BMW for the People! German Coalition Politician Revives Marxism

(Bloomberg) -- A leading politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner took a page straight out of Karl Marx’s playbook, calling for the people to take control of large companies in the battle against profit-hungry capitalists.

“The distribution of profits must be democratically controlled,” Kevin Kuehnert, the leader of the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party, told Die Zeit newspaper in an interview published on international labor day. “That excludes that there is a capitalist owner at this business,” he said, using luxury-car maker BMW AG as an example.

The comments are part of a broader debate in Germany about the future of capitalism as Europe’s largest economy faces political and technological changes that could threaten its affluence. Merkel’s government has promoted a more interventionist approach to industrial policy, while in Berlin, activists are pursuing a referendum to push the city government to expropriate properties from large landlords.

Kuehnert was quickly isolated, with an SPD business group calling for his ouster. Germany’s Social Democrats formally abandoned Marxist principles 60 years ago in favor of the market economy.

“What complete nonsense,” Johannes Kahrs, an SPD lawmaker on the parliamentary budget committee, said on Twitter. “What was he smoking? It couldn’t have been legal.”

Even if the plea to “overcome capitalism” riles the SPD’s mainstream, the debate will feed into campaigning weeks before the May 26 European Parliament vote. Polls show the Social Democrats trailing the Green party in third place, with support at around 16 percent, compared with the 20.5 percent result in the September 2017 federal election.

‘Fantasist Gone Astray’

Kuehnert, who was born four months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, is a standard-bearer for the left wing of the SPD. He has called for an increase in the minimum wage and has blasted the looser labor-market policies of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a fellow Social Democrat. The 29-year-old last year led a failed effort to reject a renewed coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc.

The comments on collectivization created waves in Germany, and once again landed Kuehnert on the front pages. Bild, the country’s most-read daily, led with the headline: “Kuehnert wants to expropriate BMW.”

“The call to collectivize companies like BMW reveals a backward-looking, warped-retro world view of a fantasist gone astray,” Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer, a member of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, told Bild.

Munich-based BMW -- nearly half of which is owned by German billionaires Stefan Quandt and Susanne Klatten -- declined to comment.

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