Merger in jeopardy
Tina Becker and Ben Lewis reply to Sascha Stanicic (Sozialistische Alternative) on the questions of his organisation's role in the Wahlalternative Arbeit und Soziale Gerechtigkeit
It is to be welcomed that Sascha Stanicic, spokesperson for the SAV (Sozialistische Alternative) has written to defend the role of his organisation in the Wahlalternative Arbeit and Soziale Gerechtigkeit. Given the bureaucratic centralism of the internalised sect grouping to which the SAV belongs - the Socialist Party-dominated Committee for a Workers' International - many of the operative decisions that are implemented by SAV will be taken in London. However, as the leading member of this small organisation, it is appropriate that the comrade should take responsibility for the increasingly pernicious role the SAV is currently playing in working class politics in Germany.
Before we get on to more substantial political points, we need to brush off some silly allegations from the comrade. As opposed to many other groups on the left in Europe - and particularly in Britain - the CPGB takes the fight for transparency and democracy in our movement very seriously. This finds reflection in the pages of our publication: almost alone on the revolutionary left, we feature letters from political opponents that are often bitterly critical of us. We would not dream of politically doctoring such letters (nor, we are sure, would the editors of comrade Stanicic's political publication, Solidarität).
In fact, the comrade can confirm that we sent him the transcript of our interview with him for correction and he did indeed make some minor changes. All were incorporated. So the comrade's claim to be concerned that the dastardly forgers at the Weekly Worker might somehow 'distort' his letter is disingenuous claptrap - a diversion to hide the fact that our political criticism of his group hit home because it was accurate.
For example, we reported the frankly scandalous fact that SAV members, for the flimsiest of reasons, refused to vote for CPGB member Ben Lewis as a candidate to the national executive. Then we pointed out that SAV has manoeuvred itself into a corner co-populated by some rather distasteful WASG rightwingers characterised by an implacable opposition to merger with the L.PDS for - unsurprisingly - distasteful rightwing reasons. (Comrade Stanicic was exasperated by the headline to our article, 'German CWI blocks with right' - the fact that he skirts around the question of this unfortunate de facto bloc seems to suggest he is not exactly proud of it.)
If the SAV's position had carried the day, its effect would have been to deny the working class of Germany the possibility of a nationwide, mass workers' party for the foreseeable future. Officially of course, the comrades still insist that they are in favour of the new formation - but the conditions they propose for any merger would make it impossible. Their position is particularly dim, as there is now a small opposition emerging within the L.PDS itself, which is increasingly critical of government participation in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (see our interview with Katja Kipping).
Moving on, comrade Stanicic's accusations that we "distorted" and "smeared" the SAV's role at conference and in the WASG are no more credible than his snide innuendos about our editorial standards.
He is right to state that the CPGB "supports the unconditional merger of WASG and L.PDS - hoping that this would lead to a new mass workers' party". In opposition to that, the SAV comrades have now shown in practice that they do not believe that the WASG, the L.PDS or the new joint formation could lead to "a new mass workers' party". They have thus adopted a stance that has more to do with building the national profile of their sect than with what is in the interests of the working class.
The comrades have thus retreated into 'defending the real WASG' against the supposedly malign political influence the L.PDS would have on it. Yet the notion that the WASG would behave in a qualitatively different manner to the L.PDS in relation to government participation (or any other concrete political issue) is self-delusional.
In reality, there is very little that distinguishes the parties - both appear to believe that the beginning and the end of working class politics consists of the fight to save the welfare state; both are thoroughly reformist. If anything, the L.PDS is marginally to the left in that it at least states that it is fighting for socialism, even if that supposed aim finds no concrete manifestation in its day-to-day actions.
Despite his bluster, comrade Stanicic does not disagree with our observation that the SAV wants a more federal structure for the WASG. This underlines our central criticism about his organisation's role. A federal party will be practically useless in opposition to an increasingly centralised national and international capital. But a federal structure will allow small, bureaucratically centralised groups to do their own thing in areas they control or influence.
Related to this is a direct challenge by comrade Stanicic to the veracity of an aspect of our report. He disputes the fact that in his election speech for the national executive he said: "I am obligated only to members of the Berlin WASG and nobody else." It is odd that he denies this, as our comrades present were so surprised by this comment that we compared our notes immediately (his actual words were: "Ich bin den Mitgliedern des Berliner Landesverbandes verpflichtet und niemandem sonst"). Indeed, the fact that he was challenged by another WASG member to explain why, in that case, he was standing for the national executive would tend to confirm the accuracy of our report.
Sascha tries to wriggle out of this by stating that he "never made a generalised statement like that". He claims to have "always acted loyally to the democratic decisions of the WASG", but "on the question of the Berlin regional elections I only feel obliged to the democratic decisions of WASG Berlin and not the national congress" (our emphasis). Well, comrade, if you feel obliged to Berlin "and nobody else" on this particular issue, why not on other issues too? You damn us as liars one moment and then admit what we say is true the next.
And it certainly looks as though this position is now becoming "generalised", since the SAV is attempting to lead the Berlin WASG into a full-scale revolt against the leadership, knowing full well that its actions could jeopardise the merger itself.
Comrade Stanicic claims that about a third of delegates at conference "support the political position of the Berlin WASG". He bases this on the support he got in the national executive election and because a similar figure "voted against the main motion by the party leadership".
This is self-serving nonsense. Had our comrades been delegates (rather than guests), we would also have voted for comrade Stanicic and against the main motion presented by the leadership - although we clearly do not "support the political position of the Berlin WASG". Despite our stated criticisms of the SAV and the stance of the Berlin WASG, we are not sectarians and do not want to see administrative measures against the Berlin comrades. Undoubtedly, there were others at WASG conference who adopted a similar viewpoint (for example, the 50 who voted for our comrade, Ben Lewis, in the executive elections).
Clearly, nowhere near a third of delegates actively support the standing of candidates against the L.PDS (let alone the "political position" of the comrades) - although there were definitely well over a third that did not want to see punitive measures taken against the Berlin comrades. But the SAV is more concerned with puffing up its own pretensions than giving advanced workers in Germany or across Europe an accurate picture of the balance of forces at this important conference.
Next, Sascha complains that we shrug off the SAV's criticisms of the joint election manifesto in Berlin (presented by the WASG national leadership and the L.PDS Berlin leadership) as quibbling over the "small print". The manifesto contains no opposition to the much-hated 'one-euro jobs', he correctly complains. But again, he ducks our main point. In truth, the SAV is actually reinforcing the illusion that socialists can - in general - positively manage capitalism in favour of the working class by participating in bourgeois-dominated governments. We have criticised the comrades for not putting forward a position against participation in bourgeois governments in principle. The SAV's criticisms of this joint election manifesto - whatever their occasional formal accuracy - are secondary. In truth, it is the SAV that is haggling over the small print of reformism.
We agree with the comrade that "opposition must be organised now by left forces within both parties" - but not in order to slow down or halt the merger process. We need to put a Marxist stamp on it and present a positive working class programme for the new joint party. The left should, if possible, organise as a joint faction or platform.
Incidentally, in contrast to the WASG, the L.PDS actually has the right of factions enshrined in its statutes - clearly something that the left in the new party must fight for. There is a lot to do when it comes to shaping the new left. By claiming to believe that opposing the Berlin administration takes precedence over constructing a vehicle for the empowerment of workers across Germany, the SAV is putting its narrow interests above all else - including presenting a viable challenge to the current leadership.