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Opinion: Germany Left Behind

Marc Young, DW-WORLD.DEJune 10, 2005

While the new alliance of two leftist parties for Germany's early general election this fall might make the campaign more colorful, it certainly won't help the country, says DW-WORLD's Marc Young.

Does Germany really need more Oskar Lafontaine?Image: AP

Perhaps one shouldn't really expect anything less from the birthplace of Karl Marx. Whereas in most other western democracies old school socialists are relegated to furthest fringes of political life, in Germany they are on the verge of a renaissance.

Old prejudices and big egos were put on the back burner as two far-left groups -- one based in eastern and the other in western Germany joined forces for planned parliamentary elections in September. The cooperation was announced early Friday morning.

The Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and the Election Alternative for Social Justice (WASG) have been hard at work hammering out the details of their prospective alliance. The Social Democrats' former party chairman, Oskar Lafontaine, who gave up his SPD party membership less than two weeks ago, has now said he will be available to run as a candidate for the new leftist coalition.

According to election analysts, this means the new left wing coalition could stand a realistic chance of passing the 5 percent threshold required to enter the Bundestag.

The PDS, which was born out of the ashes of the East German communist party, has never been able to establish a foothold in the west. The nascent WASG, made up of disgruntled western Social Democrats and trade unionists, completes the geography nicely. Hand-in-hand at the vanguard of this socialist movement will be two prominent politicians representing both halves of the once divided nation: Lafontaine -- and Gregor Gysi.

Gregor Gysi Rücktritt
Gregor GysiImage: AP

With the telegenic Gysi rejoining active politics, the PDS already stood a good shot of getting back into the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, after failing to make the grade in 2002.

But it's Oskar Lafontaine who could make the alliance a serious pan-German political force.

Jeopardizing reform

I suppose one could choose to see this as another important step along the long and tortuous path of German reunification. However, I'm somewhat more distracted by what the united lefty lot will mean for the country's willingness to continue on the rather more important path of economic reform.

Plagued by high unemployment and sluggish growth, the last thing Germany needs now is a gaggle of unreformed leftist hardliners rallying opposition to overhaul the country's bloated and untenable welfare state.

Montagsdemonstration in Berlin
A few hundred people take part in a demonstration against welfare cuts in Berlin Monday, Sept. 20, 2004.Image: AP

And make no mistake, that's what this outfit will be all about. The WASG was formed out of direct opposition to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's so-called Agenda 2010 -- a rather modest package of welfare cuts and labor market reforms. For its part, the PDS has always been so far from power and responsibility at the federal level that the party platform has long been largely reality-free.

Made in Germany

It would be great if Germans didn't have to tighten their belts and accept less generous benefits from the state, but the cold hard truth is that the country has lived above its means for years. The whole situation is aggravated by the fact that most Teutons aren't having enough children these days. However, what's key to realize is that these German problems are German made.

In recent months, there has been a tendency to look abroad for the cause of Germany's woes. Low-wage eastern Europe and Asia have been blamed for companies outsourcing German jobs. And blood-thirsty Yankee capitalists have become the bogeyman threatening Germany's precious social market economy by spreading a dangerous profit-maximization mentality.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm as concerned about the darker side of globalization as much as the next guy. Free trade and international competition should not lead to environmental and living standards of the lowest common denominator. But reform-phobic, old school socialist recipes offered by the PDS/WASG alliance are not the answer.

Unfortunately, regardless of whether Schröder or the conservative opposition wins the next election, the newly unified left-wingers will likely thrive in the next parliament. Freed from the burden of actually having to address the rather serious issues facing Germany, Gregor, Oskar and friends can rage against either Social Democratic sell-outs or cutthroat Christian Democrats.