Debates in Britain about whether the Labour party has fundamentally changed its character can be a bit parochial. The interesting thing is that there is European wide phenomenon of the formerly social democratic parties wholeheartedly adopting neo-liberalism, and a space is opening for parties to the left of them.
The election results in Bremen last weekend were of historical significance. The Left party (Die Linke) won 23189 votes (8.4%) and for the first time gained representation in a regional parliament (Landestag) outside of the regions that comprised the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). The German result also throws, light on the relationship between the left and the Greens, and how a successful hard left challenge can squeeze out the fascist vote.
Die Linke is currently a coalition between the WASG, (led by former SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine, and comprising social activists and trade unionists mainly in the West), and the PDS (the left social democratic party that has evolved out of the former ruling SED in the DDR, led by former dissident lawyer Gregor Gysi)
Currently Die Linke have 53 MPs in the federal parliament (pictured above) having won three seats under first past the post at the last election, and 50 more on the top up list. (Interestingly, given how controversial the issue of reserved seats for women has been for some on the British left, Die Linke has 26 women MPs)
Up till now their electoral support has mainly been in the East, the breakthrough in Bremen is therefore highly significant.
In five weeks time the two parties will formerly merge into one, and as Lafontaine says “Such a good result even before the merger is a certain sign that a united left can achieve more than either the former PDS or WASG can alone.”
Oskar Lafontaine is a most significant figure, with no obvious comparison in British terms. Imagine someone with John Prescott’s position in the government and the party, but with Tony Benn’s politics and reputation for personal integrity. So his split from the SPD was a major event.
Greor Gysi is clear that not only has the SPD changed its character, but this is a European wide phenomenon. “The Left Party is an important correcting factor in society. There are parties to the left of social democracy playing such a role in the whole of Europe. Our emergence make Germany normal. The SPD has become anti-social democratic. The unemployed and low paid (Prekariat) need a voice. There must be a left party that says, yes, we will not allow the weakest in society to be forgotten”
According to Linksruck, the SWP’s sister organisation in Germany, opinions polls showed that for most people in Bremen (69%), Die Linke was seen as the party that put social justice as its first priority, compared to 39% for the Greens and 36% for the SPD. In Bremen the SPD were in coalition with thr Tories of the CDU, and Die Linke seem to have taken most votes from the SPD, but significantly they also took votes from the fascist DVU.
Linksruck also includes a detailed break down of the vote, that is very interesting:
The overall left vote was 8.4%, but they were underrepresentred among women (7%) and first time voters (7%), and their strongest support came from the 45-59 year olds (13%). There is therefore opportunity for improvement with young and women voters, but significantly the age group that as most influence in the unions is well represented, and they have significnat votes from the age group who can remember the DDR.
Apparently the Greens vote went up to 16.%, their best ever result in a Landestag (regional parliament), representing a challenge to the left, and most new Green voters turned to them becasue of the environemental issue, particularly climate change.
But as Linksruck observes this actually represents a strategic oportunity for the left. Although the Greens are identified with combatting climate change, in Germany at least, they are also indentified with using market mechanisms to acheive that. In Berlin-Brandenburg the Greens have been clearly in favour of privatisation, and have engaged in red-baiting. Unlike the Green party in England and Wales, Die Gruene are a generally centre-right party.
If the left can develop over the next few years an anti-capitalist politics of ecological and economic sustainabilty then they can replace the Greens.