The Berlin elections of September 2011 were the last in this year’s election cycle of seven regional and two communal elections. On the positive side, the LINKE has been able to assert itself as a political force for social justice. However, in all these elections it clearly remained behind its results in the Bundestag elections in which it had gained 11.9%.
Although the bourgeois camp does not possess a homogeneous strategy for the crisis, the LINKE did not succeed in becoming part of an alternative social and political alliance. On the contrary, red-green options without the LINKE are being discussed as feasible political alternatives. The increasing social acceptance of the Greens has made possible the first Green Prime Minister in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Against the background of real developments towards a restoration of neoliberalism by authoritarian means and a deep neoliberal integration of the European Union, their idea of a “Green New Deal” seems the only politically acceptable alternative, supported by major segments of society. The development towards a green capitalism found its first politically visible expression in the nuclear phase-out declared by the Federal Government in March 2011. In that situation and in the wake of the threatening nuclear catastrophe of Fukushima, questions of energy and climate became issues that decided the results of elections such as the state elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.
Thus the changed constellations of social conflict have also altered the perception of and emphases on the financial and economic crisis, the environmental and energy crisis as well as the alleged crisis of security (terrorism, immigration waves, etc.). By introducing short-time work regulations, economic stimulus packages and the car-scrap bonus the slump of the economy could for the majority of the population be staved off in 2009 by means of structurally conservative measures. Revived demand made it possible to quickly re-expand production and reduce unemployment. Against this background, the social question seemed to lose importance, at least in the short term – particularly also in Stuttgart, the company and production site of Mercedes-Benz. The CDU developed a conservative and export-oriented economic strategy and combined it with an increased anti-terror and authoritarian security policy. The Greens on the other hand developed their “Green New Deal”, which was to combine economic policies and a turn in energy policies and places emphasis on increasing social inclusion and democratisation. The demands of the LINKE for a socially just distribution of the burdens of the crisis remained without much resonance.
In Baden-Wuerttemberg, this constellation led to the yellow-black-coalition between the CDU and the FDP being voted out and for the first time allowed a green-red coalition of Greens and SPD with the Prime Minister nominated by the Greens. The LINKE hardly played a role in public debates. It was not only a matter of weighing the energy and climate question; it was just as much about the reigning political style: authoritarian versus libertarian.
In May, in the Bremen federal state elections the energy and ecological questions were still important issues, but they no longer decided the outcome of the elections. The social question had again moved to the top of the political agenda. Nevertheless, the LINKE again clearly remained behind the election results of the previous state election of 2007 and the Bundestag election of 2009. This is also true for the following elections of September 2011 in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin. The LINKE could assert itself as a party demanding social justice. However, it was confronted – in particular in Berlin where it was a party in the government – with increasing processes of fragmentation as a consequence of neoliberal legislation at the local level on which it had to be active. Its own social projects, especially in the areas of labour-market and social policies, were given secondary importance.
Still, at the end of the 2011 election year, the LINKE remains credible as a party of social justice and one uniquely able to secure the loyalties of workers and unemployed people. It achieves above average results among voters between 45 an 59 years of age, and in Eastern German federal states it appeals to voters who are over 60 years old. However, its attractiveness to younger voters is below average and it is also increasingly losing within the 34 – 45 age group, that generation whose social and political experiences are associated with the development of post-Fordist working and living conditions and new communication and information technologies.
Thus the results in the election cycle of 2010 and 2011 reflect the social impact of the LINKE, the current practical value the public attributes to it, the attractiveness of its political proposals and finally also of its leadership. What became visible was the party’s strength as a partner for questions of social justice, its deficits in the development of its programme, strategy and organisation and most of all its lack of social rootedness beyond its representation in the state and municipal parliaments in the larger states. Therefore the LINKE must use its increasing presence in federal states such as Lower Saxony, which has led to an increase in mandates, as a resource and “motor” for rooting itself in society, knowing that parliamentary presence is no surrogate for the development of local grassroots organisations.
So far the LINKE is still a party whose results in current opinion polls remain below the 5 % hurdle in five out of ten federal states and which in only three Eastern German federal states goes beyond the 20 % threshold. The LINKE is losing consensus in its former urban strongholds, in particular also in Berlin.
In 2011, the party failed to meet its own goal of becoming part of a red-red government project. It has now concluded its 10-year-period of shaping government policy. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania it remains the second strongest opposition party behind the Conservatives. In the South-West German federal states it failed to win seats in the state parliaments.
The SPD was the winner of the Berlin elections, attracting 28.3% of the vote, followed by the CDU with 23.4%, the Greens with 17.6% and the LINKE with 11.7%. Thus, the LINKE remains behind its result of 1995, although the share of votes from the districts of Western Berlin has increased from 17.4% in 1999 to 28.3% in 2011, with the absolute number of votes remaining constant.
For the first time, the Pirates will be part of the Berlin House of Representatives with 8.9% and 15 seats and they will also be represented in all district councils: the Berlin communal parliaments. The FDP was the clear loser with 1.8% of the votes.
The Berlin elections are of special importance to the LINKE, because major problems of the LINKE converge there in a prototypical way. Among these, the crucial questions are those of left participation in governments, the LINKE’s character as a party of the East and the West and, last but not least, the city itself, whose history shaped the middle-aged and older generations in both East and West. It is the site of the wall and thus the place where the LINKE’s confrontation with its own history is most sharply posed. It is the background against which the controversies in the LINKE around communism, the erection of the wall and its relationship to Cuba have had an immediate impact on the Berlin election results.
At the same time, the LINKE had – also in its second term as a party of government, i.e. after its dramatic losses in the elections 2006 when the LINKE lost half of its voters in relation to the elections in 2011 – hardly been able to make its own weight felt in the “noiseless” government of the red-red-coalition. It could not package its successes – such as the creation of 118,000 new jobs, all of them with social security contributions, 7,000 jobs in the public sector (third sector), the introduction of a law which makes the payment of the minimum wage a condition for being awarded public commissions, a social and culture ticket for the socially weak and the abolition of the tripartite school system – into one history of success and so present itself as an independent part of the red-red-coalition and as the driving force behind the social question. Only in the past two years has the LINKE begun to deal with questions of rents and housing. It prevented the further privatisation of municipal housing agencies, but could not prevent rent increases immediately before the elections even in housing projects run by these agencies. It was hardly able to develop its own alternatives in the areas of urban development, stopping the increasing processes of gentrification and initiating participatory debates of alternative city development, although in Berlin a number of initiatives demanding the “right to the city” had formed.
In 2001 the LINKE had run as a party seeking to shed light on the biggest bank scandal in Europe, and standing for a different urban policy and a different political style contrasted to the new “Haupstadtpolitk”. In 2011 it appears as a party which meets demands for more transparency only after pressure from urban initiatives and which only passes a law on the freedom of information after pressure, according to which all accords reached in the public sector have to be made transparent. As a consequence, the accords on the part-privatisation of the water works are made public on the Internet, while the referendum on this question, in which more than 660,000 people participated, is made irrelevant.
The Berlin LINKE has lost its sensitivity for the changing social atmospheres in the city; it has alienated itself from many social currents of the city.
With its result of 11.7% the LINKE remains behind the result of 2006 and behind the Bundestag election result of 2009. In relation to the federal state elections of 2006, it lost 14,000 votes and thus with 20 seats represents only the fourth largest faction in the House of Representatives. In no district did it become the strongest party, and in the eastern Berlin strongholds it lost between 5 and 7% of its voters, while its results remained constant in the Western part of the city. While it lost 23,000 voters due to death or because they moved away, it failed to appeal to new groups of the population. It is not reaching the left and libertarian milieus and hardly the young generations. Also in Berlin it is the party of the socially weak, the workers and unemployed, but it is first of all a party of the East and of pensioners, even if the percentage of voters of West Berlin districts amounts to 28% by now.
The LINKE lost many votes to the Pirates party. It gained 3,000 votes from the non-voters and 2,000 votes from the SPD. The Pirates made their appearance on the political stage as the alternative to the established political system, as a grassroots protest and lesson-teaching party against the background of the overall weakness of the institutionalised political system. The Pirates as an anti-party also weakened the Greens, in particular among the young and left-libertarian section of the voters. The Greens are no longer the party that automatically and in a provocative way represents the life spirit of younger generations. In these elections the Pirates were the ones who opposed established institutions in original and unconventional ways and combined this style of anti-politics with demands for transparency and participation. The Pirates became active where established parties – in Berlin the LINKE has to be counted among them – have distanced themselves from the city’s society, from the everyday lives of young people in particular, where visionary demands are hardly recognisable after having been processed by real politics and government departments and where they are less and less in synch with the diverging life plans and life realities of younger generations.
Among these life plans and realities must be counted the normality and freedom of the Internet as well as the right to a secure and, at the same time, independent life even beyond the labour society, with the majority of young people no longer able to rely on classic careers: this includes the right to a basic income, the right to free education and free public transport. The Pirates demand transparent procedures in politics and self-determined forms of politics and possibilities for political self-organisation. They do not only question the contents of policies and the credibility of politicians but also political procedures themselves. Thus they become active where, for example, the demand of the LINKE in favour of a glasshouse town hall was even abandoned by the LINKE itself. This socially open-minded and unconventional group is a challenge to all the parties, in particular, however, to the LINKE, which has claimed this role for itself, above all in Berlin.
The LINKE is missing the social tailwind which had, between 2007 and 2009, helped it to establish itself as a successful political force in 13 federal states and on the national level. It lacks the drive of the new social idea, proclaimed in 2009, which rested on a model of the social welfare state of the 21st century and connected the social with the ecological question. It is lacks an attractive counter-plan for a social and ecological transformation. Until now it has been the party “that says what is” and asks the right questions, but up to now it lacks competence with regard to solutions and the future. And the role of those asking questions and questioning the conditions is not a privilege of left parties. In Berlin this role has for the moment been taken over by the Pirates with their left self-conception.