Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The PSG and the EU elections

By Frank Brenner

Deutsch: Die PSG und die Europawahl

After the recent European Union elections, the WSWS ran a number of articles assessing the results of these elections, including the performance of the German section of the International Committee, the PSG (Partei fur Soziale Gleichheit). These articles bear some comment.

First, some facts. The PSG received 9,673 votes in the election. This compares to the previous election, in 2004, where the PSG received 25,800 votes. Which is to say that the party’s vote fell by a whopping 62.5 percent. To call this a steep decline is an understatement. Moreover, the PSG scored dead last of the 31 German parties contesting the EU election, including some very obscure and makeshift groups peddling everything from spiritual politics to the merits of internet file-sharing. This result is all the more noteworthy given that these elections were held in the midst of the global financial crisis, which is hitting the German working class hard.

So what accounts for this? Surely that should be a pressing concern for the party. But you won’t find a coherent explanation in the WSWS commentary. Here is how PSG leader Ulrich Rippert handles the issue in his assessment of his party’s campaign:

"The PSG received 9,673 votes. While this total is significantly less than the vote won by the party in the European election five years ago, it would be a mistake to assess the significance of the elections from the narrow viewpoint of how many votes were won."

Now, it is true that Trotskyist parties are not electoralist machines and that votes are not the primary consideration determining our politics. But clearly votes have some significance. Imagine if the PSG vote had increased by 62.5 percent: of course the party would have trumpeted such as a result as indicative of a growing influence in the working class. Indeed this is just what happened in 2004. Then the WSWS was so proud of the PSG vote that it put the vote numbers in the headline: “Socialist Equality Party of Germany receives nearly 26,000 votes”. The article went on to declare: “This increase in votes is of considerable political significance. It shows that a section of workers, intellectuals and youth are beginning to seriously take up political issues and support an international socialist perspective.”

But you can’t have it both ways – you can’t take credit for a good result but dismiss the significance of a bad one. There is – or should be – no question that such a dramatic fall in the party’s vote calls for a critical reappraisal of what the PSG has been doing to reach the working class.

Read entire essay HERE


Bob Dylan said...

This article vaguely reminds me of criticism of the Bolsheviks in 1918. As you know Mr. Brenner they "only" won 25% nationally which, as you know, is a testament to the unreliability of elections in reflecting social changes in their whole movement.

The consistent analysis of the fall of social democracy was always amounted to a prediction of the SEP's fall in vote as voters associated the two and associated the SEP as a left variation. The elections were a disgusted rejection of the identified "left" en bloc. It seems to be overly demanding to ask the SEP to immediately be able to convince voters on the distinctiveness of the SEP. It seems from history that this is the last domino to fall. The experience of Trotskyist parties in pre-revolutionary electoral matches has, as you acknowledge, never been mechanical.

I would prefer, if I may go on for a moment, for you to clarify your positions on, for example, some historical/philosophical questions. I'm particularly interested on what you think about the breakdown of the WRP and the response of the WL which occured after you had left the WL. The philosophical language used in the period you were in the WL seems to have been more verbose and I was wondering on the link.

I.E. How does your perspective on Healy's dialectics differ/not differ from the WL/SEP, what about Banda's 27 reasons / North's The Heritage We Defend?

When you talk about dialectics, should Trotskyists be studying Volume 38 closely? This seems to have been the preferred method of teaching in the WL.


Anonymous said...

By Frank Brenner

You miss the point. It was the PSG, not us, who attached wider political significance to vote results, specifically its vote total in 2004. The point I made was that you can’t have it both ways – you can’t claim credit for a good result as indicative of growing influence in the working class and then dismiss a bad result five years later as supposedly having no bearing on the party’s practice in the working class. The point was not just the bad result, but more significantly the rationalizations by the PSG leadership in trying to explain it away. About that, you say nothing.

The analogy to the Bolsheviks is off the mark. Yes, election tallies for them were never decisive – they were only one of many indicators of the state of mass consciousness and of the party’s influence, and by no means the most important. But the Bolsheviks in 1917, and indeed long before then, were a party deeply embedded in the masses through their work in the soviets, unions, factory committees, regional and local councils etc. etc.

By contrast the PSG and the other sections of the ICFI do virtually no sustained work in the working class. Their political activity is almost entirely devoted to internet journalism. The only point of contact these parties have with the working class is the occasional election campaign, and so it is legitimate to look at the results of those campaigns as symptomatic of the party’s relationship to the working class. And what we find is a dismal picture in which the party is having no impact on mass consciousness. The Bolshevik leadership would have found such a situation intolerable and would have fought for a sharp reorientation of the party’s work. The ICFI leadership, however, has no such worries: come rain or shine, its perspectives are always “fully confirmed”.

As for the point about the PSG being dragged down by the voters’ rejection of the left en bloc, it seems to me you draw the wrong conclusion from that. If it isn’t possible for a Trotskyist party to establish its “distinctiveness” from social democracy in the midst of a severe economic crisis, then this raises serious concerns about what the PSG is doing.

I don’t agree with you that such “distinctiveness” only kicks in at the end. The Bolsheviks split from the Mensheviks in 1903, not 1917: all the years in between were precisely about establishing their revolutionary “distinctiveness” among the masses. And the German SPD today is much more obviously an establishment party than the Mensheviks were a century ago. A Trotskyist party that had a living relationship with the German working class should easily have been able to distinguish itself from such a moribund political machine, at least among the most militant sections of the working class. The whole point is that the PSG has no such relationship to any section of workers.

As for the questions on philosophy, you can refer to Chapters 3 and 4 of Marxism Without its Head or its Heart. We are not supporters of Healy’s gross caricatures of dialectics, a point we’ve made repeatedly in our polemical material, but we’ve also made it clear that the abandonment of dialectical philosophy by the IC leadership over the last two decades is equally misguided. We’ll have more to say on this when we respond to North's smear campaign against us.

Bob Dylan (HL) said...

Unfortunately the infrastructure of class struggle that you cited ("soviets, unions, factory committees, regional and local council") is gone. The working class has had all that taken from.

It is easy to say any organization is less connected to the working class than the old parties and it is perfectly true, but misleading. The internet is no substitute but at least it delivers a respectable initial audience. It is a small gift from the productive forces.

After the scrapping of the Labor Party demand of the WL I can imagine that a more propaganda heavy orientation might be inevitable which I believe is one reason why North is suspicious of your perspective on the trade unions in his polemic. I can imagine "If you reject the situation, you must be seeing opportunities in the Trade Unions the SEP doesn't see."

I'm speculating about the SEP, but the history of the working class is clear to me. But we can by all means disagree on whether the practical activity of the party has been inadequate. In general elections say absolutely nothing about anything. Since the German activity in preparation for them is unknown you could even have ran an article on the much more transparent Detroit campaign.

I am studying Dialectics slowly and I agree that there should be regular and formal philosophical output from the site. While this would be challenging and time consuming it would be helpful in guiding practice if it was successful. I believe you may be right that a lack of this material may be indicative of some problems in understanding Marxist philosophy or even an abandonment of elements of it.

Alex Steiner said...

If you agree with us about the importance of dialectics for the training of a revolutionary movement then I urge you to write to us directly. You can email us at

Alex Steiner