Germany: Die Linke (The Left) splits … further to the right

After a long period of speculation, the main figure of German “left-wing conservatism”, Sahra Wagenknecht, nine other deputies and politicians from Die Linke left the party and plan to form a new one, more to the right, although they would remain in the same block to not lose its status as a parliamentary group. The reasons for the division and our opinion.

By Carolina Menéndez Trucco

The announced end of a hard story of separation: the main face of “red” populism in Germany, Sahra Wagenknecht, after months considering leaving the Die Linke party, finally presented the entity that should promote the foundation of the new “For Reason and Justice”. The association “Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht[1]” aims to create at the beginning of next year the brand-new party that will then run for the first time in the regional elections in Germany. Anyone going to the 2024 European elections should also find a new option on the ballot papers. In addition to Wagenknecht, among deputies and politicians, 15 others declared their departure with the open letter “Why we are leaving The Left.” Although, according to their own statements, they initially want to continue belonging to the left-wing parliamentary group in the Bundestag, which currently has 38 members, if there are two fewer deputies, the current minimum number is no longer reached. In other words, The Left is threatened with extinction as a parliamentary faction.

Rather than moving for “economic reason”, “social justice”, “peace” and “freedom”, the leadership of the new party simply heads to the right. The founding manifesto presented, although it avoids such classification and speaks rather of a “return to reason”, somehow makes it evident. According to polls, among Wagenknecht’s followers, there are many more voters of the far-right AfD party than of the left itself. Furthermore, the positions on immigration or climate policy are closer to the conservative CDU/CSU group than those of her former party. According to her line of conservatism, “unregulated immigration” is intensifying “problems in schools, especially in poorer residential areas.” She therefore asks that the number of refugees is limited. Furthermore, the controversial figure aims to “get away from a blind, haphazard eco-activism that makes people’s life even more expensive but doesn’t actually benefit the climate at all.” Nothing could be further from social and environmental issues.

Although many have resigned themselves to taking it as a sign of self-respect or an opportunity for renewal, it could be seen for some time that The Left was facing its separation. But the fact that ten members of the Bundestag (Parliament) led by Wagenknecht and other politicians left Die Linke was a surprise. However, even though both parties acknowledge not wanting to work together, they intend to continue being part of the faction to maintain the apparatus. In fact, those who left have formally requested to remain in the left faction until the end of the year.

Disputes and false contrasts

On more than one occasion, Sahra Wagenknecht has generated controversy. Her disagreements with some of the sectors of the left are well known, hence the recurring calls for exclusion from several members. One of them by rejecting the sanctions against Russia in response to the war and the supply of weapons to Ukraine, in her “diplomatic” and “anti-militarist” desire to defend the path of dialogue and negotiation. The “Manifesto for Peace”, in which Sahra Wagenknecht and the also controversial activist Alice Schwarzer collected more than half a million signatures to stop the shipment of weapons to Ukraine, generated much debate, even on the Left. Because one correct position is not to increase the military budget, but another, incorrect one, is to prevent weapons from reaching the Ukrainian people who have the right to defend themselves from the Russian invasion.

On the other hand, regarding the Zionist genocide in Palestine, Wagenknecht is ambiguous… but ends up defending Israel. While she describes the Gaza Strip as an “open-air prison,” she also notes that Israel has the right to defend itself from Hamas attacks and supports the cynical “two-state” approach, when one deliberately wants to exterminate the other.

One might wonder how it can be that terms such as capitalism, imperialism, socialism, working class, class society or left do not even appear in the founding manifesto of the “Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht”, presented at the federal press conference on October 23. It is an abandonment of the already reformist general policy of Die Linke. Well, we would have to go back to the starting point.

Wagenknecht’s beginnings …

Shortly before the fall of the Wall, Wagenknecht joined the SED[2] in 1989. She sparked her first controversy three years later when she intervened in the debate about Stalinism in the party, which had since been renamed PDS[3], by publishing the text Marxism and Opportunism in the Weißenseer Blätter papers. From defending bureaucratic East Germany yesterday, she has gone on to defend today a populist, anti-immigrant and anti-environmental State. Member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2009, of the German Bundestag from 2009, and since 2011, vice president of the left faction. In her position, however, she often disagreed with the party leadership, repeatedly causing a stir within the party. As time went by, her steps to the right became more and more firm. When she entered the parliament, for example, she abandoned the Communist Platform[4] and the Anti-Capitalist Left, having signed the call in 2006 for the founding of the latter.

Born in Jena in 1969, the daughter of an Iranian father and a German mother, married almost ten years ago to another legendary figure of left-wing conservative populism, Oskar Lafontaine, undoubtedly, Sahra Wagenknecht became one of the best-known faces of the Die Linke party until she announced her departure and the founding of the association BSW – For Reason and Justice, with the aim of preparing her new political party.

The revolutionary break

The fracture of Die Linke reflects the disorientation of the German left: there are no more revolutionaries in its ranks, and the party ended up sticking increasingly to its “bourgeois parliamentarism”. While it has recorded more entries than resignations since Wagenknecht’s departure, the special problem now requires political acrobatics, as faction status hangs in the balance. Which not only involves the political capacity for action of the left-wing representatives, but also the fate of the 108 employees of the parliamentary group. If the faction status disappears, they must be released. Furthermore, the members of the parliamentary group Die Linke who were directly elected to the Bundestag are calling on the ten members of the parliamentary group who left the party to create a rival party to resign their mandates. Ultimately, along with deserters and possible unemployed people, it is about the value of the left bloc as a political force.

In the general elections of September 2021, Die Linke was left with 4.9% of the votes below the required threshold of 5% to remain in parliament, but was able to do so due to having won three previous direct mandates. In any case, something more than the status quo is necessary to resolve the unity dilemma. Examining the circumstances that led to the split could have been one of the keys. Because, to the extra-parliamentary weakening of the Anti-capitalist Left, there was added the insurmountable gap between the reformist wing and the Wagenknecht wing. The founding conference of the new party is scheduled for January, and by then the left faction may have gone down in history. In the land of Marx, the socialist revolution and a government of the workers and the people is still a pending account. That is why the unity of revolutionary groups and activists located to the left of reformism is necessary.

[1] BSW – For Reason and Justice (BSW – Für Vernunft und Gerechtigkeit) is a registered political association with the purpose of founding the German political party: For Reason and Justice. BSW is an acronym for “Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht” (Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht).

[2] The Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, abbreviated SED) was the German political party of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), commonly also called East Germany. A “socialist” state run by a Stalinist bureaucracy that existed during the Cold War period, allied to the Eastern (communist) bloc.

[3] The Communist Platform (Kommunistische Platform, KPF) is an association within the German Left Party of the most radical wing, whose most prominent member was Sahra Wagenknecht.

[4] The Anti-Capitalist Left (Antikapitalistische Linke, AKL) is a political movement founded in March 2006 within the Die Linke party, which represents anti-capitalist, anti-militarist and parliamentary-critical positions. It is considered to be from the most radical wing of the party.