Models and humanitarian myths
Die Linke is plumbing ever greater opportunist depths, writes Ben Lewis
The twists and turns, the international alliances and intrigues in the unfolding human tragedy that is the Islamic State’s barbaric siege of Kobanê pose many challenges to both bourgeois and working class political ideas. Hence we have the spectacle of US bombing in support of People’s Defence Units, officially branded a “terrorist organisation”, supplying arms to the useless Free Syria Army and urging Turkey to intervene. Of course, the FSA has been selling arms to Isis and the first people the Turkish army would attack would be the Kurds. The left too is showing all the signs of strategic incoherence.
The Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain is now calling for the ‘den of thieves’ that is the United Nations to provide aid, including military aid, to the Kurds1 and - as this paper has reported2 - 12 MPs from the Danish Red-Green Alliance, some of whom are comrades from the Fourth International (Socialist Resistance on these shores) recently voted in favour of sending a Danish airforce Hercules to Iraq. And there is one formation, still much beloved by some Left Unity comrades, which is to all intents and purposes gone over to drum-banging pro-imperialism: the German Left Party, Die Linke.
A shocking statement headed ‘Save Kobanê’3 was recently issued by 14 leading Left Party members. 12 of them belong to the party’s Bundestag fraction and one happens to be a certain Stefan Liebich, Die Linke’s representative on the parliamentary foreign affairs committee. The statement is not directed at the forces of the world working class movement to generate solidarity, but at the German government for not sufficiently lining up behind the US-led intervention: after all, the German government is only sending weapons to the Peshmerga (something that leading MP Gregor Gysi was quick off the mark to agitate for), but is not getting involved in the bombing raids. The statement declares: “The correct call for an expansion of humanitarian assistance to the victims and those affected by the war in Iraq and Syria, which the Left Party supports, is not enough to stop the IS terrorist militia.”
In other words, Die Linke has bought into the myth of ‘humanitarian intervention’ hook, line and sinker. It is quite remarkable, in the face of so many disastrous self-styled ‘humanitarian’ misadventures in the recent past, that this nonsense still has any purchase at all. Yet it must be said that Die Linke’s attitude on controversial questions such as imperialist intervention and the role of Israeli expansionism has been increasingly wanting in the recent past.4 The seeds of such rotten anti-working class politics have been germinating for quite some time.
Take the party’s ‘Erfurt programme’, agreed back in 2011. In light of the recent statement by Die Linke, it should serve as a stark reminder that fudged platitudes and hollow pledges at the expense of clear principles fundamentally facilitate the growth of rightwing, pro-capitalist politics. While the programme pledges that the party would never join a government that “carries out wars or allows combat missions of the German army abroad” (cough!) or “presses ahead with armaments and militarisation”, it also bemoans the “violence and wars” that are often carried out in violation of the United Nations charter, calling for measures which can “reform” and “strengthen” this institution. This was even followed by an utterly bizarre call for a ‘Willy Brandt corps’ (Brandt was the chancellor of Germany from 1969-74) of German doctors and technicians to help in humanitarian causes abroad. But now it seems that leading party figures would like these volunteers to carry a lot more by way of weaponry.
The ‘statement of the 14’ even goes as far as to call on the UN to “now finally unite together behind secretary general Ban Ki Moon and meet without delay to discuss and decide a joint response under the UN charter for the maintenance of international security”. Further: “It is the responsibility and duty of the security council ‘to take effective collective measures to prevent and overcome the threats to peace, to suppress acts of aggression and other breaches of the peace’” - almost textbook sabre-rattling rhetoric in the name of ‘peace’.
If the left in the party is to combat these latest moves, it cannot do so by appealing in the name of the party’s programme. The whole damn document was essentially designed to hold the door open to such manoeuvres. As of yet, however, what remains of the left in the party seems to have been largely keeping quiet.5
Interestingly, the CPB and Die Linke appear to share a common illusion: the ‘humanitarian’ or democratic credentials of the United Nations,6 a common notion in the anti-war movement (one need only think of the late Tony Benn’s views on this matter). As the Middle East descends further into catastrophe, these illusions in the UN and ‘humanitarian interventions’ are likely to become more common. Fortunately, though, as far as I can see, there are no motions in this vein that have been submitted to Left Unity’s forthcoming policy conference in November.
Another cryptically formulated section of Die Linke’s programme revolves around the question of government participation both nationally and at state level. And - quelle surprise - the party’s record on this matter is also a disaster. Die Linke, or its mainly East German forerunner, the Party of Democratic Socialism, has participated in local so-called ‘red-red’ coalitions with the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) at state level in Berlin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg. None of these lash-ups have exactly seen an expansion of the party’s support, but precisely the opposite, as the party provides ‘left’ cover for cuts and attacks on the working class. Yet this experience does not prevent leading members from clamouring for further ministerial posts and more such coalitions.
Following September’s state elections in Thuringia, where Die Linke won an impressive 28%, there are two possible government coalition options: an agreement between the SPD (which polled just 12%) and the Christian Democrats (which would reflect the ‘grand coalition’ at a national level) and a ‘red-red’ agreement between Die Linke and the SPD. The latter option would see Die Linke’s main candidate, Bodo Ramelow, become its first ever minister-president at state level, much to the excitement of the party’s careerist types. The outcome now depends on a referendum being conducted amongst the SPD membership locally, which will choose the preferred partner.
Those like Ramelow have been pulling out all the stops to appear as a ‘responsible’ partner for the SPD and, of course, for German capitalism. Even before the election Ramelow was playing footsie with the SPD, insisting that there were no “knock-out criteria” for coalition talks with the SPD and that all “political issues at a state level could be solved through negotiations”. In 2009, the party had wanted to talk openly about - you guessed it - “foreign interventions on the part of the German army”. Ramelow even made clear that he was willing to compromise with the despised Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which Die Linke has actually pledged to abolish.7
As we have noted above, in nearby Brandenburg Die Linke was actually one of the incumbent parties, having entered into a ‘red-red’ coalition in 2009. Predictably, its share of the vote fell, from 27.2% to 18.6%, but the ‘red-red’ coalition will now continue for another term. The SPD appears more than happy with the work of its partner, particularly now that it is in a much weaker position electorally. Of course, such coalitions serve to strengthen what is the goal of many in Die Linke, and has been for some time: national government alongside the SPD.
Doing politics differently?
Die Linke, as this paper has documented since its foundation in 2007, has always been a car crash waiting to happen. Yet the odd thing is the extent to which many on the left in Britain saw it as some kind of ‘left of Labour’ model to aspire to on these shores. It figured in the motivations of those who were behind the foundation of Left Unity in Britain. Take the party’s national secretary, Kate Hudson, for example. Writing in 2012 about the formation of post-1991 leftwing formations, she stated that the one kind of regroupment that “has actually had a positive impact on economic and social struggles and advanced the working class over the past 20 years” is represented by “those parties that formed the new European left and which had two particularly significant characteristics”. She continues:
Whether or not they retained the name ‘communist’, they certainly retained a commitment to Marxist politics, to an anti-capitalist perspective, taking account of the realities of European and world politics at the end of the 20th century. Many also showed a considerable capacity for open political debate and renewal, drawing on and opening up to feminism, environmental and anti-racist politics.
But, most unusually, in many cases these parties either initiated or participated in a realignment of left forces, often working with organisations that would previously have been regarded as politically hostile. This included allying with or even merging with the electorally insignificant, but very active, new left organisations - often based on a Trotskyist political orientation - which had expanded dramatically after 1968. Such groups participated in Spain’s United Left, merged with the left wing of the Italian Communist Party to found the Party of Communist Refoundation, were included in the electoral lists of Germany’s Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and eventually joined its successor party, Die Linke, and were invited to participate in common actions and debates initiated by the French Communist Party.8
Would comrade Hudson still, in 2014, argue that Die Linke is exhibiting a “commitment to Marxist politics” or “an anti-capitalist perspective” in its calls for ‘humanitarian’ United Nations intervention and by administering capitalism at a local state level?
Left Unity aspires to “doing politics differently” and is indeed organising a speaker tour alongside the new Spanish left organization, Podemos, and Syriza from Greece to get this basic point across. There might already be a sense in which Die Linke is falling away as an organisation to be emulated. Yet the reality is that both Syriza and Podemos face some of the same thorny strategic questions as Die Linke (in Syriza’s case, the not exactly insignificant matter of forming a government with the aim of reforming capitalism). This underlines how, if we really want to do things differently, then we must start from solid, principled foundations - matters which cannot be fudged or brushed aside with that old chestnut of ‘scaring off the voters’ or ‘getting out there and doing something’.
Hence the importance of the November 8-9 LU conference putting principle first: particularly when it comes to questions of war, imperialism and our attitude towards the capitalist state apparatus. In this sense, the fudge and rhetoric of Die Linke should be a model, albeit in a negative sense. Ultimately, rotten compromises and hollow platitudes can only produce rotten politics.
1. See editorial, September 4 2014: www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-2367-Riyadh-roots-of-Isis-horror#.VD6iZfldWpe.
2. ‘Going soft on the intervention’ Weekly Worker October 2 2014.
3. www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/10/left-o10.html. The useful reportage is, as one might expect, rather hindered by the Northite understanding of the “bourgeoisification” of trade unions and leftwing parties, which is rather schematically imposed on events. It is nonsense to claim, as the article does, that “with its call for war, the Left Party is showing its true colours. Like all other parliamentary parties, it is a rightwing bourgeois party that aggressively represents the interests of German imperialism” (my emphasis). The sad fact is that Die Linke is a self-proclaimed ‘broad left’ formation, which is characterised by the kind of compromised politics that are becoming an all too common feature of ‘Marxist’ politics today.
4. Quite how this all fits into the almost inexorable rise of vapidly Zionist, ‘anti-German’ ideas within the party is not entirely clear to me, and also beyond the scope of this piece. For a discussion of the rise of ‘anti-Deutsch’ politics within Die Linke’s youth movement in particular, see ‘Not part of the left’ Weekly Worker October 4 2012.
5. There are a few exceptions. Showing the poisonous atmosphere in the party, when Die Linke MP Christine Buchholz - a member of Marx 21 and still close to the Socialist Workers Party - posted a photo of herself on Facebook with a sign reading, “Solidarity with the resistance in Kobanê” and opposing imperialist intervention, she was accused of being an “Isis supporter” and other such things. Nonetheless, it must be noted that both Buchholz and Marx 21 have been far quieter and less oppositional when it comes to questions of government participation or Die Linke’s increasingly dubious stance towards Israel.
6. Comrade Mike Macnair has argued that a ‘law-governed world order’ based on the UN charter “fundamentally misunderstands the nature of law as a social institution and, as a result, international law”. As such the call for a law-governed world order is not an alternative to the havoc wreaked upon the world by US-led imperialism: it is merely another form of the same thing (‘The war and the law’ Weekly Worker September 25 2003).
7. Quotes from www.otz.de/startseite/detail/-/specific/Ramelow-bestreitet-Geheimverhandlung-365183426.
8. K Hudson, ‘Political life after the Communist Party’: http://leftunity.org/political-life-after-the-communist-party.