A breakthrough for a new party that has called for shooting refugees and outlawing most divorces sent a warning from Germany last Sunday.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) surged to second place, with 24 percent of the vote, in the first election it contested in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. The state has seen some of the worst attacks on refugees in a wave of racist violence in Germany.
In the other two western states holding elections, the AfD came third with 15 percent in Baden-Wurttemberg and 12.6 percent in Rhineland-Palatinate.
The elections were a drubbing for chancellor Angela Merkel’s Tory CDU party, and have been widely reported as a referendum on her policy of accepting refugees.
But in Baden-Wurttemberg the Green Party, which campaigned in support of refugees and Merkel, became won a state outright for the first time.
While the left wing party Die Linke won over 16 percent in Saxony-Anhalt, this was down from the last election in 2011.
Marion Wegscheider of socialist group Marx21 told Socialist Worker, “The AfD is a very dangerous party because of all the backward measures it wants to impose. Its Berlin branch just voted for banning the hijab in schools and universities.
“They say this is to deter Muslims from coming to Germany and encourage those here to leave.”
Marion added, “Their views on women are frightening. They want every woman to have at least three children to ‘ensure the continued existence of the German people’. They attack feminism and what they call ‘the superelevation of non-heterosexual people’.
“And they publicly proclaim they would shoot refugees to stop them crossing our borders.”
The AfD also falsely claims to be anti-establishment. Marion says, “One poll showed over 70 percent over AfD voters chose them to ‘punish the other parties’ or to ‘teach mainstream politicians a lesson’.”
Merkel is no friends of refugees—she made a tactical decision to accept the arrivals last year. But since then she has been among those pushing hardest for rotten deals with Turkey to lock down the European Union’s external borders.
This has legitimised a racist backlash, fuelled partly by bitterness over the economy. Unemployment in Saxony-Anhalt stands at 10.8 percent.
Marion said, “The German system is deeply racist and exclusionary and always has been—and that’s combined with economic despair.”
Out of this, the AfD is now emerging as a serious threat.
The AfD also gives political cover for racists to take the streets. In an unprecedented mobilisation last Saturday around 3,000 supporters of Nazi groups marched through the capital Berlin.
The AfD itself held a 5,000-strong march in November and Islamophobic groups such as Pegida have held large and sometimes violent actions.
There have been some counter-protests to these marches and demonstrations against the AfD, something campaigners are keen to build on.
Marion said, “The AfD are enablers—they don’t openly support these actions but their message encourages them.”
The Labour-type SPD and the Greens are already in coalitions with the CDU. Saxony-Anhalt’s Tory premier Reiner Haseloff now calls for a grand coalition of the three. “The democrats of the middle must now stand together,” he said.
But the racist right won’t be stopped by clinging to a “middle” that feeds it. Mass movements of opposition offer more hope.
Workers in Germany held five times more strikes last year than the year before and ordinary people have organised in large numbers to welcome and support refugees.