Category Archives: Germany

Obama in Berlin

20 June 2013
In his speech in Berlin on Wednesday, President Barack Obama made much of the fact that he was the first American president to speak from the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate, in what was once Stalinist-controlled East Berlin. This was meant to symbolize the triumph of what Obama called “open societies that respect the sanctity of the individual” over oppressive political systems.
He felt obliged, however, to include an explicit defense of the newly exposed surveillance network over which he presides, whose massive and illegal operations dwarf the spying apparatus of the old Stasi secret police.
Obama once again resorted to outright lies, declaring that National Security Agency (NSA) programs that seize the phone records of all Americans and tap into the electronic communications of people all over the world are “bound by the rule of law” and do not target “the communications of ordinary persons.”
This was among the most glaring contradictions in a speech riddled with banalities and lies. Obama invoked the ideals of “peace” and “tolerance,” having just approved the direct arming of Islamist militias that are carrying out sectarian atrocities in Syria. He spoke of “justice” in one breath and his drone assassination program in the next.
Standing beside German Chancellor Merkel, who is spearheading the infliction of mass unemployment and poverty on the people of Greece and many other European countries, while his administration lays siege to workers’ living standards in the US, Obama denounced “the insult of widening inequality” and “the pain of youth who are unemployed.”
This hypocrisy was not lost on millions of people in Germany and around the world who not so long ago were taken in by presidential candidate Obama and his campaign slogans of “hope” and “change.” Since then, more than four years of war, bank bailouts, social cuts and relentless attacks on democratic rights—a continuation and intensification of the right-wing policies of the Bush administration—have done much to deflate the popular illusions in Obama that existed at the time of his election.
On Wednesday, Obama spoke before a handpicked crowd of 4,000, standing behind bulletproof glass and protected by a virtual lockdown of much of Berlin. Five years ago, when candidate Obama spoke in Berlin, 200,000 people, most of them young, converged on the Tiergarten in a display of naïve and deluded enthusiasm that was dubbed “Obamamania.”
Candidate Obama’s reception in Europe was part of a broader phenomenon. Many people, especially young people, in the US and around the world were swept up in the mass marketing campaign to sell the virtually unknown US senator.
It is not enough, five years later, to merely shed illusions in Obama. There are serious political lessons that must be drawn so that workers and youth will be politically prepared for future developments.
The Obama phenomenon was the result of a confluence of media manipulation, political inexperience and self-delusion, and the false conception that Obama’s African-American ethnicity made him more sympathetic to the plight of working people and more inclined to pursue progressive policies.
Somehow, it was assumed, because Obama had an African birth father his election would change the nature of American imperialism.
Such bankrupt notions, the stock-in-trade of identity politics, were promoted above all by the various pseudo-left organizations, which speak not for the working class, but for privileged layers of the middle class. In the midst of the greatest crisis of American and world capitalism since the 1930s, Obama fit the bill for all those who serve as the “left” flank of the Democratic Party. The International Socialist Organization called Obama’s election a “transformative event” and predicted a “new New Deal.”
The promotion of such illusions played into the hands of the ruling class, helping it to buy time while it prepared an unprecedented assault on the social conditions of the working class and an escalation of militarist violence in the Middle East and further afield. The installation of Obama further consolidated the military/intelligence establishment’s control over the United States.
Obama’s July 2008 speech in Berlin was widely praised by the media, including the organs of the pseudo-left. In fact, the speech signaled that, whatever the campaign rhetoric, the reactionary foreign and domestic policies of the Bush years would continue under an Obama presidency.
As the World Socialist Web Site wrote: “Barack Obama’s speech before an audience of some 200,000 in Berlin was a reactionary affirmation of Cold War anti-communism and an attempt to promote the new framework for US imperialist militarism and aggression, the so-called ‘global war on terror.’
“Against the backdrop of a potted history of post-war US-European relations, the Democratic presidential candidate appealed for closer collaboration between the two continents in the struggle against the ‘new danger’ of international terrorism and demanded that European governments increase their troop levels in Afghanistan.” (See: “Obama demands Europe send more troops to Afghanistan”).
Workers and youth who today confront unprecedented attacks on their living standards and democratic rights, and who are moving into immense struggles, should ask themselves what in the approach of the WSWS enabled it to combat the politics of blind impressionism promoted by the establishment media and the pseudo-left organizations, and correctly assess the political character and trajectory of Obama.
The answer is a politics based on a Marxist understanding of the historical experiences of the international working class, gained through the struggle of the Trotskyist movement against the betrayals of Stalinism, Social Democracy and the trade union bureaucracies, and a theoretical grasp of the laws of history.
Such an approach reveals that social class—not race, gender or sexual orientation—is the driving force of politics. Obama, like any other politician, is not a free agent whose policies are determined by his personal attributes or individual psychology, but the representative of a ruling class that will stop at nothing to defend its wealth and power against the working class—a ruling class, moreover, that presides over a system in mortal crisis.
The fundamental lesson of the Obama experience is the need for a scientific evaluation of economic, social and political events and the development of a revolutionary perspective and program of struggle for the working class based on such an analysis. This task is carried out every day solely by theWorld Socialist Web Site and the Socialist Equality Party.
Barry Grey

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Right-wing opponents of the euro found party in Berlin

By Ulrich Rippert 
17 April 2013
Five months before the German general election in September, opponents of the euro held a meeting in Berlin last weekend to officially found the Alternative for Germany (AfD). 1,300 members of the organization gathered for the founding conference in the main meeting room of the Intercontinental Hotel—mostly men in advanced old age. Some ostentatiously wore 100 Deutschmark notes on their lapels.
“Get out of the Euro” was the main conference slogan. Bernd Lucke, a professor of economics and the party’s co-founder and spokesman, introduced the party’s program, which states: “We call for an orderly dissolution of the euro zone. Germany does not need the euro. Other countries damage the euro”.
The AfD urges the reintroduction of national currencies, “or the creation of smaller and more stable currency unions”. The reintroduction of the D-mark must not be a taboo, Lucke said. Like many other founding members, Professor Lucke is a former longtime member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union(CDU), opposing CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy only a few years ago.
When the effects of the financial crisis in Europe became apparent, he launched a “plenum of economists”, attracting more than 300 professors of economics. Two years ago, this plenum spoke out against any extension to the euro rescue fund. But no one wanted to hear the option of economic experts at the time, Lucke complained in his convention speech.
Much of the AfD’s personnel and membership come from the right-wing of the CDU, e.g. Alexander Gauland. In the late 1980s, the 72-year-old Gauland was secretary of the Hessian State Chancellery headed by Premier Walter Wallmann, who led a right-wing faction in the Hessian CDU.
Today Gauland writes articles lamenting “German pacifism”. Last summer, he complained in the Tagesspiegel about the “disturbed relationship between Germans and military force”. Although Clausewitz stressed that war is an instrument of politics, the Germans regarded war merely as the “epitome of evil and wrongness”. That led to a “lack of appreciation of the Bundeswehr” which he claimed had to be surmounted.
Besides representatives of the right wing of the CDU, other AfD members include business leaders such as the former Thyssen CEO Dieter Spethmann, and Hans-Olaf Henkel, former president of the Federation of German Industries (BDI). Henkel’s own campaign against the euro is, however, rejected by the current leadership of the BDI which fears that an end to the monetary union and a return to the Deutschmark would do great damage to the German export industry.
There was something eerie about this meeting in the Berlin Intercontinental. It called up ghosts from the past, in particular memories of the German National People’s Party (DNVP), a mouthpiece for the nationalist propaganda of the former media mogul Alfred Hugenberg during the last global economic crisis, in the late 1920s.
A series of speakers at the meeting denounced the euro. The currency was blamed for all social ills: the European financial crisis, growing social instability, the dominance of an unmanageable and uncontrollable bureaucracy in Brussels, the loss of self-determination, associated fears for the future, and much more.
Although the AfD criticizes the euro, it supports the imposed massive austerity program associated with it in order to “defend” the common European currency. In its program, the AfD calls for a continuation of the cuts and “more competition” in Europe. Its aim is to intensify austerity policies in Germany and throughout Europe, but under different financial conditions.
The call for a return to the Deutschmark was also bound up with a yearning for the relatively stable economic and political relations which existed in Germany after the Second World War. One is reminded of Diederich Hessling, the protagonist in Heinrich Mann’s novel Man of Straw who, amid the breakdown of Wilhelmenian society on the eve of World War I, clings desperately to the monarchy and empire.
This character of the congress has led many commentators to assume the AfD is a passing phenomenon that will disappear from the political scene as rapidly as similar initiatives in the past. Berlin is seeking to minimize the impact of the AfD, well aware that every percentage point it gains in the coming election reduces the chances for the current governing coalition.
There is, however, no guarantee that the AfD will meet a speedy end, and the new party should by no means be underestimated. Its formation is directly related to the growing opposition to the European Union which, in the name of saving the euro, has imposed massive cuts in social spending and organized a social disaster in many countries.
The AfD aims to deflect the growing opposition to anti-social policies into right-wing, nationalist channels. Right-wing opponents of the euro have sought to organize for some time and in the past used the open electoral lists of the Free Voters organisation. Nevertheless, it is no coincidence that the founding congress of the AfD was held just weeks after the brutal bailout of Cyprus.
The aggressiveness with which the troika—the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund—supported by the German chancellor’s office wrecked the financial system of Cyprus and the economic livelihoods of its population surprised and shocked many people. For the first time, bank deposits of more than 100,000 euros were confiscated by up to 60 percent, in exchange for the new ECB loan. This move has intensified the insecurity of hitherto affluent strata of the petty bourgeoisie.
This insecurity can be exploited by a right-wing party, because the Social Democratic Party, the Left Party and many pseudo-left groups support the reactionary policies of the EU to maintain the euro.
In this respect it should be noted that alongside CDU politicians, business professors and military officers, the AfD web site lists among its “main supporters” an official from the Verdi trade union, Christian Hanika, and a former treasurer of the Green Party in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Klaus-Peter Last.
The tributes to the post-war D-Mark of chancellor Konrad Adenauer made at the AfD conference also recalled the glorification of Adenauer’s finance minister and later chancellor, Ludwig Erhard, by Sahra Wagenknecht, economic policy spokeswoman for the Left Party parliamentary group.
The Socialist Equality Party (PSG) is the only party in Germany which takes up the struggle against the euro and the European Union on a genuinely progressive, i.e. socialist basis. The fight against the EU as the main instrument for the subjugation of Europe to the dictates of the financial markets cannot be left to right-wing forces.
The response of the PSG is not a return to the nation-state, but rather the mobilization of the entire European working class to overthrow capitalist governments and establish the United Socialist States of Europe.

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Germany acquiring drones for military use

By Johann Müller 
30 January 2013
The German government is re-arming. It wants to procure armed drones for missions abroad and use re-engineered military reconnaissance drones domestically.
In response to parliamentary questions from the Left Party, the government has admitted it is procuring armed drones for the Bundeswehr (armed forces), as had been reported by Spiegel Online. Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière (Christian Democratic Union-CDU) already agreed to the use of armed drones in foreign military missions in August of 2012. The chief of the Air Force, Karl Müllner, is also demanding that Germany purchase armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
It remains unclear exactly which type of armed drones the Bundeswehr will introduce. Under discussion is the purchase of American Predator drones, used by Washington for targeted killings.
Another option is the re-engineering of Heron drones, produced by the Israeli arms manufacturer IAI and used by the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan for intelligence-gathering. These would be converted by Cassidian, a subsidiary of EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company). What is clear is that Berlin is intent on deploying armed drones as swiftly as possible.
The significance of this announcement is highlighted by the heinous crimes committed by the US military and the CIA be means of armed drones. In the name of the “war on terror”, drones are currently used to attack targets in Afghanistan, the Pakistani border region, Somalia and Yemen. Alleged “terrorists” are killed illegally, with President Barack Obama personally selecting the designated victims. Thousands of civilians have already been killed in these attacks.
The deployment of the Bundeswehr to Afghanistan and other international theatres of war, the deployment of Patriot missile systems to the Turkish-Syrian border, and the support for France’s Mali invasion show that the German government is pursuing its imperial interests increasingly at gunpoint. Strengthening the effectiveness of the Bundeswehr by deploying armed drones is a further step in the direction of aggressive combat missions.
In its response to the Left Party, the German government stated that in contrast to unarmed robotic aircraft, armed drones could be used against designated targets “rapidly, accurately and to scale.” It added that armed drones create a situation in which “enemy forces are exposed to a permanent, and for them unpredictable, threat, and their room for manoeuvre is reduced.”
The use of surveillance drones domestically holds great dangers for democratic rights. Such UAVs can provide a great deal of information that can be gathered in conventional ways only with much greater effort.
For example, the Bundeswehr wants to spend €1.2 billion to purchase five Euro Hawk drones. This drone, co-developed by the EADS subsidiary Cassidian, is gigantic. It successfully completed its first test flight in early January.
The Euro Hawks will fly for thirty hours at very high altitudes over Germany. They are equipped with sensors that can receive and evaluate various radio signals.
Previously, such missions were carried out using reconnaissance aircraft. In future, both pilots and the specialist personnel involved in the evaluation of the signals can remain on the ground. Moreover, it will be possible to monitor a far more extensive range of signals than before.
As is already the case in the US, drones will now be allowed in civilian airspace in Europe. A paper published by the European Commission entitled “Towards a European Strategy for the Development of Civil Applications of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems,” which was the basis of the inquiry made by the Left Party, discusses the opening up of Europe’s airspace to unmanned aerial systems.
The German government has already begun to prepare the ground. In May 2012, a new version of the Federal Aviation Act was passed that recognized drones weighing more than 25 kg as aircraft.
As reported by Die Welt, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (Christian Social Union-CSU) is considering the use of medium-sized UAV systems by the federal police. The plan is to deploy the Heron drones in this context. Die Welt speaks of the drones being used for “air-sea rescue, but also (…) for fighting crime, for example, by environmental polluters, as well as (…) controlling refugee flows.”
“Control of refugee flows” is a euphemism for the more effective sealing of the EU’s external borders, a process that has already led to thousands of refugees attempting to reach Europe drowning or dying in some other way.
The Interior Ministry has not yet confirmed the plans regarding the use of drones, but broad-based and in some cases already completed tests and simulations show that the plans are well advanced.
These tests are part of an EU project managed by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). Among other things, the suitability of drones for coastal surveillance is being investigated by the police, as the DLR confirmed to Die Welt .
Before Christmas, as part of such a simulation in Brunswick, the interaction of Heron drones and other flying objects, such as rescue craft, was evaluated—with great success, as the head of the Interior Ministry unit responsible for federal police engineering and logistics, Achim Friedl, said. Test flights are planned this summer over Spain’s southern coast.
The introduction of medium-sized UAV systems by the German police will be a first in Europe. Not only can they be used to seal off the EU’s external borders, but also, in face of mounting social tensions, they can be used in monitoring demonstrations and suppressing social rebellions.
Such surveillance measures have previously been employed. For example, in 2007, military surveillance aircraft were used at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, providing high-resolution photos of the protesters’ camp.
In 2011, during an anti-Nazi demonstration in Dresden, all mobile phone traffic and positional data from phones were captured and analyzed in one district.
In some parts of Germany, including Hesse and Lower Saxony, smaller drones are already being used by the police. In Lower Saxony, the police have used such drones to monitor protests against nuclear waste transport.

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Germany: Lower Saxony vote a litmus test for upcoming general election

By Lena Sokoll 
19 January 2013
The state election in Lower Saxony on Sunday is widely regarded as an important litmus test for the general election due in September 2013. Germany’s second largest state is currently governed by a coalition of the Christian Democratic Union and the Free Democratic Party led by premier David McAllister (CDU), whose re-election is far from certain. Most polls show the CDU leading with nearly 40 percent of the vote, but it is questionable whether the neo-liberal FDP will secure the minimum 5 percent of the vote necessary to enter the new parliament.
This situation closely mirrors the state of affairs at a federal level, where the CDU also governs in a coalition with the FDP. Once again, the CDU is clearly ahead in the polls at a national level, but risks losing its coalition partner, the FDP, in the upcoming federal election.
According to the polls released in recent weeks, just three parties are certain to enter into the new Lower Saxony parliament: the CDU with 40 percent, the SPD with 33, and the Greens with an estimated 13 percent. The FDP is hovering around 5 percent, with the Left Party and the Pirate Party polling at 3 percent respectively.
Should the FDP fail to cross the 5 percent hurdle, the CDU, which has ruled the state since 2003, could be forced into opposition by a SPD-Green party coalition. The SPD and the Greens hope that such a change of government would also influence the result of the general election in September. In addition an SPD-Green coalition in Lower Saxony would tip the majority in Germany’s second parliamentary chamber, the Bundesrat, and enable the SPD and Greens to block legislation proposed by the federal government.
Should the FDP re-enter the state parliament then it is expected that the coalition variants, either CDU-FDP or SPD-Greens, will have very similar levels of support. If the Left Party or the Pirates gain more than 5 percent of the vote and enter the parliament they could tip the scales in favour of one or another coalition. Other conceivable outcomes are the formation of a so-called grand coalition of CDU and SPD, or a coalition of the CDU and the Greens.
There has been discussion inside the ranks of the Greens on such a variation for some time, although officially the party has spoken out in favour of a coalition with the SPD. The Green Party recently selected Katrin Göring-Eckardt to lead its general election campaign. Göring-Eckardt is regarding as a prime candidate for collaboration with the CDU. Green Party co-leader Jürgen Trittin has also made clear he does not rule out such an option: “We want red-green. Only when this option is excluded will we decide what to next.”
The Left Party is using the Lower Saxony campaign to offer its services as the guarantor of a majority or coalition partner for the SPD and the Greens. In the closing stages of the election campaign, the party mobilised its deputy leader, Sahra Wagenknecht, to support its campaign. Wagenknecht has also said she is prepared to take part in possible coalition negotiations. (See “Germany’s Left Party supports unconditional cooperation with the SPD and Greens ”) While the return of the Left Party to the Lower Saxony state parliament remains uncertain it is anticipated that the party will be re-elected to the Bundestag in September.
The result of the Lower Saxony election and the administration the emerges are important indicators for the upcoming federal election. The parties will invariably draw conclusions about how to conduct their campaigns for the federal election.
Should the FDP fail to win the necessary 5 percent in Lower Saxony then the replacement of its chairman, Philipp Rösler, is regarded as certain. Rösler comes out of the state and has been in office for less than two years. His most likely (temporary) replacement is the head of the party’s parliamentary group, Rainer Brüderle. Brüderle could lead the FDP into a coalition with the SPD and the Greens. He governed in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate for 11 years in a coalition with the SPD.
The SPD recently elected the right-winger Peer Steinbrück as its leading candidate for the federal election. Behind the scenes, however, discussions are taking place about a replacement. The SPD is keen to establish itself as a party with an ear for social needs, but finds it increasingly difficult to make an image change with Steinbrück at its head. Steinbrück is an ally of the banks who has earned over a million euros in recent years through the private lecture circuit and was a former finance minister under Angela Merkel. National polls show the SPD with a record low of 23 percent and the party fears that Steinbrück could also cost them what they have regarded as a safe victory in Lower Saxony.
One possible replacement for Steinbrück is SPD party chairman Sigmar Gabriel. He is regarded as more willing than Steinbrück to form a government with the support or the involvement of the Left Party.
While there is a vigorous horse-trading in Lower Saxony and at a federal level for votes, influence and coalition variants, there is little substantive difference between the parties. All of them are prepared to form coalitions with one another. They all support strict fiscal policy and the debt brake, which demands the wiping out of public services and social concessions in order to finance bailouts for the banks. Also with regard to foreign policy there is widespread agreement between the parties, particularly regarding military operations in Afghanistan, Syria and now Mali.
In fact a striking aspect of the election campaign in Lower Saxony is the absence of debate on substantive issues—despite the fact that most parties have sent their most prominent figures to intervene there. This was most evident in the television debate between the existing premier McAllister with the SPD’s top candidate Stephan Weil, where the opponents debated “without passion, without enthusiasm, and for long periods with barely a change in facial expression,” as the NTV news station noted on its web site. On a host of issues such as child care, education and immigration policy it was clear that both candidates defended the same line.
In the election in Lower Saxony, as in the next federal election, the issue is to find the most stable combination of parties to enforce the dictates of the banks and international financial markets against growing popular opposition. The interests of workers and the vast majority of the population find no political outlet in the election campaign.

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The German chancellor’s Christmas message

21 December 2012
In a few days, the German chancellor will give her traditional holiday speech to the nation, posed together with a Christmas tree and the German flag. In her annual address, Angela Merkel, the daughter of a pastor from the east German state of Mecklenburg, invariably invokes the virtues of harmony, peace and charity.
This year, however, Merkel relayed her real message in an interview with theFinancial Times, titled “Merkel warns on cost of welfare”. In the interview published last weekend, Merkel makes it clear that she regards European welfare programs as unsustainable.
Faced with growing international competition, Europe “must work very hard to maintain its prosperity and way of life,” said Merkel. “All of us have to stop spending more than we earn each year.”
To give some idea of the magnitude of the cutbacks she is seeking, Merkel cited the following figures: “Europe today accounts for just over 7 percent of the world’s population, produces around 25 percent of global GDP, and has to finance 50 per cent of global social spending.”
Merkel’s appeal, made in the style of a thrifty housewife, is thoroughly cynical. It is made by a chancellor who, in the course of her tenure, has made over 700 billion euros available for the so-called bailout of German banks—in fact securing the profits of an obscenely wealthy mob of financial speculators and profiteers.
The former CEO of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann, celebrated his 60th birthday in the chancellery with Merkel as hostess, precisely at a time, as it now emerges, when he was resorting to criminal methods to advance the bank’s prospects. The financial crisis has been used to accelerate the enrichment of the rich at the expense of the public. According to government figures, private net assets in Germany increased by 1.4 trillion euros between 2007 and 2012, i.e., during the crisis years. While the government pumped vast amounts of money into the vaults of the banks, it created a huge pool of people at the bottom of society condemned to poverty, misery and despair reminiscent of the 1930s.
In Greece, Merkel has demonstrated the consequences of such attacks on the welfare state. Five austerity programs dictated by the EU, but worked out largely in the chancellor’s office, have plunged the country into ruin. Unemployment has soared, wages and pensions have been slashed, and the country’s health and education systems destroyed. Now fascist gangs and far-right political parties are being encouraged to suppress growing popular resistance. What is currently taking place in Greece is a monstrous political crime.
In her FT interview, the German chancellor makes clear that Greek shock therapy should be extended to Spain, Portugal and Italy, as well as countries with a balanced budget. Amongst these latter countries Merkel is referring to France and Germany. The world has long since ceased to view the European welfare state as a model, she declared, but is oriented to “other models”. The new standard for international competitiveness, she notes, are China and India.
With this declaration of intent to impose Chinese standards in Europe, Merkel is throwing down the gauntlet to the working class. Her plan is to drastically cut wages and abrogate social rights, including existing job protection legislation, sick pay, pensions and health insurance.
In her campaign against the European welfare state, Merkel acknowledges that she is consciously drawing upon her experience in reintroducing capitalist exploitation following the collapse of the Stalinist regime in East Germany. This former Stalinist youth functionary, who never paid a cent for her entire education in the GDR, regards the destruction of the East German social system as a milestone in the attainment of international competitiveness.
Now, the social catastrophe in Eastern Europe—which has in turn led to the emergence of fascist parties in Hungary and Poland exercising influence on government policy—is to be extended to Western Europe.
It is no coincidence that both the head of the German government as well as its federal president are former citizens of the GDR, who were politicised during the reactionary period of the two decades since the reintroduction of capitalism. While Merkel was attacking the welfare state in the FT, President Joachim Gauck flew to Afghanistan to participate in a Christmas party for German soldiers and propagate the necessity to support the army.
The reason why the German chancellor feels free to openly and aggressively attack the welfare state is obvious. She has the backing of all of the parties in parliament and the trade unions. The Left Party is no exception in this regard. It played the key role in reintroducing capitalism in the GDR. The party regarded the capitalist reunification of Germany as “absolutely necessary” and something to be “undertaken with determination,” in the words of the then-Prime Minister and later honorary chairman of the Left Party, Hans Modrow.
Wherever the Left Party has political influence, it is in the forefront of implementing welfare cuts and austerity measures. At the same time it seeks to head off protests and restrict workers’ struggles to writing petitions to the government.
During a recent session of the Bundestag, called to discuss the decommissioning of the GM-Opel plant in Bochum, the main appeal of the Left party was directed at Merkel, “Madam Chancellor, make Opel your main concern!” This is not merely a declaration of political bankruptcy, but also an attempt to prevent and suppress a political struggle by the working class against the government.
Merkel’s Christmas message in the Financial Times amounts to a declaration of war on the welfare state and initiates a period of fierce class struggle. Workers must prepare their own strategy for the social and political conflicts ahead. This requires above all the construction of a revolutionary party that fights relentlessly against the reactionary policies of the established parties, including the Left Party, and mobilizes the working class on the basis of an international socialist program.
Ulrich Rippert

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How Germany’s super-rich benefit from the economic crisis

By Dietmar Henning 
16 October 2012
Germany’s super-rich have become even richer over the last year. The wealth of the 500 richest German families and individuals now amounts to more than half a trillion euros. This is the picture emerging from a ranking list published in a special issue of Manager Magazin on October 9, 2012.
The list supplements the federal government’s much-discussed Poverty and Wealth Report, which found that the richest 10 percent increased their share of total assets from 45 percent in 1998 to over 53 percent in 2008. The government’s report had not included the super-rich named by Manager Magazin. It based its findings on data from the Income and Consumption Survey (EVS) and the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). These reports do not take into account households with monthly incomes exceeding €18,000 because it is claimed that the statistical distortion would be too great.
If the wealth of the super-rich is included in the account, the division within German society becomes significantly greater than indicated in the Poverty and Wealth Report, and becomes even more extreme the higher one climbs in the rich list. While the average assets (including property) of the top 10 percent of the population amount to about half a million euros, the figure is a billion euros for the top 500 super-rich and around €3.2 billion for the 100 richest families and individuals.
As in recent years, the richest Germans are the owners of the Aldi discount chain. The 92-year-old Karl Albrecht has assets of €17.2 billion; the sons of his brother Theo, who died in 2010, Berthold and Theo Albrecht Jr., possess €16 billion.
While the consequences of the world financial crisis and the euro crisis have driven much of Europe’s population into dire poverty, they have had hardly any impact on the financial situation of Germany’s richest. In fact, the 100 richest people have increased their wealth by more than 4 percent to nearly €320 billion, thereby returning almost to their level prior to the financial crisis. The number of German billionaires, now standing at 115, has also reached a new high. Last year it stood at 108.
With few exceptions, the super-rich again benefited from strong growth in the retail and financial sectors. Hasso Plattner, head of the SAP software company, increased his assets by €900 million to nearly €6 billion in the last year. The Würth family (Würth international wholesalers) and Dietmar Hopp (SAP software corporation) also recorded earnings of €800 million each, increasing their fortunes to €8 and €5.9 billion respectively.
The Schlecker family recorded the greatest loss (€1.92 billion) due to the bankruptcy of the Schlecker drug store chain. Retaining assets of almost €40 million, however, it is anything but poor.
In addition to the owners of Aldi, the top 10 super-rich include Dieter Schwarz (Lidl, Kaufland, €12 billion in assets); the Reimann family (Reckitt Benckiser, Coty etc., €11 billion); Susanne Klatten (BMW, Altana etc., €9 billion); the Otto family (Otto Mail Ordering, ECE, €8.2 billion); the Würth family (Würth, €8 billion); Günter and Daniela Herz (German Lloyds etc., €7 billion); the Oetker family (Oetker, Hamburg Süd etc., €6.9 billion) and Stefan Quandt (BMW, €6.6 billion).
The last place on the list of the top 500 is occupied by Franz Beckenbauer, the 1974 football World Cup champion, with a fortune of €150 million.Manager Magazin lists his business branch as “football and real estate”.
The special edition of the Spiegel group’s Manager Magazin is also read with apparent enthusiasm by those contending for a place on the list. It contains advertisements and articles for luxury products only the seriously rich can afford. Thus we find in its pages a test-drive report on the new Ferrari FF, costing €270,000; tips on luxury resorts in Greece, Macedonia and Turkey, where the price for an overnight stay exceeds the monthly salary of a Greek teacher (between €800 and €1,150); a report about a successful winery (a bottle of Bordeaux, vintage year 2005, costing €2,000); and a supplement guide on “Wealth Management”. The latter shows how a person can secure his or her fortune in “turbulent times”: “Rule 3: Investing in a bit of gold is a must”.
The economic power elite provides the country with “energetic entrepreneurs and resourceful managers,” says Manager Magazin. They are the “driving forces of prosperity for all”.
Fortunately, the magazine gives some practical insights into the energy and resourcefulness of members of this elite—for example, Jörn Kreke, who established the Douglas perfumery chain. Currently chairman of the board, the 72-year-old “used” the low stock price of his own company last year to buy shares for just under €6.4 million. “Just six weeks after the last purchase, the Douglas Holding owner negotiated access to his business for US investors”. This rapidly inflated its stock prices and enriched Kreke to the tune of €1.3 million within just six months.
Some of the elite need not be particularly “resourceful” in order to pocket unimaginable sums. The BMW heirs Johanna Quandt and her two children, Susanne Klatten and Stefan Quandt, who own about 46 percent of the carmaker’s equity, recently received a gross dividend of €647 million. They took in “only” half as much in 2010.
The Henkel family (adhesives, detergents and cleaning products) were able to increase their wealth from €9 to €13 billion. This they owed to Kasper Rorsted, their corporation’s CEO. He was able to reap record profits because “customers paid higher prices, while the management had lower production costs”, according to Manager Magazin. “To be on the safe side,” the magazine informs us, the wonder worker’s contract was extended by five years”.
Baron August von Finck, grandson of the founder of Merck Finck & Co. Bank, increased his assets by €100 million to €4.6 billion over the last year. The baron holds shares in the Mövenpick hotel and restaurant chain, and lives in a castle in Switzerland. Three years ago, he donated €1.1 million to the Free Democratic Party, shortly after it had blessed the hotel industry with a reduction in the VAT rate for overnight stays.
Carsten Maschmeyer, founder of the AWD Holding financial products vendor, is also to be found in the list (112th place, €1.05 billion in assets). As friend of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (Social Democratic Party, SPD) and former German President Christian Wulff (Christian Democratic Union), Maschmeyer has been continually associated by the press with shady business practices.
Meanwhile, he has become a board member of MaschmeyerRürup PLC, which he founded together with Bert Rürup (SPD) in January 2010. In 2002, Professor Rürup was appointed by then-Chancellor Schröder to chair what became known as the Rürup Commission, which drew up proposals for the reform of pension and health insurance schemes.
The Rürup Commission proposed the long-term reduction of pensions, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67, as well as models for private financing. Most of these proposals have now been implemented. The move towards private pension funding, initiated by the Rürup Commission, developed into a veritable gold mine for corporations such as AWD, where Rürup became chief economist responsible primarily for private pensions in 2009.
Reports about wealth in Germany constantly stress that the rich are mostly “successful business people”. In fact there are not as many financial magnates among the super-rich in Germany as in the US. Manager Magazin’s list attributes the business branches of “capital investment”, “asset management” and “trade investments” to just one in four of the country’s 100 richest people.
But many heirs of rich entrepreneurs are increasing their billions by investing in financial operations. Reading the list, one often comes across expressions like “formerly Boehringer”, “formerly Wella, Wertkauf, Hexal, etc.”; “Branches today: capital investment, asset management or trade investment”. Furthermore, the wealth of business proprietors accumulates especially due to the increasing value of their shareholdings, as demonstrated in the cases of Jörn Kreke and the Quandt family.
A study by the Allianz insurance group claims that an important factor in this kind of enrichment is the so-called “Draghi effect”. The announcement by the head of the European Central Bank that he was prepared to do everything possible to rescue the euro caused share prices to rise worldwide. Within a few weeks, the securities assets of German households grew by about €30 billion, and worldwide by €400 to €600 billion.
The cost of the crisis that enables the super-rich to swell their fortunes is paid for by the workers of Europe through wage cuts, unemployment, hunger and increasing oppression.

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German police and secret services linked to neo-Nazi murder band

By Sven Heymann 
21 September 2012
More information came to light last week about the intimate links between numerous state intelligence and police bodies with the ultra-right terrorists of the “National Socialist Underground” (NSU). Not only did the German intelligence agencies, both at a state and federal level, maintain contact with, fund and cover up for the terrorist cell, a similar role was also played by the German Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) and various police bodies.
These links were then systematically covered up by the federal government and numerous state administrations involving parties of all political persuasions, including the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party.
Last Thursday, it was confirmed that the neo-Nazi Thomas Starke was a “trusted contact” of the Berlin State Criminal Police Agency (LKA) for more than ten years.
According to the daily Junge Welt, Starke was considered a “key figure in enabling the NSU to go underground”. He has already confessed to having provided explosives to the NSU in the late 1990s. From 2000, Starke then worked for the Berlin LKA and was only removed from operations in January 2011, just months before reports emerged of the killing spree that left ten people dead.
Spiegel Online reports that Starke had spoken to the LKA about the NSU on at least five occasions between 2001 and 2005. He is said to have concealed his own role as a supporter (delivering explosives, providing housing).
Already in 2002, he had drawn the attention of investigators to Jan Werner, a senior representative of the “Blood & Honour” neo-fascist network. Werner was already under observation by the Brandenburg state secret service, who suspected him of supplying weapons to the NSU.
According to the Berliner Zeitung, Werner cooperated personally with the Berlin LKA from 2001 to 2005.The newspaper quoted an LKA fax in which the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) was asked to inform Berlin about any action taken against Werner.
Clearly the Berlin police authorities had enough information to take action against the three members of the NSU—Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt—who had been underground since 1998 and murdered at least ten people between 2000 and 2007. However, the Berlin LKA, like the other official bodies, took no action.
Both the current Interior Minister in the Berlin state legislature, Frank Henkel (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) and his predecessor Erhart Körting (Social Democratic Party, SPD) knew about the services of Thomas Starke. In March, Henkel provided the information to the Attorney General, but only after this was requested. But neither Henkel nor the Attorney General thought it necessary to inform the NSU investigatory committee of the Bundestag (parliament) about the case, let alone the public. Henkel cited on-going investigations which made it impossible for him to publicise the case.
Last Tuesday it was announced in the parliamentary committee that MAD was also deeply involved in the affair. In the 1990s, German military intelligence had a file on Uwe Mundlos. MAD is said to have even tried to recruit Mundlos as a source on the right-wing extremist scene, but he rebuffed this approach.
Until Tuesday, neither the parliamentary committee nor the public had been informed about the existence of such a file, although the Defence Ministry had been informed about it last December. In March, the Attorney General and the BKA were also informed, upon request.
A spokesperson for the Ministry referred to a complex legal process that had stood in the way of releasing information. Moreover, according to Financial Times Deutschland, the Ministry had initially wanted to select files “with a different focus for the committee”. The response of MAD and the Defence Ministry reeks of a cover-up and raises the question: what further information and links to the neo-fascists are they concealing?
MAD claims to have destroyed its file immediately after Mundlos finished his military conscription. However, the agency had previously sent a copy to the Federal Secret Service Agency and its state offices in Thüringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. Nevertheless, only the Federal Agency had responded to the committee’s request of the previous month. The other official bodies concealed the existence of the file and lied to the committee.
Last Thursday, the Chief of the Saxony-Anhalt state intelligence agency, Volker Limburg, resigned after admitting one day earlier that his office possessed a copy of the file but had not been able to find it. Limburg is thus the fourth boss of a German secret service agency to have resigned in connection with the scandal in the past two and a half months.
The files and connections which have emerged in the last week make increasingly clear that government agencies were apparently well informed of every detail on the activities of the terrorists. State intelligence and police not only knew of weapons and explosives supplies, but even paid the parties involved. It is now irrefutable that state institutions covered up for those behind the murder attacks and financed them.
It is only a small step to the conclusion that state forces were directly involved in the crimes themselves. It is still unclear what role was played by a member of the Hesse state secret service who was present at the April 2006 murder of Halit Yozgat in his Internet cafe. Despite repeated dragnets he had not reported to the police. Known among his acquaintances as “little Adolf”, he was transferred within the state agency and has still not been subjected to any public questioning.
According to Junge Welt, more than one in four members of the Thüringia Heimatschutzes (Thüringia Homeland Security, THS) could have been on the secret service payroll. The NSU emerged directly out of the THS at the end of the 1990s. It should be recalled that in 2003 the Supreme Court judges ruled that the far right German National Party (NPD) should be adjudged to be a “a state function” when it was revealed that one in seven of NPD functionaries was a state informer.
The systematic cover-up and falsification by the authorities hinders any serious investigation of this situation. This cover-up is provided a political cover by the parliamentary committee in which representatives of all the parties sit and participate in federal and state governments. They have no interest in a thorough investigation that would reveal the culpability of colleagues in their own parties. The committee has not even exhausted its own legal powers and ordered a systematic inquiry for information from the state police agencies. Almost all of the information so far uncovered came to light partly as a result of persistent research by third parties, partly by coincidence, but never as a result of the initiative of any of the authorities involved.

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German chancellor demands tougher austerity in Greece

By Christoph Dreier 
25 August 2012
In his first official visit abroad, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras travelled to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
While Merkel pressed Greece for radical austerity measures, Samaras promised to settle all outstanding claims. He would not only continue austerity measures, but also organize privatizations on an unprecedented scale.
Merkel said that she only realized how much there was to do in Greece after talking to Samaras. Greece could only count on German help if it fulfills its obligations, she added. Whether Greece is complying will be decided by a report due to be issued by the troika—the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission—in September.
“We need to regain confidence,” Merkel said. “To do that, we have to meet expectations. I expect Greece to implement the agreements made and follow words with action.” She demanded further budget cuts, intensified privatizations, and more structural reforms. Greece should directly involve German experts to reform its local government and health care system, she declared.
Like the day before, when she held a press conference with French President François Hollande, Merkel made clear that she rejected an extension of the time frame for Greece’s loan agreements. She repeatedly stressed that Athens was responsible for fulfilling the agreements in the so-called Memorandum in full, and on time.
On Wednesday, euro group President Jean-Claude Juncker met with Samaras in Athens. He also stressed that a possible postponement of the targets for budget cuts could only be discussed based on the Troika report and not before October. He urged Samaras to press ahead with reforms to increase labor market flexibility and with the privatization of state enterprises, beyond the already agreed-upon cuts.
There were increasing demands in Germany for a Greek withdrawal from the euro in the run-up to Friday’s meeting. On Friday the head of the ruling Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) parliamentary group, Volker Kauder, ruled out any renegotiations of Greece’s loan terms. It would be no problem for the euro zone if Greece abandoned the euro, he said: “With all the rescue packages that we have set in place, we have considerable means to prevent any contagion taking place.”
These threats, like Merkel’s uncompromising remarks, aim to pressure the Greek government to continue and intensify its attacks on workers’ social rights. The measures imposed by the Troika serve neither to reduce the deficit, nor keep Greece in the euro zone. Their sole purpose is to fleece Greek workers and Greek society on behalf of the banks, until there is nothing left.
Far from reducing the country’s burden, the cuts and structural reforms already introduced have led to mass poverty and a deep recession. Over the past two years of budget cuts, totaling 20 percent of the economic output of the country, Greece’s debt burden has grown steadily.
Speaking on behalf of the financial elite in Greece which has also profited mightily from the bailouts Samaras appeared contrite during the press conference in light of the aggressive stance adopted by the German Chancellor. He had made mistakes, he said, but promised to resolve the outstanding problems. “Greece will remain faithful to its commitments and fulfill them.”
Samaras also distanced himself from any postponement of the memorandum and other help for Greece. “We do not want more assistance, we are not asking for more resources, but what we need is air to breathe,” he said. The Troika report will show that the new government was doing everything necessary.
In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday, Samaras promised that his government would do everything possible to repay the banks. He also made clear that he would pay no heed to the popular resistance to his plans: “It is not so important whether I am re-elected. I want to change the country.”
Samaras’ only criticism of the Merkel government’s brutal stance was directed at statements like those of Kauder. He said he would have problems privatizing state enterprises if “high-ranking politicians declare the drachma is returning.” No one will invest euros in Greece, he explained, if they think they will get drachmas in return.
At the same time, Samaras stressed that his government will present its next austerity package to parliament within the next two weeks. According to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, the package includes cuts of 13.5 billion euros, mainly at the expense of workers and retirees, as well as the education and health sectors. Tens of thousands of jobs will be lost in the public sector, as well.
In a Le Monde interview, Samaras also said that besides privatizing dozens of state-owned enterprises, Athens also plans to sell uninhabited Greek islands, if it did not jeopardize national security. This was first proposed by the rightwing German Bild newspaper and unleashed a controversy. Less than two years later, under pressure from Berlin and the global financial aristocracy, it is to become state policy.
A whole country is being dismantled and destroyed. The recent cuts will deepen the recession, making a Greek default more likely. Until then, the maximum amount of profit is to be wrenched out of the Greek workers.
The most recent cuts have already led to widespread and unprecedented forms of social misery. Wages and pensions have been cut up to 60 percent, and taxes drastically increased. The poverty rate has increased by 50 percent and the suicide rate by 40 percent in the last two years. Over 2,000 people took their lives in 2010, amid mounting social desperation.

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How German philosopher Jürgen Habermas proposes to save the EU

By Peter Schwarz
20 August 2012

Jürgen Habermas has joined the debate about the future of the European Union (EU). On August 3, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper published an article, titled “Change of course for Europe”, written by the 83-year-old philosopher together with Julian Nida-Rümelin and Peter Bofinger.
Nida-Rümelin was minister for culture in the Social Democratic Party (SPD)-Green Party coalition government of Gerhard Schröder (SPD) in 2001-2002 and teaches philosophy at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. Bofinger is an economics professor in Würzburg and sits on the 5-member German Council of Economic Experts. His appointment to the body that advises the federal government was originally proposed by the trade unions.
The article is the result of an initiative from SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel, who asked Habermas to comment on the euro crisis. It is intended to serve as the basis for the SPD’s future political program. Gabriel shares the views expressed in it and—a year ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections—is seeking to emerge from the shadows of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) government, whose European policy has until now been fully supported by the SPD.
Habermas and his co-authors criticise the Merkel government, mainly from the right. They have no qualms about the general focus of her European policy, but accuse her of a “lack of political creativity” and a “one-dimensional” approach.
Merkel’s European policy manoeuvres between the feuding wings of her governing coalition. While some representatives of the ruling parties call for Greece’s expulsion from the euro zone and the end of bailouts, thus placing the future of the euro in question, others seek to save the euro at all costs because its failure would have disastrous consequences for the German export industry.
Merkel tries to placate opponents of bailouts for ailing member states by tying such support to strict austerity conditions and rejecting joint liability for government bonds (euro bonds). At the same time, she has committed herself to the euro and, each time the crisis threatened to spin out of control, agreed to increasing the existing rescue packages or implementing new ones. The SPD supported this policy by securing Merkel large majorities whenever it came to critical votes in parliament.
This course has now stalled. The austerity measures dictated to Greece have triggered a deep recession, causing continued growth of the national debt despite brutal social cuts. Spain and Italy are paying record interest rates on new loans and are threatened with bankruptcy.
Habermas, Bofinger and Nida-Rümelin therefore argue for an end to manoeuvring and a vigorous commitment to preserving the euro. They accuse the federal government of assuming “that the problems have basically been caused by a lack of fiscal discipline at the national level, and that the solution is primarily to be sought in a rigorous policy of spending cuts by individual countries”. They think this is wrong and the crisis cannot be overcome by restricting efforts to the national level. They call for “collective guarantees for government bonds issued within the eurozone”, a policy Merkel rejects.
But, like Merkel, the three authors make it absolutely clear that financial aid must be tied to tough austerity conditions. The “social Europe” Habermas usually blustered about is mentioned only in a brief aside. Nowhere in the article the widespread misery caused by Berlin’s austerity dictates is mentioned, nor the obscene enrichment of a small elite that continues unabated even during the crisis.
The authors are not interested in social equality and justice; they are solely concerned about German economic interests and power. With their ideological support, the SPD is offering itself as a political force capable of resolutely asserting the interests of the German bourgeoisie and placing the European Union at the service of German economic interests even more effectively than in the past.
In this regard, Habermas and his co-authors go much further than the federal government. Their prerequisite for a common debt liability is “strict collective control over national budgets”.
“A transfer of sovereignty to European institutions”, they explain, “is unavoidable in order to impose effective fiscal discipline and guarantee a stable financial system”.
This amounts to a dictatorship of the Brussels authorities over the budgetary policies of all euro zone member countries, as already practised in Greece by the “troika” of the EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank. And as Germany is the largest and economically strongest EU member and sets the tone in Brussels, it would hold sway over all other member countries. This is an attempt to reorganize Europe under German domination.
It is also significant that Habermas and his co-authors want to initially limit their targeted “political union” to a “core Europe of the 17 European Monetary Union (EMU) member states”. The poorer EU members who have not yet adopted the euro, as well as the UK, are to remain outside. This would further increase German dominance.
Habermas would not be Habermas if he did not try to clothe these plans for a naked dictatorship in democratic robes.
Ever since he took over Frankfurt University’s chair of philosophy and sociology from Max Horkheimer in 1964, at age 35, he has been regarded as the most prominent representative of the Frankfurt School and its “Critical Theory”. After a brief flirtation with the 1968 student movement, he soon emerged as the German Federal Republic’s semi-official political philosopher, who specialized in reconciling “critical” spirits with existing social conditions.
His Theory of Communicative Action, which places social discourse on a par with material social relations, is perfectly suited to reducing real social antagonisms to mere communication problems that can be resolved through democratic discourse, without infringing on reality in the slightest.
In the 1990s, he provided the theoretical justification for the Greens’ transformation from a petty bourgeois protest party into an establishment party. Among other things, he developed the arguments used by the ex-pacifists to justify German participation in the 1999 war in Yugoslavia (See: “How Jürgen Habermas defends the Balkan war“). Joschka Fischer, the then-foreign minister and spokesman for the Greens, is one of Habermas’s self-professed supporters.
Habermas is now crafting a justification for the development of the EU into an authoritarian entity, where Germany calls the tune. According to Habermas, such a “big step towards integration” will not only overcome the euro region’s current crisis. He also praises it as the agent for “curbing the evil practices of the shadowy parallel universe that the investment banks and hedge funds have built up alongside the real economy of goods and services”, adding: “This requires our politicians to get a grip and take control again”.
Elsewhere he writes: “… the institutional underpinning of a collective fiscal, economic and social policy within the eurozone” will serve “the further aim of restoring to policy-makers their lost capacity for action in the face of market imperatives at a transnational level”. Only a politically united core Europe can offer “any hope of reversing the process—already far advanced—of transforming a citizens’ democracy built on the idea of the social state into a sham democracy governed by market principles”.
In other words, Habermas claims that strengthening the EU could break the dominance of the financial markets and restore democracy. This is absurd on two counts.
Firstly, the money Habermas wants to make available by introducing the joint liability of euro zone states for government bonds will flow directly into the “parallel universe” of “the investment banks and hedge funds”.
This has already happened in relation to the rescue packages for Greece and Portugal. The banks and hedge funds benefited from the aid money because it allowed them to recover their risky loans. At the same time, the debt of these countries continued to rise despite the brutal austerity measures, and the working class was bled white. The same thing will happen if it comes to issuing euro bonds: they will simply be used to appease the appetite of the financial markets.
Secondly, the EU has been since its creation a reliable tool of finance capital, ruthlessly serving its interests. The Brussels authorities warily monitor adherence to the free movement of capital and goods, enforce free competition deep into vital areas such as education and health, and dictate the austerity programs that lead to the slashing of pensions and social benefits, lowering of wages, and privatisation of public companies and services.
The strengthening of the European Union, envisaged by Habermas and his co-authors, would not undermine the power of the banks and hedge funds, but rather increase it.
Habermas is fully aware of the “weak democratic foundations of the European Union” and makes a desperate attempt to gloss over the issue. To avoid the “imposition on … peoples of a centralized executive power that takes on a life of its own above their heads”, he says, “the people themselves must have their say”.
He wants to achieve this via a constitutional convention and referenda on its outcome: “If the results of the referenda are positive, the peoples of Europe could regain, at a European level, the sovereignty that was stolen from them by ‘the markets’ a long time ago”.
In view of the failure of the EU constitution referendum in France and the Netherlands in 2005, Habermas knows that a new ballot would garner little support. He therefore wants to stimulate that support by offering the promise of European greatness and appealing to anti-Americanism.
“A discussion about the purpose and aim of the unification process would present an opportunity to broaden the focus of public debate, which has hitherto been confined to economic issues”, he writes, and adds: “The awareness that global political power is shifting from the West to the East, and the sense that our relationship with the USA is changing, combine to present the synergetic benefits of European unification in a new light”.
And if anyone has still failed to understand that this is about power politics and not democracy, he stresses: “The peoples of Europe … must pool their resources if they want to exert any kind of influence on the international political agenda and the solution of global problems. To abandon European unification now would be to quit the world stage for good”.

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Germany takes hard line in advance of EU summit

By Stefan Steinberg 
29 June 2012
German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw down the gauntlet to Europe and Washington on the eve of the two-day European Union summit in Brussels, which began Thursday. According to press reports, Merkel told an internal meeting of her ruling coalition on Tuesday that she would never accept euro bonds in her lifetime.
On Wednesday, she issued a scathing critique before the German parliament of a policy statement released the day before by European Council President Harman Van Rompuy laying out proposals to restructure the European Union in order to save the euro currency. The statement, released in the name of the European Commission President Manuel Barroso, Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi as well as Van Rompuy, is to be a major topic on the agenda of the summit.
“I profoundly disagree with the stance taken in the report that precedence is given to mutualization [of debt], and that more control and enforceable commitments take a second place and are phrased in very imprecise terms,” she said.
She added that euro bonds and proposals for a common debt repayment fund were “economically wrong, counterproductive and in breach of the German constitution.
These statements effectively rule out any possibility of agreement at the Brussels meeting on how to deal with the rapidly escalating euro crisis.
The introduction of euro bonds plus common debt repayment measures for individual European states are key demands to be discussed in Brussels. The call for euro bonds has been raised with increasing insistence in recent months by France, Italy and Spain, as well as the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the US government.
Earlier this week, US President Obama advised Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to increase pressure on the German government to agree to the introduction of euro bonds plus short-term measures to fund ailing European banks.
The summit takes place against a background of growing economic crisis and financial instability in a number of major European countries. Despite the pledge by European leaders two weeks ago to invest 100 billion euros in the ailing Spanish banking system, the yield on Spanish ten-year bonds is once again approaching the critical level of 7 percent. Yields on Italian bonds have risen to their highest level in a year, and this week the island nation of Cyprus announced it would be the fifth European state to apply for a bailout from the EU.
Warning of a popular backlash should the summit fail to agree on concrete measures, Monti told reporters that disenchantment with government and European policy could unleash ‘political forces which say ‘let European integration, let the euro, let this or that large country go to hell,’” a development which “would be a disaster for the whole of the European Union.” In its characterisation of the summit, the German newspaper Die Weltcompared Europe to the Titanic heading for the iceberg.
In the face of a concerted pressure from financial institutions and European governments for short-term measures to infuse new funds into the banks, Merkel once again declared that there were “no quick, no easy” solutions and no “magic formula” to resolve the crisis.
In her previous statements on euro bonds, Merkel had indicated she was prepared to support their introduction, but only after substantive moves had been made toward fiscal and political union in Europe, i.e., that individual nations would agree to hand over control of their tax and budgetary policies to Brussels.
Merkel’s comments this week indicate that the German government has hardened its position and is now unwilling to support euro bonds under any circumstances. It has received flanking support from the opposition Social Democratic Party, formerly a firm advocate of euro bonds, which has dropped the issue in recent weeks.
Under conditions where any fundamental agreement is ruled out, European leaders are already damping down expectations. European Commission President Barroso declared that it would be sufficient if the meeting could provide “orientation and a line,” and declared that “it would be a mistake to believe that one summit could calm the markets.”
Barroso’s remarks are largely for public consumption. Behind the scenes, EU diplomats are working furiously to accommodate the banks. In particular, discussions centre on plans to permit the existing European bailout funds to directly buy government bonds. The present practice is that bailout funds can be awarded only to states. Italy and Spain are pushing hard for expanded use of bailout funds to prop up their banks. On Thursday, Merkel brusquely dismissed the demands of the Italian premier.
Media commentators are united in declaring that a precondition for any deal to prevent a meltdown of the euro is a level of agreement between the continent’s two largest economies, France and Germany. On Wednesday evening, Merkel flew to Paris for talks with President Francois Hollande just hours before the summit was due to begin. No details of the talks have been leaked, but Merkel’s categorical rejection of key points on the summit agenda indicate that there was no agreement between the two leaders.
A number of commentaries have presented the policy differences between Paris and Berlin as a conflict between growth and austerity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One French “success” the summit will undoubtedly parade at the end of its two days of discussions is the “growth pact,” already agreed at a special meeting of the French, German, Spanish and Italian heads of government last Friday. The 120 billion-euro package was presented in the press as a significant initiative to counteract the negative effects of austerity programs and social cuts with a “growth” component aimed at creating jobs and reviving ailing economies.
In fact, as a recent article in Der Spiegel points out, the pact consists chiefly of “empty promises, hot air and accounting tricks” aimed at the electorate and with no positive consequences for jobs of economic growth. An internal European analysis concludes that the pact contains nothing new and was primarily aimed at allowing the French president to save face.
Both Hollande and Merkel are intent on fulfilling the demands of the financial elite and extending austerity across the continent. But France, with its weaker economy and heavy financial exposure in southern Europe, seeks to ensure that Germany opens up the money faucets to bail out the European banks.
Germany, for its part, insists that France and the rest of Europe yield sovereign control of their economies in exchange for financial support. Such a concession is unacceptable to France, which demands the right to impose its own austerity measures without interference from Germany.
EU leaders will likely issue a pro forma statement at the end of the summit stressing their determination to tackle the crisis, but tensions both within the EU and between Europe and America are reaching a critical mass.

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Germany’s six-point plan for sweatshop Europe

30 May 2012

It is now common practice to smash up wages and workers’ rights by initiating bankruptcy proceedings. The best known case is the American auto giant General Motors, which laid off 30,000 workers, slashed wages in half for new-hires, and cut retiree benefits. If the German government gets its way, this procedure will be applied to entire countries.
According to a report in the news magazine Der Spiegel, the chancellery in Berlin has drawn up a six-point plan for far-reaching “structural reforms” in Greece and other highly indebted European Union countries. The plan includes the sale of state enterprises, the gutting of employment protection rights, the promotion of a low-wage labor sector, the removal of constraints on businesses, and the establishment of special economic zones and privatization agencies modeled on the German Treuhand.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert has not confirmed the plan, but neither has he denied it. According to Der Spiegel, it will form the basis for negotiations at the European Union’s so-called “growth summit” in late June. Der Spiegel writes that Chancellor Angela Merkel will seize on the call for a growth policy by newly elected French President Francois Hollande, “applying the principle of judo fighters: employing the momentum of the opponent to mount one’s own attack.”

If Merkel gets her way, “growth” will be achieved entirely through the intensified exploitation of workers and not through any plan for economic revival or increased social expenditures. She assumes Hollande will be open to these proposals since the EU summit will take place after the June 17 French parliamentary elections and the new French president will no longer be constrained by voters’ opinions or his own campaign promises.
The German government is striving to impose levels of exploitation similar to those currently existing only in Eastern Europe and Asian cheap-labor havens such as China and Vietnam. Special economic zones have played a crucial role in the emergence of China as the world’s biggest sweatshop. These zones free companies from paying taxes or adhering to environmental regulations and labor standards, reducing workers to the status of impoverished industrial slaves.
The model for the privatization agencies recommended by the experts in the chancellor’s office is the Treuhand, which obliterated the industrial landscape of East Germany following the collapse of the Stalinist regime in 1989. Run by hand-picked confidants of big business and the banks and not answerable to any democratic bodies, the Treuhand decided the fate of millions. It sold off 8,500 companies with 45,000 facilities at fire-sale prices or simply shut them down. Only a small fraction of the original 4 million industrial jobs remained.
The six-point plan drawn up by the chancellery is incompatible with national self-determination or democracy. The newspaper Tagesspiegel interviewed several German economic experts who were brutally frank in expressing their views on the future prospects for Greece.
Thomas Straubhaar, director of the Hamburg Institute of International Economics, called for the establishment of a “European protectorate” over Greece. He said that whatever the outcome of the upcoming June 17 elections in Greece, the country remained a “failed state,” lacking “the strength to make a fresh start on its own.”
The term “protectorate” evokes ghastly memories. British imperialism referred to its former colonies as protectorates when it permitted local puppets, as in Egypt and several Gulf sheikdoms, to play at being heads of state. In run-up to World War II the term became infamous following the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
The fact that this term is re-introduced into the official vocabulary reveals what the ruling circles of Germany and Europe have in mind. The debate on special economic zones and protectorates takes place against the backdrop of a worsening economic crisis.
As a result of the austerity program dictated by the troika—EU, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB)—the Greek economy is in free-fall. The country is now in its fifth year of recession. Small and medium-sized companies are collapsing. This year alone their business association expects 61,000 firms to close, wiping out 240,000 jobs. The tourism industry, which accounts for one in five Greek jobs, has seen its revenues decline by 45 percent in the past year.
The country’s banks face collapse because borrowers can no longer repay their loans and both investors and depositors are withdrawing their money. Experts speak of a “slow motion” run on the banks that threatens to spill over to Spain and Italy. Since the beginning of the crisis, private citizens and businesses have withdrawn 63 billion euros from Greek accounts, i.e., one third of total deposits. Since the middle of last year, 100 billion euros have been withdrawn from Spanish banks and 160 billion euros from banks in Italy.
Under these circumstances, the ruling class is concluding that it can no longer afford the luxury of democracy. Leading officials such as German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and IMF chief Christine Lagarde are threatening the Greek people with immediate state bankruptcy if they vote on June 17 in favor of parties calling for a softening of the austerity policies dictated by the banks via the troika.
At the same time, the European Union is preparing for Greek national bankruptcy and the exit of Greece from the euro. The Euro Working Group, a committee of the finance ministries of all 17 euro countries, has instructed all governments to prepare emergency plans for a Greek euro exit. In Greece itself, the ruling class is secretly drawing up plans to use the military to crush popular opposition to the austerity measures.
Greece makes clear what confronts the working class throughout Europe. Nearly four years after the eruption of the global financial crisis, democratic structures are collapsing and the representatives of the financial and corporate elite are defending their rule by endless attacks on wages, jobs and social programs.
The working class can counter this offensive only by closing ranks internationally and fighting for a socialist program. The task is not to reform the European Union but to mobilize the working class for its overthrow and replacement by the United Socialist States of Europe.
Peter Schwarz

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They Thought They Were Free

The Germans, 1933-45

Excerpt from pages 166-73 of “They Thought They Were Free” First published in 1955
By Milton Mayer
But Then It Was Too Late
“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.
“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.
“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.
“You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”
“Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’”
“Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?
“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.
“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.
“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”
“Yes,” I said.
“You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’
“And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.
“But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.
“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.
“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.
“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.
“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.
“What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”
I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.
“I can tell you,” my colleague went on, “of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn’t an anti-Nazi. He was just—a judge. In ’42 or ’43, early ’43, I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an ‘Aryan’ woman. This was ‘race injury,’ something the Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case at bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a ‘nonracial’ offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party ‘processing’ which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the ‘nonracial’ charge, in the judge’s opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.”
“And the judge?”
“Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience—a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That’s how I heard about it.) After the ’44 Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don’t know.”
I said nothing.
“Once the war began,” my colleague continued, “resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was ‘defeatism.’ You assumed that there were lists of those who would be ‘dealt with’ later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a ‘victory orgy’ to ‘take care of’ those who thought that their ‘treasonable attitude’ had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.
“Once the war began, the government could do anything ‘necessary’ to win it; so it was with the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem,’ which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its ‘necessities’ gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it.”
Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1955, 1966 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)
Milton Mayer


The “German model” and the attack on European workers

9 April 2012

Last Thursday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to implement a severe austerity program should he win another term in next month’s election. He announced his intention of saving €53 billion primarily through mass layoffs in the public sector and cuts in health care. His opponent, Socialist Party candidate François Hollande, said in a radio interview that if elected he would undertake an immediate review of all government spending and freeze a number of programs.
Sarkozy earlier announced plans for cutting labour costs by €13 billion and compared his proposals to the Agenda 2010 program introduced years before in Germany. Sarkozy noted that Agenda 2010 has resulted in a significant decrease in labour costs in Germany, improving that country’s competitiveness against France. If France wants to reduce its unemployment rate to the German level, it will have to follow the “German model” and take similar measures, Sarkozy said.
Earlier this year, the nonelected “technocratic” prime minister of Italy, Mario Monti, paid similar homage to Agenda 2010 and declared that Germany had won the economic debate in Europe.
Agenda 2010 refers to a series of measures introduced by the Social Democratic (SPD)-Green government led by Gerhard Schröder between 1998 and 2005. This government introduced the most comprehensive attacks on the welfare state in post-World War II German history. While slashing social spending through the partial privatisation of the pension system and labour market “reforms” leading to substantial reductions in corporate wage costs, the SPD and Greens lowered the top tax rate and abolished the wealth surtax.
The result was the creation of a huge low-wage sector. Currently, over 23 percent of the work force in Germany is employed in low-wage jobs, earning on average less than €7 an hour. Some 4.9 million workers are employed in so-called mini-jobs, which almost entirely free the employer from additional labour costs. Hundreds of thousands have been forced by the federal labour agencies to take jobs for which they receive just €1 per hour, plus room and board.
In addition, German companies have been able to circumvent minimum wage requirements and contract agreements through so-called service contracts, under which employees are no longer protected by labour laws and can be paid a pittance. In some companies, workers employed on the basis of such contracts already outnumber those working under a regular contract.
The aim of the fiscal pact agreed by EU finance ministers in early March is to extend this model across Europe. In January, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear that the priority in Europe was not only slashing government spending, but also destroying workers’ rights. “Europe can hold its own in international competition with rising powers such as China and Brazil only if it is as competitive as Germany,” she declared.
The first laboratory for this onslaught against the working class is Greece. The country has been selected by the ruling elites of Europe to test out those measures to be imposed on the working class across the continent.
In addition to mass layoffs and wage cuts, the dismantling of welfare systems and increases in consumption taxes, the country is being transformed into a tax haven for businesses. The country’s monthly minimum wage has been cut by more than €160 to €590, business taxes have been reduced, and most wage subsidies abolished.
The social distress and poverty unleashed by these measures is being used to depress wages and working conditions across the board. The German government has proposed the setting up of “free trade zones” in northern Greece. In these special zones, the minimum wage of €590 is to be reduced to €300 and the corporate tax cut from 20 percent to 2 percent.
Similar measures have been introduced in other European countries. In Spain, companies can cut wages and alter working hours without the consent of the unions. Laws protecting employees against dismissal and enforcing their right to severance pay have been severely curtailed.
In Italy, employer social security contributions have been reduced and companies can now subvert existing contracts and reduce wages. There are also plans to cut labour costs and facilitate redundancies by conducting all contract negotiations at a company level.
To further increase competitiveness, leading politicians in Germany are demanding a new, even more draconian package of “reforms,” under the rubric of “Agenda 2020.” Ex-Chancellor Schröder, who maintains close relations with leading German corporations, went so far as to call last week for an Agenda 2030. He insisted that ailing countries had to surrender their national sovereignty and accept the appointment of a European finance minister to impose new, wide-ranging social cuts.
When Sarkozy, Monti and other political representatives of European big business praise the “German model,” they are referring not only to the massive attacks on the rights and living standards of German workers. They are also alluding to the manner in which these attacks were imposed, i.e., with the full collaboration of the trade unions.
Agenda 2010 was initiated jointly by the German government and the unions. The key labour market reform was developed by a commission headed by IG Metall union bureaucrats and the personnel director at Volkswagen, Peter Hartz. The government essentially rubber-stamped the program.
When mass demonstrations erupted in 2004 in opposition to the welfare cuts, the unions worked tirelessly to stifle and suppress them.
Since then, every successive German government has been able to rely completely on the unions. In the recent layoff of more than 11,000 employees at the Schlecker drugstore chain, the Verdi union not only rejected any sort of industrial action in defence of jobs, it exerted pressure on workers not to take any legal action against the company. Subsidised by the state and big corporations, the unions regard their main role as the suppression of any dissent in the workplace.
Such is the much-vaunted German model, praised as a means of slashing wages and labour costs across Europe to levels comparable to those in China and Brazil. Workers can defend their jobs and living standards only by uniting across national borders in a rebellion against the trade union bureaucracy and based on a socialist perspective.
Cristoph Dreier

Post-democracy: Press TV banned in Germany

VOLTAIRE NETWORK


It was through a simple email sent to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) officials that the Media Regulatory Office (MHA) based in Munich notified of the decision to remove the Iranian English-speaking channel Press TV from German airwaves.
The authority has claimed that Iran’s English-speaking channel does not have a license for broadcast in Europe.
This shutdown comes after Press TV was banned in Great Britain in January 2012 by Ofcom, the government-approved media regulatory authority. [1]
On its part, the channel believes the decision is part of a strategy by Westerners to silence an inconvenient voice.
Press TV drew the attention of the UK public in particular for its coverage of the Occupy protest movement in the United States and Britain, as well as for offering viewers a different perspective on the offensive launched against Libya or Syria.
Voltaire Network recalls that freedom of expression is a prerequisite for any democracy. It can only be restricted by law. Now, in this case, censorship does not stem from a court ruling following the commission of crimes or offenses, but from a simple administrative decision of an obvious political nature.
The Lebanese news channel Al-Manar was taken off the air in a similar manner, first in France, then in all Western states [2] At the time, Al-Manar had been accused of broadcasting an anti-Semitic program, but the examining magistrate never succeeded in establishing the charge and the case was not pursued. Ultimately, it was the Conseil d’Etat (i.e. the administrative court, not criminal court) which banned the channel alleging reasons of public order disturbances in connection with the controversy sparked by the accusation of antisemitism, in spite of the fact that it could never be substantiated.
Successive administrative bans in Europe, over the last six years, of Lebanese, Palestinian, Libyan, Syrian and Iranian news channels illustrate the inability of the European Union to address the issue other than to resort to censorship and propaganda and by forsaking the most basic principles of democracy.
Such administrative bans slammed on Middle East television channels clearly aim to prevent EU citizens from gaining a different perspective on the conflicts in this region, even though wars are being contemplated in which Europeans would be brought in. In this sense, such measures are in breach of resolutions 381 [3] and 819 [4] of the United Nations General Assembly, which make it mandatory for Member States to “remove barriers that prevent peoples the free exchange of information and of ideas essential to understanding and international peace. “

Europe’s trade union heads meet with Merkel

A meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and trade union leaders from across Europe Thursday discussed the euro zone debt crisis.
There are no reports of what was said, other than statements to the press by union leaders stressing the need for a “social Europe” and a “social bailout fund” to protect economies facing collapse.
But Merkel’s public rejoinder, that the crisis is “an opportunity to set the right course for the future” and “strengthen growth and employment in Europe permanently”, indicates what was discussed behind the scenes. Merkel will have instructed the union heads that there will be no retreat from savage cuts and austerity, and that, in the face of rising opposition, they must push through reforms designed to make it easier to fire workers and cut wages.
The union leaders were pathetically grateful for the opportunity to whisper into Merkel’s ear.
“It was important that these talks took place at all,” said Michael Sommer, Germany’s top union official in the DGB. “From my point of view, it was a necessary piece of confidence-building, and more must follow.”
As well as union officials from France and Belgium, Sommer was joined by his counterparts from Spain, Greece, Italy, the Czech Republic and Ireland.
These countries are seeing drastic cuts imposed, yet all that Antonio Ferrer of Spain’s UGT union could muster by way of oppositional rhetoric was to declare, “Of course, we are grateful for the fact we were received, but at the same time we expressed our differences on the policies that are being directed by the European Union and with the leadership of the chancellor.”
Ioannis Panagopoulos, head of the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), spoke of the “disastrous effects” of relentless tax increases, pay cuts and job losses, but this did not stop him from penciling in a meeting with Merkel later this spring.
The meeting will not have involved dialogue at all, but Merkel laying down the law. The day before, she declared that the euro zone crisis is “not over”, but in one of its “various phases”. The central question was, “How are the conditions and how much hope can investors in Europe, in America, in Japan who put their money in these [euro zone] countries have of seeing their money again?”
The answer is further brutal attacks on working people. As Merkel insisted in January, “Europe can only succeed in international competition with rising powers like China and Brazil when it is as competitive as Germany.”
The scale of cuts required in order to be competitive with China is eye-watering.
The fiscal compact agreed by 25 heads of government requires all 17 euro-zone countries to bring their deficits down to between 0.5 percent and 1 percent of GDP within a year of ratification, or they will face massive fines and be denied access to any European Central Bank funds. Presently, Spain is struggling to meet a deficit target of 5.3 percent and Ireland 8.6 percent.
Moreover, the present demands for cuts assume that the European and world economies will not suffer a further catastrophic slump like that following 2008, when all indications are that this is an ever-present and growing threat.
Billions have already been slashed from public spending, driving up unemployment and poverty and, in the process, hastening the plunge of Europe’s economies into a downward spiral of recession. So far, Ireland, Greece, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands and Slovenia are all officially in recession, and growth in Britain, France and even Germany is flat-lining.
Greece is being used as the testing ground for the measures being rolled out across Europe. The €130 billion it was recently loaned is in fact all earmarked to be paid to banks and other investors, with Germany, France, the United States and Britain among the main beneficiaries.
For workers, in contrast, all that is on offer is unending and escalating pain.
Germany has now proposed the establishment of “free trade zones” in northern Greece, where it is proposed that the minimum wage is slashed from €500 to €300, and corporation tax is set at two percent instead of 20 percent.
Greece is committed to ever-deeper austerity measures during a fifth year of recession, involving slashing the minimum wage, pension benefits and health service funding. Official unemployment is already 23 percent, and is over 50 percent for young workers. Yet Athens has now been instructed to sack 15,000 public servants every year for the next decade.
In Ireland, slashing public sector jobs and pay is the basis for this tiny country paying back €3.1 billion to its creditors every year until 2023, two percent of GDP, with interest payments raising the figure all the time.
In Hungary, which this month became the first country to be denied a loan by the EU, the IMF and ECB, households already spend three percent of GDP on loan interest.
Unemployment levels in Spain are almost identical to Greece, while in Italy more than 30 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds are unemployed and only 57 percent of all Italians have a job. The Spanish government is unceremoniously shutting down 24 public companies, under conditions where the crisis has already driven 200,000 firms into bankruptcy.
In Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, identical rafts of labour legislation are being imposed that will mean further job and wage cuts.
If Europe’s corporations and their governments get away with this, then responsibility rests with the trade union bureaucracy. The well-heeled functionaries who met with Merkel this week are all busy ensuring that the austerity agenda of the ruling elites goes through.
Where the unions cannot avoid taking action, they mount ineffectual one-day protests—of which there have been numerous examples—that serve only to demoralize the workers involved and convince them that nothing can be done.
Even this is too much for many of these rotten organisations, such as the CISL in Italy, which stands fully behind the unelected government of Mario Monti, or the Socialist Party-aligned General Workers Union (UGT) in Portugal, which refused to participate in Thursday’s general strike against the new labour legislation. The German trade unions act as de facto coalition partners of Merkel. And in Britain, the Trades Union Congress has backed just two public sector-only protest strikes in the past two years and betrayed and sabotaged attempts to mount another.
European workers face being dragged ever further into a social nightmare. Unemployment and homelessness have reached epidemic proportions, and social services are being gutted and privatised. Unending poverty and job insecurity are the order of the day, with the employers holding the whip and hiring and firing at will.
In the fight that must now be waged, the trade unions will continue to work for the enemy. New class struggle organisations and a new party must be built to lead Europe’s workers in a united offensive for workers’ power and socialism.
Chris Marsden
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