Left, unite! In order to escape from the impasse of neoliberalism, we must join forces. Otherwise the right will cheer. – by Oskar Lafontaine (Left Party, Germany)

first published in german by „Saechsiche Zeitung“
Do we need a collection movement of the political left? Yes, if we want social cuts to be halted,wages and pensions to rise again, foreign policy to reinstate Willy Brandt’s policy of detente, and the progressive destruction of our environment and species extinction to be halted.
For a long time we have relied on a government of the Social DemocratsSPD, the Greens and the Left. But such a government was prevented in 2005 and 2013 by the SPD. And the last few years have shown that the SPD has had little in common with Willy Brandt’s party since Agenda 2010 (neoliberal social program) and its approval of rearmament and intervention wars, and the Greens have long since lost their green party ideas because, and unlike in their founding years, they do no longer question environmentally destructive economic systems.
The balance of recent years can be summarized as follows: The welfare state has been dismantled, a large low-wage sector has emerged, old-age poverty is growing, the pension system have been partially privatized, 40 percent of the population today have less real purchasing power than twenty years ago, the politics of good relations in Europe has ended, German troops are standing at the Russian border, and despite the expansion of renewable energies, emissions are rising, and the latest reports on species extinction are worrying. The Left movement in Germany could not prevent this development, although there is a majority according to all surveys in the population to achieve the above goals. The left movement must therefore be repositioned.
But who belongs to the political left? The creation of a new economic and social order, which makes it possible to distribute the well-earned prosperity of the population, to prevent wars for raw materials and markets and to stop the destruction of the planet, is the Archimedean point for all who are aware of the undesirable developments of the planet neoliberal era.
The Philosophy of Enlightenment defined property and assets as what one has worked for oneself. Today, this is something quite different: billions of dollars in assets are created by the result of many working for the profits of a few. According to the latest figures, 42 people possess as much as half of the world’s population. Even if this number is doubted, this does not change the fact that the worldwide distribution of wealth is inhuman and perverse. This inequality creates power structures that make a democratic society impossible. Today we have oligarchic systems in the East and in the West. In our time Pope Francis is the most prominent voice questioning the current economic and social order. He sums up the destructive effects of capitalism, which structurally brings peace to neither man nor the environment.
Of the parties to the Bundestag, only the Left Party questions the current distribution of income and assets and the resulting power structures. Consequently, in the coalition negotiations after the general election – whether they were led by the CDU, CSU, FDP and Greens or by the CDU, CSU and SPD – no proposals were put on the table preventing the increasing rearmament, the systemic destruction of the environment or the growing inequality. But even though the fact that the SPD and the Greens are turning to neoliberalism has long made it irrelevant to assign these parties to the leftist camp as a whole, this division still determines the political debate. The newsmagazine Der Spiegel wrote in January: „The trend is clear. If the left-wing camp of the SPD, the Greens and the PDS together reached 52.7 percent in the 1998 general election, they only managed 38.6 percent in the fall of 2017 … The right-wing camp improved from 41.4 percent to 56 percent in the same period , 2 percent … Germany has never been so far away from a government with left agenda as today. The zeitgeist is tending to the right and the decline of the political left seems to be unstoppable. „It should be added that even with an election victory by Steinmeier, Steinbrück or Schulz, no German Chancellor with a left-wing agenda would have governed Germany.
The high level of support, which Martin Schulz could muster immediately after being nominated for chancellor candidate of the SPD, showed that large sections of the population are really longing for a change of policy in Germany. And as in other European countries, the party system is changing in our country as well, because from election to election the view solidified: we can choose who we want, but nothing changes.
While the Left Party benefited from this disappointment in the early years, today, despite its neo-liberal economic and social program, the AfD (Alternative Partei Deutschlands) is the address of many who no longer want to know anything about the other parties. And if in the Left Party, the philosophy of multinational corporations, the no-border-no-nation neo-liberalism prevails, and in return the Höcke-wing (most right wing in the AFD) with its socio-political demands in the AfD gains the majority, then, as the journalist Jakob Augstein warned, in the future, the AfD „will rely on a policy mix that has already been terribly successful in German history: racism plus the welfare state. Then the rise of the right threatens to become a mass movement.“
Do we want to go on with this danger as before? But what could a reorganization of the political left in Germany look like? All those who share the previous analysis and do not want to resign themselves to the current trend need to understand this.
Maybe we can learn from other countries. Whether the Democrats with Bernie Sanders in the US, the Labor Party in Britain with Jeremy Corbyn, Podemos in Spain with Pablo Iglesias or La France insoumise with Jean-Luc Mélenchon – they all stand for the attempt to break out of the impasse of neo-liberalism. All found a unprecedented form on social media to mobilize their followers.
In France, for example, the makers of La France insoumise (LFI) believed that the traditional party system no longer reflected the changing nature of society. The traditional milieus would have dissolved, so new forms of political decision-
making would have to be found. The political parties are frozen in a bureaucracy and less and less willing to represent the interests of workers and pensioners. They rub themselves in intra-party power struggles and lose contact with the population.
Younger people are less and less ready to engage within the rigid party structures. Therefore, one needs a lower-threshold offer to attract younger people to politics. During Mélenchon’s presidential election campaign in France you had to simply click on LFI’s homepage to become a supporter. 500,000 french people made use of it. Strategic decisions were made with an online vote.
The Parti de Gauche continues to be the organizational core around which the new grouping evolving. The members of La France insoumise see themselves still in a learning process and are of course not satisfied with the achievements so far. But while the AfD (Alternative Partei Deutschlands) leads the opposition when it comes to the „Grand Coalition“, in France it is not Marine Le Pen but La France insoumise with Jean-Luc Mélenchon who is the voice of the opposition.
In the era of neo-liberalism, for Left it is also true: only those who change remain faithful.
Oskar Lafontaine (*1943) is a German politician who served in the government of Germany as Minister of Finance from 1998 to 1999. Previously he was Minister President of the state of Saarland from 1985 to 1998, and he was also Chairman of the Social Democratic Party from 1995 to 1999. After having won the German federal election, 1998 along with new Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, he resigned from all political offices, including his seat in the German Bundestag. He later became co-chairman of The Left (DIE LINKE). Later he announced his resignation from federal political functions in January 2010, for health reasons. Now he is member of parliament for The Left in the german state of Saarland and leader of the opposition. He is married to Sahra Wagenknecht, parliamentary co-chair of The Left (DIE LINKE)
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