October 31, 2023 –
Sahra Wagenknecht – Die Linke MP leading the split Picture : Martin Heinlein
The German left wing party Die Linke (The Left) has split. Sahra Wagenknecht, one of its leading figures, has announced that she is leaving to form a new party.
It will put forward a set of politics that some will characterise as “economically left but socially right”. In reality this new party is repeating the old response of conservatives and social democrats to racism—concessions.
Instead of a principled fight against racism, Wagenknecht has a history of accommodating to it.
Ten of Die Linke’s 38 MPs have joined her new grouping with the provisional name “BSW—For Reason and Justice” (BSW stands for Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht). First opinion polls suggest that it could win 12 percent of the vote.
At a time when the far right AfD (Alternative for Germany) is at 22 percent in the polls, many hope the new party could signal a turning point for the left.
But there are big problems with her politics, and it would be completely wrong to see the new party as a left wing breakaway.
In her recent book “The Self-righteous”, she claimed that Die Linke has abandoned its traditional voter base and instead focuses on supporting the identity politics of “bizarre minorities”.
This was an open attack on anyone campaigning for gay and trans rights and completely undermines the importance of fighting racism, sexism and other forms of oppression.
In Wagenknecht’s world the working class seems to be exclusively white, male and German-born—and feels threatened by migrants and climate activists.
She has consistently argued that the rise of the AfD—a party that has a fascist core—is partly due to migration.
She has called for limits on migrant numbers and she refused to take part in a huge anti-racist mobilisation of 250,000 in Berlin because it didn’t reject the slogan of “open borders”.
But socialists should not seek to separate economic issues from the fight against racism and fascism. Discrimination on the grounds of race, gender or sexuality is not an experience of a tiny minority in the working class, but of the majority.
Accepting the arguments of the right may mean short‑term gains in the polls, but it can only lead to a weakening of the fight against racism and a strengthening of the far right.
Wagenknecht was not the reason for the crisis in Die Linke. In recent years it has failed to live up to the hopes of those who saw it as an alternative to the Labour Party style politics of the German Social Democrats (SPD).
Instead of building opposition to the neoliberal policies of successive governments of all shades, its leadership has pursued coalitions with the SPD and/or the Green Party.
Yet Berlin’s regional government—then a coalition of Die Linke with the SPD and the Greens, refused to act on this vote. This electoral logic of remaining close to powerful interests has recently led to two disastrous capitulations by Die Linke.
First, the war in Ukraine has been used to roll back the anti-militarism which became dominant in post-war German society. Peace activists in the SPD and the Greens stayed largely silent and offered little opposition to “their” government.
But Die Linke also failed to make a stand. Some in the party openly call for weapons shipments to Ukraine.
Second, Israel’s war on Gaza has led to huge repression of the Palestinian solidarity. Protests have been banned, school students have been excluded for wearing Palestinian scarves or symbols, and inner-city areas with Arab populations are under a state of police siege.
The leadership of Die Linke wasted no time in wrapping themselves in the Israeli flag. And activists who try to raise solidarity for Palestine face repression within the party. The revolutionary left needs to focus on mobilising a fighting, anti-racist, pro‑Palestine movement.
This can work to ensure that it is the left which profits from the deep discontent in society.