How the hell did the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) get 12.6 percent of the votes last Sunday, I’m asking myself. That is almost six million people in this country who apparently thought that the German parliament really needed a few more Nazis.
This result didn’t fall from the sky. Since 2015, every major party in Germany has moved to the right. This electoral campaign seemed like a contest about who could promise more police to carry out more deportations.
I thought about that when I listened to Sahra Wagenknecht’s comments on election night. She was one of the two leading candidates of Die Linke. She used to be a defender of East Germany’s Stalinist system – now she’s a fan of West Germany’s well-regulated capitalism (“ordoliberalism”). Let me admit right off the bat: I didn’t like Wagenknecht before and I don’t like her now.
Die Linke lost 420,000 voters to the AfD, mostly in the east, where they have been in and out of government for the last 25 years. When asked why this happened, Wagenknecht wondered out loud: “Why aren’t we seen as a protest party?”
The answer seems pretty obvious to me. Die Linke is in government in Berlin and Brandenburg – they even have the Minister President in Thuringia. Their ministers seem determined to do exactly the opposite of their party program.
To give a few examples: In Berlin, they privatized almost 200,000 units of public housing. In Thuringia, they voted for the privatization of the Autobahn. In Brandenburg, they support lignite coal strip mining. This is all 100 percent contrary to their promises – creating the impression that “the left” is just another part of a corrupt political caste.
But Wagenknecht didn’t mean that. No, she has never criticized her comrades, the “government socialists” implementing neoliberal policies. For her, the problem was somewhere else entirely: “We made it too easy for ourselves on the question of refugees.”
She continued: “The AfD appeared like the only party that speaks about problems created by the arrival of refugees in a country broken by austerity.”
In other words: Wagenknecht thinks the left can fight the AfD by adopting some of the right’s main talking points. Your crazy racist uncle might share a meme about refugees causing problems that the mainstream media is covering up. But I don’t think the main representative of Die Linke should be talking like this.
Is it fair to call Wagenknecht a racist?
She famously advocated deporting asylum seekers: “If you abuse hospitality, you lose your right to hospitality” – as if the right to asylum was some kind of gift. She went on to blame the terrorist attack in Ansbach on the arrival of refugees. Such remarks were criticized in her own party – while they got support from the AfD!
I know plenty of people who won’t vote for Die Linke because of their lead candidate. But I’ve also heard of people who vote for Die Linke only because she, in AfD style, “tells the truth about refugees”. This debate has spread into the English-speaking press as well, with articles for and against her appearing on the US socialist magazine Jacobin.
From my perspective as an anticapitalist, the left is defined by the fight for a world without borders and a better tomorrow. Every human being deserves the same treatment, no matter where they come from and what they look like.
So yes, any politician who wants to drag a person out of their home and force them into an airplane heading to a different country (i.e. deport them) is a racist. We need to fight the rightward shift in Germany. But that doesn’t just mean fighting the AfD. It almost means fighting racist ideas amongst left-wing politicians.