As socialistworld.net has reported recently the German CWI members of Sozialistische Alternative (SAV) have decided to join the Left Party (DIE LINKE) also in Berlin and East Germany. Initially we did not join the newly formed party (out of a merger of the former WASG and the L.PDS) in spring 2007 in this part of the country, because the party is part of a city government coalition in Berlin together with the pro-capitalist Social Democrats and thus shares responsibility for many attacks on workers and young people. This limited its appeal in Berlin, but the national growth in support for the Left Party meant that many in Berlin started to look to it as the only national left alternative.
This led the SAV to the conclusion that, despite this character of the party in Berlin and large parts of East Germany, we should join the Left Party in Berlin. Marxists can play a more effective role in spreading of socialist ideas and the building of a genuine socialist workers’ party if they are part of the Left Party in the whole of Germany. Obviously, we announced that with our joining the Party we will continue to oppose the policy of the Left Party in the regional government of Berlin and called on the Party to leave this government.
The announcement of SAV spokesperson Lucy Redler to join the Left Party was especially widely reported in the media and welcomed by many rank and file activists in the Party, This is because Lucy was the top candidate for the WASG Berlin which, in 2006, stood independently in the regional elections in the capital against the wishes of the WASG leadership around Oskar Lafontaine. Lucy, through this campaign, became probably the best know Trotskyist in the country and was seen by many on the left as the principal oppositionist against participation in pro-capitalist governments.
Now the deputy chairman of the Left Party, Klaus Ernst, and others handed in an objection to the Left Party membership of Lucy and 12 other Berlin SAV members. Amongst them are the prominent members of the SAV and also the leading public sector trade unionist Carsten Becker from Germany’s biggest university hospital, the Charité. Carsten led a strike against the regional coalition government in 2006.
According to the statutes any party member can object to a new member within six weeks of the person joining. Klaus Ernst accuses us of breaking the programme and constitution of the party because we stood with the WASG Berlin in the 2006 elections and did not support the merger of the two parties because of the way it was done.
However Klaus Ernst’s accusations would also apply to many Left Party members, not only SAV supporters, throughout the whole country. Ernst’s logic would lead to expulsion of all those who objected at the time to the acceptance of government participation in Berlin. This would include SAV members who are councillors for the Left Party like the recently elected Beate Jenkner in Munich who was elected onto the regional council of Upper Bavaria.
Klaus Ernst’s arguments are an attempt to hide his motives. Ernst says he against the membership of Lucy and others because they stood against the L.PDS in 2006, but then why does he welcome into Left Party membership Rüdiger Sagel, a member of the North Rhine Westphalia regional parliament, who, then standing against both the WASG and PDS, was elected as a Green?
The real reason behind the attack Klaus Ernst is leading is that he and others in the leadership of the Left Party fear a strengthening of genuine socialist positions and opposition against the government participation in Berlin through the leading SAV members joining. This is especially the case as the Party just has decided to support - for the first time in the west - a Social Democrat and Green minority government in the state of Hesse. SAV members were opposed to that and, while this decision was taken by a big majority on the party’s regional congress, there are also a lot of doubts and questioning amongst many party members whether this is the beginning of a movement towards unprincipled coalitionism and the acceptance of cuts like in Berlin.
Even more importantly a certain radicalisation is taking place within the Party, with several bodies demanding the nationalisation of all banks under democratic control and management. This position is not supported by the Left Party leadership, whose criticism against the recent government bail-out programme for banks hit by the financial crisis was very modest. In this situation high profile Marxists like Lucy Redler putting forward a bold socialist programme are seen as challenge by the Party leadership, something that they do not want to face inside the Party.
This week public sector unions in Berlin have been on strike again in their continuing battle against the wage cuts imposed by the SPD and Left Party city leaders. Only yesterday, Neues Deutschland, the daily paper closest to the Left Party, reported on the latest Berlin strikes with the headline "No end in sight to the Labour struggles". Yet Ernst, himself an IG Metall official in Bavaria, is effectively helping the bosses’ side of the Berlin picket lines by opposing supporters of the strike, including activists like Lucy Redler, being allowed to join the Left Party.
Ernst’s move has led to many protests from party members. Within 24 hours of the information becoming public, more than 70 rank and file members, but also members of local and regional committees, two members of the national committee and branches have come out against the blocking of the SAV members. They call on the Party to be democratic and inclusive.
But despite these protests on October 23 the branch committee of the Left Party in Berlin-Pankow agreed to the objections to two SAV members, Aron Amm and Hakan Doganay, joining the Party. The cases of Lucy Redler and Sascha Stanicic will be decided on the coming Tuesday, October 28, in Berlin-Neukölln, where members of the German equivalent to the British SWP, Marx21, have a strong position in the branch committee.
It is probable that all cases will have to be ultimately decided by the regional or even national control commission of the Party. The actions by Klaus Ernst have already given a lot of publicity to Lucy and the whole SAV. On Monday night, October 27, Lucy will participate in a live TV show discussing the effects of the banking crisis for the wider population. She will use this opportunity to propagate a socialist solution to the crisis as well as arguing for the building of the Left Party to become a genuine mass socialist party.
This struggle could mark a turning point for the Left Party. Internationally there has been the experience in the past that the expulsion or exclusion of Marxists marked the beginning of a decisive right shift within left or social democratic parties. If the Left Party goes down the road of excluding Marxists it will tarnish its appeal to the most leftward moving layers. It may, for a time, still increase the number of votes it gets. But these methods, which are bureaucratic and akin to Stalinism, will alienate many from joining the Left Party and thereby its right wing will have a freer hand to make rotten deals with the openly pro-capitalist Social Democrat leaders. This battle is not just about SAV members being allowed to join, but really about the Left Party’s future.