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Left Party Strategy: Not even old wine in a new bottle

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Germany's Left Party, DIE LINKE, is once again invoking a new dawn. After all, that is what all parties when they have just suffered a crushing defeat and, as is well known, they suffered such a defeat in the 2021 federal elections. Things don't look too rosy for the upcoming state elections in Saarland, North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein either.

So, the start of the year on 16 January should at least be encouraging. "The Left is needed", the party leadership announces - and unintentionally makes clear with this incantation that it is not even sure of its own raison d'être. What is demanded above all is what the party lacks: unity, certainty, cohesion, solidarity, vision, strategy.

The party leadership therefore wants to remedy this. The two chairpersons, Janine Wissler and Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, have presented a so-called strategy paper: "For a LEFT transformation. Social AND climate justice".

Transformation strategy?
Old wine in new bottles would be a polite description for a text that is more like sour vinegar. Basically, the only difference between this "transformation concept" and older papers from the ranks of the Greens, the SPD, various NGOs or environmental associations is that DIE LINKE reproaches these parties for turning away from their promises of a socially just and ecologically effective transformation. The paper defiantly repeats what these parties have also invoked for years in election programmes or Sunday speeches: Climate neutrality by 2035, coal phase-out by 2030, climate check for all buildings by 2025, fair burden sharing, ambitious and rapid phase-out of the internal combustion engine, expansion of public transport.

The paper argues for state intervention and regulations because the market alone will not do the job. The market economy and private capitalism themselves are not questioned at any point. However, only companies that comply with social standards, pay according to collective agreements, preserve jobs, democratise their operations and undertake ecological restructuring are to be promoted and subsidised. For these, money from a state transformation fund awaits. In this way, shareholders, investors and private companies are to be "taken to task". In addition, Wissler/Hennig-Wellsow want to promote the takeover of crisis-ridden companies by the workforce. They should have a right of first refusal in the sale of companies.

Finally, public services of general interest are to be promoted and poverty abolished through transfer payments above the poverty line. At the end, DIE LINKE also proposes a "real" agricultural turnaround.

That was it. These core points of the "transformation strategy" are exceedingly tame even for a reformist programme. In better times, not only the Greens and the SPD, but also the Left Party itself had more far-reaching and comprehensive things to offer.

In some places, for example, the proposal to convert crisis-ridden companies into employee ownership, the transformation paper even goes in the wrong direction and would only prove to be a trap for the workers, who would mutate into being responsible for the reorganisation of their own company.

What is not even mentioned
What is remarkable about the paper is not so much the thin political soup that has been presented, but what is not even mentioned. Mind you, according to Janine Wissler, the strategy paper is supposed to present "contours of a substantive departure". The following topics and questions (the list is incomplete) are obviously not part of this:

International issues
At the beginning of the text, it is stated that the inequality and destruction of our livelihoods caused by capitalism is threatening the continued existence of our planet. But that was it. The paper makes no mention of the world market, imperialism, the threat of war, militarism, armaments, racist isolationism or the global dimension of the ecological catastrophe. The transformation strategy ends at the national border.

In earlier strategy papers or staged launch events, the Left Party had liked to present itself as a peace party, as an anti-NATO party, as a critic of foreign deployments, arms exports and interventions. Some even invoked it as a "movement party", a consistent anti-racist force or wanted to make it a party fit for a "new class politics". Of course, even then, this was in contrast to government practice in various federal states and/or the lack of mobilisation. At the start of the year, the leadership of the "left" opposition in the parliament renounced this right straightaway.

Points of contention
This is certainly due to the fact that every important political question in the Left Party is now a contentious issue. This concerns foreign missions, the attitude to the EU, migration, government participation, pandemic policy, property issues, identity policy and much more. The strategy paper avoids as far as possible everything that is controversial in the party. For example, for people like Klaus Ernst, who was appointed chair of the environmental committee around the turn of the year, the ecological transformation is limited, as is well known, to the conversion of cars to electric motors. This rightly outraged thousands of comrades in the Left Party, who signed the open letter to the party's parliamentary group.

The strategy paper tries to mediate between such ultimately irreconcilable directions by presenting the party's lowest common denominator as a vision of the future. However, this fraudulent labelling, which the authors may or may not be aware of, can at best perpetuate the crisis of the Left Party. Where the party is drifting apart, incantations are of no help, especially when they make it difficult to distinguish it from the governing parties, the SPD and the Greens, which they claim to be fighting.

No wonder, then, that the question of government does not appear in the strategy paper. How the party's modest proposals are to be implemented against the ruling class, whether on the streets, in class struggles or through imagined parliamentary combinations - the party leadership is nobly silent on this.

Meanwhile, Bodo Ramelow continues to work undaunted as prime minister of Thuringia, hardly distinguishable from other state leaders. The bourgeoisie has long since come to terms with such "reds". In Berlin, Bremen and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, too, DIE LINKE acts as a tame partner in government. Under SPD leadership, it dutifully trots on towards its downfall, betrays mass campaigns it has supported or pretends to support, such as expropriating Deutsche Wohnen and Co. and possibly even gives itself credit for sacrificing itself in order to prevent the SPD from switching to the FDP in Berlin or to the CDU in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Class struggle
In Wissler and Hennig-Wellsow's transformation strategy, the world outside Germany is practically absent. Exploitation, class relations and class struggle are not even mentioned. Wage earners appear merely as objects of state and collective bargaining reforms. There is no fundamental criticism of exploitation itself, as long as it takes place under collective agreements and above the poverty line.

In recent years, Bernd Riexinger, as party leader, stood for a left reformist conception of transformation and tried to present a new class politics as the strategic basis of the party, which brought him partly into open and partly into covert opposition to the government socialist and populist wing around Sara Wagenknecht.

An important component of this left reformist conception was the taking up of the property question, as it was popularised by campaigns like Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen or increasingly discussed in the ecological movement. Even Kevin Kühnert, at that time still a critic of the SPD leadership and the Grand Coalition, brought up the expropriation of BMW.

Even that is too much for the new leadership of the Left Party. In the effort to eliminate all differences between the wings of the party, and probably also between the two leaders, every disputed issue, at least in the strategy paper, is so hollowed out, so stale, trivial and pathetic that even a reformist Sunday speech would sound like a class struggle revelation by comparison. Only the government socialists and, perhaps, the populist wing of the party, will benefit directly from such formulaic compromises.

Some in the party leadership may consider it a clever tactic to sweep differences and disputes over direction under the carpet. However, avoiding any open confrontation between ultimately irreconcilable positions in the Left Party will not save it, but only aggravate the crisis. It will not make irreconcilable things compatible and will certainly not contribute to the formation of a left opposition that could initiate the long overdue political and organisational break with reformism. The move is long overdue when the barrel is no longer even full of old wine, but only sour vinegar.