The rapid ascendancy of Die Linke, the new German left party, is causing a crisis for all other mainstream parties – particularly the conservative CDU and the SPD, Germany’s equivalent of New Labour. Both parties share power in a coalition government.
Elections in the northern port city of Hamburg last weekend saw Die Linke win 6.4 percent of the vote – enough to win seats in the regional parliament. The party’s Hamburg success follows similar gains in January in both Hesse and Lower Saxony.
It is now beyond doubt that the party – which is less than one year old – has made a breakthrough into the west from its previous electoral base in the former East Germany.
Die Linke campaigns hard on issues such as low wages and job losses. It is also active in the movement against German support for Nato’s war in Afghanistan.
In both the Hamburg and Hesse elections, the success of Die Linke helped rob the governing CDU of an outright victory. But it also made the construction of alliances between other parties more difficult.
The CDU’s preferred partner is the pro-business FDP party – but it was wiped out in Hamburg. And the SPD’s friends in the Green Party saw their vote slump from 12.3 percent to 9.6 percent – so an SPD/Green alliance does not command enough seats to form a government either.
This has opened up the possibility of an alliance between either the CDU and the SPD or the CDU and the Greens.
Such an alliance may be able to produce a government of sorts – but it will feed the widespread and growing cynicism with “official politics”.
Until recently the national SPD has shunned Die Linke out of fears that it would give the party “respectability”.
It has refused to discuss forming governing coalitions, despite a history of cooperation between the two parties at a local level in cities such as Berlin.
Now the SPD is being forced to reconsider its position. But any such negotiations would be fraught with danger for the left. Die Linke’s success comes precisely because it is seen as standing outside the murky world of deals and alliances.
The left in Germany is in an excellent position to turn electoral success into a mass party that seeks to use the power of ordinary people to transform society.
There is widespread anger over the failure of Germany’s “economic growth” to improve the lives of working people. This could be mobilised into an active campaign against the neoliberal economic agenda shared by all the mainstream parties.