Since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as British Labour Party leader, a year ago, the CWI has described the Labour Party as “two parties in one”. In Germany, CWI supporters have been saying the same of DIE LINKE (the Left party) for ten years. Despite this, the two cases are very different. Currently there is a great dynamic in the Labour Party. There have been two big surges of new members joining (at the time of Corbyn’s first election and as a reaction to the attempt to get rid of him following the Brexit vote). In comparison to the dynamic of this conflict, the Left party in Germany is a stagnant pond with a declining membership, as older members die and fewer new members join. At the same time, while its support in some regions has fallen, Left party’s standing in recent national opinion polls has been slightly higher than the 8.6% it won in the 2013 general election.
The struggle within the Labour Party is intensified by the concerns of the ruling class and its agents within the party about the prospect of Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. In Germany, on the other hand, the internal party discussion is more concentrated around the question of whether Left party should become the junior partner in a government led by the pro-capitalist, often neo-liberal, SPD (Social Democratic Party), something which would soon plunge Left party, rather than the German ruling class, into crisis.
Despite this, there are developments within the Left party. On May 28 and 29, the Left party congress took place in Magdeburg against the backdrop of disappointing state election results. In these elections, held in March, the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) succeeded to mobilise many people who usually do not vote and protest voters, while Left party either made minor gains or even lost votes. The hope of the party’s right wing that a triumph in the state election in Saxony-Anhalt would see the local leading candidate, Wulf Gallert, elected as state prime minister or at least as a minister in the state government, turned out to be miles away from reality.
Many subsequent commentators recognised the fact that one central reason for the poor results was that Left party is regarded as part of the establishment by many voters. It was positive that the idea of a “left camp” including the pro-capitalist SPD and Greens was rejected both in a position paper issued by the two Left party co-chairs in advance of the party congress, as well as in many speeches at the conference. Instead the importance of an independent profile was emphasised at the congress, although the idea of “Red-Red-Green” (SPD, Left party, Green) bloc resurfaced, starting with the discussion on who to support in the election of the (mainly ceremonial) German president, early next year.
The Left party’s creeping rightward movement of the last years seemed, at least, to have been slowed down at the Congress. It was also a welcome development that the left-wing tendency Antikapitalistische Linke (AKL - Anti-Capitalist Left), of which the SAV (the CWI in Germany) is a part, was strengthened in the elections to the party executive. It now has six supporters on the party executive, including SAV national spokesperson, Lucy Redler.
The never-ending coalition debate
Unfortunately, the public perception of the party is not determined simply by good conference speeches. But rather by what leading party representatives say in interviews during the conference or in speeches in parliament afterwards. And all these were, again, more moderate and appearing to simply be trying to make capitalism work in a ‘fairer’ way. This is why so many of Left party’s leaders have no idea of building a socialist movement that aims to transform society.
When, shortly afterwards, a few senior SPD figures – against the backdrop of catastrophic polling figures – started paying lip-service to some leftish ideas and floating notions of a SPD- Green- Left party coalition, a significant section of the party obliged by considering the idea of three parties having common presidential candidate. Hardly anyone in Left party thought of mentioning that the current president of France, Hollande, made even more left-wing statements during the election campaign in 2012. But now millions are taking to the streets in France against his frontal assault on social rights, which shows how much leftish rhetoric in election campaigns is worth.
The fact that the Left party organisations in this September’s Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin regional elections are orientating totally towards entering government with the SPD is hardly challenged. These two state organisations are traditionally bastions of the party’s right wing.
A further contentious issue besides that of entering government is approach to be taken on the EU. An article by Sascha Stanicic on this subject was published on socialistworld.net recently (‘Brexit’ and the German Left’), and refers to that debate within DIE LINKE.
Right-wing violence and refugees
The German media raise the spectre of Islamist violence daily, presenting refugees as a potential threat, despite the fact that it is the violence of the far right which is particularly on the rise, violence which is often directed at refugees.
In the first half of 2016, there were 529 violent attacks by the far right, with 399 people injured. In the same period in the previous year, there were “only” 342 incidents; with 271 injured (these figures are likely to rise due to delays in reporting). Of the three well-publicised attacks at the end of July, while two were committed by refugees, the worst one (leaving 9 dead, in Munich), was apparently committed by a right-wing extremist on the fifth anniversary of the terrible Breivik murders in Norway. Of course, there were many more acts of violence in this time period, which generated considerably less media interest. Yet large parts of the media and politicians (not just the right-wing, populist AfD) are continually making a connection between refugees and violence. They call for more powers for the state and for the removal of democratic rights. In doing so, they put refugees and Muslims under general suspicion.
At the end of July, there were discussions within Left party about how to react to this, sparked by comments from Sahra Wagenknecht, the co-leader of its Bundestag parliamentary group. She made a connection between the acts of violence by refugees being discussed in the media and the Merkel government letting hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country, last autumn, without providing the necessary public funds. Of course, it is correct to attack the government for not providing sufficient funding and public infrastructure for refugees and others in need. As the Antikapitalistische Linke (AKL - Anti-Capitalist Left) pointed out in a statement, social deprivation can lead to psychological problems which can, in some cases, lead to violent excesses but this by no means applies just to migrants. However, this in no way justifies making a connection between violence and immigration. Wagenknecht also demanded that we must know ‘who is in the country’.
Opposing this, the deputy Left party leader, Pflüger, and the AKL, expressed solidarity with the refugees forced to live illegally in Germany, due to the restrictive asylum laws in Germany. The Left party must emphasise forcefully that society is coming off the rails as a result of decades of neo-liberal policies. This is a problem created by German and international capitalism, rather than one imported by desperate refugees from abroad. Therefore, the answer must be to struggle together – Germans, immigrants, refugees etc. - for public infrastructure, social benefits and decent wages. The sort of demands, which we oppose, that Wagenknecht made to beef-up the powers of the capitalist state, on the other hand are, at best, misguided and a distraction on her part.
At the same time, more right-wing elements of the Left party try to use these dubious comments from Wagenknecht (which were not the first of their kind) to wage a campaign against her, because she is, despite all, a representative of the left wing of the party and is less euphoric than the right wing about the prospect of the Left party joining a government. However, she also peddles illusions in the SPD. Speaking in an interview with the Deutschlandfunk radio station, on July 10, Wagenknecht stated that a change of course by the SPD towards a restoration of the welfare state was a precondition for the Left party joining a government. Asked whether she thought this would possible with this SPD, she did not reply: ‘evidently not!’ but rather: “It keeps changing. With the SPD, you have the feeling that one day it’s possible and the next day, no longer.” She also called on the SPD to suggest a candidate for a “socially-orientated President” who the Left party would then support.
It is correct to criticise Wagenknecht’s wrong comments on refugees, but, at the same time, it is noteworthy that her critics on the right of the party maintain silence about the fact the state government of Thuringia, led by state premier Ramelow of the Left party, is actually carrying out deportations.
The election of Lucy Redler to the party executive is an important success of the SAV (CWI in Germany) and the fruit of many years of work. Other comrades, mostly as delegates of the youth organisation, made good speeches at the congress that put forward an alternative socialist strategy. This demonstrates the progress which we have made in the last years through our participation in the AKL, and in the last year with the foundation of the Revolutionary Left group in ‘solid’, the Left party’s youth organisation.
For years, Germany was relatively stable politically, although the initial rise of the Left party to win 11.9% of the vote in 2009 indicated what was developing below the surface. Many saw the country as an island of stability in a world slipping into ever-deeper conflicts (Euro-crisis, wars etc.) and therefore supported the government. With the anti-immigrant Pegida demonstrations in the autumn of 2014 and the increased number of refugees arriving at the end of last summer, the voices accusing the government of failing to keep international conflicts away from Germany became louder. There was an increased polarisation. In this, the left pole is visible from time to time (in the huge solidarity movement with refugees, in the mass demonstrations against the TTIP free trade agreement etc.) but does not have a campaigning, combative political expression comparable to the right pole in the form of AfD. The Left party only partially reflects this mood because a section of its leadership wants to become part of the political establishment, leaving the way open for the AfD to pretend it is the only force against “the system”.
The future will force increasing sections of the working class to draw the conclusion that it is impossible for Germany to avoid to international problems of capitalism and that the only solution is a common struggle against policies which seek to solve crises on the backs of the working class. The most progressive sections will also increasingly recognise that German imperialism, as Europe’s strongest capitalist powers, is one of the main causes of the global crises knocking on Germany's door. This will also find a political expression. It will depend of the state of the Left party– how rebellious or how government-orientated it is – as to whether it will be a reflection of this development.