The recent election night was a shock for many: [Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrat] CDU and the [Bavarian sister party of the CDU] CSU each had their worst result since 1949, the [Social Democrats of the SDP] got the worst result in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany; and [far-right] AfD, according to official estimates, came away with 12.6% of the vote and 94 representatives in the Bundestag.
Alongside AfD, the [arch-neoliberal] FDP had reasons to celebrate, namely 10.7% and 80 seats which brought them back into the Bundestag, from which previous recent elections had banished them.
The SPD continued their decline. They won a mere 20.5%, thereby "topping" their previous worst-ever result (23% in 2009). As in 2009, they were footing the bill for their work as part of the governing Grand Coalition.
It is not just that. In spite of all their election propaganda, fewer and fewer people see the SPD as the "party of social justice"; within the Grand Coalition, the SPD had abandoned any semblance of opposition to Merkel's CDU. That much was clear in the televised duel between the Federal Chancellor and her challenger Martin Schulz.
Against this background, it is particularly striking that Die Linke [The Left Party] cannot profit from the SPD's weakness. With a projected vote of 9.2%, they only finished 0.6% ahead of their 2013 result. But while almost 430,000 SPD votes went to Die Linke, Die Linke lost almost as many votes to the AfD.
What became even clearer was that Die Linke was not seen as an alternative to the AfD, when one takes into account that the AfD's main electoral successes were in the East, where Die Linke is historically strong and has been present in three federal state-level governments. The loss in Thuringia was particularly large (6.6% down on 2013) where Die Linke holds the office of Prime Minister.
If the AfD is the one to come away from the contest smiling, its electoral success has only further exacerbated the long-smouldering conflict within its ranks: [the morning after the election], Frauke Petry stated that she did not want to take the AfD whip in the Bundestag, whereupon Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel demanded that she leave the party.
Surely the AfD will come out of the election with all its structures strengthened; but the tensions between the Petry wing and the openly pro-fascist wing of the AfD will become more and more intense.
Now the big poker game is underway. It is highly likely that the view will win out that the SPD's only chance of survival is to return to the opposition benches. And that means that, realistically, we're looking at a "Jamaica" coalition: CDU-CSU-FDP-Greens.
The Federal Government bears the main responsibility for the growth of the AfD. Its right-wing, racist politics of the last few years allowed the AfD's propaganda to take wing. The whole political discourse had shifted to the right, so that the AfD was considered acceptable in polite society. What election night showed particularly clearly, as CSU chief Seehofer let slip that it would be necessary to adopt even more AfD positions.
The Federal election also showed that the old party system is increasingly eroded. While the government suffered massive punishments - their policies have lost the support of millions of people - only the AfD (and to a lesser extent the FDP) were in a position to profit from this. Die Linke has wretchedly failed to offer a leftwing alterantive to the sinking Grand Coalition. This alone explains the rise of the AfD.
Surely many people voted for Die Linke, in order to make their voice heard against AfD. That is clear. But, and particularly in East Germany, even more people turned away from Die Linke, because AfD was seen as more of a party of protest and opposition than Die Linke was.
Their rise can only indicate that a new strong left opposition has to be built; one which can offer more credible answers to social inequality in this country than can the rightwing demagogy of AfD. What else can explain the fact that where Die Linke participated in government, this turned out to be to the AfD's advantage? How else to explain that four years of Die Linke "leading the opposition" in parliament hasn't worked out to the advantage of Die Linke?
So the question of the hour is: how can we build an opposition that does more than stand up against the rightward turn? We need an opposition that doesn't make any lazy compromises with the other parties, but rather goes on the offensive against the government's policy and opposes precarious work, the housing shortage, racism, sexism and hopelessness.
Abridged from the German left paper Klasse Gegen Klasse. Translation by Ed Maltby.