Note from Germany on Current Social Movements

Discussions on the economic crisis are going on in many places. However, the resistance against austerity politics is very weak in Germany. The unions mobilize only halfheartedly against the government, as they hope to win something through corporatist intermediation. And the left is quite weak.

We had two national demonstrations in the summer organized by a leftist alliance, with about 20,000 participants at each. In 2009, there were also two national demonstrations organized by the same alliance with about 30,000 participants at each. So fewer people were mobilized this year than the year before. In the last weeks, we had a number of regional demonstrations organized by the trade unions with around 10,000 participants each. This does not generate enough pressure on the government. We face a difficult situation if you consider that even strikes and demonstrations with millions of people in France and several general strikes in Greece were not enough to force a change in the political direction.

While working class-based protests in Germany seem to be rather weak now, we have a revival of the movement against nuclear energy. And there is a very strong local movement in Stuttgart against the restructuring of the railway station. The government wants to build an underground station which would cost up to 7 billion euros. This issue is connected with ecological questions, democratic questions, issues of building speculation, urban restructuring, and railway politics, and also with the problems of fiscal politics. In the meantime, this local movement has taken on a national dimension. In the context of these struggles, the Green party is getting stronger again, while the Left Party (Die Linke) is rather stagnating.

Two years ago, a “Capital reading movement” was initiated by Die Linke/SDS, the student organization of the Left Party. Initially around 2000 activists were involved in reading Marx’s Capital in cities all over Germany. Sales of volume 1 of Capital soared. However, this movement is more or less over now because of the short-term campaign style activism of leading political activists. Members of Marx 21, the German organization of the International Socialists (the sister organization of the British Socialist Workers Party) played a leading role in this movement, and they were not persistent enough. However, in some cities there are still Capital reading groups. For instance, in Berlin there are regular reading groups organized by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. It just doesn’t have the character of a “movement” as it did a year or two years ago.

A year ago, there was also a movement at the universities against the neo-liberal restructuring of higher education. However, those movements come and go. It is very difficult to develop longer-lasting, permanent organizational structures from these protests. The economic and ideological pressure on students is much stronger today than it was 20 years ago.

All in all, there are many small struggles; however, they are not strong enough to really challenge the government and to force a political change away from neo-liberalism (let alone capitalism).

Tom Sawyer

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