27 August 2008

Die Linke in Germany: a case for optimism?

I have been overwhelming pessimistic about the prospects for the left in Britain, seeing the implosion of New Labour resulting in either depoliticisation or else the strengthening of parties to the right of New Labour. George Galloway, Tommy Sheridan and the SWP together serve to show only the intellectual poverty, self-marginalisation and irrelevance of the left in Britain today.

Though no expert on German politics, I have been impressed with the recent growth of the Die Linke and their chalking up of electoral success across Germany. A few brief words of background.

By 1990 the former ruling party of Eastern Germany had cleansed itself of its Stalinist leaders and was largely a party led by former East German dissidents, such as the writers Stefan Heym and Christa Wolf. Rechristened the PDS (the party of democratic socialism), it scored a miserable 2.4 percent in the 1990 all-German national elections. That figure rose to 4.4 (1994) and 5,1 (1998) before falling back to 4.4 percent in 2002. Throughout this period the PDS vote came almost exclusively from the territories of the former East Germany where in regional elections the party was a major player.

In July 2005 the party formed an electoral alliance with dissident left-wing SDP members led by Oskar Lafontaine and some west German trade unionists, creating a new party Die Linke. In the national elections of that year the party scored 8.7 percent of the vote. The party also entered the western regional parliament in Bremen. By 2008 it has also entered the western regional federal parliaments in Lower Saxony, Hessen and Hamburg. Any attempt to see Die Linke as merely Stalinist old-timers from the former East Germany is clearly no longer valid.

It seems to me that the experience of Germany is well worth studying by people attempting to rebuild a British left. The policies of Die Linke in English can be seen in the link below.


9 August 2008

A short existential comment

When you think about it, our life logically consists of three parts:

•what you are doing right now (i.e. looking at a computer screen)
•your memories from the past, partial, selective and decaying.
•your thoughts about what you will, won’t or might do in the future.

As we get older, though, our memories of the past increase while our futures are inevitably on a steady countdown to zero. That thought has from time to time propelled me to tap away at the keyboard.

McEwan, Ian - On Chesil Beach

McEwan, Ian - On Chesil Beach

First published 2007

Vintage 2008

This is a short book, almost a novella, which tells a powerful, but simple, story. The non-chronological narrative is without surprises or the acts of extreme violence which so often feature in McEwan’s work.

A very lower middle-class Edward and a haut-bourgeois Florence both in their early twenties fall in love during the late fifties and early sixties in a heavily repressive England. On their wedding night Florence can’t accept a sexual relationship with Edward, but offers him a platonic but open relationship instead. He rejects it only to fall later in life a series of unsuccessful and unfulfilling relationships during the sixties and seventies.

The book paints not only a strong psychological picture of the Edward and Florence, but also comprises a portrait of a forgotten age which is then contrasted with our own.