In May 2016, at a conference for Germany’s left-wing Die Linke party, Torten für Menschenfeinde (“Pies for Misanthropes”) struck again. Sneaking up the side of the conference hall, a member of the anti-fascist organization threw a piece of cake at Sahra Wagenknecht, a prominent Die Linke member in the Bundestag. It was a direct hit: Wagenknecht’s face was covered in chocolate frosting, a streak of whipped cream extending from ear to ear.
Torten für Menschenfeinde targeted Wagenknecht for her vocal position against an open-border policy for Germany. Earlier that year, she challenged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to accept more than 1 million refugees, arguing that Germany should impose limits on entry and deport those who abused German “hospitality.” The cake attack—which followed a cream-pie offensive against a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany—isolated Wagenknecht in her party, which had otherwise pledged support for Merkel’s policy.
Nearly three years later, however, Wagenknecht and her views on migration have gone mainstream, in Germany and across Europe. In September 2018, Wagenknecht and her husband, Oskar Lafontaine, founded Aufstehen (“Rise Up”), a political movement combining left-wing economic policy with exclusionary social protections. The movement has garnered over 170,000 members since its official launch; according to a recent poll, more than a third of German voters “could see themselves” supporting Wagenknecht’s initiative.
“I am tired of surrendering the streets to the [anti-Islam movement] Pegida and the Alternative for Germany,” Wagenknecht said at the launch event. Onstage, she was joined by allies in Germany’s Green Party and the Social Democratic Party. “As many followers of the political left as possible should join,” several Social Democratic politicians wrote in a joint statement.
By founding Aufstehen, Wagenknecht became a member of the new vanguard of left politics in Europe. In France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon leads La France Insoumise, a left-populist movement that has been critical of mass migration. “I’ve never been in favor of freedom of arrival,” Mélenchon has said, claiming that migrants “are stealing the bread” of French workers. He is now the most popular politician on the French left, widely considered the face of the opposition to President Emmanuel Macron and a champion of the Yellow Vest movement.
In the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn leads the Labour Party and offers a radical vision of socialist transformation. And yet, although he was a vocal advocate for migrant rights during his tenure at Westminster, Corbyn has expressed deep skepticism about open borders as the party’s leader. “Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle,” Corbyn said, committing Labour to a policy of “reasonable management” based on “our economic needs.”
The rise of these left-nationalist leaders marks a momentous turn against free movement in Europe, where it has long been accepted as a basic right of citizenship.
By David Adler, The Nation