Why it’s Worth Fighting for the Collective Movement
A new attempt from the left to challenge the neo-liberal ‘more-of-the-same’ status quo has emerged from the socio-political Left – the collective #aufstehen movement. There are many very valid reasons to stay away from it. Consider the words of poet Erich Fried: “Because I do not wish/ to get my fingers burnt again/ Because no-one understands this any longer/ but things might fall apart even more/ Because you never know/ what damage this will do to you/ These are causes of death/ to write on our graves/ that are no longer buried/ if they are the causes.” Here, therefore, are 11 arguments as to why, in our view, the collective movement requires solidarity and active participation.
1. Argument: the EU and Germany are in a critical era of the interregnum.
There are times when the processes supersede each other with such regularity that they resemble sand passing through an hourglass. And there are times when events can suddenly change everything. These are the critical moments in history. And when economic crises then suddenly take hold, such as in 2008; or political ones, as we saw with the influx of refugees from countries that were plunged into war with the aid of the USA and NATO, Gramsci’s words become clear: “The nub of the crisis is that the old is dying and the new cannot come to the fore: this interregnum is plagued by a broad variety of symptoms”.
2. Argument: The interim periods of the interregnum bear witness to fighting over how a new cohesive unity can be built.
Whether, in times of crisis, a fundamentally new cohesive unity can be generated is an open question. A new cohesive unity would reconnect the forces, elements and structures in society in economic, political and cultural terms. A new leadership group, a new hegemonic bloc would come to power. The claim to this new force is currently being asserted by the New Right, which is becoming increasingly stronger and clearer in its focus, and a New Left that, until now, has been far less self-assured and much weaker.
3. Argument: The real alternatives are a reformed ‘more-of-the-same’ option, or a change in political direction to the right or left.
For over thirty years there have been attempts to create a centre-left government in the Federal Republic. The government that was most closely formally aligned with this idea, the government under Schröder and Fischer, merely helped neo-liberalism to pass through, enabling the creation of a new Right. A new situation has come about with the crisis of neo-liberalism. There are real possible alternatives to the ‘more-of-the-same’ Merkel-Seehofer-Scholz government with its nationalist and social trade-offs. The New Right has grasped this. The Left, on the other hand, just needs to adapt to it.
4. Argument: In great crises “the people” appear again.
When everything is called into question in an interregnum, this is done by appealing to what people share. That this is more than a meaningless phrase is shown by the fact that the old large “people’s parties” dwindle or disappear altogether and new parties rise up in the name of the indignant, who feel they have been sold and betrayed, threatened with decline. When the streets are full of those claiming “We are the 99 per cent!”; or “We are the people!”. It is the democratic moment and it is directed against those currently in power. “Everyone go away!” is the battle-cry. It can be used by Right or Left, as an authoritarian or emancipatory appeal.
5. Argument: The mosaic Left is fragmented, because it lacks a cohesive left-wing unity.
Hans-Jürgen Urban articulated the vision of a mosaic Left years ago – frequently diverse, yet able to work together. Writing in the Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik political journal, he recently anxiously posed the question of whether this mosaic of left-wing groups might not founder when it came to the migration issue. It could also, moreover, break down on the question of lignite-based electricity generation, or on the contrast between the wages in the export industries and service providers in the postal service, care sector or in the pension policy sector. These contrasts cannot be reconciled without structural change from below and, simultaneously, large-scale state support from above, accompanied by significant redistribution to public bodies, wage earners and self-employed people without a guaranteed income. A cohesive Left is required.
6. Argument: False dichotomies must be overcome in a new cohesive unity founded on solidarity.
The precondition for a cohesive Left is for false dichotomies to be overcome. The solution from the political think tank Institut Solidarische Moderne: “Solidarity over homeland” was an example of a false dichotomy. It moved everyone to a destructive conflict. The real question is how solidarity, and global solidarity too, can be bound up with the preservation and development of homeland – both here in Germany and in the countries of the southern hemisphere. Addressing the economic and social burden vulnerable persons pose to their host countries will then stabilise the collective movement against influences from the Right, if it is bound up with fair processes of redistribution, the formation of the welfare state for those in the country itself who require the services and for immigrants, with the balance between human rights-based openness and realistic assessment of the absorption capacity of the countries taking in the immigrants; and, last but by no means least, with an emphasis on redistribution founded on solidarity to improve the situation in the countries of origin. The Left needs to leave the fatal ground of these false dichotomies behind and look for new methods of connecting the legitimate concerns of the various social groups and classes. A solidarity-focused centre-down alliance here in the Federal Republic, global solidarity, and openness to different life plans and cultures must form the triadic structure of left-wing politics.
7. Argument: The Left must become the nation, for this it needs a left-wing government.
Contrary to what is often believed, the wage-earning classes are essentially not united but fragmented. Only thus, in competition with each other, and fighting each other for the scant resources of good work and good living, can they be controlled. The global and national capitalist labour markets are the ideal control instrument, in line with the principle of “Divide and rule”. It is only with the help of the state and in fighting for state power that the dichotomies – that are rooted in capitalism – of economy and environment, of lignite production and renewable energy, of industrial and service sectors, of those living here in Germany and the two billion people living in squalid conditions, solidarity-based and changing, transformational, i.e. with the goal of a new whole, can be dealt with. This is why a left-wing government is necessary.
8. Argument: The Schulz hype shows that left-wing majorities are possible.
In February and March 2017, six months prior to the federal parliamentary elections, the SPD, together with the Greens and the Linke party, polled 47 per cent: close to the absolute majority. Martin Schulz fever took hold in the polls. On the actual night of the elections the figure was only 38.6 per cent. The high point earlier made one thing clear: left-wing majorities are possible. They are also possible, therefore, because, on questions of social justice and environmental sustainability, as well as democracy, the majorities lie consistently to the left. What was missing, though, was the will for a left-wing government; conviction of the feasibility of resolutely left-wing economic, environmental, social and democratic projects; and a serious, realignment of the EU and actual peace policies founded on solidarity.
9. Argument: The collective movement can be an important step on the way to left-wing majorities.
On 4 September of this year the founding manifesto of the collective #aufstehen movement was published. There has been criticism since then about what is missing or still unclear. There is a fear that a new left-wing party is emerging under a nationalist banner. The history of the manifesto and its development points in another direction. The journey is certainly still far from over. What could, or should, the next steps be, however?
With the founding impetus as its starting point, a highly practical agenda for a left-wing government in Germany could be developed – through online and local fora, through working groups and conferences, through polls on the Internet and in the street. As part of this it should include an immediate agenda that dictates the steps of this type of government during its first one hundred days. It would be an agenda for a Germany of the many in a Europe of the many.
The objective of the collective movement could be to enable the development of this type of left-wing parliamentary agenda by the citizens with the help of experts; and to present it for discussion at a symbolic referendum in autumn 2019. Following this, new elections should be called for – and not only at the end of the continued slow decline of the current government, but for spring 2020.
The collective movement ought not to limit itself to discussions, however. It must contribute to bringing together and mobilising people in the here and now, when it is a matter of specific projects, local initiatives and initiatives in areas that have a significant impact on people’s lives, such as rent, pensions and healthcare. This is also the opportunity for the new movement to participate in a solidarity-based connection of a range of different campaigns and actors. If the collective movement were to contribute to shifting the power relationships significantly to the left, a Red-Red-Green alliance might also become a possibility again – though now as a project for a clear, convincing and trustworthy left-wing change of direction. This is all open.
10. Argument: The LINKE party ought to get actively involved in work on a left-wing government agenda.
The Linke party is currently the only party whose ideas largely coincide with the demands for a broad left-wing government in Germany. It must have an interest in developing, discussing and deciding on these demands within a broad alliance with many who would otherwise not work with the Linke party. In doing so, it could also become the LINKE PLUS party.
Today, no-one knows what all this will mean in 12 or 18 months. But one thing at any rate is certain: the Left in Germany must make every reasonable attempt to force open the ‘more-of-the-same’ status quo and, at the same time, actively counter the right-wing reversal and create its own majorities. Fear of the incalculable is not good counsel in an era of interregnum.
11. Argument: The Left has spent too long being critical of the world from very different angles; now it is a matter of changing it from a perspective of solidarity.
[Michael Brie is a philosopher, working at the Institute for Critical Social Analysis of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and has been the official representative of the transform! europe network until 2009. Dieter Klein is a fellow of the Institute for Critical Social Analysis in the Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation.]