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Will these men change Germany? The Left Party surges

 
 
nimh
 
Reply Mon 18 Jun, 2007 06:23 pm
In Germany, former Socialdemocratic leader Oskar Lafontaine helped start a new opposition party, two years ago: the Left Party.

It was then still a little bit confusing, because the Left Party was in fact two parties.

There was the mostly West-German WASG, consisting largely of leftist trade unionists who had gotten disappointed in the all too reformist Socialdemocrats, with some alternative folk from the peace and green movements thrown in who had gotten disappointed with the Green Party.

And there was the mostly East-German PDS, the former communists. They had more or less successfully transformed themselves into a regional leftwing party representing those East-Germans who had fallen by the wayside.

The PDS had done very well in the East, regularly getting a fifth of the vote, but had failed to establish a foothold in the West. The WASG obviously fulfilled a need, but was not likely to reach the 5% electoral threshold, and lacked a clear leader.

In stepped Lafontaine, who was the Socialdemocratic Party's leader in the early 90s: if the two parties would agree to work together, he'd be its leader.

And so it went, except that there was no time for a formal merger and the German law did not permit for the two groups to run as a coalition - so instead, the PDS changed its name (they thought about "Democratic Left", then went for "Left Party"), and offered half of its seats to WASG candidates.

Lafontaine and the veteran PDS leader Georg Gysi ran as a double leadership - and the Left Party got 8,7% of the vote. Almost double the vote that the PDS had ever gotten. And for the first time, there were now at least as many Left Party MPs from the West as from the East.

Split by region, the Left Party had gotten 5% in the West, and 25% in the East, where it became the second largest party.

More background here:

Fast forward two years.

In last May, the Left Party (or just "the Left", as it calls itself now), surged in the regional elections in the state of Bremen, a large West-German harbor city. The PDS last time had gotten 1,7%; the Left received 8,4%. Never had the PDS reached a score like that anywhere in the West; but with the WASG cadres and Lafontaine as national leader, the Left did.

And now, the lengthy, organic process of a formal merger has been completed. This weekend, the new party, The Left, was officially launched.

And in a flash poll, one out of four Germans now says it could vote for The Left.

Quote:
Will these men change Germany?

New Left party rides high in polls
Christian-Democrats warn for post-communists; liberals see new threat


Berliner Kurier
18.06.2007

[my translation]

Berlin - The new chiefs of the "Left", Lothar Bisky (65) and Oskar Lafontaine (63), want to change Germany completely. But the Christian-Democratic Union (CDU), the Social-Democrats, the liberal FDP, the Greens, and industry are all siding forcefully against the plans of the new party.

http://www.berlinonline.de/berliner-kurier/print/_img/blk/2007-06-18.14245.big.70618_s3.jpg
Common struggle: Oskar Lafontaine and Lothar Bisky (r.).

Sahra Wagenknecht, elected in the new federal executive with 75,2 percent, declared yesterday what the "Left" wants: "We need a party that will not let itself be weakened, or robbed of its credibility, by parliamentary deliberation and putative constraints. We will confront the neoliberal politics of the other parties, not at the government table, but through vocal opposition on the street."

Lafontaine wants to revive the "general strike" for this. His goal: "The Left must ask the question of the system [we live in]. It must say: Freedom through socialism."

Bottom line: These men and women want to really change Germany, radically. And therefore, resistance is stirring to the right of the new party.

The General-Secretary of the Social-Democratic SPD, Hubertus Heil, accused the Leftists of populism and denial of reality. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that the program of the Leftists was a "guaranteed way into poverty". The Prime Minister of the state of Thüringen, Dieter Althaus of the CDU, warned: "One can not do politics with communists." FDP-leader Guido Westerwelle even sees a threat to the Federal Republic.

In an flash opinion poll, 24 percent of the surveyed Germans said they could vote for the Left.
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Jun, 2007 11:37 pm
Re: Will these men change Germany? The Left Party surges
nimh wrote:
And in a flash poll, one out of four Germans now says it could vote for The Left.


Actually, it was that every 4th SPD-voter thinks of voting for Die Linke now and 24% of all Germans generally* could consider voting for them.
(19% in the former West, 44% in the former East)
:wink:

(If you're referring to the Forsa poll.)

Well, they certainly stand a chance since there's no left party in Germany anymore.

According to that mentioned Forsa poll (released by Stern and RTL), 38 per cent of respondents would vote for the Christian-Democratic Union (CDU) or the Bavarian Christian-Social Party (CSU) in the next election to the Federal Diet, up two points since late May.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD) is second with 27 per cent, followed by the Left Party (Linke) with 11 per cent, the Green Party (Grune) also with 11 per cent, and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) with eight per cent.

http://i8.tinypic.com/5zdv7dc.jpg


Answering your question, if these men will change Germany: no.

But they (or better: the party Die Linke) is a not to be underestimated political factor now and not some past-time nostalgic GDR-remembrance.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Jun, 2007 01:21 am
nimh wrote:
Will these men change Germany? The Left Party surges

I don't think they will fundamentally change Germany. Since there aren't that many discouraged voters for Lafontaine to mobilize, this party's votes will come primarily from the SPD. The SPD, in turn, can either move to the left and lose votes on the right or stay where it is and lose votes on the left. Either way, the overall distribution of political viewpoints among the members of our parliaments won't change much, I think.

Nevertheless, I the "Linke" annoys me. While I'm neither a Socialist nor a Social Democrat, many Germans are, so this viewpoint must be represented in parliaments. I strongly prefer to have this viewpoint represented by people who previously ran a communist tyranny. This disqualifies the "Linke", and leaves the SPD.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Jun, 2007 05:01 am
Re: Will these men change Germany? The Left Party surges
Thomas, Walter, thanks for chiming in.

Walter Hinteler wrote:
nimh wrote:
And in a flash poll, one out of four Germans now says it could vote for The Left.

Actually, it was that [..] 24% of all Germans generally* could consider voting for them.

Perhaps there's a typo here, but I dont see the difference between the two statements? 24% is one out of four.
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Jun, 2007 05:27 am
Sure, I was more trying to the point that they "consider voting" - which is in German polls even less than "would likely poll".

(He, I've done polls myself, am on a couple of poll lists ... and wrote newspaper reports about poll results :wink: )
0 Replies
 
old europe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 02:31 am
Re: Will these men change Germany? The Left Party surges
nimh wrote:
Thomas, Walter, thanks for chiming in.

Walter Hinteler wrote:
nimh wrote:
And in a flash poll, one out of four Germans now says it could vote for The Left.

Actually, it was that [..] 24% of all Germans generally* could consider voting for them.

Perhaps there's a typo here, but I dont see the difference between the two statements? 24% is one out of four.



No, not a typo. But the way you put it (or rather, the way the Berliner Kurier put it), it sounded like 24 percent had said they would vote for the "Linke", whereas the result of the Forsa poll seems to have been that 24 percent would consider voting for them - with 11 percent actually saying they would give them their vote in the next elections.

So the one out of four result is interesting in terms of party affiliation, but I don't think that it means a lot in terms of the impact the "Linke" or Bisky and Lafontaine will have in the near future.

The 11 percent were not a particularly surprising result either. At any rate, it's not like a huge number of voters seems to be flocking towards the "new" party.

So, will Bisky and Lafontaine change Germany? Dunno. I can't see the "Linke" in any kind of coalition for the next couple of years. And that would pretty much relegate them to the role of opposition party in the near future - even if they would get respectable results in the next elections.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 05:18 am
Re: Will these men change Germany? The Left Party surges
old europe wrote:
No, not a typo. But the way you put it (or rather, the way the Berliner Kurier put it), it sounded like 24 percent had said they would vote for the "Linke"

Hmm, I dont get that. They wrote could, not would - seems straightforward enough.

old europe wrote:
So, will Bisky and Lafontaine change Germany? Dunno. I can't see the "Linke" in any kind of coalition for the next couple of years.

Well, the PDS has been taking part in state governments for quite a number of years now, I'm sure that wont suddenly stop now.

The question is whether, or perhaps just when, this will start happening in the West too, if and when Die Linke starts reproducing its success in Bremen. The Westdeutsche Allgemeine wrote on Monday:

Quote:
Man muss nicht lange nach dem Motiv für die Härte der Kritik [from the right - nimh] forschen, es heißt Angst. Union und FDP haben seit 1998 keine Mehrheit für ihre Politik mehr bekommen. Bei der letzten Bundestagswahl wurde nicht nur eine Große Koalition gewählt, sondern auch eine linke, wenngleich gespaltene Mehrheit im Parlament. Die Union setzt alles daran, dass diese linke Mehrheit nicht zusammenfindet. Im nächsten Jahr muss die Union bei den Landtagswahlen in Hessen, Niedersachsen und Bayern Verluste fürchten. Und irgendwann wird es rot-rote oder rot-rot-grüne Koalitionen in den Ländern geben.
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 05:30 am
Re: Will these men change Germany? The Left Party surges
nimh wrote:

Hmm, I dont get that. They wrote could, not would - seems straightforward enough.


I agree with oe on these fine nuances in the German language: it really means they might consider to vote for them - as opposesed to they never would at all consider such.

nimh wrote:
Well, the PDS has been taking part in state governments for quite a number of years now, I'm sure that wont suddenly stop now.



If the SPD could find a more suitable partner ... The Greens ...[/quote]
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 05:38 am
Re: Will these men change Germany? The Left Party surges
Walter Hinteler wrote:
I agree with oe on these fine nuances in the German language: it really means they might consider to vote for them.

Thats pretty much the meaning of "could" in English too, yeah.

I could have used "might" instead of "could", but that would only have sounded stronger.

Walter Hinteler wrote:
nimh wrote:
Well, the PDS has been taking part in state governments for quite a number of years now, I'm sure that wont suddenly stop now.


If the SPD could find a more suitable partner ... The Greens ...

Unlikely. In the states where the SPD has governed with the PDS, the Greens are very small, so small that they mostly didnt even make it into parliament. And the only place where the Greens were strong - in Berlin - the SPD has explicitly chosen to continue with the PDS instead.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 05:50 am
Re: Will these men change Germany? The Left Party surges
nimh wrote:
Unlikely. In the states where the SPD has governed with the PDS, the Greens are very small, so small that they mostly didnt even make it into parliament. And the only place where the Greens were strong - in Berlin - the SPD has explicitly chosen to continue with the PDS instead.

Yes. To me, that's the most depressing constant in German politics. Remember that "Green" in East Germany means "Neues Forum", "Demokratie Jetzt", and all these other organizations that brought democracy to East Germany. It sickens me to see them beaten below the 5% threshold by East Germany's former oppressor party.
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 06:26 am
Hear, hear! :wink:
0 Replies
 
fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 04:23 pm
On the poll:
I don't think it's a particular nuance of the German language, but rather nimh's stubborness.
This kind of question is set everywhere.
At the moment of the poll, 24% was the voting ceiling for Die Linke, while 11% the actual voting intentions. 13% of those questioned would consider voting for the Left Party but put their virtual vote elsewhere.

As for the other question, my answer is: NO, unless something has already changed in German society and this party is able to grab it and express it. I fail to see that "something" (but of course, I am not in Germany).
It's not a matter of political will of a few chosen.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 05:29 pm
fbaezer wrote:
On the poll:
I don't think it's a particular nuance of the German language, but rather nimh's stubborness.
This kind of question is set everywhere.
At the moment of the poll, 24% was the voting ceiling for Die Linke, while 11% the actual voting intentions. 13% of those questioned would consider voting for the Left Party but put their virtual vote elsewhere.

Umm.. yes, thats what Ive been saying.

The poll said 24% COULD vote die Linke, not that it WOULD vote it. I thought that distinction, which is pretty much the same one you are now making in more words, was pretty clear. As you say, it's a pretty common question in polls, meant to measure a party's "ceiling".

What are you disagreeing with me on?
0 Replies
 
fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 05:35 pm
nimh wrote:

What are you disagreeing with me on?


Maybe on nothing, I guess I read too fast, but I think you underlined the possibility, not the reality.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 06:21 pm
Re: Will these men change Germany? The Left Party surges
Thomas wrote:
Yes. To me, that's the most depressing constant in German politics. Remember that "Green" in East Germany means "Neues Forum", "Demokratie Jetzt", and all these other organizations that brought democracy to East Germany.

Its not that simple. The days of Bundnis '90 are gone, and even Bundnis '90 united only part of the revolution's groups.

The people of Neues Forum, for example, split up over the decision to join Bundnis '90. Some refused to go into B'90 because they thought the new group too politically narrow, too clearly running as "the small left", so to say, when in the revolution Neues Forum had acted as a kind of idealist but very pluralist mass movement.

A significant other group refused to merge in because they did not believe the political party system was a good vehicle for political change, or even a healthy basis of democracy. There was the whole anti-party / anti-politics current back then, if you remember, shaped by the revolution's idealism of the day and the distrust of anything called "party". (Note how rarely, in most Central European countries, a group coming from the opposition taking part in the elections of 1990 actually sported the word "party").

In the Neues Forum and general '89 movement, there was a group that really believed that the revolutions of '89 would yield a different way of shaping society, with social movements and bottom-up citizen action taking the place of the repudiated institutionalised parties that were mere interest group machines. Vaclav Havel's writings from the time were among those idealising civic action as alternative to institutionalised parties. Of course, the rejection of cohesive, unitary and top-down organised parties is what had most of the intellectual post-dissident movements swept away, if not in the first, then in the second round of elections, in both the Czech and Slovak parts of Czechoslovakia for example.

This idea of representing bottom-up and pluralist civic action rather than party programmes had more people from the '89 movements peeling off still when Bundnis 90 eventually decided to organisationally merge with the federal Green Party.

Then there were separate groups that did not join Bundnis 90 from the start. Demokratie Jetzt did, yes, but Demokratischer Aufbruch joined the CDU list. Like the CDU, the FDP-East list also attracted a dissident group (forget the name) as well as one of the former regime's "block parties". The refounded SPD that of course merged with the national SPD also attracted its share of '89 activists and dissidents. And finally there were those former dissidents who had opposed the "real existing socialism" of the GDR, but had wanted nothing more than a "true" socialist system, and actually ended up joining the PDS - like Stefan Heym.

Then a few years later again, several of the remaining prominent former dissidents in the Greens/Bundnis 90 deserted the party in protest over what they saw as its insufficient repudiation of the PDS. They crossed right over into the CDU.

So all in all, the current Greens/Bundnis 90 list in the East represents really only a small part of those dissident/revolutionary movements of back then.

---------------------------

The bottom line here however should be a different one. The Greens failed in the East in the 90s, and do so even now, because they have not offered a platform or a direction that appealed to East-German voters and did not address the concerns that those voters had.

The revolution was a time of great and abstract, philosophical idealism, about political culture, new ways of organising, etc. But soon after the unification, East-Germans simply faced a bracing social, economic and political storm that turned their life upside down. A time that screamed for answers, for ways to make sense of it all, ways to find some certainties, some hope, or at least some sense of comfort in it all.

The right had a clear vision on offer: embrace the change, and believe that you, too, can be a winner of this change. That's something that provides the voter with a grip, with something to hold on to in the storm. The PDS provided such a grip too: the grip of disappointment, of - often justified - resentment, of (Ossi) group solidarity, and of increasing nostalgia.

The Greens offered no such grip. The East-German Greens retreated into pure ecologism, which just doesnt feel as an immediate priority if you dont have a job, dont have money, and everything around you has changed, mixed in with equally post-materialist civic issues. It became a self-consciously intellectual group with a culturally elitarian outlook. On the major issue of the day - how to survive, or even approach, this socio-economic transformation, it had no audible answer.

Then there was the way the East-Greens became completely unrecognizable as tiny minority in a West-German party. The Greens certainly could have done more to provide the East-Greens with visible positions. As it was, the Greens were largely felt to be the most West-German party of them all. Not just that, it was a West-German party catering for a specific, quasi-generational cultural hinterland - the 68ers and the squatters and peace activists and the like of the 80s - that simply did not exist in the East.

The Greens failed in the East because it, itself, failed - it can blame nobody else for it. If the PDS picked up a left-of-the-SPD vote larger than any the Greens ever gathered in the West, it was simply because it actually voiced the feelings and concerns of a large group of East-Germans, and because it represented East-German-specific social and cultural identities, while the Greens never did either, and really never even tried to do.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 06:23 pm
(Isnt the Internet great, btw? I couldnt come up with Heym's name, so I googled <schriftsteller 1953 dissident ddr pds prenzlauer bundestag>, and presto - first result.)
0 Replies
 
old europe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 06:36 pm
nimh wrote:
Umm.. yes, thats what Ive been saying.

The poll said 24% COULD vote die Linke, not that it WOULD vote it. I thought that distinction, which is pretty much the same one you are now making in more words, was pretty clear. As you say, it's a pretty common question in polls, meant to measure a party's "ceiling".

What are you disagreeing with me on?



Uhm, I think (speaking only for me, of course) that mostly, I found the general tone of the article a bit over-enthusiastic.

<shrugs>

Nothing wrong with that. Of course, if you want to emphasize how the Left party might set out to change politics in a major way, it makes sense to cite the numbers for a voter potential rather than the percentage of people who would currently vote for that party.

It's just not how I would perceive the perspective for the new Left.


For comparison, here are the results for a July 2004 poll, asking people if they would vote for a new left party or if they would consider voting for a new left party (before the various constructs or the new Left had been formed):


http://www.tagesschau.de/styles/container/image/style_images_default/0,,OID3411478_HGT283_SCTsmooth_WTH378,00.jpg

[size=8]Could you see yourself voting for a new left party?

All
Yes, certainly.
Yes, possibly.

Former SPD voters
Yes, certainly.
Yes, possibly.[/size]

What I find interesting is that now that a "new" left party has actually been formed, the number of people who could potentially see themselves voting for such a party has gone down rather significantly, from 37 percent to 24 percent.

On the other hand, the number of people who said that they would actually vote for a new left party has almost doubled....


(uh, yes, and here's a link to the article....)
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 07:08 pm
old europe wrote:
mostly, I found the general tone of the article a bit over-enthusiastic.

You thought that one was over-enthusiastic?

Just wait till I finish translating the other one... Smile
0 Replies
 
old europe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 07:17 pm
nimh wrote:
old europe wrote:
mostly, I found the general tone of the article a bit over-enthusiastic.

You thought that one was over-enthusiastic?

Just wait till I finish translating the other one... Smile


Why? Are you surfing the websites of the Kommunistische Plattform now, nimh?

Very Happy
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Jun, 2007 07:25 pm
old europe wrote:
Why? Are you surfing the websites of the Kommunistische Plattform now, nimh?

Very Happy

Hamburger Abendblatt actually.. Wink
0 Replies
 
 

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