The recent German regional state elections in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern brought losses for the Left Party - the former East German Communist Party the PDS - and gains for the Nazi NPD party.
In Berlin, where the Left Party formed a coalition government with the SPD, which is similar to New Labour, since 2001, it lost nearly half of its vote. Its vote dropped to 185.000 from 366,000. The WASG, which is the other left wing grouping, stood on a leftist platform against the Left Party and won 2.9 percent.
The WASG in Berlin was deeply split over the question of standing in the election. It decided only by 51 percent to 49 percent to do so. The Berlin SPD’s vote was up slightly to 30.8 percent. It can now form a government either with the Green Party, whose vote went up by 4 percent to 13 percent, or with the Left Party.
In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, in north east Germany, where the SPD and the Left Party (PDS) have been in coalition government since 1998 the Left Party gained slightly, up from 16.4 percent to 16.8 percent.
But it lost 21,000 votes. It was the SPD which lost heavily, falling from 40.6 percent of the vote in 2002 to 30.2 percent.
In both state the governing parties lost heavily. The relative success of the Left Party in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is because it took a more left wing position against its bigger coalition party. In Berlin the SPD managed to degrade the Left Party, portraying it as doing the doing the dirty work of making cuts to services.
The real shocking news however was the huge gains of the openly Nazi NPD in the north.
It gained 7.3 percent and now has members in three state parliaments in east Germany.
There is very high unemployment in east Germany, especially in rural areas near the Polish border. Unemployment among young people is around 40 percent. Some 22 percent of men under 30 voted for the Nazis, as did 17 percent of the unemployed.
A recent survey found that seven out of ten young boys and girls are afraid of not finding a job after finishing their school and training.
The real reason behind the Nazi’s gains is not “authoritarian” or undemocratic upbringing in the former “communist” East Germany. It is growing social insecurity and impoverishment under wealthy capitalism.
The Left Party lost its appeal to these young people by becoming part of the problem instead of being the hope for a solution, by joining the state governments. Taking responsibility for social cuts and for privatisation of public services like in Berlin and - to a lesser degree - in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, drove former left voters into abstaining, such as in Berlin, or even into the arms of the fascists.
The Left Party is not primarily responsible for that. The “grand coalition” of the SPD and the Tory Christian Democrats in the national government has to be blamed for people becoming “sick of politics”.
But the left has to make sure that it doesn’t “lend its hand” to the capitalist parties and their attacks on working class living standards.
The WASG and the Left Party are about to join forces. There are lots of members of the WASG who are rightly critical of “governmental socialism” like that of Berlin.
But it would be a big mistake if that criticism led to the conclusion that the separation of WASG and the Left Party would open up a positive perspective for resistance against the neo-liberal onslaught.
There are many critical voices in the Left Party who are ready to join forces with the WASG. The coming months are a critical time for socialists in Germany.
Neither the opportunism of the “governmental socialists” nor left sectarianism like that of the Berlin WASG-majority shows the way forward. Only the confidence of class struggles from below like the recent strikes of students, doctors, steel workers and hospital workers will help the left forces in the new united Left Party to gain an upper hand.