SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 223 November 2018

Germany's new political turmoil

The regional elections in Bavaria on 14 October were historic. Both the CSU (the Bavarian counterpart of Angela Merkel’s Christian-Democrat CDU), and SPD (former social democrats) registered record declines. This will have repercussions for the whole of Germany. But there was another historic event that weekend. On the 13th, the #unteilbar (#indivisible) demonstration against racism and for social justice brought around 250,000 out in Berlin, one of the biggest mobilisations in Germany since the second world war. It was a clear signal that, although the far-right and right-wing populists may often be louder, they are not the majority.

The end of the Merkel era has begun, and the Bavarian results have accelerated this process. Even so, they were not the worst-case scenario the opinion polls had predicted. It would have been for the grand coalition (CDU/CSU and SPD) in the national parliament (Bundestag) and the ruling class, had the CSU won less than 35% and Die Linke (The Left party) had entered the regional parliament (Landtag).

As it is, the CSU could form a coalition with the Freie Wähler (Free Voters), a small conservative party founded 40 years ago and in the Bavarian Landtag since 2008. Nonetheless, the Merkel government hangs by a thread, its support down to 39% in the latest poll.

The weekend showed that there is no general shift to the right in Germany, although there has been a rightward shift in government policies, in general, and right-wing populism has become stronger, resulting in a growing polarisation. The far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), capitalist politicians and the media have put the spotlight on immigration. Not least, to draw attention away from social problems and from those really responsible in the government and big business.

This gave the AfD an enormous boost and further undermined the grand coalition – even though its vote, while substantial, was below expectations. The CSU lost votes not only to the AfD but to the Green party as well. The Greens benefited from having been in opposition on a national level since the defeat of the SPD-Green coalition in 2005, from the anger at the grand coalition, and the fact that climate change has become more important for many people.

The fact that trade union members and workers voted, above the average, for the AfD, has to be seen as a warning sign. It expresses their alienation from establishment politics, especially the SPD, but also that social issues were not made central or have been overshadowed by immigration. One reason for this is the trade union leadership’s support for the grand coalition, instead of organising opposition on a class basis and campaigning in the workplaces to expose the AfD as an anti-workers’ party.

More than elsewhere, specific factors played a decisive role in Bavaria – like the statement by CSU chairman, Horst Seehofer, Germany’s racist interior minister, that immigration is the ‘mother of all problems’. The differences within the CDU and between it and the CSU – alongside rows inside the grand coalition – are expressions of strategic differences on how to maintain political power, European policies and immigration.

Since the Bavarian election, pressure on Seehofer has intensified, with the CSU-district branch in Kronach the first to demand that he resigns as the party’s chairman. Some SPD members want to replace him as interior minister. It cannot be ruled out that he will be sacrificed – firstly, to try to let off steam and pacify relations between the CDU and CSU. Seehofer, however, may not accept that.

For the SPD, the Bavarian elections were a meltdown. For the first time since 1893 it received a single-digit vote! Instead of benefiting from the conflicts within and between the CSU and CDU, the SPD cannot get rid of its reputation for simply backing Merkel and getting nice jobs for its leaders. Many polls indicate that it has lost a quarter of its support since the general election just over a year ago.

A majority of current and former SPD voters want the party to be in opposition on a national level. If elections in the region of Hesse at the end of October result in another disaster, it could force the SPD to break up the national coalition. If not then, it could be triggered by the three regional elections due in eastern Germany next year. They are very probably going to be another slap in the grand coalition’s face – along with next autumn’s half-term evaluation of the government’s record.

Attempts will be made to form a Bavarian state government between the CSU and Freie Wähler, to create the impression that the politicians can guarantee stability. However, this could also be messed up by the Hesse elections, especially if the regional CDU minister-president Volker Bouffier loses his position. In addition, the frustration with Merkel’s regime inside the CDU could burst open at its national conference in December, even making it impossible for her to continue as chancellor.

Die Linke did worse than predicted in some polls. Nevertheless, it nearly doubled its vote compared to the last elections and managed to cross the 5% hurdle in the bigger cities. This undemocratic barrier was a factor in stopping it winning seats in the Landtag, because of people’s worries of ‘wasting’ their vote against the CSU. But it is also linked to the way the party has presented itself.

Die Linke has been stronger in Bavaria and nationally than it is today – especially after the deep economic crisis from 2008-09. However, a lot of potential has been wasted because the party has not presented itself as a rebellious, activist and anti-capitalist force, part of extra-parliamentary movements. With Die Linke’s co-chair, Katja Kipping, continuously promoting an SPD, Die Linke and Green national government, this will add to an impression of this party being a governing force in the waiting.

Die Linke in Bavaria could have campaigned on clearer slogans, although it has played an important role in the mass mobilisations in the region in recent years – the SPD, but especially the Greens, were also part of these movements. This includes a 40,000-strong demonstration in Munich against an extremely repressive police law, and in the campaign for a referendum to improve the staff-to-patient ratio in healthcare. This orientation is the right way to go. If it had been put into practice consistently over the last ten years, Die Linke could have advanced further and with a stronger base.

Sahra Wagenknecht, co-chair of Die Linke’s Bundestag group, also leads one of the party’s factions, Aufstehen (Standing Up). Politically, it sands to the right of Die Linke, especially on immigration. When such a leading figure heads a project targeted equally at supporters of SPD and Greens, when she has publicly and repeatedly criticised her own party, then distanced herself from the #unteilbar mobilisations the day before the Bavarian election, it is not surprising that some people voted Green rather than Die Linke.

Aufstehen has aroused much interest and expresses the hopes of many for an end to the grand coalition and an awakening on the left. However, Sahra Wagenknecht and her supporters’ comments about the #unteilbar demonstration show a complete failure of political orientation. Wagenknecht said she would not attend, falsely claiming that one of the protest’s slogans was ‘open borders for everyone’, and that this would marginalise those who were against both open borders and racism.

Die Linke and the left need to work out how to proceed after the #unteilbar demonstration – not only because of its size but because it made the social questions central to an anti-racist mobilisation. The question is how to develop a real movement of left, trade union and social activist forces, which could be a pole of attraction for the many thousands who have not been organised or engaged, but who want to do more than just attend demonstrations.

We need local #unteilbar conferences and a large national conference, bringing together tenant activists, healthcare workers, refugees, striking Ryanair workers (who took part in #unteilbar) and environmental activists. That could trigger a debate about what we have in common, and create a network of different protests and movements.

Sascha Staničić, Sozialistiche Alternative (CWI in Germany)

Click here for the full version of this article: from the CWI website

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