These past few months, Germany’s Die Linke (“The Left”) party has been struggling with the issue of agreeing on a position regarding the Ukraine war. Die Linke – founded in 2007 after a merger of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and Labour and Social Justice – through the PDS have a link to the Marxist-Leninist ruling party of the former East Germany. The trouble is only a handful of MPs and MEPs have any commitment to the kind of principled anti-imperialist politics that legacy should carry with it. The party leadership have done little to distinguish Die Linke policy on the war from that of the ruling coalition, while a handful of elected members are openly in favour of endless arms shipments to Ukraine as “we” fight Russia to the last Ukrainian.
On 10 February 2023, MP and leader of the Communist Platform (an association within Die Linke) Sahra Wagenknecht and feminist publicist Alice Schwarzer published their Manifesto for Peace petition. It called on German Chancellor Scholz to “stop the escalation of arms deliveries. Now!” and declared he should lead “a strong alliance for a ceasefire and peace negotiations at both the German and European levels.” The petition got over three quarters of a million signatures. Wagenknecht and Schwarzer built on this momentum and held a peace rally in Berlin on February 25, and according to the organisers it attracted 50,000 demonstrators.
The Die Linke leadership refused to support Wagenknecht and the peace demonstration. To cover their tracks they used the fact that a handful of far-right politicians had signed the petition to argue that the protest was going to amount to a “cross-front” rally with the far-right. In reality the protest was a massive success. Wagenknecht told protesters in advance there was no place for far-right symbols at the rally, but anyone who wanted peace “with an honest heart” was welcome. The Council of the Communist Platform in Die Linke issued a statement in response to the “cross-front” charge stating “The rally was as unsuitable for a cross-front as a trade union demonstration would be suitable for entrepreneurs if some entrepreneurs joined it. Everyone could see for themselves the humanist character of the rally on 25 February – provided they participated.”
The day before the rally the chairman of the scientific advisory board of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, philosopher Michael Brie, penned an opinion piece in the Neues Deutschland paper accusing the leadership of Die Linke of “recoiling and demobilising” in response to their membership taking to the streets against the policies of the federal government. He took the leadership to task on the cross-front accusations, pointing out that historical anti-NATO and anti-War movements were “not to be had in pure socialist form. They are great because they are both heterogeneous and united on a single issue. In doing so, they change policy – through breadth, clear direction and pinpoint accuracy. The ‘Manifesto for Peace’ has all of this.”  Importantly, Brie called on Die Linke to establish a special party congress to solidify the party position on the war.
On Sunday 5 March the Die Linke Federal Committee voted on a motion calling on the Committee to establish a special congress to “substantiate the fundamental question of the peace policy position of the Left…” It was rejected by 24 votes to 22 with six abstentions.
The party might not have survived the special congress, and is shedding members from both the left and right camps within the group. The Friday before the vote on the motion Sahra Wagenknecht stated publicly she would not run again for Die Linke. Since then Wagenknecht has been floating the idea of starting a new party, stating that she has no more dealings with the current party executive and that Die Linke is pursuing a course that “has hardly anything to do with my idea of sensible left-wing politics.” In late March former co-chair of the party, Katja Kipping, even opined that Die Linke must “update” its traditional anti-NATO position.
Can Wagenknecht and like-minded travellers on the German left manage to bring this project together in the near-term and provide a vehicle for the obviously significant German anti-war momentum as “The Left” veers to the right?
- Petition: https://www.change.org/p/manifest-f%C3%BCr-frieden?fbclid=IwAR1jx5NnX9tU0NQ3Uklj7C17_P3ban3ViH-5r9u3K8AxZXopRXEM8yAp7zY
- (3rd March 2023) “Eine Querfront kennt ihre Führer”, Junge Welt https://www.jungewelt.de/artikel/446060.eine-querfront-kennt-ihre-f%25C3%25BChrer.html
- Brie, Michael (24th February 2023) “Ukraine-Krieg: Linker Sonderparteitag nötig”, ND: Journalism von Links, https://www.nd-aktuell.de/artikel/1171202.linkspartei-ukraine-krieg-linker-sonderparteitag-noetig.html
- (6th March 2023) “Friedensfrage nicht dringlich”, Junge Welt https://www.jungewelt.de/artikel/446182.niedergang-der-linkspartei-friedensfrage-nicht-dringlich.html
- (21st March 2023) “Kein Platz mehr” Junge Welt https://www.jungewelt.de/artikel/447227.niedergang-der-linkspartei-kein-platz-mehr.html
- (28th March 2023) “Gysi rechts überholt” Junge Welt https://www.jungewelt.de/artikel/447723.niedergang-der-linkspartei-gysi-rechts-%25C3%25BCberholt.html