SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 177 April 2014

Germany’s Left party shifts right

In mid-February a special national party congress of Die Linke (The Left party) agreed its manifesto and list of candidates for the European elections on 25 May. The outcome of the congress marks a further step to the right for the party which stands at 8-10% in opinion polls for the euro elections and which is the only party in Germany opposed to bank rescue packages and austerity policies.

The initial draft manifesto put forward by the national committee of the party contained the statement that the "EU is neoliberal, largely undemocratic, and militaristic". This was challenged by the right wing, led by the leader of the parliamentary group in the Bundestag (national parliament) Gregor Gysi. This was no surprise. The right wing wants to prepare the party for a coalition with the social democratic party, the SPD, and the Greens, on a national level after the next parliamentary elections due in 2017.

The SPD is now hinting that this may be possible and that this year it may support Die Linke taking the post of premier in one of the east German regional states. A precondition for a future national deal is a ‘de-radicalisation’ of Die Linke’s foreign policy. Before the congress, the national committee, in an act of self-censorship, had already given in to this pressure and deleted the statement on the EU from the draft manifesto before congress delegates could vote on it.

In the meantime, new proposals had been put forward by forces on the left of the party and by the right wing for a new introduction to the manifesto. In a compromise just before the start of congress, these forces came to a deal which meant that 80% of the right wing’s positions were accepted. This was agreed and supported by most of the left-wing currents in the party, including the Socialist Left and Marx21 (linked to the British SWP). Only the Anti-capitalist Left (in which SAV members participate) and one smaller left current did not go along with that and put forward a resolution to include the characterisation of the EU as "neoliberal, largely undemocratic, and militaristic" in the manifesto. This was not agreed by congress.

The agreed election manifesto does include left reformist demands but does not come out in clear opposition to the capitalist EU. Rather, it sees it as a political space which can be reformed in the interests of ordinary working people. On the euro, the manifesto says: "Despite the fact that the European currency union has big mistakes in its construction, Die Linke does not stand for an end of the euro. A precondition for the euro’s further existence is an end to austerity".

By this the party will be seen as supporting the euro. Instead of such a position, the party should have made clear that it supports the right for any nation to leave the euro if this is democratically decided by the people. At the same time, it should point out that the question of the currency is not decisive for the prospects for the living conditions of ordinary people, but that the crucial question is, in whose interests is society run?

Instead of calling for socialist change in Europe, this manifesto sows illusions in the imperialist and reactionary EU and the euro. Gysi and the right wing argued that, if the EU did not exist, Europe would consist of squabbling states. A vision of a socialist alterative to the EU was not on their agenda; they base their hopes on changing the EU. Unfortunately, through this positioning, Die Linke will have problems reaching out to the broad layers of workers and unemployed who are very critical of the EU and the euro, and who see the EU and the European parliament as bureaucratic monsters serving the interests of big business. This can make it easier for the newly-formed, right-wing party, Alternative for Germany, to use populist slogans to mobilise voters and gain MEPs. This has been made easier now as, in this election, Germany will have no minimum ‘bar’ to winning seats.

The majority of the left wing of the party made these political compromises partly because they hoped to be rewarded in the vote for Die Linke’s list of candidates. That did not happen, however. Three of five left-wing candidates who stood for the first nine places on the slate were not elected, despite the fact that the party’s national council had proposed them. The right wing, mostly based in eastern Germany, had organised beforehand to push through a more ‘moderate’ set of candidates. This will also have consequences for the outlook and policy of the left grouping in the European parliament, the GUE/NGL (European United Left/Nordic Green Left).

SAV member Lucy Redler was an Anti-capitalist Left delegate to Die Linke’s congress and moved a resolution which called for a clear statement in favour of a socialist Europe. Given the crisis in Europe and the social devastation in the countries of southern Europe, it is necessary to put forward a programme not only of opposition to all cuts but also in favour of the nationalisation of the banks and corporations, the cancellation of the debt, and a break with the profit-driven capitalist economy.

Since the congress the two most high-profile figures in Die Linke, from the left and the right, Sahra Wagenknecht and Dietmar Bartsch, have issued a joint statement on the strategy of the party. It calls for Die Linke to develop its independent profile and, simultaneously, sets out the goal to reach coalition governments with the SPD and the Greens in the future. This move reflects the dangerous development of a left-wing party adapting itself more and more to the idea of government participation with pro-capitalist parties. Unfortunately, this also includes the party chairman, Bernd Riexinger, who was previously an important left-wing trade union leader. Bitter experience in other countries has shown that such governments give little, if anything, for working people while weakening the participating left parties. This must be a warning to Die Linke’s left wing which wants to build a party as a means to organise the struggle against capitalism.

The left currents in Die Linke should draw a balance sheet from the mistaken tactics of going along with far-reaching political compromises. They should prepare for the conflicts which will come over the next years concerning the politics and strategy of the party. With a clear and principled position, and active campaigning to build the party on the ground through class struggle, and on an anti-capitalist basis, it should be possible to strengthen the left wing and prepare the forces for the building of a mass socialist party in Germany.

Sascha Stanicic, SAV (CWI Germany)

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