GERMANY | Local Elections in Eastern Germany a Blow to Political Establishment

(Photo: dmncwndrlch via Pixabay,

Steve Hollasky, Sozialistische Organisation Solidarität (Sol, CWI in Germany) CWI

The results were expected, but they are still shocking: in the local elections in Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony-Anhalt (and in Thuringia a few weeks earlier), the right-wing populist, and in parts right-wing extremist, Alternative for Germany (AfD) became the strongest party in East Germany, ahead of the CDU.

The strengthening of racist and aggressively nationalist forces at the election level is a serious warning. If you take into account the relatively low voter turnout and the fact that people without an EU passport had no right to vote, the absolute number of AfD and far-right voters is lower than the percentage would suggest. Nevertheless, local politics will be more strongly influenced by racists.

In Thuringia, around 30.7 per cent of voters cast their ballots for the AfD in the elections to the European Parliament, and there were other far-right micro-parties that people also voted for. In Saxony, the AfD even achieved 31.8 per cent.

In the district council elections in Bautzen, the AfD won 34.8 per cent. Added to this are 2.8 per cent for the “Free Saxons”, an alliance of right-wing extremist parties that had called for the Free State to leave the Federal Republic during the election campaign.

In the eastern Saxon city of Görlitz, the AfD won 37.2 per cent. In some rural areas of eastern Germany, the AfD received more than fifty per cent of the votes. At the same time, it was unable to win any seats in the run-off elections for mayoral and district administrator offices in Thuringia. It seems that the AfD is able to continue to exploit its potential for votes, but that this has not necessarily grown and that polarisation has instead become entrenched.


Punishing the Establishment

The intention of many East Germans to punish the establishment is decisive for the outcome of the local elections. The result is the corresponding: The parties governing in the federal government – SPD, Greens and the liberal FDP – have lost a lot of votes, in some places they were virtually marginalised. In state capital Dresden’s city council, the SPD still has a total of six out of seventy seats. The FDP, which provides the mayor in the city, just managed to get two.

Numerous surveys have shown that many people in eastern Germany are worried about war, even more so than in the west. The three parties are clearly disqualified in the east in particular due to the fact that the red-green government is supplying weapons to Ukraine, thereby at least indirectly participating in the imperialist struggle between NATO and Russia. The CDU – which is also willing to supply weapons – cannot score points on this issue due to its position on the war in Ukraine.

The AfD and the brand-new Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW – a right-wing split-off from the Left Party), both of which reject arms deliveries to Ukraine, were able to win votes on this issue.


Left Party Not Perceived as Representing Interests

It is all the more dramatic that the Left Party did not succeed in this. A fact that proves that our assessment of the consequences of government participation with pro-capitalist parties was correct. After years of government responsibility in Thuringia, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Bremen, Berlin, Brandenburg and in many municipalities – Dresden also had a de facto red-red-green coalition for a time – the Left Party is considered part of the establishment by many people in eastern Germany, not least because the government policy, with the involvement of the Left Party (and previously the PDS – one of the two parties which formed the Left Party in 2007), has had a negative overall impact on the working class.

Currently, the Left Party is often seen as one of “those up there” who are cosying up to the SPD and the Greens and, in the case of Thuringia, are even willing to form a coalition with the CDU.

In Dresden, the “Alliance for Care” (an activists group of health workers and supporters in which Sol members play an important role) had to prevent the attempt by the Left Party’s member responsible for social issues to close a location of the municipal hospital by protesting.

The Left Party has not taken any truly courageous initiatives against war, the threat of job losses, privatisation and cuts in social services, or even an alternative to capitalist madness. What was not to be expected anyway as part of coalitions with the Greens and the SPD, the Left Party has also hardly managed in opposition. The party’s election has simply no practical value in the experience of workers in particular.


Votes for what is Perceived as “Fresh”

In the east, not only right-wing extremist forces were strengthened, but also all those who were considered “fresh”. In Dresden, the FDP breakaway “Team Zastrow”, led by the small businessman Holger Zastrow, won seven seats in the city council from scratch and Zastrow came in second in the ranking of the votes candidates got. The BSW won five seats. Unlike Holger Zastrow, all those elected for the BSW are completely unknown.

In Zittau, the electoral alliance “Zittau kann Mehr” (ZkM) was founded in 2013 and became the second strongest party in this local election with 18 per cent, after the AfD. Among other things, the ZkM wants to fight climate change and create more cycle paths. This should prove that standing up against the threat of climate change does not have to be a vote killer – not even in the east. On the other hand, if you pursue a policy like the Greens, which makes people reach for their wallets out of fear at the mere mention of the word “climate change” because small incomes are permanently burdened, but the real climate killers in big industry are spared, you will lose votes.

In Freiberg, an electoral alliance that emerged from the fight against the AfD won four of the thirty-four seats in the city council. The Left Party only won two seats there. In Thuringia, the Left Party and the BSW were neck and neck in the local elections.

The local elections and the elections to the European Parliament were a rejection of the established parties in the east. Workers, young people and people affected or threatened by poverty are particularly disappointed. This would actually be a prerequisite for a significant left-wing development. But since the Left Party is seen as a variation of this very establishment, it was the AfD, of all parties, that managed to score points by continuing the established policy of social cuts with more drastic means. The hope of some that the BSW would weaken the AfD has been hardly fulfilled. Relatively few former AfD voters have switched to the BSW, but all the more from the SPD and the Left Party.


Voting Behaviour of Young People

The AfD may have had an above-average share of the vote among 16- to 24-year-olds, but that is by no means the only significant finding. More than older voters, young people in the eastern German states tended to vote for small parties in the EU parliamentary elections.

The performance of the “Volt” party should be emphasised here. Not only do young people feel exposed to a high number of crises that they perceive as overwhelming, but according to several studies on the mood among young people, they also feel deprived of all opportunities for participation. Not least for this reason, there was relatively strong support for the “Europe Party” Volt, which campaigns for an expansion of participation opportunities. In addition, many young people hope that deepening European integration will lead to greater international cooperation in order to counter the threat of war and climate change, poverty and racism. They may be mistaken in their hopes for the EU, which is itself pro-capitalist and undemocratic, with neoliberal, militaristic and racist policies, but the reflex is at least understandable. It should also not be overlooked that the proportion of votes for the Left Party among young people was six per cent, well above the national average.

The mood among young people seems to be polarising further – also under the impression of the enormous demonstrations against the AfD in recent months. The votes for the AfD are increasing, but the counter-votes are also becoming louder again. This is precisely where opportunities for socialist politics lie.


Extreme-Right can only Mobilise Less

For many, it was a contradiction that, until the evening before the elections, there were still some very large demonstrations against the AfD, including in eastern Germany, and that this election result followed the next day. This circumstance shows several things at once: on the one hand, the extreme right is still less mobilisable on the streets than its opponents. On the other hand, their refusal to formulate political arguments against racist positions in the “We are the firewall” alliances meant that they were unable to convince any (potential) AfD voters. Only by addressing the causes of the AfD’s growth and also criticising the anti-social policies of the established parties, while at the same time pointing out an alternative, can we win back AfD voters.

When we distributed flyers against the AfD, the people we spoke to told us that they knew the AfD was “not the real thing”, but they didn’t know who to vote for. According to them, something had to be done. You won’t win over the eighty per cent who are currently dissatisfied with Scholz and Co. by telling them not to vote for the AfD, which is what they often do because they are dissatisfied and see no political alternative.


Combative Candidates Can Succeed

Dorit Hollasky, a member of Sol, stood as a candidate for the Left Party in Dresden. She is known as a militant trade unionist and spokesperson for the Dresden “Alliance for Care”. Dorit stood as a candidate to support the Left Party in Dresden, but made it clear from the outset that she and the Sol members had different priorities and would not be actively campaigning. Nevertheless, she received more than a thousand votes and was only just behind the city chairman of the Left Party in her constituency. We were approached enthusiastically about the candidacy on several occasions. There was even a call on Facebook to vote for Dorit. So there is a willingness to vote for militant, socialist candidates.


A Serious Warning

The results of the local and EU elections must be a serious warning to the Left and the labour movement! The working class needs real political representation. Such representation can only be militant, democratic and socialist, and must therefore offer a fundamental alternative to the capitalist madness of war, the cutting of social services, job cuts, insecurity and climate change.

Only then can voters be won back from the AfD. But that also means breaking the bridges to pro-capitalist parties like the SPD and the Greens. Martin Luther King once said that the evils of capitalism, the evils of militarism and the evils of racism can only be fought in one act. The AfD, CDU/CSU, SPD, FDP and Greens are all variants of the same system. They are all bourgeois parties. The working class needs its own. That is what we need to fight for.

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June 2024