By Victor Grossman and John Wojcik
BERLIN—Elections in two German states in eastern Germany on September 1 saw large gains by the rightist Alternative for Germany party (AfD), though the party apparently failed to worm its way into either of the two state governments. Voters in both Saxony and Brandenburg did not give the AfD the number one position among the five leading parties that it has been aiming for.
In Saxony, whose capital is Dresden, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) held onto first place, which it has maintained since German re-unification in 1990. The current coalition government there of the CDU and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) is no longer viable, however, because of the AfD gains. The CDU and SPD total combined now falls short of the 50% of parliamentary seats needed to form a new government. The CDU and SPD must take on either the Greens or the Left Party (Die Linke) if they are to both stay in the government and at the same time keep out the AfD.
The expectation is that the result in coming weeks will be the formation of a black-red-green alliance, the colors of the CDU, SPD, and Greens respectively. Although the SPD has, in the past, formed alliances with Die Linke, the position of the CDU is that it will never work with Die Linke.
In Brandenburg, meanwhile, a state that completely surrounds but does not include Berlin, the AfD also failed to take the first place it coveted. Instead, the SPD held onto the first place spot it has held since 1990. Currently, it rules in a red-red coalition with Die Linke, but sharp drops in the vote for Die Linke require now that a three-way coalition be formed.
The SPD will have to call in either the Greens, along with Die Linke, or it can kick out Die Linke and call in instead the Greens and the CDU. The latter move is entirely possible and if it happens, even though the AfD will be kept out of government, the state of Brandenburg will move significantly to the right. Some in the CDU are seeing this as a way of permanently weakening Die Linke in a large former east German state.
Despite keeping the AfD out of the two state governments, the major parties have nevertheless suffered significant setbacks. In Saxony, the SPD, which is losing strength all over Germany, garnered only 8% of the vote.
The Greens, on the other hand, have cause to celebrate, because they have improved their standing by four points or so in each of two east German states in which they have been weak. They will end up in the state governments of both.
Not too much comfort, however, should be taken in the fact that the AfD failed in its goal of coming in first in a state election. It made dramatic gains even though it missed the big prize. In Saxony, it increased its support from 9.7% in 2014 to 23.5%. In Brandenburg, it went from 9.7% to 27.5%. These gains give it the position of main opposition party in both states.
The results for Die Linke in these elections were awful.
In Saxony, it will have to vacate its position of main opposition party and yield that to the AfD since its vote dropped from 19% to 10.4%. In Brandenburg, Die Linke received only 10.7% of the vote as opposed to 18.6% in 2014 and 28% in 2004. In Brandenburg, the party will have to give up its position of junior partner with the SPD and hope that it can stay in the government.
The poor showings by Die Linke have a number of causes. First, in the eastern part of Germany, many of the traditional leftists originating in the old German Democratic Republic, a major group that has been loyal to Die Linke, have been dying out.
A look at the history of Germany after re-unification explains part of the problem, too. After unification, Die Linke was seen as the protest party of the left, something that appealed to many in the east—working people who were being treated as second-class citizens in the new united Germany. Wages and working conditions in the east were (and still are) lower than in the west. Industry in the east was totally destroyed as West German big business dismantled it and sold it off. Many parts of eastern Germany today are economically far behind the west, with West Germans in control of every sphere of economic life.
The CDU and the right did not just sit back and accept that many were supporting Die Linke—more than 25% in many cities, with Die Linke gaining serious political ground in large cities like Potsdam and Leipzig and actual control of the presidency of the state government in Thuringia, for example. The right wing went on a vicious campaign of comparing Die Linke, at every opportunity, to what they called the “totalitarian” GDR. Fascistic elements, often in alliance with police and CDU mayors in many towns, encouraged violence and repression against Die Linke activities.
Second, the gains that Die Linke was able to make, despite the propaganda war against it, actually laid the groundwork for another problem.
Die Linke found itself in control of some of the poorest places in the east, regions where the West German businesses had created the conditions for massive unemployment. Die Linke mayors found themselves having to attract West German or foreign businesses to get the badly needed jobs and money for taxes to support schools and infrastructure. What they sometimes sacrificed was their support for higher pay for workers and better working conditions generally because those campaigns would prevent them from attracting the businesses they needed. This in turn caused many workers to gradually see Die Linke as part of the “establishment.”
AfD took advantage of this, declaring itself to be the real anti-establishment party, the party that would really “kick them all out.” They focused, too, on attacking immigrants, claiming they were a major cause of the problems faced by German workers.
The result of all of this is that Die Linke members, peace activists, environmentalists, trade unionists, and their allies have their work cut out for them in Germany. Progressives and the left will have to move in the direction of building mass support for real solutions to the problems of German workers that go way beyond just winning seats for Die Linke and the Greens or somehow reinvigorating the SPD in the state and national parliaments. (IPA Service)
Courtesy: People’s World