The coalition government of Angela Merkel of the CDU, CSU and FDP in Berlin, known by the colours of these parties as “black-yellow”, has lost a significant amount of its support since the election victory of September 2009.
Four Regional Land elections in 2011 have documented the melting away of the coalition's voting strength signalled mainly by the huge decline in the support for the more right-wing FDP, first in the northern metropolis of Hamburg in February, then in the south-eastern Sachsen-Anhalt and now in two south-western states, the Rhineland Palatinate (RP) and Baden-Wuerttemberg (BW) on Sunday 27th March.
The background was, of course, the efforts to recover from the deep economic crisis affecting all major capitalist countries. The CDU and Bavarian CSU had been in coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) up to September 2009; the SPD came out of that period of crisis and cuts and anti-working class legislation with its worst result in post-war German history with only 23% of the votes, cementing the Social Democrats' loss of 6 million (!) votes over a nine year period, half of its electoral support. Fully one-third of the party's members left in the period, disappointed with the SPD's neoliberal line. Many dropped out of political activity but numbers of activists joined Die Linke, the Left Party boosting its membership overall to 70,000 and its electoral support throughout most of Germany, with the party gaining seats in regional parliaments in 13 of the 16 federal states.
But Die Linke has only a very small share of the vote in the older western federal states, often only just clearing the 5% hurdle imposed before any seats are allocated. In the new eastern states, Die Linke enjoys a quite different level of support, often between 20% and 30% because of its roots in municipal councils. Thus, in Sachsen Anhalt, Die Linke is the second largest party, evidence of the fact that Die Linke is not one, but two, political parties with the eastern party acting as a tribune for the regional and local interests of the old GDR area, much as the CSU lobbies heavily for its constituency, Bavaria.
In Hamburg, the SPD did reconquer a majority of votes in February, mainly because the Greens had taken part in a coalition with the CDU in that city. But in Sachsen-Anhalt the SPD came in third behind the CDU and Die Linke after a bout of coalition with the local CDU. As if to insult the voters again, the miserable SPD leadership is choosing to renew a coalition with the CDU in that Land, rejecting calls by the larger Die Linke to form a red-red coalition with a programme of reforms! Disappointed with the SPD overall, the two latest Land elections display what has happened to a mass of protest voters; abandoning the SPD in large numbers in RP and many in BW, those who wanted to show their opposition to Merkel's policies have voted for the Green Party in record numbers. Sensationally, in BW the Greens actually overtook the SPD to become the second largest party and are now probably in a position to take the leadership and the First Minister post in that Land, breaking the CDU's hold which has lasted for over fifty years.
What the Greens have done is to initiate and ride the wave of anti-nuclear power feeling which, although latent but growing for years, has suddenly been massively fuelled by the Japanese fiasco in Fukushima. Indeed, on the Saturday prior to the latest Land elections, up to 200,000 people demonstrated in Germany's four largest cities against nuclear power. Taken together with other local issues such as the unpopular redesign of the main railway station down in Stuttgart, the Greens have been in the forefront of organising protest demos, sit-ins, marches and steady propaganda work for decades, whereas the tired old SPD has been pursuing policies against the interests of the broad population and confining itself to routinist parliamentary committees and manoeuvres. Only recently, having been thrust out of the Grand Coalition with Merkel in 2009, has the SPD begun to reawaken and has been present on demonstrations and rallies, for example against the threatened closure of the Opel car factories and other issues. Die Linke, by contrast, has been stagnating for years on the sidelines, unable to develop policies which appeal to the new generation or to break out of 5-8% of voting strength, viewed with suspicion by most workers and seen as either utopian or destructive or a potentially new edition of Stalinism.
No surprise then, that the Greens have been able to recruit thousands of young middle-aged and younger, often well educated and conscientious, people to its flag. In fact the Greens are highly inconsistent in their politics as has already been and will again be shown in the coming period. They abandoned their antiwar stance in Afghanistan, they half-heartedly oppose the plans for Stuttgart, and they even took part in a coalition government in Hamburg with the CDU until thrown out in February. So it would be wrong to see them as a new left party or even as a reliable protest party. They purged most of their own left wing years ago. And while they preach some good reforms such as abolition of student fees, their policies on the economy are thoroughly pro-capitalist and at best Keynesian reformist. Their record in a neoliberal coalition government with Schroeder appears to have been forgotten. The fact that such a party can make such large gains is testimony to the bankrupt position of the SPD in almost all areas. The still-tainted Die Linke is deriving no benefit from this scenario. There is, however, some cause for optimism that a left wing is beginning to form in and around left positions in the social democracy. Local and regional ad hoc groups involving SPD and Die Linke and some Green councillors and members of citizens' neighbourhood groups are beginning to join together to move against the cuts which are starting to cause closures of public services such as libraries, swimming pools, etc. And it is certainly true that the old workers' organisations can only regain their former strength by shaking off the paralysis of Schroeder's neoliberal policies and returning to representing the real interests of the rank and file movement.
Results in Hamburg
February 2011 (2008 in brackets)
CDU 21.9% (42.6%) SPD 48.4% (34.1%) Greens 11,2% (9.6%) Linke 6.4% (6.4%)
Results in Sachsen Anhalt
March 2011 (2006 in brackets)
CDU 32.5% (36.2%) Linke 23.7% (24.1%) SPD 21.5% (21.6%) Greens 7.1% (3.6%)
Results in RP
March 2011 (2006 in brackets)
SPD 35.7% (46.6%) CDU 35.2% (32.8%) Greens 15.4% (4.6%)
Results in BW
March 2011 (2006 in brackets)
CDU 39% (44.2%) Greens 24.2% (11.7%) SPD 23.1% (25.2%)