A Populist Moment? Learning from Corbyn, Sanders, Mélenchon and Iglesias in Germany
The period of interregnum has not yet ended. In the tenth year of the crisis, the European Union has reached a relative, albeit low, level of economic stability. In many countries, however, upheavals continue to reshape the political field. Even in Germany, the era of stability has come to an end, with plenty of shifts in the political landscape. The radical right currently sets the agenda, and a lack of social mobilization and the fragmentation of the “mosaic Left” indicates a populist gap on the Left that calls for address. The question remains: how to collect or connect the different forces, or, more specifically, how can populist momentum carry forward a popular project? Several references have been made to examples in Europe and the USA. What can be learned from these?1
Let us take a look at the political situation in Germany: against the backdrop of this culture of insecurity, modernized radical right-wing parties – the ugly siblings of neoliberalism – could be established in many European countries over the last 20 years. In Germany, they vanished time and again, but authoritarian or racist attitudes spread, nevertheless. With the rise of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), one could say the country reverted to the European norm (Opratko 2016). The appearance of the AfD led to a complete shift of the whole political and ideological spectrum toward the right, creating a new relation of representation (Demirović 2018, 28). The previous “anger without a target” found a representative to articulate this anger – not in the sense of simple expression of that anger but in a specific coherent and increasingly radical way.
New Relations of Representation and Political Polarization
The AfD began with the dream of a return to the Deutschmark and a strong national state; one could almost say an ‘imagined economy’. Their rise, however, could not have been consolidated with the critique of the euro alone. The clear class character of the project, created by angry neoliberal professors looking with arrogance and disdain at the subaltern marginalized population, would have been too obvious.
Only taking up and intensifying the anti-migration, anti-Muslim, anti-feminist, homophobic, and anti-liberal discourse strategically directed against all minorities enabled the party to invert popular discord into popular compliance – against its own class composition concerning its constituency and leadership (cf. Hall 1982, 114). Polemics against “migration into our social security systems” and turning the social question into an ethnic question proved particularly effective (Wiegel 2014, 83).
Insofar as the ethno-nationalist and social wings of the party are becoming more influential (also in the workplace), their notion of “exclusive solidarity” (Dörre 2005) could broaden their appeal in sections of the working class. It does not seem to matter that the party advocates the most radical neoliberal reforms at the same time. In fact, they play with ambiguity, relativizing truth. This is one of their most effective strategies, successfully re-articulating the populist agenda and asserting right-wing hegemony in public discourse.2
Their success is reflected in the normalization and growing dominance of radical right-wing positions in public political discourse, in particular among the conservative CDU/CSU, the print media, and in the talk shows of public broadcasters. Here, the AfD crosses widely accepted red lines, stating the (supposedly) unspeakable. These statements are usually followed by insincere apologies, which are, in turn, superseded by further breaches of ostensible taboos. To the general public that initially reacted with outrage, these events soon become commonplace. While level-headed quality journalism continues to exist, the majority of media producers espousing opinions in the neoliberal echo chamber have paved the way for the far right by reproducing right-wing popular opinions and focusing excessive attention on the AfD, simultaneously marginalizing other central social questions and movements (such as protest movements against the anti-Islam group Pegida and the AfD).
The most recent government crisis and the conflict between Horst Seehofer, Minister of the Interior and head of the right-wing Bavarian CSU (the ruling CDU’s sister party), and Chancellor Angela Merkel perfectly exhibit the radical right’s potent discourse. It revolved around closed detention centres and how to deport refugees, completely ignoring the mass carnage in the Mediterranean. The radical right has set the agenda and are “on the hunt,” as Alexander Gauland, head of the AfD, said. Only a few weeks later, we witnessed huge crowds of Neo-Nazis parading through the city of Chemnitz (formerly Karl-Marx-Stadt), openly displaying Nazi salutes and chasing people of colour through the streets, with the small number of police unable and unwilling to stop the mob (meanwhile, any leftist or anti-fascist activity is confronted by huge numbers of militarized anti-terrorism units). The head of the secret service (the so-called “Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution”), Hans-Georg Maaßen, denied the incidents and implied that media coverage and footage had been “fake news.” Widespread public controversy prompted another government crisis with Seehofer backing Maaßen, while Merkel and her Social Democratic Party (SPD) coalition partner called for his demotion. In the end, Maaßen was removed from his position, only to become State Secretary for internal security and cyber-security. The crisis continues to smoulder, and the established parties are losing popularity, pushing more people toward frustration and the AfD’s anti-elite politics. The two political poles are constituted by the radical right on the one side, and the neoliberal-cosmopolitan and liberal right in government on the other.
The radical right’s strategy is combined with an open hostility toward parliamentarism and its democratic procedures, while using the parliament as a stage. Post-democratic practices of limiting institutional oversights and participatory processes had, of course, long been a feature of neoliberalism, but they now approach a rupture with core liberal democratic procedures – starting with Berlusconi, then Orbán, Trump, and many others. The radical right, one could say, is forming the basis of a new authoritarian project.
Attempts are ongoing to assert political control over the judiciary (in Poland, Hungary, the USA, Turkey) and constrain freedom of the press, or at least generally disparage them as the ‘lying press’ while deploying fake news and “alternative facts,” often combined with vulgar historical revisionism. The legitimacy of science and the rights of minorities, women, and unions are regularly questioned. A violent language becomes normalized, affirming and relativizing physical violence, enforcing security discourses and repressive apparatuses. Expanding the range of acceptable language also expands the space for maliciousness from open hatred to real individual violence. I think these are clear tendencies of what in German is called Faschisierung: not fascist regimes, but clear tendencies against democratic and solidary modes of living. The production and combating of ‘the Other’ as threats to ‘our way of living’ plays a central role here.
These changes in the social, political, and media discourse also affect the existing political landscape, as the contradictions and conflicts inherent in society are reflected and confronted at the inner-party level. This can be seen in the CDU, where open criticism of Angela Merkel is simmering. Although these voices lack a serious alternative so far, the Chancellor has lost the unanimous support of the right-wing conservative and neoliberal moderniser factions in her party. The CDU’s support is crumbling as it sheds voters in all directions, especially to the group of non-voters, the AfD, the ‘one man show’ that is the right-leaning neoliberal party (FDP), and now massively to the Green Party (and even, curiously enough, to Die Linke). In response, Merkel has made way for a new party leader.
The SPD, fearing the abyss, has fled to the confines of a minority position in yet another Grand Coalition government. Lacking its own project or even one or two central reformist goals, the SPD plays an almost invisible role in government. At the same time, its participation in the coalition essentially makes any attempt at internal renewal impossible. The party thus finds itself in free fall.
While the Green Party has fortified itself with a new ‘post-ideological’ leadership, the strategic contradictions between the current Green-conservative government strategy, the prospect of a CDU-Green coalition government, and that of moving to a consistently left-wing ecological re-profiling remain unresolved. After consenting to the successive tightening of German asylum law and considering the anti-immigration sentiments within the party (of Tübingen Mayor Boris Palmer, for example), the Green Party has now completely lost the credibility it once had as an allegedly anti-war and civil rights party dedicated to protecting the rights of refugees. Nonetheless, by silencing their internal conflicts, they have managed to style themselves as an alternative to the quarrelling government coalition and have gained significant ground in the polls and regional elections. The political polarization caused by the radical right is driving disappointed and inactive voters back to the Green Party, although this trend lacks the strength to create a tangible third pole in German society.
A Solidary ‘Third Pole’?
Die Linke is similarly unable to break through the dualistic polarization between the right-wing government faction and the radical right in the opposition. The party is stable, even attracting a surprising number of new members (15,000 in two years) from a broad educational background, particularly in the social sector. Many of these new members are relatively young, come from a so-called ‘migrant background’, and are determined to fight the AfD and address practical everyday political issues. In fact, the party is winning more voters in regional elections in the western parts of Germany, but the increase is slow. Die Linke is polling 12 per cent for the next election in Bremen but risks losing large numbers of voters in the eastern states. The party is trying to be more present in people’s everyday lives through door-to-door campaigning, specific organizing activities in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, tenant associations, unemployment consultations, systematic support of labour struggles (such as Amazon employees or hospital staff), and welcoming initiatives for refugees (Wilkommensinitiativen). By joining forces with various social movements and social initiatives (and not just focusing on large-scale demonstrations), the party seeks to establish a stronger and broader base, to help build structures of solidarity in everyday life, and to act as a point of contact for mutual aid and political organization.
To this end, Die Linke places its focus on campaigns that address people’s basic everyday problems. There is a discrepancy between what people consider the ‘biggest political problem’, that is, what the media bombards them with on a day-to-day basis, and what they consider paramount to their own personal everyday lives, such as insecure working conditions, insufficient social infrastructures in health care and education, or secure housing (Hillje 2018 and Candeias 2018). Accordingly, the party prioritises housing and healthcare campaigns as issues that are capable of mobilizing people, and has a large pool of activists both inside and outside of the party. These can and should be supported and strengthened by supplying the necessary critical mass and momentum, but such promising initiatives also take time to grow.
However, Die Linke is also – and particularly – torn over the migration debate taking place in Germany and Europe (the “European question” and the clash of opposing sides with respect to the EU is probably next in line in terms of acute political differences). The old dividing lines between inner-party factions have lost their importance and are becoming completely realigned: the party has transformed into something new. As a left-wing party, it not only covets a place in parliament and in the media, but also strives to actively transform society by working together with mass movements outside parliament. But this inner schism impedes the party and the parliamentary group, squandering important energy and resources. While the conflict surrounding the migration question appears to have caused no visible losses in membership, it restricts development into a milieu open to migration and global freedom of movement. Lacking any support or media attention from the party faction leaders, the new organizing projects remain marginalized, and it is the media and not the party itself that is dictating inner-party debates. The most significant reason for Die Linke’s political stagnation lies in the major losses suffered in eastern Germany, where the party has a declining social presence and is seen largely as outdated and solidly mainstream. Nonetheless, attempts at political renewal and public mobilization during municipal elections in the east have delivered surprising successes here and there.
Although there can be no talk of a representational gap in the wider sense, a significant portion of German voters are still on the lookout for convincing representation. A considerable segment of potential voters abstains from elections altogether for a multitude of reasons: they may feel their everyday problems are not addressed or lack confidence in the established parties. Some may see the Left as powerless, although they ask the correct questions, while others may harbour reservations toward the Left in general. This last grouping is only represented in its individual fragments, which remain unconnected. Even Die Linke seems (as of yet) unable to gain the support of this often-mentioned third pole of solidarity, to transcend the party’s original milieu, and to reach those socially disadvantaged social groups and class factions that have either moved from the Left toward the radical right or turned their backs on politics altogether.
In the short-term it is practically impossible to push back the AfD. However, the creation of an attractive, emancipatory left-wing pole in society could dampen the party’s continued ascent. We are currently witnessing a shift in the status quo: this autumn, tens of thousands of people took to the streets every weekend to demonstrate against rising rents (in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Stuttgart, with countless smaller protests around the country), against the radical right (under the slogan #ausgehetzt, i.e. “an end to the incitement of hate,” in reaction to the far-right demonstrations in Chemnitz and elsewhere), and against the widening of police powers. Likewise, we have seen people mobilizing for the international sea rescue movement Seebrücke, and for environmental protection, to which this year’s exceptionally hot summer, as well as the continuing fight for the squatted Hambach Forest in North-Rhine Westphalia, have undoubtedly contributed. These movements have gained a visible presence under the umbrella of the #unteilbar (“undividable”) movement that brought 250,000 people onto the streets of Berlin. The events in Chemnitz and those that followed have clearly shown how strong the existing threat to a democratic and solidary mode of living truly is. The question remains whether these forces can be successfully connected and organized beyond the symbolic visibility of this “autumn of solidarity” by including those parts of society that, for a multitude of reasons, prefer active representation to individual political organization (Candeias/Völpel 2014).
Collecting and/or Connecting?
This leads to the question of what is to be done and how, by which methods, and with what concept of the party and representation? It is in this context that we have to locate and examine the emergence of the campaign #aufstehen (“stand up”). The relevant discourse often refers to Jeremy Corbyn, the Bernie Sanders’s election campaign, La France Insoumise, and, looking slightly further back, the initial emergence of Podemos in Spain. These examples, however, are rather heterogeneous and cannot easily be compared to the situation in Germany. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the majority voting system leads to the absence of any credible left-wing party beyond the Labour Party. There is also a majority system in France. Moreover, in all these respective countries there have been massive social mobilizations on the Left, most notably in Spain but even in the USA. While these conditions do not apply to Germany, there is still much to be learned from these examples.
First, these movements all focus on a few central issues and messages. Rather than claiming completeness of their program on every possible political issue, they concentrate their efforts on a few key themes and thus increase the efficiency of their communication strategies, campaigns, and self-organization. In this way, competencies and resources are pooled rather than dissipated.
Second, their campaigns address a clear opponent, and the government and capital fractions supporting them, creating a sharp antagonism.
Third, they articulate their messages as inclusively as possible, so that broader sections of the population can identify with the project.
Fourth, they allow room for ambiguities and provide leeway for particularly controversial topics that could potentially split the movement. Two examples illustrate this point. Rather than taking a stance for or against Brexit, the Labour Party kept an open position while simultaneously criticizing the EU as well as Theresa May’s government and its agenda. Similarly, with respect to migration, La France Insoumise called on the republic’s laical civil tradition of not asking about the background of migrants, held fast to the irrefutability of human rights for all, including refugees, and criticised the EU and the French government for encouraging unrestricted competition and exploiting labour immigrants in the process.
Fifth, there is a resolute attempt to shift away from supposed political fissures within society as dictated by the opposing party and the media. Instead, they attempt to keep to their own agenda, and emphasize critical everyday social issues (and socio-ecological ones, in the case of La France Insoumise) that facilitate a left-wing discourse, such as social and labour rights, health care, housing, social infrastructure, and redistribution within society.
Sixth, and perhaps most importantly, an active mode of organizing needs to become more prominent and stronger. Unid@sPodemos and La France Insoumise were able to draw upon large-scale social mobilizations and movements to create a broad foundation of various regional platforms, each with their own individual dynamic. The People for Bernie Sanders campaign and the Momentum movement, on the other hand, involved thousands upon thousands of activists in the creative process, which made all the difference in the internal conflicts within the Democrats and the Labour Party. What is significant is that all these movements expended huge personal resources, as well as the use of smart social media and media campaigns, to connect with local residents and actively recruit new activists – whether in the context of concrete issues or, as put by Spanish activist Ada Colau, simply in order “to win.”
Seventh, while all of these movements emerged in good part from a young, urban, academic precariat (often from a post-migrant background), they managed to extend their reach to other parts of society – with minimum wage campaigns or movements such as Black Lives Matter in the U.S., neighbourhood initiatives and the new workers’ movement inspired by Movimiento 15-M (the “Mareas”) in Spain, door-to-door campaigning and even a union-backed anti-austerity campaign in the United Kingdom. They combined the many expressed interests of different class segments and milieus, rather than playing them off against each other, something that proved crucial to their processes. Without such an effort, there is a risk of division into two formations, losing the collective focus on the common opponent and demobilizing part of the movement’s base. What is gained can quickly be lost.
Finally, a radical perspective was essential. Beyond defending the welfare state, this was undoubtedly an issue of creating a new social perspective, a “true democracy,” a “democratic socialism,” a “sixth republic” with a radical socio-ecological agenda. There was never a focus on polemic against left-liberal and emancipatory positions. Instead, each of these movements tried to push the liberal “middle-classes” – appalled by the power of the radical right – to the radical Left (as, for example, with the Women’s Marches against President Donald Trump in the USA).3
Populist and Popular
These different examples from Podemos to People for Bernie Sanders, from La France Insoumise to Momentum, include rather different concepts of the relationship between party and movement (cf. Candeias 2016). These can be roughly divided into two different methods of approach, which are practically combined in different ways.
The organic-popular option (in line with Gramsci) builds on a close, everyday cooperation with the movements and mutual structures of solidarity as an organizing force, promoting the self-activity and self-representation of ‘the Many’ (the unorganized and unaligned of the populace) to represent those that cannot or do not want to engage in active participation. This is achieved by actively connecting ‘the Many’ across different organizations via direct, practical interventions that have their roots in specific social conditions. Examples are the struggle for housing rights or the collective bargaining movement (Tarifbewegung) for good care work and more staff. Individual interests are jointly formulated and connected. The primary goal is to create a social counterforce and social movements for immediate improvements in everyday life, and to shape new social connections and self-relations. Given enough momentum, this popular approach could potentially rise up to a constitutive power that unifies transformations of the self and, in the long run, society as a whole.4
The populist option in line with Laclau5 follows a strongly media-oriented approach, attempting to link the many different groups and demands, identities and cultures, and condense them into the same narrative. This is achieved through a sharp polarization of the political or antagonism – particularly through the media. The different interests are taken up, absorbed, passively represented and connected via discursive manoeuvres. The goal is to unify ‘the Many’ in support of a populist project in which they feel represented. In this sense, the populist project does not focus too much on real-life social movements or initiatives and their everyday engagement, but rather, attempts to give the respective demands a louder and more effective voice, thus enhancing their visibility. The goal is to achieve a shift in social discourses and political power structures in order to seize governmental power.
None of these alternatives exist in their pure state, but must, instead, be combined in practice. Both can and must reinforce one another.6 In my opinion, however, the organic-popular option must be predominant – not in every instance, but as an overall goal and cause. Historically, it has been the movements themselves that have pushed forward social change. The government can play an important role by expanding fields of action, codifying social changes, or institutionalizing improved relations of power beyond their initial momentum, movement, or social mobilization. A popular counterforce is further needed to truly empower, promote, and correct a potential government of the Left. The image of a political organizational process that follows a clear linear ascent is widespread: at the start, there is protest and a subsequent movement, followed by the formation of a new party (and/or the restructuring of old left parties), which finally steps up to win the election in its favour, gain power, and implement the ‘correct’ form of politics. Movements have their place in this formula; however, the strategy of simply seizing power is old-fashioned, parliament-centric, and statist, and instrumentalizes movements in a patronizing manner. This traditional relationship to the government is no longer viable. Even if it cannot be bypassed, the state simply cannot supply and administer on its own what the people need without transformations in its very structures.
To be clear, it is also not a matter of becoming categorized as a ‘movement party’. Even if more people become involved in concrete forms of organizing, strengthening, and building a broader base for movements and/or the party, it would be a fallacy to see this as a direct ‘expression of the population’. Movements reflect only a small section of the population, who have sufficient time and resources for political engagement. However, the party (or movement) must also extend its reach to groups that have hitherto been difficult or impossible to reach, or that may even have turned their backs on politics. This could also mean winning back those very groups that, though fundamentally open to left-wing positions, are currently drawn toward the radical right by their alienation from political and corporate elites.7 It is not enough to simply connect with and focus solely on the politically active parts of society, left-wing organizations, and movements.
Rather, it is necessary to combine both options in a strategic manner. A ‘populist moment’ could be used to amplify, spread, and promote any given mass project, and promote self-activity and self-representation rather than simply official political representation. In the case of an existing large-scale social moment, a populist polarization could further consolidate, strengthen, and promote such a project’s activities. If such a social moment is absent, an effort at political polarization could make the project’s fragile potential for self-organization and progress more visible. This would set the groundwork and infrastructure for a society-based counterforce that is rooted in the concrete activities of ‘the Many’, rather than in ephemeral compliance with the media and the electorate.
How to support the idea of a progressive counter-polarization and building a movement of solidarity? Strengthening housing campaigns and a nationwide housing movement with a populist media strategy, connected to organizing projects in so-called “social hotspots” in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and with a project of a Left government, could be an effective combination of popular and populist strategy.
Here, to operate with a ‘post-charismatic’ leadership can be useful, as seen from the U.S. to Spain in a wide range of individuals such as Sanders, Corbyn, Iglesias, Mélenchon and Ada Colau, the last representing a new type of female protagonist. The ‘charisma’ of those listed is neither personal (particularly apparent for Sanders and Corbyn, who have been in politics for decades), nor conferred by their title of office. Rather, these individuals exemplify the search for true democracy, for new solidary modes of behaviour, and for new beginnings (Candeias/Völpel 2014: 209). Any departure from this position results in the loss of that same popular appeal. This was seen in the case of Alexis Tsipras with Syriza in Greece, as well as Pablo Iglesias during his foundering election campaign in Spain and the subsequent hierarchical re-making of the Podemos party organization. Such moments were also experienced by Sanders and Corbyn, for example, following their failure to sufficiently clarify their positions on racism. However, both were able to react to the pressure exerted by movements such as Black Lives Matter and redefine their respective positions in a credible manner. Whether or not social mobilizations such as #Seebrücke and #unteilbar can successfully initiate similar shifts in the current debate in Germany remains to be seen. Post-authoritarian popular appeal, therefore, is different from the charisma of an authoritarian leader and party (who is often no longer a contestable figure of power).
However, the weaker the organic-popular moment becomes in relation to the populist one, the greater the danger of the latter developing its own independent course. This would herald a return to a more powerful, centralized, and autonomous leadership, to hierarchical organizational structures, and to political representation instead of self-representation. The result would be an insufficient basis for the effective exercise of political power, limited by fragile parliamentary majorities and the media that backs them. The voter base would remain volatile, often leading to immediate electoral losses should the anticipated improvements fail to materialize.
A Popular-Democratic Project of ‘the Many’?
It is beyond doubt that there is a populist moment in Germany, as Ingar Solty has argued, and that a search for new relations of representation is underway. The question is rather, what is the relationship between the populist elements and the popular-democratic project of the many?
This issue is already on the political agenda and, given the likelihood of a collapse of the current government coalition before the end of the electoral period, could increase in urgency. This would likely lead to a call for the creation of a ‘progressive and solidary bloc’ consisting of those who have good reason to fear a neoliberal strategy of ‘business as usual’ and a further rightward shift among sections of the electorate and those who fundamentally stand for a democratic and solidary mode of living. A relaunch of a tepid Red–Red–Green coalition (Die LINKE, SPD, and the Green Party) would simply fall short of the mark.
In the part of society that identifies as politically left of the CDU, the dramatic ascent of the radical right and the demise of social democracy and the SPD should clearly demonstrate that a recognizable and a more radical counter-project is needed. It is foreseeable that neither the neoliberal-cosmopolitan camp (CDU, FDP, sections of the Green Party) nor the right-wing communitarian camp (CSU, right-wing conservative sections of the CDU, AfD) could establish a majority. In this light, the fight for a real left government, for the strengthening of movements, and the development of a social counterforce, does not seem pointless but necessary. •
Translation by Joanna Mitchell and Nivene Raafat (lingua•trans•fair) and Mario Candeias.
- Candeias, Mario. 2016. “Die verbindende Partei im Praxis-Test,” in: Prokla 182, 46. Jg., No. 1, 153-66.
- Candeias, Mario. 2018. “Den Aufstieg der radikalen Rechten begreifen. Wie hängen unterschiedliche Erklärungsmuster zusammen? Dimensionen einer verallgemeinerten Kultur der Unsicherheit,” in: Rechtspopulismus, radikale Rechte, Faschisierung, M. Candeias (ed.), Berlin, 33-60.
- Candeias, Mario, and Eva Völpel. 2013. Plätze sichern. ReOrganisierung der Linken in der Krise, Hamburg.
- Demirović, Alex. 2018. “Autoritärer Populismus als neoliberale Krisenbewältigungsstrategie,” in: Prokla 190, 27–42.
- Detje, Richard, Wolfgang Menz, Sarah Nies and Dieter Sauer. 2011. “Ohnmacht und Wut,” in: Luxemburg H.2, 52-61.
- Hall, Stuart. 1982. “Popular-demokratischer und autoritärer Populismus,” in: Neue soziale Bewegungen und Marxismus, Argument-Sonderheft 78, Berlin.
- Hall, Stuart. 1994. “«Rasse», Artikulation und Gesellschaften mit struktureller Dominante,” in: S.Hall, Rassismus und kulturelle Identität, Ausgew. Schriften, Vol. 2, 89-136, Hamburg. (Original publication 1980 in English.)
- Hillje, Johanne, 2018. Rückkehr zu den politisch Verlassenen. Studie rechtspopulistischen Hochburgen in Deutschland und Frankreich.
- Opratko, Benjamin. 2016. “Mit der AfD kommt Deutschland in der Normalität an,” in: Huffington Post, 3 February.
- Wiegel, Gerd. 2014. “Rechts der Union. Wie die AfD den Spagat zwischen Eliteprojekt und Rechtspopulismus versucht,” in: LuXemburg 1/2012, 82–87.
- Wiegel, Gerd. 2018. “Die modernisierte radikale Rechte in Europa. Ausprägungen und Varianten,” in: M.Candeias (Ed.), Rechtspopulismus, radikale Rechte, Faschisierung, Berlin, 5-15.
- I would like to express my sincere thanks to Lia Becker, Michael Brie, Alex Demirović, Barbara Fried, and Conny Hildebrandt for their helpful advice and fruitful debates. Against the backdrop of differing conditions in Germany, this article includes the results of our many collaborative analyses of the reorganization of left movements and parties in Spain, Portugal, Greece, the USA, Britain, and France since 2011.
- For the most part, agreement with radical right-wing positions in Germany is found in parts of the educated middle-class (right-wing conservative Christian Union voters in Baden Württemberg, Bavaria, and Hesse), the rural and suburban petty bourgeoisie, in parts of the east German working-class communities, and in former SPD strongholds, such as the industrial Ruhr area or Mannheim. In eastern Germany, the AfD styles itself as a ‘people’s party’. Despite gaining most of its support from – predominantly male – groups of the established middle-class or the petty bourgeoisie, the AfD now also appeals to a significant portion of the working class and unemployed (irrespective of how they themselves would assess their allegiance during post-election surveys). For the Left Party (Die Linke), it is particularly important to find out why former Social Democrats and voters from their own ranks are now voting for the AfD. In the 2017 German parliamentary elections alone, 430,000 voters who had previously voted for the Left Party now cast their ballot for the AfD. While there can be no talk of a comprehensive hegemony in the sense of Gramsci – the establishment of an authoritarian project capable of securing vast capital accumulation as well as a broad societal consensus is still nowhere in sight – the potency of the discourse being unleashed by the radical right is astonishing.
- The indispensability of a continuing perspective for societal transformation is closely connected to the previous point. This is not only from the perspective of the radical Left, but also because fundamental problems are no longer solvable within the capitalist framework. The a-synchronicity of productive forces in society is continuously growing, along with the unequal distribution of societal wealth. This inequality has risen to a point where it even negatively affects capitalist accumulation itself and blocks innovations, not only in individual countries, but also on a global scale. The accumulation on an enlarged scale is becoming harder and harder to implement, and wider humanitarian problems, such as the ever more present ecological crisis or the global migration question, cannot be combated within the given framework. Likewise, a return to regulatory measures of the past or to the social-democratic containment of capitalism’s destructive potential seems to fall short and inadequate.
- As stated earlier, this takes into account rather varying conditions in countries that are characterised by a high crisis dynamic. Thanks to Germany’s comparatively stable economic position since the onset of financial difficulties in 2009 (and an approach to crisis management that prescribed Keynesian measures for the local economy and an austerity policy abroad), these do not apply in Germany. Since the implementation of the 2010 Agenda, social upheavals have developed in bite-sized chunks, lacking the shock impact observed in other countries.
- The term “populism” differs widely in interpretation: Bernd Stegemann and Andreas Nölke stand for a sovereign, social-democratic project; Chantal Mouffe, a left-wing liberal-democratic one, while Thomas Goes and Julia Bonk’s is a Left-socialist, internationalist project.
- For decades, the U.S. has seen organizing processes among migrants, Black communities, unions, living wage movements, and, last but not least, the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter. The People for Bernie Sanders campaign could build up on this groundwork, pick up the issues, and give them an even larger presence in the media. This was similar to the 15M movement and Podemos in Spain, or Nuit Debut and workers strikes, and later, La France Insoumise.
- How this could work is, admittedly, rather controversial, and cannot be achieved by adopting positions of unequal rights, but see: Candeias 2018.