Image: Now the End Begins
On Sunday, Germany’s two main parties suffered a terrible defeat. Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU got just 33 percent, while the social democratic SPD sunk to 20.5 percent – the worst results for both parties since 1945. These two parties have held up West Germany’s capitalist regime since its founding, sharing 80 to 90 percent of votes in almost every election. Now, their “Grand Coalition,” which has been governing for four years, got a combined total of just 55 percent.
The winner on Sunday was the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), entering parliament for the first time with 12.6 percent. The almost six million votes will translate to 94 seats.
For the first time since 1953, the German Bundestag will have six parties.
The political center is crumbling and despite the ongoing “economic miracle,” the country is entering a period of increasing polarization and instability. The SPD has announced it will break with Merkel and join the opposition – their only hope to stop a further erosion of their base. Now, Merkel is trying to form a government with the liberal FDP and the Greens, called a “Jamaica coalition” due to the black, yellow and green colors of the three parties.
The AfD wins “protest votes”
The AfD won almost 20.5 percent in East Germany – the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), which was devastated by the restoration of capitalism 25 years ago. In the province of Saxony, where the xenophobic Pegida movement drew attention from around the world, they became the largest party with 27.0 percent. On Sunday, AfD lead candidate Alexander Gauland said in perfect Trumpist diction, “We will hunt Merkel. We are going to take back our people [Volk] and our country!”
But the AfD mostly represented a protest vote. One polling institute determined that three out of five AfD voters did not want to support the party’s program or candidates, but rather, voted AfD because they were disappointed with all the other parties. The AfD represents a disperse coalition, ranging from more or less open Nazis to self-described conservatives who feel Merkel’s CDU moved too far to the center. A more “moderate” wing defends extreme neoliberalism, combined with moral outrage about queer people and non-traditional families, while more extreme figures want greater state intervention in the economy. What holds them together – for now – is outrage at the arrival of just shy of one million refugees in 2015.
The AfD’s electoral base is not unlike Trump’s: its core is made up of angry petty bourgeoisie, including small business owners and retired state functionaries. They get a lot of support from unskilled workers and the unemployed, but on average they are anything but a party of poor and working people. Their base is also heavily male (by a factor or almost two to one!) and rural.
Two days after the election, newly-elected member of parliament and party chairperson Frauke Petry announced she was resigning from the AfD. She had once led the party’s march to the right, driving out party founder Bernd Lucke (a conservative professor who opposed Merkel’s Euro policies). But In the last year, Petry was overtaken by even more right-wing figures like Gauland. Just before the election, Gauland said Germans should be proud of the accomplishments of their soldiers during the two World Wars. He didn’t mention if that included the mass murder of Jews. And Gauland is under pressure from even more openly pro-Nazi figures in Thuringia, such as Björn Höcke.
Petry is now an individual MP without a parliamentary group, but it’s unclear if many MPs will join her, or if she and her supporters in the AfD will form a new party.
Left Party as the establishment
The AfD can present itself as “the only alternative” and “the only opposition” because the other five parties are in government. In Germany’s extensively federalized system, every party is currently involved in coalition governments in several of the 16 provinces. And these governments’ policies are more or less identical.
Die Linke (Left Party) was hoping to win third place and thus become the leader of the parliamentary opposition under a new Grand Coalition. Instead, they got just 9.2 percent, putting them in fifth place, barely in front of the Greens.
One rather shocking poll showed that 64 percent of voters said that “school and education policies” were very important to them – compared to just 27 percent who thought immigration and refugees were very important. But the topic of education was hardly mentioned during the election campaign. The AfD dominated every debate, even when they were absent, with the topics of “security” and “terrorism.”
The SPD, especially in the final weeks, tried to talk about “justice,” while the Left Party had an eerily similar slogan of “credibly for justice.” But neither of these parties had any real credibility.
The SPD governed with Merkel for eight of the last twelve years. The last time they had the chancellorship, with Gerhard Schröder from 1998 to 2005, they introduced brutal labor market reforms knows as “Agenda 2010.” They were directly responsible for the low wages and precarious contracts that they now claim to oppose.
Die Linke, similarly, is currently in government in three provinces, and here they do almost the exact opposite of what their program says. For example, in Berlin they imposed outsourcing and low wages in public companies. Currently, workers in hospitals and museums are fighting against these policies. In Thuringia, where there is a “left” Minister President, they actually voted for the privatization of the federal Autobahn.
Die Linke lost almost 420,000 voters to the AfD. This was mostly in the East, where the Left Party has been part of the establishment for the last 25 years. In the West, in contrast, where they are much smaller and have never been in government, they won almost 420,000 voters from the SPD. Die Linke might be slowly transforming from a post-Stalinist state party into a more normal left reformist party.
On Sunday night, protests broke out in big German cities against the AfD. More than 1,000 people gathered in front of a club at Berlin’s Alexanderplatz where the racists were celebrating.
Germany is experiencing a level of polarization that has been absent for the last 12 years of Merkelism. People realize this supposedly “liberal order” is creating a racist monster like the AfD. Die Linke claims hundreds of new members have joined in just a few days.
But the Left Party leadership, asked about their losses in East Germany, assures that they “won’t change course.” They want to take all the anger against the AfD and transform it into votes and later government posts – which, as the last few years have proven, will allow the right to strengthen.
An independent alternative
We from the website Klasse Gegen Klasse, sister site of Left Voice, believe that we need a united response to the threats from the right. Workers, youth, women, LGBTI and immigrants need to stand together – whether they are unorganized or members of SPD, Linke, or trade unions.
But we also need a political alternative to the parties that administer a capitalist system in crisis. We need a left-wing “protest party” to organize the anger against the political establishment. We need a revolutionary and internationalist party that seeks to unite all working people against capital – not to join a capitalist government, but to fight for a workers’ government.