Germans head to polls, Die Linke fights to keep Nazis out
Sahra Wagenknecht, one of Die Linke’s co-leaders in the Bundestag, speaks in Berlin. | Tim Schulz / dapd via AP

BERLIN—Germans are voting today in an election that, despite what the major media says, will have major consequences for this country, Europe, and the world.
Pundits point to the lead the Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) Angela Merkel has in opinion polls as proof that “everything will remain the same in Germany because everything here is going relatively well.” In the latest round of those polls, Merkel’s party is indeed in the lead with about 35 percent, followed closely by the now neo-liberal Social Democrats (SPD), which are polling in the low 20s.
Four other parties, the Left Party (Die Linke), the neo-Nazi Alternative for Germany (AfD), the neo-liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), and the Greens are all continuing to poll around 10 percent, with the Greens usually a point or two behind the other three. Die Linke and AfD have been, day by day, alternately a point or two ahead of one another.
Everything will not be the same
The “everything will stay the same” analysis flies in the face of reality for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that Nazis will likely take their seats in the Bundestag for the first time since Hitler became Germany’s chancellor in 1933. The AfD is expected to surpass the five percent threshold required for parliamentary seats, a mark it failed to reach five years ago when Die Linke won the 64 seats it continues to hold in the 600-seat Bundestag.
Another reason for the irrelevance of the “everything is decided, everything will stay the same” analysis is that how well each—Die Linke and AfD—performs tomorrow will determine whether the Left or a gang of neo-Nazis , anti-Semites, and racists becomes the main opposition in the Bundestag.
Since the CDU-SDP coalition is likely to survive, the third party, probably either the AfD or Die Linke, will become the official opposition party, giving it the position of budget minister and the first right to rise in opposition to government proposals.

Dietmar Bartsch, one of Die Linke’s national co-chairs.

If attendance at the traditional “last rallies” held all over Germany yesterday is any indication, the news for Die Linke could be good tomorrow night. Thousands rallied in Alexanderplatz here yesterday and the crowd swelled as people getting off work for the weekend joined them under a sunny blue sky.
The last of some thick clouds blew away just as the rally began, drenching the rally site in sunlight. “It’s a good sign for us,” joked Dietmar Bartsch, Die Linke’s national co-chair. “But this last rally is not going to be our last rally. We don’t stop until 6 p.m. Sunday night!” he said, referring to poll closing time across Germany.
The AfD has been closely following the Trump playbook, even bragging to that effect on its Facebook pages. Like Trump himself, the German Trumpist movement, as AfD is called by many here, is posing as a friend of the working class.
Sahra Wagenknecht, leader of the Die Linke fraction in the Bundestag, employed her famous public speaking skills and the crowd loved it. “It is a myth that this election is over, just as it is a myth that everything in Germany is just fine,” she declared. “We have fascists knocking at the door trying to come into the Bundestag. Is that just fine?”
CDU-SPD austerity
Wagenknecht blasted a hole a mile wide in another myth too—the myth that despite what Germany, as the European Union kingpin, has done to impose austerity on poorer southern European countries, it has not imposed austerity on its own people. The ruling CDU-SPD coalition has actually enacted the sharpest social service cuts in Germany in 65 years, something no German government dared to do during the 40 years when the socialist government of East Germany (German Democratic Republic) was in existence.
“Merkel says its better than ever. Isn’t she in Germany? Doesn’t she know what is happening? She can’t hide that the people want change,” Wagenknecht declared to the applause, cheering, hooting, and hollering of the gathered crowd.
“For 40 percent of Germans, there has been no wage increase of any type since the 1990s,” she said, “and the only way to stop the fascists on the one hand and make economic change on the other is to vote for Die Linke.”
Her strong populist rhetoric was aimed at making it clear to possible AfD voters that the alternative they are really looking for is not AfD but Die Linke. “We are the only party, the only party that does not get contributions form the rich and from the big corporations,” she said. “A vote for Die Linke is a vote for all the people, a vote against the establishment.”
Wagenknecht did not hold back on criticism of the SPD, despite the fact that her party is in governing coalitions with that party in Berlin and in Thuringia.
She was scornful of one of the SPD’s current campaign slogans: “Let the pensions be big when the children are grown.”
“In coalition with the CDU, the SPD has already cut those pensions,” she declared. “So now the CDU says ‘keep pensions the way they are’ and the SPD says ‘don’t cut the pensions.’ There is no difference there, I think. Do you see a difference?” The crowd broke out in laughter. “Together, they already did the damage, they cut pensions. Only Die Linke says that pensions should be raised.” Again the crowd roared with retirees by the hundreds rising to their feet and cheering too.
The dynamic there was interesting because CDU-SPD cooperation in the “Grand Coalition,” with the SPD watering down its once stronger platform, has helped Die Linke maintain its claim to be the real opposition party, thus making it harder for AFD, in some respects, to maneuver that mantle away from the Left.
The SPD’s weaker approach these days helps Die Linke in another way. The SPD, rather than trying to capture protest votes, is concentrating on its skill to remain in a coalition with Merkel—not very appealing to working-class people being hurt in this economy.
The real socialists
Wagenknecht got her biggest applause on the subject of the SPD, however, when she made an open appeal to SPD voters: “For those who support and want a social democratic program,” she declared, “the only way to get that today is to vote for Die Linke.”
Her appeals for higher taxes on the rich won enthusiastic support from the crowd. “They say higher taxes on billionaires and millionaires is confiscation of their wealth. They are the ones who did the confiscation,” she declared. “They confiscated the wealth of the working class.”
On militarization, she summarized Die Linke’s strong position of no German troops abroad for any reason. “Germany is the fourth biggest arms exporter,” she said. “That means we are handing over the means to kill innocent people, innocent children around the world, and at the same time we spend money we need to make life better here. That alone is one very good reason to vote for Die Linke. We are the only party calling for putting an end to that insanity.”
People’s World has been invited to attend the election night gathering of Die Linke’s national leadership and campaign activists in Berlin Sunday evening. We will report the results live from there.


CONTRIBUTOR

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is editor in chief at Peoplesworld.org. He started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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