GERMANY & EU ELECTIONS | Disaster for ‘Traffic Light’ Government and Strengthening of Right-Wing Populists

Workers’ party with a socialist programme urgently needed

The elections to the European Parliament in Germany were another reckoning with the federal government. The right-wing populist AfD (Alternative for Germany) and the Sahra Wagenknecht  Alliance (BSW – a left-populist and nationalist split from the Left Party)), which was running for the first time, benefited from this in particular.

The parties in the traffic light coalition (Social Democrats, Greens and liberals) are slipping from one crushing election defeat to the next. Their unpopularity is also reflected in a new survey conducted by infratest dimap on behalf of the ARD TV channel. According to the survey, only 22 per cent of respondents are satisfied with the work of the federal government – a historic low.


Losses for SPD and Greens

The Greens in particular are the object of anger and have lost 8.6 percentage points compared to the last European elections, but only 2.8 percentage points compared to the 2021 Bundestag elections. This suggests that the party has fallen back to its core clientele. At 13.9 per cent, the SPD recorded its worst result in a nationwide election since universal suffrage was introduced in 1919; it was a relatively small drop compared to the last European elections, but a fall of 11.8 percentage points compared to the 2021 Bundestag elections. The FDP has become modest and was pleased with its small losses – but here, too, this comparison only applies to the 2019 European elections. Compared to the Bundestag elections, the Liberals have more than halved. The Liberals still received 5.2 per cent of the votes cast, prompting their leader Christian Lindner to see this as a “strong signal of stabilisation”. Together, the three parties are now roughly on a par with the conservative CDU/CSU, which are the strongest political force with thirty per cent of the vote.


CDU/CSU Strongest Force

The CDU conservatives celebrated accordingly on election night and the position of party leader Merz seems secure. However, power struggles over who is their candidate for Chancellor next year cannot be ruled out. Merz, the former head of the supervisory board of the German division of the BlackRock hedge fund, has achieved the feat of being even more unpopular in the polls than Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The boss of the Bavarian CSU Söder and NRW state premier Wüst are keeping their options open for a possible candidacy as the Union’s candidate for chancellor.


Victory for the Far-Right

In addition, the AfD is once again benefiting from the great resentment towards the federal government. It is the second strongest party after the CDU/CSU and has improved by 4.9 percentage points to 15.9 per cent compared to the last elections (compared to the 2021 general election, it has even improved by 5.6 percentage points). Although this figure falls short of the record polls from around six months ago, when the partly fascist party recorded support of over twenty per cent. In eastern Germany, the AfD is in first place. If you believe the pollsters, the proportion of pure protest voters among AfD voters is also decreasing, even though they are still the most likely to vote for the AfD compared to other parties. The AfD’s so-called “competence ratings” are rising in the polls, which suggests that the right-wing populists are building up a certain voter base of their own, which is developing an increasing bond with the party.

At the same time, it should not be forgotten that over a third of those eligible to vote did not cast their vote at all (although voter turnout was relatively high for a European election, which may also be due to local elections simultaneously taking in many federal states) and millions of people from non-EU countries were not allowed to vote. The proportion of AfD voters of the adult population actually living in Germany is therefore well below ten per cent.


Success of the BSW

The Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance (BSW) received 6.2 per cent of the vote in its first national election and thus achieved an important initial success. It benefited from its focus on social security and its rejection of arms deliveries to war zones, not least Ukraine.

That did not work, however, was the attempt to lure voters away from the AfD with anti-immigration positions. Only relatively few former AfD voters switched to the BSW, but all the more former SPD, CDU and Linke (Left Party) voters did. Once again, it was confirmed that people are more likely to vote for the original than the copy.

It is likely that, having passed this practical test, the BSW will have an even greater appeal to politically unorganised people, but also to some frustrated Left Party members and supporters. A good BSW result in the East German state elections in September has thus become even more likely.


The Left and Small Parties

The Left Party’s decline continues with a halving of votes to just 2.7 per cent. The party leadership’s announcements that after last year’s split of the Wagenknecht camp, that the party would now really start to rebuild have not been translated into action. The party leadership often spoke about voters who allegedly did not vote for the Left in the past because of Wagenknecht but these do not appear to exist to any great extent. The truce between the reformist left and the party right has only meant that Die Linke has not shed its image of being part of the political establishment. The hope that Carola Rackete as joint top candidate would achieve a greater mobilisation of people who identify with the climate and anti-racism movement only worked to a very limited extent in some urban areas such as Berlin-Neukölln, which are already strongholds of the Left Party, but not beyond that.

The results of the small parties (Volt, Die Partei, Tierschutzpartei), which particularly young people voted for, are remarkable. The fact that there was no five per cent hurdle in this election and the votes were therefore “not lost” certainly played a role here. This reinforces the trend away from the former major parties. The fragmentation and destabilisation of the political system in Germany continues.



In the above-mentioned analysis by infratest dimap, voters were asked about the most important issues for them. There were major differences here compared to the last election in 2019. While climate change was still the most important issue back then, from which the Greens in particular were able to benefit, this time it was replaced by concerns about existing or impending wars. In addition, the issues of crime and migration gained in importance, from which the AfD in particular benefited. This certainly had something to do with a fatal knife attack, when a migrant from Afghanistan killed a policeman, in Mannheim in the week before the elections and how it was exploited by the media. However, the questions asked by opinion research institutes must also be critically scrutinised. Questions such as “Are you worried that too many foreigners are coming to Germany” are tendentious. At the same time, questions such as “Are you worried that the greed of banks and corporations is destroying living standards and the environment?” are hardly ever asked. However, it can also be seen that material concerns have increased significantly: Fifty per cent agreed with the statement that they are worried that they will not be able to maintain their standard of living in the future (compared to thirty per cent in 2019 and 37 per cent in 2021). The proportion is particularly high among AfD voters at 78 per cent and 64 per cent among BSW voters.



Voting behaviour among the under-25s has also changed significantly compared to last time. While the Greens were by far the strongest party back then, the AfD is now the strongest party, with the smaller parties together gaining even more votes. In terms of political issues, as surveys have also shown in recent months, there has been a levelling off with older voters. In particular, traditional social issues (rent, income, etc.) and concerns about war have replaced the previously dominant issue of the environment for the time being.


Final crisis of the federal government?

The recent defeats have further strained the mood of the ‘traffic light’ parties. Shortly before the election, SPD leader Lars Klingbeil told Finance Minister Lindner not to overdo it with the ‘debt brake’ and cuts. Lindner, also leader of the liberal FDP, countered with a subtle reference to a possible break in the coalition. Following the announcement of the election results, the SPD leadership in particular emphasised that it wanted to strengthen its own profile.

It is clear that the conflicts will become even tougher. The federal budget is to be finalised by July 3rd, another test for the shaky alliance. In view of the poor election results for all the parties in the coalition, there is every indication that the parties involved will do everything in their power to prevent the coalition from collapsing over this issue in order to avoid new elections. However, with the upcoming state elections in eastern Germany in September expected to bring heavy defeats for the ruling coalition – the SPD may not be re-elected back into a state parliament – new, possibly final conflicts can be expected. A break-up of the coalition, possible new elections and then very probably a CDU-led government would herald a new and tougher phase of the class struggle.


Frustration Among the Left

It is therefore all the more important that the political left and the trade unions draw the right conclusions from this election.

The success of the AfD in particular is causing frustration among activists. Many are wondering what is wrong with “the people” who vote for an openly racist party. Perplexity is sometimes spreading, as the mass mobilisations against racism and right-wing populism at the beginning of the year fuelled hopes of weakening the AfD more significantly. At that time, we already pointed out that it is crucial to look at the causes of “the rise of the AfD. A movement ‘only’ against the AfD will not be successful.”



The wealth of a tiny minority is taking on ever more ludicrous dimensions. In contrast, many millions of people are struggling with major concerns: rising rent costs, high labour pressure and increasing job losses in industry. The escalating conflicts between the imperialist powers are leading to an increase in wars. The consequences of military conflicts, oppression by repressive regimes, extreme poverty and the increasingly obvious consequences of climate change are the causes of global refugee movements. Together, this leads to uncertainty in large parts of the population. The feeling that the “world is coming apart at the seams” is growing.

However, it is not an automatic reaction that racism is on the rise. The ruling class has no solution to offer for any of the major problems of our time in the interests of working people. A decisive reason for the rise of the AfD is the massive loss of legitimacy of the established parties, which basically offer the same pro-capitalist policies in different colours. This has created the space for the AfD to present itself as the opposition in the first place – even though it itself represents largely neoliberal policies that are directed against the working class. Their racism can tie in with the laws and statements of politicians from the established parties. For example, when CDU leader and multimillionaire Friedrich Merz fantasises about the supposed privileges of rejected asylum seekers: “They sit at the doctor’s and have their teeth redone, and the German citizens next door don’t get any appointments.” There are also increasing cross-party calls for deportations to Syria and Afghanistan to be enforced again.


The far right can latch onto this with their propaganda and go even further. The bourgeois parties have made the far right strong! Therefore, the fight against the AfD must also be directed against the policies of social cuts and state racism of the bourgeoisie.


Failure of the Left Party

It would now be the responsibility of a left-wing, socialist party to oppose this and present fundamental alternatives. It would have to propose a programme on how we can get the money from the rich and super-rich in order to solve the social problems. Because the majority of the population, regardless of origin, skin colour, gender, etc., has a common interest in affordable housing, higher wages, a needs-based healthcare system or the fight against climate change.

These common interests must also be emphasised in the fight against the AfD. Today’s scientific and technological possibilities enable us humans to solve all major problems. Within the framework of capitalism, however, this is utopian. What is needed is a connection between today’s struggles and the idea of a fundamentally different, truly democratic and socialist society.

The Left Party, however, manages the shortages through its participation in government at local and state level, is responsible for cuts and implements deportations, for example. As a result, it has become part of the establishment for many people. This is particularly true in eastern Germany, where the AfD has long since wrested its image as a protest party from Die Linke.

With her anti-migrant rhetoric, Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW) is helping to cement the division between “locals” and immigrants and fuelling racist prejudices – and she is not helping to lead joint struggles for cheaper housing or better working conditions, let alone question the capitalism that is causing the social problems.


Trade Unions

Trade union leaders also bear responsibility for the rise of the AfD. They repeatedly make moral appeals for a “colourful” country and call for the defence of “democracy” in a general, abstract form. It is no coincidence that the choice of words is almost identical to that of their social democratic friends. The statements for the European elections also looked like this. General calls to vote and the poorly concealed advice to vote for the SPD or the Greens. This is a way of closing ranks with those in power and ultimately plays into the hands of the AfD, because the sections of the population that are receptive to the AfD cannot be broken away from them in this way.


Organising Resistance

Common class struggle, on the other hand, makes it clear where the true boundaries lie – not within workforces or working-class neighbourhoods, but between top and bottom. Such experiences are central to pushing back racism in society – because at the same time they offer the prerequisite for recognising why racist ideas weaken this common struggle. However, the social partnership orientation of the trade union leaderships and the proximity of many of their leaders to the established parties prevent such struggles from being consistently waged and accompanied by political campaigns that direct the justified discontent in society against the real culprits – namely those in power and corporations. In workplaces and even among trade unionists, there are now quite a few AfD voters who will not be convinced by moral anti-racism arguments. Racism needs a social breeding ground and this must be drained.

The trade unions have a responsibility to show what is needed to achieve this. This means that they must consistently lead the necessary trade union struggles, but also take up the resistance against the government’s anti-worker policies. In concrete terms, this would mean launching a campaign now against the cuts policy and the FDP’s plans to restrict the right to strike, starting with workplace meetings, debates in all trade union bodies, mass distribution of argumentation and mobilisation material and, as a first step, leading to a nationwide demonstration.

With the “We are sounding the alarm” initiative, Sol members have taken an important initiative together with others.


Party by and for Workers Needed

As part of such a campaign, information about the AfD’s anti-worker and anti-union policies should be provided at the same time. It is necessary for the trade unions to break with the SPD and start a discussion within them about a party-political representation for the working people and how it can be created.

The task of the next few years will be to build such a representation from within the trade unions and with activists from today’s Left Party and social movements, and to combine the struggles of the here and now with the vision of a socialist democracy. Then the AfD can also be driven back to where it belongs: insignificance!

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June 2024