America has "tea-baggers," who channel the very real and justified anger felt by millions into partisan hackery in the service of Big Money; but in Germany, this is what the disaffected are doing: putting together a new "anti-capitalist, pro-social justice" initiative that could "shake up the political landscape" in the upcoming national elections. As the Guardian reports:
[Frank Spieth's] anti-capitalist, pro-social justice Die Linke is striking a chord with an increasingly disenfranchised electorate, espousing causes – such as inequality, reunification issues and, crucially, the war in Afghanistan – that are finding a receptive audience in both east and west.
"Our voters are representative of millions of Germans who feel cut off from the political process and they could have a significant impact on Germany's political landscape," said 62-year-old Spieth, who left the Social Democratic party (SPD) in 2003 after 37 years in protest at its restructuring of the social welfare state.
Why is the party striking a chord? Here's one all-too-familiar reason: the mainstream parties are seen as virtual clones of one another, concerned entirely with the aggrandizement of their own factions -- and of the elite interests they serve:
Polls gives the party about 14%, but after huge gains recently made in key regional elections at the end of August, where it won 21% in the western state of Saarland, Die Linke is being seen as the party that could shake up the political landscape in the 27 September vote.
The policies of bigger parties, including the chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU and its junior Social Democrat partner, are now seen to be disturbingly similar in comparison.
"Generally there are only a few themes that particularly distinguish most of the parties," according to Renate Köcher, joint head of the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy. "It's only really Die Linke that stands out, in particular for their critical position regarding the German economy and societal order."
Predictably, Die Linke is being denounced by the mainstreamers as being nothing more than -- what else? -- a bunch of dirty commies. There are of course some former communists in its ranks; which is not surprising, given that the communists once controlled half of the Cold War-divided country for more than 40 years -- and where the former communist half still languishes in poverty and deprivation years after reunification. (The ranks of the mainstream parties contain former Communists as well). But Spieth says Die Linke is a much broader church:
Spieth embodies the verve and drive of many in Die Linke. The party, founded just two years ago is, he admits, "a motley crew of democratic socialists, social democrats, communists, Christians, you name it".
The party is also doing something remarkable in a modern Western democracy: supporting the majority's desire to pull out of the unpopular imperial adventures which their leaders love so well:
[Die Linke] came into its own in the aftermath of a recent Nato air strike, ordered by the German military, in northern Afghanistan. The attack triggered a fierce debate about pulling German forces out of Afghanistan. Die Linke is the only party in parliament that is calling for the immediate withdrawal of German troops. As many as 80% of people in Germany are against the Afghan mission.
"It's got people talking about the war, which the other parties had wanted to exclude from the discussion, and that can only be a good thing for us," said Oskar Lafontaine, a former SPD finance minister and one of Die Linke's most prominent leaders.
"The majority of people are against this war due to our own appalling experiences in two world wars but if we don't keep this issue on the agenda, no one will," he told the Guardian at an anti-war rally at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
The point here is not to praise Die Linke -- or any political party -- unreservedly, but to wonder: where are the prominent Democrats (or in the UK, the Labour bigwigs) with the guts to leave their dysfunctional, corrupted parties and make common cause with the millions of people suffering under political systems now given over entirely to the service of financial elites and war profiteers? Where are the vote-winning coalitions of the disaffected ardently calling for social justice and anti-militarism -- instead of veering off into neo-fascist militancy?
There are tens of millions of people across the Western world who are deeply disturbed by the state of modern society -- a society whose discontents stem overwhelmingly from the inherent corruptions of unjust rule by rapacious, belligerent elites. Yet much of this discontent is being seized upon by rightwing forces -- many of them in the pay of those same elites -- who re-direct this anger toward the most vulnerable in society, very deliberately playing the game of divide-and-conquer that elites have used to such devastating effect for centuries.
There are virtually no prominent voices on the national scene speaking out for social justice and against anti-militarism -- that is, no voices with any credibility. Barack Obama, once seen by millions as a kind mystical embodiment of these hopes, has instead given them a master class in disillusionment. His health care "reform" -- which could have improved the daily lives of tens of millions of people in the most immediate way -- turns out to be nothing more than a scam to funnel public money to big insurance and drug companies. His "reform" of the Wall Street shell games that have cost millions of people their homes and livelihoods turns out to be an elaborate scam to funnel trillions of dollars in public money to the gamesters themselves -- who are now playing whole new shell games with the bailout money. His "reform" of Bush's foreign policy has turned out to be an expansion of unnecessary, unwinnable wars which drain the treasury, stain the nation's honor, waste the lives of its soldiers, increase corruption and extremism, and destabilize the world.
All of these policies -- which are of course unoriginal to Obama, being merely continuances of sinister patterns embedded deep in the structure of imperial, oligarchic rule -- are exacerbating the inchoate anger and despair of the people, who can see and feel that their concerns are not being addressed. So in step the corporate-sponsored Right and the religious extremists to use their massive financial and media resources to try direct this anger at the poor, at minorities, at the weak, the marginalized -- and anyone who tries to help them.
Candidates and parties in America that do try to address these concerns in a positive way, in the name of social justice and anti-militarism, have virtually no support, generally receiving less that one percent in any national vote -- and even less than this next-to-nothing at the state and local levels.
So again: where is the American "Linke"? Those who should be spearheading such a movement are instead quibbling over how many more troops we should send to kill villagers in Afghanistan, or the precise calibrations of the transfer of public wealth to the insurance companies and the financial house ... or how, in the immortal words of Michael Moore, we can best support the president -- as Obama defends and extends Bush's policies on torture, secrecy, indefinite detention, assassinations, Wall Street coddling and military aggression -- because Obama is just "faking right to go left."
And how many people will die, languish or be dispossessed by these "fake" policies until Obama finally hangs that big left turn, Michael? What number would be acceptable to you? Ten thousand? A million? When the next "unfortunate incident" kills another dozen children in Afghanistan, will you, like Madeline Albright, bite your lower lip with sad but steadfast determination and say, "We think that it's worth it"?
There will be no "Linkeage" in America as long as this cringing, blinkered stance holds sway, even among the most prominent "dissenters" in the land. Moore and those like him are just pouring salt in the wounds of the people, who can clearly see that Obama is not acting in their interest. The old folk saying holds true here: "Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining." Don't tell me Obama is for me when I can see with my own eyes that he is against me.
Thus any message of genuine, positive dissent is discredited; and in the vacuum left by the Democrats' eager embrace of militarist oligarchy and the dissidents' craven refusal to acknowledge the truth about their White House hero, the Right rushes in with its poison brew. And in this noxious atmosphere, who knows what rough beast is even now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born?
I don't mean to make a fetish of "the People" in all of this. Obviously, for millions of individuals out there, the "politics of resentment" fills a deep psychological need. They don't want social justice or peace; they do want to crush someone weaker -- in the same way that their own souls have been crushed, by parents, by circumstances, by social and cultural and political systems. (Arthur Silber has written with great insight on this theme over the years; consult his fine work -- and give him some support if you can, for he is in dire straits.) Resentment is one of the great engines driving human behavior, and cannot be waved away with a few pretty words about solidarity or a chorus of Kumbaya.
But none of us -- or few of us anyway -- are beyond redemption. The inner turmoil that fuels the politics of resentment can be addressed and in some cases mitigated by offering a genuine alternative: a clear-eyed, tough-minded, realistic movement toward peaceful, productive, humane social justice. Not something which promises an earthly paradise, but a system which is oriented toward social justice, which aims at it, strives for it, which makes the goal of social justice the context and arena of our lives. Of course, these lives will still be marked by all our human failings -- greed, aggression, fear, and yes, resentment; these will never disappear, but they can perhaps be better accommodated, made less virulent, given less scope and capacity for harm, in a system which has, as it were, a prejudice for social justice (just as Pope John Paul II used to speak of the Church's "prejudice for the poor"), as opposed to the current prejudice for profits, privilege and power. Such a system might -- just might -- give us the opportunity to fashion a somewhat better world.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on September 18, 2009.