SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 148 - May 2011


Germany: political volatility sees Greens rise

OPPOSITION TO the policies of German chancellor, Angela Merkel, are being expressed in mass resentment and electoral support for Die Grünen (The Greens). Indeed, recent polls suggest that a Green candidate would become chancellor if national elections took place now.

Even before the catastrophe at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station, support was stagnating for the conservative coalition government – made up of Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the Liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). Although it tried to claim credit for the economic upswing, working-class people have not felt any benefit. One in two new jobs is on a temporary contract. Wages remain low. In 2009, the FDP won 14.5% in national elections with the promise of lower taxes, and even a number of workers voted for it, hoping for higher wages. Now the party is in a deep crisis. Guido Westerwelle has been kicked out as party leader, and the FDP might struggle to make it back into the national parliament.

Against the background of the world economic crisis, workers feel that German growth is built on thin ground. The government is unstable even though the austerity measures have been limited so far, and trade union leaders are not pushing for mass resistance. This instability has been expressed in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) loss of seven state minister-presidents since 2009. The picture of an incapable government was underlined by the resignation of the defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, tipped as a future conservative chancellor, because he cheated in his doctorate thesis. It is now questionable whether this government can see through its term in office, due to end in 2013.

Meanwhile, there is strong and growing anti-nuclear resistance. Last September, 100,000 people marched in Berlin. Nevertheless, the government extended the lifetime of nuclear power plants. Nuclear waste transports were blocked in acts of civil disobedience by thousands of people in November. On top of this, a regional mass movement of hundreds of thousands has developed against the expensive and dangerous train-station project, ‘Stuttgart 21’, Stuttgart being the state capital of Baden-Württemberg. This severely undermined support for the conservative-liberal state government. Die Grünen were prominent in both movements. Die Linke (The Left), on the other hand, hesitated to take up these issues.

The catastrophe in Fukushima gave an enormous boost to the anti-nuclear power movement. Due to an ongoing anti-nuclear movement since the 1980s, nuclear power is rejected by the majority of people in Germany. And, in the first opinion polls after Fukushima, 72% said they were in favour of an immediate shut down of the ‘old’ nuclear plants, those built before 1980.

One day after the earthquake in Japan, a mass protest – planned before the disaster – took place in Stuttgart. Sixty thousand people formed a 40km human chain against nuclear power. Up to 140,000 people followed the call for Monday protests on 726 regional demonstrations. One day before the state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz, 250,000 people participated in four mass demonstrations, the biggest protest in the history of the anti-nuclear power movement.

While Die Linke has not made it into the Baden-Württemberg state parliament, Die Grünen gained their first minister-president. All other parties lost support. Sixty-five percent of voters said that energy policy had been decisive, while 25% said Stuttgart 21 had been the key issue.

The victory of Die Grünen is a political earthquake, ending 58 years of CDU-led governments in Baden-Württemberg. They doubled their support to 24.2%, gaining even more votes because of the high turnout. The end of the hated government headed by Stefan Mappus was widely celebrated. He was held responsible for the police repression on ‘black Thursday’ last September, when 400 people were injured. Additionally, Mappus was seen as the major spokesperson for longer contracts for nuclear plants on a national level.

Die Grünen have been in opposition nationally for six years. Although they agreed to the rotten compromise of a long-term ‘exit strategy’ for nuclear power in 2002 – seen as a betrayal by large parts of the movement – they have been able to rebuild their position, partially at least. Partly, this is also because Die Linke has not challenged them effectively – which is why the Greens are seen as the main party against nuclear power.

The new minister-president, Winfried Kretschmann, is a representative of the rightwing of Die Grünen, which argues openly for foreign military intervention, for example. Even though Die Grünen is a completely capitalist party, the rightwing calls for its remaining radical demands to be watered down, to increase support from big business.

It is not clear how long they can keep their support. At the time of writing, the ‘social-democratic’ SPD and Die Grünen are negotiating for a coalition agreement in Baden-Württemberg. Representatives have made it clear that they are going to take ‘fiscal responsibility’. The budget deficit is €8 billion, and cuts in teachers’ jobs have already been announced, despite promises by Die Grünen to improve school education. They will not increase taxes for the rich or big companies, so further austerity measures will be necessary to lower the deficit. Nonetheless, in the short term, they can still present themselves as improving living conditions if they abolish tuition fees.

Depending on the development of the anti-nuclear power movement, Die Grünen can build from this and broad environmental issues. It is likely that they will have good results in state elections in Bremen, Berlin and Mecklenburg Vorpommern this year. In Berlin, they have a good chance of becoming the biggest party. Although they have seen a remarkable increase in membership, however, activists do not see the party as theirs, so there is no lasting adhesion to Die Grünen by the middle and working classes.

Stuttgart 21 is seen as their first test in Baden-Württemberg and is being closely followed by the national media. Die Grünen ordered a building freeze for the project as an important step to calm the movement. Together with the SPD, which is in favour of Stuttgart 21, they decided to call a referendum on the issue. This is a big threat to the movement, as 2.5 million votes (out of 7.5m eligible to vote) will be needed to stop the project. On the one hand, the possibility of mobilising so many people is almost ruled out. On the other hand, the opponents of Stuttgart 21 do not have a stable majority in the state. The result, therefore, could be that Stuttgart 21 will be built under a Green minister-president, and support for Die Grünen would decrease.

The main reason for Die Grünen’s big increase in support, however, was the inability of Die Linke to build among the working class and in the movements against nuclear power and Stuttgart 21. It underestimated the protests against Stuttgart 21 and did not use its resources to strengthen the movement and lead a way forward. Even though many people were suspicious whether Die Grünen would sacrifice their position against Stuttgart 21 in favour of government participation, and saw that Die Linke also took part in construction blockades and other civil disobedience, Die Linke was not seen as major force of the movement. It presented itself as a left corrective to the SPD and Die Grünen and was unclear about its participation in coalitions. Had Die Linke presented itself as a voice of resistance against the establishment parties, and as a militant socialist force, it could have gained more support.

Die Grünen emerged from the anti-nuclear power movement in the 1980s. Die Linke cannot build up the same record in one day. But large numbers of activists from the movement are alienated from Die Grünen since their rotten compromise on nuclear power in 2002. They are also angered because Die Grünen are not in favour of an immediate shut down of all nuclear power plants, unlike most activists. Criticising Die Grünen in the movement, Die Linke could explain the necessity of building a democratic, combative and socialist party as an instrument for the movement to shut down nuclear power, fight against austerity cuts and overthrow capitalism.

Unfortunately, Die Linke fails to do this and is increasingly seen as another established party. Sozialistische Alternative (SAV – CWI Germany), whose members are active in Die Linke, called for full support of these movements from the beginning and have been active in them. Die Grünen will betray the activists and workers again, and a real, fighting socialist alternative is needed to their policies.

Michael Koschitzki - (SAV – CWI Germany)

Home About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page