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Northern nastiness: Far right becomes second party in German chancellor Merkel's home state

 

 

By Victor Grossman

 

September 15, 2016
 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from The Left Berlin — Old German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once said – or so goes the legend: “If the world ever perishes I’d want to be in Mecklenburg where everything happens fifty years late.” The alarm bells are now loudly ringing, warning that this once feudally most backward part of Germany between Berlin and the Baltic Sea may prove something like the opposite!

 

The elections on Sunday (Sept. 4) were an unmitigated disaster! The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), running for the first time, rang up an amazing 21.9 % of the vote, putting it in second place behind the Social Democrats and beating out Angela Merkel in her own home state! Despite attempts at respectability, the AfD is far, far to the right. Not only does it oppose same-gender marriages, abortions and most hard-won rights for women (though two of its prominent leaders are women), it demands a cruel tightening of penal law, even for children, and wants to start up military conscription again.

 

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party is very much for strengthening the Bundeswehr (armed forces); Ursula von Leyen, her ambitious Minister of Defense, is demanding ever more weapons with ever more advanced technology, and is ever more belligerent generally in words and tactics. She has been held back just a tad by some Social Democrats like Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who at times sounds almost sensibly pacific– and is no doubt very much worried about party losses in national polls.

 

But the AfD, till now always ostracized by the others and with no immediate hopes of getting into any coalitions anywhere, says loudly what others may whisper: it demands that “the Bundeswehr make a basic training possible more oriented toward war and foreign deployment … whenever German security interests are involved”. It, too, demand’s more financing for the German weapons industry. The only noticeable difference from today’s government policy of expansion is that the AfD speaks more belligerently and, recalling old-time nationalism, wants to weaken the close military ties with the USA. Germany must again lead the pack, economically and militarily, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

 

These issues are important on a national level for the 2017 elections, with Merkel already weakening under constant attacks from former allies. The main attacks on her are based on an issue which she stated so forcefully one year ago and which people in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (“Meck-Pom”) have also found important. The main AfD talking-point is its opposition to refugees arriving from the war zones or Africa. Although it has become more careful in choosing words and no longer demands the shooting of immigrants who try to cross the border illegally, even women and children, its main attraction is still its hatred of all refugees, and especially Muslims.

 

Actually, the state of “Meck-Pom”, like similarly hate-ridden areas of Saxony, has one of the smallest number of immigrants and few real difficulties. But the AfD agitators, assisted by the media, have succeeded in arousing usual fears of the “Others”. This development is especially dangerous because all leading parties but the LINKE (Left) have retreated in one way or another from that dramatic call by Merkel: “We can cope with this”. Some still admire her words, but many don’t; for the first time her popularity has sunk below the half-way level. She and her party were hit hard by the bitter defeat in Meck-Pom, getting only 19%, with the AfD at nearly 22 %. And it is her own district and home territory.

 

Will the AfD continue its seemingly unstoppable upward rise? In Berlin’s elections in two weeks it will get another good chance, and although it cannot get close to its Mecklenburg numbers, it will almost certainly get all too many seats in the Berlin legislature and in all twelve borough councils, thus winning many beachheads for future expansion.

 

One aspect of this frightening advance worries and saddens me especially. Many of those voting for the AfD, in a very big turnout, were people who did not vote in past elections. They were less interested in an AfD program hyped to them in new, glowing flavors than in registering their disappointment and anger at the old parties, which seemed to be doing nothing to overcome abounding stagnation, lack of decent, steady jobs, and a secure future for themselves and their progeny.

 

This is where the LINKE should be offering answers, fighting answers, paired with street actions, sit-downs and visible people-based moves for achievable improvement, together with a convincing perspective for a better society. It is such methods, I believe, which brought huge gains and near success to the remarkable campaign of Bernie Sanders in the USA and the enthusiasm similarly aroused by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. They called, with both facts and emotion, for resistance to the One Percent on top, who are getting ever more obscenely wealthy while poisoning the world with over-priced, dubious pharmacy goods, weed-killers, phonied emission tricks and above all weapons for more and more wars and more and more refugees, from which they were the main profiteers.

 

The LINKE, so far as I know, has worked for local improvements whenever it had seats on a local or state council, but refrained from either calls to action or calls for a future, better society. It should have challenged all other major parties on this, because they all have betrayed their constituents and their promises. The gap they left open, which the LINKE should have filled, was stuffed instead by the loud-mouth, aggressive AfD, while it focused instead on joining up in more state coalition governments and, as a main aim, getting cabinet posts at the federal level in a Social Democratic-Green-LINKE coalition.

 

On the Berlin state level, after the coming elections on September 18th, this combination seems quite attainable. But aiming at such goals means hurting no potential partner’s feelings, refraining from militancy, offering compromises, and thus losing any real reason for angry citizens to vote for it. They see it being diluting into a slightly more leftish but much weaker version of the Social Democrats. So why vote for it? And aside from Thuringia, where the rules may be different, every time the LINKE joined up in a state coalition it lost many voters and ended up far weaker than before. Will it make this same mistake after the Berlin election? Will it try for this same solution on the federal scale? And if so, what then?

 

Election Results: (In parentheses what they got 5 years ago)

 

SPD – 30.5 (35.6),

 

AfD – 20.8 (0.0),

 

CDU – 19.0 (23.0)

 

LINKE 13.2 – (18.4)

 

And, with no seats, since under 5 %

 

Greens – 4.8 (8.7)

 

Free Dems 3.0 (2.8)

 

NPD 3.0 (6.0)

 

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A victory of the far right in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania

By Manuel Kellner

http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article4704

Mecklenburg- West Pomerania is a Land (region) in the north-east of Germany, situated on the territory of the ex-GDR. There are only 1.33 million voters. Nevertheless, the result of the regional elections on September 4 in this Land is shaking up the political debate in Germany, up to federal level. It was a spectacular victory for the AfD (Alternative for Germany, similar to the National Front in France or UKIP in Britain). All the other parties lost votes to it, especially the SPD (social-democrats) the CDU (Christian democrats) and even more Die Linke (The Left).

In 2011, only 51.5 per cent of the electorate took part in the elections; this time it was about 61 per cent. It was especially the AfD, with an aggressive racist and xenophobic profile, that was able to mobilize public attention and the votes of those who had not gone to the polls five years ago.

The SPD, which had governed together with the CDU, remains the strongest party, with 30.6 per cent of the vote, but lost five percentage points. According to the Forschungsgruppe Wahlen institute, it was the popularity of its outgoing minister-president Erwin Selering that enabled it to limit the damage. According to the polls, 75 per cent of electors recognized that he “did a good job” as head of government and two-thirds want him to be re-elected to his post.

The AfD, standing for the first time in this Land, won 20.8 per cent of the vote and thus becomes the second political force in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania from an electoral point of view. Although there are very few immigrants and refugees in this Land, the noisy demagogic calls by the party to fight without mercy against the “wave” of refugees, Muslims, terrorists, spongers on the German social system, against Chancellor Angela Merkel for being irresponsible because she supposedly invited everyone to take refuge in Germany, against the “establishment politics” which does not care about ordinary people and the national interest, etc., functioned very well. Later, we will suggest some reasons for this sinister success.

The CDU only won 19 per cent of the vote, which corresponds to a loss of four points and represents its historically worst result in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. Furthermore, from an electoral point of view; it came behind the AfD in this Land. In the public debate in Germany, this bad result is especially interpreted as a political slap in the face for Angela Merkel and her supposedly too friendly and welcoming attitude towards refugees. Die Linke, with 13.2 per cent of the vote, lost even more, 5.2 per cent. Its political profile is rather moderate (as in all the new Länder of the ex-GDR), and especially dreams of co-governing with the SPD and the Greens. Die Linke is broadly perceived as being part of the political establishment; The liberal FDP, with a miniscule advance on 2011 (when it got 2.8 per cent), with 3 per cent will still not be represented in the regional parliament. The same goes for the fascistic NPD, which only won 3 per cent of the vote (6 per cent in 2011). This party is of course the “victim” of the spectacular success of the AfD, which attracted a big majority of the far-right electorate.

Taking a look at the absolute figures, we can see some examples of the movement of electors towards other parties, published by the infratest dimap institute. The almost 21 per cent of the vote won by the AfD corresponds to 167,000 electors, mostly men, considerably fewer women. The AFD was able to mobilize 56,000 of those who did not vote in 2011 and also 23,000 electors who voted for very small parties in 2011. The AfD took 23,000 votes from the CDU, 20,000 from the NPD, 18,000 from Die Linke, 16,000 from the SPD and 3,000 from the Greens. So the AfD made gains across the board. Especially, its hold over a significant part of the left electorate will have to be carefully discussed in the ranks of Die Linke.

In the new parliament of Mecklenburg- West Pomerania (which counts 71 seats) the SPD won 26 seats, the AfD 18, the CDU 16 and Die Linke 11. So a government of the SPD along with Die Linke remains possible (with 37 seats against 34 for the CDU and the AfD together). But this choice does not seem probable as things stand. The AfD has declared, before and after the elections, that it will not take part in any coalition, giving as its reason that within a coalition with the established parties it would not be able to attain its main objectives. The most likely outcome is the continuation of the “grand coalition” of the SPD and the CDU. But we will have to wait for the results of the negotiations between the representatives of the parties concerned.

The spectacular success of the AfD is very probably linked to the fact that the parties that make up the government at federal level (CDU and SPD), particularly under the pressure of the Bavarian CSU, do a great deal to validate the demagogy of the far-right. They do everything to prevent the refugees from coming to then European Union and to Germany. They made the shameful deal with Erdogan’s Turkey; they have on two occasions reduced the right of asylum to tatters and made even more uncomfortable the situation of the refugees in Germany. Following a well-known politico-psychological mechanism, people prefer to vote for the original than the copies. The electorate of the AfD can with reason think that the electoral strengthening of the party really exerts an influence on the policies implemented, even though the AfD remains an opposition party.

As for Die Linke in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, even though it has interesting things to say in criticising unbridled neoliberal capitalism and makes good proposals concerning the welcoming of refugees, more social policies, for a more equitable sharing of wealth, etc., it in no way comes across as an anti-capitalist and internationalist alternative. It announces quite clearly its readiness to govern with the SPD and the Greens. On the European Union, for example, it only proposes to reform and democratise it. Moreover, it announces its willingness to respect “budgetary discipline” in order to bring the debt down to zero by 2020 (which is the entrance ticket for anyone to take part in government in Germany). Die Linke appears as being part of established politics – in a political climate that is more and more polarised and in a context of more and more obvious discontent among a growing part of the population.

The nostalgia for the former GDR is certainly present in the ranks of the party in the new Länder of eastern Germany. For example, on August 20 Helmut Holter, the principal candidate of Die Linke in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, took part in the Landeswandertag (a day excursion or traditional annual ramble) of the Volkssolidarität (popular solidarity), an association for social assistance which already existed in the GDR. The participants in this kind of events are in general not very young, to say the least. But at the same time Die Linke in the new Länder still signs the declarations of ritual condemnation of the GDR as “Unrechtstaat” (a term invented by German conservatives to put on the same level the Nazi dictatorship and that of the SED – the “communist” party of the GDR) that are regularly imposed by the SDP if it goes into a collation with Die Linke.

The AfD has no problem adapting to feelings of nostalgia towards the GDR past, which can very well correspond to an extreme politico-cultural conservatism. Die Linke has a tendency to justify the policies of Putin’s Russia (although that goes, alas, much more strongly for the majority of its anti-capitalist wing). As for the AfD, it supports Putin’s Russia openly and without any embarrassment.

September 5, 2016

Manuel Kellner is a member of the coordination of the isl (international socialist left), one of the two public fractions of the Fourth International in Germany and also a member of the editorial board of Sozialistische Zeitung (SoZ), a publication that represents the views of the isl. He was from May 2010 to May 2012 scientific advisor to Michael Aggelidis, a comrade of the isl, who was at that time a Die Linke member of the Land parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia.

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