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by Nick Wright

German communists, meeting in Frankfurt, sharpened their analysis of the specifically imperialist character of German capitalism and characterised the European Union as “a coalition of imperialism in Europe in contradiction to the other two imperialist centres, the USA and Japan.”

The party argues that the current crisis is a structural crisis of capitalism with its causes neither errors nor mismanagement but rooted in the nature of capitalism and its internal contradictions.

The crisis appears to be particularly severe with cyclical crisis of overproduction and finds its expression in the economy, politics, culture – in all areas of civil society. A chronic crisis of over-accumulation has led to a shift of capital to the benefit of the financial services industry and a significant expansion of its internationalisation.

“It is a comprehensive crisis in economy, politics, ideology, and includes every area of life that is threatened with wars, environmental destruction , refugee disaster, the lives of billions of people, the survival of the species” says the party.

In his report introducing the draft policy – Patrick Köbele, who was overwhelmingly reelected to chair the party – spotlighted the result of an authoritative survey which showed that among the German people 61% think that German democracy is not real democracy, because the economy and not the voters have the final say; in the East 59% say communism/socialism is a good idea with 42% thinking that it has been executed poorly. Another 37% believe that capitalism inevitably leads to wars. And one in five believe that reforms are not enough and that a revolution is needed.

After months of a wide ranging and lively discussion 171 delegates representing thousands of communists through out Germany, now including new organisations in the lander of the former socialist German Democratic Republic, endorsed a powerful resolution DKP in action – take stock of new knowledge, take advantage of opportunities – against monopoly power and war policy that deepened the party’s analysis.

Communist and workers’ parties in thirty countries were represented at the congress with Sechaba Setsubi from the South African Communist Party giving the fraternal address while the popular left-wing Bundestag deputy Sevim Dagdalen brought greetings from Die Linke.

German communists, fittingly in the land of Marx and Engels, traditionally conduct their debates at a high theoretical level. At this congress, a new leadership, elected two years ago, brought forward an ambitious ‘action programme’ that is designed to build on the renewal of the party’s active role in the fight against the austerity and war policies of Angela Merkel’s coalition government of conservatives and social democrats.

On the German left theoretical and practical issues can never be separated and two sharply contradictory lines of thought and action were brought to a head at the congress.

A group of five members of the retiring party board, led by a former party chair Bettina Jürgensen, published a document challenging the direction of the party.

Of course, there is wide agreement on many issues but the differences on the character of a transition to socialism, on the orientation of practical work and on language and terminology reveal quite divergent strategic conceptions. The five argued that: “Without struggle for progressive reform without transitional forms as steps to open up the path to socialism is our goal of a communist world order unthinkable.”

These themes – familiar to the left in other countries both in Europe and beyond – are brought to a head over illusions that the European Union can be transformed into an instrument of popular will and social progress; over deeper questions where the opposition question the singular nature of German imperialism and over the nature of the party.

Apart from clashes over the political and action resolutions the differences crystallised around the assertion that the German Communist Party is a ‘marxist leninist’ party. This argument is, of course, not simply about two words, but has an historical context in that, in 1956, the post-war West German government emulated the Nazis in banning the the Communist Party of Germany KPD. Advocating ‘marxism leninism’ became a crime and communists were banned from a wide range of jobs.

A resurgent workers’ and solidarity movement with strong mobilisations by marxist-orientated youth organisations resulted, in 1968, in a new legal organisation, the German Communist Party DKP emerging to conduct legal work. In a tactic, controversial at the time, the banned formulation was absent from the new party statutes and thus the government thought twice about banning the communists for a third time.

In November 2015, in an assertion of the internationalist and revolutionary character of the party, delegates voted with an overwhelming majority for the ‘marxist leninist’ appellation.

Delegates decisively backed the leadership on the key policy debates, including one on the environment, with just 31 votes recorded against the ‘action orientation’ programme. This was reinforced by the election of Patrick Köbele (with 31 votes against) and Vera Richter and Hans-Peter Brenner as vice chairs and by a new and more representative and united party board.

The congress cheered treasurer Werner Sarbok who brought news that over 51,000 euros had been raised to prepare the biennial summer festival of the party’s weekly newspaper Unsere Zeit (Our Time), which attracts thousands on the left and which the leadership had made an issue of confidence overt opposition objections.

Perhaps predictably, delegates ran out of time and a new session has been agreed for 2016 in which the question of whether the DKP will remain as an ‘observer’ at the European Union’s ‘Party of the European Left’ or whether it will sever its connection.

Nick Wright represented the Communist Party of Britain at the DKP congress.

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