Somewhere between 150,000 and 250,000 people marched through Berlin on Saturday 14 October in a protest against “racism, social exclusion and the shift to the right (‘Rechtsruck’)”.
The “#Indivisible” demonstration was backed by a range of individuals and organisations — around 4,500 of them — that Stand Up to Racism could only dream of. Official publicity for the demonstration declared:
“We are for an open society of solidarity, in which human rights are indivisible and in which it is a matter of course that there are a multipicity of ways in which people can decide how to live their own lives.”
“We will not allow the welfare state, flight from persecution, and migration to be played off against each other. … Solidarity knows no borders. For the right to protection and asylum. Against a Fortress Europe.”
But Sahra Wagenknecht — co-chair of the parliamentary fraction of Die Linke (The Left) and leader of Rise Up (supposedly a broad cross-party left movement, modelled on Momentum) — refused to support or attend the demonstration.
It was “absolutely correct” if “lots of people demonstrate against racism and right-wing politics.” But support for “open borders for all”, she said, was implicit in the demonstration’s demands, with the result that “a certain milieu will demonstrate, and a different one will be absent.”
Wagenknecht continued: “If we speak about open borders for all, then that is a demand which most people see as unreal and completely alien. And they are right to do so.”
Without any debate within Rise Up (which clearly owes more to Momentum than it realises)
Wagenknecht also declared that Rise Up as an organisation would not “formally” support the demonstration.
Wagenknecht’s stance provoked uproar on sections of the left. (Some of it undoubtedly factionally motivated. Leaders of The Left see Rise Up as the first step to engineering a split in the party.) And not for the first time, the far-right Alternative for Germany backed Wagenknecht, describing her as “the voice of reason” in her party:
“Her movement Rise Up has recognised that open borders would make an absurdity of any reasonable asylum policies. Wagenknecht seems to be one of the few politicians in The Left who have understood that most people in Germany don’t want open borders.” Within days Wagenknecht had “clarified” her position.
“Of course”, she “welcomed” people demonstrating for solidarity and against racism. But the demonstration failed to identify those responsible for the flight of refugees, and those responsible for cuts in welfare spending.
Moreover: “There are also many people who oppose racism and hostility to foreigners, and who simultaneously consider the regulatation of migration to be a necessity. In any objective and democratic debate this position must be respected as well.”
Wagenknecht’s attitude towards the demonstration, and her autocratic declaration that Rise Up was taking the same position, underlines the accelerating right-populist shift in her politics, and the democratic deficit at the heart of Rise Up.
“Grand Coalition” slumps in Bavaria
Last Sunday’s regional election in the German federal state of Bavaria marked a major shift in Bavarian politics, with implications for the “Grand Coalition” government at national level level. Support for the long-dominant CSU slumped. In years past the CSU (a regional Bavarian party, something of a cross between the Tories and UKIP) easily picked up well over 50% of the vote. This time their share of the vote fell to 37%.
The CSU, part of the coalition government at national level, has recently pursued a viciously anti-refugee and anti-migrant line, denouncing the CSU (German Conservative Party) for being soft on foreigners.
But for a layer of voters it was not hardline enough. They switched to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which picked up 10% of the vote (less than had been predicted prior to the elections).
A different, smaller, layer of its voters were repelled by its crude witch-hunting of foreigners. They switched to the Free Voters, an ultra-traditional conservative party, but one not tainted by the CSU’s xenophobic rhetoric. They secured 11% of the vote.
The CSU’s attempt to outflank the AfD also triggered a wave of opposition in terms of popular protests and demonstrations. In last Sunday’s elections the beneficiaries of that anti-CSU backlash were the Greens: 17% of the vote, compared with 8% in the last elections.
The elections marked another chapter in the potential death throws of the SPD (German Labour Party), once the party of Liebknecht and Luxemburg and the largest social-democratic party in the world: its share of the vote slumped from 20% in 2013 to less than 10%.
The SPD was in a coalition government with the CDU and CSU at national level from 2013 to 2017. In the 2017 general election its share of the vote fell to 20%. Suicidally, it re-entered a CDU-CSU coalition government earlier this year. Last Sunday it paid the price for that decision.
Die Linke (The Left), a party to the left of the SPD but with leanings towards Stalinism (especially among its older members), failed to make an impact. Its share of the vote increased from 2% in 2013 to 3% last Sunday.
The anti-CSU, anti-racist, youth, vaguely anti-capitalist vote clearly went to the Greens not to The Left. Bitter internal divisions arising from the creation of the “Rise Up”movement by its parliamentary fraction co-chair Sahra Wagenknecht were probably a factor in its poor performance.
The Bavarian election results also spell trouble for the CDU-CSU-SPD national coalition government – which can only be a good thing.
The two parties in the coalition which contested the Bavarian election did badly.
The result will add to the pressure on the SPD to pull out of the coalition. And a poor performance by the CDU in the forthcoming Hessen federal state election will weaken the coalition still further.