The article which follows was written before the German elections last month. The German lower house of parliament (Bundestag) reopened today (26/10/21) but Germany still awaits a new government. One thing seems clear though. After 16 years of “Mutti” (Angela Merkel) another capitalist coalition will be pieced together as in the past. As the old adage has it “whoever you vote for, the bourgeoisie always win”.
It looks highly likely that the new coalition including the Greens and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) headed by the Social Democratic Party (SPD), a party which has served German capital well for over a century, will take over. The confused result of the election (which was in effect a bad result for all the electoral parties) is a reflection of the confusion that reigns in capitalist circles as the long-running capitalist crisis of stagnation has only got worse in the face of the pandemic and the undeniable effects of global warming. Merkel, long seen as the font of wisdom in any capitalist estimate, may have seen her party lose power without her but may still have made her wisest decision of all in getting out before things get any worse...
No Choice but the Class Struggle
"To delude others and by deluding them to delude yourself – this is parliamentary wisdom in a nutshell!" (Marx, Letter to Nikolai Danielson, 1881)
In the dominant narrative, elections represent the highlight of bourgeois democracy, when matters are passionately discussed and struggled over. By this standard, the prelude to this year’s election spectacle was thoroughly botched, with headlines awash with plagiarism scandals, exaggerated CVs and the insolence and power-hunger of the top candidates. Following the Merkel era, is the Republic running the risk of bona fide idiots entering the chancellery? Well, in the history of the country this would really be nothing new. Indeed, it has gradually become apparent by now that these so-called “top politicians” owe their careers less to their intellectual genius than to their adaptability, to the patronage of their party, and the targeted use of their elbows.
In light of this failed performance, experts are decrying the meaninglessness of this election at the top of their lungs, which has brought the Confederation of German Industry (BDI) on to the stage calling for urgent “intensive debates on the programmes of the parties to ensure Germany’s future competitive viability as an industrial centre”. After all, in elections there should be something to choose from. The only question is what.
A German Lesson: The Agony of the Election
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) puts itself forward as the “power of the centre” and a guarantee of stability. They thus wish to “unite Germany”. The SPD counters this with the claim that they are “the first violin of this Republic, which won’t be used to play nonsense.” Out of “respect for the future”, they desire more social equality and promise “competence for Germany”. The Greens present their election programme as a “vitamin shot for Germany”. They are committed to the ludicrous idea that protecting the climate and the environment can be compatible with the capitalist drive to exploitation – a message that precisely because of its irrationality is already making itself heard among the middle class through the haze of the Steiner schools. Meanwhile, the FDP, by default the most honest bourgeois party, has openly styled itself as a lobby group for the rich and higher earners, and demands a “pact to unchain Germany” for its clientele. The Linke Partei (Left Party) however has little time for such bondage games. They call on voters to “choose social justice”. By this they of course mean themselves and their ambition for a “rebel government”, which knows neither classes nor class conflict: “Together we can all make Germany more democratic and socially just.” In this colourful dance, the AfD (Alliance for Germany) play the role of conformist rebels, loudly complaining of thoughtcrime and urging the rulers to restore an authoritarian order they presume “natural”, which would curtail women’s rights, police sexuality and reinforce nationalism and racism. As their slogan logically goes, “make Germany normal again.”
At this point, we must remember that the democratic election promises of 2017 to rein in the AfD, and break their spell in parliament remain as yet unfulfilled. Instead, our prediction has come true that “the politics of the AfD will continue to offer the established parties a source of inspiration, points of attack and all sorts of weapons. The AfD hasn’t got a copyright on reactionary positions. Nationalism and racism form the social basis of all bourgeois parties — from left to right ... This twisted logic that racism shouldn’t be left to the most open racists is the quintessence of all bourgeois politics!”1
Why Should We Vote While a World is Burning?
While the parties strive for the welfare of Germany, global capitalism is setting the planet alight. The apocalyptic images of the forest fires in Southern Europe, the heatwaves in North America, the torrential rains and floods in Germany, do not only show the consequences of a broken system of disaster control. They are a clear result of the extent of the ecological crisis. Climate change is real and we are clearly feeling its effects. According to the latest predictions of the IPCC, the average temperature could already rise by 1.5°C by 2030. Extreme weather events such as heavy rains, droughts and heatwaves will also become more frequent, with incalculable consequences.
In light of this, the ruling class are harping on about a “Green New Deal” and calling for “sustainable consumption”. But as long as production remains orientated towards profit and not the needs of humanity and those of the environment, simple consumer choices will have little impact on production and the capitalist plunder of nature will continue.
The coronavirus pandemic, a product of the capitalist destruction of the ecosystem, has exposed the profound social contradictions of this society on a global scale. So far over 90,000 people have died from the pandemic in Germany alone. They have fallen victim to a health system geared towards profit, in which badly paid medical staff without sufficient protection must toil to the point of exhaustion. At the beginning of the pandemic they were applauded. So far, they have not been able to buy anything with this applause. The opening of schools and factories led to violent outbreaks of infections. People in precarious and low waged employment were particularly affected. Meanwhile, the super-rich saw a 15% rise in their capital. Coronavirus continues to spread particularly rapidly in poorer regions of the world. The patent for the vaccine however remains in the hands of a few huge businesses. The demands of a few moralists to make it freely available in the face of the power of big pharma and its cold cost-benefit analysis has proven to be merely a pious wish.
The corona crisis is not the cause but a product and catalyst of a long-simmering capitalist crisis of exploitation. The fata morgana that new value can be created through financial speculation led to periodic economic collapses, growing debt and rising instability. Competition is intensifying in all areas, and trade wars, arms races and military confrontations are taking on ever more dangerous forms. The cynical power games of the big players are causing entire regions to sink into the vortex of despotism and barbarism. The debacle of Western imperialism in Afghanistan is only the most recent example of this. Faced with people forced to flee war, terror and hunger, bourgeois politicians’ primary concern is that “2015 could repeat itself”. The border regime will be strengthened. People continue to die on the outer borders of the EU and in the Mediterranean. Those who make it across become targets of racism and are mercilessly exploited.
A roof over one’s head is increasingly becoming a luxury. Wage dumping and precarious employment conditions are reaching ever further. It is an open secret that the next wave of rationalisations are being prepared, the “great cash drop” following the general election is imminent. It’s not hard to guess who will be saddled with the costs for the coronavirus and everything that has come with it.
The Gloss and Misery of Parliamentarism
Risen from the struggle of the bourgeoisie against the feudal order, parliamentary democracy, with secret and equal voting rights and the existence of competing parties, was developed as the highest form of rule for capitalism. It generally proved itself superior to more open forms of dictatorship because it combined two aspects: “on the one hand, to enable the so-called participation of the masses in the decision-making process through voting; on the other, to exclude these masses through institutions.” (Johannes Agnoli) Parliamentary democracy is characterised by the illusion that every “citizen” is able to take part equally in the formation of political will through participation in the election spectacle, the unemployed and the millionaires alike, the temporary workers and the business owners. Social differences, class affiliation and class conflict play no role in this logic.
For the ruling class, parliamentarism does not have a purely ideological function, to dress up their actions and decisions as “expressions of the will of the electorate”; it also spreads the illusion far and wide among the wage-dependent population that others can act and make policies for them. After casting their vote, the “active voter” is transformed back into the passive observer, while the “passively voted” become those who “shape politics” in the established national state framework. In this way they are responsible only to themselves and their conscience, generously fed by the state and usually softly cushioned by all kinds of consultancy contracts and “side deals” for business and industry associations. While they quarrel over procedural motions and practical constraints, the real decisions are mostly made just below the surface in the ministerial bureaucracy, the non-public bodies of the state apparatus.
Against Parliamentary Cretinism! Don’t Vote, Fight Instead!
Parliamentary business is always enough for itself. By declaring itself the focus of all politics, while at the same time denouncing all demands and concerns not related to the “future competitive feasibility of Germany as a centre of industry” as unworldly and heretical, parliament is inscribed the role of an instrument of rule. However, it contains an internal paradox, one which seduces far more than conformist citizens to consider making their own criticism of society more publicly effective and respectable by participating “tactically” in the spectacle themselves, or even to support a purported lesser evil in order to prevent the worst. Such illusions underestimate the structural integrative function of the whole event and have led to embarrassment on more than one occasion. Like all other variations of representational politics, it is an obstruction to the only practical path to changing society, the independent self-initiative of the class. The refusal to participate does not in any way mean indifference or political passivity. Quite the contrary! It is obvious that after the elections, the bill for the corona crisis, the flood catastrophes and everything else will be handed to us. It is important to prepare ourselves for this, and wherever possible to enter into a political dialogue, to promote communication processes, but above all to sharpen our criticism of current social relations. In this regard, the political perspective of communists is necessarily a long-term one. Neither hanging our hopes on the “lesser evil”, protest voting, passively staying home, nor indeed merely not voting helps; only the autonomous, self-organised class struggle outside and against the intermediary institutions of this society. For 26 September and beyond, our proposal remains the same: don’t vote, fight!
For a Stateless, Classless Society!
Gruppe Internationalistischer KommunistInnen