DIE LINKE, the Left party, which is the third biggest in the German parliament, held its annual conference at the end of May in Magdeburg. It took place against the background of the rise of the far right, increasing attacks on refugees and, in March, bad election results for DIE LINKE in some regional state parliament elections.
This was why the fight against the far right, the party’s position on refugees and deportations and how to build the party were the main issues at the conference. The conference also debated on war, the EU and protested against the Turkish state’s repression of journalists and the HDP party, linked with DIE LINKE in Turkey.
While the debates were more to the left than in some previous conferences and demanded that the party’s activity is more combative and radical it remains to be seen whether this translates into practice.
Revolution for social justice?
In preparation for this conference, the party’s co-chairs, Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger, published an article, entitled “Revolution for social justice and democracy”, which was re-printed and sent to every delegate. This article copied some of the left rhetoric of Jeremy Corbyn and especially Bernie Sanders and called for DIE LINKE to adopt an offensive strategy.
It stated that there is no “left camp” comprising of the Social Democratic party, the Greens and DIE LINKE. This was understood by many delegates as a statement against coalitions with these parties. It was the orientation to and the reformist policies of joint governments with the pro-capitalist and recently pro-austerity SPD that caused DIE LINKE’s bad election results in Saxony-Anhalt, the state where the conference took place.
While Kipping and Bernd Riexinger’s article was clearly intended to be seen as against at least some coalitions, they were not so serious about putting their statement into practice. At the conference a proposal to put their words against coalitions into the resolution was rejected. After the conference, Bernd Riexinger actually called on the trade unions to lead cooperation between SPD, Greens and DIE LINKE. While the leadership had to confess that their position was leading the party in a dangerous direction, they were not ready to draw conclusions from their fears and take a firm position against co-operation with pro-capitalist parties and establishment.
Position on deportation
The conference clearly spoke out against the deportation of refugees and accepted the demand for the right of asylum for everyone who has to flee their home because of war, state or non-state repression, political or trade union work, national, religious, ethnical or sexual discrimination, environmental destruction or social need.
This issue has been a key one both in Germany and at this conference. It came even more into the foreground when a self-declared antifascist group threw a cake into the face of Sahra Wagenknecht, the chairwoman of DIE LINKE’s Bundestag faction. This action copied what was done to a leading member of the right wing AfD (Alternative for Germany) earlier this year. This group said they were protesting against recent remarks of Sahra Wagenknecht in favour of limiting the right of asylum at some point.
However, putting Sahra Wagenknecht’s position on the same level as the right ring AfD is wrong. In effect, the attack did not help the criticism of Sahra Wagenknecht’s approach but actually strengthened her position as, after cake was thrown, the whole party condemned this action and united behind her.
Furthermore, at the conference this action drew attention away from the actions of the state governments where DIE LINKE is involved. Several delegates, like Lucy Redler and some from the youth organisation linked to the party, protested against deportations carried out by the state governments involving DIE LINKE in Brandenburg and Thuringia. Nevertheless, a proposal to stop the deportations in these states did not get a majority.
Where is DIE LINKE going?
The conference sent out important signals towards the left. But those in the party who are orientating towards coalitions with the SPD and Greens and throwing any hint of anti-capitalism overboard have not yet been stopped. In September, there will be state parliament elections in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern where coalition governments including DIE LINKE again might be a possible outcome. The leadership will do as much as they can to get them, seemingly not caring that in the past, such coalitions in these states have both carried out cuts and resulted in collapses in DIE LINKE support.
On the other hand, others in the party are orientating more to campaigns and social movements. DIE LINKE is one of the main forces in the campaign against the TTIP, involved in numerous antifacist and antiracist actions and other movements. Many calls have been made for DIE LINKE to put the social questions on the table – e.g. campaigning for lower rents and a fair minimum pension. Tribute was paid to the workers of Charité hospital in Berlin who won, with the help of SAV (CWI in Germany), a contract that increased the number of staff in the hospital. These campaigning calls were more dominant this conference - but it is yet to be seen whether these calls translate into practice.
SAV’s increased impact
Ten delegates, most of them from the youth, were SAV members and energetically intervened in the conference alongside others on the left. They spoke on different subjects and sold 50 copies of our paper. SAV member Lucy Redler got 44.7% of the vote and was elected onto the 44-strong National Committee along with others on the left. A Charité worker gave a speech in support for her candidature. Together with her, a second spokesperson of the AKL (anti-capitalist Left) current, Thies Gleis, was elected. The SAV is part of this current inside the party which had a good preparatory meeting of 70 people and has been strengthened in this conference. The Executive Committee, which runs the party on a day to day basis, was re-elected unopposed.
One year before the next general election, DIE LINKE faces many challenges - especially with the danger of right parties which are growing in support by exploiting growing popular dissatisfaction and presenting themselves as “anti-establishment”. It is a key test for DIE LINKE whether it can offer a fighting alternative that can cut across the growing support for the populist right. SAV will continue to fight for a socialist and combative party able to unite the working class, effectively fight racism and social inequality, while arguing for a socialist break with capitalism.