In The German Left Party East Is East And West Is West
Politics is frequently a game of paradoxes.
Germany's Left party tried to patch up an internal party struggle last weekend that is threatening its very existence. and its makeup poses one paradox. The collapse of the party is bad news for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Party and herein lies the second paradox.
The Left party is made up of 2 strands: Disaffected former Social Democrats led by Oscar Lafontaine, who left the Social Democratic Party during the chancellorship of Gerhard Schroeder, when Schroeder started dismantling the German welfare state in order to make Germany more competitive. This strand of the party comes from the former West Germany.
The second strand of the party is made up of remnants of the East German Communist Party (officially called the Socialist Unity Party), who with the fall of communism became the Democratic Socialists (as opposed to Social Democrats) and then merged with the existing Lafontaine group to form the Left party. They managed to gain nearly 12% in the last national elections three years ago.
One would have believed that the Lafontaine faction, that grew up in democratic West Germany, would be the more pragmatic wing - as opposed to the ex-communist wing that grew up in stultifyingly Marxist East Germany. The reverse has been the case.
The West German members actually left a party that was in power for the sake of ideology.
The ex-communists were used to being in power and had a territorial base in the former East Germany. That base included people who actually believed in the communist regime, as well as people put off by the smugness of those who looked down on their poor Ossi relations. There are still many mayors in the former East Germany who are members of the party. The former East Germans became the pragmatic wing of the party.
The dispute between the two wings cost the party votes in recent state elections, where it did not succeed in crossing the electoral threshold. In an attempt to stem the hemorrhage, the party picked a dual leadership representing both wings of the party.
If the party loses serious ground in the next national election, the paradoxical victim could be Angela Merkel.
The logic is actually simple. While the Party of the Left is considered suitable for local government, there is still a taboo against the former communists when it comes to the federal level.
So if the left parties scored 12% in the last election, that meant that over 12% of the seats in the Bundestag were rendered unusable in forming a coalition. If the party were wiped out, its votes would go to the Social Democrats, the Greens and the upstart Pirate party that has recently declared itself part of the left - and you would have two legitimate coalition partners for the Social Democrats.
Angela Merkel can therefore be excused for offering a silent prayer for the survival of the Linke.