In mid-April, the left-wing spectrum of the LINKE lists in North Rhine-Westphalia heated the minds. Even before it came to a head in the second week of April, the situation in the largest regional association had heated up. Although proposals for the election of reserve lists were never enforceable in the regional association, the regional executive had already voted months ago in a controversial decision for a renewed candidacy of Sahra Wagenknecht in the top spot in the federal election. The decision was not only controversial because Wagenknecht has not been chairman of the left-wing parliamentary group in the Bundestag since 2019; not only because the center of her life is not in North Rhine-Westphalia, but in Saarland, and not only because she only plays a minor role in the political work of the regional association outside of the election campaigns. Wagenknecht's nomination was mainly controversial because, with her positions critical of migration, she represents the speaker and projection screen for an end to the polarization within the party. This began several years ago, but it took shape and solidified in the context of the refugee crisis and finally after the last federal election.
Now massive oil was poured into the fire of the already smoldering dispute, as Wagenknecht's most recent book The self-righteous a week before the list party conference in North Rhine-Westphalia became accessible. In different Reviews and collections of quotations that found their way into the inner-party or general public, many comrades found themselves attacked in principle and in the sharpest way by their designated top candidate. The dispute escalated, reaching far beyond North Rhine-Westphalia. After Wagenknecht's election as the top candidate on April 10th, a number of activists, functionaries and mandate holders of the party turned to disappointed LINKE members with the appeal not to resign out of anger about the result Many sympathizers hurried in social networks to declare the party as ineligible from their point of view. That is why the events in North Rhine-Westphalia are significant - not only because they were part of the party's largest regional association, but because they are meaningful for the party as a whole. And in fact the situation of the LEFT is all the more worrying, the more informative these processes are.
In the processes in North Rhine-Westphalia, internal party developments are condensing, which will quickly lead DIE LINKE into a political dead end if it is not reversed as soon as possible. These developments can be summed up in five aspects.
The lower the amount in dispute, the greater the emotions
The dispute that crystallized on the basis of the top candidacy in North Rhine-Westphalia is firstly a symptom of DIE LINKE treading on the spot. Although in view of the surveys for the federal level, the obvious difficulties of the Union parties in settling Merkel's successor and the progressive, failed election program drafts of the SPD and Alliance Greens, the chance of left-wing political influence after the federal elections are good as rarely, the party seems unprepared, disoriented and directionless. Although the boundary conditions with the end of the Merkel era and the growing state interventionism to cope with the corona pandemic are more favorable than seldom before, DIE LINKE currently hardly plays a role in power-political calculations for the actual implementation of an ecological-social turnaround. Instead, she tears up questions that actually interest no one outside of her inner-party parallel universe, as if she wanted to confirm “Sayre's law”, according to which the perceived intensity in every dispute is inversely proportional to the weight of the value in dispute. The more the substance shrinks, the more jazzed the arguments become. This applies at least to the battle cries and the labels, the likely further shrinking number of mandates, the processing of political content, the shrinking representativeness and acceptance of social impulses and the party's dwindling political cleverness.
Secondly, apart from the foreign policy, which is mostly quickly ticked off with reference to the existing beliefs, the controversy in the LEFT has little real political-practical reference; rather, it is about labeling and self-image. This is made even worse by the fact that the labels used for 'identity politics' and 'class politics' do not capture the reality of political practice in a meaningful way. Anti-discrimination, equality and inclusion policies that combat social disadvantage of groups on the basis of external characteristics (e.g. skin color), disability or religion are not the same as a policy that essentially fixes certain people on group identities that are attached to these characteristics and which claims to speak for the majority society for this.
Concrete policies that increase the social mix of urban districts, recruit more trainees and students from such (mostly highly immigrant) districts, combat disadvantages of women or people with a migration background in the education system or on the labor market are not the same as a policy that uses discriminatory terms to describe the majority society (›whites‹, ›Almans‹, ›potatoes‹, ›people with a Nazi background‹), and accuses the majority of factually incorrectly ›privileges‹ (instead of the disadvantages for the disadvantaged speak) and tries to put them on the moral defensive by conjuring up a kind of collective guilt and which triggers outrage loops in social media and mass media about the smallest real and alleged offenses. DIE LINKE certainly still has room for improvement in the first examples mentioned, but the second-named, literally and badly 'identity-political' practices, only occupy a small minority in the party and in Germany at all. Precisely because it is a minority phenomenon, which is also still very young in Germany, feeds itself largely on how unreflective we American discourses on racism and discrimination in this country are, the frequently expressed thesis that identity politics cannot be correct either contributed to the rise of radical right-wing populism because it drove the working class into its arms.
Rather, it is more plausible to reverse the development: right-wing populism in Germany and some other countries has brought together almost all democratic political forces on many issues to form a 'community of decent people'. In the light of misanthropic attacks by right-wing populism and murderous attacks by right-wing terrorism, it becomes clear how far this society has already been liberalized and sees itself as a cosmopolitan, tolerant immigration society that accepts different ways of life and love. According to the thesis of the ›integration paradox‹, the identity politics only really got going after the AfD had settled at a terrifyingly high, but no longer rising, level and everyone else faced it as opponents. The fact that radical right-wing populism was able to become so strong at all was more due to pre-existing right-wing attitudes, also in the target groups and clientele of left-wing parties, which had previously remained latent and could then be more easily addressed by economic crises and weaknesses in left politics.
What does ›class politics‹ actually mean?
It is no better with the concept of ›Class politics‹ - what is that supposed to mean? In Germany, there are no centralized collective bargaining agreements that cover all wage earners, but are organized according to sectors. When left-wing representatives in the municipality, in the state, in the federal government or at European level argue for better equipment in day-care centers, more attractive public transport, higher unemployment benefits, employment insurance in the pension and citizens' insurance in the health system, they always serve a larger amount ( because the self-employed and income from sources other than gainful employment), sometimes a smaller amount (because not all employees take the bus or have children) than the ›working class‹ - no matter how you define them.
Thirdly, DIE LINKE does not only resolve its dispute on the basis of largely unworldly conceptual constructs. In the vicious circle of distributing a shrinking number of mandates and functions, the party is also becoming more polarized and incestuous at the same time, and is increasingly accepting less input from society. After the election of the NRW state list, some defeated candidates and their supporters complained that the list was not plural enough or that the winning side had “pulled through”. Viewed objectively, the result appears less dramatic: the previous elected representatives were re-elected, either re-occupying their 2017 list or moving up through the retirement of previous elected representatives due to age or health.
The newcomers on the list are the previous state spokesman and two of his deputies. The fact that a list, largely composed as a continuation of the previous one, raises so much additional emotion rather shows that the inner-party polarization has intensified again. One and the same people, who in 2017 went through the home straight with significantly higher results in the list, were now perceived as exponents of an opposing prey community and received correspondingly less support.
In contrast to the USA, where the Democratic and Republican parties are each constantly shaping and mapping one pole of the social divide, the formation of camps at DIE LINKE is primarily an issue within the party. Issues of immigration, the socio-political openness to LGBTIQ issues and the erosion of patriarchy only mobilize a minority (albeit a shockingly large one) to entrust their voice to the AfD. The clear majority of society, which distributes its vote on the Union, FDP, SPD, Bündnisgrüne, LINKE and small parties, is indifferent to positive about these developments. While the inner-left pluralism of opinion and flow made it possible in the past for social developments to be reflected in the party in terms of both programs and personnel, it no longer does so today. On the contrary, parts of the party are taking a sectarian direction. The opponents of the Wagenknecht top candidacy in North Rhine-Westphalia nominated an activist from the Trotskyist sect SAV as the opposing candidate, whose election the party would have made ineligible from the point of view of many voters.
Such considerations did not seem to play a role with the Wagenknecht opponents. So the dispute was driven from both sides into level limbo inner-left navel gazing. Wagenknecht's well-known omissions from her book do not go beyond the level of the most flattering, stereotypical allegations. Your opponents never even got the idea of recruiting a popular figure as a candidate, such as Carola Rackete, against whom the alliance around Wagenknecht would have had a much harder time. Especially in the current phase of upheaval, in which it would be important to improve one's own sensorium for progressive concerns, currents and changes in society, DIE LINKE is curled up.
Performance and self-expression
Fourth, you have to notice a loss of competence at LINKEN, which will intensify if the current developments are updated. In North Rhine-Westphalia it was evident from the fact that, apart from the widely respected pension policy spokesman Matthias W. Birkwald, basically no candidates were elected as qualified politicians in the most promising places. The social judge Friedrich Straetmanns only appeared in the already “shaky” 10th place on the list. How this fits in with the understanding of a party that formed through the opposition to Hartz IV will probably remain the delegates' secret. Instead of professional competence, as described, what counted was the official bonus from mandate or function, and there was certainly a good connection to the relevant flow networks. The less important the professional competence and the occupation of important political areas for advancement within the party, the more important it becomes Performance of the candidates in the party's self-portrayal and external portrayal.
If you will, Sahra Wagenknecht played a very bad role model here. The withdrawal of the newly elected top candidate from the top of the parliamentary group in 2019 was only logical because, in fact, she hardly makes any practical policy. Wagenknecht can show off her rhetorical strength and her charismatic demeanor on talk shows and speeches in the Bundestag, she knows how to inspire listeners at election campaign events. But it has hardly anything to show for in politics, which takes place behind the stages and far away from the attention of the mass media. Wagenknecht was not responsible for any pioneering political proposals or programmatic drafts, she forged no alliances that brought left politics closer to realization. Interestingly, of all things, her most dogged opponents were astonishingly similar to her in this peculiarity: The dispute over list position in North Rhine-Westphalia was about who was allowed to speak for DIE LINKE. How that which DIE LINKE says is received, whether the party is up to date, and whether / how it can enforce what it claims to be slogans and solutions - none of this played a role in the dispute.
Wagenknecht and her critics did not argue about whether and how left immigration legislation, but only about who is allowed to say what publicly on behalf of the LEFT about immigration. A bitter irony is that precisely the left-wing extremist sections of the party, who most vocally distrust the 'bourgeois state', will ultimately be most dependent on its experts for any reform efforts, because they themselves are not experts, but only megaphone carriers send. A party that is primarily concerned with projecting a certain image of itself (and last but not least: of itself) may not need specialist politicians either. But such a party will certainly not enforce anything useful.
Fifthly, finally, Wagenknecht's election shows how far the party has dried up in terms of personnel, program and strategy. You have to briefly visualize the extent of audacity, defiance or political autism in order to publish an extremely weak book directly (!) Directly before your own, already controversial NRW top candidate, which propagates the flattest, stereotypical disgrace of other leftists. Sahra Wagenknecht owes that she was elected anyway, and even within this majority she was elected with the proverbial “fist in her pocket” so as not to break further agreements. The ›fist in the pocket‹ or the ›stomach ache‹ in dealing with one's own party are, however, signs of severe emaciation and inner alienation. As long as DIE LINKE has no constructive idea of its own future, it remains at the mercy of its own present. This is not only strategically sterile and boring, but also increasingly less bearable.