Talking About Power

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1753 ... February 1, 2019

Talking About Power

Ingar Solty interviewed by Jerko Bakotin

For all its economic might, Germany’s main centrist parties are in crisis. If barely a decade ago the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD) conquered over three-quarters of the vote, in polling today they represent under half of the electorate. But as the main parties lose their hold over Germans, the Left does not seem well-placed to take advantage. The Die Linke party formed by postcommunists and a split from the SPD in 2007 has secured a respectable vote nationally and at the regional level, becoming the country’s fourth-largest political force, and yet has consistently failed to rise above 10 per cent of the vote. Indeed, the real upstarts in German politics today are the... far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, the first such party to reach parliament since 1952) and the liberal-ecologist Green Party.

Seeking to break out of this strategic impasse, some leading figures in Die Linke have created a new populist movement designed to reinsert the language of class and poverty into German politics and split the AfD’s own base. However, this remains controversial within Die Linke, with figures loyal to party co-chair Katja Kipping accusing Aufstehen’s frontwoman Sahra Wagenknecht of kowtowing to anti-immigration sentiment.

In this interview originally conducted for Novosti, Jerko Bakotin spoke with researcher Ingar Solty about the decline of social democracy, Die Linke’s strategic dilemma, and the possibility of building a counter-hegemonic force able to challenge for power.

Jerko Bakotin (JB): The German Social Democrats (SPD) are at a historic low. The Greens are on the rise, but critics claim that this is now a solidly pro-business party. And to their left, Die Linke is unable to break into double digits in the polls. If there has often been talk of a future "red-red-green" government uniting all three parties, this is today arithmetically impossible. So how would you describe the Left’s perspectives today?

Ingar Solty (IS): Ever since the creation of Die Linke [in 2007, uniting the postcommunist Party of Democratic Socialism with a split from the SPD] the spoken or unspoken aim of the German left was to create an anti-neoliberal reform government together with the Greens and SPD. If for these other parties forming a government is itself the end goal, for Die Linke this would be what Rosa Luxemburg called a transitional goal of revolutionary realpolitik. That is, a move that improved conditions in the fight for a postcapitalist society. Such a coalition would of course require that the SPD broke with its Third Way, market-oriented neoliberal policies; the Greens, similarly, would have to turn away from market-based pseudo-"solutions" to the ecological crisis like carbon emission trading, and indeed their complete surrender to the car industry in the state of Baden-Württemberg, where they are the dominant political force.

Today "red-red-green" is impossible -- for political reasons and, with the erosion of social democracy and the rise of the far right, even arithmetically. The SPD is incapable of renewing itself. Its leaders simply cannot turn around and say "Look, everything we ourselves did since at least 2002 was a total mistake and we will have to undo everything that we have done ever since."

Yet while they cannot say this, doing so -- and following up on it with concrete policies significantly improving workers’ lives -- is a necessary step toward regaining some credibility.

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