Monday, September 15, 2008
They have the politicians, the media, and the ruling class scared, with good reason. In a recent poll, the Left Party in Germany had 14% of the vote, compared to the SDP's 25%. In another, it had 15% of the vote compared to the SPD's 20%. That trend persists. In Oskar Lafontaine's home state, the Linke is ahead of the SPD. In response to the rise of the Left Party, the SPD has tried to meet the challenge half-way before recoiling to the right again. Kurt Beck, the right-wing technocrat put in charge to keep the party ticking over, moved faintly the left last year. However, he has now been ousted by those ubiquitously referred to as "Schroeder's men", such as Franz Müntefering, the employment minister, who hated the shift from its inception. They have put the right-wing foreign minister in the "grand coalition" government, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in charge.
In a preposterous inversion of the facts, most Anglophone news sources are pretending that it was his very mild shift to the left that made Beck unpopular, despite the fact that he wasn't exactly riding high in the polls beforehand. They are giving the impression that the policies of Agenda 2010 and its successors are actually spiffingly popular, which is precisely the opposite of the truth. What actually happened was that the business of government within the "grand coalition" became more difficult, as the larger CDU component had to reckon with an SPD trying to coopt popular Linke demands. The rightists in the SPD were evidently infuriated by this, bided their time, and struck hard this September in an internal coup. As Victor Grossman records, the right-wing leadership of the SPD is now hammering the party's left-wing and flatly ruling out any deals with the Left Party. This will certainly reassure the SPD's business allies, who can only be astonished by the rapid emergence of an aggressively leftist party. As the establishment has sought to contain the Linke, the anticommunist language of the Cold War has been taken out of cryogenic storage. The CDU, which is on 37% and which may still require the SPD's support for a future government, is embarking on a nasty campaign to defame the Left Party as a Stalinist relic. This has been a theme of both the CDU and the SPD right for some time, and it has yet to be effective. It will be less convincing as the party makes further incursions into the Western states, as it has been doing.
At the moment, there is nothing else in Europe to match the Linke, although the new Anticapitalist Party in France might actually deliver the goods. A poll last month showed that the party's figurehead Olivier Besancenot, not the Socialist Party's leadership, is seen as Sarkozy's main opponent. Thought it is a pity that the LCR itself will cease to exist as a part, something has to give. The PS is in meltdown, and it is extremely important that the radical Left is moving in to fill the vacated space. Wherever this doesn't happen, the far right in its various guises has a demonstrated ability to win over a sizeable layer of the working class vote. And, I ought to mention, the recent experience of the Italian left, not to mention the crisis in the Portugese Left Bloc, stands as a direct warning to the Linke - get too close to the SPD at any level, and their right-wing policies may drag you down. And there lies the rub: as strong as the Left Party's performance is, there will surely be a divide between those who want to move to the right to make some sort of compromise with the SPD leadership, and those who do not. There will be those who want to concede something to the red-baiting hysteria and purge the party, and those who want to resist it. Success will bring its own dilemmas. But which dilemmas would you rather have? Those of marginality, or those of success?