English) on the history and politics of the party here or a rather dryer 16-page Party Programme.

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On the Dole, 21st century style

L9aLkx7Jwgpj3nWCmkwVgrRSUnemployment is rising to levels not seen for more than a decade, and heading for the level of the early eighties.

The fight for work, and against the impoverishment, both material and mental, that comes in its wake, is one that the left has to take up if it is to be worthy of the name.

Though many on the left may have memories of previous recessions, there is little knowledge of what it is to be unemployed today. It is a long time since many have been into a “dole” office (which isn’t easy considering most now have security guards on the door making it hard even for those with legitimate reasons to enter to get inside, as I can personally attest)

Below is an interesting article in yesterday’s Guardian about the contemporary “Job Centre Plus”

If the Blair and Brown governments have ever wanted to create a utopia, Selly Oak’s jobcentre gives you a pretty clear sense of what it might look like. The carpets and furniture are all in deep, warm tones: oranges, blues and purples set off by photographs of apparently grateful faces and reassuring slogans – “Make a new start”, “Jobs for everyone”, “Yes, you can retrain”.

By the entrance, two staff stand sentry behind desks simply labelled “welcome”. To their right, a steady procession of people flit their fingers across pristine touch-screen installations that spit out receipt-like summaries of the jobs currently available. This place was opened in 2007, and you quickly sense it runs on two articles of faith: that even if unemployment is still rising (the most recent figure puts it at 2.47 million, the highest for 14 years), anyone who enters here will somehow get a job; and that a life on benefits is no life at all.

To read the rest of the article click here

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Paul Mason on the Crisis

paul masonDespite the economic crisis neo-liberalism seems to be winding up for asecond wind.

Paul Mason has an intersting article on the BBC website about this phenomenon.

I’ve been going through the rushes we shot in New York on the day Lehman collapsed, in advance of tonight’s programme – a special edition of Newsnight exploring what’s changed as a result of the financial meltdown.

It was a surreal day and one of the most surreal moments happened on the stroke of 9am, when a nemesis figure arrived at Lehman’s front door in the form of a large man with a beard and a red flag. Only his light-sensitive spectacles spoiled the Karl Marx likeness. He shocked the cops and earpiece-toting security guards by launching into an f-word-laden diatribe along these lines:

“F— Lehman; f— AIG, f— Merill Lynch. Capitalism is doomed. They want us, the working people, to pay for the crisis. Our parents told us about the Depression – they want us to relive the Depression. They want that for us. Hell, no!”

When approached by reporters requesting his last name for the record he responded, after a moment’s thought, with a snort: “What’s your last name?” Not Hollywood central casting, nor Thomas Pynchon blowing deep and surreal could have invented such a figure nor placed him in such a place at such a time.

Yet the amazing thing about the crisis, one year on, is that he was substantially wrong. Many on the left – and for that matter the ideological right – assumed that the predominantly neo-liberal governments of the G7 countries would let the recession rip, let the banks fail and foist the cost of the crisis onto the population in the form of job cuts, bankruptcies and falling incomes….

Read the rest of the article here

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“Who ever said the world was fair. It isn’t fair.”

banks, panorama

“Who ever said the world was fair. It isn’t fair”

Who says Stuart Fraser of the Corporation of London in defence of the contiued payment of big bounses in tonight edition of Panorama.

It is an excellent expose of the Great Bank Roberry, of how the taxpayer spen t billions on bailing out th ebanks, and how they are carrying on exactly as before

To watch it click here

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Who’d have thunk it? Another round of neo-liberalism

The crisis is an opportunity. But for who?

Increasingly it is starting to seem that the recession, in this country at least, is going to herald yet another round of neo-liberal “reform” of the economy.

All the parties are now fessing up to the fact that the next general election is going to followed by massive public spending cuts.

Whether it is George Osborne saying that within six months an incoming Tory government will be the most unpopular since the war, or leaked government Treasury documents setting out the biggest cuts since the Callaghan government of 1977-1979, the consensus is clear.

For those that do not remember that far back, and it is a long way now, Jim Callaghan’s Labour government of the late 70s made the biggest cuts in public spending in the post-war period, and saw the biggest fall in working class living standards. Popular disillusion with his administration opened the door to Thatcherism in 1979.

But behind all the talk of the necessity of cuts to balance the government’s books lurks something far more insidious, and far more dangerous.

It’s something you’ll hear more of as it spreads out from the think tanks and the Westminster bubble into public debate, as both parties seek to fashion it into a political idea that gain support, something an agenda of cuts alone cannot do.

It’s about the state, and what it can do.

The answer all around seems to be less, for less people and for less money.

Less services, less state
The call by the CBI for students to pay more towards their education, which is hardly free any more, is just a start.

Local government executives have already been putting their plans in place. Budgets are going to be slashed. But how will they provide services on less money?

The answer is procurement.

Procurement?

It means everything goes out tender, everything is privatised.

Any service you can think of, the private sector (and its increasingly indistinguishable cousin the “voluntary sector”) will do it cheaper.

And cheapness will be the watchword.

Already local government contracts put out to tender are competed for ruthlessly. Wages and conditions have been cut and cut again.

Whole swathes of the state will be farmed out. The very idea of public service and state provision will come under enormous attack.

This death by a thousand tenders will also mean the last great bastion of union power, the public sector, will be broken up.

Anyone who works in the privatised public services, or the voluntary sector, will be familiar with what happens next: the breaking up of collective agreements, performance related pay, casualisation, the withering of union organisation and a gradual acceptance by workers of the vagaries of a labour market heavily weighted against them.

The political justification will be to “shrink the state” to give people freedom, “a new birth” of social voluntarism and philanthropy.

End of the welfare state?

Such an assault on the public sector will also herald a new round of tax cuts, to “give power” to people to decide how to spend their money.

It is a drive that could have a popular resonance. In a situation where wages are going down, and collective action to push them up seems like non-starter (or doesn’t even cross some people’s minds) the only way to increase income is to cut taxes.

And this has a logic all of its own. A logic that could lead to the dismantling of the welfare state in ways not yet imagined even by the outriders of neo-liberalism.

The fact that public services will be retreating will force more and more people to pay for things themselves, from private health insurance to supporting their children through higher education. Even the most well meaning, and public minded people will increasingly have to make hard economic choices.

The growing assault on the “universal provision” of the welfare state is a massive step in that direction.

The idea that help should only focussed on those “most needy” rather than be available to all, tends to undermine support amongst those who pay for it through their taxes.

This is what happened in the US in the eighties. The dismantling of what welfare provision there was reached tipping point where the consensus at the ballot box for it collapsed.

Millions who now had no recourse to the services of the state, and having to pay for such services themselves, became unwilling to pay for welfare through their taxes. The assault started with things like Proposition 13 in California restricting property taxation. Ever since in election after election, in one ballot initiative after another, measures have been passed cutting public provision and limiting taxation.

Who’d have thought it? A year ago it seemed like the collapse of the neo-liberal experiment was at hand. Instead we could be facing a turn to an even more extreme type of neo-liberalism.
Stop the attack or turn the tide

A turn that could be the coup de grace for what has been exposed by the last eighteen months of recession as a directionless and decaying trade union movement, which seems incapable of defending its members from pay cuts and redundancies.

Yet every crisis is also an opportunity. The crisis of their system does mean that the tide can be turned. But only if there is an attempt to turn it, not just to stop it.

A political alterative to their system has to be put, and a way found to communicate it to the mass of the working class, rather than just seeking to defend sections of it piecemeal.

This is the task that faces us.

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