The results of the European elections, as well as the Bremen state and various local elections, on 26 May, will continue to stir up the German party system, increase political instability and pose the possibility of an early collapse of Merkel’s coalition.
This became apparent only a few days after the elections with the resignation of the social democrat party (SPD) chairwoman and parliamentary leader, Andrea Nahles 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. This policy helped produce the latest drop in the SPD’s electoral support from 20.5% in 2017 to 15.8% last month. Twenty one years ago it won just over 40% of the vote.
However the Left party (DIE LINKE) did not manage to transform social polarisation into electoral support and left the field open for the Greens to present themselves as a force to the left of the SPD.
Once again, the CDU and SPD suffered a dramatic drop in votes. Compared with the last Euro election five years ago, the CDU/CSU fell from 35.3 per cent to 28.9 per cent, while the SPD fell from 27.3 to 15.8 per cent (If you take the absolute figures, the decline not as dramatic, because the turnout was significantly higher). In the simultaneous state elections in Bremen, the SPD got, for the first time, fewer votes than the CDU (24.9 percent, minus 7.9 percent, while the CDU got 26.7, plus 4.3 percent).
The right wing populist AfD became the strongest party in the European elections in Saxony (25.3 percent) and Brandenburg (19.9 percent) and the second strongest party in Thuringia (22.5 percent), even though it fell short of its expectations nationwide (AfD grew from 7.1 to 11.1 percent, but in the 2017 general election they got 12.6 percent with a much higher turnout). One reason for this was that during the last months the public debate was dominated by the climate and the housing crisis, not by scare-mongering against migrants and refugees, which had fuelled the support for the AfD in other elections.
It is clear that the CDU/CSU and SPD are increasingly losing their basis of support among the population. A continuation of the national coalition is politically suicidal, especially for the social democrats.
Climate change and the Greens
The background for the election result is also the mass movements during the last two years against the right, state repression and climate change. In opinion polls, climate change was the most important issue for voters. The massive ‘Friday For Future’ youth protests symbolize the youth’s turning away from the traditional established parties. On May 18, a You-tuber, called Rezo (who had not been a political figure until then) released a 55-minute video entitled, “The Destruction of the CDU”, in which he mercilessly discussed the politics of this party (but also SPD, FDP and AfD). The video was viewed about 14 million times in the following two weeks.
Against this background, the Greens won the election and for the first time came second in a nationwide election (with an increase from 10.7 to 20.5 percent). For a significant number of voters, the Greens were viewed as different but, in reality, this is quite absurd in the sense that in many state governments the Greens are co-responsible for the ruling politics. But since the Greens have not been in the federal government for many years and presents itself as a force against right-wing populism and climate change, it was seen as a credible alternative by many. As a result, it has become the strongest force among all voters under the age of sixty. The fact that the satirical party “DIE PARTEI” increased its representation in the European Parliament from one to three members (although one of them already announced that he intends to join the parliamentary group of the Greens) and became the third strongest force among first-time voters, is an indication of how far the alienation from the establishment goes among large sections of the youth. And even though all the capitalist media are now celebrating the increased voter turnout, with nearly 8 million more people voting than in 2014, it should not be forgotten that still roughly forty percent of voters still did not go to the polls.
As the SAV (CWI Germany) predicted, DIE LINKE (Left Party) was caught between two chairs. After a series of left-wing mass mobilizations of hundreds of thousands and strikes for better staffing, wage increases and workers’ rights, the party lost almost two percent of the vote, although its actual vote fell by 112,400. Why did it not gain from the increased voter turnout?
In its approach on the EU, DIE LINKE tried not to step on anyone’s toes and did not clearly state that the EU is a neo-liberal, undemocratic 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 in Germany 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 combined it with clear demands. This would have allowed it to explain that the EU is not a bulwark against the right and that it would have been better able to reach those who are already critical of the EU for good reasons. Inner-party conflicts, between the co-chair of DIE LINKE’s Bundestag group and former leader of the left wing of the party, Sahra Wagenknecht, who has adopted more and more anti-migration positions, have led to a growing scepticism towards DIE LINKE amongst a layer of anti-racist people. At the same time, on the subject of climate protection the party did not succeed in clearly distinguishing itself from the Greens.
In the Bremen state election, DIE LINKE was able to gain ground (11.3 per cent – an increase of 1.8 per cent). Numerically a coalition between the SPD, the Greens and DIE LINKE or a coalition between the CDU, the Greens and the liberals (FDP) are possible. The Greens have decided to start negotiations with the SPD and DIE LINKE, so it is likely that DIE LINKE will become a governmental party, at state level in West Germany, for the first time. And this would be in a city state in which the SPD leader announces rigid austerity policy.
Katja Kipping, DIE LINKE’s national female co-chair, is using this development to advocate such a government coalition at the federal level, as well. She ignores the fact that DIE LINKE lost votes in the European elections in all federal states in which the party ruled or once ruled. For example, in Thuringia, where DIE LINKE has its first state prime minister, the party fell from 22.5 to 13.8 per cent, in Brandenburg from 19.7 to 12.3 per cent and in Berlin from 16.2 to 11.9 per cent. Berlin is of special importance, because fans of governmental participation often cite it as a successful example of how to combine participation with extra-parliamentary campaign work, putting pressure from the left on one’s “own” government.
Why are coalitions with pro-capitalist parties disastrous for DIE LINKE? It is because in such coalitions with parties like SPD and Greens, DIE LINKE cannot implement left-wing politics in the interests of the working class. This also means for DIE LINKE in Bremen – if it takes this course instead of basing itself on socialist opposition politics – it will lose the support it has recently gained at the election level while driving many active members, who really want to change society, into frustration. That does not mean DIE LINKE taking responsibility for Bremen having a coalition of CDU, Greens and FDP. DIE LINKE should offer to vote the SPD and Greens into government, but not enter into any sort of lasting agreement with them. DIE LINKE should then pursue a policy of parliamentary case-by-case decisions: to offer support for every measure in the interest 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. They should reject anything else and support and build protests on the streets and in the workplaces against social cuts and for real reforms – without taking responsibility for neo-liberal policies by joining a government or signing an agreement to support a ‘red-green’ government from the outside.
As a result of the election defeat, the then SPD chairwoman and parliamentary leader, Andrea Nahles, rapidly came under massive pressure inside the party and the parliamentary faction. At first, she tried to consolidate her position by calling for her early re-election as leader of the parliamentary group. But this manoeuvre backfired. Although no opposing candidate showed up, her re-election was in question. Finally, on 2 June, a week after the election debacle, she resigned from all posts.
According to opinion polls published in early June, the Greens would get around 26 percent in a federal election, the CDU between 25 and 27 percent. SPD and AfD would get 13 percent each, FDP and DIE LINKE 7 or 8 percent each.
But the situation is unstable. One poll (YouGov) reported 52 percent in favour of early elections, and just 27 for a continuation of the present coalition. However, according to another poll (RTL/n-tv), 59 percent want the current coalition to continue until 2021.
Will the coalition collapse in the days and weeks to come? Or can it drag on for a few more months until the state elections (and in every likelihood new election defeats) in three eastern German states (state elections will be held in Saxony and Thuringia on 1 September and in Brandenburg on 27 October)? The most unlikely alternative seems at present for the government to hold out until the end of the 2021 legislative period.
With dark clouds hanging over the economy and the prospect of a deepening political instability, Germany is at a turning point. Marxists must prepare for this by developing a socialist programme and proposals for how the trade unions and the Left Party should act. A grassroots campaign for the expropriation of the big housing companies in the capital Berlin showed the potential. This received mass support. In opinion polls a majority of the Berlin population supported that demand, reflecting the dire situation in regard to housing. Tens of thousands took to the streets in April over the housing crisis. This proves that with bold initiatives, radical demands can get wide support if they reflect the burning issues for working people.
The chair of the social democratic youth organisation, Kevin Kühnert, in an interview called for the ‘collectivisation’ of the BMW car maker. This led to a public debate about property relations and socialism.
All this shows the potential for a socialist alternative and for resistance against the corporate agenda.