Tue Sep 27th, 2005 at 03:15:41 PM EST
From the diaries ~ whataboutbob
For quite a long time now, I have been planning to do a diary on an issue that has been widely underexposed since the Linke's amazing ascent this year. This is a diary about the new left, the old extreme right and (neo-)proletarian voter behaviour.
The rise of the Linke has prevented a rise of extreme-right, neo-fascist parties, first of all the NPD, a rise which would have been inevitable without the Linke. The Linke served as a collecting pit for disenchanted poor and (neo-)proletarian voters who otherwise would have turned to the right as a means of protesting against a system that holds no place for them any more.
I guess you are more interested in the developments of the current coalition-building poker, but for now, I ask you to press the stop button and rewind to around 2002. Gerhard Schröder had just narrowly escaped an embarrasing defeat against Edmund Stoiber, and the demoscopic pundits were analysing the outcome.
The demoscopes had really ugly news.
They had found out that a huge voter migration had taken place: A large part of the SPD's traditional clientele - the low-income workers, the less educated, the non-bourgeois voters - had turned their back on the once-was "worker's party" and voted CDU instead. It was a protest against the SPD-policy of the "Neue Mitte" (New Center), Schröder's version of Blair's New Labour. An economic and social policy of which you could hardly tell the difference to liberal-conservative policies. The 2002 elections had been mainly about the reform (i.e.: cuts) of unemployment benefits and the integration of unemployment benefits and social welfare. People most frightened of this reform were, understandably, those who already were poor and unemployed as well as those workers with "simple tasks" who have to face the highest probability of losing their jobs. Ironically, they did so despite the fact that there was no rational reason for them to vote CDU, for they could not expect any better from CDU's policies. They did it because it was the only viable alternative for them, the only way of expressing protest - at that moment.
Why was that ugly news?
At first glance, it was just normal voter migration like it is supposed to happen in a democracy. But, projected into the near future, many commentators came to ugly conclusions (and I agreed with them): What if CDU regains control of the government in four or eight years, and these people realise that they did not vote in their own interest? What if they, then, realise that none of the current parties (CDU/CSU, SPD, FDP, Greens; PDS not included because they had failed the 5 % threshold) represents their interests?
German historical experience commands that, in this situation, you have to turn your head to the right and have a close look at what is going on there. Indeed, the parties of the nationalist right (NPD, DVU, Republikaner and the Schill Partei [RIP, yay!]) were already salivating like a Pawlowian dog, expecting to gain from slogans like "Jobs for Germans", "No money for migrants" ect. For, when (neo-)proletarian voters would have unsucessfully tried all democratic alternatives, they would become disenchanted of the whole democratic-political system and embrace an authoritarian alternative. Like 1930s reloaded. The right wing lacked only two things: Unity and a charismatic leader. The former problem was solved when the Schill Partei crashed and NPD and DVU agreed to not compete against each other in the same elections any more. The right's latter problem has not been solved until today, but then again: you can never know what scummy figures can suddenly emerge from the brownish mud.
So, in my (and many other people's) opinion, there was reason to be seriously concerned, as long as economic recession prevailed. But this year, the problem suddenly vanished with the unexpected emergence of the Linke, the union of left wing-SPD break away WASG and former GDR socialist PDS. For (neo-)proletarian strata, voting for the Linke now has become a way of protesting against the policy of social cuts.
Which is hell of a lot better than voting for NPD. You might object that Oskar Lafontaine, one of the Linke's leading figures, made some desplicable remarks about foreign workers. But this was mainly a medially amplified misstatement. Yes, Lafontaine did talk about foreign workers in Germany who were payed less than the minimum wages, and he criticised it. But he did not do it in a way a right-wing politician would, i.e.: Blaming the foreign workers for the whole mess. Instead, he regarded these foreign workers also as victims and blamed domestic employers.
In contrast to the NPD, there can not be any doubt that the Linke's personnel is completely adherent to the principles of democracy, civility and humanity. The socially and economically disadvantaged substrata of German society now have been given the possibility of voting for a democratic alternative. The right's hope of being able to identify economic misery with the democratic and pluralistic system has been destroyed. In this sense, a successful Linke is in the best interest of German democracy. For the moment, I am tempted to say that the Linke arranged for a happy end in a serious situation for German political system and political culture.
Shares of votes for right wing parties in German federal elections since 1990:
Vote shares oscillating around 2 % for right wing parties are "normal" (still, if you ask me, that every 50th person you meet is statistically a potential nationalist, protofascist right wingnut, is quite frightening). I expect the Linke to function as a stabiliser of this oscillator that could otherwise crash, with right wing votes potentially jumping over the 5 % threshold.