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The German Left after the May 9th election in NRW

posted 22 May 2010, 08:19 by Admin uk   [ updated 18 Feb 2011, 12:36 ]

Unusually, the regional election for the Land of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) was mentioned on the BBC new because its result could determine the fate of the rescue package for the European Union. If Merkel's party lost control of this important Land, which has 18 million inhabitants and is the centre of German industry, her CDU would lose its majority in the Upper House, the Bundesrat and so risk her political programme. 

In the event, the elections on May 9 were a defeat for the CDU, which had run affairs in Duesseldorf since 2005. The party lost a full 10% of its share of the popular vote* and thereby its majority in the Land parliament, a punishment for its starvation of municipal budgets, resulting in closures of many public facilities, threatening swimming pools, theatres and the like. It also represented a rejection of the policies of federal government in Berlin, which has dithered its way through the period since September 2009, looking constantly to the left and right, afraid of offending its  voter base and also fending off demands by its coalition partner, the free market FDP, to lower taxes for the middle and upper classes. 

The social democrats, the SPD, the party which until 2005, had dominated politics in NRW for two generations since 1966, when it and the Green party lost their majority, held victory parties on the night of the poll. The SPD leader Hannelore Kraft yelled, "The SPD is back!" but anyone who can read might taken a different view. The SPD were not celebrating an increase in support, in the number of parliamentary seats or in their share of the vote. They were celebrating the fact that the CDU fared worse than they did and that the CDU/FDP government could no longer continue. In fact the SPD won fewer votes than at any time since 1954. The party could not even maintain the miserable level of support which they had in the 2009 General Election which was the retribution exacted by the masses for the SPD's counter-reformism as junior partner in Merkel's Grand Coalition between CDU and SPD. 

The Greens who had taken part neither in the Grand Coalition in Berlin or in the CDU/FDP coalition in Duesseldorf did have cause to celebrate, almost doubling their share of the vote from 6% to 12%. 

The new entrant in the parliament is the Linke, the Left Party, whose supporters see this as a turning point for establishing the Linke as a party with a proper national presence. One article ran the headline "Victory for the Greens and the Left Party in North Rhine Westphalia elections". In fact, the Linke received just over five per cent of the vote, allowing them to scrape into the parliament. The party failed to maintain the 8% share which it had achieved six months previously when it received 800,000 votes. This time the Linke only managed to pick up 435,000. For the party leadership, gaining seats in a parliament seems to be the best they can strive to achieve and they celebrated the result as a "success".  

The Greens and the Linke both pursued a weakly political election campaign; the larger parties produced vacuous posters with smiling leaders' faces. The Greens and the Linke both concentrated on demands for comprehensive education. The Left Party's posters demanded a minimum wage, no rise in pensionable age, an end to sackings, no public service cuts but also an end to German participation in the war in Afghanistan (hardly a demand for a regional parliament) and the empty slogan to elect "feisty women".  

The SPD also demanded a minimum wage, something which, by the way, larger employers also favoured since dumping wages undercut their share of the market. The SPD came out in favour of coalfired power stations, the Greens and the Linke against. The SPD opposed university fees and wanted to abolish them soon after the election; the Greens and the Linke said the same thing. Generally in almost every area, the three parties had similar policies, with the SPD more cautious and the Greens and the Linke more ambitious. 

Since the election destroyed the majority for the CDU/FDP combination, resulting in 97 seats each for the two blocks of CDU/FDP and the SPD/Greens, a new coalition is necessary to form a government. The Linke with its 11 seats were ideally placed to place demands on the left block and allow the SPD/Greens to take over government. Negotiations  between the three parties eventually took place on May 20, fully eleven days after the elections. Clearly there had been many meetings behind the scenes where the parties agonised over their positions. The SPD is terrified of exposing itself to the accusation of allying themselves with the Linke. The old anti-communist forces document every stray comment by Linke councillors to show that the party is home to ex-communists and DDR-fans, 

Given the political positions of the three parties, it should have been a relatively simple process to work out a programme of common policies. The Linke actually has as part of its programme the public ownership of the great power utilities and the introduction of a 30 hour week. Before the negotiations began, the spokesmen for the party, Wolfgang Zimmermann and Katharina Schwabedissen  prefaced its participation by saying they would not support a government which attacked public services or sacked employees but otherwise they would welcome discussion with a view to cooperation with the SPD and the Greens. Amazingly, the Linke representatives were subjected to a humiliating interrogation about their views on the DDR and although the details have not been made public, it seems they were asked to repudiate the east German state wholesale. This they refused to do, countering that the West German state used antidemocratic and highly dubious practices, citing the Office for Protection of the Constitution monitoring the movement of Linke members. The Greens, ever conscious of their full title "Gruene/Buendnis 90" - the Greens, the Alliance of 90" - which united the west German Greens with the east German democratic movement, flatly refused any further talks with the Linke, accusing them of "relativising democracy" and the SPD concurred. Thus any chance of forming a new SPD/Green minority government or a full SPD/Green/Linke coalition was thrown away. 

The Greens then declared they would go into opposition, the Linke declared itself baffled at their behaviour, saying they had been prepared to sign a document which branded the DDR as a "dictatorship" but that this hadn't satisfied the Greens or the SPD; the SPD has now turned towards the discredited CDU with a view to forming a Grand Coalition in Duesseldorf. Such a coalition will inevitably implement deep cuts in public spending because of lower tax revenues and reduced repayments by central government. The SPD will apparently be party to this new edition of a government of counter-reforms and the decline of the party in the terms of votes and members will continue unless the rank and file members can be mobilised to resist the leaders. On the other hand, the Linke will probably have won much support for loudly and clearly stating its conditions for tolerating a  SPD/Green government.  

A regional government prepared to resist the allegedly objective demands of the state deficit and the national debt would act as a spur to unions to mobilise in defence of jobs and services. A powerful movement could be rallied. But the leaders of the SPD fell at the first fence, being more inclined to seek an alliance with bourgeois parties than the left. The Greens, too, have shown themselves as completely unreliable when it comes to defending the interests of masses. They too have entered a coalition with the CDU in Hamburg. The Linke in the east, where it is a mass party, has shown itself ready to govern with the SPD sacking workers and cutting services. 

How generally should the left wing behave in this situation? Purists in the tiny sectarian socialist groups denounce the SPD, the Linke and all the other left currents for not proclaiming a full programme of socialist transformation. But the key must lie with those who still support the SPD. As long as the mass of workers remain loyal to their leaders, a left majority cannot be mobilised. And part of the problem is the suspicion and hostility with which many Linke supporters rightly view the SPD leaders. It was useful to state preconditions for negotiations, flatly refusing to support any cuts or sackings and now the Linke must now turn consciously and proactively to the members and voters of the SPD, appealing for support for a common defence programme. A mass left wing inside the SPD has not yet emerged. But there is already a network of municipal resistance groups, beginning in Wuppertal, fighting local closures. These have no solution beyond demanding re-routing some subsidies from east German cities to west German cities. The presence of representatives of the two workers' parties, SPD and Linke, could transform the situation regionally and nationally. There is profound hostility towards the bankers and speculators in society. Socialists would begin to find a broad audience for the ideas of a full socialist transformation of the economy and society as the only realistic way of protecting the gains of the working class from attack. The Linke would thus help to begin the building of a left wing inside the SPD in action with a view to the eventual and natural fusion of the two parties, overcoming the rift in the German labour movement which has existed since 1915, steering the labour movement away from the plague of neoliberalism and back to its revolutionary traditions. 

* Results 2010 / 2005 in brackets

CDU 34.6% (was 44.8% -10.3%) 67 seats (was 89 -22)

SPD 34.5% (was 37.1% -2.6%)  67 seats (was 74 -7)

Greens 12.1% (was 6.2% +5.9%)  23 seats (was 12 +11)

FDP 6.7% (was 6.2% +0.6%) 13 seats (was 12 +1)

Linke 5.6% (was 3.1% - combined vote of WASG 2.2% and PDS 0.9% +4.7%)  11 seats (was 0 +11)

Turnout 2005 63% 2010 59.3% 

Walter Held 

in North Rhine Westphalia