Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
THE Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Germany has a proud history, being one of only two forces that fought against the steady rise to power of Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately for the SPD, the other major anti-Hitler party was the Communist Party of Germany, which followed the strategy recommended for it by Josef Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union. This was that the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) headed by Hitler and the SPD were “not antipodes but twins”, and hence that the Communist Party should oppose both of them with equal force. The result of this myopic advice was that the anti-Hitler forces were divided enough to permit the NSDAP to emerge as the largest party in the Reichstag (Parliament).
Once Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he very soon marginalized all other groups and fashioned a rule that was far more pesonalised and authoritarian than that of Kaiser (Emperor) Wilhelm II, who was deposed after the defeat of Germany in the 1914-1919 war between that country and the alliance of France, the UK and the US. Another ally of the latter three, Czarist Russia, melted down in chaos by 2017, finally being taken over by the Bolshevik Party led by Vladimir Lenin, who had been sent by the German army in a special train from Zurich to St Petersburg to foment a revolt against those who were adamant on pursuing the war against Germany. It was a good investment for the Imperial German Army, in that Lenin ended the hostilities with Germany as soon as he took charge in Moscow.
It needs to be remembered, however, that the population of Russia were desperate to end the fighting, and that most soldiers in the Russian army were on the verge of revolt, were the war with Germany to continue. Lenin’s opportunity came when his predecessor Alexander Kerensky went back on his promise to halt the war and instead ordered the Russian forces to continue to fight on the side of the US,the UK and France, even after millions of soldiers had been killed. That cost him so much public support that Lenin (who never wavered in wanting to end the war) overthrew Kerensky’s supporters and took control of the country by seizing key government buildings in Moscow. Unlike in the 1939-45 war, during the 1914-19 war the social democratic forces supported the war effort of Germany to the end of the conflict and the defeat of their side
The SPD would have been able to win more seats in Germany during the 2017 elections, but for the perception that it may once again work out a coalition arrangement with the Christian Democratic Union headed by Angela Merkel in which it is the junior partner. In the past (including during the election campaign), the CDU and the SPD were in a “Grand Alliance”, a factor that contributed to the alienation of huge chunks of the SPD vote bank, which went over to the Greens or became inactive. In the coalition, Chancellor Merkel saw to it that 80% of the policy reflected the views of the CDU while only 20% of decisions were those favoured by the SPD. On all major issues, Merkel had her way, ignoring her coalition partner.
In an effort at damage control, the SPD chose the popular and hard-working Martin Schulz as as its leader. He had spent the previous three years as President of the European Parliament, a well-compensated job that has the perquisites of high office, such as special protocol formalities and dedicated flights, not to mention luxurious residences, offices, lifestyles and transportation Schultz promised several times during the 2017 election campaign that he would never allow the SPD to enter into an alliance with “Crocodile” Merkel (so named because of the deleterious effect the present Chancellor of Germany has on her political allies) and the CDU, but yet has entered into coalition talks with Angela Merkel, to the dismay of several backers of the SPD who want to be freed from rule by the opportunistic and ruthless East German politician who humiliated the man who brought her to the top, Helmut Kohl.
As has been the case with several others in the past, the lure of a Nobel Peace Prize blinded Chancellor Merkel to political realities when she opened the doors of her ethno-centric country to millions of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East, adding to the considerable number already resident in Germany from Turkey. From that time onwards, her popularity slumped, while that of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) has risen, so much so that it could well be the second largest party in Germany in a few years time, in case SPD leader Martib Schulz becomes Merkel’s deputy in the German government. Joining hands with the increasingly unpopular Chancellor will be a mistake that will cost his party substantially. Of course, it will ensure a job even more comfortable than the Presidentship of the European Parliament, at least till the next election, when voters will take revenge on the SPD for betraying voters who believed that it would not repeat the error of subordinating itself to the rightwing CDU just to grab at some of the perquisites of office
The only way in which the SPD should join the CDU in a coalition is if Schulz gets appointed the Chancellor. Martin Schulz would make a far better pilot for Europe’s biggest economy than Merkel, who has long passed her peak. There have been examples in the past where a smaller party has taken over the leadership of a government. An example was the Indian state of Kerala during much of the 1970s, when the Communist Party’s Chelat Achutha Menon was Chief Minister despite his party having less seats than its coalition partner, the Congress Party (whose leader K Karunakaran was Home Minister and Second in Command within the Council of Ministers). The SPD should insist on the Chancellorship of Germany and refuse to join any coalition in which it is not given this crucial position
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.