Germany: Die Linke (Left Party) on the brink

Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, the more reformist of DIE LINKE’s two co-chairs, suddenly resigned her position thereby giving a new twist to the party’s internal crisis (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

In Germany the Left party DIE LINKE has been in a mounting crisis since the disastrous collapse in its vote in last September’s general election. The party saw a a fall in support since the onset of the Covid crisis in 2020 and this accelerated in the run-up to the 2021 election. At the same time, it was continuing its participation in governing coalitions with pro-capitalist parties, currently it is in government coalitions in 4 of Germany’s 16 federal states. A main theme in DIE LINKE’s 2021 general election campaign was its willingness to join the SPD (social democratic party) and Greens in government, even though it was clear that these parties had no intention of challenging capitalism. Since that election its position in the polls has continued to fall and in February its vote in the Saarland state election fell from 12.8% in 2017 to 2.6%.

The war in Ukraine has added to DIE LINKE’s crisis with open divisions within it regarding Nato, while the ruling class are taking advantage of war to generally attack the left. This added to the conflict in DIE LINKE and on April 20, Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, the more reformist of DIE LINKE’s two co-chairs, suddenly resigned her position thereby giving a new twist to the party’s internal crisis. On April 22, Sol (CWI Germany) published the following initial commentary on the resignation and prospects for DIE LINKE.

socialistworld.net

The Left party DIE LINKE stumbles from one disaster to the next. The underlying cause lies in the fact that in these times of the ever deeper and more dramatic crisis of the capitalist system, the party has not developed in a clear anti-capitalist direction, but has capitulated politically and ideologically to bourgeois ideas and methods. The contradiction between aspiration and reality is thus growing every day.

Those who now want to counter this with further compromise formulas are only preparing the next disaster. What is needed is a socialist change of course – away from participation in government with the pro-capitalist SPD and the Greens and questioning of left principles, and instead towards class struggle and anti-capitalism. Unfortunately, there is no sign that this will happen. This raises the question of whether this party will completely lose its efficacy and usefulness for the working class and the left.

What is needed?

A left-wing, socialist party is urgently needed. A party that consistently represents the interests of wage earners and the socially disadvantaged, those oppressed and discriminated against. A party that is not a platform for political careers, but instead a point of resistance against the prevailing conditions. A party which is not afraid to mess with the rich and powerful and that does not have the goal of being accepted by them.

When DIE LINKE was formed fifteen years ago by a merger of the ‘Electoral Alternative for Work and Social Justice’ (WASG) and the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), today’s Sol members warned that the hopeful step towards forming a workers’ party that the WASG represented could be destroyed by the influence of the PDS apparatus and the acceptance of the PDS strategy of participating in government with pro-capitalist parties. Unfortunately, these warnings now seem to be finally confirmed.

15 years of DIE LINKE

DIE LINKE has tried to square the circle in these fifteen years. It has tried to reconcile incompatible policy approaches. Over many years this resulted in two parties in one that somehow got along with each other. The reformers could, where they dominated and had the opportunity to do so, co-administer capitalism in federal state governments instead of fighting it.  While, at the national level and in many district associations, the anti-capitalist oriented forces took part in movements and protests, supported strikes and adopted sometimes more, sometimes less, clear-sounding anti-capitalist documents.

Today, the confusion of currents in the party is hard to understand and alliances have formed that no longer have any political basis, but are only motivated by the preservation of positions of power. The recent positions of Sahra Wagenknecht, a former leader of the left in the party, which firstly were anti-immigration and nationalist, then Covid-cranky and finally explicitly directed against her own party, have hit the party left (and the party, as a whole) hard. 

The Bewegungslinke (‘Movement left’) grouping that emerged in this process was able to gain a lot of momentum and won a strong position in the party’s national committee a year ago. To a large extent, the party’s current state is a failure of the Bewegungslinke which tried to avoid the important substantive political questions through making a fetish of building movements and the party. Thus it did not clearly position itself against DIE LINKE participating in government coalitions with pro-capitalist parties. In fact, leading protagonists of this current in Bremen were among the architects of the first ‘red-green-red’ (SPD – Green – LINKE) state government in a federal state in western Germany.

Covid

With the covid pandemic, a new quality of systemic crisis has developed. DIE LINKE did not react to this with more criticism of the system, but proved incapable of countering the bourgeois covid policy with its own concept. The fact that a LINKE regional prime minister took part in the national and state governments’ decision-making rounds was only noticed when it became known that he liked to play Candycrush at these meetings. 

At the same time, the road was left open to the ‘lateral thinkers’ to exploit peoples’ fears over covid. In two years of pandemic, DIE LINKE was not visible. This boosted SPD and Greens in the election campaign and for which DIE LINKE paid the price in last year’s general election when it slipped below the five percent hurdle to get into parliament and only entered Bundestag as a parliamentary group by winning three direct constituency mandates.

War and Peace

The party’s left did not take this as an opportunity to go on the offensive and the party’s right formulated its positions all the more self-confidently and was able to celebrate successes with the entry into the state governments in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Russia’s war against Ukraine now helps the right wing to aggressively question the party’s basic antimilitarist positions.

Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, who suddenly resigned as co-chair, announced just a few weeks ago that the party congress in June would have to bring about a foreign policy clarification and that those who represent other positions would then have to ask themselves whether they are in the right party. This statement had to be understood as a declaration of war on the left wing in DIE LINKE. The fact that Hennig-Wellsow has now resigned may superficially be a weakening of the right wing of the party, but it can also have the opposite effect. 

The question of war makes compromises more difficult anyway. Given the popular mood that has developed since the Russian attack on Ukraine, those in DIE LINKE who for a long time have been able to live with NATO and foreign missions of the German military currently feel they have the backing of a social tailwind like never before. But they also know that this is temporary and that the current window of opportunity means that, from their point of view, it must be used to change DIE LINKE’s formal positions against NATO and foreign military actions. 

At the same time, the recent allegations of cases of sexual harassment within DIE LINKE has added to a sense of crisis in the party. Some forces inside and outside DIE LINKE are trying to turn the #LinkeMeToo debate on how to deal with sexism in the party against Janine Wissler. She is is now the sole national chair of DIE LINKE and seen as a representative of the party’s left, despite the fact that she has largely politically adapted to the reformist, pro-coalitionist elements in the party leadership. 

At the same time, the alleged extent of sexist misconduct and the often undifferentiated and generalizing handling of such allegations is an enormous test of strength for a party that is held together by hardly anything. To add to the crisis, supporters of Sahra Wagenknecht express more or less openly that they are thinking about a break and a new party.

Change of course necessary

On Twitter, someone wrote: “#dielinke is like such a derelict house under monument protection that belongs to a hereditary community that cannot come to an agreement. Renovation costs money and tearing down and rebuilding doesn’t really work, so you just keep watching it decay and hope for a miracle.” 

But there will be no miracle. Should the party’s right prevail with an openly pro-imperialist foreign policy realignment and/or the Wagenknecht camp use the crisis to jump off, this could lead to the break-up of the party as early as the summer. The foreseeable poor results in the two federal state elections in May will further exacerbate the crisis and can be a factor in such a development.

If this does not happen, it will not be enough to get out of the crisis. Perhaps the party will then be able to survive. Given that currently DIE LINKE is the only left-wing electoral alternative to the national SPD – Green – FDP coalition, it could gain ground again in elections against a background of future class struggles and social movements. 

However, without a socialist and militant change of course it will hardly be able to be built as a dynamic political force. Socialists and the left in DIE LINKE will then have to have a debate about how to build a new workers’ party.

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