Donate to Links
Click on Links masthead to clear previous query from search box
4 weeks 2 days ago
- Plan B?
4 weeks 4 days ago
- General Secretary Tassos Koronakis resigns from SYRIZA
6 weeks 2 days ago
- 53 member of Syriza's Central Committee resign
6 weeks 2 days ago
- "The development of IFRs, if
6 weeks 3 days ago
- SYRIZA on the verge of total disintegration
6 weeks 3 days ago
- Adam Smith and the downside of the division of labor
6 weeks 3 days ago
- Varoufakis new standard-bearer for radical left -- France24
6 weeks 4 days ago
- Varoufakis won't join Popular Unity
6 weeks 4 days ago
- Greek Left Platform Creates New Popular Unity Party
6 weeks 6 days ago
Germany: Die Linke's road to an anti-capitalist program
By Dick Nichols, Erfurt
November 18, 2011 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly -- 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
The main questions in dispute were:
- Under what conditions to participate in government? The first pole here is made up of those inclined to support Die Linke's participation in Social Democratic Party (SPD) majority governments. Their main argument is that this is what the party’s voters expect of it—especially in East Germany, its strongest base of support—and that the resulting administrations have always been better than otherwise (see articles by Stefan Liebich and Steffen Bockhahn in The Left in Government--Latin America and Europe Compared). Against are those who stress that Die Linke, in the words of Lafontaine, “must always make very clear that we do not belong to the neoliberal party cartel”.
- A guaranteed minimum income or not? The Emancipatory Left current supports this measure so as “to uncouple the right to a secure existence and social participation for everyone from employment”. It is resisted by the party’s trade unionists who see it as potentially undermining the struggle for jobs and decent wages and conditions.
- Is Die Linke a pacifist party? The strong pacifist tradition in Germany, product of the country’s militaristic past, is reflected inside the party in a broad rejection of any German military operation. The opponents are those who point to humanitarian disasters that might have been avoided by military intervention—such as in Srebrenitsa, Rwanda and Darfur. They argue that Die Linke policy should allow for a case-by-case approach.
- Should Die Linke oppose all reductions in public service employment? Privatisation of public services has led to some to demand no cuts to public service numbers. This is opposed by members, mainly in the east, who point to declining population (and hence declining demand for services and public sector jobs).
- Should Die Linke continue to build the “publicly supported employment sector” (ÖBE in its German initials)? This program was initiated in Berlin to provide socially useful work for the long-term unemployed. Berlin members involved are staunch defenders of the program, but its critics say that it is an instrument of “labour market flexibilisation”, even though paying at least the minimum wage set by the Berlin Senate.
- Is opposition to Israel anti-Semitic? Die Linke participation in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and the first Gaza flotilla provoked a media barrage about “left-wing anti-Semitism”. Die Linke has since withdrawn from these campaigns, disappointing its supporters of Palestinian rights.
These tensions and differences did not operate in a vacuum. They were heightened by the stagnation in support for Die Linke in the seven state polls held in 2011, culminating in the result of the September Berlin selection, where its vote fell by 4.5% and for the first time a new political force appeared on the party’s left flank—the Pirate Party.
The pirates’ success haunted the conference, with concern that, in Berlin at least, Die Linke had ceased to be the "cool" anti-establishment party for young people.
The 18 months of program discussion also coincided with a manufactured media scandals over its supposed “anti-Semitism”, a congratulatory letter to Fidel Castro on the occasion of his 85th birthday, and the refusal of a number of Die Linke parliamentarians to participate in a ceremony commemorating the deaths of people trying to escape East Germany, as well as the “personnel debate”—endless media talk about the performance of Ernst and Lötzsch as compared to predecessors Bisky and Lafontaine.
The party program debate itself also became another media stick with which to beat Die Linke—with lurid publicity given to the “mad” positions of some members in such areas as drug reform. The SPD, always thirsting for revenge against their bête noire Lafontaine (former SPD president, minister of finance and candidate for chancellor) also smelled blood: SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel kept up a steady drum beat of “invitations” to Die Linke trade unionists to “leave the madhouse” and return to their rightful home.
At the same time the other parties were pouring over Die Linke policy with a view to pinching whatever attractive bits could be slotted into their own platforms. The maximum expression of this process was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s sudden conversion to supporter of a legal minimum wage, even though her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) version of this is a ghastly parody of the Die Linke proposal.
As a result of all these pressures, polls in Germany have been showing only 6-7% national support for Die Linke since September, half its 2009 result (12% of the vote and 76 Bundestag seats). All this could only exacerbate tensions within the party, whose members and supporters were daily confronted with headlines like “The Exhausted Party” or “The Rise and Fall of Die Linke”.
In this atmosphere it was clear that the decision on how to handle the conference amendments wasn’t just a big organisational challenge—the party had to decide what the political impact of a public fight over its differences would be, especially as a close vote on any of them wouldn’t resolve differences in reality.
The first step, taken by the executive board a week before the conference, was to incorporate amendments acceptable to it into an amended text. This amended document, now a third version of the draft program, integrated a number of compromise positions on some of the controversial issues: for example, guaranteed minimum income was to be a subject of ongoing discussion and Die Linke would propose a “Willy Brandt Peace Corps” to help in case of humanitarian crises in place of the present-day use of the Bundeswehr in this role.
This removed around 270 amendments from the discussion and produced new sections on equality, cultural policy, agriculture, democratisation of the internet, for open borders for people in need and against fortress Europe, youth and aged rights, transgender and intersex rights, religion and sport.
The Die Linke demand for the minimum wage was set at 60% of average earnings.
Other accepted amendments committed the party to exploring “new possibilities to influence political action through the potentials of the internet”, a “solidarity economy” favouring local production, further elaboration of demands that would underpin “good work”, the active participation of young people in social decision-making”, and a more detailed aged policy.
The next step was to propose a procedure for dealing with the remaining 1100-plus amendments. The presidium proposed that only amendments proposed by party organisations or at least 25 congress delegates be submitted to discussion and vote. Once agreed, that procedure removed around 500 more amendments from discussion.
The second was to ask congress not to vote on amendments that had been judged to be purely editorial by the editing commission: removing around another 180 proposed changes.
The delegates were then asked to support a procedure that would group the approximately 570 remaining according to the sections of the draft program: congress would vote whether it wanted to move to discussion of individual amendments. If it did, there would be two speakers for and two against each proposed change.
Originally, movers of amendments would not have been heard before congress voted on whether it wanted to treat amendments singly. However, a motion of a delegate from the Die Linke youth affiliate Solid proposing that all amendment movers have a minute to motivate their amendment was adopted.
The congress then overwhelmingly voted for the whole procedure—no alternative was proposed—but it caused a certain discontent because the work of the congress became an enormous task of working through an 110-page amendment book, with insufficient time to debate key issues in much depth.
Executive board and program editorial board members Sarah Wagenknecht (Socialist Left) and Matthias Hoehn (Democratic Socialist Forum) next appealed to the congress to accept the positions where compromise had been possible and not reopen debate. Wagenknecht said: “Let’s pass a program that you know we can all support.”
Unsurprisingly, after voting for this filtering process, the single amendments discussed came to about 350 and those finally adopted to only 18. One committed Die Linke to opposition to genetically modified organisms, while most of the rest involved the reinforcement of the party’s identity and stances of principle (on anti-fascist work, use of German military and police overseas and sexual freedom, for example).
An amendment on the fight against neo-fascism and racism supported the party position of banning all extreme-right organisations, but added that “a ban does not substitute for social discussion”, and committed the party to support anti-fascist and anti-racist educational work in schools.
However, one amendment that was carried was to cause controversy (and give the media something to scream about)—a proposal to eliminate the distinction between soft and hard drugs. When carried 215-195 it had the effect of seeming to commit Die Linke to the legalisation of hard drugs. Gregor Gysi, the party’s Bundestag [parliamentary] fraction leader sought to explain that it only meant to make hard drugs available where needed medically, but that was not in the wording.
A special amendment to the amendment was then proposed to make this clear. The delegates voted by large majority to support this despite some sharp comment from one delegate to the effect that “why do we bother to have discussion anyway”.
In the debate on whether to support German military engagements, the case-by-case position was soundly defeated.
The statute section of the congress was devoted to updating the statutes to eliminate the PDS and WASG as legal entities within Die Linke. The session produced two revealing debates. The first was over a proposal to limit the number of Die Linke comrades who are elected officials or party employees to a 50% presence on the executive board. This proposal received 70% support, but, because many delegates had left, less than 50% of the total delegate list had voted in favour, so the proposal could not be adopted.
Similarly, the proposal to set up a federal women’s council as part of the formal structures of Die Linke failed because it did not get the 55% vote needed for a statute change. However, the congress voted to set up a federal women’s body independently, in order to provide a forum for ongoing discussion and debate of questions of feminist policy, campaigning and representation.
After two and half 12-hour days of grueling work the delegates’ job was done. To fit everything in, breaks were shortened and the Saturday evening dance cancelled.
However, the conference was not one unending grind through the amendment book. Political inspiration and clarification came from the feature speeches of co-chairs Gezine Lötzsch and Klaus Ernst, Bundestag fraction head Gregor Gysi and Oscar Lafontaine.
Gezine Lötzsch situated Die Linke in a long tradition of rebellion beginning with Martin Luther and Thomas Müntzer and exploding nearly 500 years later in the “Occupy” movement even as the congress was meeting (and with which it expressed its special solidarity). She linked the debate over the program and the final text with the need to give outrage a political expression, calling on delegates to remember the five million who had voted Die Linke in 2009 and not to disappoint them.
A special part in her speech was reserved for solidarity with Greece, counterposing this to the “bailout” packages driven from Berlin, Paris and Brussels—all aimed at saving European banks, not the livelihoods and living standards of Greek people.
Klaus Ernst stressed the heritage of the roots of Die Linke in the European labour movement going back to Marx and Engels, the Paris Commune, Rosa Luxemburg, the anti-fascist struggle of the 1930s, the anti-Stalinist fight inside the GDR and the anti-globalisation movement.. He underlined the very different “political biographies” that had come together in Die Linke, and the party’s achievement in having forged a common program from so many different political traditions and identities.
In particular, he asked the delegates to appreciate the value of what they had achieved, and the value of each other’s contribution in spite of at times quite serious differences.
Gysi stressed the achievement involved in Die Linke’s having adopted a program “from the bottom up” (by contrast with the 2007 PDF-WASG agreement). The job now, he half-joked, “is to make it intelligible to the women on the check-out counters—our natural supporters... I am not sure that the bus driver who starts to read it will read on.”
Gysi focused on explaining Die Linke’s fall in the polls: the 2009 12% vote had followed on the experience of a SPD-Green government and the SPD-CDU “grand coalition”, which had introduced cutbacks and taken and kept the country to war in Afghanistan. However, “now the SPD and the Greens are, at least formally, opposition parties in the Bundestag like us. And those who like the SPD, always want it to be as they imagine it. Then thereare the people who believe them, they hope that they have finally become what they call themselves—social and democratic."
He also urged the party to “take the Pirates seriously—this is a warning sign for us. It says we are being seen as establishment when we are not. If we don’t re-win youth support, we are lost."
“The Pirates express a new way of living. This does not only refer to computer use but to other differences as well. Unlike us, they don't speak of 'work time' and 'leisure', but of on-line and off-line time. Sometimes I need a translator just to know what they are talking about... What we must understand and what I want to point out is this: we must find bridges to the younger generation! We must open up to them! ...We must talk with them! We need not agree with everything they say. But we need to connect with them!"
Gysi also explained that Die Linke would also probably suffer because in a period of crisis people become wary of “experiments” and Die Linke is still seen, especially at the federal level, as an experiment.
As for the tensions within the party, Gysi remarked that it was far better to have a variegated Die Linke than the “sickening” old unanimity of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party. “We need both our wings. If we had only our ‘reformist’ wing we would be too like the SPD; if we had only our radical wing we would be isolated socially. What constitutes our charm is that we have both and have to learn to deal with both of them to develop compromises that address the population.”
But the party has paid a price through the whole process, albeit necessary, of developing the program: it had become self-absorbed and “self-absorption is destroying us politically”. Undisciplined comment to the media by individual Die Linke members was also not helping.
Gysi, who was happy to identify himself as a “centrist”, also warned the factions against seeking total victory—a win for the factions would probably be a loss for the party as a whole. Die Linke now has to turn all its energies outward. That meant learning to “translate” the program into language and examples people could grasp, Gysi said.
The Bundestag leader urged the delegates to appreciate that the new program was a magnificent weapon with which to outgun Die Linke’s political rivals: Greens who are not green nor peace-loving, Social Democrats who don’t support workers’ rights, and the small business-loving Free Democrats, who effectively vote to ruin small business.
Where could the party start to regain traction with its program? By highlighting its policies—opposing the sale of German tanks to Saudi Arabia; by resolute opposition to privatisation, by spelling out what we mean by democratic socialism, including the role the market will have it in it, and refusing to be set up as Ostalgists (“state socialism has failed, we want a democratic socialism of an entirely different stamp”); and by standing intransigently for democracy and equality—between men and women, west and east, native German and immigrant.
Gysi finished by saying that, in a world of financial and economic crisis about which leading conservative ideologues were conceding that Die Linke had been right, it was high time for Die Linke members to acquire the same conviction and “end our self-absorption from tomorrow”.
Lafontaine addressed two issues: the need to end defensiveness before the incessant media barrage, and the need for members to give solidarity to the leadership, even when it might be making mistakes.
Lafontaine took up Gysi’s point to address the issue of government alliances: “Our dispute over getting involved in government is pointless. I would really ask that we not carry on with it. The question is not whether we enter government, yes or no. I am someone who was in government for decades. The question is always and only whether in government we can achieve something for our voters. And if they give us good marks after participation in government, we have done right. And if our participation in government leads to a worse result we have done something wrong. Then we need to work to fix ourselves up.”
For Lafontaine too the vital issue was one of political self-confidence—“standing straight”. “The financial crisis can be for us what Fukushima was to the Greens—it gives us an invaluable opening to convince millions about what has to be done about the banks and the economy.”
Lafontaine then spelled out how he thought the party should talk about the economic and financial crisis and promote its policies: “I say in all confidence: we are the only party that provides useful responses to the financial crisis—the need to build the public banking sector again.”
He urged the delegates to turn confidently outward now that the program had been adopted: “We are needed there more than ever before in history. We need to walk upright. If you meet people in the pub who ask, ‘Aren’t you with Die Linke?’, don’t duck away in fright. Look them in the face and say, ‘Aren’t you? It’s about time you were’.”
In post-congress comments, the point most commonly made has been that the adoption of the program, besides being an historic success and step forward, also marks a turn to the left. Indicative of this was the failure of the Democratic Socialist Forum to persuade the congress to amend the program preamble to remove a dot-point summary of its key positions.
Reaction from the organised currents to the congress has been mixed, cautiously positive, but with some sharp criticisms.
The Emancipatory Left decried Gysi’s intervention to amend the drugs policy as making a farce of democratic process and stated that the whole decision-making process had been compromised because the congress “operated under the pressure of media observation”.
For this trend, the congress was an application of “the Hollywood principle”, where a “shit film” is compensated for by the presence of George Clooneys, i.e., Gysi and Lafontaine. The supposedly undemocratic method followed was a triumph of “personality over content”.
The Emancipatory Left also criticised the refusal of the congress to recognise anarchism as one of the contributory streams to the broad Die Linke river, along with the reduction in the rights of sympathisers to be elected on party bodies at a time when the SPD was opening up its structures: “Are we really again a tight, highly organised cadre organisation? Do we want to be that?”
Federal spokesperson for the Democratic Socialist Platform, Benjamin-Immanuel Hoff, greeted the formation of the Federal Council of Left Women, but warned that the differences over program had not disappeared with the near-unanimous congress vote. Other Democratic Socialist Platform members echoed this assessment, pointing to the complete ban on any German participation in any UN military operations and the effective removal of support for Berlin’s “publicly supported employment sector” as areas of unresolved contradiction.
For the Democratic Socialist Platform, the key test would be whether the tendency of disappointed members to quietly leave the party could be reversed, and whether Die Linke would manage perform well in the 2012 state parliamentary election of Schleswig-Holstein (the only state election before the next federal poll in 2013). The result there would tell whether Die Linke is “back on track” in the public mind.
The Socialist Left, associated with Lafontaine and Wagenecht, gave a wholly positive assessment of the congress, commenting that the party had adopted a program that enables it to become a “liberation movement against the dictatorship of the financial markets—it stands on the side of the 99%.”
The Anti-capitalist Left welcomed the program, stressing that by incorporating least conditions for participation in government it contained a clear renunciation of the course of the adaptation to SPD and the Greens. This current also welcomed the stress given to “the property question” and demands for the socialisation of the banks and key industries. Particularly positive were the demands covering German foreign policy (dissolution of NATO, withdrawal of German armed forces from all foreign engagements).
The Anti-capitalist Left balance sheet added: “Further demands important for us are the ban on public make-work schemes, the prohibition of mass sackings, a clear strategy against right-wing populism, the demand for the abolition of [European border security agency] Frontex and for open borders, the setting of the demand of a minimum wage at 60% of the national average wage, the renunciation of the Lisbon Treaty of the EU, the demand for a 'reboot' of—and new contractual basis for—a different, better Europe.”
Some comment since the congress has concentrated on the supposed lack of democracy involved in the congress’s decision-making method. Thies Gleiss, an acting speaker of the party in North Rhine-Westphalia, argued in the October 29 issue of left daily Junge Welt against the intra-platform compromise presented to congress and said a better method would have been to organise the discussion around the main points in dispute, registering a majority and minority vote on each theme.
The doubt must be whether such an approach, which may have better clarified the issues for delegates, would have been possible given the decision to accept amendments from all members and the 1400 amendments consequently submitted.
The question is also raised of whether such an approach would have led to premature decisions on important issues. The program debate piled a lot of material and discussion in front of unaligned “non-platform” delegates (the majority?), who felt they needed more time to think it all through. One such area of concern was the guaranteed minimum income. Such delegates were happy to vote for compromises that would allow the party to face the world and begin the fight to recover its position in German politics.
It seemed clear that after a year and a half discussion more experience and reflection about it will be required to fill in the gaps and—hopefully—resolve whatever contradictions the program adopted at Erfurt contains.
What the 97% vote in favour really represents will become clear in that process, which may also soften existing alignments and differences (and even produce new ones).
Certainly, it would not be a step forward if the path of Die Linke in future were continually set by compromise deals between the factions—that would further weaken the sovereign role of party congresses.
Another important reason is that many members don’t identify with any faction. Congress delegates found themselves supporting now one, now another, position according to the issue under discussion.
Yet whatever criticisms can be made, whatever positions need to be tested in practice and whatever discussions remain to be held, the new Die Linke program remains a big step forward for the party, not the least because it makes socialism a point of discussion in mainstream German politics.
In a situation where the world socialist movement is still struggling to overcome the double fiasco of the failures of Stalinism and social democracy, the existence of Die Linke is, in the words of Gregor Gysi, “a tremendously important factor in the Federal Republic of Germany and Europe”.
[Dick Nichols is the European correspondent for Green Left Weekly and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. He attended the Die Linke congress as a delegate for the Australian Socialist Alliance. A shorter version of this article appears in Green Left Weekly. The new Die Linke program will be available in English translation on the party’s web site