Germany’s spring reginal elections saw many commentators predict that they would signal a swing to the right for Germany politically. Unfortunately, they were not wrong. The far right wing party Alternative for Germany (AFD) finished second in Saxony Anhalt, an eastern region of the former democratic republic. They also finished third in Baden Wurttemberg and Rhineland Palatinate. The ongoing refugee crisis has forced leftist parties into a position where they are unable to make a clear political response, and offer a solution to the dissatisfaction that many people in Germany feel with Angela Markel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union and Social Democratic Party Coalition. The growing popularity of the right in Germany, has echoed many other European countries political landscape, with right wing parties growing in the UK, France and Sweden. Yet, in this instance, things are a little bit more complicated. The election results show two separate but linked rightward shifts in Germany’s politics, of which the success of the Alternative for Germany party, has been the most obvious. This blog post will look at the reason for this rightward shift, and what can be done to fight against it.
How did this start?
Germanys steady shift rightward began in the early 2000’s when Gerhard Schroder, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) led the country. In an attempt to emulate Bill Clintons efforts to ‘end welfare as we know it’, Schroder forced his party adopt policies radically cutting unemployment benefits and weakening Labour Union Power, threatening to resign if his plans were not met. This lacing of the party with conservativism, marked a far cry the centrist policies it had implemented during its ‘Red-Green’ government, from 1998 – 2002. Indeed, this shift to the right for the party marked the opportunity for the founding of the leftist alternative, Work and Social Justice (WASG) party, which would later become Die Linke.
This shift to the right for the ruling party in Germany, made Angela Merkel try to push the Christian Democrats (CDU), then in opposition, to adopt right wing and neoliberal policies. In order to achieve this, Merkel appointed a committee, led by former German President Roman Herzog, to formulate an even more ridiculously neoliberal economic model than the one already being implemented by the Social Democrats! This model included reductions in healthcare benefits, reduction of unemployment benefit and replacement of the progressive tax system. Had this plan actually been implemented, it would have been disastrous, probably resulting in the destruction of the post-war system that the Christian democrats built. This right wing neoliberal cesspit of a plan, made Merkel and Germanys Elites hopeful that the Christian democrats would win the next elections, and that the country would move one step closer to getting rid of Germany’s social safety net. Even a large number of economists, some of which would go on to form the AFD, supported the plans in what became known as the ‘Hamburg Appeal’. Understandably however, not a lot of Germans were too keen on the Christian Democrats new found austerity package, with the 2005 elections resulting in the party having to form a coalition with the SDP, after failing to win a majority. As a result, to the anger of neoliberals both inside and outside of the party, Merkel scrapped the Christian Democrats right wing platform. The government that Germany’s hard right had long been hoping for, was not to be delivered after all.
The fall and Rise of Germanys Right
All this is not to say that Merkel had simply become a champion for progressive causes overnight or anything, but simply that she organised the Christian Democrats not to resist them, refusing to let the right of the party organise against things like Gender Equality, acceptance of migrants and acceptance of Islam. Gradually, right wing rivals within the party were side-lined either through electoral defeats or corruption scandals. While neo Conservatives, Neoliberals and Nationalists did still interact, Germanys past association with Nazism, made hard right groups stigmatised.
Despite this a growing number of right wing economists felt a growing anger with Merkels policies. Although the austerity regime eventually got imposed, the economists were angry at the government’s deviation from the social liberal doctrine, which empathizes the need for the state to make sure the free market lives up to its theoretical principles. As a result of this, dissenters from the ruling Christian Democrats and other right wing fanatics, led by Bernd Luke, eventually formed the Alternative For Germany Party. In their early days, the AFD enjoyed a bit of electoral success, missing entry into parliament by less than 125,000 votes. This enthusiasm for the party however, did not spring from its fanaticisms about free markets nor its support for elites. Rather, many chose to vote for the party because of its authoritarian stance on immigration and criminal justice. Overtime, the division between the neoliberal wing of the party and the socially conservative wing became more and more apparent. Many began to see the AFD as a Kickstarter party for far right groups like Pegida. This forced Luke to leave the party with many of his elite allies, leaving the Alternative for Germany party weak and with little support. Indeed, they would have probably fizzled out had it not been for Merkels surprise decision to allow refugees from Syria to come to Germany. This allowed the AFD to take advantage of what they saw as the ‘refugee crises’, by blaming all of Germanys problems on Merkel and foreigners. The same pervasive sense of racism which had first left the party weak and unelectable, was now the AFD’s main way of getting votes.
The Rise of the AFD
So the Far Right, Alternative for Germany party was saved by pushing the narrative that the refugee crisis was ‘Spiralling out of control’, with the government unable or unwilling to produce a response. At the time, many Germans were ignorant to the fact that the Austerity policies imposed by Merkel and other elites within Europe, had turned the populations of Spain, Greece, Italy, France and Portugal against Germany. Instead, the German people saw rampant austerity and deregulation a reasonable response to any economic downturn. Incidentally, they saw Germany as being left to foot the bill for economically irresponsible governments. Indeed, Merkels popularity went up when the anti-austerity SYRIZA government in Greece, was bought to its knees.
This sense of dissatisfaction among Germanys population peaked with the refugee crisis, and the far right AFD trying to convince everyone that migrants were a drain on Germany’s resources. As this issue has come to overshadow everything, the German government have asked for a redistribution of refugees among other EU countries, but so far this has been of little to no consequence. Ultimately, the rise of the AFD can be put down to a reaction to this experience of Powerlessness. While the Party may not be able to capitalize on this issue forever, there is a possibility that they will find other avenues to exploit for electoral success. This leads me to consider how the left can oppose the rise of the right.
How the Left Should React
Most importantly the anti-capitalist left should not run scared as a result of the rise of the right. While antifascist forces should be aware of the danger that Fascism poses, and be prepared to confront fascists on the streets, it is no use just invoking the dangers of fascism. Many potential voters of the AFD have much more deep rooted concerns, and would have voted for any party that appeared to be offering a loud enough alternative to the feeling of helplessness mentioned in the previous paragraphs. The problem here is that many mainstream parties often react with hostility to what far right groups like the AFD do, and in doing so unintentionally divert attention away from themselves and on to the hard right. As such, we need to be looking outside of mainstream politics for our political answers, and towards informal non-hierarchical organisations, that can build alliances in civil society against this overarching sense of hopelessness, felt by many people inside and outside of Germany. We need to make clear that the right wing policies of the mainstream parties in Germany, are what prepared the ground for the rise of the even further right AFD in the first place. Finally, Anti capitalists should ignore false promises, instead focusing on shifting the agenda away from right wing populists, depriving them of their most important resource.
Overall, while it may appear that the rise of the right in Germany and elsewhere poses a threat, this is all the more reason why Anarchists and Left Libertarians need to oppose it. This is not an issue limited to Germany, and as such we should seeking to act in direct opposition to nationalism and racism, promoting an internationalist approach to the issue, and engaging with oppressed people abroad and in our own country.