Neo-fascism in the U.S., under Trump, has produced one kind of political deadlock, in which Congress is often stalemated, unwilling to address real problems, and occasionally the right simply steamrolls the opposition, as in the case of the emerging tax bill. In Europe, the rise of the far right produces a different sort of deadlock—governing coalitions that are too weak to govern, fueling even more support for neo-fascism.
The latest case is Germany, long Europe’s improbable rock of stability. The rise of the far right has narrowed the space for possible governing coalitions. This is all too reminiscent of the pre-Hitler period of the late 1920s, during which the growth of Nazis and Communists in parliament produced weak centrist, multi-party governments that failed to solve the deepening economic distress that invited Nazism.
In the aftermath of the fragmented result of Germany’s September elections, Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to assemble an awkward four-party coalition—her own Christian Democrats (the CDU); its sister Bavarian affiliate, the CSU, which trends further right; plus the libertarian Free Democrats and the socially liberal Greens. This was a bridge too far, and talks collapsed.
In the wake of the collapse, there is only one possible government: a “grand coalition” made up of Merkel’s CDU plus the long-suffering Social Democrats (SPD). The SPD has been Merkel’s junior coalition partner for most of the period since 2005, and has seen its popular support steadily weaken, to a sickening postwar low of just 20.5 percent in the recent elections.
SPD leaders vowed it was time to go into opposition and rebuild. Now, however, it appears that another grand coalition is all that stands between Germany and chaos.
One benefit is that the SPD could extract tough terms: more public investment, reform of the labor laws that weakened trade unions, less of an austerity policy. The risk, however is that the SPD in government would make the neo-fascist AfD the official opposition party, and that the policy tweaks extracted by the SPD would not be enough to change Europe’s fundamental austerity trajectory, would blunt the SPD as an opposition, and would further energize the neo-fascist right.
The entire West needs nothing so much as a robust, progressive left, to counter the far right’s story of what is wrecking the lives of working people, and to offer something persuasively better.