Politicians from the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) have grown in confidence in recent weeks. Their party is benefiting from growing dissatisfaction with the federal government, it came second in the pre-election polls, overtaking Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD). There has been talk of AfD’s next electoral victories in the eastern states.
However, in the light of the current movements on the German political scene, such expectations may suddenly seem a bit exaggerated. From next year, the leaders of the Alternative for Germany will have to compete for supporters with a new formation that wants to hunt in the same constituency. Unlike the AfD, however, the competition will advance from the left.
At the same time, nothing happened that could not be expected in advance. Member of Parliament Sahra Wagenknecht has long indicated that she is thinking about more than the position of an eternally disobedient rebel in the post-communist Left (Die Linke), specifically about founding her own formation.
Earlier this week, she announced that she was leaving the Left and, together with other renegades, formed an association that will form a new political party from January.
From the AfD’s point of view, the problem is that Wagenknecht is a widely known figure whose views can impress the same group of voters – for example, by demanding stricter assessment of asylum claims or continuing to buy cheap raw materials from Russia, lifting anti-Russian sanctions and halting arms supplies to Ukraine.
An admirer of Karl Marx, but also of the former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, she is well aware of the voters’ “intermingling” with the AfD.
“Of course there are a lot of people who would vote for the AfD not because they are on the right, but because they are angry, they are desperate,” Wagenknecht said on ZDF television. According to her, people who have been disappointed by the government’s policies feel that the traditional parties do not represent their interests, so they are left with only the AfD. “We want to give these people a serious offer,” added the politician.
Leftist rebel Sahra Wagenknecht
She was born in 1969 in Jena, East Germany. Her father, who was from Iran, was declared missing when she was still a child.
She studied philosophy and then economics. In 1989, when the collapse of the communist regimes in the then Soviet bloc was already approaching, she joined the totalitarian ruling United Workers’ Party (SED) – in her own words, for the transformation of socialism and opposition to opportunists.
Already at the beginning of the 1990s, she became a member of the executive board of the transformed Party of the Democratic Left (PDS), and later she was vice-president of the successor Left (Die Linke) for four years. She represented the party in the European Parliament, since 2009 she has been a member of the Bundestag.
In the Left party, she was labeled as a communist and a representative of the more radical wing. Even as a member of the leadership, she often diverged from the party’s official views in her speeches, earning a reputation as a headstrong and problematic rebel.
The disputes came to a head after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when Wagenknecht made statements about the complicity of the West and NATO or about the federal government’s “economic war” against its own population without Russian raw materials. In February of this year, together with columnist Alice Schwarzer, she published a “Manifesto for Peace” in which she calls for “a halt to the escalation of arms deliveries”.
Her husband is the former chairman of the German Social Democracy and former finance minister from the late 1990s, Oskar Lafontaine.
According to Zuzana Lizcová, head of the department of German and Austrian studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University, Wageknechtová “hit the mark” on the program.
“Sahra Wagenknechová comes with a program offer that has been missing on the German political scene – a project of a party that would take left-wing positions in economic policy and conservative in social issues, including opposition to migration,” Lizcová told Nauzal.
Polls predict that Wagenknecht’s future formation has a fairly high chance of success. According to a poll by the Insa Institute for the Sunday edition of the Bild newspaper, up to 27 percent of respondents would consider choosing a party led by Wagenknecht. Among AfD supporters, it was even 40 percent.
The party would have above-average support in the east of the Federal Republic, or in the territory of the former GDR, where Sahra Wageknechtová comes from. It is precisely in the three East German federal states – Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg – that the state parliaments will be elected next year. For the time being, the AfD leads there in the rankings.
Where will the rise of the AfD end?
The alternative for Germany has become a nightmare for the leaders of the traditional political parties. In September, the populist party achieved a record success in regional elections in two federal states in the wealthier west of Germany. The party gains votes mainly thanks to criticism of the welcoming reception of refugees and the government’s economic policy.
However, some experts warn against excessive expectations.
“The new party has not even been created yet, its foundation is not planned until the beginning of next year. It is strongly linked to the founding personality of Wagenknecht. Its success will only be determined by whether it will not remain just a ‘one-woman show’, but whether it will be able to attract members and for the next elections quality party candidates who will be able to appeal to voters,” said Lizcová, adding that building party structures requires a huge amount of work and money and was a big challenge even for the AfD in the beginning. “It is not at all certain that Wagenknecht will succeed in such a thing,” she added.
German political scientists also point out that the emergence of a new political force for the Left Party may have more fatal consequences. For a long time, it has hovered around the five percent threshold necessary to enter parliament, and now it has to reckon with the outflow of some supporters.
“Yes, it looks like the Left is over,” Wolfgang Schroeder of the University of Kassel told ARD television. According to him, this is not only a consequence of the founding of Sahra Wagenknecht’s new party, but a long-term process of losing political influence. The prospect of a new party can be considered a kind of last piece that will help the Left to break down.