Germany’s Left Party and the European elections

Published on World Socialist Web Site WSWS, by Lucas Adler, 13 June 2009.

Germany’s Left Party was patently unable to profit from the decline in support for social democracy in the European election held last Sunday. The party had hoped for a double-digit result, but in fact polled 7.5 percent and landed in last place of all of the parties with representation in the German parliament.

The Left Party received just 1.4 percent more votes than its predecessor, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), in the European election five years ago. It thereby failed to meet its proclaimed target of at least 10 percent. In absolute votes, its total amounted to around 390,000 new voters. Notable is the fact that the party only gained fresh support in the western states, while suffering substantial losses in the east of the country. Previously the Left Party had been able to rely on substantial support from the east based on the influence of its predecessor in the region, the post-Stalinist PDS. 

In the western states the Left Party won on average between 2 and 4.6 percent of the vote, twice the total gained by the PDS five years previously. In Bavaria and Baden Würtemberg the left Party trebled its vote and obtained six times as many in the small state of Saarland. Saarland (12 percent) and in Hamburg (6.7 percent) were the only states where the Left Party was able to obtain more than 5 percent of the vote …

… On the day before the election another former European deputy, André Brie, fiercely attacked the chairman of the party, Lafontaine, in Der Spiegel. The latter’s authoritarian style and power politics threatened to condemn “the Left Party to political ineffectiveness,” Brie declared. The party is dominated by Lafontaine’s “subordinates,” who use their authority “for their power games and struggles for posts.”

For some time Brie has been considered to be a leading “intellectual” in the PDS. He entered the East German Stalinist Socialist Unity Party (SED) in 1969, was an official adviser to the GDR state apparatus and worked as unofficial employee of the state security service, the Stasi. He belongs to the wing of the Left Party that would prefer to dump any sort of radical rhetoric and verbally dissociate the party from socialism.

Lafontaine regards such a position as premature, but he has no fundamental differences with Brie. The entire party leadership reacted with obvious disappointment to the election result, which undermines its perspective of forming a future coalition government at a federal level with the SPD and Greens. With the SPD’s 21 percent and the Greens’ 12 percent, the three parties were able to gain a combined total of just 40 percent in the European election.

In his statement on the election results, Oskar Lafontaine publicly expressed his disappointment with the poor result notched up by the SPD. He blamed the unemployed, low-income earners and pensioners, who were disenchanted with the institutions of the European Union and did not turn out to vote. They felt themselves to be isolated and reacted with abstention and resignation, Lafontaine declared, and concluded, This is “a clear problem for all of democracy.”

Lafontaine could not have more clearly articulated the target group of the Left Party: not workers, the unemployed and pensioners, who have angrily turned their backs on the SPD, but rather the SPD itself, which is losing its electoral base. Brie made the very same point in his interview in Der Spiegel: “The fight against the SPD and the Greens, must be turned into a fight to win them.” (full long text).

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