Monday, 21 April 2008

Goethe and Die Gruenen

On Wednesday, April 16, Goethe rose from his grave, had a quick breakfast and rewrote Faust. The new storyline is even better than the last - this time, there's no space for the Devil, his henchman, unrequited love or thunderous verse. Instead, the German Greens have taken the lead role, and signed a deal in blood worthy of Mephistopheles' jealousy.

The "Olive Greens" (as they have been known for some time in Germany, because of their support for German involvement in the occupation of Afghanistan) signed up for coalition government in Hamburg with the right-wing Christian Democtratic Union (CDU).

The move leaches the last colour from the fading activist-green blouses of the Greens - after losing popularity almost continually over the past few years, they are now polling only 9 percent, and look like a party in crisis.

A recent national Greens conference split three ways over support for troops in Afghanistan, many of the "Fundys" (those whose more radical politics made them seem like "fundamentalists" compared to the "moderate" "Realos") have long since left, and the German Greens have never looked more like an opportunist petit-bourgeois enviromental lobby group in search of affirmation than they do now.

The deal also lays the foundations for a more frightening possibility in the German federal elections next year. Having now established a regional partnership with the "Realos" of the Greens, Angela Merkel's CDU is better positioned to arrange a "Jamaica coalition" (Green = Green, CDU = Black, Free Democrats = Yellow) government in 2009.

While the CDU/ CSU conservatives were forced into a "Grand Coalition" with their arch-competitors the SPD after the last election, this time around it is possible that Merkel can form government and still dump the SPD. The SPD is suffering from the success of Die Linke and a bumbling leader in Kurt Beck, who has undermined the party's already wounded credibility further by first swearing "never, ever" to deal with Die Linke, and then changing his mind, and then changing it back again.

Worse yet, the SPD's Andrea Ypsilanti withdrew her candidacy for the premiership of Hesse last month after members of the SPD refused to support her governing with the "toleration" (the loosest possible support) of Die Linke in that state's parliament. While Die Linke remain open to working with the SPD, the bitter blood left over after Oskar Lafontaine - fomer national leader of the SPD - jumped ship and took a large part of the SPD-left with him, seem to be enough to prevent even the opportunist SPD from stomaching such a deal in the name of power. And this could cost them the Bundestag next year.

Merkel has now got the SPD in her sights, declaring them "unreliable", and the Greens - also losing significance in federal politics - appear keen to seem important, somehow, anyhow - even if that means forming a "Green-Black" government with a party that served as a half-way house for many Nazis after World War II.

To be honest, Merkel isn't far off the mark on the SPD's unreliability, as their electoral woes are continuing, and their polling is sliding dangerously. Central to this is the fact that, to their left, the new left-wing party Die Linke continues to rise, putting forward a real alternative to SPD-managed neoliberalism.

Die Linke is consistently polling 14%, but in some places
Die Linke is outpolling the SPD - notably in Die Linke leader Oskar Lafontaine's home state of Saarland, where the SPD sit on a miserly 16 percent, while Die Linke have reached a whopping 29 percent!

Recently, "Red" Oskar Lafontaine - "the most dangerous man in Europe" according to British newspaper The Sun - has also called for parts of the Communist Manifesto to be included in Die Linke's program, and while Die Linke is only young - having been officially formed less than three years ago - their polling results, and the obvious attraction of a real left alternative in a sea of sameness and compromise, has placed them in a strong postion to push Germany to the left.

With their first party conference on May 24-5 in Cottbus, it will soon be decision time for Die Linke: can they work out a coherent policy and platform, maintain their political momentum and build a solid movement outside of electoral politics? Or will they succumb to the twin pressures of electoralism and sectarianism that seem to consume so much of the left?

More from the Wombats as it unfolds.

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