Sarah Wagenknecht

Image: Bence Szemerey


New party reshapes German political landscape

Germany is in a serious crisis. In the midst of an economy in crisis and an increasingly unpopular government, the country is beginning to express all the stress it is going through. Half a year ago, the head of the German automaker Volkswagen already warned that “the roof is on fire” and the The Economist, concluded that the “disaster” – not just the decline but the collapse of the German car industry – “is no longer inconceivable".

At this time, the beginning of winter 2024, German farmers are carrying out protests increasingly larger, forcing concessions from the government coalition; trains run irregularly thanks to a strike; the wholesale trade sector has re-entered the pandemic level of pessimism, “sinking hopes for a quick recovery of Europe’s largest economy” (according to Bloomberg); residential property prices fall at a record high and the commercial real estate market “collapsed”, according to the main German magazine, The game.

Besides, The Economist, considers that Germany was lowered – in reality, he demoted himself – from the role of European leader (or, at least, of the European Union) to the position of second fiddle or less (which would fall to France): “Angela Merkel was the undisputed leader of continent, but Olaf Scholz did not wear his mantle”.

That's a very British euphemism. In reality, Germany's toxic (although key) relationship with the US – with the unfortunate attempt to apply the managerial concept of “servant leader” to geopolitics – has subordinated it even more deeply to American neoconservative interests, to such an extent that it has no influence left. Because when you make your loyalty unconditional, you are underestimated. Selling out may be inevitable for anyone but the great powers. Selling yourself for free implies, especially, a lack of horizons.

We could continue listing examples. The problem, however, is simple: Germans love to exaggerate when it comes to airing their misery and “anguish” (as I know, as a German), but clearly something has to be – and will be – given up. The question is what.

A political force that tends to gain from the crisis has just been created (and another party that profits relatively is the AfD [Alternative for Germany]). This January 8th, after much talk and a long gestation, we saw the official foundation of a new party, the Bündnis Sarah Wagenknecht - Vernunft und Gerechtigkeit [Sarah Wagenknecht Alliance – Reason and Justice], or simply BSW. Its leader, Sarah Wagenknecht, was the most popular figure in the far-left party, Die Link [The left], from which he left with a fuss.

As the name (BSW) suggests, this new party is partly a vehicle for Wagenknecht's considerable political acumen and charisma. Opponents of “Red Sarah” – as the popular and generally right newspaper calls it BILD – they like to stereotype her as an “icon”. Now, wiser after the failure of the previous solo flight attempt (with the organization called “Get up”, something like “Get up!”), Sarah Wagenknecht changed course and did her homework; she prepared a well-rounded organization, with competent young leaders around her, and – last but not least – established a solid program. Here’s the main thing, politically: unlike “Get up”, BSW will not quickly implode under the weight of its own problems.

On the contrary, the chances of the party having a strong impact from the start are very good, as polls consistently indicate. The most recent – ​​commissioned by BILD, but conducted by a serious researcher a few days after the creation of the party – reveals that 14% of Germans would vote for BSW in a federal election.

As a comparison: the SPD [Social Democratic Party], one of the main parties in Germany and the political home of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, also reaches 14%. For BSW it is an impressive scenario, but for SPD it is catastrophic. At the same time, the Greens, the second force of the governing “Traffic Coalition”, are at 12%. The FDP [Liberal-Democratic Party], the third force of the same coalition, would not obtain any seats in parliament (as it would not surpass the 5% electoral barrier). Sarah Wagenknecht's own previous party, the Die Link, would have the same fate. The only two parties that would do better than the BWA would be the traditional center-right, the CDU [Christian Democratic Union], with 27%, and the extreme right/populist right, the AfD, with 18%.

In short: with BSW we do not see the constitution of something marginal, but rather a central movement in what appears to be the redefinition of the German party system, consisting of the three traditional ones (SPD, CDU and Greens) plus the two new ones. These come from the extremes of the right and left, but must redefine the center, directly or through pressure on its traditional agents.

Representatives of traditional parties (now threatened) and their experts, as well as the media mainstream, often denounce new challengers as extremists or at least irresponsible populists (just another way of calling them “demagogues”). But they should condemn themselves: the real cause of this movement of tectonic plates is the failure of traditional politics. The rise of challengers marks the reaction to this. Sarah Wagenknecht is correct in this regard: “[German] democracy is threatened mainly” by government policies that make citizens feel increasingly alone and alienated.

Against this backdrop, BSW promises more generous social policies on education, wages and pensions (and higher taxes on the rich). Given that Germany is doing poorly economically, this will resonate. And Sarah Wagenknecht, of a political “nature”, knows how to give the right signals: just like the majority (68%) of Germans (according to research), she just took sides with the revolting farmers.

The media mainstream has been desperately trying to paint the rebellious farmers as extremists who serve or are in some way puppets of – guess who! – Russia. Robert Habeck, minister of the Economist, increasingly besieged [by the rebellion], would even have financing detected from – guess who! – “Putin!” (without, of course, providing any evidence). This time, those old scare tactics aren't working. Sarah Wagenknecht's public call for Olaf Scholz to apologize to truck drivers will resonate more.

Crucially, Sarah Wagenknecht and BSW have combined left-wing social approaches with a set of traditionally conservative stances, thus challenging, for example, the exaggerated development of new gender categories or, as a whole, “symbolic struggles” of hypersensitive terminology, so fashionable in what Sarah Wagenknecht calls the “leftist lifestyle”.

While this resistance to political correctness is a more symbolic – yet effective – operation, the position on the issue of immigration is more substantial. Also in this regard, Sarah Wagenknecht adopted positions closer to the right and center than to the liberal left, highlighting the need for limits and controls. The fact that she herself has an Iranian father and that BSW leaders are not ethnically German gives them a safe starting point for this type of debate, preventing accusations of being racist or xenophobic.

Given that many Germans feel abandoned in the midst of an economic crisis, and alienated – especially because of attempts to re-educate (by the Greens) in a multicultural, gender-obsessed spirit from the urban upper classes – it will be difficult counteract the mix that BSW makes between left-wing social policies, centrist policies and even conservative ones. It is no surprise, therefore, that opponents try to portray Sarah Wagenknecht (and her party) as a monster. This script is predictable and boring: namely, it involves defaming them as pro-Russian or even as agents of Russia.

In fact, Sarah Wagenknecht has positioned her new party to resist pressure for more confrontation with Moscow, particularly on the Ukrainian issue. At this moment, for example, she declares against handing over the German Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine (the latest trend among insatiable “miracle weapons” addicts). In a broader sense, it advocates a change in the policy of military confrontation by proximity [proxy] to one of negotiation and compromise – which, of course, makes perfect sense.

As for their enemies, a certain irony awaits them ahead. They may even feel that accusing Sarah Wagenknecht of being too friendly toward Russia will weaken her appeal. But that ship has already sunk. The days of rampant neo-McCarthyist agitation are over. Fortunately, it is most likely that BSW's reasonable discourse on foreign policy will attract supporters and votes – which tends to happen.

After all, remember: right now Germany is so dependent on the USA that it is treated not just as a vassal, but a vassal whose interests and desires don't even count. Even Germans who distrust Russia will understand that this is generally unhealthy. In its own national interest, Germany needs to restore some balance by rebuilding relations with Russia.

Tarik Cyril Amar, PhD in history from Princeton University, is a professor at Koç University (Istanbul). Author, among other books, of The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv (Cornell University Press).

Translation: Rafael Padial.

Originally published on the portal RT.

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