Germany’s radical left is fueling anti-immigrant sentiment


Sahra Wagenknecht, the leader of Germany’s far-left Die Linke party, has launched a new movement. It is called Aufstehen (literally translated, “stand up”). This in itself is not exceptional. Many other countries in Western Europe have left-wing parties of varying extremes.

Just think of the Dutch LinksGroen, the Danish Enhedslisten and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the United Kingdom. But there is a difference between the movement proposed by Frau Wagenknecht. While the other leftist parties are composed of remnants of the 1968 generation and progressive millennials, with a healthy skepticism toward authoritarianism, Aufstehen is something altogether different. The movement is unashamedly populist — and hostile toward immigration and other liberal causes.
Not surprisingly, such views have received praise from the far-right Alternative für Deutschland.

Wagenknecht is not — as some have said — seeking to build a movement like Momentum in Britain (the left-wing grassroots movement that brought Corbyn to power) or Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s equivalent La France Insoumise.

Her ambition is to create a realignment; to found a movement that appeals to disgruntled working-class voters who feel betrayed by big business, globalism and the low wages in the gig economy.

Her message is not one founded upon hope and solidarity. It is based on an ill-disguised opposition to foreigners. Her analysis is that a message of resentment chimes with low-wage workers.

That has been seen before. It is trite to cite examples of the darker chapters of Europe’s history. Suffice it to say that both Benito Mussolini in Italy and Oswald Moseley in the UK started their respective careers on the political left with a similar message. And further afield Juan Perón, used a combination of social justice and far-right attitudes to seize power in Argentina. Germany is unlikely to go the same way. But the precedents are not to be ignored.

Wagenknecht’s analysis is not entirely unique. In Denmark, the nominally center-left Social Democrats have rebranded themselves as a party that defends the welfare state, while it has lurched to the right on immigration issues.

But unlike the Danes, Wagenknecht has fused opposition to immigration with populist economics. That is a dangerous mix.

She cannot be accused of naïveté. Like Angela Merkel, she grew up in Communist East Germany. But unlike the current Chancellor of Germany, the far-left firebrand is unapologetic about her membership of the Communist Youth Movement FDJ.

She has described the East German communist dictatorship as “the most peaceful and most philanthropic polity that the Germans created in all of their previous history.”

Just for the record, the regime killed 327 people who tried to escape.

The private lives of politicians are not usually of political importance. Wagenknecht is an exception. She is married to Oscar Lafontaine — a former social democrat finance minister — who defected from Gerhard Schröder’s coalition Socialist-Green government and later founded Die Linke, with the members of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor to the East German Communist Party.

Her husband — 25 years her senior and now retired from politics — always stood for a more socially inclusive form of socialism. He even wrote a book titled “The Heart Beats on the Left.”

His wife does not subscribe to softer sentiments in politics. Her decision to establish Aufstehen should be viewed with concern across the whole of Europe.

Source: Germany’s radical left is fueling anti-immigrant sentiment

Centrists Are the Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists @NYTOpinion

Interesting and somewhat counter-intuitive set of data (have just highlighted the first data set – Centrists most sceptical of democracy, other sets are: Least Likely to
Support Free and Fair Elections, Least Likely to Support Liberal Institutions, Most Supportive of Authoritarianism (Except for the Far Right), Percentage of Americans who support strongman leaders):

The warning signs are flashing red: Democracy is under threat. Across Europe and North America, candidates are more authoritarian, party systems are more volatile, and citizens are more hostile to the norms and institutions of liberal democracy.

These trends have prompted a major debate between those who view political discontent as economic, cultural or generational in origin. But all of these explanations share one basic assumption: The threat is coming from the political extremes.

On the right, ethno-nationalists and libertarians are accused of supporting fascist politics; on the left, campus radicals and the so-called antifa movement are accused of betraying liberal principles. Across the board, the assumption is that radical views go hand in hand with support for authoritarianism, while moderation suggests a more committed approach to the democratic process.

Is it true?

Maybe not. My research suggests that across Europe and North America, centrists are the least supportive of democracy, the least committed to its institutions and the most supportive of authoritarianism.

I examined the data from the most recent World Values Survey (2010 to 2014) and European Values Survey (2008), two of the most comprehensive studies of public opinion carried out in over 100 countries. The survey asks respondents to place themselves on a spectrum from far left to center to far right. I then plotted the proportion of each group’s support for key democratic institutions. (A copy of my working paper, with a more detailed analysis of the survey data, can be found here.)


What Does It Mean?

Across Europe and North America, support for democracy is in decline. To explain this trend, conventional wisdom points to the political extremes. Both the far left and the far right are, according to this view, willing to ride roughshod over democratic institutions to achieve radical change. Moderates, by contrast, are assumed to defend liberal democracy, its principles and institutions.

The numbers indicate that this isn’t the case. As Western democracies descend into dysfunction, no group is immune to the allure of authoritarianism — least of all centrists, who seem to prefer strong and efficient government over messy democratic politics.

Strongmen in the developing world have historically found support in the center: From Brazil and Argentina to Singapore and Indonesia, middle-class moderates have encouraged authoritarian transitions to bring stability and deliver growth. Could the same thing happen in mature democracies like Britain, France and the United States?

via Opinion | Centrists Are the Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists – The New York Times