Uncertain time for Germany’s politics

John Wojcik

Another problem for die Linke, ironically, results from some of the successes it has had. Die Linke has achieved power in Red, Red, Green Coalitions in three East German states and is the ruling party in one of them. In Berlin, for example, the mayor is a Social Democrat and the Vice Mayor is from die Linke. The ruling Senate has three Social Democrats, three die Linke members and three Greens. The conservative CDU, the pro-business Free Democrats and the AfD are completely frozen out of the government.
Sahra Wagenknecht, 49, co-chair of die Linke caucus in the Bundestag. Polls in Germany have her as the second most popular political figure in the country, behind only Angela Merkel herself. Wagenknecht is frequently on TV, challenging the right wing narratives. Her skills as an orator have helped propel her into prominence in the national debates. Left wingers in Germany have rarely gained the popularity she has.
Wagenknecht, who hails from the former German Democratic Republic, is married to Oskar Lafontaine, a former leader of the Social Democrats who left that party and joined die Linke because the Social Democrats had sold out the workers. Their personal union reflects die Linke as a whole which has in its membership committed Marxist Leninists on the one hand and left social democrats on the other.
The two have announced the formation on September 4 of Aufstehen (Stand up, pronounced Owf-shtayen). Forty prominent German supporters will join them on that day in announcing the new formation. The purpose, they say, is to reach out to all those disappointed by the existing parties but in particular to members of the Greens, the Social Democrats and die Linke. The aim is to form a mass organization that will mobilize on the local and national level against the rising tide of fascism in Germany and against the AfD specifically. They envision Aufstehen as a grassroots organization that will lead mass activities by workers on the job, the youth, seniors, the jobless and others. Members would remain as members of the political parties to which they already belong.
The idea behind Wagenknecht’s project is to impact all of the political groupings. Among the Christian Democrats the approach would be to win people to demand a party whose politicians stop selling themselves to big corporations, with the same approach for the CSU in Bavaria. Among the Social Democrats the plan is to offer an alternative for members angry about the party leadership’s betrayal of workers, with the same approach for the Greens. And with die Linke, Aufstehen hopes to eliminate the lack of militancy characteristic of some die Linke leaders who focus mainly on gaining entrance to local and national legislative bodies. Aufstehen intends to mobilize enough people from all of these groups to both alter the right-wing course of the German economy and to successfully reduce support for the AfD.
So the dilemma for die Linke is as follows. It is perhaps realistic in some ways to oppose policies which draw educated and well-trained people away from poorer countries, while using some of them and some of those less well educated and trained to push down wages. The concern for many in die Linke and for progressives generally is “can a left-wing party express this problem without grazing too closely to right-wing pastures?” The other question, of course, is whether die Linke can continue to be the main “Let them all come” party and still be able to attract people away from the AfD?
There is another parallel here with the U.S. where progressives debate whether it is worthwhile to win back people who voted for Trump or whether it is better to just go out and try and build a new electorate altogether. Lafontaine has said: “Aufstehen wants to appeal especially to those who have been disappointed for many years, who don’t see themselves represented any longer in the political scene – including those who voted sometimes for the AfD to express their protest. We want to win back those voters.”
Die Linke is grappling here with a problem we have in the U.S. Do you or how do you reach those misled into racist directions without abandoning them into the realm of the racists. The problem is complex. Aufstehen could well achieve a major change in a positive direction for politics in Germany. It could also fail to work as intended and even contribute to nascent splits within or the demise of die Linke. (IPA/Concluded)

Thursday, 30 August, 2018