From its foundation, DIE LINKE (Left Party) was an amalgamation of political currents, some of which had contradictory ideas of left politics. Roughly speaking, one could for a long time speak of a left camp that wanted to focus on class struggles and social movements, was opposed or at least critical of government participation with pro-capitalist parties, and, in one way or another, aimed for socialist systemic change, and of a right camp that focused on activity in the institutions of the capitalist state, i.e. parliaments and governments, and had made its peace with the capitalist market economy.
We have in the past referred to this situation as “two parties in one” and pointed out that the party left should organise around a consistently socialist programme and struggle for majorities. To contribute to this, we became involved in the Anti-Capitalist Left (AKL) because it formulated a principled rejection, especially on the question of government participation with pro-capitalist parties, placed a focus on social movements and class struggles, and worked to democratise the party.
Others – like the Socialist Left, Marx21 and later the Movement Left – tried to reconcile the different forces or to change the balance of power within the party through a focus on practical building work and “best practice”. In doing so, they failed to recognise that the party’s balance of forces could only be changed by clarifying these political questions and building a genuine socialist majority in DIE LINKE.
Creeping shift to the right
The result was that in recent years the internal party balance of power shifted sometimes in one direction or another, if measured by party conference resolutions and the composition of the party executive. The real politics of the party, however, were increasingly determined by the parliamentary groups and ministers in the federal state governments and accordingly shifted to the right. This reinforced the perception of DIE LINKE among the population as part of the political establishment, especially in eastern Germany, leading to a steady decline in DIE LINKE’s support. This has not been changed by the fact that the Movement Left currently has a strong, if not majority, position in the party’s national executive. On the contrary, it has made its contribution by its protagonists in Bremen supporting the first government participation with SPD (social democratic party) and Greens in a west German federal state, and by forming an unprincipled bloc with parts of the party right against the former leader of DIE LINKE’s parliamentary group, Sahra Wagenknecht, and her supporters.
Sahra Wagenknecht’s turn towards “left-wing conservatism”, as she calls it, from 2015 onwards, has increasingly shaken up the party. The “two parties in one” became different unprincipled power blocs. The party appeared more and more divided to the outside world and showed itself incapable of giving clear, socialist answers to the major political twists and turns – the Corona pandemic, the Ukraine war, inflation – or to distinguish itself in the major warning strikes this year as a party organising effective solidarity campaigns alongside the strikers and arguing for a socialist alternative.
A split of Wagenknecht supporters is in the air; many members have already resigned or left the activity in the last year or two. However, the likely new party to emerge, which would combine pro-market and anti-migration positions with social populism, would not be a step towards the socialist workers’ party which is needed.
In the 2021 federal elections, DIE LINKE already failed to clear the five-percent hurdle. It only entered parliament because of the rule that a party can win MPs on the basis of its actual national percentage if it gets three MP’s elected directly in the constituencies. After the recent undemocratic changes to the electoral law, these three direct mandates would not help it any more. If there is a Wagenknecht party, everything suggests that it will have a larger voter potential than DIE LINKE and destroy the party in parliament.
Now, on 10 June, the LINKE national executive has passed a unanimous resolution stating “the future of DIE LINKE is a future without Sahra Wagenknecht” and has called on those MPs who are working on the foundation of a rival party to resign their parliamentary mandates.
In this way, the unprincipled bloc of the Movement Left and parts of the party right have gone into action and are trying to take the party’s reins back into their own hands after they have been led a dance around the ring by Sahra Wagenknecht and her supporters. This step is on one level understandable and the cries of the Wagenknecht supporters that this now marks the split of the party is hypocritical in view of the fact that they are openly working on a split and Sahra Wagenknecht’s disinterest in the (more or less) democratic structures of the party has been sufficiently documented.
Organisational measures, however, cannot solve political problems. DIE LINKE’s decline is not primarily due to Sahra Wagenknecht’s behaviour, but to the party’s political orientation, its alignment with the SPD and the Greens, its participation in government with them, and it’s sinking into parliamentary pettiness, at all levels, instead of a clear focus on supporting strikes and movements. But the truth is also that Sahra Wagenknecht does not take a fundamentally different course on these issues.
Instead of promoting her own clear anti-capitalist and class-struggle course, and formulating a substantial alternative to Wagenknecht’s positions, as well as to Ramelow’s, Lederer’s and Voigt’s (leading figures in the party’s right wing), the representatives of the left wing of the party, including co-chair Janine Wissler, have entered into an alliance with these forces. This means that the image of the party will continue to be shaped primarily by its right wing. This course of the party leadership and above all of the parliamentary groups in the federal and state parliaments further leads to the fact that the utility value of DIE LINKE for the working class and social movements decreases more and more. Wagenknecht and her supporters will secretly rejoice because they can now stage themselves as victims and present a (already planned)new party foundation as a reaction to the decision of the executive board.
What to do?
This has led to a difficult situation for the left sections of the party. A strong, socialist workers’ party is urgently needed, but DIE LINKE will not become such a party, nor can it continue to be seen as the central starting point for it. At the same time, it is the only party that claims to be critical of capitalism and that expresses, at least to a limited extent, the interests of wage earners and continues to influence the social balance of forces in favour of the working class. As long as this is the case and no new force has emerged, we should still support DIE LINKE and fight for socialist policies in its structures, without exhausting ourselves in fruitless inner-party struggles. At the same time, class struggles must be pushed forward, and militant and anti-capitalist positions must be advocated within the trade unions. And the debate on a strong political representation of the interests of the working class must be pushed forward.
What is needed above all is a process of political clarification within the left inside the party to create the basis for a successful new attempt for a workers’ party in the future. The conferences of the Socialist Left (which has already taken place), and of the AKL and the Movement Left, could contribute to this. However, it is to be feared that no necessary conclusions will be drawn from the decline of the party. The AKL should also take a self-critical stock, since substantial parts of it have relied far too much on the Movement Left, shifting the party, as a whole, to the left, instead of focusing on strengthening itself. The result is that the structures of the AKL have been enormously weakened and there is hardly any political capacity to act.
It will probably take larger movements and class struggles to lay the foundations for a new attempt at a mass socialist party of workers and youth. Until then, it is important for left activists and socialists to work on the development of these struggles in various places; to work in the trade unions to build up a class struggle network; to carry out socialist propaganda and educational work to strengthen socialist consciousness among activists and sections of the working class again; to struggle for socialist positions and carry out exemplary work within DIE LINKE where it is promising; and to remain in discussion to draw lessons from the development of DIE LINKE and to do better in the next attempt. It should also be discussed whether a framework for such discussions – and possibly also joint campaigns – can be created in which forces from the left of the party, but also from outside the party, could come together.
At the same time, in the foreseeable future, Sol will continue to shift our practical focus to trade union and youth work, on the one hand, because this is where the most important developments and best opportunities for class struggle and socialist politics are developing. And, on the other hand, we will do everything we can to build our Marxist organisation. We are convinced that the success or failure of future broad left party projects and attempts at a workers’ party will depend not least on how strongly Marxist forces can influence them.