Support Die Linke - but organise to fight

As of June 16 the two dominant forces on the German left, the Linkspartei.PDS and the WASG, formally ceased to exist and joined forces to create the new left party, Die Linke. Ben Lewis reports from Germany

Following almost three years of political deals, separate party conferences and much controversy around questions such as government participation and the role of the UN in military interventions, the German left has finally come together in a single party.

Amidst much pomp and circumstance and all the handshakes, Die Linke was formed last weekend in Berlin. Symbolically, the two forces held their last conferences next door to each other on June 15, and formally agreed on the numerous constitutional and programmatic proposals that a commission of both groups had been working on.

The two separate conferences then each voted for their separate candidates for the united national executive, and there were no surprises at all. As one Linkspartei.PDS delegate said, "Everything was, as usual, controlled from above". The two joint leaders are Lothar Bisky (ex-L.PDS) and Oskar Lafontaine (formerly Wahlalternative Arbeit und Soziale Gerechtigkeit).

Communists welcome the opportunity provided by the formation of Die Linke and give it critical support. Two parties to the left of the Social Democrats have come together to create a force that is likely to add up to much more than the sum of its parts. While the L.PDS was formed from the remnants of East German 'official communism' and pulls in most of its support from the former German Democratic Republic, the WASG was very much a left split from the west German-based Social Democrats. Together they make up a national force that potentially could overcome both the sectarianism of the West German left's '57 varieties' and provide a bigger space for Marxist arguments.

Indeed, even before the merger the new force clearly found a resonance within the German working class, faced with the collapse of the post-war European social democratic consensus and the imposition of numerous anti-working 'reforms' in the labour market, pensions, education and health that are hitting so hard. Correctly recognising that it would have been politically idiotic to stand against each other in the parliamentary elections in September 2005, the WASG and the L.PDS united under the same banner to achieve an excellent vote of 8.7%, which led to the election of 54 MPs. This momentum has, despite some disappointing results in the west, been kept up since 2005. Most recently in the May state elections in Bremen - ie, the heartland of the former West Germany - where the two parties standing under the same banner achieved an impressive 8.4% of the vote.

Evidently, the new party with its common programme and structures can only strengthen the roots it has already established within the German working class, not least in view of the vacuum created by the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats coming together in a coalition government.


The political direction which the new party is taking, however, is the cause of great concern. Lothar Bisky, former chair of the L.PDS and now joint-chair of Die Linke with Oscar Lafontaine, made no bones about where it would be heading. While calling vaguely for a "more social form of social democracy", when it comes to being concrete he favours joining state governments - in fact, if Die Linke were to become a minority coalition partner after the forthcoming state elections in Hamburg or Bavaria, that would be a real measure of its success, according to Bisky. An ambition that leads him to pander to the SPD - although he criticised it for being "more unbelievable than ever", at the same time he insisted he did not want to weaken it as a political force. It seems that for him Berlin - where the L.PDS joined a 'red-red' coalition with the SDP - is not just a model for other states, but for Germany as a whole.

Bisky also fostered illusions in the armed forces as a possibly benevolent force in overseas operations: "That the German army has helped to secure elections or helped hospitals in crisis regions, I do not want to criticise" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung June 17). As the same newspaper put it, his comments reveal a "realism that could make the left ready for national government in the long term".

It is indeed this 'realist' tendency that has, during the course of the last three years, gained the upper hand and is now in complete control of the new formation. The so-called Programmatische Eckpunkte, or key political principles around which the new party is formed, are platitudinous, utopian Keynesian demands, with phrases about "property and power relations" and "highlighting the question of the system" thrown in for the left's benefit. But just how "property and power relations", let alone "the system", can be challenged by accepting minority posts in bourgeois governments is simply beyond me.

The various left platforms, such as the Anti-Capitalist Left network or the Emanzipatorische Linke, have never really got themselves into gear to oppose this - they tend to fudge the question of government participation, arguing along similar lines to Thies Gleiss, a member of the Fourth International's Sozialistische Linke, who rejects not only "unconditional willingness to govern", but also any "fundamentally oppositionist" attitude to government participation (see Weekly Worker October 5 2006).

This rise of the right can be seen within the former WASG. Formed largely by middle-ranking trade union bureaucrats within the SPD, it drew in the numerous sects of the West German left, and from its outset was characterised by a split between influential members in the bureaucracy who wished to see a "Social Welfare State Party" and those of the far left who wanted WASG to become an explicitly socialist, revolutionary organisation.

This once sizeable WASG left appears now to have been marginalised by the bureaucracy, whose numerous Urabstimmungen (membership ballots) purportedly are symbolic of the grassroots democracy within the WASG, but are actually used to control the membership by presenting them with numerous faits accomplis and questions formulated in such a manner that it is near impossible to disagree with them. The depoliticisation of the WASG was also reflected in the fact that less than half of the membership took part in the last vote on whether the two parties should unite - many are disillusioned, some have left or are now taking part in various weird and wonderful projects outside the new party.

In many ways it is the politically impotent and cowardly left opposition within WASG that must bear much of the blame for its own marginalisation, which has let those like Lafontaine, a former SPD finance minister, completely off the hook. Indeed, whereas a year ago Lafontaine could make much of his opposition to the L.PDS role in Berlin and talk of only governing when "the conditions are right", he recently said in an interview that he would be more than happy to enter a national government with the SPD as long as there was a withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan, an end to the draconian Hartz IV laws that force the unemployed to work for a euro per hour on top of benefits, and the renouncement of plans to extend the retirement age to 67. These are, of course, all supportable demands, but they hardly constitute principled conditions for entering government.

Thus it was no surprise that the weekend merely revolved around the organisational formalities which the leadership had long planned.


The sister organisation of the SWP, Linksruck, has from the very outset played a shameful role in snuggling up to the right. Indeed, the final conference of  WASG, whose only real debate was over a constitutional complication, was actually opened by leading Linksruck member Christine Buchholz. No wonder the bureaucracy adore her so much, when her position from the start has been to argue that WASG "would become superfluous if it adopted a socialist programme, because it would exclude many of the people who could be won" otherwise (www.sozialismus-von-unten.de/lr/artikel_1363.html).

Linksruck has been completely supine in its attitude to the bureaucracy - in fact Buchholz has used her position to help defeat the left and sideline its criticism of the L.PDS in Berlin. She has also uncritically gone along with the bureaucratic manoeuvring involved in the coming together of the two parties. Furthermore, instead of now using her influence on the new formation to establish a principled opposition, she and her Linksruck troops have thrown themselves into the "realistic, radical" Sozialistische Linke platform, which describes itself as a "left-Keynesian" organisation and includes six MPs and a majority of the bureaucracy from the former leadership of the WASG.

Comrade Buchholz's reward has come in the shape of her election to the 44-strong national leadership.

Socialism in one city

Unlike Linksruck, the Socialist Party's German section, Sozialistische Alternative (SAV), did recognise, at least in formal terms, the need for a political fight within the new party. Not that the SAV is, in principle, against working class participation in bourgeois governments - just in those that "lead to social cuts and privatisation" (www.sozialismus.info/m/PaTagFlyer_2007-06-15.pdf).

However, its sectarianism foolishly led it to making L.PDS withdrawal from the Berlin government a precondition for the unity of the two left groups. The battle for working class independence needed to be had within the new organisation as a whole, but the SAV preferred to put its own narrow interests before the creation of the new party, which will now clearly become a major site of struggle. The SAV - the German section of the SP's Committee for a Workers' International - cut itself off from those seeking to build a Marxist pole within a party that has the potential to win the support of millions. Instead its efforts were concentrated around a new, Berlin-based campaign, know as the Berlin Alternative for Solidarity and Resistance, which in German neatly replaces W-ASG with B-ASG, which has also drawn in Workers Power's tiny German section, Arbeitermacht.

The SAV has now decided that Die Linke is two different creatures, depending on which part of the country we are talking about. It is not against continuing to taking part in Die Linke in the west, where it is a "left, oppositional party". But in the east it has become a "party of the establishment" and one that "administers German capital" (ibid). Frankly this sort of stuff, which dovetails into the anti-east chauvinism of some of the ex-WASG anti-communist elements in the party, is utter nonsense. As Bisky himself has readily admitted, the new party aspires programmatically to be part of the establishment political agenda across the country, whether in Hamburg, Bavaria or Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

'Difficult path'

The SAV's Lucy Redler talks of the group's Berlin turn as a "difficult" but necessary path (Junge Welt June 16). The really "difficult" path, however, entails arguing for Marxist politics within the new formation (not that the SAV's politics have much resemblance to Marxism). In the absence of a publication like the Weekly Worker - ie, one that seriously challenges the existing left dogma through open debate and polemic - that path is all the more difficult. The job of Marxists is to organise patiently within the new formation, helping to build it, while never ceasing to criticise openly the leadership's rightism and bureaucracy. This necessary approach is, unfortunately, lacking in all of the various left tendencies that have cropped up within WASG over the last year or so.

Undoubtedly, this new formation has increasingly taken on the form of a second, warmed-over social democratic party - something the Weekly Worker has been arguing against for the last three years. Comunists are for working in such parties - particularly during their formation, when the membership is often more open to new ideas.

Obviously that is completely different from communists themselves attempting artificially to set up such a party as a 'halfway house', or imagined stepping stone to a Communist Party. As the SWP, SP et al have discovered in Britain, that necessarily entails not the vigorous propagation of principled Marxist ideas, but, on the contrary, toning them down or dropping them altogether.

Equally unprincipled is to shun such a project - thrown up by life itself - in favour of building forlorn fronts like the CWI's BASG.

With the left giving the leadership a clear run, Die Linke is set on the hopeless path of trying to turn back the clock to welfare-state social democracy in a single country. For the moment things have settled, with Bisky, Lafontaine and the right firmly in the saddle, but there will be plenty more opportunities in the years ahead.