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The Left
Die Linke
Leader Lothar Bisky
Oskar Lafontaine
Founded June 16, 2007
Merger of PDS and WASG
Headquarters Karl-Liebknecht-Haus
Kl. Alexanderstraße 28
D-10178 Berlin
Ideology Democratic socialism
Political position Left-wing
International affiliation None
European affiliation Party of the European Left
European Parliament Group European United Left–Nordic Green Left
Official colours Red
Seats in the Bundestag
Seats in the Regional Parliaments
Seats in the European Parliament
Website
http://www.die-linke.de/
Politics of Germany
Political parties
Elections

The Left (German: Die Linke), also commonly referred to as the Left Party (German: Linkspartei), is a self-described "democratic socialist"[1] political party in Germany. The Left is the most left-wing party of the five represented in the Bundestag.

The party was founded on June 16, 2007, as the merger of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) – the successor of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED; the ruling party of East Germany until 1989) – and the much smaller Electoral Alternative for Labour and Social Justice (WASG). While the PDS was considered by German authorities as extremist, the WASG was not considered extremist[2]. Its co-chairs are Lothar Bisky and Oskar Lafontaine. In the Bundestag the party has 76 out of 622 seats after polling 11.9% of the vote in the 2009 federal elections[3], making it the fourth largest party in Germany. Internationally, The Left is a member of the Party of the European Left and is the largest party in the GUE/NGL grouping in the European Parliament.

According to official party figures, the Left Party had 75,968 registered members as of December 2008. The average age of its members are more than 62 years, and most of them are former members of the East German communist party.[4]

The party and its predecessor PDS has been under surveillance by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution for many years, and is mentioned in the yearly federal Verfassungsschutzbericht under "Linksextremismus" (far-left extremism)[5].

Contents

History

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Foundation

The mass protests that forced the dismissal of East German head of state Erich Honecker in 1989 also empowered a younger generation of reform politicians in East Germany's ruling Socialist Unity Party who looked to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika as their model for political change. Reformers like politician Hans Modrow, attorney Gregor Gysi and dissidents like Rudolf Bahro and Stefan Heym soon began to reconstruct the political profile of the party. By the end of 1989, the last hardline members of the party's Central Committee had resigned, followed in 1990 by 95% of the SED's 2.3 million members.

At a special congress in December 1989 the party renounced its former "leading role" in society and adopted a program of democratic reform. To distance the reformed party from the SED's now discredited communist ideology, the party added the words "Party of Democratic Socialism" to its name, finally dropping the words "Socialist Unity Party" in February 1990. Gysi became the new leader. By then, the PDS was no longer a Marxist-Leninist party, though neo-marxist and communist minority factions continue to exist. On March 18, 1990, the PDS won 16.4% of the vote in the first free elections in the GDR and became the largest opposition party. The new government was led by the conservative Alliance for Germany, with 48% of the vote.

Up to 2005

In the first all-German Bundestag elections in 1990, the PDS won only 2.4% of the nationwide vote, but through an exception to Germany's electoral law entered the Bundestag with 17 deputies led by Gysi. In the 1994 federal election, in spite of an aggressive anti-communist "Red Socks" campaign organised against the PDS by the then-ruling Christian Democratic Union aimed at scaring off voters, the PDS managed to increase its share to 4.4 percent, winning a plurality in four eastern electoral districts, and re-entered the Bundestag with an enlarged caucus of 30 deputies. In 1998, the party reached the high-water mark in its fortunes by electing 37 deputies with 5.1% of the national vote, thus surpassing the 5% threshold required for guaranteed representation and full parliamentary status in the Bundestag. Gysi's resignation in 2000 after losing a policy debate with leftist factions brought conflict to the PDS. In the 2002 federal election, the party's share of the vote declined to 4.0%. For the next four years, the PDS was represented by two back-benchers elected directly from their districts, Petra Pau and Gesine Lötzsch.

After the 2002 debacle, the PDS adopted a new, moderate program and re-installed long-time Gysi ally, Lothar Bisky, as chairman. In the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, the PDS won 6.1% of the vote nationwide, its highest share at that time in a federal election. Its electoral base in the eastern German states continued to grow, where today it ranks with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) as one of the region's three strongest parties. However, low membership and voter support in Germany's western states continued to plague the party until it formed an electoral alliance in July 2005 with the newly-formed Electoral Alternative for Labor and Social Justice (WASG), a party largely consisting of dissident Social Democrats, trade union members, and an assortment of left-wing radicals.

Alliance with the WASG

After negotiations, the PDS and WASG agreed on terms for a combined ticket to compete in the 2005 federal elections and pledged to unify into a single left party in 2007. According to the pact, the parties did not compete against each another in any district. Instead, WASG candidates—including the former SPD leader, Oskar Lafontaine—were nominated on the PDS electoral list. To symbolize the new relationship, the PDS changed its name to The Left Party.PDS (Linkspartei.PDS) or simply The Left.PDS, with the letters "PDS" optional in western states where many voters still regarded the Party of Democratic Socialism with suspicion.

The alliance benefited from a strong electoral base in the east and WASG's growing voter potential in the west. Gregor Gysi, returning to public life only months after brain surgery and two heart attacks, shared the spotlight with Lafontaine as co-leader of the party.

Polls early in the summer showed the unified Left list winning as much as 12 percent of the vote, and for a time it seemed possible the party would surge past the established Alliance '90/The Greens and right–liberal Free Democratic Party and become the third-strongest faction of the Bundestag. Alarmed by the Left's unexpected rise in the polls, Germany's mainstream politicians attacked Lafontaine and Gysi as "leftist populists" and "demagogues" and accused the party of flirting with neo-Nazi voters. A gaffe by Lafontaine, who described "foreign workers" as a threat in one speech early in the campaign, provided ammunition for charges that The Left was attempting to exploit German xenophobia and anti-democratic populism to attract voters from the far right.[6]

In spite of all this, in the 2005 elections the Left Party became the fourth-largest party in the Bundestag with 8.7% of the nationwide vote and 53 seats. Negotiations on unification between Left Party.PDS and WASG continued through the next year until the two forces reached agreement on March 27, 2007. The joint party—now called simply "The Left"—celebrated its founding congress on June 16 in Berlin.

The unified party soon became an electoral force in Western Germany for the first time, winning a modest number of seats in state elections in Bremen, Lower Saxony, Hesse and Hamburg. The "five-party system" in Germany was now a reality in the west as well as the east.

A string of electoral successes followed in the "Super Election Year" of 2009. In the campaign for seats in the European Parliament, the Left Party won 7.5% of the vote nationwide, continuing a steady upward trend in European elections (1994: 4.7%, 1999: 5.8%, 2004: 6.1%). In six state elections, the party either surged ahead or consolidated earlier gains, increasing its vote in Thuringia and Hesse, and winning seats for the first time in Schleswig Holstein. In Saarland, the party became a significant force for the first time in a western state, winning 19.2% of the vote and taking third place ahead of the Free Democratic Party and the Greens. In Saxony and Brandenburg, the party's vote declined slightly while it remained the second largest political force in both states.

The electoral collapse of the Social Democratic Party in the federal election on September 27, 2009, gave The Left an unprecedented opportunity to increase its influence in German politics. The party's vote surged to 11.9 percent, increasing its representation in the Bundestag from 54 to 76 seats. It remains the second largest opposition party.

Policies

The Left aims for democratic socialism. As a platform for left politics in the wake of globalization, The Left includes many different factions, ranging from communists to social democrats.

The Left has not yet adopted its own party program, although it issued a detailed electoral program ahead of the 2009 federal campaign. In March 2007, during the joint party convention of Left Party and WASG, a document outlining political principles was agreed on. In terms of fiscal policies, those include solidarity and more self-determination for workers, redistribution of wealth through different means including tax increases for corporations, big businesses and wealthy individuals, the rejection of privatization and the introduction of a minimum wage,[7] and more generally the overthrow of property and power structures in which, citing Karl Marx's aphorism, "man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable essence".[8]

Concerning foreign policy, The Left welcomes the European process of integration, while opposing all forms of militarism rising in the current political climate and the market-oriented policies of the European Union. The party strives for the democratization of the EU institutions and a stronger role of the United Nations in international politics. The Left opposed both the War in Afghanistan[7] and the Lisbon Treaty.[9]

Observation by Verfassungsschutz

Germany operates a system of "Verfassungsschutz" (Protection of the Constitution) at both federal level (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV) and state level (Landesbehörden für Verfassungsschutz, LfV), which carries out domestic surveillance of actual and suspected activities which may threaten the "basic free and democratic order" ("freiheitliche demokratische Grundordnung") at the core of the German constitution. The Left Party and some of its caucuses remain under observation by the BfV, listed in the annual Verfassungsschutzbericht under the heading "left-extremist tendencies and suspected cases". The 2007 report cites as evidence of the party's "extremism" Lothar Bisky's June 2007 statement that democratic socialism remains the party's goal: "We also still discuss the change of property and power relations.... We ask the 'system question'." However, the report notes that in practice the parliamentary party appears as to act as a "reform-oriented" left force. In addition, the report cites "openly extremist groupings" within the party, notably the Marxist-Leninist Communist Platform, which in Sahra Wagenknecht has a representative on the 44-member Left Party executive.[10] One former Bundestag deputy, Bodo Ramelow, was under BfV surveillance until a court decision in January 2008 that the observation was illegal.[11][12]

The Left is also under observation by 4 western CDU/CSU-governed states (Lower Saxony, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria), from a total of 11 western states.[13] Saarland ceased observation of The Left in January 2008.[12] By contrast, in the 5 eastern states The Left is not under surveillance, with the local LfVs seeing no indication of anti-constitutional behaviour of the party as a whole. However the small "Communist Platform"—a minority faction within the party—is under observation in 3 eastern states.[14]

Controversies

The Left Party's alleged avoidance of coming to terms with its past is a matter of public controversy in Germany.[15] For example in 2001, Gabi Zimmer, the head of the Left Party's predecessor PDS at the time, officially recognized the injustice of building the Berlin wall in 1961, but she rebuffed any claims to state an apology on behalf of the party.[16]

Elections and support

Party list results in the 2009 federal election, a high point in The Left's electoral history. The Left (in pink) received the most votes in numerous districts in East Germany, and came in second in Saarbrücken.

Until 2007, the former Party of Democratic Socialism was represented only in the state parliaments of eastern Germany and Berlin, including Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

After the May 2007 election Bremen, a joint PDS-WASG ticket was able to form a parliamentary group for the first time in a western state.[17] After the PDS-WASG merger, The Left continued to make gains in western Germany, including Lower Saxony, Hesse, and Hamburg.

In Hesse, state SPD leader Andrea Ypsilanti sought to form a minority government with the Greens, which would have required the support of the Left's new parliamentary group despite a campaign promise not to cooperate with The Left. This would have been the first time that The Left formed any alliance with a government in a western state. The SPD and Left state organizations ratified an agreement that guaranteed The Left's acceptance of an SPD-Green government which Left deputies would support with their votes. The move was controversial in the SPD. Some of the party's representatives in parliament rejected cooperation with a party they considered extremist. After months of debate, the proposed government was scheduled to be brought to a vote in the Hessian Lantag on November 4, 2008. On the eve of the vote, four SPD deputies broke with party discipline and declared they would vote against Ypsilanti, effectively blocking an SPD-led government.[18] As a result, new elections did take place in January 2009. Ypsilanti stepped down as the SPD's chief candidate, and she has been replaced by party deputy Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel.[19][20] In this election the Linke gained 0.3% on the result one year earlier (now 5.4%), staying in parliament (the SPD lost 13%, the Greens gained 6.2%)[21]

The Left contested an election in Bavaria for the first time in the September 2008 Bavaria state election. It garnered 4.3 percent of the vote, just short of the 5 percent necessary to win seats in the Landtag.

In October 2008 the Left Party nominated Tatort actor and activist Peter Sodann as their candidate for the 2009 presidential election.[22] Since the German president is chosen by the Bundesversammlung, consisting of all members of the Bundestag and an equal number of Bundesrat-selected delegates, Sodann did not win but he got 91 of the 1223 votes cast (The Left had 90 delegates).

Lothar Bisky

Internal caucuses

The Left Party has a number of internal caucuses, most often referred to as platforms or forums.

  • The Anti-capitalist Left (Antikapitalistische Linke)[23] represents those critical of participation in coalition governments. They believe that government participation should be dependent on a set of minimum criteria (including no privatizations, no war involvement, and no cuts in social welfare spending). The grouping seeks to position the party firmly against any form of capitalism. Prominent representatives of this group are Sahra Wagenknecht, Tobias Pflüger, Cornelia Hirsch, and Ulla Jelpke.
  • The Communist Platform (German: Kommunistische Plattform, KPF) was originally formed as a tendency of the PDS. It is less critical of German Democratic Republic than other groupings, and it upholds orthodox Marxist positions. A "strategic goal" of the KPF is "building a new socialist society, using the positive experiences of real socialism and to learn from mistakes" [24] Its primary leader is Sahra Wagenknecht, who is on the National Committee of the Left Party. The Platform had around 850 members in 2007, according to the Verfassungsschutz[25]—around 1% of the party's national membership.
  • The Emancipatory Left (Emanzipatorische Linke, Ema.Li)[26] is a current that endorses libertarian socialist principles. It backs a decentralized society and support social movements. Ema.Li's spokespersons are Julia Bonk (member of parliament in Saxony) and Christoph Spehr, spokesman of The Left in Bremen. Other representatives are the vice Chairwoman of the party Katja Kipping and Caren Lay.
  • The Democratic Socialist Forum (Forum demokratischer Sozialismus)[28] is a democratic socialist faction that was originally part of the PDS. It supports participation in state coalition governments and is programmatically close to the Reform Left Network.

In addition to the main platforms, a number of far-left groups have aligned with the Left Party and its predecessors, the PDS and WASG, including Linksruck (now known as Marx21). The Trotskyist Socialist Alternative has also joined, but the applications of some of its leaders, including Lucy Redler, for party membership were rejected. Other left-wing groups, such as the German Communist Party (DKP), have formed local alliances with The Left but have not joined the party.

References

  1. ^ http://www.parties-and-elections.de/germany.html
  2. ^ Verfassungsschutzbericht 2008 p. 6
  3. ^ Wahl zum 17.Deutschen Bundestag am 27.September 2009 - vorläufiges Ergebnis
  4. ^ "Mitgliederzahlen September 2008" Die Linke website.
  5. ^ Alle Linken-Abgeordneten unter Beobachtung, sueddeutsche.de, 15 September 2009, accessed 25 September 2009
  6. ^ http://www.signandsight.com/features/241.html
  7. ^ a b Steve Rosenberg (2009-09-24). "German hard left set to gain ground". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8272658.stm. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  8. ^ "Our alternative: Social, democratic and peacemaking reforms to overcome capitalism" Programmatic Points, part III
  9. ^ "Bundestag paves way for Lisbon Treaty ratification". EurActive.com. 2009-09-09. http://www.euractiv.com/en/future-eu/bundestag-paves-way-lisbon-treaty-ratification/article-185252?Ref=RSS. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  10. ^ Verfassungsschutzbericht 2007, Federal Ministry of the Interior.
  11. ^ Aktenzeichen: 20 K 3077/06, 20 K 6242/03
  12. ^ a b Beobachtung von Linkspartei-Politiker verboten, Welt Online, 17 January 2008, accessed 16 March 2008
  13. ^ Die Linke – keine Gefährdung für die Verfassung, tagesschau.de, 16. January 2008, accessed 16 March 2008
  14. ^ Neue Linke verunsichert Verfassungsschützer, netzeitung.de, 18 June 2007, accessed 16 March 2008
  15. ^ Verdrängte Parteigeschichte: Plädoyer für eine Entzauberung der Linkspartei, spiegel.de, 25 September 2009, accessed 25 September 2009
  16. ^ [http://archiv2007.sozialisten.de/presse/presseerklaerungen/view_html/zid14369/bs1/n50 PDS wird Mauer als Unrecht bezeichnen - keine Entschuldigung], sozialisten.de, 14 June 2001, accessed 25 September 2009.
  17. ^ "Germany after the Bremen election," The Economist (17 May 2007).
  18. ^ "A mess in Hesse," The Economist (6 November 2008).
  19. ^ "Ypsilanti verzichtet auf Spitzenkandidatur," Der Spiegel (8 November 2008).
  20. ^ Christian Teevs, "Hessens Grüne schwenken auf Anti-CDU-Kurs," Der Spiegel (12 November 2008).
  21. ^ Landeswahlleiter, "Final Result of the election (Endgültiges Ergebnis der Landtagswahl)(PDF)," Staatsanzeiger für das Land Hessen(16 February 2009).
  22. ^ "Peter Sodann wäre ein Bundespräsident des Volkes," statement by Bisky, Gysi and Lafontaine (14 October 2008).
  23. ^ http://www.antikapitalistische-linke.de/
  24. ^ Beschluss der Landeskonferenz der Kommunistischen Plattform der Partei DIE LINKE des Landes Brandenburg vom 29.9.2007
  25. ^ Verfassungsschutzbericht 2007, p152, Federal Ministry of the Interior.
  26. ^ http://www.emanzipatorische-linke.de/
  27. ^ http://www.reformlinke.net/
  28. ^ http://www.forum-ds.de/

Literature

  • Hubertus Knabe, Honeckers Erben. Die Wahrheit über Die Linke. Propyläen, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-549-07329-2

External links


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