After the recent German State elections in Hamburg, Hesse and Lower Saxony, the political landscape in Germany has been drastically changed, with the increase in its share of the votes, the Die Linke (Left Party) has become a political force to be reckoned with at both a regional and Federal level. Gero Neugebauer an expert on political parties and systems at the Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science at the Freie Universität in Berlin recently spoke to the web site DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW about the reasons behind the Left Party’s rise.
“There are several reasons for the Left party’s success. One is the general social mood in Germany. People are unsettled. They think things aren’t being approached fairly. Too few have a part in the economic upswing. And many think, also in connection with the ongoing tax evasion scandal that the gap between rich and poor is continually getting wider and society is becoming more and more divided.
The second reason is the protest mindset that still exists toward the labor and socio-political reforms of the previous Social Democratic-Green party government coalition. Due to the reforms, people are finding themselves in a financial situation they consider incompatible with a good standard of living — a good standard of living doesn’t mean luxury but meeting people’s needs.
The Left party is not only critical of society but also promises more money for social welfare, which brings in more votes.
The Left party says that globalization leads to a different version of capitalism, that the result is exploitation and a greater social burden. The Germans aren’t prepared for that, and they’re always interested in calling for protection. Because they want to have certainty about their future, they say that the simple solutions we had during the 1970s and ’80s must be a possibility again.”
Neugebauer went on to point out that the mainstream established parties in Germany aren’t adequately prepared for the rise of the Left Party.
“They are finding that their coalition options have changed. Until now, they had always assumed that one of the large parties would win enough votes so that they only had to get one, smaller party on board in order to form a majority government. This is no longer the case.”
In my opinion, the Left party has to survive the next big elections, in 2009, in order to establish itself — mainly in federal but also state elections.
Then we can expect to have a five-party system. The parties will have to take a look at the options again. The Social Democrats, for example, see that it’s not possible to win back the voters they’ve lost since 2000. Some have gone to the Left party; others just stay at home. But it’s rational for them to say: okay, if we can’t get these voters back, we’ll try to cooperate with the party they’ve gone to.”
The Example of Die Linke for the UK Left.
Whilst the future looks bright for the German left there are a number of pitfalls that they must avoid if they are to prosper and become a major instrument for progressive change, not least whether to enter into coalition governments, at State or national level. At the moment both the SPD and the CDU have said they would not enter into a coalition at Federal level with the Left Party, although if the need arises this attitude may well change. Indeed in Hamburg, the conservative CDU have been courting the Greens after losing their overall majority in the recent State elections. That the Greens considered such a coalition tells one just how far they have travelled towards the right in recent years; and not just in Germany for in the south of Ireland they are in a coalition government with the right wing Fianna Fáil Party.
In my opinion at this stage of the Left Party’s development it would be disastrous for them to enter into a coalition with either the CDU or SPD, as its working class supporters would immediately conclude that they are no different from the SPD, at the first opportunity they have got their snouts into the trough, it would also cause considerable and unwelcome friction within the Left Party, espeacially after what happened in Berlin.* Whether they should support any SPD State administration on an issue by issue bases is another matter, and would need a thorough internal debate amongst the Left Party membership.
What must be avoided at all costs is the type of splits that have proved so fatal for the English left whenever they have attempted to build a political party to the left of the Labour Party. One of the major flaws in England has been that few leftists have worked within a large reformist Party, unlike in Germany where two of the largest Left Party factions had experience of working in either the SPD or the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. (SED) Thus they had a history of being able to accept defeat over party platforms, strategy or manifesto commitment; and remain within the organization to either fight to change party policy or await the day when a more opportune time might come for them to leave.
Whereas the non Labour Party English left, who have to date been the motor that has driven the move towards a new Left Party, have mainly belonged to small political organizations, divorced from the mass of the working classes, which had a one size fits all political platform and internal regimes based on democratic centralism. Just as the Left Party in Germany failed to gain traction until Oskar Lafontaine led a left faction out of the SPD, it is difficult to see how a Left Party can gain ground in England without a major input from the Labour Party Left.
To conclude I thought I would republish a letter from the February/March issue of Red Pepper which should give all of us on the left some food for thought.
What’s the problem?
If I lived Birmingham, I would happily campaign for Salma Yaqoob, the Respect Renewal councillor. If I lived in Preston, I would happily do the same for councillor Michael Lavalette, from the other side of the Respect divide. In Coventry, I’d be with the Socialist Party and in Brighton with the Greens. There are Scots Nats as well as Scottish socialists [on both sides of the Tommy Sheridan split] who I’d be glad to knock on doors for. And of course there are still plenty of good Labour councillors and even a few MPs who I would be pleased to have representing me. I’m obviously far from being alone or none of these people would ever have been elected.
My question, in relation to the continuing inability of the left to unite in pursuit of a common purpose is this: If I and people like me have no problem with such a diversity of elected representatives, why do they all seem to have such a problem with each other?