In Germany's recent general election, after a massive percentage gain over the previous Summer, the centrist SPD (under Olaf Scholz) went from disaster to triumph. While they gained the highest percentage share, the other winners were the Greens, although after averaging around 20% in most polls throughout 2020 an election result of 14.8% (and a distant) 3rd was seen by them as disappointing. The big losers were the Christian Democrats and (this article’s focus) Die Linke, or ‘the Left’ as I’ll refer to them.
The Left lost almost half of their votes from the previous elections, plummeting to a disastrous 4.9%, below the 5% electoral threshold. Only an obscure rule allowed the party to enter Parliament with any notable size. At the time, the two main reasons many presumed this had occurred were that a lot of moderate-left voters switched to the SPD and the Greens to ensure that those parties took control of the government; more than 1 million voters decided to take that route. Another reason for the Result was that Die Linke's usual 'Eastern German Stronghold' was massively weakened because the far-right AFD took the mantle as ‘the party’ of the economically weaker, socially disenfranchised, and often belittled east.
About the East
East Germany was long a stronghold for Die Linke, as they were already popular in the former GDR, and the party had a reputation as the main party of East Germany, a reality that helped the party remain relevant in the east.
(In the West in general elections between 1990 and 2017 die Linke only got 3.7% of the vote, in the east, over 20%)
The Situation in East Germany (economically, most relevantly) hasn’t improved over the past 30 years, and in a bid to establish a new voter base in Germany the far right AFD has signaled a desire to do a lot of campaigning among frustrated East Germans. Their targets are those who might vote for them out of anger towards the established parties, anxiety over the bad shape that their homes or pocket books are in, or even old fashioned bigotry - they might just hate the largely Muslim immigrants who are painted as economic opposition.
Pure Class or not?
Something which hurt the Left party since its inception in 2007 are internal fights; for the longest time it was between idealists and pragmatists, but in the 2nd half of the 2010s a different kind of fight emerged.
The Left’s most relevant politician for a couple of years now has been Sahra Wagenknecht. The 52 year-old former philosophy major and lifelong politician has caused a lot of controversy internally within party ranks. In 2016, she created perhaps her largest controversy when she warned of the need for a capacity limit regarding immigrants, and the possible strained goodwill of the wider population towards immigrants during the big wave of migration in 2015 and 2016 (when over a million war-time refugees fled to Germany, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq). She often during that time made statements that were praised by the right and criticized from the left; like how she used mass shootings and other atrocities to criticize immigration and immigrants, or when in an interview with the then leader of the far-right AFD, Frauke Petry, the two 2 women agreed more than disagreed, largely on the subject of immigration.
Later on she stepped on a lot of toes by critiquing what she called 'lifestyle leftists'; urban progressive lefties who cared too much about racism, LGBTQI rights, and climate change, and not enough about 'class issues.' She contrasted that to the rural working class who needed a car to go to work and couldn't hop on a bike like those in the big city. She in a quite infamous quote said: “the end goal of identity politics is that more and more attention is given to more and more bizarre minority groups who will use their differentiation from the majority to lay claim to the ownership of victimhood. If you’re only white and hetero you cannot lay claim to that victim status.” What sounds like something any anti-feminist YouTuber might have said a couple of years ago is being said by the most relevant leftist politician in Western Europe’s largest nation. She then went on to sell a book during an election year, not a good look to the wider German public—something considered by many to be a shallow cash-grab. In terms of “anti-progressive” voting, she voted against an important pro-trans bill that would have modernized the treatment of trans people in Germany, in which she utilized basic transphobic argumentation you’d find anywhere from Bill Maher and JK Rowling, to anyone on the far-right. A Lot of people on the left have heavily criticized Sahra, some have continued support for her while a lot of voters who weren’t officially members switched their allegiance to the Greens or the Social Democrats. Those outside of the party who loved Sahra Wagenknecht’s messaging were already entrenched AFD voters, and thus were not interested in voting for the polar opposite party, even despite potential sympathies to Wagenknecht’s newfound bigotry.
Finally, during the Covid-19 Pandemic she downplayed the virus, critiqued the lockdown measures, and generally opposed a vaccine mandate. For a lot of people her response to covid-19 was the ‘straw that broke the camel's back,’ ultimately causing them to switch to the SPD or the Greens. As mentioned already, almost a million voters switched from the Left to those two parties in the aftermath of Wagenknecht’s rightward turn.
Here is a picture of Sahra Wagenknecht speaking in front of the German Parliament (Bundestag)
Failure to connect
The last juicy point not yet brought up, but almost the most important; the Left Party, both from the perspective of its marketing, and that of its messaging, doesn't seem to know what it wants to be; perhaps it wants to be a progressive party which, unlike the SPD, strongly champions social democratic ideals (as in the original meaning; socialism through reform); or a party always in opposition - a “socialist” party focused strictly on opposing capitalism and the current state, only focusing on class politics and resentments; or an SPD-lite, happy to govern with the other left-of-center parties. Depending on where in the country you are, on a state level all three objectives could apply, and on a national level it has never been clear. It didn’t help that in the opinion of many, Die Linke’s marketing campaigns were really cheesy and trite. The connection to the working class, ironically, was non-existent in some parts of the country.
The Russian Connection
The Left Party always had the reputation of being allied with Russia, dating back to its inception and all of the general Soviet-era/East German ties from past eras. This only worsened during the Ukraine Invasion because the party’s usual pro-peace message was interpreted as pro-Russian appeasement. The current conflict has triggered a lot of anti-Russian sentiment among Germans, and naturally this won't be particularly helpful for the party.
A Final Shameful Blow
On the 20th of April then leader of the Party, Susanne Hennig-Wellsow announced her resignation from her role citing that “treatment with sexism has shown significant flaws within the party” The German magazine “Der Spiegel” uncovered sexual assault and overstepping of boundaries within Die Linke in the State of Hessen, Most notably an employee of the state parliament had a relationship with a minor in 2017/2018. The current, and now lone leader of the party, Janine Wissler, met with the aforementioned minor and afterwards denied any mentions of sexual assault. All of this occurred with the known pretext that Ms. Wissler was dating the employee who’d been accused all the while; an important detail no doubt. Similar Allegations were levied against the Bavarian Branch of the party, with a city council member in Nürnberg groping a woman. This time the higher-ups in the Bavarian Left Party, instead of a similar hackneyed denial like Wissler’s, instead did their damndest to cover it all up entirely.
Germany’s ‘Left Party’ has become an indecisive, tactically-inept mess that covers for abusers and sadly, a lot of good people’s time and money is wasted in their coffers. I’ve, personally, taken the step of leaving the left party because I don't see it having any future outside of maybe some pockets in the east. A new left party won't have anywhere near the success of the current left party and so German lefties (without culture war grievances against immigrants or the LGBTQI community) have no home anymore, as the greens and SPD are far too pro-capitalist and too ideologically weak to be viable alternatives for anti-capitalists of any persuasion…
Despite my clear disillusionment with Die Linke, and me ending my affiliation, there is no viable alternative for me to vote for so when election season hits I’d rather vote for the least bad option than not vote at all. Perhaps rather than party I'll have to closely analyze and scrutinize candidates & policy positions more than ever before.