Monday, September 28, 2009

Breakthrough for the German Left

The Left Party (Linke) is celebrating, for good reason. The German federal election results are projected to show the following: the CDI-CSU, the rightwing 'union' bloc, got a combined total of 33.8% (-1.5), the second lowest result since the Second World War; the SPD is down to 23% (-11), its lowest level since WWII; the 'free market' FDP gained 14.8% (+5); the Greens got 10.6%(+2.5); and the Linke got 12%(+4). Voter turnout was down by 6%. This follows disappointing results for the Linke in the European federal elections, and some very good results in Saarland and Thuringia, where the Christian Democrats were kicked out, and where the Linke polled 21.3% (+19.2) and 27.4% (+1.3%).

The media will tend to focus on the fact that Merkel can now run a right-wing tax-cutting administration in coalition with the FDP. This is hardly unimportant, but the biggest story that obtains here is the way in which the historic collapse of social democracy played out. This is a story that is coming to our shores soon, so it is one we had better pay attention to. It is not possible to protect the parties of the Second International from electoral oblivion, even if that were a desirable thing to do. The best that we can do is try to manage this process in a way that opens up a space for the radical left. It is by no means inevitable, as we have discovered to our cost, that the left will benefit from a slump in the social democratic vote. To be in that position, we have to have our shit together (which we, at the moment, do not).

So, the Linke increasing their vote by 50% on their previous turnout is a momentous development that no one should underestimate. It shows that for all the instabilities in the left-wing coalition, and for all the struggles over how much to compromise and whether to enter into coalition with the SPD in certain circumstances, it is not the flash-in-the-pan army of misfits that the bourgeois media would like to represent it as. It has a durable and growing base, apparently reaching well beyond its expected confines. It would be entirely understandable, given the history of the European left, for such a coalition to split at the first sign of stress, with each element retreating to safe territory, busying themselves rectifying sleights and constructing monuments to past glories. They didn't. If we could respond to the collapse of Labourism in Britain with the same sort of panache and willingness to overcome tribal divisions, we should be in a much better position to intervene in class disputes such as the Vestas occupation than we presently are.

Parenthetically, I spent a sunny little day in Brighton yesterday, which seaside resort is packed with soul-destroyed members of the Labour Party attending its annual conference. The nadir of social democracy was written all over the wan faces of delegates that I saw milling around. They didn't look like they even knew why they were there, the poor sods. I was just there to catch some rays, man, but then these protesters came along and it was all like 'Ant-anti-anticapitalista', and stuff like that. It was the annual lobby of the Labour Party conference, this one called 'Rage Against Labour'. It wasn't massive, not even very large to be honest, though it was a fuck sight more interesting than anything else Brighton had to offer. (Oh yeah, the beach. Pebbles and water in various thrilling combinations. Whoopee.) There was a sad little moment in my life when someone, inexplicably, chose to play Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On" from a float, very loudly, twice. I half expected the whole scene to turn into the close of a 1980s shlock movie, where everyone starts partying down. (Was I always this much of a fucking miserable bastard, I wonder?) Other than that, what I came away with is just how few people are interesting in relating to New Labour as an object appropriate for lobbying. The 'Down with Brown' chants didn't really inspire, since Brown couldn't possibly be more down. The phrase 'dead man walking' has become a byword for his wretched career. No wonder Alasdair Darling is complaining that the leadership has lost the will to live. Lord Mandelson is now openly applying for a job under the incoming Tory administration. It is completely understandable that left-wing activists would rather do anything on a bright Sunday afternoon than address their years of accumulated contempt to the heavily policed facade of the Brighton Centre, one last time. You may as well petition a serial killer on death row.