1.2. Key Policy Areas: The PDS
1.2.2. Socialism and Social Justice
In its 1990 programme the PDS identified itself as a socialist party open to all people and movements who strived for a society characterised by social justice and solidarity.
Although this statement did not establish the PDS as an unequivocally class-based party, the programme went on to emphasise the ‘interests of all workers’ as a core principle (Höpcke, 2005, p.247). This principle featured in subsequent programmes too, but from 1993 was supplemented by the additional assertion that the PDS offered a political home to those who wanted to ‘resist capitalist society’ and who ‘fundamentally rejected’ the prevailing conditions, as well as to those whose resistance was combined with efforts to positively transform and gradually overcome such conditions (PDS, 1993). It was this very issue — whether to strive to overcome capitalism or seek its reform — that formed the crux of an enduring tension within the party.
The 1990 programme acknowledged the economic efficiency of capitalism and praised its capacity for technological and scientific progress. Other notable accomplishments achieved under capitalism included representative democracy, the rule of law, human rights and civil society (Patton, 2011, p.40). According to the programme, a Social Market Economy that was genuinely orientated towards the greater good as well as for the benefit of the individual was not in fact a contradiction of socialist values (Höpcke,
2005, p.249). For Neu (2011, p.10), the aspiration to a market economy and a meritocracy in which each person is able to determine their professional and social role according to their individual talents and abilities belied a somewhat liberal approach, rather than a distinctly socialist agenda.
However, the PDS presented a stark critique of capitalism’s inherent inability to create social justice. The party took an interventionist approach to the economy, and set out to achieve its key goal of social justice through state regulation and redistribution (Land and Possekel, 1995, p.113). For example, the programme stated the objective of a constitutional right to work (PDS, 1990). Public ownership of the key means of production was also emphasised, although the programme simultaneously recognised the value of competition arising from various forms of ownership, so long as these served the goal of social justice (Höpcke, 2005, p.93). Alongside labour, nature too was to be understood as a source of social wealth; consequently, an ecological restructuring of society was required in order to break from the one-sided exploitation of nature and essential natural resources (Patton, 2011, p.40). The pathway towards achieving a market economy determined by social justice and ecological sustainability would be one of grassroots activism, rather than of the violent overthrow of existing capitalism (ibid.).
Moreau (1994, p.70) identifies this combination of recognition and criticism of capitalism as indicative of the self-contradictory character of the programme, However, the programme was very much a product of the prevailing and dominant ideas, as well as hurriedly drafted ahead of the first all-German election (Behrend, 2006, p.49) and in this respect the 1990 programme should be understood within the context of the Wende. Against the background of the previous autumn’s mass protests and with unification impending, perceived failure to recognise democracy, human rights and the achievements of the Federal Republic’s Social Market Economy would have risked the PDS appearing significantly out of touch with the political mood of the time. Secondly, to have any chance of surviving in a unified Germany, the PDS needed to appeal to leftist voters in the West too, particularly those sceptical of unification. A reformist approach to achieving social justice, an economic policy based on ecological sustainability and an emphasis on grassroots activism and democracy could be reassuring and palatable to social democrats and the environmental movement in the western states. However, no less essential was reassuring voters in the PDS core constituency in the East, many of whom were concerned about their future in the Federal Republic.
Defending the values that formed the very essence of socialism, the PDS warned that despite the impending demise of the GDR and the apparent victory of capitalism, these values — and therefore socialism itself — would not be swept aside:
Socialism as an expression of age-old human ideals — social justice, solidarity, freedom for the oppressed, help for the weak — is immortal, even if its opponents declare it dead one hundred times. (PDS, 1990, cited in Patton, 2011, p.40)
The themes of socialism and (eastern) identity were similarly intertwined in the 1993 programme. Here, the PDS insisted ‘no apology’ was required for the post-war attempt by millions of people to build a better society, and defined its understanding of socialism as:
(...) a movement against the exploitation of humans by humans, against patriarchal repression, against the plundering of nature, for the preservation and development of human culture, for the assertion of human rights, for a society in which citizens can conduct their affairs democratically and rationally. Socialism is (...) a system of values, in which freedom, equality and solidarity, human emancipation, social justice, preservation of nature and peace are inexorably connected. (PDS, 1993)
The programme also stressed that the responsibility for the waste, destruction and discrimination in the eastern Länder lay not just with the terms and conditions of the Federal Republic's 'Anschluss' (annexation) of the GDR, but above all with the very nature of capitalist society itself. The chapter 'The Contemporary World' held the capitalist production and political system responsible for preventing the realisation of the citizens' movements' democratic and socialist ideals, and went on to identify overcoming the capitalist models of production, distribution and consumption as the greatest challenge facing the modern world. Once again, such statements fuelled the party's opponents' view that it was ‘rückwartsgewandt’ (retrospective and backward-looking).
Every economic conflict, inevitable even in a free and democratic society, is re-interpreted as a class conflict. The PDS manifests itself therefore as a party that seeks to extend an ideology that worldwide had failed by 1989-1990 at the latest. (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, 1995, cited in Patton, 2008, p.2)
Criticism from within the PDS left wing, especially the Communist Platform, centred on the programme's ‘incurably social-democratic character’ and related in particular to paragraphs declaring the PDS's openness towards ‘broad leftist movements’ and a
‘renewal of socialist politics’ (Behrend, 2006, p.52ff). However, Behrend (ibid., p.53) points out that although social-democratic and reformist traits are undoubtedly evident in the programme, the predominant accents remained unmistakably anti-capitalist and socialist, while Neu (2011, p.12) notes that overtly anti-capitalist rhetoric featured more heavily than it had in the 1990 programme. Furthermore, the Communist Platform itself, despite its attempts to block conference's adoption of the programme, would go on in subsequent policy discussions to defend the solid, socialist and anti-capitalist basis of the 1993 programme. In fact, Hough et al. (2007, p.25) even assert that many aspects of the 1993 programme ‘represented a step backwards, illustrating how the KPF and other left-wing orthodox forces were still able to influence party policy’ and cite as evidence the programme's extensive defence of the GDR's real-existing socialism as a justifiable endeavour in the construction of a new type of society, as well as the ongoing commitment to socialism as a ‘legitimate aim in itself and how a state built on socialist principles would solve many of the ills of the (capitalist) world’ (ibid.).
This extensive critique did not fully develop into a comprehensive set of concrete policies, though. Hough et al. (2007, p.25) observe that firstly, when drafting the 1993 programme, the party was far more concerned with its own political survival than what it would set out to do in office — which at the time was a far-fetched notion to say the least. Secondly, the party lacked the ‘time and expertise’ needed to formulate thorough policies. Meanwhile, Olsen notes that the 1993 programme, like its predecessor, combined orthodox Marxism, social-democratic reformism and New Left ideas. The glue holding together ‘these disparate versions of socialism’ was the ‘nationalistic/
regionalistic/GDR nostalgic tenor of the entire document’ (Olsen, 2002a, p.209). A similar thread ran through the 1994 Bundestag general election campaign, which blamed dominant capitalism for the premature curtailment of the citizens' movements of 1989, thus preventing the fruition of their ideas of democracy and freedom. Capitalism
was also held responsible for ecological destruction, militarisation and the impoverishment of the developing world.
However, despite the PDS’s sometimes strident criticism of capitalism, a shift in the party’s strategic goals was also taking shape. In February 1994 Gysi presented his 'Ingolstadt Manifesto', in which he declared that the PDS had 'arrived' as a party, also in the West (Meuche-Mäker, 2005, p.23). The claim triggered further inner-party debate that once again focused on the PDS's role (if any) in the western Länder, but also speculated whether 'arrived' (angekommen) might also be an indication that the party was finding its place in the political mainstream at the expense of socialism and principled opposition. For it was at this time that the PDS began its transformation from a party of opposition to a party of government responsibility in the eastern states.
Electoral success had begun at local level in June, when Horst-Dieter Brähmig became the PDS mayor in the town of Hoyerswerda. In keeping with the ‘real’ politics approach, Brähmig would go on to justify privatisation, the sinking of wage costs and cuts in local services in order to defend ‘Standort Deutschland’ (Germany as a business location) (Behrend, 2006, p.66). The real watershed, though, was the PDS agreement to
‘tolerate’ the Red-Green government in Saxony-Anhalt. The party’s office-seeking goals were then realised with the formation of the first full Red-Red coalition in 1998 and then again in Berlin 2001.
The PDS controlled three ministries in the Berlin coalition government. Seen from the perspective of ‘real politics’, their role could be seen as providing the ‘last line of defence’ against the very worst aspects of a series of harsh but necessary measures.
Berlin's annual tax revenue amounted to some €8 billion, but its debt was a massive
€53 billion — an unwelcome reality which, insisted supporters of the Red-Red coalition, simply could not be ignored. Under the previous coalition of SPD and CDU, the city had also experienced a serious and ruinous banking scandal, and corruption in the construction sector was rife. Through its subsidy of public sector housing, state funding had flowed into the pockets of shareholders and investors, rather than assisted poor tenants rent homes at socially sustainable prices. The PDS-Berlin cited the urgency of this problem, as well as progress made in reducing construction sector sleaze, in defence of the government's decision to reduce funding and privatise a share of the state's public housing stock. However, other measures implemented by the Red-Red government also included the privatisation of selected state enterprises, a rise in the price of water, cuts in various public facilities and services, and reduced budgets for culture and education (Hough et al., 2007, p.106ff.).
Resisting earlier attempts to recast the PDS as an eastern catch-all party, a group of members, several of whom were based in the West, published a statement in Neues Deutschland newspaper under the heading 'In großer Sorge' (with great concern) . 11 The statement accused the PDS leadership of serious misdeeds, including pursuing a headlong course towards social democracy and a 'reformists versus Stalinists' vendetta among the party membership. Three specific points were highlighted: first, a deviation from the role of principled opposition; second, an abandonment of the class struggle and the sidelining of the property question in favour of a new social contract; and third, a restriction of inner-party pluralism (ibid.). The thirty-eight signatories and their supporters went on to form the Marxist Forum within the PDS, citing their concern over the future of the party's oppositional role, (versus government participation), the unresolved property question and class conflict in contemporary society . 12
The political course of the Berlin coalition also attracted a great deal of criticism, the main source of which was once again the left wing of the party and the western regional organisations. One of the key concerns raised was the apparent lack of serious discussion at federal level of whether toleration or coalition actually contributed to achieving the party’s stated objective of social justice. Furthermore, it was necessary to evaluate the relationship between negotiated compromise — the PDS as the ‘lesser evil’ — and dwindling credibility as a socialist party (Wagenknecht, 2001, p.12).
Nevertheless, the commitment to office-seeking goals was confirmed in the 2003 Chemnitz programme. After a warning from Gysi that the ‘dogmatic left’ had to recognise that they were out of step with the new programme (ibid.), the PDS stated the intention to build a centre-left alliance working towards ‘forward-looking, democratic, social and ecological alternatives’ and to ‘overcome the intellectual and political hegemony of neoliberal ideology and politics’ in Germany and the EU (PDS, 2003). The PDS argued that socialist politics needed to take account of the prevailing conditions, so that protest and resistance were combined with engagement in tangible reform measures. The immediate priority was to improve standards of living and to take steps towards greater social justice and democracy; only then would it be realistic to aim for a more fundamental and comprehensive restructuring of wealth and power to break the dominance of profit over society (ibid., p.13).
Reprinted in Beinert, H. (ed.) (2005): Die PDS - Phönix oder Asche?, p.227.
The Marxist Forum remained a grouping within the Left Party, although it has not been
recognised as a federal alliance. The MF set out to promote the anti-capitalist character of the party through discussion, seminars and theory papers, as well as to develop strategies for overcoming capitalism.
Drafts of the programme as well as the final version adopted at the Chemnitz Conference prompted a critical response centring primarily on the nature of socialism and the feasibility of capitalism’s reform. During the discussion, a subtle but important reformist shift in core values was also detected in some of the terminology. For example, the term ‘Freiheitsgüter’ (literally ‘freedom goods’) was frequently mentioned in the programme to describe the ability to develop according to capacity and needs, and to develop productive forces and moral standards — this ability determined whether people were free. Criticism centred not only on the use of rather vague concepts, but also the use of the word ‘goods’ (Güter), which was interpreted to mean something which can be bought, sold, given or received and therefore considered insufficient to describe a right that involved struggle, conflict or achievement (Höpcke, 2001, p.250). In addition, a draft of the programme emphasised ‘access’ (Zugang) to these ‘goods’. Once again, the wording was problematic: socialism was not merely about ‘access to’ or ‘use of’ common goods; it was about influence over their production by those who produced them. As such, the term was perceived to neglect a fundamental principle of socialism, as ‘access’ suggested the equal opportunity of use, but said nothing about participation or influence (Wawzyniak, 2001, p.39) . A further 13 dispute over wording concerned the concept of freedom. The PDS had consistently acknowledged that freedom, along with equality and solidarity, formed the very foundations of socialism. The 2003 programme added that equality without freedom was repression; the critical response observed the failure to state that freedom without equality was likewise repression. This was considered a grave omission given the widespread lack of freedom caused by inequality driven by capital and militarism (Höpcke, 2001, p.250).
In the Chemnitz programme, the PDS acknowledged that economic growth under capitalism had resulted in environmental degradation and ‘deformed’ consumption. The party was committed to increasing domestic demand and among the concrete proposals designed to achieve this aim was a plan to return to full employment. This was to be accomplished through a fairer distribution of work that would first limit the working week to forty hours and then introduce a reduced working week of thirty-five hours and, eventually, thirty hours. The party rejected any decrease in wages or social transfer payments as not only economically damaging but also socially ruinous.
The principle of ‘access’ (Zugang) would later feature in the SPD welfare reform, which was
based on equality of access (to the labour market) rather than equality of outcome (see Chapter Three).
Another demand was a minimum wage and PDS support of trade union engagement for higher pay (PDS, 2003).
Although the party claimed that the dominance of profit was incompatible with social justice, entrepreneurship and the interests of profit were cited as important prerequisites of innovation and efficiency (ibid.). However, Wagenknecht argued that the goal of ‘a market economy but not a market society’ was rather too close for comfort to the ‘Third Way/Neue Mitte’ position advocated by Schröder and Blair . 14 Moreover, by promoting the interests of profit, the party had surrendered not only its goal of overcoming capitalism but had also squandered the opportunity to even rein in capitalism (Wagenknecht, 2001, p.13). Another criticism was that in its praise for entrepreneurship and profit, the programme had failed to mention the associated exploitation of workers (Höpcke, 2001, p.31).
Whenever a political party drafts and debates a new programme it is of course commonplace for members and activists to engage in an (often forensic) analysis of the proposals, and for objections and amendments to be put forward. However, the criticisms and arguments cited in this section go some way to indicate the depth of the unresolved tension within the PDS over its core socialist values and orientation; in fact, the Chemnitz programme itself admitted that the socialist profile of the PDS was the subject of ongoing development and debate. Yet it also stated in very clear terms that a priority was parliamentary strength and that the party’s track record of toleration and coalition in eastern states was proof of PDS ‘Politikfähigkeit’ in a set of difficult conditions (PDS, 2003).