Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Die Linke: a left-wing success story

The amazing triumph of Germany's left wing party casts some doubt on Angela Merkel's chances of re-election.

A succession of articles and editorials have been penned to analyse why the European left may have failed so far to cash in on the financial crisis. With the partial exception of Spain, left-of-centre parties have taken one drubbing after the other in Britain, France and Italy.

To the surprise of many, centre-right and far-right parties were more successful in intercepting voters' anxieties through a combination of faux-pious approach to big business and finance and distraction techniques centred around real and imaginary threats to social values, national identities and tradition.

In the meantime, the moment the economic tide turned, having spent a decade or two doing somersaults to reassure Big Business took a devastating toll on the moderate left. In Britain, France and Italy, for instance, an increasing number of voters identify the centre-left as weak, useless and incapable to empathise with struggling families and workers alike.

Last Sunday though, something new happened. In the three German länders (federal states) that held local elections, Die Linke (a left-wing coalition founded less than five years ago) netted an unprecedented victory. In Saarland, they went from 2,3% in 2004 to the current 21,3%, an increase of 19 points, while scoring 23.6% in Saxony and an even more impressive 27% in Thuringia, in some cases even outpolling the centre-left Social Democrats.

While pre-ballot opinion polls did anticipate a positive night for Die Linke, such an emphatic triumph turned up totally unexpected. Wooed by the charisma of left-wing maverick Oskar Lafontaine, millions of Germans decided to listen to "a party with attitude", one that tells it like it is on redistribution, big business and the most brutal side effects of unfettered capitalism.

Whereas the last ten years have witnessed in turn the rise of green politics, neo-conservatism, and the xenophobic far-right, this is the first time in ages an openly socialist party notched up such a clear victory.

Whether the reason is the banks returning to the old bingeing habits like nothing happened, stagnant salaries, or the continuing rise of dole queues, it will be interesting to see if Die Linke's feat is the start of a left-wing revival across Europe.

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