James O’Nions. The Linkspartei, the new party to the left of the ruling ‘Red-Green’ coalition, has won 8.7% of the vote in Germany’s general election and a provisional 54 seats in the Bundestag. The elections themselves have created deadlock with neither the social democratic SPD nor the conservative CDU able to command a majority, even with their traditional partners on board, the Greens (51 seats) in the case of the SPD, and the ultra neo-liberal Free Democrats (61 seats) in the case of the CDU.
Formed only in July, the Linkspartei is a fusion of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor to the east German communists, and the Labour and Social Justice Party (WASG), which was itself only recently formed by disaffected leftwing SPD members, trade unionists and some smaller leftwing organisations. The WASG’s profile was given a boost when charismatic former SPD finance minister Oskar Lafontaine joined and became a leading spokesperson. Now as the other parties attempt to make alliances to form a government, the Linkspartei is celebrating a result which makes them both a serious force in German politics, and a leading light in the ‘left of the left’ across Europe.
The PDS held only two seats in the previous Bundestag, both of which were won in first-past-the-post contests in their stronghold of the former East Germany. Yet whilst they won here, they failed to reach the 5% nationally which would have qualified them for seats under the proportional representation system. The fusion with the WASG together with Germany’s economic crisis has given them enough respectability in the west to make a breakthrough.
Standing on a platform of state intervention to boost jobs, a minimum wage of €1,400 a month and higher taxes for the rich, the ‘die Linke’ was the only party to break with the neoliberal consensus in a country with over 5 million unemployed. At one point they reached 12% in the polls, pointing to a thirst for alternatives to Gerhard Schroeder’s cuts to the welfare state and Angela Merkel’s deeper cuts.
Coming on the back of the left victories against the European constitution in the Netherlands and especially France, the Linkspartei’s results show real possibilities of a left revival in Europe. (For more on this see Hilary Wainwright’s 'The remaking of the left')
More information can also be found on the website of the Party of the European Left, the pan-european organisation which the Linkspartei is part of.