Socialist Worker

Germany: the odd man out inside a surging European left

As 30,000 take to the streets against austerity in Frankfurt, Stefan Bornost asks why radical left party Die Linke has not seen the success of other European left parties

Issue No. 2304

Campaigning against austerity in Germany—but how is the left doing?  (Pic: Die Linke)

Campaigning against austerity in Germany—but how is the left doing? (Pic: Die Linke)


The biggest demonstration in Germany since the onset of the crisis took place last Saturday.

Around 30,000 people demonstrated against austerity in Frankfurt, on the doorstep of the European Central Bank.

What is really remarkable is that the protest wasn’t about cuts in Germany but elsewhere, especially Greece.

Meanwhile the German economy is booming as a surge of exports to Asia has offset the contraction caused by the eurozone crisis.

Unemployment has halved in the last ten years. Youth unemployment is at its lowest point in 20 years.

This not only marks a sharp difference to the current situation in Greece and France, but also to that of Germany five years ago.

But not all is well in “Merkelland”. Wages have been stagnant for over ten years. And three quarters of the new jobs are temporary and very low paid.

The situation in Germany is made worse by the fact that trade union leaders backed the government after the onset of the crisis.

This has led to a historical low level of class struggle and strikes.

The radical left party Die Linke joined Saturday’s protest and attracted people. That was a much needed sign of life from a party embroiled in a deep crisis.

While the Front de Gauche in France and Syriza in Greece are successfully organising discontent against austerity, Die Linke hasn’t played the same role.

In the last elections in Berlin Die Linke candidates lost votes. Some of their previous supporters simply didn’t vote, but others shifted to the Labour-like SPD or the Pirate Party, which focused on democracy and internet issues.

Die Linke had monopolised opposition to neoliberalism until elections in 2009.

Squeezed

A conservative-liberal government was elected then. Die Linke now shares the role of opposition with the SPD, the Greens and the Pirates.

The left rhetoric of the SPD, promoting a minimum wage and higher taxes for the rich, has squeezed Die Linke.

But the objective factors are only one part of the story. The other part is the political weakness of Die Linke itself.

The party fostered an illusion that through its sheer presence and electoral successes it can improve the lives of its voters. That hasn’t happened. Real change comes from struggle.

But this is not the majority view held in Die Linke. Most hold that parliamentary representation is the main way to conduct politics.

The party was always good in proclaiming solidarity with struggles. It has been much weaker in actually organising them.

And this weakness is shared by both the right and the left in the party.

Now an all-out fight for the future of Die Linke is required before the next party conference in June.

The struggle focuses on whether the left or the right will gain a majority in the next party leadership. But the deeper issues behind the crisis of the party still need to be addressed.

Die Linke could overcome its parliamentary fixation and reboot itself as a party orientated on class struggle.

If it doesn’t it will be the odd man out inside a surging European left.

Stefan Bornost is the editor of Marx21 magazine in Germany


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