These should be halcyon days for the Left in Europe. The growing economic inequality, wage stagnation, job insecurity across the continent is creating widespread dissatisfaction among the middle and working classes. Such a situation would have traditionally benefited the social democrats and other left-of-center political parties. Instead we are seeing a rising tide of right-wing populism everywhere except in the UK.
The New York Times rarely has in-depth coverage of German politics, but it recently published an Op/Ed piece by Lukas Hermsmeier that discusses the Ger,am left parties (Social Democrats, Greens, Left Party) and how they are losing voters to the right-wing extremist Alternative for Germany (AfD): Can the German Left Save Itself? Hermsmeier points out that the "managerial" style of Angela Merkel which worked well for so long has now fallen into disfavor. People are looking for something new, bigger, and they aren't necessarily finding it on the traditional Left:
Political malaise of this kind could be an opportunity for left-wing groups promising social and economic change. But it’s not working that way. Instead, in this vacuum, the far-right party Alternative for Germany, widely known by its German initials as AfD, has managed to combine its fierce anti-immigrant stance with a new rhetorical and policy focus on social welfare — calling for higher wages, safer pensions and extended unemployment benefits. These are the kinds of issues that should be offered by the left, untainted by the AfD’s putrid nationalism.
A poll released this week found that 16 percent of German voters would choose the AfD in elections, half a percentage point more than would pick the Social Democrats. It’s the first time the far-right party has done better than the center-left Social Democrats, which helped build the postwar German state. The AfD draws some support from high-earning members of the elite, including a number of academics. But its base is the working class, the unemployed and, more and more, trade union members — just the kinds of voters a left-wing agenda should appeal to.
For Hermsmeier, the traditional Volksparteien - the CDU and SPD - share the blame for this disastrous turn of events in German politics. mainly due to their inability to articulate a hopeful vision for the future that can appeal to voters. But he also has criticism for the Left Party - die Linke - in particular for Sahra Wagenknecht for her nationalistic rhetoric ("Querfront") and Diether Dehm for his anti-Semitism:
At the beginning of the year, Sahra Wagenknecht, the parliamentary leader of the Left, called for a “left movement” in which her own party, the Social Democrats and the Greens came together. This sounds like a good idea, a way to unify Germany’s fragmented progressives into a strong collective. Unfortunately, Ms. Wagenknecht is one of the impediments. In recent years, she has made remarks on immigration (“Not all the impoverished and poor of the world can come to us”) and on feminism (“I get hit on, too, but I’m able to set boundaries and don’t have to weep on Twitter”) that have alienated potential allies on the left. And a divisive leader is not the party’s only problem. The Left Party has historic links to the East German regime, which continues to scare off voters. Some members of the Parliament, like Diether Dehm, are reported to have ties to anti-Semitic groups. The party’s soft line on Russia has also drawn censure. The result is that the party is — despite its promising left-wing program — “unwählbar” (unelectable) for many leftists.
What is the solution? The German left needs to organize at the grass-roots level and articulate an optimistic, hopeful message of progressive change ("Yes We Can!"). But it needs to happen quickly. For once the AfD passes the 20% threshold nationally and is at par with the CDU Germany will likely face an extended period of dangerous instability. In eastern Germany it is already there.