Late on October 23, 2011, a chilly Sunday afternoon, the culminating vote of the program congress of Germany’s Left Party (Die Linke) came in Erfurt’s cavernous Congress Centre: 503 delegates raised their voting cards to support the document as finally amended by the congress, with only four against and 12 abstentions.
After operating since 2007 on the basis of the “programmatic key points” that created Die Linke from the fusion of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and the Electoral Alternative for Labour and Social Justice (WASG), Die Linke’s new program depicts the 75,000-strong party’s “genetic code” much more sharply—anti-capitalist, anti-Stalinist, feminist, ecological, pacifist, internationalist, resolutely against discrimination and for social justice and democratic rights.
Most of all, the program pinpoints capitalism and its property relations as the source of the planet’s social and environmental ills: “Die Linke is convinced that a crisis-free, social, ecological and peaceful capitalism is not possible.”
It also situates Die Linke as an heir to the radical European working-class movement and champions the working people against the “rulers of the universe”—as evoked in the stirring Bertolt Brecht poem “Questions from a Worker Who Reads”, adopted by the congress as the program’s preface.
The first drafts
This 96.9% yes vote showed overwhelming support for a document whose initial draft, drawn up by the party’s former party co-chairs Lothar Bisky and Oskar Lafontaine, first saw the light of day in March 2010.
Over the rest of the year an exhaustive discussion took place—in Die Linke branches, its 16 state organisations, on its web site, in the pages of the left daily Neues Deutschland and other publications, and at events initiated by the affiliated Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. This phase culminated in an 800-strong program convention in November 2010.
In March 2011, an editorial commission under new party co-chairs Klaus Ernst and Gesine Lötzsch evaluated all feedback from this first phase, and in July the party’s executive board sent out an amended document as the congress’s “main motion”.
The feedback reflected Die Linke’s involvement in many areas of struggle as well as the wide range of left currents that had flowed into it both through and after the PDS-WASG fusion. It made the second draft more radical, concrete and clearly structured.
The main social and economic features of what Die Linke means by democratic socialism were spelled out, and explicitly based on the vision of the Communist Manifesto: “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
Economically, that will require “economic democracy”, based on democratic socialisation of large-scale industry, key sections of the finance sector, infrastructure, utilities and transport, combined with an extended cooperative sector and with space for small and medium private enterprise and the self-employed.
In a greatly expanded treatment of women’s oppression Die Linke was defined as a “socialist and feminist political party that wants to eliminate patriarchal and capitalist relationships”. Three new sections dealt with the roots of women’s oppression, the new inequalities suffered by women under neoliberal capitalism, and the consequent need for a “fair distribution of all jobs between the sexes”.
An extensive rewriting of objectives and policies for working life and trade union rights was included. This was developed under the rubric of “good work”, defined as forms of employment that underpin decent living standards, full employment and gender equality at home and at work. These changes reflected a many-sided discussion, in particular involving issues arising from the (changing) gender division of labour in Germany.
There was a major upgrading of the demands relating to the environmental crisis and global warming, the defence of ecosystems and animal rights. This was explicitly recognised as a “system issue”, requiring “ecological taxes with an effective guidance function aimed at reducing resource consumption”, free local public transport “as a vision that we want to work towards in the long term”, and the immediate decommissioning of Germany’s nuclear plants.
The party’s anti-war vocation was more clearly specified (“war must never again emanate from German soil”).
Other changes included:
- a more detailed spelling out of the party’s goals in expanding democracy at all levels, from Europe to municipalities and including the legal system;
- more precise specifying of objectives with regard to social security, education, aged care and pensions, housing and health;
- a new or rewritten section spelling out the right to information and internet policy;
- more specific demands in the areas of discrimination against migrants and national minorities (Danes, Frisians, Sorbs, Sinti and Roma);
- a new section covering Die Linke perspectives at the European level.
The introduction described the party’s heritage more clearly, with greater emphasis on its anti-Nazi identity, affirmed that the PDS’s “break with Stalinism applies equally for Die Linke”. It also added a greater recognition of the positive aspects of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), along with a sharper critique of post-war West Germany’s “social market economy” and of Germany as a class society.
The road to democratic socialism was described as “a great transforming process of social restructuring … characterised by many small and large steps towards reform, by ruptures and upheavals of revolutionary profundity”.
That process would necessarily involve international solidarity and a willingness to learn from all experiences of struggle—“the complexity of the problems and starting conditions prohibit any claim to a leading role for any country, specific movement or individual political party.”
Finally, there was also a clearer specification of the “red stop-lines” setting out Die Linke’s conditions for participation in coalition governments. It stressed that “Die Linke must be recognisable by its programmatic profile and its basic positions of substance in all political constellations. We want another policy and are fighting for hegemony in the public discussion …
“Die Linke seeks participation in government when it will enable us to improve people’s living conditions. In that way the political power of Die Linke and the social movements can be enhanced and the feeling of helplessness and lack of alternatives that many people have can be assuaged.”
In also added that “left policy must always be able to rely on the trade unions and other social movements [in which members were urged to be active] and the mobilisation of extra-parliamentary pressure”.
After such a thorough testing of party opinion, it might have been expected that few amendments would be submitted to the second draft. Yet, in just two months, Die Linke members, ideological platforms and working groups offered nearly 1400 changes to this new text!
Why? And how were the congress delegates meant to discuss and vote on all these in the space of three days (and consider amendments to the party statutes as well)?
With hindsight, it was predictable that the party program process would accentuate the many different perspectives that cohabit in Die Linke and each with their own interpretation of what its red flag means. It is probably the broadest of all European left organisations, covering trends from revolutionary socialist to left social-democratic and containing four major organised currents, some of them enjoying formal party recognition as platforms.
- the Democratic Socialist Forum, originally part of the PDS, which tends to support Die Linke participation in state coalition governments;
- the Anti-capitalist Left, which focusses on promoting discussion on strategy for socialism and is wary of participation in coalition governments, holding that it should be dependent on a set of minimum criteria;
- the Socialist Left, containing many former WASG members, which stresses the contradiction between capital and labour and working-class struggle, is inspired by left Keynesian traditions and fights for social-ecological restructuring through increased public investments;
- the Emancipatory Left, followers of libertarian socialist principles. It stresses the need to build socialism “from below” and reserves a critical role for social movements in the process.
Other currents inside Die Linke include the Reform Left Network, originally formed as a tendency in the PDS and supporting collaboration with the SPD and Greens, and the Communist Platform, also a PDS tendency, dedicated to “building a new socialist society, using the positive experiences of real socialism and to learn from mistakes”.
Main questions in dispute