Thursday, 31 January 2008

Germany: Electoral breakthrough for Die Linke

Statement by Die Linke central office, Karl-Liebknecht-Haus, Berlin

January 28, 2008 -- DIE LINKE (The Left) emerged successful from regional elections on Sunday, January 27, 2008, in the German federal states of Hesse and Lower Saxony. After the state of Bremen, where the party in May 2007 for the first time entered a West German federal state parliament, DIE LINKE will have parliamentarians in two further West German states.

In Lower Saxony (capital: Hannover), the party got 7.1% of the vote, while in Hesse (capital: Wiesbaden) it just stepped over the 5% threshold with 5.1%. In both counties, the big parties had tried to prevent DIE LINKE entering parliament with anti-communist campaigning.

In Hesse, the incumbent prime minister [premier] Roland Koch (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) failed with his strategy to win the elections with a polarising and populist election campaign, demanding draconian punishments for young delinquent immigrants. The CDU lost 12% and the absolute majority of the former CDU-FDP [Free Democrats] government. The rejection of the homophobic and racist rhetoric by the voters was widely commented as an encouraging signal.

The SPD [Social Democratic Party] election campaign was led by Andrea Ypsilanti, member of the left current of the SPD, and who appropriated important political messages of DIE LINKE (such as the minimum wage, reform of the school system and progressive tax reforms), trying to compete with DIE LINKE this way. DIE LINKE's top candidate in Hesse, Willy van Oeyen, a trade unionist and prominent representative of the German peace movement, announced that DIE LINKE would continue to pressure the SPD in order to make it act in the political direction it had promised during the election campaign. The composition of the future Hesse state government is still fairly vague because of the narrow majority situation.

In Lower Saxony, a structurally conservative state, DIE LINKE reached an unexpectedly high result. This might partly to be explained by the fact that no one had a doubt about a clear victory of the CDU and the incumbent Prime Minister Christian Wulff and his CDU-FDP coalition, unlike in Hesse where a neck-and-neck race between the two biggest parties had been expected. DIE LINKE's top candidate Tina Flauger announced that DIE LINKE would become a strong opposition force.

The German political landscape will be substantially changed by these two elections. A system of five relevant political parties is now being sustainably established, and thus not only at the national parliamentary level, but backed by the federal state parliaments.

Lothar Bisky, chairperson of DIE LINKE, stated in a press conference: “We have caused a shift of the political landscape. With regard to the total number of mandates, we are the third political force in Germany. DIE LINKE takes effect.” And he added: “We made a big step forward in our party building process. To enter the parliament in two big federal states is an important milestone and a breakthrough. We are now on the way towards the regional elections in Hamburg (February 24) and the local elections in Bavaria (March 2) and Schleswig-Holstein (May 25).”

Oskar Lafontaine, chairperson of DIE LINKE, said: “Even more important than the entry of DIE LINKE into parliament is to change by these elections the social climate in favour of all those who rely on social justice. I am predicting that in the question of the pension formula or in social policies, the CDU-SPD coalition will have to make concessions towards us, as they have suffered substantial losses in votes.” And referring to DIE LINKE positions in regional politics, he declared: “We are the party against privatisation, for the system of non-denominational schools, for studies free of charge, for the maintenance of energy and gas prices directed by municipalities, for safe jobs in public services, for tendering procedures implying social standards such as minimum wages.”

Another important vote took place last Sunday in the town of Leipzig: In the first referendum in the history of the city, 87% of the participating citizens voted against the privatisation of the municipal utility company. The referendum had been supported by DIE LINKE.

Hesse (polling: 2008 64.3%; 2003 64.6%):



CDU (Christian Democrats)

36.8 % (42 seats)

48.8 % (56 seats)

SPD (Social Democrats)

36.7 % (42 seats)

29.1 % (33 seats)

FDP (Liberal Democrats)

9.4 % (11 seats)

7.9 % (9 seats)

GRÜNE (Greens)

7.5 % (9 seats)

10.1 % (12 seats)


5.1 % (6 seats)

0.0 % (0 seats)

Other parties

4.4% (0 seats)

4.1% (0 seats)

Lower Saxony (polling: 2008 57.0%; 2003 67.0%):



CDU (Christian Democrats)

42.5 % (68 seats)

48.3 % (91 seats)

SPD (Social Democrats)

30.3 % (48 seats)

33.4 % (63 seats)

FDP (Liberal Democrats)

8.2 % (13 seats)

8.1 % (15 seats)

GRÜNE (Greens)

8.0 % (12 seats)

7.6 % (14 seats)


7.1 % (11 seats)

0.5 % (0 seats)

Other parties

3.9% (0 seats)

2.0% (0 seats)

Monday, 28 January 2008

Australian-Style Intervention of Indigenous Communities Moves to Brazil

Written by John Schertow
Wednesday, 23 January 2008

There's a new law being debated in Brazil that threatens to undermine the rights and livelihoods of all Indigenous people in this South American nation.

Through twisting the letter and intent of International Labour Organisation convention 169, among other International agreements and National legislation, this law proposes that Brazil perform a state-wide intervention campaign to "save" indigenous children from bad treatment, neglect, abuse, exploitation, and infanticide.

While not as comprehensive as the 700 pages of legislation that embodies the "Australian Intervention" this Brazilian equivalent poses an even greater danger. If legislated, it would allow state forces to enter all indigenous communities on a regular basis; and it would force Indigenous people to police themselves by making them legally obligated to denounce any community member who is or who may be harming children.

If they do not denounce such a person, or if someone is suspected to know something but declined to report it, they would then be punished similarly to those who harmed or may have harmed a child. Punishment would range from fines and incarceration to the state taking away the children or just adopting them out—most likely, to non-indigenous people.

Under the Cloak of Benevolence

As is the case with the Australian Intervention—this law, and the intent of those behind it must be called into question. At first glance, there are five main reasons for this:

1 It quite clearly subverts indigenous rights;
2 It blatantly mischaracterizes the facts to justify the alleged need for an 'intervention;'
3 It's entirely discriminatory;
4 It grossly criminalizes all indigenous people;
5 It would have an immeasurable impact on their everyday lives.

It's also important to note how this law would give the state of Brazil a prime, legal opportunity to incarcerate an entire indigenous community—leaving the land completely open for the state to do with it as they please. If this law becomes legislation, all it would take is for one indigenous person to say "everyone knew." There wouldn't even have to be any actual abuse - just the accusation would suffice.

As far as the intent goes, some months ago, Rita Laura Segato, from the Dept. of Anthropology, University of Brasilia, gave a presentation arguing against this the law - where she made it abundantly clear:

[A major concern is] with the gradual growth of punitive and criminalizing dimensions of State action in detriment of other kinds of action. Analysts criticize the fact that, while State agencies seem to concentrate more and more of their responsibilities upon punitive measures, they relegate sine-die other and more vital obligations. This law we came here to argue fits in precisely within this trend, endorsing the much lamented and condemned profile of the punitive State, a State that reduces its performance to the acts of force on and against the peoples whom it should protect and promote.

In his last book, The Enemy in Criminal Law2, the influential Argentine jurist Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni, today Minister of the Supreme Court, examines the contradiction between the principles of Democracy and the punitive State. Zaffaroni unveils the hidden transcript of the punishing State throughout history and, especially, in the contemporary context. What emerges is that penal juridical discourse unavoidably introduces the idea of an enemy, which unfolds from the category of the hostis in ancient Roman law. While Democracy is supposedly for all, criminal legislation speaks always, in either more hidden or more explicit ways, of the figure of an inimical other, for then to enshrine itself in opposition to it. Though the State belongs to all, it projects (and, as a matter of fact, e-jects), by means of Criminal law discourse, the figure of an other people, to then, as part of the same maneuver, claim it as enemy.

In the case of the law we debate, the enemy in Criminal law is each indigenous people, the radical difference they represent and their right to make their own history. This law criminalizes the village and attempts at punishing the other just for being other. The authors do not stand the possibility of existence of a collectivity that is not a part of them.

As for mischaracterizing the facts, this is expressly done in the author’s primary focus, which is on the abolition of the traditional practice of infanticide. While it's true that some indigenous cultures still practice this, it's nowhere near as prevalent as the authors suggest. The simple fact is it's a dying tradition that only a handful of Indigenous Cultures continue to exercise.

However, even if the practice of infanticide was as wide-spread as they claim, this type of legislation would simply not deter it from happening.

From a Judicial standpoint, Rita explains:

In the article "Truths and lies on the Criminal Justice System"3, sociologist Julita Lemgruber not only discloses the scarce effectiveness of the law among us, but also in the most policed countries of the world. Using quantitative research on Public Security in countries where such research is carried on with regularity, Julita states that in England and in the country of Wales, in the year of 1997

[…] of each one hundred crimes committed in that year, 45,2 were communicated to the police, 24 were registered, 5,5 were solved, 2,2 resulted in conviction and 0,3 ended in punishment by confinement. That is, in England, with a police force well more efficient than ours and a Judiciary much more agile, only 2.2% of offenses resulted in conviction of the criminals and only a trifle parcel of 0,3% of them received punishment by confinement.

Analogous study was carried in the United States in 1994, but considering only violent crimes (homicide, aggression, rape, robbery etc.), therefore crimes more important to investigate, solve and punish. However

[…] in a country with such rigorous criminal legislation as the U.S., the System of Criminal Justice acts as a true funnel, capturing parcels progressively smaller of crimes perpetrated in the society: for 3.900.000 cases of violence occurred in that year, only 143.000 (3.7%) resulted in conviction of authors, being 117.000 (3%) punished with confinement.

In the light of these data, the author characterizes as a "First Lie" the statement that the system of criminal justice can be considered an efficient inhibitor of crime.

Finally, this law would also have an immeasurable effect on the lives and cultures of all Indigenous People: the Ache, Amanyé, Awá, Enawene Nawe, Guaraní, Kayapo, Matsés, Quilombolo, Tupi, and Waorani to name a few.

In the least, it would instill a constant state of fear, mistrust and even paranoia; remove all forms of privacy, and fracture and impede regular life. In the extreme, it could become a catalyst for physical and cultural genocide.


Throughout history, some of the greatest atrocities were committed under the cloak of benevolence. I need only turn to America and say "Pox Blankets", to Canada and say "Residential Schools", to Australia and say "Protection Board."

Sadly, such a list could go on forever because it's a testament to the abhorrent nature of colonialism. The intervention proposed in this law fits in such a horrible accounting.

Overall, the dangers this intervention poses far exceed any of its real and imagined benefits. In the name of the children, it would act like a chainsaw - the sole purpose of which is it to rip apart Brazil's social, cultural and genetic rainforest.

It therefore must not become legislation.

Further Reading

You can find more articles by John Schertow at his blog, Intercontinental Cry

Photo by Antônio Cruz/Agência Brasil, republished here under a Creative Commons License

Converge on Canberra: Stand up for Aboriginal rights on Feb 12

Calling all Aboriginal people and supporters to converge on Canberra: Stand up for Aboriginal rights on the first day of the new parliament.

Tuesday, February 12 2008
Meet Aboriginal Tent Embassy 11:30am
March to Parliament for 1pm rally

Turn back Howard and Brough's racist legacy!

- Reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act
- Demand immediate review of the NT intervention
- End welfare quarantines, compulsory land acquisition and 'mission manager' powers
- Implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Aboriginal People
- Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs

In the final months of government, John Howard introduced a package of discriminatory, unfair and punative measures against Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. Aimed at controlling Aboriginal lives and land, the legislation was a stark violation of basic human rights and dignities.

Federal Labor is promising a new era in Aboriginal affairs. They are pledging to say sorry to the stolen generation and to sign the UN declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. They have promised to restore both the CDEP (Community Development and Employment Program) and the permit system, which will ameliorate some of the worst effects of the NT intervention.

Unfortunately there are aspects of ALP policy that is still disturbingly similar to the Liberals. Plainly discriminatory measures such as mandatory welfare quarantines, compulsory land acquisition and the presence of non-Aboriginal "business managers" with extraordinary powers are being suffered under right now. There has been no move to allow the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act. The cry for immediate review of the legislation coming from across the NT has been ignored.

The Labor Government must comply with accepted international human rights laws and standards of non discrimination, equality , natural justice and procedural fairness. Legislation being implemented in the NT breaches commitments Australia has made as a signatory to major human rights treaties and conventions; such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Human Rights Commission must immediately review the legislation to ensure compliance with these obligations.

The federal election revealed overwhelming opposition to the intervention among Aboriginal communities. When Labor MP's in affected areas emphasised political differences to the Coalition they consistently received over 80% of the vote; with 95% in the town of Wadeye.

Despite government claims that the intervention is a response to the Anderson & Wild "Little Children are Sacred" report, no new community-based services to ensure the safety and protection of children have been established, and there has been a notable duplication of services - particularly in the area of child health checks. There is an urgent need for delivery of essential services, infrastructure and programs genuinely targeted at improving the safety and well being of children and developed in consultation with communities. Huge amounts of public money have been wasted, with $88 million alone going towards bureaucrats to control Aboriginal welfare.

Moving Forward
A vibrant, mass convergence Canberra on the first day of parliament will be an important step in challenging the lingering legacy of Howard's racism. We can strongly push for an immediate end to what Aboriginal communities have themselves described as an invasion. We can send a strong signal to Kevin Rudd and his new government to put Aboriginal rights at the centre of their agenda; to massively increase the resources available to communities across Australia and to respect Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs.

Initiated by the Aboriginal Rights Coalition, Sydney

Shane Phillips 0414077631
Greg Eatock 0432050240

Endorsements from Aboriginal activists include:
Olga Havnen (Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the NT)
Barbara Shaw (Tangentyere council, Alice Springs)
Lez Malezer (Chairman, Global Indigenous People's Caucus UN,
Foundation Aboriginal Islander Rights Association)
Jackie Katona (CEO of Lumbu Indigenous Community Foundation, Djok clan)
Michael Mansell (Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre)
Sam Watson (Brisbane)
Mitch (Eastern Arrernte/Luritja activist from Alice Springs)
Robbie Thorpe (Melbourne)
Phil Falk (Senior Lecturer School of Law, Griffith Uni, Wiradjuri nation)
Linda Murphy (Lecturer, School of Arts, Griffith Uni)
Sandra Phillips (QUT)
Nicole Watson (Jumbunna, Sydney)
Heidi Norman (UTS)
Victor Hardt (Oodgeroo, QUT)
Shane Phillips (Redfern)
Peta Ridgeway (Newcastle)
Arthur Ridgeway (Newcastle)
Greg Eatock (Coordinator Deaths in Custody Campaign, Sydney)
Pat Eatock (Secretary, First Aboriginal Tent Embassy)

Supportive Organisations include:
Women for Wik
Indigenous Social Justice Association
Australians for Native Title and Reconcilliation (ANTaR SA)
Aboriginal Rights Coalition (Sydney)
Intervention Reform Coalition (Darwin)
Intervention Rollback Working Group (Alice Springs)
Alliance for Indigenous Self Determination (Melbourne)
Working Group for Aboriginal Rights (Canberra)
Australian Peace Committee (SA)

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Invasion Day statement, January 26, 2008, by Sam Watson

Invasion Day statement, January 26, 2008, by Sam Watson

Brisbane Indigenous community leader and Socialist Alliance member.

This Invasion Day, 2008, is the opportunity to commence a major change in the position of Indigenous rights in Australia. The time has come to show proper respect and sensitivity to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations, and allow a lengthy period so that there can be consultation across the indigenous communities and all our people are given the opportunity to be involved. The Reconciliation process was allowed 10 years and substantial resources to be undertaken, so the Stolen Generation should be given time for proper consideration.

The Rudd Labor government is showing disrespect for our people and our customs by rushing the process of an apology to the Stolen Generation, in order to serve the larger ALP political agenda. The government wants to make an apology on February 11 and 12, in order for the matter to be resolved and moved off the front pages of the newspapers, so they can concentrate on their bigger game of being re-elected in 2010.

I propose that there should be a national monument erected in front of Parliament House to honor the victims. This moment, when the Australian government offers up an apology will become a significant and defining moment in the short history of this nation.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin still haven’t made any attempt to meet with the genuine leaders of the Aboriginal community. We endorse Macklin’s decision to close down the National Indigenous Advisory Council, which is only a handful of Howard’s puppets.

However, the new government now needs to put into practice genuine consultation with the Aboriginal people, in order to make a real apology and to begin to right the wrongs of the past – including offering real compensation to the Stolen Generations.

We must reject the invasion of the Northern Territory by the previous government, and any attempt to extend this intervention to Queensland or other state. We need to seriously challenge Black deaths in custody, and continued discrimination against Indigenous people in all areas of society.

We call on the Australian people to mobilize to defend human rights in all sectors of our country, as well as internationally. Australia needs to recognize that the wealth of this society was gained from the stolen land and resources of the Indigenous people.

Now is the time to remember this history by negotiating a Treaty to truly recognize the rights of the original people of this country, and to provide fair compensation for the theft of their land and resources.

We call on all supporters of Indigenous rights to rally in Canberra, at the opening of federal parliament on February 12, to defend the interests of the Stolen Generations and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

For more information, contact Sam on 0401 227 443; or Paul on 07 3831 2644.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Gregor Gall: Unity is possible - look at Europe...

While this article from Scottish Left Review is aimed at the recent almost tabloid collapse of the Scottish left and the messy split of RESPECT! in England, the lessons it fingers - of the various left-unity projects in Europe, and particularly the successes that have come there - remain especially relevant for the Left in Australia, as it struggles to gain a meaningful foothold in a landscape dominated by the ALP, and, moreso for our purposes, the Greens.

While lessons from half a world away are only part of the syllabus, they need to be studied in detail, and relevant experiences tested on the local scene. That is why the wombats have reproduced the piece below.
Gregor Gall argues that it is time the Scottish left began to think about how it can work together again. To find ways forward he looks at examples from across Europe which he argues provide hope that progress is possible.

The radical left unity projects in Scotland (the SSP) and England (Respect) made small but significant electoral breakthroughs between 2003 and 2005. However, their implosion in the last two years as result of internal disputes and splits has cast doubt on whether the radical left can ever move away from its Life of Brian depiction of incessant hair-splitting on questions of political purity, much less exercise any influence on the political process. However, the objective conditions of hegemonic neo-liberalism, continuing imperialism and the decomposition of social democracy demand that the idea of a radical left unity projects is not jettisoned for reasons of any short-term difficulties. For the radical left, in these aforementioned conditions, to be a credible option for a growing body of disillusioned and progressive opinion, unity and cooperation amongst itself are vital. Uniting the radical left together is not just about making one new alliance or organisation the sum of its constituent parts so that it is not divided, important though that is. Rather, it is about making the new organisation more than the sum of its parts. Therefore, unity can help prefigure growth of members and influence through pooling resources, pushing in the same direction, working to common priorities and being more credible to wider social movements and the like.

Unity can take different forms. The basic form is working together in genuine, full and trusting ways in campaigns, while the higher forms involve electoral alliances and organisational fusions. Joint-working or electoral alliances may be the pre-figurative basis for subsequent organisational fusion. For any of these forms of collective working to be possible, respect and tolerance of differences are vital while differences must also be discussed constructively. Unity must be achieved on the foundation of openly discussing and resolving differences for ‘paper’ unity will dissolve when strong differences emerge. But the basis of collective working together in the same electoral alliances and party organisations must be that overwhelming consensus on the grand political questions of our age amongst the radical left forms the bedrock of a common ideology for radical left unity, from which questions of how to operate are secondary and subject to fraternal discussion and debate. This has often been described as the ‘80:20 equation’, where the 20 per cent of disagreement is not allowed to get in the way of agreement and action on the 80 per cent of issues where there is common ground and consensus. Consequently, to facilitate agreement (the 80 per cent) and fraternal discussion (on the 20 per cent), radical left projects must be characterised by pluralism, openness and relative broadness, with some degree of interim internal autonomy to the pre-merger constituent parts.

Mindful of this, this article presents short, thumb nail sketches of the radical left unity projects in continental Europe before making some preliminary conclusions about what they can teach us in Scotland and Britain. It should not be assumed that all radical and far left groups and parties in each of the countries covered are involved in the radical left unity projects outlined below. Indeed, the communist parties with sizeable numbers of elected representatives still exist in Portugal, France, Italy and Greece outside radical left unity projects and here both radical left unity projects and sizeable communist parties exist alongside a plethora of other assorted leftists groups. Even outside the radical left unity projects - where they exist - other left and progressive groups and forces exist so the unity projects are not ‘finished products’. And in Belgium and Sweden, long-existing left parties predominate so there have been no radical left unity projects. Nonetheless, the following survey gives some idea of what happened, when and why. Readers are urged to use the free encyclopedia, Wikipedia (, to learn more about these projects and their components part by typing in the name of each country, finding the section on politics, then political parties. From here, there are entries and links to the various organisations’ own websites (some of which are in English).


The Red-Green Alliance was formed as an electoral alliance in 1989 by three leftwing parties (left social democrats, communists and Trotskyists) with Maoists joining in 1991. The Alliance then developed into an independent party based on individual membership, with the founding parties having no official influence and a majority of members not having has a past in one of the founding organisations parties. It then gained parliamentary representation in 1994, having six MPs (three per cent vote) in the 2005 elections and four MPs (two per cent) in the 2007 elections.


The Left Alliance is a green socialist party, formed from the merger of the People’s Democratic League, the Women’s Democratic League, and the Communist Party in 1990. Given the different political persuasions, divisions have been common with defections to the social democrats and the forming of a new communist party. Electoral performance has ranged from 17 to 23 MPs (nine per cent-11 per cent) for the parliament to 1,000 to 1,300 councillors (10 per cent-12 per cent vote) and one to two MEPs (nine to 10 per cent vote).


In addition to the Communist Party, there are three Trotskyist parties, of which the larger two (Lutte Ouvrière and Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR)) have jointly worked together on a sporadic basis in the electoral arena (regional, presidential, European). However, their enmity towards each other is also marked although the LCR has recently made a call for a broader, anti-capitalist party to be created. It remains to be seen what the reactions of the other two Trotskyist parties, Communist Party and social movements are to this.


The Coalition of the Left of Movements and Ecology is commonly known as Synaspismos or SYN. Until 2003, it was called the Coalition of the Left and Progress and is a major component of the parliamentary Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). SYN emerged initially as an electoral coalition in the late 1980s, with two communist parties being its largest constituents, and securing over 10 per cent of the vote in parliamentary elections and a substantial number of MPs. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the coalition moved to become a party in 1991. Electoral fortunes were mixed in the early to mid-1990s but parliamentary representation was secured (10 MPs in 1996 on five per cent vote, two MEPs in 1999 on five per cent vote). In elections in 2000, SYN was supported by left ecologists, gaining just over three per cent of the vote and six MPs. In parliamentary elections of 2004, SYN together with several smaller left and left ecologists parties formed SYRIZA alliance. The alliance with the smaller parties was formed again at the end of 2005, providing a firm basis the 14 MPs gained on a five per cent vote in the 2007 parliamentary elections, which makes SYN the fourth biggest party. SYN also has many councillors, being the third biggest party in local government, and a sizable, semi-autonomous youth wing. SYN aspires to be an ‘umbrella’, where people of varying left ideological and theoretical backgrounds can find a natural home. Therefore, SYN members are encouraged to form and participate in internal platforms which mount open discussions and publish magazines, but may not work against party policy. These platforms are invited to put forward theses on party policy and strategy at triennial congresses.

SYRIZA’s genesis arose in a forum of the radical left in 2001 called the Space of Left Dialogue and Common Action, which in turn led to an electoral alliance for the 2002 local elections, and provided the basis for its formal establishment in 2004. However after the 2004 election, the smaller parties accused SYN of not honouring an agreement to have one of its MPs resign so a member of one of the smaller parties could take the seat. This crisis led SYN to run independently from the rest of the Coalition for the 2004 European elections but later in that year SYN returned to SYRIZA. By 2007, several new radical left and green organisations joined SYRIZA, helping it secure its breakthrough.


The important development of Die Linke, fusing together the former PDS, a breakaway section from the social democrats (SPD) and various far left groups is an important development. It is amply analysed in Victor Grossman’s article in this edition of the magazine. Suffice it to note The Left has polled eight to 13 per cent, is the only left party in Parliament (unless one still views the SPD and the Greens as left-of-centre) and has become the strongest of the oppositional parties. The German Communist Party (DKP), the traditional party of the left in western Germany, retains some roots among some workers and students. Although often critical of the Left, it supports The Left in elections and has friendly ties to that party’s Communist Platform. The newer Communist Party of Germany (KPF) also has some such ties but rarely supports The Left. There are also smaller Maoist and Trotskyist parties or groups, very visible at demonstrations, as well as ecological and immigrant groups and the anti-globalisation Attac.


In 1991, when the Italian Communist Party became the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS), dissidents founded Communist Refoundation (PRC) as a party to unite all communists. It was joined by Proletarian Democracy, a Trotskyist party. PRC was led by Fausto Bertinotti, a long-time CGIL union leader (from 1994-2006), helping it achieve nine per cent in the 1996 election. The party’s MPs supported and then opposed the Olive Tree centre-left coalition leading to its fall and a split in PRC with the setting up of the Party of Italian Communists. In 2004, PRC joined the centre-left opposition, The Union, entering government when it won power in 2006. The decision to participate in the coalition government, particularly in light of the government’s policy on Afghanistan and Lebanon, attracted much criticism. Internally, the PRC has recognised tendencies ‘Being Communists’, Critical Left (which quit in 2007) and the Communist Project (which quit in 2006). PRC has around 70 MPs currently based on gaining seven per cent votes.


The Left was formed in 1999 by activists from existing political parties (communist, New Left, Revolutionary Socialist Party and Socialist Workers’ Party) and won three per cent vote and one MP in that year. But a dispute between the communists and the majority of the Left led to both running separately in the 2004 elections, with the Left losing its MP.


Although the Socialist Party (originating from a Maoist communist party in 1972) is currently larger in parliamentary terms, GreenLeft is a larger extra-parliamentary organisation. It began life as an alliance of four parties (communists, socialists, greens and Christians). Initially, it had 16 MPs in 1972 but this fell to six in 1977, precipitating further cooperation albeit of an uneven outcome involving splits from each party and leading to a situation where only two of the four parties had just three MPs between them by 1986. This increased the pressure for full fusion, particularly from unions and environmentalists. In 1989, an interim organisation was formed for the 1989 European elections, leading to the creation of GreenLeft in 1990 as a party and the dissolution of the four former parties. Again this precipitated splits, leading to the formation of splinter groups. Political unity was slowly fashioned out of diverse opinion, although divisions remained over issues of Kosovo, Afghanistan and individual freedom. Between 1990 and 2007, GreenLeft has had between nine and 19 MPs, one and four MEPs, 50-odd members of provincial legislatures and tens of other elected position in local government.


The Socialist Left Party was founded in 1975 although it began life in 1973 as the Socialist Electoral League (SEL), an alliance of the Socialist People’s Party, Communist Party of Norway, Democratic Socialists and independent Socialists following the victory for the ‘No’ campaign in the European Community referendum of 1972. In the 1973 elections, the SEL achieved an 11 per cent vote and 16 MPs. However, as SEL moved to become a party with its constituent parties disbanding, the Communist Party left, and it was not until the late 1980s that its first level of electoral success was repeated. In 2005, with nine per cent vote and 15 MPs it joined the centre-left Red-Green government coalition. Meanwhile, the Red Electoral Alliance (REA) was founded in 1973 as an election front for the Maoist communist party, becoming its own independent party in 1991. From 1993 to 1997, REA had one MP but despite recording its highest ever vote (two per cent), it lost its seat and failed to regain it in 2005 with a lower vote (one per cent) although it maintained around 60 councillors. This retrenchment led in 2007 to a fusion with the Maoist communist party to form Red.


Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda, LB) was founded in 1999 from a number of far-left parties from Maoist, Trotskyist and communist backgrounds. All of these parties had stood in elections and became currents within the LB. Initially developed as a coalition, the LB has since become a party while its constituent components have maintained their existence and some levels of autonomy, leading to a loose structure. This structure may also provide an umbrella for other interested socialist organisations. In 1999, the LB polled two per cent in the Portuguese parliamentary election with this rising to three per cent in 2002. These results were generally better than the collective results of its predecessor components. In 2005, the LB achieved a breakthrough with 6.5 per cent and eight MPs. It also has one MEP and many local councillors, making it Portugal’s fifth biggest party. The LB’s presidential candidate in 2006 received 288,224 votes (five per cent). With support from students and unions in particular, the LB is becoming to be seen as a credible left alternative to the older, more established communist party and the more centre-left socialist party because it has become a pole of attraction for many involved in various social movements. The BL proposed Portugal’s first law on domestic violence, which was passed in parliament with the support of the socialist party.

Portugal is unusual in that it has another radical left unity project, the Unitarian Democratic Coalition (UDC), consisting of the Communist Party, the Ecologist Party and Democratic Intervention. The coalition was formed in 1987 to run in the simultaneous national and European parliamentary elections, and in every election since these parties have stood together at the UDC, even though the Communist Party is the major element within it. Tensions are minimalised by the sharing out of lead candidatures. Since 1987 the UDC has had in: the national parliament between 12 and 31 MPs (eight to 12 per cent vote); local government in excess of 200 councillors (11 to 13 per cent vote); and the European Parliament two to four MEPs (nine per cent to 14 per cent vote).


United Left (Izquierda Unida) was formed as a political coalition in 1986 during the mobilisations against NATO by several groups of leftists, greens, left-wing socialists and republicans but was always dominated by the Communist Party. After the electoral decline of the Communist Party in 1982 (from 10 per cent to three per cent), the UL slowly improved its electoral results reaching nine per cent in 1993 (1.8 million votes) and 11 per cent in 1996 (2.6m votes). From 1999, it went into decline, with its support slipping to five per cent in 2000. In that election it signed a pact with the Socialist Party. Following the tradition of the Spanish left, the UL does not have an organisation in Catalonia. Until 1998, UL’s counterpart in Catalonia was Iniciativa per Catalunya (IC-V). But IC-V moved towards the centre, and broke relations with the UL, leading the UL to set up its own organisation in Catalonia, Esquerra Unida i Alternativa (EUiA). In 2004, UL ran with IC-V, achieving five per cent and five MPs. UL has around 70,000 activists and more than 2,500 councillors. Founded in 1995, Alternative Space is a political organisation from a Trotskyist tradition but draws on anti-capitalist, feminist and ecologist perspectives following the different currents that formed it. It operates as a current with UL but is also an autonomous organisation and most of its members do not belong to this coalition.


In Switzerland, the radical left consists of three groups (Alternative List, Solidarites, Swiss Party of Labour) which have a smattering between them of elected representatives at the various levels. However, they worked together in coalitions when standing for elections in 2005 (as Left Alliance) and 2007 (as À gauche toute! Genève).

Lessons for the Scottish and British radical left

This brief cook’s tour around the most significant western European radical left unity projects has a number of lessons:

  • What seem like disparate groups can work and fuse together (although it is interesting to note that in nearly all instances they do not include members of sister organisations of the Socialist Party (ex-Militant) in Britain and where they include members of sister organisations of the British Socialist Workers’ Party, these members have no significant influence on the radical left unity projects). Working together and, ultimately, fusing is often brought about by prior campaigning activities and joint electoral slates. Of course, while such fusion should be welcomed in itself, sometimes the underlying recognition is that individual parties have often ceased to be credible or influential players on their own so fusion is required to regain some kind of radical left critical mass.
  • The degree of success for the radical left unity projects is sufficiently high that acquiring further knowledge about them, if not trying to emulate them, is desirable. This can be gauged by their presence in representative legislatures and membership numbers, particularly amongst members from formerly-aligned, non-aligned and independent backgrounds. However, success in attracting left members from social democratic, Labour-type parties has been less evident.
  • Despite successes, radical left unity projects do suffer from ups and downs reflecting wider changes in society, struggle and consciousness - in other words, left unity does not guarantee inexorable upward momentum.
  • Engaging in the electoral arena is vital but so is campaigning in extra-parliamentary terms outside elections (although this has been more difficult to show in this cook’s tour). Indeed, it would be a strange notion to counter-pose the two - elections and campaigning - as at cross purposes with each other.
  • Splits do take place, either as a result of deeply held policy differences or the reluctance to consent to the dissolution of an organisation upon fusing with others. However, fusion need not led to this outcome depending on the process and nature of fusion. Seldom have splits come about because of entering government coalitions - this will remain the great test of these projects given that any government in the foreseeable future in any of the European countries is likely to be dominated by neo-liberal, bellicose parties.
  • The history of radical left unity far pre-dates the watershed of the rise of the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements in the new millennium.
  • Different ‘models’ exist of radical left unity and activists should look at which they think are most appropriate to their situation.
  • Some Green/ecologist parties and organisations have been involved but this is far from standard practice and given an impending environmental catastrophe, opening up avenues to the left of the Green movement is an important future task for the radical left unity projects.

Clearly, a long way still has to be travelled until an alternative is built to the crumbling edifice of mainstream social democracy but these projects provide food for thought and for action.

Professor Gregor Gall is Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Hertfordshire and author of ‘The Political Economy of Scotland - Red Scotland? Radical Scotland’ (University of Wales Press, 2005). He lives in Edinburgh.

Germany: Elections coming up in Hesse and Niedersachsen

This Sunday, January 27, there will be two simultaneous state elections in Germany: in the centre of finance capital, Hesse, and in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony). In Hesse at least, the country's new left-wing party Die Linke ("The Left") looks likely to make the five percent necessary to make history and send a representative to state parliament.

In this they are likely to be aided by popular outrage (even Günter Grass weighed in) at the xenophobic comments made by incumbent right-wing CDU governor Roland Koch in the wake of the assault on a pensioner in December. While Koch is no longer banging on about "young, foreign criminals" (comments, and an approach, for which the far-right NPD began to give him glowing comments), he has shifted his campaign focus to the "dangers" presented by leftist politicians and their ideas, which might be of even more use for Die Linke, if they can keep their act together and exploit the attention.

Their lead candidate is Willi van Ooyen, a veteran of the German pacifist movement and long-time unionist. However, all is not as it seems within Die Linke in Hesse (nor, indeed, at large): van Ooyen's candidature was imposed by the national headquarters in Karl Liebknecht House, Berlin, on the local Hesse branch, which is pack full of "unruly Maoists, Trotskyists, post-Maoists and post-Trotskyists", after they chose to pre-select the publicly communist Pit Metz for candidate.

There are also indications that van Ooyen favours the idea of working with the SPD and perhaps the Greens to break the power of the right-wing CDU on a national level. While this makes a certain degree of sense on a formal level, with the ostensible 'left' having a majority nationally that is made ineffectual by it's division into three parties, it is based on a potentially quite flawed and dangerous analysis, and one which is a bone of contention in Die Linke itself (not to mention the SPD) - that is, that the SPD and Die Linke both can and should work together. (Not to mention the Greens, who are still salivating over the invasion of Afghanistan, and sufferign internal ructions because of it).

The SPD itself has tacked leftwards a little recently, specifically to counter the effect of Die Linke on its popular base, even up to the point of symbolically reversing some (but not all) of it's highly unpopular "Agenda 2010" policy. In fact, the SPD is refusing even the idea of a coalition with Die Linke, at least at the national level, and especially in the West, where the scars of the recent split that led to the formation of Die Linke are still raw. It actually appears to be more obsessed with eradicating them, a task at which they will almost certainly fail, with yet-to-be-ascertained repercussions. The result in Hesse is likely to be an indication, and an important one, of whether their leftwards tack has succeeded.

By contrast, Die Linke, as a whole, is not opposed to collaboration. In Berlin, for example, they have been in coalition government with the SPD for some time, enforcing what can only be called neoliberal policies, to their own detriment in the polls and forcing a grass-roots rebellion. While this approach is more accepted in the East (where Die Linke is more dominated by members of the old PDS than the West (where the WASG dominates), it poses a potential point of ideological and practical divergence that may harm Die Linke in the future, especially as their polling results improve.

It is also important to note the relationship between falling support for Die Linke and rising support for the far-right (and vice-versa). There is certainly a trend in some areas, such as Berlin, that suggests that parties such as the NPD could benefit from disillusionment with Die Linke's bankrupt coalition in Berlin.

Still, a win for Die Linke in Hesse would be an almost unprecedented step in German politics since WWII. As Oskar Niedermayer, professor of political science at Berlin's Free University points out:

“By entering the parliament of a large west German state for the first time, the Left party would prove to voters and the bigger parties that it is here to stay.”

The very serious question that flows from that then becomes, what are they going to do with it? The wombats will be bringing more regular updates on Germany in the future as this exciting process unfolds.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Palestine: A day at the breach

Hamas planned blast for months

By Amira Hass
From Haaretz, 24 January 2008

Yesterday around 3 A.M., the people of Rafah were awakened by a series of blasts - between 15 and 20, people said. The hospital in Rafah was put on advance alert to prepare for those who might be injured by Egyptian bullets. People started heading toward the blast sites, but a source who knew about the plan ahead of time told Haaretz Hamas men prevented them from going over to the Egyptian side before sunrise. At 6 A.M., the first people started to cross over to Egypt, and their numbers steadily increased. The market on the Egyptian side of Rafah opened early in honor of the visitors.

Butheyneh, about 40, said she did not hear the explosions. She found out about the breach around 8 A.M. and at 9 headed with her two sisters-in-law and two of her children toward Egyptian Rafah. "We were hoping to buy a few things we needed, there are a lot of things we need, but mainly we felt like getting out, seeing people, feeling like we were out of jail," she said yesterday over the phone.

The Egyptians did not allow Palestinian vehicles to cross to their side of Rafah, but they did allow horse and donkey-carts. Egyptian police, who watched those going back and forth without checking anyone, prevented Egyptian drivers from transporting Gazans outside of Rafah, although some drivers managed to do so by side roads, charging high fees - about 300 Egyptian pounds, according to Rami, of the Shabura refugee camp. But even if they had been allowed to transport people, there would not have been enough cars. Thousands of people began walking toward El Arish. Egyptian Rafah began running out of essential products that cannot be found in Gaza and whose prices are very high: cheese, concrete, iron, oil. diesel, cigarettes, foam mattresses, cleaning materials, flour, glass plates, mats, blankets. "The prices will go up in no time," Butheyneh said. She knew that cheese was cheaper in Egypt, but was asked to pay as much for it as Egyptian cheese smuggled through the tunnels from Rafah.

The lack of concrete has made it difficult to bury the dead; the lack of foam mattresses has meant weddings have been postponed.

Although the Egyptians raised the price of cigarettes in a few hours because of the demand, their price in the Gaza Strip plummeted, from as high as NIS 24 to NIS 10 a pack

Buses and trucks arrived at the breach constantly all day long from all over the Strip. Many families came to satisfy their children's request "to go on a trip to Egypt." Some went to see relatives not seen for some time, children jumped at the chance for a bag of potato chips. The sense of joy at freedom was entwined with great fatigue because of the crowds and the long walk.

Some stayed overnight in Egypt, although most went for a few hours. When they returned, Hamas police checked their belongings, especially people carrying large cartons, looking for drugs and weapons. Butheyneh, who did not buy anything, saw hashish in someone's belongings. He was immediately arrested. Rumor had it that Fatah men had weapons, and they were immediately confiscated.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Stop NSW ALP'S Electricity Privatisation

by Noreen Navin (via Togs' Place)

Privatisation of any aspect of the state's electricity service or its infrastructure should be ardently opposed. Revenue raised from production and supply of electricity for the government to be re-distributedinto our public schools, public hospitals, public transport and other services will be delivereddirectly into the hands of the private sector who have no social responsibility to the Australian public.

Despite the great performance of our public schools and hospitals, they are in desperate need of upgrading. It is socially irresponsible for any government to sell its assets, particularly a money spinner such as the electricity.

The next implication for NSW residents, as demonstrated historically both in Victoria and abroad (Thatcher’s England and San Fransisco for example), is the increased costs and decreased efficiency.

The private sector has only one imperative and that isthe profit imperative.

It is in the corporate sector's interests, as we saw clearly with the support by the Business Council of Australia for the Howard Governments' Workchoices regime, that profits are gained at the expense of employees' wages and conditions. Any employees who manage to maintain their jobs in a privately owned institution are subject to the provisions deemed appropriate by the employer and the basic protections and entitlements that public service workers enjoy currently may easily be removed.How different would this be for these employees than if they were subjected to the Coalitions’ Workchoices?

The ALP machine needs to take heed of the message of the community about Howard's neo-liberal policies which were rejected and take heed that the community will fight this issue as vehemently as they fought against the attack on our working lives.

As public service employees, teachers should be in solidarity with other public sector workers and seethat disadvantaging one group is an attack on all.

Unions kicked the campaign off with a mass meeting of electricity delegates late last year. Now, a mass delegates meeting of all public sector unions to co-ordinate the next stage of the campaign with maximum rank and file involvement and participation is needed, if we are to prevent the sell off of this vital publicly owned asset.

Resolutions should be passed at Union and Community meetings to call on Unions NSW to urgently organise a bigger response to this issue than the YR@W response. Serious leadership is required as the vote Howard out – vote ALP in strategy is not an option this time!

Noreen Navin is a New South Wales Teachers Federation State Councillor

Stop The Sell Off of the NSW Power Industry

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.