Having been in power since 2005, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel is preparing to fill the post for the fourth time. But, with only 33 percent of the votes polled, her centre-right CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany and Christian Social Union in Bavaria) alliance has suffered a fall of 8.6 percent as compared with 2013.
This is the alliance’s lowest share of the vote since 1949, and leaves it with 246 of the total of 709 seats in the Bundestag (Germany’s parliament).
The same applies to the SPD social democrats, who came second with 20.5 percent. The AfD (Alternative for Germany) on the extreme right, who came third and secured 90 deputies, achieved what was for them a historic breakthrough, and would appear to be the biggest winners, ahead of Die Linke (The Left party), the Greens and the free-market liberals of the FDP (Free Democratic Party).
In view of the fact that the German economy is apparently booming, how can the movement towards a party like the AfD be explained?
Before the elections, the opinion polls were saying that the two greatest concerns of the German electorate were, on the one hand, the growing divide between rich and poor, and, on the other hand, the inflow of refugees. The CDU/CSU had no policies to address these concerns, which are related to the fact that the German economic miracle is not at all miraculous for a considerable section of the population.
Statistics show that, although there is low unemployment, 10 percent of workers in employment are unable to make ends meet and 30 percent of pensioners need to supplement their income by taking underpaid part-time employment. Forty percent of workers are earning less than they did in 1995.
For this section of the population, the German miracle doesn’t exist, yet at the same time the rich are getting forever richer.
Then there is the welcome given by Angela Merkel to refugees. In Germany, as in all other European countries, the bourgeoisie tirelessly promotes the lie that immigrants are the cause of all the economic problems that are in fact caused by the capitalist system.
This propaganda is believed by many, especially in the absence of effective rebuttal and education by organisations purporting to represent the interests of the proletariat.
Yet German capitalism, if it is to remain competitive, needs to recruit skilled workers at low wages – hence Merkel’s interest in welcoming refugees. The German proletariat is then told that these refugees are undercutting their wages and ‘taking their jobs’, when in actual fact these jobs can only continue to exist at all on a low-wage basis in circumstances of cut-throat competition on the world market.
In other words, the native German workers would be no better off if there were no immigration, but, again, the voices able and willing to propagate that truth are not very loud as compared to those of ‘left’-wingers who sing from the same hymn sheet as the demagogues on the right about the ‘problem’ of refugees.
Where was the left?
The question then arises why, when throughout Europe austerity policies and worsening conditions of labour are promoting the emergence of anti-establishment parties, both of the left and of the right, the AfD has so much better been able to take advantage of the situation than has Die Linke, supposedly a party of the radical left?
To answer this question one must look at the policies promoted by each of these parties respectively.
The AfD is a small party that was originally made up mostly of teachers and small producers with no connection to the world market. Their orientation was therefore entirely petty-bourgeois nationalist.
They called for economic nationalism and the re-establishment of the deutschmark. They favour to some extent higher wages and public spending to stimulate the home market on which they depend, and consider that Germany is contributing too much to the European Union.
Their interests are opposed to those of the big multinationals, which are export driven and interested in keeping wages low.
All this attracted the support of that section of the bourgeoisie whose businesses are also geared to the home market and, as a result, the AfD was able to secure generous funding for its electoral campaign. It was sponsored by an anonymous section of the establishment to the tune of millions of euros.
Then it was infiltrated by elements of the extreme right, who pushed to the fore the question of immigration – so much so that the co-president of AfD, Frauke Petry, resigned after the elections to denounce the neo-Nazi turn that her party is making. But of course the anti-immigrant policy was precisely what attracted many voters.
Die Linke, however, was not able to take advantage of the situation because, to a great and increasing extent, it no longer gives the impression of being an anti-establishment party. Rather, it has been affected by a strong desire to participate in government at all costs.
This greatly influenced its electoral campaign, which envisaged a ‘left’ alliance with the social democrats and the Greens.
To that end, Die Linke has watered down its policies on a whole series of issues, such as its assessment of the SPD and participation in imperialist wars. Even when opinion polls were predicting disastrous results for the social democrats, demonstrating the mathematical impossibility of the emergence of a grand governing alliance of the ‘left’, Die Linke continued to moderate its policies with a view to being accepted into a future government.
Moreover, the party has had deputies elected in a good number of German states and local authorities, where they have demonstrated in practice that Die Linke is really not so very different to the establishment parties.
As a result, it only increased its share of the vote by half a percent, giving it a total share of 9.2 percent of votes and 9.7 percent of seats. The AfD, meanwhile, increased its vote share by 7.9 percent, bringing its total to 12.6 percent of votes and 13.3 percent of seats.
What everybody is wondering now, since the SPD has said that it would not again enter into a coalition with Merkel, and it is expected that the chancellor will therefore necessarily be forced to go into an unprecedented (at least on a national level) coalition with the FDP and the Greens in order to secure a parliamentary majority, is whether this might lead to any change of direction for German government policy and, in turn, for the policies of the European Union?
What is probable is that there will not be much change to be seen, and that both the Greens and the liberals, as minority parties, will just have to toe the line laid down by Merkel, perhaps in exchange for a concession here or there.
Where a change of direction might be observed, if US imperialism has greater resort to the protectionism that has been threatened by Donald Trump, is likely to be towards greater independence from the US in foreign policy to promote the interests of the European bourgeoisie rather than continually falling in line behind Uncle Sam.
This could lead to the lifting of sanctions on Moscow, for example, and certainly further improved trading relations with China – but all this would almost certainly happen regardless of which bourgeois government took power in Germany.