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Germany: The Calm Before the Storm

by marx 21 network Tuesday, Sep. 22, 2009 at 10:01 AM
mbatko@lycos.com

"The Left must become a catalyst of resistance to the crisis in order to gain strength. Impoverishment does not make anyone enlightened. Despair and anger do not necessarily lead to progressivism. People may be just as likely to give up...."

THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Theses on crisis and protest from the marx21-Network

[This article published by the: marx21 network, August 2009 is translated from the German on the Internet by Anna Cueni.]


*1. The crisis is rapidly becoming graver. *

The German economy is predicted to collapse approximately 6 percent in 2009,
far surpassing the previous greatest collapse of 0.9 percent following the
war in 1975. The consequences will be devastating at all levels:
Unemployment is expected to rise to up to 4 million this fall; in 2010, 5
million unemployed are expected. Hartz IV ensures that millions of people
will be reduced to poverty within 18 months, when they will need to get by
with support of 351 Euros (plus rent for "adequate accommodation").

Public finances are collapsing: a slump of 200 billion Euros in tax revenue
is projected by 2013. Additionally, a potential pension reduction of 2
percent is looming due to falling pre-tax wages. In short, the country is
sliding at an accelerating rate into the gravest economic and social crisis
since the war. DGB leader Michael Sommer's warning of "social unrest" is
based in reality.

*2. After the Bundestag elections, Agenda 2020 looms.*

The general perception, however, is the opposite: with the scrap bonus for
vehicles, pension increases, and extension of the duration of short-term
unemployment benefits, the government seemingly supports "the common
people." Although many consider the government's granting of much greater
sums of money to the banks unfair, they nonetheless fail to see the
government as a major redistributor of wealth from below to above.
Ideologically, too, none of the established parties in this major election year are
positioning themselves neoliberally: the CDU is championing the "social
market economy" over "capitalism," and the SPD is moving left with calls for
taxing the rich, etc. This stands in stark contrast to insolvent countries
like Hungary and Estonia, where the governments wanted to pass the
conditions attached to IMF loans directly on to the populace in the form of
drastic social cuts, and were subsequently swept from office through
spontaneous popular movements. This is also a significant departure from
the situation in 2003, when Agenda 2010 was announced: the agenda was a
clear attack by the government on the majority of the populace.

But it is already clear: the next government will attempt to recoup the
money thrown after the banks and compensate for tax losses - the "debt
brake" points in this direction. The SPD is even coming out strongly in
favor of incorporating the debt brake into the constitution. This means any
foreseeable government will undertake belt-tightening measures. It is
apparent that the last half of 2009 and 2010 will see significant
controversies arise.

3. *Germany** is not **France** -- but the potential for mass protests
exists.*

Although Germany has been hit significantly harder by the crisis, than, say,
France, the situation on the streets appears to be calmer. *Der
Spiegel*thus maintains that Germany is "not easily inflamed." That there are fewer protests here in Germany, however, is not because the mood is fundamentally different from
that in other countries. According to a survey by Emnid, 72 percent of
Germans fear the crisis, 79 percent show understanding for the protests and
32 percent say they would themselves participate in protests in light of the
crisis. That represents 15 to 20 million potential protestors.

At the same time, a new survey shows that 68 percent of Germans have not yet
felt the effects of the crisis. Those directly affected are contractors
laid off en masse, temporary workers, factory workers in the metals industry
(whose scheduled raise has been suspended) and, of course, workers from
now-bankrupt enterprises. Overall, the affronts are coming primarily from a
business rather than a political standpoint.

*4. The fight against job cuts will be a central political issue this year.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) projects
that the unemployment rate in Germany will rise to "nearly 12 percent" by
the end of 2010. Woolworth Germany has filed for bankruptcy. Its 11,000
workers in 323 locations are threatened by the same fate that befell their
British colleagues at the beginning of the year, when management dismissed
27,000 workers. Other businesses are also affected. Opel and Shaeffler are
in serious crisis. The time-honored brands Hertie and Mrklin have already
filed for bankruptcy. Hertie has announced plans to shut19 of its
remaining 73 German locations and lay off 650 of its current 3,400 workers.
Software company SAP is planning to eliminate 3,000 of a total of 51,500
positions. Even in one of the most successful sectors of equipment
manufacturing -- printing press manufacturing -- the years of plenty are at
an end. At the end of November, market leader Heidelberger Druckmaschinen
announced the elimination of 2,500 jobs in its Wiesloch and
Heidelbergplants, its foundry in Amstetten and the smaller assembly
plants in Brandenburg, Kiel, and Leipzig.

Workers from nearly all of these companies have taken to the streets in the
past weeks and months. A successful fight against a plant closure would
serve as an encouraging symbol. For this reason, solidarity with the
workers struggles is the need of the hour.

*5. In order to save jobs, a break with market logic by means of
nationalization is necessary, as well as a radicalization of countermeasures
up to and including sit-ins. *

The return of the state is the central political development of the crisis,
and represents a challenge for The Left. On one hand, state intervention on
the part of the federal government is designed around socializing the losses
of the banks, and is thus rejected by many leftists. The criticism that
state-run enterprises operate just as exploitatively as private ones is also
justified -- if the same rates of return are stipulated as for privately-run
concerns. On the other hand, it is correct to require the nationalization
of insolvent firms. In the current crisis, only the state commands the
resources to prevent the collapse of modern manufacturing facilities and
thus avert mass unemployment. These facilities and the know-how of the
workers are in no way superfluous -- it would be possible to use them to
manufacture modern, socially useful goods. This necessitates a debate over
the goals of production and appropriate planning -- in short, a
democratically controlled economy. The fight over nationalization is a
bridge: necessary given today's confrontations, it also portrays the
contours of a possible society of tomorrow.

Nationalization is superior to market solutions, such as those being sought
in the case of Opel. Here, the management, supported by the general works
council, is looking for an investor, but offering its workers wage cuts. This
will initiate a downward spiral. The overcapacity in the automotive market
is approximately 40 percent. This means that even the greatest sacrifices
will not end the automotive companies' profit crisis. Without a fundamental
redesign of production in the transportation sector, there can be no
solution here -- and such a redesign demands public access to the industry.
Of course, large corporations won't simply sit back and watch their
dispossession, but will try anything to disunify the workers, and, in the
case of bankruptcy, to hawk off the prime assets of the enterprise. To
prevent this, workers in countries like France have rediscovered occupation
as a form of protest: as a means to keep the workers together, as a place of
communal discussion, and as a method to defend against dismantlement. In
Germany, such measures should also be central to union tactics.

*6. The Left must become a catalyst of resistance to the crisis in order to
gain strength.*

"Red plays dead" and similar statements have been made by commentators
concerning the apparently contradictory fact that, while The Left has always
warned against market radicalism, it is now unable to benefit from the
crisis. Leading members of the party like Dietmar Bartsch give the
following explanation: The Left will gain in strength when the crisis has
reached the people. But this relationship is not automatic. Impoverishment
does not make anyone an enlightened and left-leaning person. Despair and
anger do not necessarily lead to progressivism. People may be just as
likely to give up or, worse still, lend their ears to the Nazis
pseudo-criticism of capitalism.

Passively waiting for the supposedly forthcoming political recovery will not
strengthen The Left. In order for a social radicalization to take a
leftward direction, an additional important element is required: successful
struggles against injustice and exploitation, conducted in solidarity. WASG
-- and later, The Left -- did not simply result from the outrage of many
over Schroeder's Agenda 2010. Instead, the party arose from the mass
resistance to the agenda.

Only resistance on the streets and in the workplace and the solidarity that
arises in such struggles can strengthen The Left. The party cannot and must
not create these struggles out of thin air. They already exist -- for
example, in the mass demonstration organized by the DGB on the 16th of May.
But The Left carries the responsibility of doing everything in its power to
help those who are engaged in the struggle -- by practicing practical
solidarity, by inserting itself into the political debate in the manner most
promising of a successful way forward, and by voicing inside and outside of
Parliament what millions of people are thinking: that the profiteers must
step up monetarily and that the populace shall not pay for the crisis. The
Bundestag elections of 2009 offer a good opportunity for this message to
gain recognition.
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