Germany – new actors on the scene

Image: Francesco Ungaro
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By EDUARDO J. VIOR*

A torrent that could deconstruct the liberal state and threaten American domination over Germany

By expelling the historic leader of the Marxist current from the Left party (Die Linke), the party leadership did him a favor rather than harm. The great damage, by contrast, was inflicted on itself and, paradoxically, on its counterpart in the other spectrum of the German political system: the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland – AfD). Breaking all the dams of the sclerotic German political system, Sahra Wagenknecht has a pacifist, socialist and popular speech, which earned him the simultaneous sympathy of left-wing and conservative voters. If it manages to build a transverse force now, it will unleash a torrent that could deconstruct the liberal state and threaten US domination over Germany.

The Left party (Die Linke) called on Saturday, June 10, its former leader, Sahra Wagenknecht, to resign from her mandate in Bundestag (the lower house of the German parliament). Sahra Wagenknecht and other leftists not named by name should return their mandates, the party's national leadership said in a statement. But under the German constitution, Sahra Wagenknecht is not obliged to give up office, even though she remains unaffiliated with the party.

The 54-year-old leader, daughter of an Iranian (hence “Sahra”) and a German, started out as a member of the Socialist Youth in East Germany and, after reunification, joined the Socialist Democracy Party (PDS), successor to the former Unified Socialist Party (SED, for its acronym in German), of the already dissolved German Democratic Republic (DDR). In the new structure, she chaired the Communist Platform for twenty years, an internal orthodox Marxist current. In different periods, she was also part of the national leadership of the party and, since 2009, is a federal deputy. During her career, she has had many clashes with most of the party's leaders, whom she considers "too comfortable" with liberal democracy.

However, it was after the 2021 general elections for parliament, in which The Left lost half of its votes, that coexistence became almost impossible. While the majority current, following the identity drift of the European left, follows an agenda centered on gender politics, on ecologism, on Europeanism, on open borders under the agenda of ghetto multiculturalism, as well as on the discourse of racial affirmation, the left-wing minority , in turn, emphasized his struggle for social rights, pacifism, good neighborliness with Russia and the integration of immigrants into society.

After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the differences became even more acute, because the majority of the party followed the anti-Russian path of most of the European political system, while the most left sectors manifested themselves in favor of the immediate search for negotiations with the Russia, while denouncing the United States as the actual instigator of the conflagration in Eastern Europe.

Although Sahra Wagenknecht has always clashed with the ruling line of the party, its leadership, until recently, held back because the leader is very popular. However, the confluence, in fact, of Wagenknecht with some positions defended by the Alternative for Germany (AfD), frankly right-wing, was what spilled the glass. Last March, the leader launched, together with the historic feminist Alice Schwarzer, a “Manifesto for Peace”, which collected numerous signatures from personalities (including AfD leaders) and called for a massive pacifist act in Berlin. From then on, statements by her and Alternative leaders followed, agreeing to call for negotiations with Russia and condemn the economic and social policy of the current government coalition.

As early as last March, a survey by the magazine Der Spiegel indicated that conservative voters, especially AfD supporters, would support a possible party that Sahra Wagenknecht would found. Overall, 25% of the population could “definitely” or “very likely” recognize themselves by voting for a party led by Wagenknecht. If the leftist leader enters the ring with her own background, she could become a dangerous competitor for the AfD, because she enjoys great popularity with right-wing voters and, with the combination of her criticism of unmanaged immigration policy and her consciousness of common life, touches a sensitive chord for them.

Viewed in perspective, this seems to be the only development that could curb the growth of the nationalist right in Germany. A YouGov poll published on Friday, June 16, reported that 20% of German voters would cast their vote for the AfD, making it the second largest party, behind the center-right CDU (28%) and ahead of the SPD of the Chancellor Olaf Scholz (19%). There is no doubt that this is a political earthquake.

After just a year and a half in power, the current “traffic light” coalition (because of the colors that identify the parties that make it up), established between the SPD, the Greens (15% of voting intentions) and the Free Democrats, the FDP ( with 7%), it no longer enjoys support to govern. In the 2021 general elections, the SPD had won 25,7% of the vote; the FDP, 11,5%; and the Green Party, 14,8%. His inability to resolve the economic crisis and bring down inflation, his insistence on an unpopular ecological transition, his incompetence in managing the flood of asylum seekers that enter the country and his subservience to the logic of the US war against Russia have stripped him of all legitimacy. This abrupt fall of the coalition leaves a void that the right-wing AfD thought it could fill.

20% is already a significant mark in a fragmented political system like the German one, and there are even political observers who place the potential limit of the AfD around 30% of votes. Until now, a coalition with the AfD has been taboo for the two majority parties, the CDU and the SPD. In the current situation, however, the CDU faces a dilemma: return to the paralyzing “grand coalition” with the SPD, from the time of Angela Merkel, or form a government with the right-wing AfD.

The point is that the AfD is at its peak, and once the 20% barrier is crossed, it will be more difficult to exclude it from a governing coalition. The recession in Germany seems to be lasting and will favor anti-system alternatives. Also the uncontrolled growth of immigration contributes to the growth of the AfD. According to official figures, the number of asylum applications in Germany increased by 80% between January and March 2023, compared to the same period of the previous year.

In a context of crisis and war, this increase is undoubtedly due to the country's central position, but also to the strength of its reception structure. However, as Sahra Wagenknecht highlighted in an interview, the problem does not lie so much in the number of refugees that the country accepts, but rather in the lack of integration policies aimed at improving coexistence between residents and newcomers.

Furthermore, the SPD, the Greens and the Liberals have spent a fortune to support Ukraine. The AfD, which is Eurosceptic and advocates for improving relations with Russia, is consequently taking advantage of the fact that about a third of Germans are not in favor of war against Russia. For example, only 28% of respondents in the latest poll support the delivery of German fighter planes to Ukraine, and 55% say that the search for negotiations to end the war should be intensified. Only the AfD and Sahra Wagenknecht's socialist left support these claims.

Similarly, rejection of the European Union (EU) is growing. Eighteen percent of respondents strongly disagree with the notion of a European identity. At the same time, the number of Europhobes and Eurosceptics is increasing equally, by 41% and 56% respectively. The majority of the population (also in other European countries) resists delegating more sovereign capacity to the EU.

On top of all that, last year the Greens ended nuclear power and pushed the idea of ​​a transition to renewables at breakneck speed, to the point of generating a backlash among voters. The costs of the energy transition are unsustainable for the lower middle class and the poorest families. Right and left also capitalize on this discontent.

In the short term, a political stagnation is approaching based on the inability of the four most important parties (CDU/CSU, SPD, FDP and Verdes) to find solutions to the crisis, as well as their submission to US policy. American. In turn, after the expulsion of the socialist left, the Left party may fall below 5% of the vote and lose parliamentary status. The possibilities for the established parties to form, among themselves, government coalitions with a sufficient majority have been significantly reduced. The AfD aspires, then, to be indispensable in the formation of a federal government at some point, but now it must fear competition from the authentic left.

Washington took advantage of the pretext of the war in Ukraine to, through sanctions against Russia, cut Berlin's ties with Moscow and Beijing. The rise of the right-wing party now suggests the possibility that the Federal Republic of Germany could regain its autonomy. However, its xenophobic and racist components provoke the reaction of the liberal middle classes and put all of its neighbors on alert, even more so when the growth of the right in Germany can encourage the candidacy of Donald Trump in the United States. A left-wing alternative would reduce such fears, but would provoke a US reaction.

Germany does not seem to have alternatives. Only the resumption of relations with Russia and China could give it breath. For this reason, the chancellor and presidents of the country's largest industrial corporations met last Tuesday in Berlin with the Chinese prime minister, Li Qiang. There, they reaffirmed the need to revive ties in both directions between the two powers, but that could come too late.

Deteriorating living conditions and growing panic in a population feeling insecure will do their job. It is hardly predictable that, in the current stagnant political map, a new socialist force will converge with democratic nationalism (which is also part of the AfD). But a new leftist party, popular and radically democratic, could move the board. The growing breakdown of the German political system will require decisions to be taken before the year is out. Either the government moves or society will move. Meanwhile, new actors are entering the scene.

*Eduardo J. Vior, sociologist and journalist, he is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).

Translation: Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel.

Originally published on Telam agency.

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