Fight on two fronts

July 29 saw the official launch of the election campaign for the September 17 Berlin regional elections, where the local WASG (Electoral Initiative for Labour and Social Justice) and the governing Linkspartei.PDS are to stand against each other. Ben Lewis reports from Germany

Of course, the merger of the two parties will happen despite this and a similar 'glitch' in the federal elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on the same day. But the fact that there are rival slates of left candidates in these two areas exposes the shameful opportunism of some on the so-called 'revolutionary' left.

Things have sped up incredibly since the last national conference of the WASG in April. In June a special meeting of leading figures of WASG and L.PDS (the former 'official communist' party of East Germany) agreed a set of 'principles' - in reality, a collection of warmed-up social democratic platitudes.

However, there is plenty of disagreement. Take, for example, the question of government participation - a rather thorny issue. After all, it is over this question that two branches of the WASG have chosen to stand against their future party comrades, because of the L.PDS's disastrous anti-working class record in regional government. It has implemented wage cuts, privatisations and cancelled regional wage agreements.

In both Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin, the local branch has effectively split from the WASG: although they will be standing under the party's name in the September elections (thanks to decisions in their favour obtained via the courts), they are receiving neither financial nor political help from the national organisation in the election campaign.

Rather important then to clarify the new party's view on this issue, one would think. Not so. The vagueness of the 'principles' allow for the leaders to interpret them as they see fit. The formulation dealing with this question states that the new left party will "take up government responsibility when it is able to improve the living conditions of the people and open up alternative ways of development". It will, however, "only enter coalitions with other parties after careful consideration".

At the press conference after the launch, Oskar Lafontaine pointed out that the principles "imply" that there should be an end to the 'red-red' coalitions in Berlin and MV. After all, according to one clause, "public facilities cannot be privatised". L.PDS chair Gregor Gysi, however, countered that a coalition with the SPD, in spite of its "flaws", would be better than a coalition of the Conservatives and Liberals.

In reality, of course, the leaders of both the WASG and L.PDS envisage some kind of role for themselves in government once the new Linkspartei is formed. Their differing reactions merely indicate the pressure each feels from within their respective organisation. Their ambition of seats in bourgeois governments is not regarded as being in contradiction to the assertion in the 'principles' that the new party should not "repeat the mistakes of traditional organisations critical of capitalism by becoming integrated into the capitalist system".

In fact, even such vague phrases are too much for some. For example, Wulf Gallert, head of the L.PDS fraction in the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt, retorted: "There is talk of predatory capitalism, but in its Scandinavian form we think it is great." After March's elections in Saxony-Anhalt Gallert was offering himself for the position of state president as part of a coalition with the social democrats.

Clearly, there is plenty of room for the left to shape the new joint party. But there are those on the German left who are failing miserably.

The splitters in the WASG in Berlin are (politically if not numerically) dominated by the Socialist Party's German section, the Sozialistische Alternative, or SAV. These supporters of Peter Taaffe's Committee for a Workers' International say they want to provide a "100% social" voice for those hit hardest by the 'reforms' in Berlin. That is their excuse for defying the national conference of the WASG, which voted in April against standing candidates in opposition to the L.PDS. When, egged on by our CWI comrades, the local WASG refused to back down, the national executive removed them and replaced them with a hand-picked administrator.

The SAV pleaded "defence of the true WASG programme" and, while simultaneously arguing for a more "federalist" structure, decided to take the national executive to court. The judge (a supporter of the conservative CDU) was more than happy to rule that the Berlin WASG could stand against its future partner.

A similar bureaucratic tussle has been taking place within Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, another state where the 'red-red' coalition has, quite frankly, a despicable record in acting as a left cover for attacks on the working class. Following the Berlin ruling, however, the WASG national executive decided not to step in, leaving the branch to go it alone using its own funds.

Undoubtedly the rebel WASG branch in Berlin is standing on a platform marginally to the left of the joint WASG-L.PDS position. For example, while the nationally agreed position is for a minimum hourly wage of €8, Berlin demands €10. But it is hardly a radical programme aimed at challenging capitalism. In fact, the struggle for democracy and the fight for socialism are not even mentioned. And for this the SAV is prepared to jeopardise the merger of the two groups into a force capable of mobilising workers and the creation of a space for Marxists.

And, of course, the rebel WASG candidates will hardly register on voting day. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where the L.PDS is expected to poll 21%, the WASG is lost among the "others" who are expected to receive one percent in total. In Berlin the SAV is, rather optimistically, hoping to break through the five percent barrier and win a seat. Some have even suggested that standing in Berlin and M-V could provide a springboard for a new national organisation. Yet a new national organisation is already in the process of being created - a united left party for the whole of Germany, opening up massive opportunities.

Had the WASG in Berlin not split away, the situation could have been a lot different. Through critical engagement with the L.PDS in Berlin the comrades would have been able to fight against government participation whilst simultaneously campaigning for a critical vote for the joint list. This would have enabled them to engage not only with thinking elements in the WASG and the L.PDS, but also with thousands of left voters in Berlin, who have been hit hard by the sheer spinelessness of the L.PDS in its government coalition with the SPD but see no other viable alternative.

Instead, the situation they now find themselves in is one of sheer desperation. In a classic example of a 'get rich quick' scheme, the SAV has let the L.PDS off the hook, allowing it to continue its drift to the right. And the SAV is also opting out of the national fight over the programme of the new merged party, preferring to leave the trade union bureaucrats, social democrats in exile and forces to their right in a position where they are more likely to take the lead.

Left forces within the WASG, as we have consistently argued, must fight on two fronts. On the one hand, for the quickest possible merger; on the other, for a minimum-maximum Marxist programme that clearly rejects minority participation in government at any structural level. This is the best way to challenge the reformism of both organisations.

The real fight within the Linkspartei has only just begun. Instead of engaging in futile stunts the left must take up this fight in a serious way.