By Victor Crossman
German national elections held on October 26 gave a rebuff to the ruling centre-right Christian Democrats and made the Social Democratic Party (SPD) the leading party, imparting a swing against the right. But simultaneously, the results showed that the Left Party De Linke got only 4.9 per cent of the votes nearly half of 9.2 per cent received by the Party in 2017 elections.
The only comforting fact is the though the Party performed below minimum 5 per cent voting floor level, its winning of three delegates in the districts in the elections gave it the option under which the Party could convert the voting percentage into seats. So De Linke will be getting 39 seats as against 69 seats it got in Bundestag in 2017 elections. As a result, the De Linke members will be able to be vocal in Parliament to voice the issues concerning the people and also will be entitled to the privileges granted to other recognized political parties.
This near total disaster, saved by a thin thread, is of great importance. Germany, the most powerful country in Europe, is intent on economic and military expansion on a scale second only to the United States (and/or China). In a quest for supremacy, it still plays second fiddle to the Pentagon and Wall Street but is aiming at bass viol strength. All the German parties support these endeavours, and all have ties—some very close, some more complex—with powers-that-be like Bayer-Monsanto, BASF, Daimler, Aldi, Krupp, Rheinmetall, and Deutsche Bank.
All but The Left, that is, with no such ties and alone in opposing a dangerous course which, despite good business with both, moves ever more belligerently towards confrontation with Russia, China, or both. A few voices in the SPD have called for the removal of American nuclear bombs from German soil or opposed armed drones, but they were not the voices of Olaf Scholz or Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. As for the Green leaders, they are loudest in demanding that Germany “stand up” to Russia. In the Bundestag, The Left has been alone.
Why has The Left lost so severely, reducing its solo voice to an even smaller whisper?
One reason, doubtless, was a red-baiting campaign by the Union’s Armin Laschet. In the last weeks of the campaign, desperate to regain party strength, he warned dramatically of a threatening SPD-Green-Left takeover which would plunge poor Germany into a Bolshevik hell like that still peddled daily as typical of the German Democratic Republic, the old East Germany. But that was neither new nor successful. The pressures of the coronavirus also played a part, limiting efforts of smaller parties to reach voters.
Far more injurious, though, were the endless quarrels among its leaders, gladly played up in the mass media, and often centering around the personality of Sahra Wagenknecht, the party’s finest orator and best known media figure but who, step by step, has broken with her former leading positions in the party. Whether this was based on personal animosities and jealousies, personal ambition, or genuine strategy differences, it boiled up during the campaign and did plenty of damage to the party’s image.
But for many on the left, the main cause of defeat was the hope of some party leaders to join with the SPD and the Greens in a coalition government. For years this was only a tiny possibility, but when the Greens and the SPD gained so swiftly in the polls, it began to look as if they might look to The Left for the necessary delegate majority to harness up a troika team and rule the German roost.
With this goal in sight, The Left electioneering turned more and more against the Christian Union and the big-biz Free Democrats, while sparing the Greens and the SPD so as not to hurt their feelings, alluding only to mild differences which could surely be ironed out.
This, however, required a willingness to compromise on basic questions, while both SPD and Greens stuck to their guns—almost literally. Could The Left, if in the government, further oppose NATO and call for a wider and peaceful combination of European states—including Russia? Would it continue to reject deploying Bundeswehr troops to foreign conflicts or on foreign missions? If it did, it was insisted, they could be not be included in any governing coalition.
Despite the agreed-upon Left party program, this is where some of its candidates and leaders weakened: “We should not remain too hard-headed,” “We must distinguish between good missions and bad ones,” “We must weigh each mission individually,” etc.
This policy of going easy on the SPD, the Greens, and its own principles backfired disastrously. Voters who disliked or feared the post-Merkel Union did not so often vote for the far-right AfD (except in embittered Saxony and Thuringia) as for the SPD and the Greens, leaving The Left in the lurch—as a weak and hardly effective part of the Establishment. Its main candidate, Janine Wissler, did her best to counteract this trend but felt compelled to walk a narrow, rocky path in debates and interviews. And 600,000 former Left voters switched to the SPD.
On many economic issues, and especially on war and peace, the delegates of The Left fought valiantly in the Bundestag. But the party was far too rarely visible in struggles in the streets, in the shops, fighting evictions, or in other sectors of everyday life and struggle where people felt most affected. Its candidates were almost always intellectuals or, if from the working class, then from its white or pink collar sectors. Few even hard-hit voters connected The Left with their personal problems.
There were exceptions. In Bremen, the active Left was strong enough to get into the city-state government—and keep fighting. The Left delegate in Leipzig who saved the party from near oblivion, the teacher Sören Pellman, went frequently to marketplaces or wherever people gathered, spoke with them, and tried to help them whenever he could, a conduct he recommended for others. He received an amazing 22.8% of the vote, far more than any other—or his own party.
A big example of successful contact with the people was in Berlin, where an active non-party group fought to get their initiative on the ballot: “Confiscate Deutsche Wohnen”—the company owning 110,000 apartments in the city and constantly forcing long-time tenants out so as to gentrify the buildings, causing an acute shortage of affordable apartments. The real estate giants would be recompensed at market rates for such confiscation, but the tenants, with city ownership, would be saved from any more rent increases and from evictions.
Happily, The Left supported the group; within a few months, it helped in getting 350,000 signatures to put it as an “initiative” on the ballot. The Greens also supported it, but only in a lukewarm limited way. The SPD opposed it; it has too many ties to the real estate biggies who, greatly frightened of this new movement, threw everything they could muster against it—but lost.
In a glorious victory—a lone bright spot in the election—the initiative received a fantastic 59% of the votes. It must now be debated and ruled upon in the newly elected city-state legislature. Despite its betrayal, the SPD won the city-state election; its popular candidate will soon be the capital city’s first female mayor, who also opposes confiscation. Perhaps, if The Left had pushed this issue more visibly, and on a national level, it might have had better results. But the issue is still very hot and can become contagious—a good contagion for a change!
The big questions are now: Can The Left become a street- and shop-level fighter in coming struggles? Can it maintain its positions against armaments and military interference around the globe? Can it hold onto and spread its convictions that the billionaires and their monopolies are the biggest menaces to German democracy, to the environment, and to peace? Can it mobilize a vigorous, rousing movement, involving people of Turkish, Kurdish, and other national backgrounds, but especially all the underprivileged and most heavily exploited?
Those are no easy tasks, but they indicate the direction The Left must take if it wishes to play a renewed, growing, and vitally necessary role in adding strong stones while developing the world’s rapidly changing architecture. (IPA Service)