Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Germany's Die Linke: some history and some lessons

A New Formation with Potential Pitfalls: The New German Linkspartei
by Christoph Jünke

from Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, Volume 15, Issue 3 December 2007, pages 307-319


Many observers, not least sympathisers, have viewed Germany and its left primarily in terms of “objective” necessity and possibility and in this way have, for the most part, sidelined what might be termed the “subjective” problems and politico-ideological traps in which the German left has appeared to be entangled for many years and indeed decades - and which, in a certain sense, are bound to be reproduced constantly so long as they are not consciously theorised politically, clarified and constructively opposed.

The history of the German left is above all else a history of ups and downs, of severe historical defeats (such as fascism and Stalinism) and numerous ultimately unsuccessful attempts at rejuvenation. As a result the latest new formation can only be understood properly if one recalls at least the last fifteen years, since the new German Linskpartei is by no means a new-born child.

From an Epochal Break to a Failed Left Turn in the PDS

In 1990 the question was already posed of the conditions under which a united left could come into existence in the now capitalist re-unified Germany. Thomas Klein, one of the leading figures in the “United Left”, a small but at that time influential socialist current in East Germany, wrote a much noticed article in 1991 about this question, in which he provided a critical balance sheet of the multiple attempts to build an independent socialist left. In reality, existing socialism, according to Klein, had not only successfully shattered such a left and socially isolated it, but in addition the primitive anti-communism during the epochal break of the years 1989-91 had ensured the long-term loss of a mass basis for a socialist perspective. As a result, Klein started from the view that the self-organisation of the German left “has to start right from the beginning” and codified this as follows:

The central question is the question of the social grounding of the left - thus the question of the extent and speed to which we can be successful in corresponding to the real needs and interests of the people [] the question of how a left politics going beyond political opportunism and revolutionary disregard of reality, a left politics with and not against popular needs, is feasible, must also be answered outside the false alternatives of either a tail-ending “realism” without principles, coupled with an overly humble resistance to influencing the popular mood, or an arrogant contempt for the masses. This will arise from the collective work of the left in the course of the self-organisation of the unemployed and the construction of social resistance. The left has to involve itself here and the measure of its credibility will be the collective experience of the usefulness of its interventions in the social movements. [] Independent political maturity will appear through the quality of its active involvement in bringing together the social movements. It follows that nothing can be assumed about the autonomous experience of the movements; or about the best advice or representative role which left organisations could provide or play. (93)

These already weak traditions of left self-understanding were however lost to a large extent in the following years. The 1990s were, as far as the German left is concerned, years of open disintegration, internal conflict and a loss of practical and theoretical substance that was scarcely recognised outside Germany. Consequently, many West German hopes eventually came to rest on the East German Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). Although the political cultures in East and West, not least on the left, remained deeply divided, the PDS dominated from this point onwards the discussions amongst the declining political left.

The history of the PDS is a history of great hopes and great disappointments, above all for the socialist and radical left, but also for a large part of the electorate.2 As the successor of the East German Socialist Unity Party (SED), the governing party of the communist nomenklatura, the PDS had, at the end of 1989 and during the course of 1980, broken thoroughly with its previous history and deeply revised its political programme. Most of the once two million strong SED had left the party; fewer than 100,000 remained and their numbers were to weaken sharply, falling steadily over the following period to number barely 60,000 today. More than half of this membership is now over seventy and three quarters are pensioners. Nonetheless the PDS obtained between 15 and 20 per cent of the East German vote during the 1990s and had at the close of the decade about 8,000 functionaries; above all in the East German legislative and executive institutions and in the parliamentary infrastructure.

As a strong parliamentary party and lobby for furthering the specific interests of the East German population, their main political goals in the 1990s were to be recognised by the West Germans and to transform themselves into a party of both the East and West German left. Both goals were partially, but not entirely, realised. In the capital, Berlin, and in the eastern province of Mecklenburg-Pomerania, the PDS even formed a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party (SPD); in Mecklenburg-Pomerania from 1998 and in Berlin from 2001. They obtained through these politics an increasing recognition amongst a broad German public but this in turn worsened the internal disputes between the moderates and functionaries on the one hand and the left of the party on the other. The left criticised the political approach being adopted using arguments familiar from other European left parties: What does it mean to enter a bourgeois government with the aim of alleviating problems like poverty, unemployment or the fiscal crisis of the public sector? Is this a positive goal for left politics or does it lead the party away from socialism? Can such politics work in the interests of the people to stop a bad situation becoming even worse or do they just mean accepting the rules of the game as laid down by the ruling class?

In the second half of the 1990s intensive debates took place. A strong left opposition emerged within the PDS, mainly dominated by the East German “Communist Platform” on one side and the old West German radical left on the other. The first was, and is, a current marked by strong neo-Stalinist tendencies, represented most clearly by Sahra Wagenknecht. The second, exemplified by long-standing Bundestag deputy Winfried Wolf, stood for a mixture of left socialism and Trotskyism.

In the year 2000, after the initial experience of the “Red-Green” government of Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer, it appeared that the PDS had turned to the left, after the party conference in April elected a new leadership. The old guard of Gregor Gysi and Lothar Bisky stood down and we saw a new leadership emerge that openly criticised the old politics of the PDS. Above all the questions of left participation in government and the growing military engagement of Germany in the Balkans, in former Yugoslavia, were the driving forces of this left turn. In 1999, for the first time in post-war German history, Germany had actively taken part in military aggression against another state. At the same time, although the majority of the German population had once more given expression to their traditionally strong anti-militarist feelings, leading functionaries of the PDS had shown considerable sympathy for the political stance of the “Red-Green” government on the basis that it was a supposedly humanitarian intervention.

It was seen as a left breakthrough but it became a great left disaster. The overall electoral trend of the PDS from the end of the 1990s onwards was negative - the PDS had lost its attraction and dynamism. When in 2002 the PDS no longer had representation in the federal parliament, many observers regarded them as an outmoded model.3 This allowed the former party leadership of Gysi, Bisky and André Brie to use the opportunity provided by a murky and unappetising internal party scandal to stage a coup against the new leadership of Gabi Zimmer and Dieter Dehm (Behrend 124). The consequence of this defeat was deeply rooted disappointment amongst the left of the party, with the result that many of them, especially those from the West, left the PDS at the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003.

From Agenda 2010 to the New Formation of the Left

The election victory achieved in late 2002 initiated a second round of the “Red-Green” coalition and allowed Schröder and Fischer to launch the greatest attack on the German welfare state in the history of the federal republic. In 2003 they proposed the so-called “Agenda 2010″ legislation, which was directed against the social safety net and so against millions of unemployed and other claimants.

This situation of deep depression on the left and a political offensive by the governing neo-liberals was the context for the large demonstration of more than 100,000 people protesting against Agenda 2010, mainly trade unionists, the radical left and potential victims of the planned reforms (known as the Hartz laws). It was this demonstration in November 2003, the scale of which was completely unexpected, which suddenly electrified the ranks of the left. In the spring of 2004 disillusioned Social Democrats (the SPD lost nearly 200,000 members during those years) joined with influential left intellectuals from West Germany to form the WASG (Electoral Alternative for Jobs and Social Justice or Wahl Alternative for short). In addition, in the spring of 2004 angry and beleaguered East Germans - the East Germans were particularly affected by the Hartz laws - participated in a spontaneous and impressive mass movement of weekly “Monday demonstrations”. This imparted a strong impetus to the process of party formation in the West; a process mainly involving Social Democrats and trade unionists but also those new to politics and the radical left - and not least many left wingers who had left the PDS over the previous year.4

This markedly dynamic movement was enough to impress Oskar Lafontaine, the leading dissident figure among the old Social Democrats, who had resigned as SPD party chair and Finance Minister in 1999 as a protest against the neo-liberal and militarist turn of Gerhard Schröder. Lafontaine made contact at the start of 2005 with the WASG leadership, who already at this point could claim almost 5,000 members.

On 22 May 2005 the WASG won 2.2 per cent of the vote in the elections in North Rhine-Westphalia and decisively outpolled the PDS who obtained 0.9 per cent. Chancellor Schröder underwent a catastrophic electoral defeat in what was both the largest German provincial state and also the chief bulwark of German social democracy and that evening through his party chair Münterfering announced new elections at a national level, in effect making these a referendum on Agenda 2010. Lafontaine countered this move in the offensive with his exit from the SPD and his declaration that his would stand in the elections for a new unified left list composed of the WASG and PDS. The new formation of the German left began to take shape.

What was now the order of the day was nothing less than the formation of a new left, the framing of a through-going critique of the reigning neo-liberalism and the reaching of agreement on an alternative political programme which would embody both credibility and the capacity for mobilisation. To inspire political and social struggle it was necessary to have both a mobilising goal and a route to change expressed through a convincing Action Programme. Reversing the Hartz reforms, renewal and extension of the social security system, tax rises and special levies for business and the rich, radical shortening of working time, an offensive on wages policy, demilitarisation and radical democratisation - all these had lain to hand for many years. However, they had been (and are) grasped only in an abstract way, having their source in an alternative conception of political and social values which connected well with feelings of solidarity but could only be articulated in vague terms. There were many critical issues: Can one simply reverse the worst aspects of the neo-liberal “reform” agenda (such as “Hartz 4″) or does one want to alter those political and social foundations which form the roots from which neo-liberalism continually springs anew? Does one really believe that the ideological hegemony of neo-liberalism and the power of the neo-liberal apparatus can be broken through parliamentary work? How can one halt the logic of neo-liberalism permanently without raising key questions of principle and carrying through sustained changes in at least the central aspects of society? And how can one achieve this without being based on a broad milieu of autonomous and radical movements which could participate on an equal basis in a pluralist organisation and network of movements?

A new historical compromise appeared to press itself on the German left and inspired much hope. In their eyes, it involved a “new left” which, if it were to be successful, would have to structurally change, develop an historically unprecedented balance between its reformist and anti-capitalist aspects and embody a pluralist culture of organisation, communication and mobilisation, in which the different currents and fractions of the political left could come together on a basis of mutual equality and solidarity, without having to commit themselves to a completely unified standpoint. However, the political and psychological reservations and resistance of a seriously fragmented and divided left were considerable. Would a convergence between the parliamentary left and the left of the movements occur? Is there the political will to dare to bridge the gap between long-standing enemies? And what organisational form can achieve this? Does the new left simply want to repeal a couple of laws and set others in their place in which case an organisation with a passive membership and a focus on parliament would suffice? Or does it want to implement a fundamentally different way of life and labour, another form of society, which would provide for the emancipatory needs of the majority of the population through an institutional rupture, surely unthinkable without the broadest, most democratic forms of self-activity? What kind of political organisation can support such self-activity and involvement? Not new, but still real, questions for the political left - and not just in Germany.

Not untypical of the doubters and sceptics of the movement-based left was the example of the organisational crisis in Attac, which on 31 May 2005 made it clear in a declaration that with regard to the forthcoming federal elections it would “neither recommend a particular vote or endorse any specific candidacy”. They obviously could not decide whether parliamentary and party politics was always the work of the devil or only sometimes.

Opposite to the sceptical hesitations of the left of the movements stood the obstacles provided by and preconceptions of the dominant parliamentary left. Would the WASG lead these leading well-established cadres from a social democratic and trade union background to jettison decades of illusions in the organisational politics of social democracy and open up to the movement-based left without fear or favour? And could they take with them down this route a considerable part of the 200,000 members who had left the SPD in the last years of the Schröder government? What role could old left socialists and the small throng of left groupuscules play in the WASG and what did they want - and what about the overbearing Oskar Lafontaine? Would he be content with a new organisational garb for his single combat with the media or, even, as a few on the radical left hypothesised, turn into the Jörg Haider of German politics? Or would he radicalise further and develop into the people’s tribune of a new workers party, like a modern day Ferdinand Lassalle? How welcome would the PDS be to such radicalising social democrats and those re-emerging radical leftists in their train, many of whom had been expelled from the party some time ago? The issue was posed of the depth of their own mixture of ethical state socialism and practical support of the neo-liberal Schröder-SPD. And what practical role would their base in the East German state and regional parliaments play - above all the coalitions in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Pomerania, which for years had been a central point of conflict with the left both inside and outside the party?

Post-communist on one side, post-social democrat on the other; East German on one side, West German on the other; established on one side, up and coming on the other. In what way should they now grow together, what united them? The reservations of many on the left were clear. And they were immediately increased by the legally justified but undoubtedly politically motivated refusal of the PDS party leadership to risk a symbolic new beginning by founding a united electoral party for the federal elections. Once more this appeared to the West German left as manipulation towards a preconceived objective, with the interests of the apparatus taking precedence over political content. Under the supposedly dominant imperatives of the federal election campaign it was not only the opening up to others, such as social movements and small groups, struggling against neo-liberalism, which was pursued in a half-hearted way. Both party leaders retreated from any real debate with the politics of the other and stifled the emergence of any productive culture of discussion in their own ranks. In addition, the so-called “Socio-Political Forum”, which was prevented from meeting for most of the second half of 2005 and the beginning of 2006, could not rectify the situation and was all too often a party fraction rally. Shortly after its launch the new left once more sank into familiar political constraints and exhibited growing unease amongst its own base coupled with reservations from those outside.

From the Political Exclusion of the “Left Left” to the Warning of Berlin

The situation during the federal election campaign could be described as decidedly curious. Here was an electoral alliance participating in the elections of whom one part, the WASG, was in part responsible for the fall of the neo-liberal “Red-Green” government and the other part, the PDS - the PDS had renamed itself as Die Linke.PDS (LPDS), looking towards a left regroupment, in 2005 - had as their own remaining area of political strength their support for just these neo-liberal social democrats as a junior partner in two provincial coalitions. In addition, anyone who thought that this situation would alter qualitatively in the wake of a successful election campaign was to be disappointed. The great election result of September 2005 - the electoral alliance under the formal cover of the PDS obtained four million votes, almost 9 per cent of the total cast - was an impressive vote for a united new German left. Yet once more political realities were a bit sobering. None of the big programmatic and practical political problems had been resolved. In addition, the new left parliamentary fraction of 53 deputies and almost 250 co-workers undertook their parliamentary work as if nothing had happened. They set up the fraction, argued with one another about the distribution of posts according to gender quotas and adopted a 100-day programme, about which no-one appeared to remember anything once the 100 days had passed. Since then, for what are now almost two years, we have seen no action whatsoever from this group which has gone beyond the realm of daily parliamentary business, not even symbolic steps.

The growing unease about unclarified and unresolved programmatic and strategic political differences amongst the new left inevitably came to the surface eventually at the point where these differences were directly relevant to practice, in the approaching regional elections in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Pomerania in September 2006.

In the city state of Berlin, three PDS ministers in a “Red-Red” coalition with the Social Democrats had tried since 2001 to alleviate the worst aspects of the ruling neo-liberalism. This had involved accepting a number of measures, supposedly of little significance, but also leading to little popularity, which had been taken to close the chronic public sector deficit. So we saw under the “Red-Red” coalition the privatisation of some state enterprises (and also of part of the public sector housing stock), the closing of supposedly unprofitable public facilities, the raising of charges and the lowering of salaries and budgets in the areas of culture and education. The Berlin PDS had even voted for the later defeated draft of a new neo-liberal EU constitution. In addition, the situation in “Red-Red” Mecklenburg-Pomerania did not differ fundamentally from that in Berlin, though it was less dramatic. The political consequences of these approaches were comparable; they led to a massive crisis of credibility for the PDS and to ever-growing unrest amongst the political left - above all in Berlin.

The WASG had been founded not least as a result of discontent over the practical responsibility of the PDS for neo-liberal politics in these two provinces and therefore had drawn in and around itself many disillusioned former PDS activists in Berlin and the West. A large part of the national WASG membership and its political leadership, much of the West German left, a considerable part of the PDS and many potential voters were united in the view that the politics of the PDS in Berlin were neither supportable in general or something that could be voted for in particular. Further it was a basic programmatic principle of the WASG not to take part in any government “which carries forward or tolerates further cuts in social services, troop deployments, limits on civil rights or privatisation”. Yet the PDS appeared (according to all assessments by independent observers) completely unrepentant. At the end of 2006 therefore first a provincial delegate conference of the Berlin WASG, then the provincial committee and finally a ballot of Berlin WASG members decided by majority vote to stand independently and against the Berlin PDS - a thoroughly legitimate decision and by no means unprecedented on the (West) German left; it was reminiscent for example of the beginnings of the green alternative movement.

The objective dilemma posed by this new situation was shown clearly by Oskar Lafontaine when, in the name of the WASG leadership, he attacked the Berlin WASG separatists and refused to rule out an organisational break with them. To the closely related question of how to bridge the gap between programme and reality in Berlin he simply answered that these Berlin policies “could not be continued in this way” but simultaneously declared that he would in any case campaign for the PDS in the elections. Although none of those involved could propose a productive solution to these political dilemmas, one that would have avoided a loss of face for all the groups at odds, the PDS and WASG leaderships engaged in one-sided accusations of guilt against the Berlin WASG majority and so fell back into a familiar internal left culture of exclusion and resentment. Both party leaderships and opinion leaders stirred up a hateful media campaign against the Berlin dissidents and their nationwide supporters, describing them as “sectarians” and “Trotskyists” who would smash their own political achievements.5 In a rare display of unanimity the opinion formers of both parties united in their threats of administrative measures: “we are a party and not a self-discovery group” thundered WASG chief Klaus Ernst and he thus made it clear that he located the meaning of left politics in a classically social democratic context. The new formation of the left and the objective political problems posed by it were thus, as it were, suffocated in a climate of denunciation and repression which was neither democratic nor socialist.

The elections to the provincial legislatures in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Pomerania on 17 September 2006 became a political catastrophe. The neo-liberal Berlin PDS lost almost half its electorate and the anti neo-liberal Berlin WASG which stood separately barely reached 3 per cent of the vote.

Election evening on 17 September may have been the last chance for the Berlin PDS to stop and change course from their previous refusal to open up to the WASG without completely losing face. Had they immediately after the serious election defeat not just taken responsibility for what had happened, but also announced their departure from the “Red-Red” city government and invited the Berlin WASG in a generous way to begin anew in common, they would have been able to address the unambiguous verdict of the voters, the reservations of the left and the danger of the fragmentation of the unity project. Could the Berlin WASG have said no to such an offer? And which left “sectarians” would have still found an audience if the Berlin PDS had taken such a symbolic step? Yet the Berlin PDS sought recognition not from the sceptical left but from the ruling elites. All the exhortations of Oskar Lafontaine and others remained unheard. They placed bourgeois reputation above left unity. Just a few days after the lost election the PDS delegates to a special party conference approved new coalition negotiations with the SPD by a crushing majority and without any significant debate - as if nothing had happened - although it was clear that the SPD would stick fast to its neo-liberal economy drive. Even by the beginning of November the new version of the “Red-Red” Berlin government had been finalised. And their first official action was the complete de-regulation of retail opening hours in Berlin - pure neo-liberalism.

The Blocked New Formation

The massive political exclusion of the “left Left” during the summer of 2006 and the Berlin regional politics of the PDS became a warning to all observers of obvious far-reaching divergences between words and deeds, between claims and reality. The PDS daily newspaper Neues Deutschland itself at the beginning of November 2006, in a detailed article reporting on the formation of the Berlin regional administration, was open about how the PDS had “haggled and traded in recent weeks’: “[I]t proceeds like a fairground; you give me your vote for mayor and I will support your planned allocation of departments of back up your proposal for the post of regional governor. Or - you back my mayor here and I’ll support your mayor next door. Everything has its price, everything is tradable.”

The leadership of the PDS had simply not allowed anything to stand in their way and consequently overrode any resistance or misgivings within or outside the party concerning their understanding of left politics. For them left politics is not the implementation of an emancipatory transformation through the alteration of the balance of social power, centrally requiring enlightenment and social and democratic mobilisation. Left politics is for them not an organisational contribution to radical democratic self-realisation for broad swathes of the populace; political responsibility is not the “quality of intervening actively in the process of bringing together social movements” (in Thomas Klein’s words). Their conception of politics is based on the logic of practical constraints provided by the political system. And political success expresses itself through recognition from above, correspondingly well-remunerated posts in the parliamentary system and public recognition for such activity in the political and administrative world of a media democracy. The historical experience of social democracy in the twentieth century is ignored; namely that by following this path they are integrated bit by bit into the mechanisms of the ruling political rationality, in which their emancipatory character continually unravels and they are pulled towards careerism and ambition, so that at any decision point they always subordinate themselves to the practical logic of capitalist rationality and so become unable to carry out even necessary reforms.

The renewed political disillusionment led first to the right, as the left felt their reservations about the project of a new left party to be confirmed and many of the “left Left” began once more to pull back from it. The Berlin WASG did not survive its political defeat for long, splitting and soon disintegrating. And the nationwide Left Opposition Network - next to the Anti-Capitalist Left a leading centre for the inner party left opposition - oriented itself increasingly on separating from the new left party.

Not the least expression of this political crisis was also the fact that left socialist intellectuals like Karl Heinz Roth - one of the few old radical leftists from West Germany to have viewed with sympathy the process of left regroupment - publicly drew back. Already in the summer of 2006, at the height of the anti-”sectarian” hysteria, he had drawn up a provisional balance sheet of the new formation and warned of the disillusionment confronting it - “because the approach of the united left party has nothing to do with socialist perspectives” (Roth). For the exponents and functionaries located in the structures of the new left party, so Roth argued at that time, the outstanding consequence of the election of the PDS and WASG lists in the federal elections would be its use as an “authorisation”; “for inducting the electoral bloc as soon as possible into the norms of representative democracy adopted by political parties and providing a corresponding “political foundation” for the parliamentary fraction”. Despite significant criticism from the ranks the leading groups of both the WASG and the PDS were to hold fast to a course through which they “excluded the essential strength of recent social optimism from the process of political formation” and “in these weeks destroyed the hopes nurtured for about two years of a consolidation of social resistance against the consequences of the contemporary capitalist cycle”.

Because the “social resistance between the Rhine and Oder [] simply will not go beyond fragmented movements and groupings” according to Roth, the formation of a new left party will be left to the leaders and functionaries among the elites. In East Germany we will have to reckon with an intellectual and political cadre who were more or less openly excluded by the “annexation” and have secured a possibility, through the new East German administrative structures and parliamentary legislatures and in the administration of local and district government, “of counteracting their continuous marginalisation, overcoming their status as the subordinate elite of an annexed region and finally entering the realm of the visible”. The PDS archipelago numbers between 8,000 and 10,000 cadre, who are well established in the East German executive and legislature and who through their authoritarian and methodical approach have helped to implement the socio-economic process of de-regulation. In the West, on the other hand, it was the social democratic and trade union based “traditional Keynesians” who were to lose their social and political foundation as a functional elite within social partnership with the neo-liberal revoking of class compromises. Both “functional elites” could not do without the “disciplinary ethic of the capitalist use of intensified labour” and seek, according to Roth, through the envisaged re-regulation of the dominant capitalist system, a new institutional beginning for themselves as well - as wage specialists and labour market policy makers.

So the first stage, as it were, of the process of forming a new German left, ended with a defeat for the “Left Left” and a victory for the political “pragmatists” and parliamentary functionaries of the old PDS. The ongoing political and organisational merger which took place in the first half of 2007 left a large part of the radical left and the left of the movements outside as observers. In March a set of programmatic “Key Points” were published which, in the eyes of many on the left, showed the supposed strength of the new organisation as a weakness in reality, and these were formally adopted in June as the foundation of the new party. The approach was to aim to struggle against the ruling neo-liberalism without analysing the capitalism on which it was based. There was a desire to combat the domination of inequality without speaking of the structures and mechanisms of class society. The new military aggression of German politics was to be attacked without putting militarism itself in question. And, last but not least, the need for a programmatic vision was set out but without any connection to political practice.

An expression of this politically stalled development is the struggle of the Linkspartei against the increasingly aggressive German foreign policy. Although the German troop deployment in Afghanistan was to be quantitatively and qualitatively increased in the summer of 2007, making Germany even more of a target for international terror organisations, and although all opinion polls continually showed that a clear majority of the German population fundamentally rejected these militarist policies, the new left party has shown itself to be unable to give this unease an effective political expression. Rather than mobilise the public, rather than organise discontent, resistance and street actions, they have limited themselves to their parliamentary work and have been content to take the broadening of military action before the Constitutional Court and to involve the population in a petition campaign. Yet questions of law are known to be questions of power and campaigns of letter and petition writing can easily be the best means of encouraging political problems and blocking the process of politicisation.

The objective dynamic on which the new formation is based continues, however. In the middle of May the new left party overcame the 5 per cent hurdle for the first time in a West German region and obtained a surprising 8.4 per cent in the city state of Bremen. Ever more defections by long-serving Social Democrats and trade unionists are leading to a constant increase in membership for the Linkspartei, to increasing attempts by social democracy to win back left terrain at least on a verbal level and to a slow, but ever clearer, breaking up of the German trade union movement. In addition leading trade unionists continue to make their political sympathy for the new left party public. And claimants as well as “de-classed” educated strata are increasingly being added to the party’s main electoral base. This gives the new party left around Oskar Lafontaine its strength within the party.

Yet still important parts of the radical and movement based left are missing. The old and new party left has only slowly reformed itself anew in the association of the “Anti-Capitalist Left” and remains clearly on the defensive following the defeats of recent years. They criticise the botched intervention of their party in the recent wave of strikes or the protests in the streets and fields of Heiligendamm against the G8 summit in summer 2007. And they try to counter the established traditional political culture of the new left party - the fact that the activists of the party are mostly elderly and male and imbued with the spirit of the trade union apparatus and with the bureaucratic organisational politics learned in the SPD. However, they have not offered a finished and popular political and programmatic alternative. And that becomes more apparent as the unresolved differences between currents and the mutual resentments which follow emerge more clearly. This in turn allowed the party right wing around Andre Brie to place itself publicly in opposition to Lafontaine in the summer of 2007.

The situation as regards new formations is therefore more complicated in Germany than is often recognised. The expectations of a large part of the population are still very high. And they will for a certain time carry the new party through to further successes. The issue is that of what will happen if the electorate in the next one or two years once more has the experience of seeing objective necessity and subjective possibility diverge, given that the left up until now has not been successful in creating a consistently thought through alternative to neo-liberalism with a mobilising potential. And what if the impression of the left of the movements strengthens further - the impression that parliamentary work solely serves the material security of those involved in it, but not the formulation and implementation of emancipatory changes in a society that has pressing need of such alternatives?

1. Behrend, M. (2006) Eine Geschichte der PDS. Von der zerbröckelnden Staatspartei zur Linkspartei ISP , Köln
2. Brie, Michael (2005) Die Linkspartei. Ursprünge, Ziele. Erwartungen Karl Diez Verlag , Berlin
3. Klein, Thomas (Klein, T. ed.) (1991) “Geteilte Linke in Vereinigten Deutschland? Ein Beitrag zur aktuellen Diskussion”.. Keine Opposition. Nirgends? Linke in Deutschland nach dem Sturz des Realsozialismus pp. 76-95. Christoph Links Verlag , Berlin
4. Roth, Karl Heinz (Roth, KH, Bischoff, J. and Lieber, C. eds.) (2006) “Erneuering des Sozialstaats? Eine Debatte mit Fallstrickern für die Formierung einer vereinigten Linkspartei in Deutschland”.. Sozialstaat - Nationalstaat - linke Alternativen. 5 , pp. 1-23. - Suppl. to Sozialismus
5. Spier, Tim (2007) Die Linkspartei. Zeitgemässe Idee oder Bündnis ohne Zukunft? Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften , Wiesbaden
6. Thompson, Peter (2005) The Crisis of the German Left: The Collapse of Communism, the Global Economy and the Second Great Transformation Berghahn , Oxford

1 Article translated by Andrew Kilmister.

2 For the history of the PDS up until the end of 2005 see Behrend.

3 Thompson has aptly shown why this was a false conclusion.

4 For the new Linkspartei see Brie; Spier.

5 More so than in other European countries the accusation of “Trotskyism” functions for the never really de-Stalinised German left as a derogatory insult to be used in political struggles.

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