Sunday, May 13, 2012

German regional elections in NRW raise questions for the Left Party

From Walter Held in Germany

The regional election in North Rhine Westphalia is over. The votes are still being counted but the result is already clear. The outcoming minority government of SPD and Greens has greatly increased its share of the popular vote stressing its educational reforms and renewable energy stance. At the last election both the two biggest parties were neck and neck. Now the masses have rallied to their traditional party the SPD and it has climbed to a massive 38%, whereas the CDU has dropped 8% and slumped down to a miserable 25.8%, their worst result since elections began in 1947. Together with the Greens who maintained their share, what was a minority has now a comfortable 10 seat majority in the regional parliament in Duesseldorf. 

The Linke, the left party, was seen as irrelevant in the election campaign and had no clear political profile; it lost even more than expected, was battered down to a  tiny 2.6% from 5.6% in 2010, losing more than half of its meagre share of the vote. The upstart Pirate Party whose platform mainly consists of freedom of the networks jumped straight into parliament over the heads of the Linke and won 7.5%.

The voters can be seen as rejecting in part the austerity programme from Berlin; but most still accept the argument that there should be a balancing of the budget, but at the same time they say that key areas must be protected from any cuts. The consciousness is not yet there that there is any alternative to austerity but the rally to their traditional organisations of SPD and trade unions who are fighting for substantial wage increases indicate that the demoralisation of the past ten years or more is beginning to come to an end.

The Linke however has not shown that it is capable of capitalising on a new mood and far from growing or even stagnating has actually entered a phase of decline in most western regions. The question for socialists must now be where to orientate the forces for socialism in Germany. To go further, if we look at three important workers' parties in Europe, in the UK, France and Germany, we see that they have not substantially moved to the left in their policies. They all put forward weak keynesian ideas for promoting some growth but still accept in general the demand to cut state deficits.

Nevertheless, all three parties have recorded significant successes in the past few weeks alone. In the UK, the Labour Party now has a strong lead over the Tories with 41% support and would win a General Election with an absolute majority tomorrow; France has a Socialist President and the German Social Democrats are enjoying a return to popularity at one regional election after another. Many socialists had predicted that the neo-liberal policies which nearly destroyed the social democratic parties in many countries meant that new parties would need to be founded. Others said that in opposition, the old parties could well make a left turn and attract working class support again or split in the process. In fact neither of these predictions has happened. There is a rally back towards the old parties without them having made any major changes to their policies since the dropping of outright Blairite policies. The left must reconsider its analysis and the tactics it will pursue in the coming period of left revival and workers militancy.

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