Left or right – where’s the threat?

Late last year the German establishment was caught with its pants down. It was not a pretty sight! Alas, early this year, while still hastily struggling to cover itself up, its pantaloons fell again, dramatically revealing a second, no less abhorrent sight than the first one.

The first view displayed how Germany’s major domestic spying agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or VS, had failed for over ten years to protect the country from a band of Nazis carrying out a well-planned series of cold-blooded murders. The victims were eight ethnic Turks, a Greek man (all of them small retailers or food shop owners), and one policewoman. Banks were robbed and bomb blasts injured over twenty people. The gang’s aim was to spread confusion and hatred against “non-Germans.”

As more facts leaked, it became clear that the group, larger than the three originally found (two dead men and one woman) had barely-concealed ties to the legal neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany, whose representatives all too often win seats in local and state legislatures. And somehow, though never completely concealed, they had gone undetected for so long.

And now, the other side of the picture has come into view. While the VS “protectors of the constitution” were finding it hard to track down a small gang of murderers, they were keeping close track of what they called “left-wing extremists” – thus claiming to balance two “equal evils.”

The crime of those on the left, it seems, aside from occasional rocks or bottles thrown at Nazis, was an alleged failure to support Germany’s “basic libertarian democratic order.” Among those observed, now disclosed by the magazine Der Spiegel, were 26 democratically elected members of the Bundestag, the highest German parliament, all from the Left Party.

Ironically, two of those being secretly monitored are in parliamentary committees responsible for monitoring just such offices as the VS protectors. One, Petra Pau, is an elected vice-president of the Bundestag. Was this in fact illegal? The matter will now go to the usually very slow courts.

A flurry of excitement

At first, when this nastiness came to view, there was an embarrassed flurry of excitement. The man most directly responsible, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich from the Christian Social Union, asserted that only publicly available writings and statements of the deputies were being monitored. This soon proved to be a lie. Gregor Gysi, head of the Left caucus and one of the 27, was able to obtain parts of the file on himself, all full of blacked out lines and paragraphs. On one page everything was inked out except his name.

It soon had to be admitted; the VS offices in many German states had been far more intrusive – which usually meant reading mail, tapping calls, bugging meetings and conversations.

Some more decent delegates – including a few of the Greens – publicly rejected such spying on their colleagues. Others tried instead to split the Left delegates. All that talk about socialism or, a year ago, the fatal use of the word “communism” for some time in the future by party co-president Loetzsch, and then the 85th birthday greetings to Fidel Castro and the defense of some aspects of the GDR – all this was reason enough for spying and barring the Left from a respected place at the “libertarian democratic” table. It was up to the “reformers” to clean up the party and throw the radicals out. Or so it was arrogantly proclaimed.

But most of the 27 representatives were not from the more leftist wing of the party; they were, rather, those so-called “reformers” called upon to rescue the party from evil. Some guessed that they were chosen simply because most or all of them came from the eastern states, the former GDR. Then it was learned that the list was not complete; not 27 but at least 42 of the 76 Bundestag delegates, as well as many in state legislatures, had been spied on; many suspected that all those from the Left had been subjected to special “observation” ever since East Germany and its representatives were first attached to the Federal Republic in 1990.

After the early embarrassment at being caught had passed, some leaders revealed their way of looking at subjects like liberty and democracy. Family Minister Kristina Schroeder, also from the far-right Bavarian CSU, has always equated “extremists of both the Right and Left.” She denounced the moderately left newspaper “Neues Deutschland” as being a “left-wing extremist” publication.

The propaganda machine in official circles has always equated “extremists of left and right” just as it equated the GDR with Hitler Germany. As it has repeatedly said, both were dictatorships. This markedly minimizes the fact that the Nazi rulers killed Jews, the Roma people, Russians, Poles, and others by the millions, something not even the angriest foes of the GDR could quite say about it. But such dangerously distorted equations of the left hand with the right hand did not simply reflect an F in school history classes. They were part of an old, established practice. And they could now be gaining ground again in German politics.

One scandal after another

Angela Merkel is a cool player: rarely angry, never extreme, and still fairly popular. But her party is facing difficult times, with a national election due next year. Her man in the office of German president, Christian Wulff, has been hit by one scandal after another in the past three months. Although the charges against him relate to minor scandals, the kind of corrupt practices and misuse of perks and influence common to politicians in nearly all countries, the media attacks against him have been fierce.

The junior partner in her coalition government, the once prestigious Free Democratic Party, now a mishmash bunch run largely by friends of big business, has become so unpopular that it will probably not get the five percent vote needed to get into the Bundestag and might thus largely disappear from the national scene. Merkel’s CDU still leads in the polls, but without this junior partner it can hardly achieve fifty percent of the votes and the seats in the Bundestag and could thus be pushed out of office in 2013.

Yet the Social Democrats and Greens do not currently command fifty percent either. There seem to be only three possible solutions to this dilemma:

A.) The Greens could ditch their present Social Democratic buddies and join with their traditional foes on the right, Merkel’s Christian Democrats and CSU.

B.) Far more likely – the Social Democrats will resort to the same tactic, ditching their Green buddies and joining their not so very hostile foes on Merkel’s side of the aisle to form a “Grand Coalition” of the largest two parties.

 C.) The third possibility: that Social Democrats and Greens collectively gnash their teeth and ask the Left to give them the necessary votes.

One major uncertainty looms over all such deliberations. Although Germany is economically stronger than any other European country and arrogantly throws its weight around as never before, no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Will the recession return with greater force and pain than ever?

The influence of the Left in 2009, as the only consistently socially conscious party in the Bundestag, cost the four older parties many, many votes and frightened them to the core. They quickly found it necessary to bend their party lines, at least in the media, in a more socially conscious direction. And in times of greater need, when more and more people are sick of capitalism, these powers-that-be will feel far safer if the Left is greatly weakened, with nothing like its present 76 seats in the Bundestag or, better still, fully wrecked – with no members there at all.

The neo-Nazis on the other hand, unpleasant and uncouth as they may be, and despite some of their radical slogans, have never been anti-capitalist but only anti-leftist and anti-foreigner. The prospect of angry “masses” fighting each other because of ability or lack of ability in speaking German or sticking to good German customs and clothing styles is far preferable to the idea of seeing them join together on behalf of the 99 percent to which they all belong!

Former Nazis accepted

This preference has been the official policy of the Federal Republic since its birth: in the earlier post-war decades it hit out sharply against leftists in every way while accepting the all-pervading strength of former Nazis. Indeed, some of the worst Gestapo and SS men built up the VS in the first place. Given its present priorities, one might suspect that some of those traditions have remained. The general top-level toleration of today’s neo-Nazis, and constant legal and personal attacks on those really fighting against them, lead to one conclusion on their strategy on fascists: One never knows when they may be useful.

There is another worrisome aspect to all this. The Left, sharply and most deviously attacked in every way from the start, has been dangerously caught up in its own inner problems and quarrels. Some in the Left party clearly hope to play a key role after next year’s election, expecting that the Social Democrats and Greens, in order to get a ruling majority, may be willing to accept the Left after all if only it tones down its too militant program. But others say contrariwise: “Nothing doing; we will not join them in a government until they change their dubious positions.”

These disputes, often on a personal level, and the lack of any major fight on economic issues, plus the media attacks, have meant lower popularity ratings. In 2009 the Left got nearly 12 percent of the vote. Now it is down to six or seven percent in the polls, far too close to that strict five per cent hurdle so important in German politics.

For a while a leading light for left-wing parties in many parts of Europe, east and west, its position is now endangered even at home. What seems dreadfully necessary is a tough, clever fight for the rights of the people, and not one confined to the warmer (even if bugged) rooms of the Bundestag! One third of all German children live below the poverty level; countless working people have only temp and otherwise underpaid jobs while geographically mobile economic giants throw others out of work. Rents are rising, forcing people out of their homes. Even in times considered stable there is so much to be done! This is an urgent business; history never repeats itself, it is often said. Maybe not, but some worrisome recollections cannot be ignored!

Two state elections are due in coming months: in Saarland on March 25th and in Schleswig-Holstein on May 6th. They can indicate whether the Left is finally recovering from the doldrums of 2011, and can put up a good fight between now and the national election in 2013.

Photo: The Riechstag building in Berlin is where the German parliament meets. At least 42 of the 76 Bundestag (the German parliament) delegates who are members of the Left Party have been spied on by the country’s chief domestic surveillance agency. Wikipedia // CC 2.0


Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled his U.S. Army post in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive, and became a freelance journalist and author. His latest book,  A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, the tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, the reasons for the fall of socialism, and the importance of today's struggles.