The political suicide of the spd

The worst is to be feared for the future of the largest people’s party in the Federal Republic

The Socialists are crazy – perhaps this statement describes the behavior of the SPD since the election of 18 September. September at the most. Yesterday’s resignation of Franz Muntefering from the chairmanship of the SPD is only the culmination of a series of wrong or at least incomprehensible decisions that have characterized SPD politics during the last weeks since the surprisingly good results in the last Bundestag elections, which brought an excellent result in view of the previous history. The overall result could not be worse: In just a few weeks, the SPD has failed to capitalize on its relative victory, squandered its recently regained political capital, lost or damaged its top figures, abandoned key political positions without need – in other words, the SPD is committing political hara-kiri.

It would always have been wrong to overestimate Franz Muntefering’s potential. His resignation in response to the election of Andrea Nahles as the new SPD federal secretary instead of the candidate he favored, Kajo Wasserholvel, may be celebrated as consistent or even admired as a sign that someone here is not clinging to office. It can also be considered inappropriate and factually incorrect with good reasons.

As spontaneous and uninformed as it was announced in the internal committees, it is in any case an overreaction out of narcissistic illness, in the current stage of the unfinished coalition negotiations even party-damaging behavior. Once again, the German left proves to be the most stupid left in the world, the SPD oblivious to power and ethically minded in the worst sense: contents are put up for discussion, but without bargaining for anything, strong persons sacrifice themselves on the altar of questionable pre-modern values like "Honor" and "Consistency", There is no discernible strategy and tactical positions are revealed without coercion. Let’s compare the behavior of the red-green parties after the election, which turned out better than expected: Schroder and Fischer, by far the most popular and prominent politicians in the coalition, resign, Muntefering, the party chairman and vice chancellor designate, while the CDU/CSU holds on to an already defeated candidate and thus secures tactical field advantages for itself.

What, one may reasonably ask, will actually happen – if one does not consider a red-green-red option to be realistic – if the CDU/CSU were to break off the coalition negotiations next week and force new elections?? It could do this – only now; before it was impossible – with reference to the internal chaos within the SPD, without being seen as irresponsible and power-hungry. In such an election, the SPD was threatened with collapse and the Federal Republic with the black-yellow option, which had already been voted out. The only thing that probably saves the SPD from this threat is Merkel’s weakness.

The SPD as buttel for Merkel’s election as chancellor

With his resignation, Muntefering is also drawing the consequences from the personal and political mistakes of the last few weeks, which may have played an important role in yesterday’s clear vote in favor of Nahles. Let’s go back a few steps: The closer you look, the less you can grasp it. Schroder’s often mentioned appearance on the TV roundtable on the evening of the election was the most forgivable. Not only was the Chancellor’s exuberance humanly understandable, it was also objectively justified. In fact, the vast majority of German voters wanted and still want a Chancellor Schroder rather than a Chancellor Merkel; the latter, as is well known, is not even wanted by the majority of the CDU/CSU. The only thing that is completely incomprehensible is why the SPD is now allowing itself to be used as a butt for Merkel’s election as chancellor. With a different TV appearance and tactically better behavior toward the SPD, Schroder would have had a good chance of remaining chancellor, possibly even in a grand coalition. But at least it was possible to negotiate Merkel’s renunciation of his claim to the chancellorship in return for Schroder’s renunciation.

Why this did not happen? First, there is Muntefering’s clumsy attempt to split the CDU/CSU faction, combined with the SPD’s declaration that it is the strongest party. This was clumsy in three respects: It was based on the misconception that the Greens would participate in the division of the Union. Immediately after the election, however, the attempt had no chance of success because it was all too obviously motivated by party tactics. Objectively, however, the argument is completely correct that the CDU/CSU’s claim to be regarded as a unity is questionable. For the two Union parties are legally separate organizations with their own structure, their own budget, their own program, their own members. They only refrain from competing in Bavaria or. in the non-Bavarian federal territory. In TV rounds, such as the debate round on the evening of the election, they were represented by both chairmen – why, if it is a closed grouping? And what would the CDU/CSU say if the SPD and the GRuNE decided to form a parliamentary group tomorrow and thus became the strongest party?? In this respect, Muntefering’s step was correct in principle and should only have been taken at a different time – with better reasons. Third, it was also wrong immediately after the election, because Muntefering thereby de facto recognized the Union position without reason, according to which the strongest faction in a coalition is in principle entitled to the chancellorship. One does not even have to look to Israel to dispute this claim in its absoluteness and to find it undemocratic.

The ministries for bad news

The SPD also made big tactical mistakes in dealing with the necessary by-election in Dresden. It was clear from the outset that it could not bring about a real shift in power, but that it would have immense symbolic significance. While the CDU/CSU immediately trumpeted its own victory on the evening of the election without waiting for the projections, and regarded the regaining of a secure direct mandate, which had always been won until then, as a "Vote for Merkel" the SPD central office liked the position. The party leadership never mentioned that the SPD had received by far the most votes in Dresden – although that was a clear vote for Schroder, wasn’t it??

Most serious of all is the preliminary agreement on the formation of the Grand Coalition, for which Muntefering was largely responsible: Apart from Merkel’s chancellorship, the CDU/CSU secured all areas for the future, including fields that are central to the SPD, such as the family and education, as well as the ministry for melodious steam talk – the economy – and that for resentful populism – domestic policy – while the SPD got the ministries for bad news: Finance, Labor, Health, for annoying pedantry, and the one for burger-arousing spoilsport: Environment. As for the content, they suddenly advocated the introduction of the Merkel tax. The critical reaction in the SPD, from Clement to Nahles, which felt undervalued as an almost equally strong party in the future government, is understandable and appropriate.

Because one could well imagine the course of the next years: Torn between pragmatic compromises and concessions to the Union and the purely ethically arguing "Guard of the revolution", vulgo: Left Party, which in its mixture of populism and fundamentalism – one could also say: of cynicism and irresponsibility – tries to present itself as a better SPD, could shake the SPD to the core and be printed below 30 percent in upcoming elections. Its real chance lay only in the fact that the Union could show still more faint ones. But when it came down to it, the Union still worked, at least in terms of power politics.

okonomization instead of repoliticization

The gigantic stupidity of the party leader’s resignation is at the same time only an indication of a deeper programmatic weakness of social democracy: for some years now, to be precise since the beginning of Schroder’s belated chancellorship under the banner of the already in 1998 questionable "Third way" (Anthony Giddens), the SPD no longer claims to want to change the rules of society. It has lost the ideological battle; it has not capitulated to neoliberalism, but it has capitulated to the conservative dismantling of the welfare state, to the dismantling of politics in general. Where its repoliticization was called for, the SPD essentially economized conditions, imitating not the world view but the model of the right: obedience to competitive constraints. Corporations have been massively relieved, the pillars of the welfare state have been questioned, not theoretically but practically, and the classic claim to help the poor and underprivileged has been abandoned.

The increasingly bitter praise of the business community was of as little use to Schroder and Muntefering as the jubilation of the West was to Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The danger of a continuation of this policy could be seen just now in New Orleans. Moreover, the SPD has not been able to form a project, a new identity, out of the exemplary achievements of the Rotgrun government: The policy on foreigners and remembrance, a largely exemplary environmental policy, the political commitment in Europe, in Kosovo, in the Middle East, against the war in Iraq.

And now? Red cabbage against Cunctator

The previous policy of Rotgrun could not be continued in the same way. But the SPD has not understood how to continue its program, how to define its values in a contemporary way. Instead, even on the right of the SPD, it is now cursing itself into the purgatory of pragmatism and idealism. Secretly, as is now becoming clear, she longs for opposition, for a comfortable distance from power. But while Oskar Lafontaine outside and his daughter and sons inside the SPD cultivate their visions and rant about radical solutions, many people will suffer. The alternative that is now emerging between the power-conscious and unimaginative Palatine red cabbage Kurt Beck and the eternal cunctator Mathias Platzek, who is celebrated as a prodigy – between the Lothar Matthaus and the Bernd Schuster of German politics – shows how scary things are for the SPD and its future. The fact that it has this in common with large parts of European social democracy does not make its situation any better.

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