Andreas Günther was born in Dresden, studied classical archaeology and Greek in Halle and Berlin, was head of international politics at the federal office of DIE LINKE party, and has been director of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s New York office since 2018.
What are you actually doing here?
We are responsible here for the United States, Canada, and the United Nations. At the UN, climate justice is a new special focus for us. We’ve also been working with the Global Policy Forum (https://www.globalpolicy.org/de) on corporate influence at the United Nations. The background is that because of insufficient funding by the member states, private companies are stepping in, but then of course they want to influence the agenda. Indigenous issues are also important to us. For example, we have worked with Madre (https://www.madre.org) to ensure that indigenous women are heard at the UN. It is important to us to connect grassroots movements and UN processes. In the US and Canada, we work with the political movement which is ideologically close to DIE LINKE, a party close to us. But there are of course rather several political directions on the left. It’s the same with the German Left. In countries with majority voting, like the USA and Canada, it is not so easy for the radical left (in a positive sense) to organize itself in a stable and influential way. In the Democratic Party of the USA, positions are represented that in Germany would range from the CDU to the Left. For us, interesting politicians are, of course, like the New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Bernie Sanders, who himself does not belong to the Democratic Party. In addition, there are various organizations, groups and parties, for example, the Democratic Socialists of America or the Working Families Party, which cooperate with other parties due to peculiarities of the American electoral law.
What do Americans think about socialism?
In the past, for many US-Americans, it was just a slur. But something has changed here in the last decade, since Occupy Wall Street and the Bernie Sanders campaigns. But to understand where the rejection comes from, you have to look at U.S. history. The country was born out of immigration, colonization and the rebellion against the British authoritarian state and should be a self-organization of the settlers. It was the self-image, if you may generalize, that everyone is the architect of his own fortune. This means that everyone should take care of his or her own security. For people who are unlucky, there is philanthropy. If it is their own fault, then they do not deserve any better. The idea of solidarity and social security is associated here more with authoritarian thinking. And US-Americans are fundamentally against this. The question of how much the Union, the federal government, is allowed to do, for instance if it should be allowed to collect taxes, has been a contentious issue from the very beginning. It took two attempts to write a constitution. First there were the Articles of Confederation of the North American states, according to which Congress was the only federal body. Only the experience that this did not work led to the creation of federal branches, such as the presidency, meaning a government and the federal parliament. But it took until the late 19th century for the federal government to actually take on other responsibilities as well. Even infrastructure programs, such as road development, were controversial for a long time. Railroads for instance were developed privately. And still some say Washington should only care about defense and tariffs. In this sense, „socialism“ is understood as just authoritarian. And that would be a restriction of freedom. That’s why there was the uproar, which we completely don’t understand, against „Obamacare,“ the former president’s attempt to introduce a kind of universal health insurance.
You’ve seen the Trump era here and now Biden. How is it with his administration?
Well, you know, you’re thankful that there’s a normally functioning government again at all. And that there’s not a different pig being herded through the village every day. It’s also good that there is a certain amount of shame again when it comes to corruption and the intermingling of public and private interests. There has always been this intermingling, but it has rarely happened as shamelessly as it had in the Trump era. However, the start of the Biden administration is also associated with a historically unique event, namely the attack on Congress on January 6th 2021 and the challenge to the legitimacy of the elections. This continues to reverberate today. The majority of Republican voters continue to believe that Joe Biden is not legitimately in office. And that bodes ill for 2024. The Republicans are also trying to manipulate the electoral law in the states where they can, so that they can be president again even without a constitutional majority. As for the Biden administration, I don’t think it lacks good will, but that it is prevented by the right-wingers in its own party and the Republicans‘ outright policy of destruction from doing much that would be positive, such as climate and social investments. The infrastructure package that has already been passed is nevertheless unprecedented. This is something that people tend to forget. In terms of foreign policy, the policies of the former president continues to have an impact. Despite the return of the U.S. to international organizations, the demeanor toward China for instance is not significantly different. But there are also objective conflicts of interest. And the Biden administration also represents the interests of American capitalism.
How has the relationship between Germany and the United States developed, for example, with regard to Russia policy?
„Here, too, there was initially a relief and relaxation. On the other hand, Germany and Europe had to learn to get along without the U.S. in many ways during the Trump years, which is perhaps not such a bad thing. After all, there hasn’t been unconditional allegiance for quite some time, for example in the Iraq war. I think it’s positive that the new German government is remembering that Germany can be the advocate of détente. I think that’s also understood, if not necessarily appreciated, in the circles that determine foreign policy in the United States.
Progressives within the Democrats have grown stronger. How does that play out in U.S. politics?
Paradox. The left has gotten stronger, but that has also widened the spread in the Democratic Party. At the end of the day, and we saw this in the negotiations on Joe Biden’s proposals for more social and climate investments, the two „moderate“ senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema still have the power to block the measures that the House of Representatives, with its stronger progressive orientation, decides to pass. The new strength is not yet paying off in political coin. One reason is the strong role the Constitution gives the Senate, with its overrepresentation of small states. That also skews the majority balance in the country.
Is Donald Trump coming back?
The crystal ball is still very blurry there. If he wants to run, the Republican Party in its depravity will not be able to stop it. But my hope is that it would once again lead to a mobilization of anti-Trump voters. That might get a Democratic nominee, whoever that will be, elected. But that high mortgage has already been taken on once. I wonder if it can be done once again?