This is the first in a series of blog posts on Germany’s approaching General Election (Bundestagswahl) and the implications for my research. Anyone who knows me personally and/or reads this blog will also know that the Left Party (Die Linke) is ‘my’ subject — so I’m starting things off with an overview of the party’s core policy areas and some of the challenges they are set to face as the election approaches.
First, the three policy areas:
- social justice and capitalism
- representation of eastern interests
These core issues, which were also the focus of the Left Party’s predecessor, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), have become firmly established as the Left Party’s ‘USP’ and will underpin the manifestos and campaigns for this year’s regional and Bundestag elections.
But although the Left Party has developed a solid, distinct set of core policies, along with expertise in these fields, the major challenge is how to present them in a way that chimes with the prevailing political mood and current public debate. And this year more than ever it means framing the issue of migration in social and progressive language and values.
A survey published by infratest dimap earlier this year [here, in German] shows that migration, which includes integration and asylum policy, still tops the list of priorities (40%), followed by growing concern (11%) about domestic security and terror prevention. Social justice — one of the Left Party’s key campaigning issues — ranks third, cited by seven per cent of survey respondents as the greatest priority for the next government.
At first glance, these statistics don’t bode well for the Left Party. But there is in fact a great deal of common ground between the Party’s core policy areas and the themes dominating public discourse.
First, there is a direct relationship between the issues of immigration and social justice. The Left Party is critical of Chancellor Merkel’s failure to ensure the ability of regions and local communities to cope with the additional demand on resources and infrastructure, and argues it is misleading to scapegoat refugees for low-paid and precarious jobs, affordable housing shortages and overstretched local public services. Rather, the Party insists the fault lies with the government and its dogmatic pursuit of concentrating wealth in the hands of the few, leaving poorer individuals and cash-strapped local communities to bear the burden of austerity and cuts.
Secondly, the Left Party will hope to benefit from its eastern heritage. But despite its historical role as advocate of eastern interests, the Party could possibly struggle to mobilise the so-called protest vote. Participation in a number of regional government coalitions has, to some extent, stripped the party of its ‘otherness’. (Indeed, the disastrous 2016 regional election result in Mecklenburg-Vorpommen was attributed in part to an overly office-seeking campaign and candidate.) Then again, while the right-wing populist AfD has so far managed to attract the support of protest voters, it’s necessary to keep in mind that social justice continues to play a particularly important role here. Voters in the eastern state of Sachsen-Anhalt identified it as the most important issue ahead of last year’s regional election (46%, rising to 67% among Left Party voters). And even though AfD voters prioritised refugees as the most urgent challenge, social justice was not far behind. So rather than target ‘the protest vote’ as such (and protest/non- voters by no means constitute a homogenous group), the Left Party could do well to concentrate on a progressive, social campaign bringing together the familiar and related issues of migration and social justice in order to mobilise its core constituency in the eastern heartland.
The third and final point brings us to antimilitarism. And once again, this resonates strongly with the migration crisis. The very real concerns regarding domestic security and terror are, the Left Party argues, inseparable from Germany’s foreign policy, the active involvement of the army (Bundeswehr) in conflicts around the world and, last but by no means least, the export of weapons to volatile regions and brutal regimes. Combined, these fuel greater instability and create the very conditions from which millions attempt to flee. I suspect this will be a particularly strong campaigning issue, as the Left Party has been pretty consistent in its policy of antimilitarism. (My previous research found that the party attracted support from former Green voters precisely because of this issue.) What’s more, there is an additional social justice aspect to consider: as the USA demands that Germany meet its financial responsibilities to NATO, where will the money come from?
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring the Left Party’s three core policy issues in depth, focusing on aspects of the policies themselves, as well as the challenges and difficulties they face. At the time of writing, the party membership is consulting on the draft manifesto, so I’ll also be keeping a close eye on developments there.
In the meantime, my own thoughts are rather mixed. I firmly believe the Left Party has clear and important contribution to make, but fear that it also has a formidable task on its hands. According to the infratest dimap survey referred to in this blog, over two-thirds of respondents believe this Bundestag campaign is gearing up to be a very aggressive one indeed, and eighty-six per cent are convinced the outcome will be determined by the political mood, rather than the facts. It’s therefore incredibly frustrating, not to mention depressing, that political talkshows — perhaps mindful of the positive effect on viewing figures — often focus on controversial and divisive themes such as immigration, security and a breakdown of trust in politicians and media (issues like education and climate change receive decidedly less attention). Meanwhile the right-wing populist AfD appears to have become a ‘regular’ among the studio guests. With the AfD in the spotlight, with talkshow guests interrupting and shouting over each other and with the Left Party predictably and without differentiation pigeonholed alongside the AfD as a disruptive ‘troublemaker’, it can be hard work to hear a socialist alternative to the prevailing narrative.
infratest dimap: ARD DeutschlandTREND Januar 2017 http://www.infratest-dimap.de/umfragen-analysen/bundesweit/ard-deutschlandtrend/2017/januar/
wahltagesschau.de: Sachsen-Anhalt 2016 http://wahl.tagesschau.de/wahlen/2016-03-13-LT-DE-ST/index.shtml
Joachim Bischoff and Björn Radke: ‘Linker Schwung statt stagnierende Kräfteverhältnisse’ in Neues Deutschland (26.09.2016) https://www.neues-deutschland.de/artikel/1026761.linker-schwung-statt-stagnierende-kraefteverhaeltnisse.html.
bundestag image credit: tvjoern on pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/reichstag-berlin-1358937/