The rotten fruits of the German party state

by Karl Müller

In the run-up of the election to the German “Bundestag” in September 2017 the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Baden-Wuerttemberg [Political Education Authority of the State Baden-Wuerttemberg] has issued a brochure of 88 pages on the topic of “right-wing populism”. The authority is a government institution, a public-law institution which is affiliated with the “Landtag” (state diet of the German federal state of Baden-Wuerttemberg) of Baden-Wuerttemberg. The current “Landtag” of Baden-Wuerttemberg has representatives of five parties: Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (the Greens), CDU (Christian Democratic Union), Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, AfD), SPD (Social Democratic Party) and FDP (FDP.The Liberals). In the past state elections in March 2016, the AfD ranked third in the number of votes. 15.1% of the electorates voted for the candidates of this party. The situation in other states is similar. Now the AfD’s competing parties are alarmed and pursue the goal to reduce the number of votes for the AfD and to remove this party from the political stage.

A government institution is discriminating a political party

With this new brochure, however, the “Landeszentrale” is also actively intervening with the campaign. It is reducing itself to a helper of the other parties since the brochure on “right-wing populism” contains biased and clearly discriminating texts regarding the AfD, a party that is competing in the September elections.
The AfD’s party competitors have the right to speak about any other party, of course including the AfD, within the limits of their freedom of expression. But a government institution like the “Landes­zentrale” does not have this right.
The constitutional position of the parties and the relationship between state and parties are regulated by Article 21 of the German “Grundgesetz” (German Basic Law). It stipulates:

“Political parties shall participate in the formation of the political will of the people. They may be freely established. Their internal organisation must conform to democratic principles. They must publicly account for their assets and for the sources and use of their funds.
Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behaviour of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional. The Federal Constitutional Court shall rule on the question of unconstitutionality.
Details shall be regulated by federal laws.”

State bodies and institutions are only allowed to interfere with parties if they do not fulfil the conditions of the first paragraph of article 21 or if they are unconstitutional according to the second paragraph. In the run-up of a possible declaration as unconstitutional by the Federal Constitutional Court parties raising reasonable suspicion can be observed by the state offices and the federal office for the defence of the constitution. In public reports of these offices the affected parties can also be mentioned.

Combat term “right-wing populism …”

“Right-wing populism”, however, is no constitutional or legally relevant term, nor does it have any legal consequences. Instead it is an emotionally charged and rather diffuse term in the struggle of opinions between parties and is generally used in a clearly devaluating way. It is targeted at social marginalization and discrimination and is not compatible with an equal participation of all citizens and parties in social and political life.

… and the dubious role of university professors

It does not contribute to clarity that academia is also interfering with this struggle of opinions as it can be observed in the brochure of the “Landeszentrale”. On the contrary, we can observe an alarming instrumentalization of universities with the goal to lend a “scientific” touch to one’s own positions in the struggle of opinions. So far this process has hardly been investigated and discussed and nearly all academics retain this aura of scientific nature and, hence, objectivity and truth. Single studies like the 2010 study on the instrumentalisation of thousands of “scientists” by US secret services – Tim B. Müller: “Krieger und Gelehrte. Herbert Marcuse und die Denksysteme im Kalten Krieg” – are hardly discussed in public. We can safely assume that things were no different in Germany, even though the “Grundgesetz” declared “freedom of science” a basic right. It is this undeniable dependence and partisanship of scientists that has made citizens sceptical towards the achievements of academia. And unfortunately also towards the principle of scientific nature.
For a state like Germany which claims to have a functioning division of powers and to obey principles of a free and democratic state of law, partisanship of state bodies and state institutions is a great danger. The submission of scientists under the guidelines of powerful parties has exacerbated this danger.

Party state Germany

For many years Germany has been called a “party state”, that is a state where the powers of state are largely owned by the parties. The assessment of this fact varies. Do parties use this power for the common good or do they abuse it towards their “partisan” goals? The example of the “Landeszentrale” in Baden-Wuerttemberg is one of many examples for the second alternative. Critics of the party state like the professor for state law Karl Albrecht Schachtschneider and Hans Herbert von Arnim have been pointing this out for years.
But obviously not all parties are welcome to this party state. It seems that a party has to fulfil “entry requirements” beyond the law in order to be “part of it”. Thus the parties which have divided the power of state among them abuse their influence on these powers to discriminate a new party which has had substantial success in the past three years and which could be elected to the “Bundestag” in September 2017.

Power greedy and power oblivious

25 years ago a CDU member and former Federal President, Richard von Weizsäcker, has formulated clear statements regarding this undesirable development towards a party state in the German weekly Die Zeit. He stated that the influence of parties was by far exceeding what was intended by the “Grundgesetz”. “[The parties] permeate the whole structure of our society, even deeply into the life of our clubs which should be unpolitical by nature […]. It reaches directly and indirectly into the media, affects the election of judges but also in culture and sport, in Church panels and universities.” The state bodies envisaged by the constitution have come under the ever growing influence of a […] centre which, although not one of the constitutional organs, is now actually above them, that is the centre of the political parties.” Richard von Weizsäcker spoke about “power greediness” and “oblivion of power”: power greedy because the only goal is election victories and positions of state power. Oblivion of power because the constitutional task to participate in the formation of the political will of the people while respecting the sovereignty of the people and the constitutional order of the state is no longer fulfilled.

Lawlessness can only be ended by law

Today we are 25 years ahead but things have not improved. On the contrary: the parties’ unscrupulousness in dealing with the usurped power of state has increased. Today many voices think that Germany was approaching or had already reached a state fulfilling the conditions of article 20, paragraph 4 of the “Grundgesetz”. This article stipulates that “all Germans shall have the right to resist any person seeking to abolish this constitutional order, if no other remedy is available.”
“Resistance”, however, can only mean to restore or to realize the constitutional order of state. This in turn can only mean that “resistance” is not permitted to burst the framework of the order of constitution and state; it needs to remain in within the basic rights formulated in the constitution. Lawlessness has to be ended by law.    •