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Democrat November-December 2013 (Number 138)

Collapse of the left in Germany
in capitalist economic crisis

Part II of a paper by Horst Teubert at the
Desmond Greaves Summer School, Dublin - 15 September

Why did the German left not fight and prevent the austerity policy? Different factors need to be taken into account. One general aspect connected to Germany's political culture is that the German people have never won a revolution or toppled a dictator. The 1848 revolution failed. The German Reich was founded in 1871 by waging a war against France whilst German left leaders were in prison. Democracy was introduced in 1918 because the Kaiser lost the war. Germany was liberated from Nazi dictatorship by the Allies. Resistance inside Germany had been insufficient because resistance from the left was decimated in 1933 as they either had to flee or were imprisoned, many were in the first concentration camps. It's an illusion to believe this history wouldn't influence Germany today.

There are differences between the left in Germany and other European countries which are shown by studying minor events normally ignored. One example was a demonstration in Hannover on 23 April 2009. The tyre manufacturer Continental with headquarters in Hannover was planning to shut down a factory. Workers protested and took to the streets. Business as usual, one would believe. The unusual thing was that the factory was situated in Clairoix in France and the workers who staged the protest in Hannover were French. In Germany, it is known that French protesters are far more resolute and powerful than German protesters. The Hannover police printed leaflets in French - uncommon in Germany - telling French workers they had to behave decently and it was forbidden to burn tyres at demonstrations. Even German trade union officials were concerned and joined the protests asking French colleagues to keep quiet.

Of course, this story is only a detail, but is typical and gives an idea why it is easier for the German establishment to impose austerity than it is for French elites. This aspect is an important part of what the conservative "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" had in mind when, in March 2012, it pleaded for a "cultural revolution" in Europe. "The south" of Europe, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy, and, France should adjust their "political-economic culture" to the German model.

To find out why there aren't sufficient protests against austerity in Germany, examine the system of "social partnership", the system of collaboration between trade unions and big business. It aims principally at reducing conflict to weaken workers' protests and give advantages to entrepreneurs and the state. In the case of the austerity policy which was closely connected with the so-called Hartz IV reforms, the trade unions didn't resist as determinedly as many had hoped. They acted in a way which led clear-sighted neoliberals to speak very highly of them. In 2010 the conservative "Die Welt" praised trade unions and works councils at the big chemical company Lanxess for having introduced "new forms of collaboration". A trade unionist said: "The crisis transformed us from members of the works councils into co-managers." In April 2012, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote: "Instead of ideologists eager to strike, there are even more co-managers in the leading circles of the trade union head offices and ... works councils."

It is clear that German trade unions are instrumental in imposing the German austerity policy on the EU. The "German Confederation of Trade Unions" has initiated some integrative measures which aim at preventing trade unions in crisis torn countries to protest against austerity like the Continental workers in France. In December 2011, Michael Sommer, Chairman of the Confederation of Trade Unions, met with Chancellor Angela Merkel to talk about the euro crisis. Publicly they agreed the EU Fiscal Pact should be complemented by spending programmes to improve the social situation. The austerity policy was not called into question. Four months later, Michael Sommer invited trade union chairpersons from eight other European countries to two meetings in Berlin - one with Chancellor Merkel, the other one with a leading social democrat, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. After the meetings, Sommer declared that the EU Fiscal Pact should be complemented by spending programmes. Again, the austerity policy wasn't questioned. With the meetings in Berlin, the German Confederation of Trade Unions had integrated leading union officials from Belgium, Sweden, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Ireland.

In the last three years, the euro crisis has led to growing opposition to the euro in Germany. There is a left opposition against the euro, mainly in the party "The Left" but whose majority is pro-euro. One reason why the left opposition against the euro is relatively weak is that the German elites traditionally used a chauvinistic policy to become more powerful in the world; during the Nazi era, their policy was openly racist and anti-semitic. Many in the German left hope that a "European" policy will be history repeating. On the other hand, a right wing opposition to the euro has grown focussed on the party "Alternative for Germany". At its core the party is an instrument for those members of the German economic elites who have the opinion that saving the euro is too expensive and risky and will drag the economy down. Some of its leading figures are in touch with the far right and some belong to influential parts of the German elites who have voiced anti-democratic proposals. For example, one of them suggested denying the right to vote to the jobless. Another one spoke out in favour of introducing a monarchy, which, of course, in Germany has a completely different meaning compared to the meaning it has in the Netherlands or Britain.

Despite these concerns in parts of the German elite, a clear majority in the establishment defends the euro - not only because Germany profits the most from the euro currency but also because an abolition of the euro would be a severe blow to the whole EU. From the point of view of the German establishment, the EU is a very important instrument which affords them influence in the world, the fact being obvious that Germany alone is too small to compete politically or even militarily with the US or China. This is one reason why it was very important for Germany to have Nice and Lisbon Treaties ratified, which respectively pursue a "European" or a "Common Security and Defence Policy". The aim is to pursue a common foreign policy even with the help of the military, with all the strength of all EU member states together. This has far reaching consequences because it means that the national foreign policies of all EU member states have to be welded together into one single "European" foreign policy - something which is impossible without a severe power struggle between the strongest European states.

Having been the most influential EU member state for a long time, Germany has emerged from the euro crisis as the undisputable EU leader. The magazine "Internationale Politik" stated plainly at the beginning of 2011: "A structural question of the European Union was clarified in 2010: ... Germany, with the largest national economy, has definitively emerged as the central player in the Union. To put it bluntly: Merkel is ... no longer just Germany's chancellor, but the European Union's as well." The "role of the vice chancellor" certainly fell to the French President "who has the leeway to take the initiative in a policy debate but could be roped in by the chancellor, Merkel, should they disagree". Economically, the French President has in the meantime been roped in several times when he tried to escape from the German austerity dictates. Currently, Germany is trying to dominate the Common Security and Defence Policy as well. This can be seen in the disputes over the war against Libya, the war in Mali or a possible war against Syria. It can be seen in the attempts to build an EU army. Germany clearly wants an EU army, the reason being that the Bundeswehr is weaker than the British and French armies and doesn't have nuclear weapons; so Germany would benefit from common armed forces. If Berlin secures its dominant position in the EU, it will be able to form the "Common Security and Defence Policy" according to its own foreign policy goals. This explains why London and Paris signed a binational "Declaration on Defence and Security Co-operation" in November 2010, agreeing on common armaments' projects and the building of a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. Clearly France and the UK are not in favour of Germany's domination over every policy field. Of course, the German establishment is fully aware of that and is trying to discredit the pact between London and Paris. In August 2012, the "German Council on Foreign Relations" called it a "New Entente Cordiale" and warned it should be dealt with cautiously.

Two things seem to be clear. There will be no possibility for any EU member state to stay neutral in future wars; the building of an EU military bloc will comprise all of them. And: The German elites see the militarization of the EU as one of the main elements of the union. "The European project of a common security and defence policy will be an engine with which Europe can grow together", explained German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the Munich Security Conference in February 2010. Bismarck in 1871 forged a German state out of many smaller German kingdoms and principalities. He waged a war against France, welding all the principalities together and securing Prussian domination over the militarized German Reich.

No one is obliged to consent to the militarization of Europe. It would be a good idea for the German left, but also for the left in other European countries to fight against militarization. It is not a fight without hope, as can be seen by the "no" with which the British parliament prevented a war against Syria. It would also be a good idea to fight austerity in Germany as everywhere in Europe. It will be important to keep in mind that militarization and austerity are no accidental occurrence but part of the core strategy of Germany, the most powerful state in the EU.

For Part I click here
Click for part I of Collapse of the left in Britain...