Theater of Cruelty

To church with Gysi and Lafontaine

It's Friday night, and people flock to the meeting room in Resurrection Church east of Berlin to listen to Gregor Gysi and Oskar Lafontaine. The theme is "socialism on the agenda".


Gysi and Lafontaine are the two top figures in what will be the new left-wing party. Gysi is the lawyer who became popular in the west because he constantly defended dissidents persecuted by the East German regime and who was elected leader of the PDS when the wall fell.

Oskar Lafontaine was the leader of the West German Social Democrats from 1995-99, Minister of Finance in 1998-99, and resigned as Minister of Finance following a dramatic break with Schröder. Lafontaine wanted a far more active economic policy than Schröder was willing to accept. he demanded political control of the interest rate policy of the EU central bank.

When Christians don't give up ...

Both are known as gifted people – and did not shame their reputation. Written sections give only a dull sheen:

GYSI: The attempt at state socialism has rejected humanity. But when the wall fell, we could not reject the socialist idea after only one attempt that had not lasted more than 70 years, when Christians did not give up the Christian idea after two thousand years of abuse in the name of Christianity.

Fountain: Among social democrats, it was common after a couple of cups to say that socialism is a lasting task. But we cannot say, like Jospin, that socialism is an ethical idea and a method for developing capitalism. The fact that people are paralyzed in their life is the worst thing about capitalism. Capitalism must therefore be fought here and now.

When freedom is oppressive

Gradually, the replicas of bouncing balls popped between them:

GYSI: We do not set the ideal of social security and social justice as any contradiction to the goal of freedom. We see freedom, social security and social justice as a unit.

Fountain: When the strong face the weak, freedom is oppressive. The weak need rules, organization and a society with many, independent centers of power. Flexible labor markets are about people who get ruined their lives and family life. When Merkel and Schröder say that labor costs are too high, they say there must be less money for unemployed, sick, elderly people.

The difficult democracy

GYSI: Employers want collective bargaining agreements at company level – but employees are weaker than trade unions.

Fountain: Abortion among employees is better than union representatives having to make the decision.

Trade union officials can be corrupt, not the entire workforce.

GYSI: Yes, but a municipality may be more interested in more unemployed people coming into work than the workforce in a workplace.

Fountain: Democrat theorist Rawls solved the problem this way: those who decide such questions must not know whether they have a job or not.

When reality breaks in

Then the hall is released – and the cheerful duet is broken. A powerful guy from WASG asks: The city government where PDS is a member has given the employees of the university hospital, the leader in all of Germany, the choice between accepting pay cuts or losing 2.000. Does that make sense?

A woman, also from WASG, sings: The Berlin Senate says bus drivers are not allowed to earn as much as before and that they have to work several hours a week. The city government can no longer pay tariff wages. Then it does not help to have a red-red government.

The applause is powerful, and Gysi gets intense in the answer: You can not place all the responsibility on a city government that does not get enough money from the state. We cannot change Berlin until we have changed German national policy. Berlin has a debt of 60 billion euros. Neoliberalism must be fought back at the national level – without it, Berlin has no chance.

Desperately asked: Why do people find themselves in cuts that affect them?

The answer to Gysi ends in empty air: If those who are on social assistance accept cuts, it is the spirit of time that must be fought.

- Let's not break us!

A woman with a shadow cap asks for global justice. An older man wants to know what to think about nuclear and wind power. What about the peace work? What about our soldiers in Afghanistan?

It is mostly WASG people who ask – even here in Berlin where PDS has 15 times as many members as WASG. But it is the questions that get applause from the 500 people present.

The temperature rises and Gysi ends: Those who are on the left in politics cannot turn away because the tasks are difficult. Let's not make ourselves mutually broken! Let's not break up with each other! We've got a chance – this is where we have it.

The moderator rounds off by asking: Is it socialism in 50 years?

And Gysi replies: Capitalism is not the last way to organize the world.

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