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Can the German peace movement unite to avert disaster?

Although Chancellor Scholz has ruled out sending Taurus missiles to Ukraine, the atmosphere in Germany is one of mounting ‘war readiness,’ while the left remains worryingly divided, warns VICTOR GROSSMAN

IN BUNDESTAG debates recently a key word was Taurus, Latin for “bull.” But they weren’t arguing about Zodiac astrology or the myth about the god Jupiter taking on the shape of a bull to abduct a princess.

The name of that princess was Europa, and the continent bearing her name was indeed involved in the debate over steel-covered missiles called Taurus, weighing 1,000lbs, 17 feet long, which, if fired from well inside Ukraine can reach and pierce the walls of the Kremlin.

Volodymyr Zelensky wants them. Should his wishes be fulfilled?  

Jupiter fathered three sons with Europa. Three sons of modern Europa met in a “Paris-Berlin-Warsaw” summit in early March. Poland’s Donald Tusk, only four months into the job, seems no less eager to supply anything if it damages the hereditary Russian enemy and solidifies Poland’s role as the main US outpost in eastern Europe. However, he soon had to hurry home to mollify tractor drivers blockading borders to protest at cheap Ukrainian grain imports.

Emmanuel Macron, who had spoken boldly of sending in “European” troops to oppose the Russians, toned that down with the words: “Maybe at some point — I don’t want it, I won’t take the initiative — we will have to have operations on the ground … to counter the Russian forces … France’s strength is that we can do it.” 

Evidently Olaf Scholz stepped on the brakes with Tusk and Macron: “To say it sharp and clear: as German Chancellor, I will send no Bundeswehr soldiers into Ukraine!” So, at least for now — no Taurus!

Was his seemingly bold front a facade over a general German downward skid in Europe? The economy declined in 2023. A predicted puny plus of 0.2 per cent for 2024 could mean that Germany is already in a recession, for only the second time since 1945.

Scholz’s three-party government has rapidly declined in popularity. The Greens, who promised a “green economic miracle” a year ago, have made one ecology compromise after another, like their go-ahead for big docks for liquid gas from US frackers to replace the Russian gas and oil cut by war, politics and that suspicious explosion of the Baltic pipeline. The new docks threaten both major bird emigration stopovers and some of Germany’s most idyllic beach resorts (once peopled, back in GDR days, by happy, mostly nudist bathers).

Ecology disputes turned dramatic with Elon Musk’s Tesla gigafactory on Berlin’s outskirts, now capable of turning out 500,000 e-cars a year, beating Volkswagen. That meant chopping down 740 acres of the protective forest ring around Berlin and draining crucial aquifers. But Musk now aims at a million cars — costing 420 more forest acres and drying up ponds and creeks. The village hit hardest voted No! and one group plans to defy a planned police onslaught in tree houses and platforms.

Rounding out the picture, Germany has been facing its biggest strike wave in years: railway engineers, bus and tram drivers, airport personnel, public service workers, kindergarten teachers, even doctors. Their demands are mostly for enough pay to catch up with inflation and frightening rent increases.

While the Greens strain to hold on to their dwindling professional college-graduate base and the Social Democrats struggle to win back working-class support, the weakest of the three partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), closest to big-biz, keep flirting with the Christian Democrats across the aisle, blackmailing attempts by the other two to seem socially conscious. More and more, the coalition is coming to resemble a free-for-all wrestling match.

But they agree on one main issue: in Ukraine, keep that war going! The Greens, always most valiant with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock hoping to see Russia “ruined,” are being overtaken as word- and banner-bearers by the Free Democrats, whose defence spokeswoman is formidable in word, appearance, personality and even name: Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann. 

Her imperative calls for more weapons until total victory over the Russians rouse up TV viewers almost every evening. And even when a majority in the Bundestag ended the Taurus debate by voting down a Christian Democrat Bill to give Kiev the missiles, she broke the ranks of coalition party discipline and voted with the opposition.

Somehow I haven’t yet heard anyone remark that Duesseldorf, which she represents, is also home to Rheinmetall, Germany’s leading armaments manufacturer since 1889. After great sales records in World War I it had giant success in World War II, largely by working thousands of miserable POWs and forced labourers to the bone.

Now super-good times are back again thanks to its Panther tanks and all kinds of weapons and explosive ammo. Company boss Armin Papperger, who took home a tidy €3,587,000 in 2022 (about £3,075,000) made a happy prediction of “a continuing strong growth increase in sales and earnings.”                                                                                                            

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius is never sated; for him the Bundeswehr is always far too weak. “Germany needs a Bundeswehr that can fight … the Bundeswehr must become fit for war again … an important signal in this context is the formation of the brigade in Lithuania.”

A mysteriously leaked report on a meeting of top German brass revealed plans for helping Ukraine use the Taurus to destroy the Russian bridge to Crimea. The whole atmosphere in Germany is becoming frighteningly “kriegstuchtig,” to use Pistorius’s word — “ready for war.”

The reports on Gaza since October contrast markedly with the anger over the Russian attack on Ukraine; they almost never mention Hamas without the prefaced adjective “terrorist” but show few pictures of devastated Gaza which, for me, bitterly recall those German cities I saw a few years after the war, like Dresden. Over and over we are shown Israeli soldiers bravely firing away; at what? Or digging in wrecked hospitals; for what?

But the heartwrenching pictures of weeping fathers and dead or maimed children in Gaza could not be ignored. Demonstrations grew larger, despite all attempts to prevent, limit or sideline them. Their calls for negotiations and peace sometimes included the war in Ukraine — and a rejection of SPD-FDP-Green-CDU-CSU militarist unity. 

But then came the giant rallies against the fascistic Alternative for Germany (AfD). In the past often harassed or at best ignored, they were now amazingly well-organised and co-ordinated, clearly promoted from above and blessed in the media. I suspect they were consciously aimed at deflecting a progressive, pro-peace trend born of horror at the hugely disproportionate Israeli response to October 7, misusing a popular anti-AfD cause for the purpose, together with an increased stress on equating anti-semitism with any criticism of Israeli repression and extreme brutality. It was good that the rallies opposed racism and fascists, but they were no longer leaning toward united left opposition.  

Is there now any opposition to top-level policies? Yes, of a sort. Or rather of approximately four sorts.

Within the ranks of the Social Democrats, while many admire Pistorius, some may be coming to their senses. Most courageous recently was Rolf Mutzenich, chair of the SPD caucus in the Bundestag and long known as a rare opponent of militarism. During the Taurus debate he asked the Bundestag delegates: “Isn’t it time not only to speak about waging a war but to start thinking about how we can freeze a war and then end it as well?” 

He had hardly finished his brief remarks with question when the counterattack began. Two nasty words recurred shamelessly: “appeasement” and “cowardice.” Unlike Pope Francis, who dared to voice similar sentiments, Mutzenich had no shred of any “infallibility” status, and the truly vicious attacks forced him to stage a partial retreat.

Scholz vacillates. But at times, unlike some ministers, he seems to listen to people like Mutzenich. “German soldiers must at no point and in no place be linked to targets this Taurus system reaches … not in Germany either … This clarity is necessary. I am surprised that this doesn’t move some people, that they don’t even think about whether … a participation in the war could emerge from what we do.”

But then, Scholz certainly learned arithmetic at school. The European elections are due this June, Bundestag elections next year, with key state elections in between. In the polls his Social Democratic Party is stuck at about a weak 15 per cent, half its traditional Christian Democrat rivals and even behind the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Opinions change frequently but 80 per cent now favour diplomatic negotiations for Ukraine and 41 per cent want less weaponry sent there.

A second group demanding negotiations and an end to the Ukraine war, perhaps very surprisingly, is the AfD. Although it supports big business, Nato, the draft and German rearmament enthusiastically, it calls nevertheless for negotiations, peace and a resumption of normal trade relations. It is possible that the AfD simply wants only to further increase its popularity, especially in eastern Germany, where there is the least military enthusiasm.                  

And then there is Die Linke (The Left), which has seen itself from birth as the “party of peace.” Indeed, over the years it has opposed every deployment of German troops or ships outside its borders, it has opposed the payment of giant sums to Rheinmetall and its siblings at home or abroad, it has opposed the export of German weapons to nearly every oppressive government that could be found, it has opposed every form of militarisation. Alongside its fight for a higher minimum wage, more money for seniors, for childcare and women’s rights, its stand also forced Social Democrats and Greens to take better positions, if only to avoid a drift of their voters to Die Linke.

Perhaps it was its successes which became its weak point. Not only the delegates who got elected on the national, state or local level but also their staffs and assistants had good jobs. Some tended, too often, to become a part of the mistrusted “Establishment” in the eyes of dissatisfied and disappointed voters — or then non-voters. 

Their increasingly respectable status led to interest in “identity rights,” but often to a growing distance from neglected, underpaid, overburdened working people, including temps and the jobless. Some leaders, hoping to crown state cabinet posts with those in a national coalition, watered down their rejection of Nato and its relentless eastward moves and threats. 

Their rejection of even meagre approval of the giant peace demonstration led by Sahra Wagenknecht last year proved the last straw for many members and led to the formation of a breakaway party, called (temporarily it is hoped) the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance (BSW). Die Linke is already in great trouble, nationally down to 3 per cent, which would bar it from the next Bundestag.

As for BSW, it stands full square for negotiations and peace, like no other, and certainly for working people’s rights and needs. But much of its programme remains vague and seems to be turning out to be less militant than expected. It polls 5 to 7 per cent nationally, not bad for a newbie with rudimentary state structures but less than some had expected in view of Wagenknecht’s popularity. The European Union elections in June and the state elections in September will show how the two stand, now as rivals in a divided left.

What is desperately needed is a new consolidation of all those in any party, or no party, who are for an end to the killing and starving of Ukrainians, Russians and Palestinians to build up a dynamic peace movement like that against the Vietnam war, or against missiles in West Germany in the 1980s. Such a movement is desperately necessary; the clock is ticking away. 

Can the Jupiters be dethroned, for Europa and for the world?

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the US now living in Berlin. He fled his US army post in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities in America. He landed in East Germany and became a freelance journalist and writer. He is the author of A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee (Monthly Review Press) is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949-90.


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