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|Against Germany's One-Party System
by Oskar Lafontaine
In the coming months a comedy will be staged in Germany. The piece is called "The Electoral Battle of the Two Camps." The leading actors are Angela Merkel and Peer Steinbrück. In supporting roles we'll see Horst Seehofer, Sigmar Gabriel, Philipp Rösler, Jürgen Trittin, and the other respective leaders of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Free Democratic Party (FDP), and the Green Party. An appearance by Die Linke is not envisaged for this revue. With the help of the intelligence service, the corporate media, and public broadcasters, everything possible is being done to banish this inconvenient party from the catwalks of capitalism.
Years ago the sharp-tongued American author Gore Vidal observed: "Democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates." For Vidal, the USA does not have two, but only one political party, "with two right wings," which campaigns for the interests of big corporations. He considered the media to be instruments of propaganda for the preservation of social power relations.
One might dismiss Gore Vidal's view as the literary embellishment of a writer, but the transferability of his assessment of American politics to the looming German national election is confirmed by journalist Heribert Prantl in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: "The battle of the two camps is an electoral battle that actually no longer exists. . . . It's an inappropriate term. . . . There once were opposing positions on basic policy issues: foreign, economic, energy, and immigration policies. . . . The fundamental differences between the parties (with the exception of Die Linke) have disappeared."
The Americanization of German politics has undoubtedly led to the fact that today, in Germany, too, we have a one-party system with four wings -- to stay with Gore Vidal's image. The wings call themselves the CDU/CSU, the SPD, the FDP, and the Greens, and they campaign, sometimes more, sometimes less, in the interests of banks and big corporations -- as the tax policies of recent years and the many bank bailout packages demonstrate. They endorse without any reservations an economic system which results in an unequal distribution of prosperity, wealth, and power: a system that allows a minority to make the majority work for the minority and then to withhold from the majority the fully entitled proceeds of their labor, in the form of wages and employee shares.
In contrast to the Federal German Unity Party, Die Linke says: Property should only be the result of your own effort, built up by your own labor and not by having others labor for you. As long as great fortunes and the accompanying social power structures are created in such a way that a minority "exploits" the labor of the majority, the interests of the majority cannot logically prevail. In other words, a democracy, that is to say, a social order in which the interests of the majority are asserted, founders upon the power structure reinforced by the German Unity Party.
So long as this remains unaffected, mock battles can be waged and violent clashes can be performed on peripheral battlefields. The less the fundamental political positions of the parties differ from one another, the louder they must shout to maintain the appearance of a battle between the two camps. Again, as Heribert Prantl points out, "There probably are, despite the fuss that is made about retirement policies, only one thousand people in Germany who could spell out the difference between the CDU/CSU and the SPD. It's the same with other issues." Even the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung talks about a "spurious battle between the two camps."
Nor should we let ourselves be blinded by the SPD-Green "plagiarism scandal." With great effort the Social Democrats and the Greens have copied and modified Die Linke's policy proposals in order to make us forget the social dislocations caused by their coalition policies: precarious working conditions, low wages, seniors living in poverty, and the destruction of the social security system. This applies also to other policies, to name but a few examples: a minimum wage; modest improvements to pensions; an increase in Hartz IV benefits; copay; tuition fees; temporary work; work contracts; top tax rates; a wealth tax; a capital gains tax; a financial transaction tax; rent control; energy price control; a cap on interest rates for overdraft lines of credit; eurobonds; license revocation for banks that abet tax evasion; separation of commercial and investment banking; limits to executive salaries; creditor liability; and debt haircuts.
This theft of ideas cannot hide the fact that when it matters the SPD and Greens, as well as the CDU/CSU and FDP, show themselves to be loyal fractions of the Federal German Unity Party. The unanimous approval for the debt brake amendment to the constitution, for the European fiscal compact, and for the various bailout packages, shows that the "left camp," consisting of the SPD and Greens, has not detached itself from their Hartz IV and Agenda 2010 policies. The fiscal compact represents the consolidation of these brutal austerity policies for all of Europe. The only reason the SPD and Greens have the chutzpah to call themselves European parties is because they have internalized a Europe of free markets and corporations as the only possibility.
If we measure social reality according to declared political objectives, it is then not too harsh a judgment to describe both the "left-wing" protagonists of the forthcoming "battle of the two camps" as European flops. With the participation of the then SPD-Green chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the European Council resolved in Lisbon in December 2000 to make the EU "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion." That was the noble intention. But what does the reality look like?
When young Europeans -- who are becoming unemployed en masse -- read this today, they are fully justified in being dubious about the powers of judgment of these statesmen. When will the politicians of the German Unity Party grasp that an economic system that has profit and wealth maximization for a minority as its goal inevitably produces conditions such as we now observe in Europe?
Against this background it is a bad joke that the CDU/CSU, SPD, FDP, and Greens intend to put social justice at the heart of their "battle of the two camps."
Because it is inherent in the system, it is also logical that both "camps" have chosen so-called "wars for human rights" as the central instruments of their foreign policies. In inimitable fashion Prince Harry captured the quintessence of the new era of German foreign policy on the front page of the Bild newspaper with his comment: "Take a life to save a life. That's what we revolve around, I suppose." It is telling in this regard that politicians from the SPD and Greens strongly criticized Merkel and Westerwelle for not letting Germany participate in NATO's war on Libya.
Die Linke -- and this is understood by the vast majority of its followers and members -- has a right to exist and can compete successfully in the elections only if it does not become another wing of the Unity Party. Die Linke's unique selling point is its advocacy of an economic system in which everyone receives the full proceeds of their labor. Such an economic system leads to democratic enterprises run by workers and not authoritarian economic structures with temporary work, contract work, low wages, and mini-jobs. It leads to a peaceful foreign policy, which secures raw materials through negotiations and not with wars for human rights.
Against this background it is clear why the SPD and the Greens have for years now rebuffed Die Linke's offers of cooperation. The politicians of the German Unity Party stick together. They reject structural reforms that would alter the ever more unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities in Germany. The electoral programs of the SPD and the Greens, in which the proposals of Die Linke have been adopted in whole or in watered-down form, serve only as a disguise. Voters are not to know that behind the proclamations there is no actual intent to implement them. Yet as Franz Müntefering, the onetime great master of social democratic campaigns, said: It's unfair to judge political parties after the election according to their campaign promises.
The fabricated battle of the two camps is a farce. Voters will have a déjà vu experience. After the election things will be the same in Germany as before the election, regardless which politicians or fractions of the German Unity Party form the government. Astonishingly, representatives of German business are quietly indicating a preference for an SPD-Green coalition government. The former head of the Federation of German Industry (BDI), Hans-Peter Keitel, recently said, "When a country needs to make political-economic reforms, it is better if the government does not have a political color that makes it suspect of favoring business."
Oskar Lafontaine is a former co-chair of the Left Party. The original article "Lagerwahlkampf" was published by junge Welt on 21 March 2013. Translation by Sam Putinja.