The German elite’s firewall against the ultra nationalist, anti-EU Alternative for Germany party has begun to crumble. Germany’s business groups were unified in their opposition to the AfD whose immigration stance goes against big businesses’ desire for cheap labor. All of Germany’s main political parties say they are opposed to the AfD and are discussing an outright ban of the party, but last month, the Christian Democrats and the pro-business Free Democrats needed votes to defeat a regional government in a crucial budget bill. They turned to the AfD.
Together they were able to push a tax cut through Thuringia’s parliament against the wishes of the left-wing coalition.
Germany’s main opposition leader, Friedrich Merz who leads the Christian Democrats, had ruled out cooperation of any kind with the AfD. Merz, a former corporate lawyer who has sat on numerous company boards including BlackRock Germany, had been heavily criticized for previous comments after AfD election wins in Eastern Germany local elections. He said at the time that they were democratic elections that “we have to accept, and then of course ways have to be sought in local parliaments to organize the town, the countryside or the county together.”
It’s going to be increasingly hard to ignore AfD if they continue to add to their vote share, which they are likely to do should the German political class keep refusing to address Germans’ declining living standards while cutting social spending and increasing militarization.
Elections earlier this month in the two wealthy German states of Bavaria and Hesse showed the AfD continuing its meteoric rise. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SPD trailed the AfD in both states – an absolutely humiliating outcome for his party and a sign of the unprecedented frustration with the current government.
In Bavaria, the CSU came in first with 37 percent, followed by the Free Voters at 15.8 percent. The AfD was third with 14.6 percent; the Greens fourth with 14.4 percent; and Scholz’s Social Democrats were fifth with 8.4 percent.
In Hesse the vote broke down as follows:
CDU – 34.6 percent.
AfD – 18.4 percent.
SPD – 15.1 percent
Greens – 14.8 percent.
FDP – 5 percent.
Left Party – 3.1 percent.
While the CSU/CDU is in favor of continuing Germany’s bellicose foreign policy, the AfD is the only party drawing connections between the German government marching to US orders and the devastating effect it is having on the German economy – until last week.
One left-wing politician has been making that connection, although her party tried to silence her. Now Sahra Wagenknecht finally announced last week that she is founding her own party, potentially putting a final nail in the coffin of the moribund Left Party she is leaving and posing a threat to claw back voters from the AfD.
The Wagenknecht wing in the Left Party has been a vocal critic of Germany’s submission to US interests, although the party as a whole has failed to adopt this message. Instead it has joined in the attacks from all sides against Wagenknecht. For her pro-negotiations approach she has been labeled a Putin apologist. She has also been targeted for questioning Germany’s immigration policy.
Meanwhile, the Left Party as a whole, which is considered a direct descendant of the Socialist Unity Party that ruled East Germany until reunification, has completely collapsed after abandoning nearly all of its platform in an attempt to appear “ready to govern.” The party’s polling figures have dipped below 5 percent, which would keep it out of the Bundestag should those figures hold in the next national election. Much like the bourgeoisie Greens, the Left increasingly stands for neoliberal, pro-war and anti-Russia policies. But while the Greens have a solid base of upper class support, the Left used to appeal to Germany’s working class, which has increasingly switched to the AfD in response to the Left’s neoliberal drift.
Here is more on Wagenknecht from Tagesspiegel:
Wagenknecht has positioned herself as a sharp critic of the federal government’s Ukraine policy and the energy sanctions against Russia. She is for the import of cheap natural gas and against overly strict climate protection policies . She also advocates limiting migration . She has repeatedly described the Greens as the most dangerous party. Additionally, a poll from Bild am Sonntag that shows 27 percent of people in Germany would consider voting for the Wagenknecht-led party.
Other polling shows Wagenknecht’s yet-to-be-named party already more popular than the war mongering Greens.
More on Wagenknecht’s move from NC reader MD in Berlin:
Out of the Left Party’s 38 Bundestag members, 10 have left to form the new party. They are serious figures. 5 are women.
At least 5 (!) have what Germans call “a migration background”. The new formation rejects IdPol. The residual Left Party (Rest-Linke) slants heavily to IdPol. The composition of the core group will defuse Rest-Linke criticisms, esp on migration policy.
SW has played a blinder tactically. Anti-war demo in Feb planted a flag. Will-she-won’t-she ever since kept question in media. Step is response to a perceived voter demand, but not an activist movement. Enthusiasm for joining and working remains unclear.
Policies essentially left populist. Nothing wrong with that.No visible labour movement connection. Though participating MP Klaus Ernst originates from the IG Metall milieu. Could potentially emerge if labour movement were to awake.
And from Deutsche Welle:
Wagenknecht’s public profile exploded last year when she became the leader of a “peace campaign” demanding that the West stop arming Ukraine to defend itself against Russia. Elsewhere, Wagenknecht criticized her own party leadership for pandering to what she calls “lifestyle leftists,” whose policies of inclusion for marginalized communities, she argues, were themselves marginalizing the Left Party’s core voters, especially the working classes in eastern Germany.
Wagenknecht has grown particularly popular in eastern Germany, and a Thuringia poll by the Insa institute in July found that Wagenknecht’s as yet non-existent party could potentially win an election in her home state — with 25% of the vote, three points ahead of the AfD. Perhaps it is no coincidence that, in the aftermath of her “rally for peace” in February, Thuringia’s AfD leader Björn Höcke — himself no stranger to provocation — invited Wagenknecht to defect to the far-right AfD.
Wagenknecht has ruled out working with the AfD. While the AfD has a small solid base of support from voters with hard right views, they are siphoning off disenchanted voters from elsewhere (especially from the Left Party), many of whom just want to give an extended middle finger to the German establishment.
That’s not surprising considering the German government is doing its best to anger voters and drive them to the AfD. Let’s just take the issue of housing. It is increasingly hard to find and more unaffordable than ever. Details from Deutsche Welle:
Germany is traditionally a nation of tenants. While across Europe around 70% of the population own the house or apartment they live in, only 46% of people living in Germany do so. In major cities, that ratio is even lower.
If you want to rent a nice apartment in a good location in Berlin, you need a lot of money. A “wonderfully spacious 4-room apartment” in Berlin’s upmarket Charlottenburg district: 182 square meters, furnished, the rent is €8,190 ($8,947) per month. Plus heating, electricity and other incidental costs, that amounts to over €50 per square meter.
A so-called rental price cap was included in the German Civil Code in June 2015. According to this, when signing a new rental agreement, the rent may not be more than 10% above the local comparative rent. But in Berlin and other large cities, landlords have found a lucrative way around this: The cap does not apply to furnished apartments and contracts for short rental periods. So now, more than half of all apartments in Berlin are offered as “furnished.”
A rent level of €6.50 to €7.50 per square meter is considered socially acceptable in Germany. But for that price, you can’t even find an apartment on the outskirts of Berlin these days….
In Germany, the average net income — the amount that remains after taxes and social security payments have been deducted — currently stands at €2,165, according to the Federal Statistical Office. Around one-third of this income is spent on rent. But even that is often not enough. In Munich, a square meter now costs €19 in rent, in Stuttgart €18, in Dusseldorf and Cologne €12 to €13 and in Berlin €11.
Yet, at the same time that Germans are struggling to find and afford shelter, the government isn’t just doing nothing to remedy the problem; it is actively making it worse. It continues to embrace a policy of more immigrants who need housing when they arrive in Germany, which increases competition for scarce supply. Simultaneously, the government in Berlin is planning to cut back on housing benefits as part of social cuts across the board in order to increase military spending.
This assault on the working class comes at a time when the prices for everything have gone through the roof causing Germans’ real wages to plummet. But the German government has no plan to deal with this; they only double down, promising the Americans they will lead a more militarized EU against their former supplier of cheap and reliable energy (Russia) that allowed for their export economic model to their biggest trading partner (China) who they are now also getting aggressive with.
Nevertheless, the German government, rather than examine its own failings, is blaming voters for not fully understanding their policies. And the effort to discredit Wagenknecht as a Putin stooge has come roaring back to life following her announcement – this time coupled with charges that her forming a new party is “bad for democracy.”
Waknerfekt has long been pilloried in the media, however, so the fact that 27 percent of the German electorate would still consider voting for her party shows the limits of such propaganda.
The formation of a true party on the left sets up a scenario where the German elite could end up facing a choice: the left or the AfD?
The German establishment has tried everything to stop the rise of the AfD except responding to the economic concerns of voters. They have repeatedly labeled the party a threat, there are constant media stories on their fascist ties and dangerous nationalism, they’ve been placed under surveillance, and there have been growing calls to outright ban the party under questionable legal grounds. In the end, a true party for the working class might do the trick at capping the AfD’s support .
One has to wonder, however, if this is just delaying the day of reckoning. Say the CDU/CSU heads the next government; will much of anything change? If the German establishment continues on its current neoliberal, militaristic path that is subservient to US interests, the prospects for Germany’s working class will only worsen.
The problem for Germany is that its foreign policy and vassalage to the US is inextricably linked to its domestic financialization and economic woes. It is so wholly captured by Washington that none of the major political parties even agitate for a more thorough investigation into the Nord Stream destruction. None of them call for a reexamination of the country’s policy towards Russia (and now China too) and whether following the US/NATO lead is truly in the interest of Germans.
Until Germany is able to thoroughly raise these questions, it’s hard to envision a soft landing for its political system and society at large. For Germany to find a way out of its current decline will likely require the rise of nationalism. As Michael Hudson writes in his The Destiny of Civilization:
There is still a tendency to think of nationalism as a retrograde step. But for foreign countries, breaking away from today’s unipolar global system of U.S.-centered financialization is the only way to create a viable alternative that can resist the New Cold War’s attempt to destroy any alternative system and to impose U.S.-client rentier dictatorships on the world.
As it stands now, Wagenknecht’s new party likely solidifies the CDU/CSU frontrunner status for the next elections.
Federal elections aren’t currently scheduled until 2025 – if Scholz’s coalition survives that long. Its infighting and record unpopularity leave open the possibility of government collapse and early elections. Recent polling shows that two-thirds of Germans want a new government.
Whenever the next national elections occur, they will be followed by the coalition building. The CDU/CSU is already moving towards the AfD on the issue of immigration, although its leaders maintain they are not open to working with the AfD. One has to wonder, though, should it come down to a choice between the left and the AfD, which would the German elite choose?
Reader Matthew G. Saroff predicted the following in a comment on a recent Germany piece here at NC:
The dirty secret here is that the mainstream German politicians will embrace AfD over Die Linke, because they would rather have Fascists in power than Leftists. Why does this sound familiar to me? (1932)