Category Archives: elections

A New Hope in Germany

It was a good night for the left but a bad night for social democracy in Germany.

In particular it was a good night for Die Linke (The Left) taking 11.9% of the vote and electing 76 MPs (including it seems Christine Buchholz and Andrej Hunko, previously mentioned on this site)

The regional state elections earlier in the year where pointing to a real breakthrough for Die Linke in the western states. Though it will take a much more comprehensive breakdown to be done than is possible at this point in time the figures seem to be suggesting very real gains in across the country for the party.

election results
Before looking at the figures a quick word of explanation on how the electoral system works may be in order.

In Germany for elections to the lower house Federal Parliament, The Bundestag, people have two votes: one for a constituency MP and one for a party list. An MP is elected in each of the 299 constituencies.

But it is the vote for the list that is more important. The number of votes received by the party on the list decides by how many each parties’ number of MPs in the Bundestag are topped up.

Party list results by constituency

Party list results by constituency

This means that a party cannot elect any MPs at a constituency level, but as long as they pass the 5% will gain seats in parliament.

Virtually all constituency seats are held by the big two parties the SPD and the conservative CDU/CSU. The “smaller” parties (the liberal FDP, the Greens and Die Linke) tend to get all their MPs elected from the lists, and hence don’t put much effort into the constituencies)

The continued rise of Die Linke

Nationally Die Linke took 11.9% of the vote (up 3.2 points on the 2005 elections) and polled 5,153,884 votes in the party list ballot. It also got 11.1% (or 4,790,007) in the constituencies.

Their best results, as might be expected, came in the Eastern states taking 29% in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, 28.5% in Brandenburg, (beating the CDU into 3rd place), 32.4% in Saxony Anhalt and 28% in Thuringia. In Berlin (in the East, and previously divided, they took 20.7%.

Though Die Linke was expected to do well in the Eastern states, the results do not reflect a party just resting on its laurels. In all five it increased its percentage of the vote (up 5.3, 1.9, 5.8, 2.7 and 3.9 points respectively compared to 2005).

Die Linke also won 16 constituency (all in the East) a considerable improvement on the three won in 2005. (The Greens only won one constituency , the FDP won none. All the other constituency seats were divided between the CDU/CSU.)

Progress in the Western States

In the western states Die Linke also increased its vote.

In the country’s most populous state, North Rhine-West Phalia, it took 8.4% (up 3.2 points on 2005). Saxony 24.5 (+1.7), Baden Wurtemburg 7.4% (+1.2), Hesse 8.5% (+3.2), Rhine land Palatinate 9.4% (+3.8), Saarland 21% (+4.7).

Even in generally conservative Bavaria it went up 3 points to 6.5%.

In the city-states of the west it took 11.2% (+4.9) in Hamburg, and 14.2% (5.8) Bremen.

In other big cities it also increased its vote, for instance in the constituencies of Cologne it took 9.6% (+3.5), 7.1% (2.3), 10.2% (+); in Dortmund 11% (+4.7), 11.5% (+5); in Stuttgart 9% (4.1) or in Frankfurt am Main 11.2% (+4.1) and10 %(+3.5).

Even in Munich, capital of Bavaria 6.8 (+2.8), 6.6 (+2.9), 6.9 (3), 6.7 (+2.8).

These represent much bigger increase than in the national vote. In Hamburg Die Linke’s vote went up from
59,463 to 98,696 (a 60% increase), in Bremen from 30570 to 47,895 (a 56% increase) Stuttgart’s two districts from 12,218 to 20,874, ( a 70% increase)

Disaster for the Social Democrats

The leader of The SPD Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the results as a “bitter day for German social democracy”. And he was right.

It is the lowest national vote the party has received since the Second World War on 23% down 11 points on 2005. Or to put it another way their vote of 9,988,843, represented a drop of 17% compared to the 12,077,437 they took in 2005.
German_parliamentary_elections_diagram_de
One might well note that this is the kind of vote that Labour is heading for in next year.

Both parties have self destructed by their craven embrace of neo-liberalism, or their failure to come up with any alternatives, in fact their decisive rejection of any, in the face of the crisis.

However there is no Die Linke to rally people towards a different way of running society.

Failure of the far right

The SPD may have nose dived, and the Die Linke may have picked up a lot of its votes, but where did the rest go?

One thing is clear, the far right has not benefited. The main fascist party the NPD only took 1.5% of the vote, a drop of 0.1 points. That a far right party should do so badly even after as steep a slowdown as suffered by the German economy in the last couple of years seems strange.

NeonazimarchIn the Eastern states the party got 3.3% in Mecklenburg Vorpommern (-0.2), 2.6% in Brandenburg (-0.7)
2.2% in Saxony Anhalt (-0.3), 3.2% in Thuringia (-0.4), and 4% in Saxony (0.8).

In the western states the results were as bad for instance taking only 0.9 (+0.2) in North Rhine West-Phalia ( where the SPD dropped -11 points on 2005) or 1.1% in Baden Wurrtemburg (where the SPD dropped -10.8 points)

Now, the history of Germany does in some ways mitigate against a revival of fascist forces, but on the other hand the same could be said of Austria and Italy. In Austria however in last year’s general election the (departed) Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party took 17% and in a regional election at the weekend doubled its vote.

And of course in Italy the former leader of “post fascist” National Alliance is now speaker of the lower house of parliament.

In the post unification period the German fascists managed to reestablish themselves as a small presence on the political scene. In 1990 Republicans took 1.2% and the NPD 0.3%, in 1994 Republicans 1.9%, 1998 the DVU 1.8%, and in 2005 the NPD 1.6 (+1.2 points).

For a time it had seemed that they could grow much bigger, especially in the depressed East amongst disenfranchised and disillusioned young men.

The failure of the fascists to break out of their marginality, has many reasons. But compared to the rest of Europe their failure to make any progress seems surprising. It is difficult to say at this point in time but threre is a good possibility that the rise of Die Linke may be acting as an effective block.

the fact that Die Linke took an extraordinary 25% of the vote of the unemployed seems to suggest this might be the case.

What next?

The election represents a very good result for the Die Linke, and a disaster for the SPD.

How this will pan out is difficult to say but the opportunities are great.

Die Linke is growing and spreading across the country. Putting done deeper roots in the working class and drawing in new forces, especially the young should help to stabilize what is still a quite heterogeneous formation.

After all success is a powerful centripetal force.

But hard times will also be more difficult now that the SPD is in opposition and is no longer in the grip of the Grand Coalition government with the CDU.

However the SPD is likely too continue to be in the grip of neo-liberalism. Every experience in Europe has shown following defeat by the right, social democratic parties have only moved further in that direction.

the reason for the defeat of the SPD is not that Die Linke took votes from them, it is that the SPD inspired no one. With this great step forward for the left there is a god chance that the politics of a real socialism can bring hope where there is now despair.

For a full list of the election results try the returning officers’ website click here

Portugal aslo had a general election at the weekend. For an article on that try the Tendance Cootsey blog, click here

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Filed under Die Linke, elections, Germany

Are the Greens an alternative?

The success of the Greens in the Euro elections poses some important questions for the left on how to deal with them. Here is a contribution to this discussion from Alastair Stevens.

The failure of the left in England and Wales to create a viable electoral force, and the relative success of the Greens has given the question of the left’s relations with the Green Party a new importance.

The disintegration of the Labour government, the undermining of the whole British party system and the consequent growth of the BNP has also given it a sudden urgency.

The Green Party in action

The Green Party in Britain is often described as the most left wing in Europe. The policies of the party have tended to put them on the left in British politics, but then the yawning void on the left since the advent of New Labour has meant that even the Lib Dems have tried to fish for votes there.

The Greens have also been able to comfortably occupy this space due to their relative distance from power. Other European Green parties have been thrust fairly quickly into power. The electoral system here has meant that they have been mostly excluded from office and the pressures to move right that come with that.

However when they have had electoral success their record has been patchy. The closer they have got to power the less principled they have seemed.

The Green Party has gone into coalition with the Tories in Leeds. In Lewisham they have a base, it is one of their strongest areas in the capital. Yet their councillors there voted for the occupied Lewisham Bridge School to be turned into an academy.

On the London Assembly the Greens played second fiddle to Ken Livingstone’s neo-liberal administration giving it left cover. In reality they did nothing much really against the agenda of turning the city the playground of the rich. Its representatives have been almost invisible, Darren Johnson only popping up in the media to for example join in the attacks on Al-Qaradawi.

As they have become closer to power they have rapidly lost many of their democratic structures. The party that prided itself for its open democratic working has transformed itself quite quickly into a centralised political machine that has tended to revolve around big personalities. This has been seen in the way it moved to having a single leader and in its method of election which over rode the old internal workings of the party.

Darren Johnson, is a case in point. He has accumulated places on bodies at a rate that even Lord Mandelson would be impressed at: “as an Assembly member, Johnson is or has been a member of numerous committees, including the Health and Public Services Committee, the Environment Committee (of which he is the Deputy Chair after chairing for the previous five years), the Transport Committee, the Planning and Spatial Development Committee, the Commission on London Governance, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA), the Elections Review Committee and the 7th July Review (London Resilience) Committee. He has also chaired an inquiry on nuclear waste trains for the GLA. He is or has been a member of Lewisham Council’s Council Urgency Committee, Elections Committee, Licensing (Supplementary) Committee, Licensing Committee, Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust. He has represented Lewisham Council on the Local Government Association General Assembly.”

So much for a party that prided itself on its grass roots nature.

His fellow GLA member is Jenny Jones, who is also a councillor in Southwark, a role she has been virtually invisible in.

The Green Parties in Europe

The future for the Green Party may be seen in the behavior of its European partners. They have now been in government in all the major European countries and their record has been patchy tending towards downright awful.

In Germany, whose Green Party is still the most important in the movement, they have been in government in coalition at a national level with the SPD (the German equivalent of Labour) twice. They have been in regional governments since the mid eighties.

Hardly had they got into power in 1999 than they were supporting the war in Kosovo. The front man for this was the new Foreign Minister, and former anarchist street fighter, the Greens’ leader Joschka Fischer. This wasn’t the end of their war-mongering, though, as they also supported the deployment of German troops in Afghanistan.

They supported Agenda 2010 and most of the other neo-liberal attacks from the SPD government on the German working class. In April 2008 in local government they joined coalitions with the main right wing party, the CDU, in Hamburg and Cologne.

Elsewhere the record has not been much different.

In Italy much of the ire about the disastrous debacle the left suffered in the last elections has been directed at the performance in government of Rifondazione Comunista. The “Rainbow” alliance of which it was part along with the other smaller communist party the PCd’I was wiped out and won no seats at all.

Yet the Greens took an identical line in government to Rifondazione, voting for the continued occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and the rest of the neo-liberal reform pushed by Prodi’s government.

The Greens in France entered a similar coalition with Jospin, and followed the same neo-liberal path.

Closer to home in Ireland the Greens entered a coalition government with Fianna Fail, one of the two main parties of Irish capitalism. In the process they managed to put a road through the historically important Hill of Tara.

The Green Party in Ireland is still in government there despite the absolutely vicious round of cuts now being made. This year’s Irish budget has meant an income cut of up to 8% for workers, a 2% cut in welfare payments, and reduced housing benefits for newly unemployed workers aged under 20.

The nature of the Green Party

The Green Party is a middle class party. This is also true of Green parties throughout Europe.

Its origins lie in the early environmental movement of the 1970s. In Britain this actually also means people like Teddy Goldsmith founder of the Ecologist magazine, and the holder like many Greens of some quite reactionary Malthusian ideas.

The growth of the Green Parties came in the eighties as many who had been on the left moved away socialist politics and any class based understanding of society. In fact the growth of these parties marked a decisive rejection of the concept of class. Even today in the British Green Party’s materials you will not find the word class. True to the radical (and often utopian) liberalism that is the philosophical basis of these parties they condemn “wealth inequality”, and various other elliptical constructions, but they don’t call it class.

The middle class nature of the party is obvious to any who come across the party. Recent a recent poll by Yougov shows this up quite explicitly.

By social grade Green voters were shown to have the highest percentage in the ABC1 category, 64%, closest to the Lib Dems’ 61% and Tories’ 60% (Labour voters 53% and BNP 39%.

Green voters had the second highest median income after the Tories, 32k and 33k respectively, ahead of the Lib Dems 29k. Labour and BNP voters had the lowest on 27k.

Green voters were the most likely to have a professional or higher technical job (doctor, account, teacher, lecturer, social worker) on 32% (Lib Dems 26%, Lab 20%, Con 20, BNP 11).

Green voters were the least likely to be a manual worker (skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled) at 12% (the next least likely being the Lib Dems and Tories, 14% each, then Lab 21%, UKIP 23%, BNP voters proving the most likely on 36%).

It would be possible to go but the picture emerging is one that we know well. The middle class focus of the party is reflected in the party’s policies.

These at root look very similar to most radical petit-bourgeois movements which have appeared over the last two hundred years from the sans culottes of the French revolution onwards. This class, caught between the working class on the one hand and the ruling capitalist class on the other tend to fear both. They fear the domination of the bosses and fear being dragged down into the working class. They are usually against both “big business” and “big labour”.

There is an obsession with making everything smaller and more local. The problem with the big banks were, that they were too big for instance.

Something the Greens were proud of during the London elections last year were was the endorsement by the Federation of Small businesses as the party with policies most friendly to small business. This is something that left wing fans of the Greens, tend not to mention, nor for they tend to point out the Green Party’s Greens Mean Business website.

The lamentable statement by Jenny Jones in the London Assembly is indicative of this attitude (see here for the text of her speech).

Faced with the across the board criticism of the RMT’s tube strike, rather than take the opportunity to forthrightly defend the country’s most militant union, and one that has improved immensely the pay and conditions of tube workers, she merely said that she said that she had “a slight sympathy for trade unions”.

She went on to add that she would have voted for the Tories motion condemning the strike if it had been worded slightly differently.

That is not to say that the Greens are the same as the Tories. They support improvements in workers rights. They adopt progressive positions on many economic issues. They are against poverty and exploitation.

The single greatest thing that would improve the lot of working people would be to repeal the anti-union laws so that workers and the unions can fight for themselves for these improvements. Yet this is a commitment you will not find them making.

A defence of workers’ and trade union rights is not central to their politics. They are rather mixed up with the rights of the self-employed and small business in a manner that appears to put both on the same level. In their voluminous programmatic document, the Manifesto for a Sustainable Society, trade unions appear after self- employed workers.

Though there are proposals to tinker with the law and improve the legal position of trade unions, with such changes as “a limited scope to ‘secondary’ industrial action”, and a range of proposals for ‘industrial democracy’ – albeit mixed in with ideas of ‘partnership’ reminiscent of the rhetoric of New Labour, there is no clear call for a wholesale abolition of the Tory anti-union laws. Though this is formally Green Party policy, it does not seem to find its place in their main public policy manifesto.

The appeal of the Greens is in the main limited to its target audience, the educated middle classes. That is their base, and that is the core of the party. Its appeal to the working class is limited. To the poor it has virtually none. This has been shown quite clearly in the recent elections. In the North West for instance, where much of the left did unite behind the Greens they were unable to undercut the BNP’s vote.

The Left and Greens

Dealing with the Greens is difficult. They often position themselves as a party of the left. They can also be as fanatically sectarian as many on the left.

They have a policy of always standing. They stood against George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob in 2004. They refused to deal with Respect when it was formed. They always stand against the Socialist Party’s councillors in Lewisham. Deals with them that work are almost unheard of.

They have carved out an electoral niche for themselves in some of the new bodies that have been created under Labour such s the GLA. It is one they are willing to defend against all comers. This was shown most obviously by the reaction to No2EU.

This important initiative by the RMT and others was greeted in a most hostile fashion. Even the Green Left “condemned” it (the words of a their leading members who also went on to describe it as a “Stalinist inspired political disaster”, showing the Greens can be adept as anyone in the dark art of political invective).

The reaction of another leading member of the Green left was little different calling for the RMT to stand down in case it loses Jean Lambert her seat.

The fact that the Greens have managed to capture the bottom seats in a number of elected bodies under proportional representation voting systems seems to be giving rise to an assumed right of veto by the Greens over any force standing to the left of them. The argument that standing will lose Green X the seat will be the argument at every election.

A section of the left, most notably in Germany and Scandinavia joined the Greens in the 1980s as part of a retreat from class politics. The result was the propelling into power of the Green Party in Germany and elsewhere and rapid accommodation to the system and its priorities.

There is a threat of that happening here. You can already hear those siren voices inside Respect and on the left. The attraction is understandable, both if you take into the consideration the retreat of class politics and the relative success of the Greens compared to the rest of the left.

When fascists are winning seats in the European Parliament and the GLA the temptation to try short cuts and stop them can be overwhelming.

But to really face this challenge what we need is a party that can address the working class with class politics. The nature of the British electoral system, even when using some type of PR (the d’Hondt method used still tends to discriminate against smaller parties) and the political culture of this country means the electoral space on the left of the Labour Party can appear limited.

Yet the Green Party is not that party, and nor can it be. Its hostility to initiatives towards such a party has also shown that cohabitation and cooperation with the Greens is difficult to say the least.

Lessons of history

There is like a hundred years ago a large amount of churn going on in politics throughout Europe, and for once Britain is not an exception (even if it has started later and is happening more slowly). The two party system, with the two parties being that of the bourgeoisie and the trade unions is weakening considerably.

One hundred years ago in both Britain and America the end of a long period of economic growth and stability resulted in numerous challenges to the status quo. There was a fluorescence of movements from female suffrage to anti-colonialism and demands for social and economic reform. In the US it was the era of “progressivism”.

In Britain one of the most important changes that occurred was the creation of the Labour Party by the trade unions and the solidifying of a form of class consciousness (albeit reformist) that would be the bedrock of the workers’ movement for the next 80 years.

The “social democratic” party created was one of the most conservative in Europe, a symptom not of the innate conservatism of British society (in these years Britain and Ireland were amongst the most turbulent of European countries), but of the failure of the left to break more completely with the ideas of well-meaning liberal reform. The fact that so much of the ideology of the new party was formulated by those with elitist attitudes (such as the Webbs with their utterly disdainful view of the abilities of the working class) is indicative of this.

In the US the situation was different. The trade unions failed to form their own party, and the momentarily successful Socialist Party drifted apart and disappeared into a politically abstentionist syndicalism on the left whilst the “right” of the party were outflanked and absorbed by the middle class progressives from whom they had failed to differentiate themselves in any meaningful way.

Rather than moving to class politics, the putative forces of change were swept into broad ‘progressive’ alliances, which fed back into the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the American capitalist parties, the Republicans and Democrats.

Unity and independence

The project of the Green Party is a different one from ours. We believe that the working class needs a party that is based on class politics.

The Green Party is a middle class party of social reform that espouses a liberal cross class philosophy. It seeks to convince our rulers that it is in their own interest to change.

That is why we will not be joining the Greens, no matter how much more successful at the ballot box they may seem.

Nor should we should we be forming an unequal “alliance” with them, for in the future the left will probably have to fight against things they do, just as has happened in Europe.

But when it come to fighting for the things that working class people need, if the Greens fight we will unite to fight with them for a better world.

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Filed under Broad Parties, elections, Green Party, No2EU, Respect