The Left (Germany)

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The Left
Die Linke
Leader Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger
Founded 16 June 2007
Merger of PDS and WASG
Headquarters Karl-Liebknecht-Haus
Kl. Alexanderstraße 28
D-10178 Berlin
Membership  (2013) Decrease 63,756[1]
Ideology Democratic socialism[2]
Anti-capitalism[3]
Political position Left-wing
European affiliation Party of the European Left
European Parliament group European United Left–Nordic Green Left
Colours Red
Bundestag
64 / 631
State Parliaments
168 / 1,860
European Parliament
7 / 96
Website
http://www.die-linke.de
Politics of Germany
Political parties
Elections

The Left (German: Die Linke), also commonly referred to as the Left Party (German: Linkspartei), is a democratic socialist[4] political party in Germany. The party was founded in 2007 as the merger of the post-communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), successor to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) that ruled East Germany until 1989, and the Electoral Alternative for Labour and Social Justice (WASG), a left-wing breakaway from the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).

Since mid-2012, its co-chairs have been Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger. In the Bundestag the party has 64 out of 630 seats after polling 8.6% of the vote in the 2013 federal elections.[5] Its parliamentary group is therefore the third largest among the four groups in the German Bundestag, and the leading opposition group. Internationally, The Left is a member of the Party of the European Left and is the largest party in the European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group in the European Parliament.

The party is the most left-wing party of the four represented in the Bundestag, and has been called far-left by German government authorities and different international media.[6][7][8] Some of its internal factions are under observation by federal and some states' Verfassungsschutz (constitutional protection) authorities on account of suspected extremist tendencies.[9]

According to official party figures, the Left Party had 63,784 registered members as of December 2013,[10] making it the fourth-largest party in Germany.[11]

History[edit]

Foundation[edit]

The mass protests that forced the dismissal of East German Communist leader Erich Honecker in October 1989 also empowered a younger generation of reformist politicians in East Germany's ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) who looked to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika as their model for political change. Reformers like longtime SED politician Hans Modrow, attorney Gregor Gysi and dissidents like Rudolf Bahro and Stefan Heym soon began to reconstruct the profile of a party that had long been known as one of the most rigidly Stalinist parties in the Soviet bloc. The party gave up its monopoly of power on December 1, 1989. Honecker's successor, Egon Krenz, resigned two days later, and Gysi was named party chairman. By the end of 1989, the last hardline members of the party's Central Committee had either resigned or been pushed out. They were followed in 1990 by 95% of the SED's 2.3 million members.

By the time of a special congress in December 1989, the party was no longer a Marxist–Leninist party, though neo-Marxist and communist minority factions continue to exist. At the congress, the party adopted a program of democratic reform. To distance the reformed party from the SED's communist ideology, the party added the words "Party of Democratic Socialism" to its name, finally dropping the words "Socialist Unity Party" in February 1990. Gysi remained as leader.

On 18 March 1990, the PDS faced the voters in the first (and as it turned out, only) free election in East Germany. As expected, the party was severely defeated, taking only 16.4% of the vote for a distant third behind the East German branches of the West German-based Christian Democratic Union and Social Democratic Party. It became the largest opposition party to the grand coalition becoming the largest opposition party. The new government was led by the conservative Alliance for Germany, built around the East German branch of the West German Christian Democratic Union, with 48% of the vote.

Up to 2005[edit]

In the first all-German Bundestag elections in 1990, the PDS won only 2.4% of the nationwide vote. Normally, a party must win at least five percent of the vote to qualify for proportional representation in the Bundestag. However, for the 1990 elections only, a one-time exception allowed eastern-based parties to qualify for list representation if they won at least five percent of the vote in the former East Germany. Also, Gysi was elected from a Berlin-area district; representatives elected directly through the "First Vote" are always guaranteed a seat regardless of their party's national vote. As a result, the PDS entered the 1990 Bundestag with 17 deputies led by Gysi, albeit without the privileges afforded to parliamentary groups.

In the 1994 federal election the PDS managed to increase its share of the vote to 4.4 percent. This was in spite of an aggressive "Red Socks" campaign organised against the PDS by the then-ruling Christian Democratic Union aimed at scaring off voters by insinuating that underneath their suits, representatives of the PDS were "still wearing red socks" and harboring "red", i.e. communist, convictions. More importantly, Gysi and three other candidates were elected from eastern electoral districts. Parties with at least three directly-elected seats enter the Bundestag with their full contingent of representatives corresponding to the party's popular vote count, even if it falls short of the normal five percent threshold. This allowed the PDS to re-enter the Bundestag with an enlarged caucus of 30 deputies.

In 1998, the party reached its highest result so far by seeing 37 deputies elected with 5.1% of the national vote, thus surpassing the 5% threshold required for guaranteed representation and full parliamentary status in the Bundestag. Gysi's resignation in 2000 after losing a policy debate with leftist factions brought conflict to the PDS. In the 2002 federal election, the party's share of the vote declined to 4.0% and the PDS was represented only by two backbenchers elected directly from their districts, Petra Pau and Gesine Lötzsch.

After the 2002 debacle, the PDS adopted a new, moderate program and installed long-time Gysi ally Lothar Bisky as chairman. In the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, the PDS won 6.1% of the vote nationwide, its highest share at that time in a federal election. Its electoral base in the eastern German states continued to grow, until it ranked as the third strongest party in the east, behind the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). However, low membership and voter support in Germany's western states continued to plague the party until it formed an electoral alliance in July 2005 with the newly formed Electoral Alternative for Labour and Social Justice (WASG), a party largely consisting of dissident Social Democrats, trade union members, and an assortment of left-wing radicals.

Alliance with the WASG[edit]

After negotiations, the PDS and WASG agreed on terms for a combined ticket to compete in the 2005 federal election and pledged to unify into a single left-wing party during 2007. According to the pact, the parties did not compete against each another in any district. Instead, WASG candidates—including the former SPD leader, Oskar Lafontaine—were nominated on the PDS electoral list. To symbolise the new relationship, the PDS changed its name to The Left Party.PDS (Linkspartei.PDS) or simply The Left.PDS, with the letters "PDS" optional in western states where many voters still regarded the PDS with suspicion.

The alliance benefited from a strong electoral base in the east and WASG's growing voter potential in the west. Gregor Gysi, returning to public life only months after brain surgery and two heart attacks, shared the spotlight with Lafontaine as co-leader of the party.

Polls early in the summer showed the unified Left list winning as much as 12 percent of the vote, and for a time it seemed possible the party would surge past the established Alliance '90/The Greens and right–liberal Free Democratic Party and become the third-strongest faction of the Bundestag. Alarmed by the Left's unexpected rise in the polls, Germany's mainstream politicians attacked Lafontaine and Gysi as "leftist populists" and "demagogues" and accused the party of flirting with neo-Nazi voters. A gaffe by Lafontaine, who described "foreign workers" as a threat in one speech early in the campaign, provided ammunition for charges that The Left was attempting to exploit German xenophobia and anti-democratic populism to attract voters from the far-right.[12]

In spite of all this, in the 2005 elections the Left Party became the fourth largest party in the Bundestag with 8.7% of the nationwide vote and 53 seats. Negotiations on unification between Left Party.PDS and WASG continued through the next year until the two forces reached agreement on 27 March 2007. The joint party—now called simply "The Left"—celebrated its founding congress on 16 June in Berlin.

The unified party soon became an electoral force in Western Germany for the first time, winning a modest number of seats in state elections in Bremen, Lower Saxony, Hesse and Hamburg. The "five-party system" in Germany was now a reality in the west as well as the east.

A string of electoral successes followed in the "Super Election Year" of 2009. In the campaign for seats in the European Parliament, The Left party won 7.5% of the vote nationwide, continuing a steady upward trend in European elections (1994: 4.7%, 1999: 5.8%, 2004: 6.1%). In six state elections, the party either surged ahead or consolidated earlier gains, increasing its vote in Thuringia and Hesse, and winning seats for the first time in Schleswig Holstein. In Saarland, the party became a significant force for the first time in a western state, winning 19.2% of the vote and taking third place ahead of the Free Democratic Party and the Greens. In Saxony and Brandenburg, the party's vote declined slightly while it remained the second largest political force in both states.

The electoral collapse of the Social Democratic Party in the federal election on 27 September 2009 gave The Left an unprecedented opportunity to increase its influence in German politics. The party's vote surged to 11.9 percent, increasing its representation in the Bundestag from 54 to 76 seats. It remains the second largest opposition party.

2010 presidential election[edit]

Ahead of the 2010 presidential election, Social Democrats and Greens invited the Left to vote for their candidate, Joachim Gauck. They proposed the election of the civil rights activist and former Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records as a possibility for the Left to leave their communist past behind them and show unconditional support for democracy.[13] Die Linke refused to support either Gauck, or conservative Christian Wulff, the favourite of the chancellor,[14] but put forward their own nominee, television journalist Luc Jochimsen.[15] The Left declared it impossible to vote for Gauck, as he had supported the German commitment in the Afghan War and had attacked the post-communists.[16] The red-green camp reacted disappointed.[17] SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel described Die Linke's position as "bizarre and embarrassing," stating that he was "shocked" that the party would declare Joachim Gauck their main enemy due to his investigation of communist injustice.[18] According to Gabriel, Die Linke had manifested itself once again as the successor of the East German communist party.[19] Social Democrats and Greens expected the Left to support Gauck at least in the decisive third round of the election. But after Jochimsen had withdrawn, most Left electoral delegates abstained.[17][19] Wulff was elected by an absolute majority.[20]

2012 presidential election[edit]

The party was isolated ahead of the 2012 presidential election, as the government invited SPD and Greens, but not Die Linke, to agree on an all-party consensus candidate for President. The CDU/CSU and FDP government parties, and the SPD and the Greens, eventually agreed on Joachim Gauck, the SPD's and the Greens' preferred candidate. Die Linke again refused to support him.[21] The SPD chairman, Sigmar Gabriel, criticized Die Linke and claimed the reason for the party's rejection of Gauck was its "sympathy for the German Democratic Republic."[22][23] On 11 April 2012 the chairwoman of the party, Gesine Lötzsch, declared her resignation as a chairwoman of the party.[24]

In the 2014 European parliament elections, The Left received 7.4% of the national vote, returning 7 MEPs.[25]

Ideology[edit]

The Left aims for democratic socialism in order to overcome capitalism. As a platform for left politics in the wake of globalization, The Left includes many different factions, ranging from communists to social democrats. In March 2007, during the joint party convention of Left Party and WASG, a document outlining political principles was agreed on. The official program of the party was decided upon by an overwhelming majority at the party conference in October 2011 in Erfurt, Thuringia.

The party's fiscal policies are based on Keynesian economics, originating from the 1930s when governments responded to the Great Depression. The central bank and government should collaborate with expansionary fiscal and monetary policies in order to ameliorate business cycles, to support economic growth, and to reduce unemployment. Wage rises in the private sector should be determined through the productivity growth, the target inflation rate of the European Central Bank, and master contracts.

The party aims at increasing government spending in the areas of public investments, education, research and development, culture, and infrastructure, as well as increasing taxes for large corporations. It calls for increases in inheritance tax rates and the reinstatement of the individual "net worth" tax. The Left aims at a linear income tax progression, which would reduce the tax burden for lower and middle incomes, while raising the top tax rate. The combating of tax loopholes is a perennial issue, as The Left believes that they primarily benefit people with high incomes.

The financial markets should be subject to heavier government regulation, with the goal, among others, to reduce the speculation of bonds and derivatives. The party wants to strengthen anti-trust laws and empower cooperatives to decentralise the economy. Further economic reforms shall include solidarity and more self-determination for workers, the rejection of privatization and the introduction of a federal minimum wage,[26] and more generally the overthrow of property and power structures in which, citing Karl Marx's aphorism, "man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable essence".[27]

Foreign policy[edit]

Concerning foreign policy, The Left calls for international disarmament, while ruling out any form of involvement of the Bundeswehr outside of Germany. The party calls for a replacement of NATO with a collective security system including Russia as a member country. German foreign policy should be strictly confined to the goals of civil diplomacy and cooperation, instead of confrontation.

The Left supports further debt cancellations for developing countries and increases in development aid, in collaboration with the United Nations, World Trade Organization, World Bank, and diverse bilateral treaties among countries. The party supports reform of the United Nations as long as it is aimed at a fair balance between developed and developing countries. All American military bases within Germany, and if possible in the European Union, enacted within a binding treaty, shall be dissolved. The Left welcomes the European process of integration, while opposing what it believes to be neoliberal policies in the European Union. The party strives for the democratisation of the EU institutions and a stronger role of the United Nations in international politics. The Left opposed both the War in Afghanistan and in Iraq,[26] as well as the Lisbon Treaty.[28] The party declared in May 2014 that Ukraine shouldn't receive any kind of support from Germany as long as it is ruled by "fascists".[29] The deputies of the party supported and observed the referendum held by the population of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

Controversies[edit]

The Left Party's position as the successor party of the SED of the former German Democratic Republic and its positions have often led to controversy,[30] and to the party being observed by the Verfassungsschutz authorities.

In 2001, Gabi Zimmer, the head of the Left Party's predecessor PDS at the time, officially recognized the injustice of building the Berlin wall in 1961, but she did not feel compelled to apologize on behalf of the Party.[31]

Observation by Verfassungsschutz[edit]

Germany operates a system of "Verfassungsschutz" (Protection of the Constitution) at both federal level (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV) and state level (Landesbehörden für Verfassungsschutz, LfV), which carries out domestic surveillance of actual and suspected activities which may threaten the "free and democratic basic order" ("freiheitlich-demokratische Grundordnung") at the core of the German constitution. The Left Party, including one third of its members of parliament,[32] and some of its caucuses remain under observation by the BfV, listed in the annual Verfassungsschutzbericht under the heading "left-extremist tendencies and suspected cases". The 2007 report cites as evidence of the party's "extremism" Lothar Bisky's June 2007 statement that democratic socialism remains the party's goal: "We also still discuss the change of property and power relations.... We question the system." However, the report notes that in practice the parliamentary party appears as to act as a "reform-oriented" left force. In addition, the report cites "openly extremist groupings" within the party, notably the Marxist–Leninist Communist Platform, which in Sahra Wagenknecht has a representative on the 44-member Left Party executive.[33] One former Bundestag deputy, Bodo Ramelow, was under BfV surveillance until a court decision in January 2008 that the observation was illegal.[34][35]

The Left is also under observation by four western CDU/CSU-governed states, where party in its entirety is considered to be extremist (Lower Saxony, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria).[36] Saarland ceased observation of The Left in January 2008.[35] By contrast, in the five eastern states The Left is not under surveillance, with the local LfVs seeing no indication of anti-constitutional behaviour of the party as a whole. However the small "Communist Platform" — a hardline communist minority faction within the party — is under observation in three eastern states.[37]

In January 2012, it became known that more than one third of the party's MPs are observed by the federal Verfassungsschutz due to suspected extremist views.[38][39]

2007 walkout in Saxon Parliament[edit]

On 3 October 2007, during a commemoration ceremony[40] in the Saxon Parliament in memory of the German reunification and the fall of the German Democratic Republic, all members of The Left walked out in protest. The Left was upset that Joachim Gauck, the former Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records and later President of Germany, was invited to deliver a speech.[41]

Election results[edit]

Federal Parliament (Bundestag)[edit]

Election year # of constituency
votes
# of party list
votes
 % of party list
vote
# of overall seats won +/− Notes
2005 3,764,168 4,118,194 8.7
54 / 614
Increase 52
2009 4,791,124 5,155,933 11.9
76 / 622
Increase 22
2013 3,585,178 3,755,699 8.6
64 / 630
Decrease 12

State parliaments[edit]