Defend social rights and individual freedom rights in the same measure

NELF XXXI, Berlin, 26-28 January, 2007

Petra Pau, Vice President of the German Bundestag

Actually, at this time I wanted to be in the memorial at the site of the former Nazi concentration camp of Sachsenhausen to the north of Berlin. For several years now, the 27 January is the official Holocaust commemoration day in Germany. But I accepted the invitation to come here. That was no decision against Sachsenhausen, but one in favour the subject discussed at this meeting.

1. A contradiction

I want to talk on the relationship between social, citizens' and human rights. I am interested in this issue, because it is disputed in the coming German new LEFT, too. At least it is mentioned this way in the in the Programmatic Cornerstones, the draft document containing first ideas on a common programme of the planned new party. I think that this is one of the central strategic issues where there is still controversy between us.

The Cornerstones say: „Equality without individual freedom is leading to dependence and lack of self-reliance. Freedom without equality means only freedom for the rich.“ This sentence I can agree with. If „equality“ in this reduced formulation stands for social, and „freedom“ for individual rights.

But in the end the document says: „On the issue of human rights: How the Left is seeing the relationship between social and individual citizens' rights? This is an open question between WASG and Left Party.PDS.“ In my view this remark is in contradiction to what is said in the first place. And this is exactly what the debate is all about.

2. Practical experience

I had the opportunity to gather practical experience in two social systems. I lived and grew up in the GDR, i. e. in what we called really existing socialism. Since 16 years now I am a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany, i.e. I am acting in really existing capitalism. During this time I have got to know two different concepts of social and individual rights.

In really existing socialism the social rights were given priority. They were implemented as far as the resources of the economy allowed it. I will give three examples: Unemployment or poverty did not exist as problems of society as a whole. Child care and education free of charge were guaranteed for all.

In contrast, essential freedom rights of the citizens and the individual were reduced or abandoned. That was true for the freedoms of the press, of travel, of association, of expression etc. Although they were somehow fixed in the constitution, but the leading role of the party and the practical policies of the state were what mattered most.

In really existing capitalism both social and individual freedom rights are proclaimed. They are implemented as far as the political forces are there. But in fact, social basic rights are abandoned first: mass unemployment, poverty and dire prospects for the youth are indicating this.

But even the individual freedom rights, this symbol of capitalism and its "liberal democratic order" are dismantled more and more. I am speaking of Germany, a bulwark of capitalism, not of its "backyards" in Africa, Asia, South America or Eastern Europe.

3. Three lines of dismantling rights

As things in Germany are concerned, there are three big lines, along which the dismantling of individual freedom rights is taking place. The first one is referring to the welfare state, the second one to the threat of terrorism and the third one to technological progress, where politics have no answers yet.

Example No. 1: the welfare state. It must be saved, it cannot be financed any more, it has to be protected from misuse. These are the constant messages of neo-liberalism. They are causing permanent distrust of people without a job, who are constantly controlled. In Germany the so-called „Hartz“ laws are a synonym for that kind of approach.

A person without a job must strip himself naked. He has to consume first all his savings. He has to give away about 150 personal data on himself and his milieu. He has to accept control. Loss of freedom or loss of social allowances - that is the absurd alternative. Who is poor, on top of it looses his individual freedom rights, too.

Example No. 2: For fighting terrorism privacy, press freedom, postal and communications secrecy as well as the absolute ban on torture are put into question, watered down or practically violated - formally under the protection of the law, but sometimes without that. The arguments for justification are very similar in really existing capitalism and socialism.

The enemy within the country was always there and a welcome pretext for attacking and suspending individual citizens' rights. In this respect I see no principal difference between really existing capitalism and socialism. In the past the cold war was the prominent purpose. Now it is terrorism. The consequences are quite similar.

Here, I will not dwell on the reasons and triggers of the cold war. Neither on what is favouring terrorism. I insist on my view: The struggle against terrorism can be won, a war against terrorism cannot. But this is another story.

Example No. 3: Technological progress: There are developments in this field posing a threat to individual freedoms and citizens' rights. I do not want to play Cassandra, I am using myself a mobile phone and the Internet. A navigator is helping me driving my car, and the mail I am receiving are mostly E-mails.

But never there was such a huge potential for controlling people. The mobile phone alone is an electronic tag and tapping device everybody has always on him. The more user friendly these machines become, the more naively they are welcomed. This is a new danger for the individual freedom rights.

4. A threat to democracy

It is also a threat to democracy. In the 80-s the German Constitutional Court passed a judgement, called "Census Judgement" by the people. The lawsuit had been filed by citizens who did not want the state to know more about them than absolutely necessary. They won and with them the principle of data protection.

The point of that judgement is: Citizens, who do not and cannot know, what others know about them, are no sovereign citizens any more. Who is no sovereign citizen, cannot be part of the Sovereign of the state, the people. Without a Sovereign democracy is unthinkable. Therefore the protection of personal data is a precondition of democracy.

Here I am back at my first question. That the social question, social rights and equality are basic issues for the Left from Jesus to the new Left is for me beyond dispute. But I insist on my view: A modern Left must also be a citizens' rights party that is fighting for individual freedom rights.

I am saying this not only with regard to my party and the coming new LEFT in Germany. I am also saying this with regard to Europe. There, we have a social deficit. We have a democracy deficit. We are witnessing an erosion of citizens', human and freedom rights. People are feeling this. This is what the catchphrase „being fed up with politics“ really means.

This is not only the question whether people are still going to the poles. „Disenchantment with politics“ is not like catching a cold. Rather it works like AIDS. The immune system of society is weakened, gateways are opened for the extreme right with their tough slogans and poisoned sham solutions, also for social problems.

In the political surroundings of my party I am sometimes hearing the recommendation THE LEFT should steal the extreme right the show by putting the social question in an even more pointed and radical manner. All other things, they say, are marginal and drawing attention from the main issues. For me, this is an utterly wrong and most dangerous view.

5. Democratic socialism

My thesis is: Social rights and individual freedom rights must not be confronted with each other. They are fitting in no hierarchy, they cannot be counted up against one another. Who tries to do this, and do it even consciously, is violating universal human rights. THE LEFT should abstain from that.

But when I say that social rights and individual freedom rights must be treated equally and not be separated from each other, I am knowing well that I am talking about an utopia. In practice no society has ever realised that. But the aspiration has always been there, for instance in the French Revolution of 1789.

„Freedom, equality, fraternity“ are still an unfulfilled vision. But all the more it is true: „Equality without individual freedom is leading to dependence and lack of self-reliance. Freedom without equality means only freedom for the rich.“ I want both of them: the social rights and the freedom rights. That is what I call „democratic socialism“.







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