[ With many, it was less joy than sighs of relief; neither Saxon
nor Brandenburg voters gave the far-right, fascist-leaning Alternative
for Germany (AfD) the Number One position it had hungered for.]
GERMAN ELECTIONS: MIXED JOY AND GREAT SORROW
September 2, 2019
_ With many, it was less joy than sighs of relief; neither Saxon nor
Brandenburg voters gave the far-right, fascist-leaning Alternative for
Germany (AfD) the Number One position it had hungered for. _
Alternative for Germany (AfD) supporters react during an election
campaign event days ahead of the Brandenburg and Saxony state
elections in Koenigs Wusterhausen August 30, 2019., credit - Reuters
// Malay Mail
BERLIN- State elections in eastern Germany on September 1 brought
mixed joy to some and great sorrow to others.
With many, it was less joy than sighs of relief; neither Saxon nor
Brandenburg voters gave the far-right, fascist-leaning Alternative for
Germany (AfD) the Number One position it had hungered for.
In Saxony this was prevented by the rightist but not extremist
Christian Democrat Union (CDU), which held on to the first place it
has held there since German unification in 1990.
But its present coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) is no longer
possible; to obtain the 50 % of parliamentary seats needed to form a
government it must now form a trio. Since for it the AfD and the LINKE
(Left) are taboo, a strange manège-a-trois seems inevitable: CDU, SPD
and the Greens.
In Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, an AfD victory was also
averted when the Social Democrats retained the first place it holds
there since reunification. But its current duet with the greatly
weakened LINKE (Left) must give way to a trio. The Greens are sure to
be invited in as second violin. Will the LINKE be called in again or,
now seen as out of tune, be replaced by the CDU, thus moving this
state toward the right? Either decision is possible.
Thus, in both states, the leading parties held their lead and headed
off the threat by the AfD. But in both states they were painfully
weakened. In Saxony the poor Social Democrats, currently losing
strength everywhere as they feverishly hunt for new national leaders,
got the lowest state election vote in their post-war history—less
than eight percent!
There could be no happy clinking of champagne glasses in either party
As for the Greens, they could be quite satisfied. Until now they were
very weak in East Germany. Now they improved their standing by three
or four points and would now be represented in both states’ new
governments, and soft, warm cabinet seats are far more comfortable
than colder, harder chairs in the opposition. They also offer many
more opportunities, both political and personal.
The AfD missed the victories it had aimed for but had no reason to
complain: In Saxony it jumped from 9.7 % in 2014 to a new high of 23.5
%; in Brandenburg it soared from 9.7 % to a very strong 27.5 %. It
thus became the biggest opposition party in both states; swift
progress for a six-year-old. Those opposition benches did not feel so
hard after all (especially if iron crosses and swastikas were tattooed
under parliamentary apparel). The AfD could be more than happy;
everyone else was well-advised to remain fearful or—far better—to
But alas, hélas, ay, ach and oy vey: the party suffering most last
Sunday was the LINKE. In Saxony, where it had long been the main
opposition party, it sank from nearly 19 % to 10.4 %; it was similar
in Brandenburg; until now junior coalition partner, it now dropped
from 18.6 % in 2014 (and 28 % in 2004) to 10.7 % on Sunday. The
fitting word is “devastating”!
What explains this? Many faithful old GDR leftists are dying out. Just
as important, for years the LINKE was seen as a protest party,
fighting hardest for working people in eastern Germany, who still
justifiably feel they are treated as second-class citizens. Compared
with western Germany, wages and conditions are worse and industry has
never really recovered from its near total destruction when East
Germany was “united” (many now say “colonized”) and West
Germans took control in almost every sphere of society. They have
largely kept it until today; entire regions are economically arid,
empty, deprived of much needed but less profitable shops, cable, bus
and rail connections.
In the 1990s the Party of Democratic Socialism (re-named the LINKE
after it united with a West German party in 2007) often faced extreme
suppression and discrimination. Especially in right-wing dominated
Saxony the ruling CDU constantly equated the LINKE, the GDR and any
socialist ideas or ideals with fascist “totalitarianism”. It still
does. In many hard-hit towns such well-nurtured prejudices encouraged
fascist elements, often in cahoots with Christian Democratic mayors,
police and other authorities, to attack and sometimes prevent LINKE
activities. The stench and threat of violence was often in the
air—and often enough reality.
But in other areas, especially cities, the LINKE gained strength,
often with 20 %, 25 % or more voters, and occasionally won political
positions as mayor, county chair or Bundestag deputy in cities like
Leipzig, Frankfurt (Oder), Potsdam, and even as minister president in
the state of Thuringia. But this gradual achievement of a more
respectable status created, ironically, a wholly different problem.
Even a LINKE mayor or councilor felt it necessary to attract West
German or foreign companies in order to get badly needed jobs (and
taxes for schools, street lamps or other needs). But support for
workers’ struggles for higher pay and better conditions was not
exactly a strong inducement for such companies. Where should a LINKE
mayor or member of a coalition put their stress? Many found it wise to
promote “economic progress”- seeking more jobs and fewer enemies.
No matter what they decided on, the media was sure to distort it,
viciously but cleverly! The result and a main factor in the Sunday
defeats: many East Germans came to view the LINKE as part of the
despised, even hated “establishment”—especially, as was mostly
the case, when the LINKE appeared “moderate”! And, many thought,
at least the AfD was no part of that “bunch up there”!
There are also some parallels with post-Civil War USA. The upper
classes in North and South were able to funnel the resentment and
bitterness of the “losers”, all white, into hatred for “the
others”, the ex-slaves, thus misdirecting any opposition to new
brutal controls in both North and South.
In East Germany, where so many rightly feel they were the losers,
deluded, deprived, discriminated against by condescending
“Wessies” who took over, the AfD has been able to misdirect about
one quarter of the population into taking out their frustration
against those who speak German with an accent, wear unusual clothes or
believe in a constantly denounced Islam. “The ‘others’ were
being favored—at our cost”, they cried.—Shades of Trump!
The severe defeat, like the miserable 5.5 % result in an earlier
European Union election, demands vigorous re-thinking by the LINKE on
policy, strategy and tactics.
I was not in Brandenburg or Saxony this past year and cannot
criticize. But these problems of the LINKE are national in nature,
indeed, often international. I see solutions in far more militant
fights for working people’s rights. Though always an integral part
of LINKE programs and electoral campaigns, I think that words in
programs, on posters or declaimed in parliamentary speeches with TV
sound bites should form only a background for highly visible shows of
strength by “ordinary people”. Despite the malicious media, clever
actions must be sought which bring people away from often overwhelming
stress on multiple apps, video games and the like, and toward outdoor
activities where they join hands and combine their heads and moving
feet to advance their own cause. This should stress friendship and
solidarity with immigrant groups and never neglect the emotional value
of songs and the arts. Many a movement, from Marseilles to Santiago,
from the Civil War to the civil rights struggle, has benefited greatly
from good, fighting songs, in a variety of languages.
In the course of such actions it can be said, though never while
looking down a wiseacre nose, that unaffordable housing costs, bad
jobs, uncertain jobs, or no jobs, fears for the future of one’s
offspring are closely connected with support for lives in dignity and
peace on other continents.
A new home or better school is bound up with larger issues like
armament costs, war and peace, and in the long run with a future goal
of system-changing. That would mean (in East Germany for the second
time) confiscating the immense wealth and power of a small clique of
giants profiteers, from farm seed monopoly to pharmaceutics, from
media control to missile construction, from guzzling cars to guzzling
retail emperors, breaking their grip on all those cheated and
exploited, from an Amazon warehouse in Berlin to a sweatshop in Bangla
Desh. The hopes of seeing workshops run by those who work in them need
to be kept alive or reawakened.
Would bold moves like these revive LINKE strength? Some on the left
have given up on the LINKE, which was also riven by internal quarrels
about a movement called “Aufstehen”, led by the great LINKE
speaker Sahra Wagenknecht, which sadly weakened the party instead of
strengthening it. But if the party should sink lower with the voters,
or split and fall apart, there would be no loudly audible voice or
vote in the Bundestag or the states to oppose wars in Afghanistan or
Mali, to clearly oppose the fascist danger, to speak out for the
rights of working people. The past offers bitter lessons.
If only it can learn from the disaster on September 1st and engage in
militant, well-aimed, visible struggles at the grass roots level, the
LINKE can be rescued before it is too late. In this powerful country,
in these increasingly difficult times, this is desperately necessary!
, and also make it urgently necessary to patch up the year’s nasty
quarrel about the founding of the “Aufstehen” (Stand Up”)
movement led by caucus co-chair Sahra Wagenknecht, which certainly
hurt the party severely in the public eye.
_[Victor Grossman, American journalist and author, is a resident of
East Berlin for many years. He is the author of Crossing the River: A
Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany
[http://www.umass.edu/umpress/title/crossing-river] (University of
Massachusetts Press, 2003), and A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to
[https://monthlyreview.org/product/a-socialist-defector/] (New York:
Monthly Review Press, 2019).]_
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