For and against 'holding lines'

Tina Becker interviewed three leading delegates at the May 15-16 Die Linke conference held in Rostock


Lucy Redler, national spokesperson of Sozialistische Alternative, the German section of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International

The SAV is the only visible group in Die Linke which clearly opposes all government participation in capitalist governments.

Many in Die Linke argue that this is the lesser evil, because, after all, we will prevent a government coalition of the CDU and Liberal Democrats. This argument falls well short, in my view, because if you participate in capitalist governments, you always end up helping to manage capitalism, and implementing social cuts and privatisation instead of fighting them. In their first term in government in Berlin, for example, the comrades privatised a building society and with it 120,000 council flats, reduced benefit for blind people by 20% and introduced cuts to a whole range of other social provisions.

In the process, Die Linke has lost a lot of credibility and votes. Because of that, there is an attempt to appear more ‘people-friendly’ in the current second term, but in my view it is continuing just like it was before. The Berlin government has just decided to postpone until 2017 measures that would raise the wages of public sector workers to meet those of the rest of Germany. Die Linke has also given its agreement to part-privatise the Berlin tram system, amongst other things.

I don’t think the main question is ‘What can we achieve in parliament?’, especially because the great victories of the women’s movement, for example, were fought for on the streets. I think the place of Die Linke is, first of all, on the streets, in the factories, with the protests. We should, just like Karl Liebknecht said, use parliament mainly as a platform.

What do you think about the ‘red holding lines’ supported by the SL and the AKL?

These are forces who don’t actually want to see Die Linke in government. They believe that by playing tactical games you can lay the blame firmly on the door of the SPD. That’s a very slippery slope. What if the SPD fulfils two of the three conditions? Then we will also be under pressure to accept. Or what if all three conditions are accepted, but then later, in the budget discussions, it turns out that there will be cuts after all? I believe that we should clearly tell the people what is actually necessary to stop the attacks during this worst economic crisis for 80 years. Not what we think they might understand, but what is necessary.

How strong is that view in Die Linke?

I think a majority is probably against government participation, but that many have the hope that they’ll get out of this apparent dilemma by supporting the ‘holding lines’. However, it also shows that there is a very lively and good debate in Die Linke. The place for all socialists should be in the party.

You and a few other SAV members have actually been prevented from becoming members of Die Linke, because you stood a candidate against the party here in Rostock in the local elections in 2009 - wrongly, in my view.

Let me explain. A member of the SAV had been a member of the Rostock parliament for many years and she had been doing very good work. We tried to arrange a joint list with Die Linke in order to stand together. But they didn’t even want to talk to us. So the comrades in Rostock decided to stand alone - and against Die Linke. The arbitration committee of Die Linke unfortunately came to the view that I as speaker of the SAV am responsible for whatever any of my comrades are doing in whatever locality.

I think this is clearly a political construct and that I can’t be made responsible for all that. Having said that, the time limit for an appeal has just passed, and my comrades and I can now officially reapply for party membership and we will probably do just that.

Stefan Liebich, leader and then vice-leader of Die Linke fraction in the regional government of Berlin, until he was elected a member of the Bundestag in 2009. He is the national spokesperson for the Forum Demokratischer Sozialismus, the realpolitische wing of the party

Many people on the left say that you cannot possibly achieve the aim of democratic socialism by trying to get into government with capitalist parties almost everywhere and on any basis.

That is not true: we are not doing that. We just don’t think that the so-called ‘holding lines’ are the way to go about it. Real holding lines come through real negotiations and not by writing something down in a programme. If we are able to write down in negotiations with the SPD and the Greens that there won’t be any cuts in public services, then I’m very glad. If we can’t achieve that, we have to weigh up what other things we might be able to achieve - or if we should just leave it.

For us, for example, it would also be very important to prevent the privatisation of basic social provision services. We would also want to introduce ‘common learning’ in schools and bring together the divided German school system. And, of course, we would expect such a government to advance left politics in the Bundesrat [the second chamber, representing the 16 federal states]. You always have to ask yourself if a government of CDU and Liberal Democrats would really be the more preferable option.

Those who support ‘holding lines’ hope they will prevent some of the very unpopular decisions that were made by Die Linke representatives like yourself in the Berlin government.

Of course, we made mistakes in our first four years in government in Berlin. Things happened that I wish hadn’t. For example, a big building society was privatised - that wasn’t good. I just don’t think that ‘holding lines’ stop such things from happening. It is much better to have the strength and the ability in such situations to stay firm and push through alternatives.

That is working much better now in Berlin. Taking part in government coalitions clearly also teaches you a thing or two. But, of course, yes, mistakes were made and it is understandable that it has led to the discussion over ‘holding lines’.

Are you hoping for government participation on a national level, too?

Yesterday the party conference took the decision to open up discussions with the SPD and the Greens - also with the view of building a majority coalition at the next elections. I think this is totally correct. We criticise the government of the CDU and Liberal Democrats all day long for plenty of good reasons, but we have to be able to give an answer too.

It was terrible that after the last elections - there were no other options to form a government coalition. The SPD and the Greens together couldn’t muster enough votes and they all took out exclusion orders against us. That certainly is no way forward and there remains plenty to do to change that situation.

Christine Buchholz, since 2009 she has been a member of the German Bundestag. She is leading member of Marx 21, a group of about 150 people, which is centrally involved in the Sozialistische Linke and is based on the organisation Linksruck, the ‘dissolved’ German section of the SWP’s International Socialist Tendency

You are a vocal supporter of ‘red holding lines’. But aren’t they supposed to be a clever tactic to actually prevent government participation? Wouldn’t it be better to be honest about it and say: we are against government participation as a minority partner in capitalist governments?

Yes, I am against participating in government coalitions under the current conditions of capitalism. But we have to face the fact that the majority of the electorate thinks along parliamentary lines and has expectations in that direction. This is why I think the holding lines are a good method to show that we are not against government participation in principle, because nobody on the streets would understand that.

But we put the conditions as clearly and transparently as we can, so that everybody can understand them. And in reality the SPD and the Greens are so degenerate that they are not prepared to take up these points. But that is not our fault. We are not selling our souls for power.

In his speech, Oskar Lafontaine identified the main tasks of Die Linke as fighting for Keynesianism and the re-regulation of the world economy. As a member of Marx 21 would you go further?

Well, we have worked out some common demands for the here and now, like reversing some previously enforced cuts, reintroducing regulations in the economy and a new programme of public investment. These are all, in the true sense of the word, reformist demands. But the important thing is, how we fight for these demands.

We believe that this is the central point: that we will only push these demands through if we build massive pressure and resistance. Because of the crisis-ridden nature of capitalism, we will see one crisis after another, so it will not be possible to stop once these demands have been won. And this is part of our programme debate: how do we change property relations? The first step is to fight for these reforms and in that sense we support that fight. But they have to be won through struggle, as a first step, in order to achieve a very different sort of society: socialism.

You have been a member of the German Bundestag since 2009. What kind of experience has that been?

As a member of the Bundestag, of course, you don’t really change anything, especially if you are a member of an opposition party that no fucker wants to talk to. But there are certain things you can do. For example, I took the opportunity given to MPs to organise an official trip to Afghanistan. I met with the families of the victims of an Allied bomb attack in the Kunduz region where, under German command, over 140 civilians were killed.

We used these experiences and made a big public impact. I delivered a speech about it in parliament, when Die Linke fraction members held up placards bearing the names of all the victims. All media outlets reported this and we helped many more people to understand that this is a war against the civilian population. This is, I think, a good way to combine the work of an MP with the aims of extra-parliamentary movements - in this case the anti-war movement. Other comrades have organised similar actions - for example, in cooperation with the unions.

The right wing in the party would probably argue that it would be much easier to withdraw German troops from Afghanistan, were Die Linke part of the national government. How strong is the pressure to ‘bring about real change’?

Of course, there is this pressure. But there is far more pressure on the SPD and the Greens, because the majority of the population in Germany is clearly against the war. And it says very clearly in our draft programme that Die Linke will only participate in a government that stops social cuts, abolishes the draconian Hartz 4 unemployment laws and reverses the undemocratic ‘reform’ of the pension system. The SPD and the Greens would have to move a long way in our direction.