The prospect of a united left electoral challenge has thrown the establishment parties in Germany into panic.
Opinion polls show that an alliance between WASG, a left breakaway from the equivalent of the Labour Party (the SPD), and the PDS former Communists could gain anywhere between 6 and 18 percent of the vote.
Under Germany’s proportional representation system that would be enough to get it into parliament in a general election that could take place in September.
A sign of the potential for the coalition came last week at a meeting in the east German city of Chemnitz addressed by Oskar Lafontaine.
He was a leading figure on the left of the SPD who recently resigned and called for the formation of a left electoral pact.
The 2,000-strong crowd cheered his attack on his former party for capitulating to neo-liberalism. “We are the people,” he said, echoing the slogan of the movement that tore down the Berlin W all in 1990. “We are not the pawns of an industrial class that is only interested in furthering its own ends.”
German chancellor Gerhard Schröder last week indicated he has no intention of veering away from the welfare cuts that have produced such bitterness towards the SPD in its heartlands.
SPD chairman Franz Müntefering, who is from the trade union wing of the party, retreated from earlier anti big business rhetoric and instead threw his weight behind Schröder.
That has further opened up space to the left of the SPD. Under German electoral law it is illegal for two parties to stand together as a coalition.
Instead the proposal left activists are discussing is for the PDS to change its name to Democratic Left-PDS and open up its election lists to candidates from WASG.
There are doubts among some supporters of the WASG about such a deal — partly because of the PDS’s association with the former East German regime and because it has made cuts where it has been in coalition in local government in east Germany.
However there is a powerful surge towards constructing a united left challenge.
Representatives of important youth organisations, for example, have issued an appeal calling for it to happen. It says, “The opportunity is historic. The responsibility is great. We young people demand the PDS and WASG stand candidates together.
“Where there’s a political will, there’s a way. A left grouping of MPs with contradictions between them is better than a parliament with no contradictions in it.”
Bernd Riexinger, leader of the giant Verdi union in the city of Stuttgart, is among those who have issued a powerful call for unity. He says that if, as expected, the Tories and the Liberals form the next government then the SPD is likely “to swing left verbally ”.
That could reduce the room for manoeuvre for forces to the left, but not so much if the left had broken through at the elections.
The central question, says Riexinger, is to “demonstrate to millions that there is an alterative to neo-liberalism”. That can spur on the struggles needed to resist whatever government is elected.
WASG website (in German) www.wahlalternative-asg.de