Sunday, December 07, 2014

German Left Party gets a governorship

The German Left Party now holds its first governorship (Minister-President more literally) in the eastern state of Thuringia. Bodo Ramelow is the new Governor, heading a red-red-green coalition (Left Party, SPD, Greens). Euronews reports on it, Former East German state Thuringia first to get post-unification leftist leader 12/04/2014; "leftist" in this report refers to the Left Party; the SPD and Greens are conventionally referred to a center-left, the SPD seated to the left of the Greens in the German Bundestag:

Kate Connolly gives a good, brief description of Ramelow and his politics in Germany gets first socialist state governor since reunification The Guardian 12/05/2014:

Bodo Ramelow, 58, a former trade unionist, was voted into office in a second-round ballot in Thuringia to applause from the parliament in the city of Erfurt. Ramelow is a moderate member of Die Linke (the Left), which has its roots in the socialist party that ruled East Germany and makes no secret of its anti-Nato and pro-Russia stance. Ramelow will head a coalition of Die Linke, the Green party and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), bringing to an end 24 years of conservative rule in the state. Dubbed red-red-green – according to the colour-coding of German parties – the coalition government is seen as something of an experiment that could provide a workable model for a national government when federal elections take place in just under three years. Die Linke has considerable support in the former east and had already been elected as a junior partner in various coalitions in the region. However, Ramelow’s election marks the first time it has led a government.
This is the Deutsche Welle English report, Reformed communists take first regional assembly in Germany 12/05/2014

Thuringia is a small state, 2.2 million people. The Left Party is considered the successor party to the old East German Communist Party, which it is, although it has also merged over the last 25 years with other political groups. It's best-known leader is Oskar Lafontaine, formerly a Social Democrat, who served as the German Finance Minister 1998-99. He had also served as chiarman of the SPD and Governor of Saarland and was the SPD candidate for Chancellor in 1990, the first national election after unification.

Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU, the far-right nationalist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, the SPD and even the Greens have found it convenient to constantly remind German voters of the Left Party's historic ties to East Germany. Even the most orthodox Marxist-oriented of the Left Party are careful to criticize the East German dictatorship. The two co-chairs of the party now are Katja Kipping (born in East Germany, 11 years old when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989) and Bernd Riexinger (from the western city Weil der Stadt near Stuttgart, 34 when the Wall fell). Neither of them were any part of the East German government or ruling party. Riexinger was a left-oriented activist, meaning left of the SPD, in his conservative, largely Catholic hometown in the 1970s, the beginning of his involvement in politics. (Rafael Binkowski, Riexinger in den Siebzigern Stuttgarter Zeitung 29.07.2014.

In the European economic crisis, the Left Party and the Green Party in the 2013 national election took a more-or-less Keynesian position on the need for stimulus in Germany, though the Greens had been voting to go along with the austerian Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economic policies advocated by Merkel and supported loyally by the SPD. Wolfgang Münchau recently wrote in the Financial Times (11/23/2014) Radical left is right about Europe’s debt. His column looked in particular at the Left Party, Podemos in Spain and SYRIZA in Greece. He writes:

Let us assume that you share the global consensus view on what the eurozone should do right now. Specifically, you want to see more public sector investment and debt restructuring.

Now ask yourself the following question: if you were a citizen of a eurozone country, which political party would you support for that to happen? You may be surprised to see that there is not much choice. In Germany, the only one that comes close to such an agenda is Die Linke, the former Communists. In Greece, it would be Syriza; and in Spain, it would be Podemos, which came out of nowhere and is now leading in the opinion polls.

You may not consider yourself a supporter of the radical left. But if you lived in the eurozone and supported those policies, that would be your only choice.
Keynesian economics and policy recommendations were mainstream in the United States and western Europe up until the earlier 1970s, enduring longer in Europe. The only reason they look "radical" now is that the ideological and practical dominance of neoliberal free-market ideas has taken practical macroeconomics out of respectable mainstream opinion.

Now, the Governor of Thuringia is unlikely to have any noticeable impact on macroeconomic policy in the eurozone. The significance of Bodo Ramelow's becoming governor is political. He represents a red-red-green coalition. Having the SPD and Greens successfully elect a Left Governor is a breakthrough, a further weakening of what the press often refers to as a taboo on making coalitions with the Left.

That "taboo" was especially on display after the German election last year. Merkel's CDU won a plurality. But the SPD, Greens and Left Party had enough seats in Parliament to form a government themselves. The SPD didn't even pretend to consider that possibility. They couldn't wait to sign up to be Angela Merkel's junior partner in a Grand Coalition. Which is now Germany's government, continuing to wreck the eurozone economy by hardcore Hoover/Brüning policies.

Here are several article on Ramelow's election.

Erste Reaktionen von CDU, Grünen und FDP auf Wahl von Bodo Ramelow Thüringer Allgemeine 05.12.2014

Bodo Ramelow entschuldigt sich bei SED-Opfern Süddeutsche Zeitung 05.12.2014

Wahlsieger Ramelow: "Ich komme als Regierungschef jetzt öfter" Thüringer Allgemeine 07.12.2014

Birgit Baumann, Linker Ministerpräsident Ramelow: Weder Marx noch Magie 05.12.2014

Cornelius Pollmer, Der richtige Mann am richtigen Ort Süddeutsche Zeitung 05.12.2014

Harry Nutt, Unrechtsstaat hin und zurück 04.12.2014

Daland Segler, Peinlichste Sendung der Woche Frankfurter Allgemeine 05.12.2014

Gespräche zwischen CDU und AfD vor Ministerpräsidentenwahl Thüringer Allgemeine 07.12.2014

Reform communists takes control of German state for first time Reuters 12/05/2014. I think it's safe to say this piece gives the story a conservative spin:

The reform communist Left party won control of a German state on Friday for the first time since the end of the Cold War when the regional assembly in Thuringia elected the Left's Bodo Ramelow as state premier.

The Left party, which traces its roots to Erich Honecker's Socialist Unity Party (SED) that built the Berlin Wall, will rule the sparsely populated state with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens in a new three-way coalition.
Technically, the ruling party in East Germany was a fusion of the Communist and Social Democratic parties. The Social Democrats in the West, of course, was were no part of the forced unity of the eastern party. Only nominally was the SED distinct from the Communist Party in East Germany.

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