The Return of Socialism: A Spotlight on Germany, India, and Chile (Part 1)
by Gracelle Tungbaban, Lemuel Deinla, and Gabbie Santos
First of four parts.
In 2016, we confronted the question: Is there a surge of authoritarianism and populism around the world? This was evident with the election victories of Donald Trump (USA), Narendra Modi (India), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey), and Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil). Fascism and repression became the norm in these countries. And here in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte’s victory and subsequent iron fist rule have led to bloodied streets and hushed voices — distortions of the truth that perpetuate injustice.
As Duterte’s term nears its end and the national elections draw closer, the future of the Filipino people is once again at a crossroads. In this series of thinkpieces, we look beyond the Philippines to see that peoples around the world have broken free from authoritarianism and populism. We examine three instances of socialists’ resurgence in order to observe their experiences, draw insights, and find inspiration from witnessing what is possible when there is a commitment to advance the people-centered agenda.
First, we check Germany, where the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) won most of the seats in last September’s federal elections, to see how political opportunities can open up for progressive coalitions. We then look at India, specifically Kerala, where people re-elected the incumbent Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) for the first time in over 40 years, to appreciate how competent and compassionate leadership is rewarded with people’s trust. Finally, our last piece focuses on Chile, where a progressive former student leader has become the country’s youngest President, to understand how momentum can usher in an electrifying period of collective mobilization and potential for change.
GERMANY: Change takes center stage
In 2021, history was made in Germany when the center-left, Social Democratic Party (SPD), won the most seats in the federal elections held in September. Three months later, a new government was formed after the Social Democrats were able to galvanize a coalition with the environmentalist Green Party and the neoliberal Free Democratic Party. Olaf Scholz of the SPD replaced Angela Merkel, ending her 16-year term as Chancellor. Merkel’s party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union and its sister party, Christian Social Union, were unseated as the leading parties in the German Bundestag (Parliament) after suffering the worst electoral defeat since the end of World War II.
During Merkel’s 16-year term as Chancellor, she orchestrated the Grand Coalition between the SPD and her party, colloquially called the Union. In 2018, Merkel announced that she would not seek a fifth term in 2021. SPD’s victory in the federal election and the ensuing three party coalition with the Greens and Free Democrats were unprecedented in German history.
Several factors led to the electoral victory of the center-left. First was Angela Merkel’s shift to the center. As the Chancellor of Germany, she took a centrist approach toward her governance. She spearheaded policies that were uncharacteristic of her conservative party which has been traditionally known to oppose open-border policies and promote fiscal discipline. In 2007, Merkel’s government implemented a wide-ranging family policy reform which aimed to make Germany more family friendly and incentivize young couples to have more children. In 2010, Merkel heeded the calls to end the mandatory military conscription in Germany. In the aftermath of the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Japan, Germans called for the phase out of nuclear energy in Germany. Merkel agreed to set the gradual phase out of nuclear power plants in Germany at a much earlier date. During the 2015 European Migration Crisis, Merkel opened Germany’s borders to refugees fleeing the wars from Africa and the Middle East. In her last term, the Bundestag agreed to suspend the constitutional debt-brake to allow Merkel’s government to continue borrowing money to finance the German pandemic response.
When Merkel ended her term, her shift to the political center largely benefitted the SPD and the center left. Merkel listened to people’s clamor and demands, thereby effectively taking her party to the center. While this was a positive development for the Social Democrats who became the natural heir to Merkel’s centrism, it left a vacuum for a more conservative party to take the Union’s place in the political spectrum. The far-right extremist Alternative for Deutschland successfully ran on an anti-immigrant platform during the European Migration crisis.
Another factor that led to SPD’s victory was that due to Merkel’s extended stay in power, the Union parties failed to raise a successor to Merkel. Since Merkel dominated her party for a long time, no potential successor was able to rise to prominence. Consequently, the Union parties fielded a timid candidate for the September 2021 federal elections. The majority in the Bundestag, and the Chancellorship was ripe for SPD’s taking.
Thus, in 2021, the SPD took the mantle, leveraging their victory in the parliament to build a progressive coalition. Since the Greens and Free Democrats also performed well in the federal elections, Scholz interpreted this as a clear mandate from the people that the Union should not be made part of a new coalition. Scholz and his party wasted no time to start negotiations to form a new government. The only tricky part of the coalition talks was on how the SPD and the Greens could agree with the neoliberal business-friendly Free Democrats. The Free Democrats were known to oppose tax hikes, especially on corporations. This was in contrast with the Green’s platform of increasing corporate tax and wealth tax to fund ambitious projects aimed at addressing the climate crisis. But with the pandemic raging on and international crises looming, the three parties made history last December by signing the first tripartite coalition deal in post-war German history.
With the conservatives out of the ruling coalition, the new German government promises change. The SPD is a center-left party which advocates for political freedom, justice, and social solidarity. Among the programs of the party are the calls for a society where everyone’s rights are respected, supporting the needs of children and families, quality universal healthcare for all, climate protection that can also generate sustainable jobs, modernization and technological developments, and stable pensions for the elderly. Such programs and policies proved to be popular, resonating well with a lot of Germans who became economically vulnerable during the pandemic. When the people called for a stable leadership amidst uncertainty and insecurity, the SPD heeded.
To be continued.