Fabio De Masi is a German MP for the left-wing party, Die Linke. Last August, he co-founded Aufstehen (‘Get Up’), a new German left-wing movement which aims to regain the support of working-class voters lost to abstention or the far-right (the AfD). Amongst other thing, Aufstehen’s standpoint on immigration has spurred bitter polemics within both the German and European left. This interview, realised by Lenny Benbara for our French partner Le Vent Se Lève, offers an opportunity to better understand the line of Aufstehen and clarify its approach to immigration.
You are a former Member of the European Parliament, and you participated in the creation of Aufstehen last August. For what reason did you decide to commit yourself to the strategy of this new movement?
Austerity has destroyed social democracy. The widening social inequalities, the deterioration of the middle class and the international escalation of armed conflicts leading to the refugee crisis empowered the far right. If you look at opinion polls there are majorities for left wing demands such as wealth taxation, regulating labour markets or disarmament but there is neither a mathematical nor a political majority in the German Bundestag and the EU falls apart. The Left Party in Germany does not benefit from the decay of the SPD [social-democrats] and the Greens are eyeing at coalitions with the CDU [conservatives]. However, Sanders or Corbyn demonstrated you can energize and empower people with a clear focus on popular demands. We want to close that gap in Germany, put the left back on track and appeal to those who do not feel represented anymore by traditional parties. You claim a filiation link in your strategy with La France Insoumise and Podemos. In what fields do you feel close to these political parties? We need to bring people on the streets and focus on popular topics instead of blurring our differences with the mainstream parties and falling into the trap of just responding to the far right demagogues.
Your point of view on immigration provoked a controversy in the European left, even though nobody clearly knew what this fuss was all about. What do you think about the economic immigration and the right of asylum? Are you in favour of closing borders as some pretend you are?
This is a caricature. We defend the right to asylum and we want to end wars as well as arms exports. We want to create safe passage for people in need. This is a moral obligation. However, the majority of 60 million refugees worldwide does not even make it to Europe and for them it is much more humane to help them where they live and have their social relationships. We need a migration policy for the many not the few. The left should distinguish itself from the demands of big business in Germany. They favour brain drain from developing countries and do not care about those migrants who live in ghettos with no economic perspective in Germany. If we do not distinguish ourselves from big business this is a gift to the far right. Sahra Wagenknecht [other co-founder of Aufstehen, ed] and myself attacked Angela Merkel for neither investing in infrastructure to support integration of immigrants, to misuse immigrants to create loopholes in minimum wage legislation and we demanded a wealth tax to fund those investments.
Parts of the radical left however rallied behind the slogan of “open borders for all” which is a fake discussion. Some even went so far as suggesting we as the left would be in the same camp as Angela Merkel who made a dirty deal with Turkey, destroyed Europe with austerity, and delivers weapons to Saudi Arabia Neither Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez nor Jeremy Corbyn support slogans like “open borders for all”. We recommend to the left to focus on its strength such as fighting social inequality and war and extend the right to asylum instead. You cannot address the root causes of emigration such as global inequalities and war simply by suggesting that everything is fine if all people simply come to Germany. The truth is people die of hunger in Yemen without even a chance to escape. The principle of “open borders for all” also confuses asylum with labour migration and would not differentiate between refugees and the regulation of economic migration. This would even undermine our electoral programme as we want access to the welfare state and EU-citizenship after 5 years – independent of refugee status. However, if every person on the planet could claim these rights other EU member states would shut their borders.
The AfD seems to be the first party in East Germany —which is much poorer than the western part of the country. How can you explain their success?
The AfD has benefited from a sense of alienation in the East which has not been adequately addressed by Die Linke which focused too much on identity politics and the topics of urban elites
What is your strategy for the forthcoming European elections? Could you tell us more about it?
We want to convince Die Linke to open up to our movement. Aufstehen has more than 160 000 Members and is far larger than our party. We care about those people and we want to fight back with them This is what we focus on – not short term electoral politics.
In Northern Europe, green parties are soaring to the detriment of social democratic parties. How do you explain that? How important are the environmental issues in you project?
They are very important. You cannot prevent the ecological catastrophe without changing our economic system. But the current leadership of the Greens has a cosy relationship with the CDU and big business. Hence, we are proud to work with the former chair of the Green Party, Ludger Volmer, who is a co-founder of Aufstehen.
This article was first published on the French website Le Vent Se Lève on 23 November 2018.