Forging a New Left

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Political paralysis, a big fall in the value of the euro and talk of a policy vacuum showed that Europe's bosses suffered a serious setback following the general election results in Germany.

Angela Merkel, the leader of the CDU and strongest advocate of neo-liberalism, was the biggest loser. Having led the polls for months and widely tipped to be the next chancellor, she was unable to secure an overall majority and is now desperately trying to cobble together some sort of workable coalition. Gerhard Schröder's SDP received its lowest vote for 15 years as people expressed their anger against high unemployment and economic stagnation. The political turmoil looks set to continue for months, leading to further instability in Europe's largest economy.

There are other indicators which showed growing disillusionment with official politics. This was the first time for 50 years that Germany's two main parties secured less than 70 percent of the vote, and a record 13 million people refused to vote at all.

But while the advocates of neo-liberalism were sent into crisis, there was much for the left to celebrate. Most spectacular was the vote of the new Left Party which, having beaten the Greens, secured 8.7 percent of the vote and 54 seats in the Bundestag. This represents a significant breakthrough and confirms a trend developing throughout European politics over the last few months. The emergence of the Left Party in Germany, the role of the left in the 'No' vote in the French referendum earlier this year, and the breakthrough by Respect in Britain in May suggests that a new left movement is beginning to be forged.

This is a significant step forward from just a decade ago. Third Way social democracy seemed to be pushing aside all obstacles in the mid-1990s, pulling Green parties and even the French Communist Party into its governments. But by the late 1990s this dominance was beginning to wane as the impact of neo-liberalism was being felt and workers throughout Europe expressed their discontent. Then came the rise of the anti-capitalist and anti-war movement which has galvanised a new generation of activists and enthused many others. The result is that Social Democratic parties are much weaker and their electoral base much less secure than before.

One of the biggest losers in all this is Tony Blair, and New Labour which had its majority in parliament slashed in May this year as people expressed their anger over the war in Iraq and cuts in public services. The German election result is a further blow to Blair, as he was desperate to forge an alliance with Merkel to force through even more neo-liberal reforms of the EU this year. Now there is much uncertainty as to how much of his agenda Blair can get through.

Socialists and activists are in a much stronger position today than even a few months ago - confirmed by the election results in Germany and Britain, which can fuel the confidence of workers to fight back. This was seen in the militant strikes by Gate Gourmet and Rolls Royce workers in Britain over the summer. The beginning of a new left electoral alternative combining with a growing and angry mass movement presents exciting opportunities for the future. It could also give Europe's bosses one of their biggest headaches. The problems they face over the German election result could simply be the start of worse to come.