SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 230 July-August 2019

The beginning of the end for Germany’s grand coalition

The results of the European elections on 26 May, as well as the Bremen state and various local elections, will continue to stir up the German party system, increase political instability and pose the possibility of an early collapse of Angela Merkel’s coalition.

This became apparent only a few days later with the resignation of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) chairwoman and parliamentary leader, Andrea Nahles. After the 2017 general election, Nahles played a key role in getting the SPD to stay in a ‘grand coalition’ with Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU. This policy helped produce the latest drop in the SPD’s electoral support, from 20.5% in 2017 to 15.8% last month – 21 years ago it won just over 40% of the vote.

Once again, the CDU and SPD suffered a dramatic drop in votes. Compared with the last Euro election in 2014, the CDU/CSU fell from 35.3% to 28.9%, the SPD from 27.3% to 15.8%. (In absolute figures, the decline was not as dramatic because the turnout was significantly higher.) In the state election in Bremen, for the first time, the SPD got fewer votes than the CDU – 24.9% (down 7.9%) against the CDU’s 26.7% (up 4.3%).

The far-right populist AfD was the strongest party in the Euros in Saxony (25.3%) and Brandenburg (19.9%), and came second in Thuringia (22.5%). Nonetheless, it fell short of its expectations nationwide – even though it was up from 7.1% in 2014 to 11.1%, in the 2017 general election it got 12.6% (on a much higher turnout). One reason is that in recent months the public debate has been dominated by the climate and housing crises – not by scaremongering against migrants and refugees, which had fuelled support for the AfD.

The background for the result is also the mass movements over the last two years against the far right, state repression and climate change. In opinion polls, the climate crisis was the most important issue, and the massive Fridays for Future protests symbolise young people’s turn away from the establishment parties.

The Greens were the real winners – up from 10.7% to 20.5% – for the first time coming second in a nationwide election. For a significant number of voters, they were viewed as different. In reality the Greens are co-responsible for the ruling politics in many state governments. But, since they have not been in the federal government for many years and present themselves as a force against right-wing populism and climate change, they are seen as a credible alternative by many. The Greens have become the strongest force among all voters under the age of 60.

The fact that the satirical Die Partei increased its representation in the European parliament from one to three members – although one has announced he intends to join the Greens’ parliamentary group – and was the third most popular party with first-time voters, indicates how far the alienation from the establishment goes among large sections of the youth. And, even though the capitalist media are celebrating the fact that nearly eight million more people voted than in 2014, around 40% did not go to the polls.

Die Linke (The Left) was caught between two chairs. Despite a series of left-wing mobilisations of hundreds of thousands, and strikes for better staffing levels, wage increases and workers’ rights, it was down by almost 2% – its actual vote fell by 112,400.

In its approach on the EU, Die Linke tried not to step on anyone’s toes. It did not clearly state that the EU is an undemocratic, neoliberal and militaristic alliance of national states in the interest of the capitalist classes. The worst thing for a party is not to let people know where it stands on central issues. Even if the majority of the population is currently in a pro-EU mood – above all, out of fear that nationalism and right-wing populism are growing stronger – Die Linke should have adopted a clear stance and clear demands.

Inner-party conflicts, between the co-chair of Die Linke’s Bundestag group and the former leader of the party’s left wing, Sahra Wagenknecht, who has adopted more and more anti-migration positions, have led to a growing scepticism towards Die Linke among a layer of anti-racist voters. At the same time, the party did not distinguish itself from the Greens on climate protection.

In Bremen, Die Linke gained ground with 11.3%, an increase of 1.8%. Numerically, a coalition between the SPD, Greens and Die Linke, or between the CDU, Greens and the Liberals (FDP) is possible in the state. The Greens have started negotiations with the ‘red-green’ option, so it is likely that Die Linke will become a governmental party at state level in western Germany for the first time – in a city state where the SPD leader has backed rigid austerity measures.

Katja Kipping, Die Linke national co-chair, is advocating such a coalition at the federal level as well. She ignores the fact that Die Linke lost votes in the Euros in all the states in which the party was or is in ruling coalitions. In Thuringia, for example, the party fell from 22.5% to 13.8%, in Brandenburg from 19.7% to 12.3%, and in Berlin from 16.2% to 11.9%. Berlin is of special importance because those who back governmental participation often cite it as a successful example of how to combine coalition with extra-parliamentary campaign work.

Such coalitions are disastrous for Die Linke because they stop the party implementing left-wing politics in the interests of the working class. If it takes this course in Bremen, instead of basing itself on socialist opposition politics, Die Linke will lose the electoral support it has recently gained while demoralising many active members who really want to change society.

Die Linke should offer to vote the SPD and Greens into government, but not enter into any sort of lasting agreement with them. It should then pursue a policy of parliamentary case-by-case decisions: to offer support for every measure in the interests of the working class while telling the SPD and Greens that, if they want to introduce austerity measures, attack democratic rights, etc, they will have to look elsewhere for a majority. Die Linke should also support and build protests on the streets and in the workplaces against social cuts and for real reforms.

According to opinion polls published in early June, the Greens would get around 26% in a federal election, the CDU 25-27%, the SPD and AfD 13%, with the FDP and Die Linke on 7-8% each. But the situation is unstable. A YouGov poll reported 52% in favour of early elections, while an RTL/n-tv poll said 59% want the coalition to continue to the end of the legislative period in 2021.

So, will the coalition collapse in the coming weeks or can it drag on until the elections in three eastern states (Saxony and Thuringia on 1 September, Brandenburg on 27 October)? The most unlikely possibility seems at present to be the government holding out until the end of 2021.

With dark clouds hanging over the economy and the prospect of deepening political instability, Germany is at a turning point. Marxists must prepare by developing a socialist programme and proposals for how the trade unions and Die Linke should act. A grassroots campaign for the expropriation of the big housing companies in Berlin showed the potential. This received mass support, reflecting the dire housing situation, and tens of thousands took to the streets in April.

Meanwhile, calls for the ‘collectivisation’ of BMW led to a public debate about property relations and socialism. This proves that bold initiatives and radical demands can get wide support if they reflect the burning issues affecting working people. It shows the potential for a socialist alternative and for resistance against the corporate agenda.

Sascha Stanicic and Wolfram Klein

Socialistische Alternative (SAV – CWI in Germany)

This is an edited extract from the CWI website:

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