A poll conducted last week by left-leaning German TV magazine Panorama revealed that more than a third of Germans would consider voting for a new left party, made up of expelled and resigned Social-Democrats (SPD) and disappointed former Greens and Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) members. The surprise result has been a nasty shock for the SPD, following a disappointing 22% in the European Union election.
On June 15, the SPD expelled four regional union leaders who had threatened to set up a new party if the SPD continues its radical neoliberal dismantling of the welfare state. Following the expulsions, two more union leaders resigned from the party. The six, who had all been SPD members for more than three decades, formed the "Initiative for Work and Social Justice". This group has attracted many former SPD members and other grassroots unionists.
This development comes on top of the formation earlier this year of a coalition of left movement activists, grassroots unionists and progressive NGOs to provide a left electoral alternative to the SPD. Leaders of the group helped organise the massive, 500,000-strong April demonstrations against social cuts. Known as "Electoral Alternative 2006", the group called for a congress later this year with the aim of forming an electoral alliance to stand in the 2006 federal elections.
On 19-20 June, 700 unionists and other activists from these two initiatives came together for a conference in Berlin to start a discussion process that is hoped to culminate in a "social electoral alternative" or even a new left party. One participant described the audience as: "trade unionists, SPD members that feel at unease with their old party, disillusioned Green Party and PDS members, anti-globalisation activists, young left militants and followers of various tiny political groups".
The congress decided to register an association that would produce a programmatic paper for discussion. Even at this early stage, the non-party has 70 regional branches, which will discuss the programmatic paper. A further congress in autumn will decide whether to formally establish a party or not, and, if so, on what basis.
Some of the political basis of the potential formation is clear. The congress accused the SPD of "selling out over 100 years of old social democratic values and principles", and having become an "agent for the redistribution of wealth from bottom to the top". It was also critical of the right-wing role played by the PDS in the two state governments where that party is in coalition government with the SPD. Leaders of the coalition are vehement in arguing that cooperation with the social movements should be a cornerstone of any new party.
Panorama found out that while just 6% of Germans would "yes, surely" vote for such a union-initiated new "Electoral Alternative for Work and Social Justice", a further 32% would "possibly" give it their vote. This is a 14% jump from a similar poll in March.
Article abridged from the Australian socialist paper Green Left Weekly, 30 June 2004