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Opinion: Socialist Strategists

Germany's socialists are mobilizing voters against the government's social welfare reforms: It's their right to do so, but they're doing it for the same reason any other political party would: power.


What's their true motivation?

Naturally, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor to the former East German communist party, is benefiting from the public's resentment against the government's reforms -- reforms that were approved by large parts of the opposition, including the Christian Democrats (CDU) as well.

This hasn't prevented the CDU from constantly gaining voters' support since the last election in 2002. They've been able to do so because they have managed to present German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democratic Party (SPD) as the culprit for all kinds of failures -- past and present.

Such hypocrisy can definitely be called populism, especially since past mistakes in the health, labor and pension sectors were made during the CDU's time in power: After all, the conservatives had the say in Germany from 1982 to 1998.

On the one hand, anyone attacking the PDS and accusing it of populism is right in doing so. But at the same time, such criticism is also diverting attention from the real problem: Germans feel uncertain and frustrated and many will be worse off once unemployment and social welfare payments are brought to the same low level next year. It doesn't help much that many welfare recipients will actually be better off.

Lacking sensitivity

Even Lothar Bisky, the PDS leader, isn't denying the latter fact. So what it is then that the socialists can be accused of? That they initiate and participate in protests that have been deliberately called "Monday demonstration" in order to make a connection with the velvet revolution in the former East Germany in 1989?

Admittedly that's not a very sensitive thing to do as the 1989 Monday demonstrations were the beginning of the end of the PDS' predecessor party as well as the East German dictatorship.

But does this mean that socialists should keep quite and abstain from political discourse in a unified Germany if they believe things to go in the wrong direction? Unlikely.

Still a people's party

Nobody needs to like the PDS and almost nobody does like the party in western Germany. But it's still a people's party in the eastern part of the country. It's a junior coalition partner in the state governments of Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania. It could become the strongest party in Brandenburg after the Sept. 19 state election there.

All of this is happening two years after the party failed to enter the German parliament, because it could not garner 5 percent of votes required to do so. Back then, people were already digging a grave for the socialists. But in June, the party came back to life in the elections for the European Parliament: It got 6.1 percent of votes.

Just like the others

Strategists at PDS headquarters must know what's responsible for this. It's the ailing SPD and not the PDS' strength. The socialists are doing everything besides faring well in those places where they are in government.

Polls put the party at 17 percent in Berlin, where the socialists still got 23 percent of the vote three years ago. In Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania, the coalition with the SPD is in crisis after the socialists accused Social Democrats of breaking a coalition agreement not to bring unemployment and welfare payments to the same level. What can be learned from all of this? If there's power to be had, the PDS will agree to a lot -- just like any other political party. In return, socialists will be punished by voters in the next election. And when it's the other's turn to govern and make uncomfortable decisions, the PDS will profit from that and do everything to aid the trend. Again: All parties are the same in that respect.

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