Some thoughts after the catastrophic loss of votes for Die Linke (the Left)
in East Germany by Dr Greta Sykes.
Poet, writer and artist Greta Sykes has published her work in many anthologies. She is a member of London Voices Poetry Group and also produces art work for them. Her new volume of poetry called ‘The Shipping News and Other Poems’ came out in August 2016. The German translation of her book ‘Under charred skies’ has now been published in Germany under the title ‘Unter verbranntem Himmel’ by Eulenspiegel Verlag. She is the chair of the Socialist History Society and has organised joint poetry events for them at the Poetry Café. She is a trained child psychologist and has taught at the Institute of Education, London University, where she is now an associate researcher. Her particular focus is now on women’s emancipation and antiquity. Twitter: @g4gaia. Facebook.com/greta.sykes. German Wikipedia: Greta Sykes.
Kristen Ghodsee wrote a book about the upheaval unleashed by the fall of the wall in Germany 1989. She discovered the extent to which people’s lives were thrown into turmoil during the so called ‘velvet revolution’. Ghodsee saw the occasion as an ideal opportunity to study first-hand how aspects of citizen’s everyday experiences were devastated. She interviewed many people with a particular focus on how women’s sex lives were affected and came to the conclusion that sex was better under socialism than capitalism, both for men and women. The stress of making ends meet under a capitalist society does not usually allow us to learn how much better our sex lives could be, if economic pressures were reduced.
“Socialists have long understood that creating equity between men and women despite their biological sex differences requires collective forms of support for child rearing,” she writes. In East Germany, for example, the state supported integrating women into the workforce with policies that subsidised housing, children’s clothing, groceries and childcare. This support also meant that women could more easily consider having children without waiting for marriage. “By 1989, 34% of all births in East Germany were to single parents. After German reunification, the end of these subsidies resulted in a “birth strike”: the fertility rate in former East German states fell by 60%.”
“To the surprise of many in the West, two-thirds of the East German women reported that they “almost always” had an orgasm during sex, with another 18% revealing they did so “often”. What’s more, 82% of them reported being “happy” after sex. On the other hand, the West German women experienced orgasms half as much as their communist counterparts and only 52% of them reported being “happy” after sex. In Russia, studies on various kinds of relationships show a proliferation of people viewing relationships as a mere “calculation” after the fall of the wall. “(Ghodsee, 2019).
Ghodsee’s study is a good starting point for trying to understand the dramatic developments taking shape in Germany since 2015, when Angela Merkel opened the borders to allow over a million refugees enter the country. It is likely that her decision led to the BREXIT debacle and furthered the deep divisions which engulf the whole of Europe into pro and anti-open borders disputes. Not only was the Austrian government of Kurz brought down with a focus on their refugee policy, but lately the Salvini government in Italy with a similar strict policy on border controls was manoeuvred out of government.
The 2019 local elections in East Germany
Four years after opening the borders the result of the recent elections reveal an acceleration of discontent in the country. The elections took place in the former East German states of Brandenburg and Saxony. For months the TV programmes (Das Erste, ZDF, 3SAT) cajoled their audiences with comedy programmes which religiously castigated the AFD (Alternative for Germany) as Nazis and a taboo party for any reasonable citizen. The news and culture programmes similarly vaccinated their audiences against the virus of AFD leanings by referring to the AFD as Nazis, right-wing extremists and not part of the bourgeois world. Nevertheless, in spite of their efforts to persuade people the results were a massive blow to mainstream politics and the fraudulent lie of a consensus politics that was dangled in front of viewers. The results, as reported in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung were as follows:
SPD: 26.2%, losing 5.7%
AFD: 23.5%, gaining 11.3%
CDU: 15.6%, losing 7.4%
Gruene: 10.8%, gaining 4.6%
Linke: 10.7%, losing 7.9%
CDU: 32.1%, losing 7.3%
AFD: 27.5%, gaining 17.8%
Linke: 10.4%, losing 8.5%
Gruene: 8.6%, gaining 2.9%
Election participation: 66.6%
The results make clear that the mainstream parties have lost their traditional attraction for the majority of citizens in East Germany, notwithstanding that they had lost their hold on the whole of Germany already during the recent EU election. The fact that the SPD, the socialist party of Germany, the traditional party of the working people, has reached such low results is likely to be due to their presence in the grand coalition with the CDU, the Christian democrats, as well as change resulting from lower trade union membership, the loss of traditional jobs and the technological impact of the internet. More poignantly, are the results of ‘Die Linke’.
The tragedy of Die Linke
Originally the party of the communist East German state, called SED (Socialist Unity Party), this party had led East Germany to become one of the most prosperous states in the world after the war and one with a proud record in the Olympic games. Maligned by the West as part of the Cold War, interfered with and castigated as ‘Stalinist’, the pressure from the West led to the fall of the wall. The following rapid dismantling of East German industry, its wholesale takeover and buying out by the West, has left deep rifts and frustrations between the two parts of Germany. Many now think that the cultural differences between them are here to stay: 40 years of socialism have left their mark. The media, mainly owned by the West, continues to play its role in naming and shaming East Germans who profess to having enjoyed living in their country.
After the fall of the wall the former SED renamed itself PDS, party of democratic socialism, only to then group together with the West German left to form Die Linke. The deprecation of all things East German or socialist by the West’s media led to a weakening of their former ideals and adherence to working class politics. Rather than resist the berating impact of the media they drifted into the world of identity politics and other fashionable trends, such as ‘no to borders’ and a globalised neoliberalism. Their aims became meaningless to working people in need of jobs, education, pensions and welfare. The party that used to be the party of workers and peasants had become a party of sanctimonious ‘Gutmenschen’ (good moral people). Like the Greens and other mainstream parties, they profess to speak up for refugees and their human rights at the expense of their traditional working-class voters. Considering that the rift between rich and poor has become an acknowledged public scandal also in Germany, Die Linke is complicit in supporting politics that use the hard-earned money of the working people to finance a much larger population of migrants who never paid into the public purse. It is a tragedy that at a time of an existential crisis of the West that encompasses culture, politics, economics and spirituality, for a socialist party to desert their traditional voters who suffer low wages, pensions that cannot support them and poverty in old age. At the same time the social wage which people had worked for is now being distributed among people who were displaced by capitalist wars and should have been supported in their own countries to regain stability. These are the reasons for the success of the AFD (Alternative fuer Deutschland). They have taken up issues that concern working people and made it their aim to support them.
Political correctness and the media
Much has been written about the dogma of political correctness which extends to various degrees of green politics, a welcoming migration policy in the name of ‘Human rights’ and identity politics. In an essay entitled ‘Identity politics and the left’, 1996, Eric Hobsbawm discusses identity politics as an aberration of left-wing politics. Put briefly identity politics atomises the working people into smaller and smaller units of specialist issues, such as colour, race, religion, body weight, gender in terms of trans, gay and hetero. The list could be even longer. Needless to say, that each small grouping will have their specialist concerns which need to be addressed to make it worthwhile to form such a group. Political correctness is the media tool with which this atomisation is achieved by ensuring that the moralising demands of each identity group is set in stone and anyone who will not abide by their code of conduct is silenced. Famous feminists, such as Germaine Greer in the UK and Alice Schwarzer in Germany, have been rebuked for trespassing on one or another ‘correct’ notion by such a group. The media are happy to play this game and have more or less eliminated any controversy and debate. Marxist political analysts have long argued that the media are a tool of the elite, namely the military-industrial-media complex who rule the Western world with the US in the lead on the basis of their global military presence. The US hegemony continues to dictate global events through economic sanctions and wars or the threat of war. Its drive for globalising their products, such as Goggle, Facebook, Apple, involves globalising populations and robbing them of their cultural roots. It keeps leaders of less powerful nations on their toes. Consequently, the media, being a tool of the imperialist Western elite, will do the bidding for them and guide public opinion in the direction they favour.
It is vital to note that globalisation is not the same as internationalism, the former is constructed by the elite, the latter is organised by the working people. Globalisation is one of the cogs in the imperialist US motor to maintain its hegemony. It involved numerous wars in the Middle East and elsewhere (Yugoslavia, Afghanistan) with stationing of their troops and hardware. Its product is an unresolved migration crisis that costs many peoples’ lives daily and has so far eluded finding a resolution. This may be less surprising than one would think: The refugees are a welcome source of cheap labour for Western economies. The fact that they undermine existing trade union agreements and generally spread the social welfare budget among a much larger population is quietly sanctioned by the elite. Additionally, their concern for the effect on existing cultural communities and the import of IS terrorists is a low priority for them. A form of cultural totalitarianism by media enforces a control on the freedom of expression. Identity politics and political correctness dictate what can be said. This way the migration crisis has become part of our daily lives. Via TV images of drowning children and sinking boats our natural capacity for compassion has become a political poison in our minds that prevents rational analysis. Those who started the wars and the crisis expect the people to suffer the consequences of their exploitative politics. Countries like Austria, Italy and Hungary are condemned for refusing to go along with the sanctimonious hypocrisy and cultural totalitarianism that has been unleashed by the West.
The class struggle
While most of the mainstream, including the German Greens have signed up to the politics of the elite, Die Linke hovers. Their leader, Sarah Wagenknecht tried very hard to move her party in the direction of working-class politics. She was derided. Someone even threw a cake into her face. She has built up a pressure group called ‘Aufstehen’ (stand up) which attempts to influence views, but with little effect so far. This betrayal of Die Linke is the reason for people deserting that party. Their loyalty to left-wing politics was too severely tested and has given way under the strain of living in a society that has lost its direction. The media trumpet the globalised ‘bunte’ (colourful) town – all the people see and experience is social decay, lower wages, lower pensions, rising rents and an increase in crime..
The gap between the aims and objectives of the ruling elite is as far apart from those of the working people as it has ever been, as this table illustrates.
Ruling elite, military industrial complex
cheap labour that moves around the
globe as private business demands,
people to move as easily as money,
globalised private business determines
everyone’s life, no regard for culture,
a passive government that nods all
demands of the elite through,
use of war and immigration policies
to achieve cheap labour,
use of profit motive and technology
to accelerate the income of the rich,
no to borders to ensure cheap labour
can move around the globe,
no need for spirituality or belonging.
The working people
Having a job that pays adequate wages
as agreed by trade unions,
adequate health service, education and pensions
that cover needs in old age,
sense of being rooted in culture,
sense of community where one lives,
a government that listens to people
and can withstand the demands of
no to war, no to mass immigration,
support for families where they are at home,
a sustainable economy based on tax fairness,
borders that protect populations, their income
and pensions in their home culture,
deep need for spirituality and belonging.
Sarah Wagenknecht commented after the election:
‘…Die Linke is not any more perceived by their voters as a force that takes a serious interest in their lives and is capable of changing it for the better. That is very bad. Die Linke must again become an alternative for all those who have been deserted by the current politics, for all those who work hard for low wages and are anxious about poverty in old age. When our party is experienced by these people as a green-liberal lifestyle party, when they feel that our party looks down on them because they don’t cope with a trendy city lifestyle, then it is only normal that they turn away from us. We must no longer tolerate that.’
Global warming, sex and socialism
The major issue of our time is, of course, the environment, biodiversity and global warming. Without a programme of massive change to the way we run our societies and use up natural resources we shall not survive as a species. We need to think and act creatively. All of the new ideas will have to start with a reinvention of our life on earth as natural beings, not as robots and exploiters. We need to reduce and reuse materials we use. We need to cut down on travel, exploitation of fossil fuels and rare earths. We need to use agriculture organically. We need to stop wars and stop the arms trade. Looking at the list it is obvious that such demands do not fit with the demands of the elite and the military industrial complex. They do not fit with capitalism’s drive for constant expansion and profit. They do, however, fit with the demands of the people. They fit with the demands of socialism. They fit with our need to protect women and men from exploitation. They fit with a return to a more natural way of life that involves living in harmony with nature, not exploiting it. They fit with a holistic view of natural beings taking care of the planet and other creatures. They fit with Ghodsee’s revelations about the success of sex under socialism.
Humans need to be rooted in their culture which extends to their community. It needs to be celebrated and cherished, as poets and singers have done throughout human history. Such a life is deeply rooted in a sense of spirituality and belonging which leads to trust. Such a life can be achieved and would give us back a sex and love life that is free from exploitation. It would reduce our need for cheap substitutes, such as shopping, drugs and violence on screens.
© Dr Greta Sykes