Thousands of people took to the streets in response to the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party’s general election breakthrough. It won around 12.8 percent of the vote, making it the third largest party in the German parliament with 93 MPs.
This is the first time a far right party has won parliamentary seats in Germany since the Second World War.
The AfD includes hard right nationalists, racists and fascists. The fascist wing has grown in the last year.
It does not mean that Nazis are on the verge of power. They can be thrown back by mass campaigning and positive alternatives.
But the AfD’s rise is another demonstration of a trend across parts of Europe where the bitterness at rulers who implement austerity is grasped by the racist right or the far right.
The AfD is a real threat. Just days before the election Alexander Gauland, one of its lead candidates, said at a rally, “We have the right to be proud of the achievements of the German soldiers in two world wars."
The AfD also pulls the mainstream parties to the right. Last night Merkel promised to listen to the “concerns and anxieties” of AfD voters in order to win back their votes.
Some 3,000 anti-racists protested outside the AfD’s election party in Alexander Platz in Berlin. Chants of “Racism is not an alternative," “AfD is a bunch of racists," and "Nazis out!” rang out in the square.
Security guards were forced to move AfD supporters from the balcony of the building after protesters hurled objects at them. Police secured the area, but people kept streaming into the square.
Lisa, one of the protesters, spoke to the Deutsche Welle newspaper. "Especially in times like these, I think it is really important that we speak up against racism and xenophobia and the AfD’s right wing ideology,” she said.
Hundreds also protested in Frankfurt and Cologne. They assembled at the west German city’s main railway station then marched through the streets carrying a banner reading, "Whoever is silent, is complicit."
The AfD has grown out of a racist backlash against refugees and dissatisfaction with the government. Exit polls showed that 60 percent of AfD voters said they had voted “against all other parties” and only 34 percent voted out of belief in the AfD.
The election is a blow to the ruling “grand coalition” of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Labour-type Social Democrats (SPD). German chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU dropped to 33 percent of the vote from 42 percent in 2013.
Mainstream parties caused a crisis in society and prepared the ground for the AFD
The CDU’s result shows deep discontent with Merkel’s free market reforms and attacks on working class people. The SPD, which has been deeply damaged from helping to drive through these attacks, saw its vote drop from 27 percent to 20 percent.
It is set to be its worst showing since 1945.
Being part of the “grand coalition” also meant it could not offer any real opposition during the election. Now under left wing pressure the SPD has ruled out propping up a right wing Merkel government.
Underlying the result is a general shift to the right in German politics.
After refugees marching down Europe’s motorways forced Merkel to let 1 million refugees, the right went on the attack. They demanded the Germany close its borders—and Merkel made big concessions to their racist arguments.
The Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria, is made up of reactionary Catholic bigots. They created pressure within the Christian Democrats for Merkel to move right on immigration.
This allowed the Free Democrats (FDP), a right wing liberal party, to pose as a right wing alternative to Merkel that doesn’t go along with scapegoating. One possible outcome is a coalition of the CDU, FDP and the Green Party—if the Greens sink low enough to agree.
The left wing Die Linke party’s vote rose by around 1 percent to about 9 percent. But it has not fully capitalised on the disaffection with Merkel or the SPD.
Die Linke tweeted, “We are among the winners in the election. But the election result is also the expression of a shift to the right”.
Christine Buchholz, a Die Linke MP, said, “The entry of the AFD into parliament is bitter. For the first time in decades, Nazis are in the Bundestag.
“A share of responsibility for this is borne by parts of the media that always gave the AFD a stage and took up its themes. And the established parties are also complicit with their restrictive asylum policy, racism and neoliberalism.
“They have caused a crisis in society and prepared the ground for the AFD.”
Die Linke has put itself at the head of struggles against austerity and racism—and the AfD.
But in Berlin, Brandenburg and Thuringia, in the poorer former East Germany, the party has been part of regional governments that voted for privatisation. This blunted putting forward a radical alternative to Merkel and the AfD. It’s significant that in former East the AfD took 23 percent of the vote.
And sections of Die Linke's leadership have made statements that give ground to the right’s racism and Islamophobia.
It will take consistent opposition to the right’s racist agenda and full support for policies that boost the working class to resist the AfD and the next government—and see the left gain.