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PORTSIDE  October 2011, Week 5

PORTSIDE October 2011, Week 5

Subject:

First Hand Report from German Left Party Congress

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Date:

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 19:58:05 -0400

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Report from German Left Party Congress
Oct 21 - 23, 2011

By Pat Fry
October 30, 2011

Erfurt, Germany

Culminating nearly two years of discussion and
debate, the 519 delegates of the Die Linke Party of
Germany united overwhelmingly around a new program
at its Congress in Erfurt, Germany, October 21 -
23. The Committees of Correspondence for Democracy
and Socialism was one of 43 Communist, Socialist,
left parties and organizations making up the
international delegation, and was the sole
representative from the United States.

The 44 page draft program, issued in March 2010,
was discussed at meetings of local and regional
bodies, resulting in 1,300 amendments presented for
Congress deliberations. The program was adopted
nearly unanimously following 3 days of debate. It
will provide the political platform for Die Linke
candidates in the 2013 federal elections.

The Congress was held against the backdrop of
momentous events in Europe. The Eurozone debt
negotiations to save bank profits led by Germany's
Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the general strike in
Greece in opposition to the outcome of those
negotiations dramatically framed the weekend's
deliberations. A representative of the Synaspismos
Party (Coalition of the Left of Greece), Alexis
Tsipras, delivered an impassioned greeting of
solidarity bringing the Congress to its feet.

"The war in Greece is between capital and labor,
not between Greece and Germany," said Tsipras.
"Greece is the guinea pig of the Eurozone. We are
committed to defending democracy in Greece before
it is too late for you," he said.

The adoption of the Die Linke party program marks a
milestone in the process of forging of a new left
all-German party of democratic socialism. Founded
in 2007, the party is a merger of east and west
political parties and traditions - the PDS (Party
of Democratic Socialism) founded in the ashes of
the collapse of the GDR, and the west German WASG
(Electoral Alternative for Labour and Social
Justice) founded by left wing social democrats in
2005 in a split from the Social Democratic Party
(SPD) after its embrace of austerity policies under
the Schroeder government.

The program document opens with an overview of the
rich history of the left in Germany including a
critical assessment of the GDR and its experience
in building socialism. "It has become clear that an
experiment in socialism that is not democratically
shaped by the majority of the people but is
controlled by the government and party leadership
in an authoritarian manner will inevitably fail
sooner or later. No socialism without democracy,"
states the program. While renouncing "Stalinism"
with its violations of "the rule of law" and
"separation of powers," the program takes issue
with an "unhistorical" assessment of socialism in
the GDR, and defends its many contributions to
economic justice and security, intellectual life,
art and culture.

A personal eye-opening experience was learning of
the enormous pain and suffering endured by the
people of the former GDR following REUNIFICATION.
Part of my week-long trip was spent with people in
east Germany who have lived through this period and
have never recovered from the loss of jobs, income,
educational opportunities, social programs and, in
particular, the sense of security that protected
the general welfare of people in a socialist
system. The history of the socialist east and the
capitalist west within the same country shapes the
development of the Die Linke party and makes it
unique in all of Europe.

At the Die Linke founding Congress in 2007, the new
party adopted minimal "Programmatic Key Points"
that all acknowledged was only the beginning step
in consolidating a new all-German left party. It
was more of an orientation than a program but
provided a basis for campaigns in the 2009 federal,
state and European Parliament elections. As a
result, Die Linke holds 76 of the 620 seats in the
Bundestag (Parliament), and is the 4th largest
party behind the Christian Democrats (237), the
Social Democrats (146), and the center-right Free
Democrats (93). The Green Party holds 68 seats.

The new program adopted by delegates but subject to
a vote of the party membership in the coming weeks
will provide the electoral platforms for the 2013
federal elections. It represents a huge step
forward from the founding document of 2007.

The Congress took place a month after disappointing
results in local elections in Berlin, where the Die
Linke lost considerable ground, mainly due to votes
that went to the newly emerged Pirate Party, a
spin-off from the Swedish Pirate Bay hacker
movement of young people dedicated to internet
freedom and social networking but also disdain for
all political parties. The phenomenon has spread to
offshoots in a number of other European countries.
Other reasons for the losses were attributed to
fierce red baiting and cooptation of aspects of the
Left Party program by Social Democratic and Green
Party candidates.

While many of the delegates at the Congress were
young, the majority were older veterans of left
parties and social movements. In his keynote speech
Gregor Gysi, a founding chair of Die Linke who now
chairs its Parliamentary group, talked about the
importance of connecting to youth. A delegate from
the Die Linke socialist student organization, SDS,
discussed programmatic proposals that they had
developed regarding internet neutrality and against
measures restricting the internet. "We need to call
for the internet for everyone," he said.

There were many references hailing the Occupy Wall
Street movement which had spread to Germany the
week before with an occupation in Frankfort in
front of the European Central Bank. "People no
longer accept that a small group of people are able
to rip off everyone else," said a young delegate
about the encampment. On October 15, many thousands
of people rallied in Berlin in solidarity with
Occupy Wall Street.

Reformers and Radicals

The long period of debate preceding the Congress
and tensions in floor debate reflected the
political differences and backgrounds within the
Party. Factions are built into the party structure,
including the Communist Platform, a Marxist-
Leninist grouping identified with the Communist
Party of Germany (DKP) based in the west.
Throughout the debate compromises were made and
unity achieved in votes on 1,300 amendments
forwarded to the Congress for consideration. Debate
went far into the night both Friday and Saturday.

Gysi highlighted the importance of Die Linke's
political diversity and pluralist traditions. "We
are a modern party and have great diversity within
it," said Gysi. He coined the differences expressed
in the debate as between "reformers" and
"radicals." Both are needed, he said. "If we were
only reformers Die Linke would become like the
Social Democrats; if we were only radicals the
Party would become irrelevant," he said.

One of the most contentious debates was over the
use of military intervention. The "reformers"
argued against foreclosing "case by case"
considerations of some future use of the military
(a "just war" scenario). This was defeated and the
"radicals" won the debate. This aside, there was no
disagreement on an exceptionally strong stand on
withdrawal of all German troops from other
countries, particularly Afghanistan, prohibiting
the use of the military inside Germany, demands
that all foreign military bases and troops be
withdrawn from Germany and the world, the
destruction of all weapons of mass destruction, and
an end to nuclear weapons and arms exports. The
program calls for withdrawal of German military
forces in NATO, the dissolution of NATO and its
replacement with a collective security system with
the participation of Russia.

Die Linke was the only party in Germany to oppose
the bombing of Libya while the SPD and Green Party
supported it. The Party plays a leading role in the
peace movement in Germany, most recently in
mobilizing for the nationwide days of action
October 7 and 8th against the war in Afghanistan.

Despite the strong endorsement of diversity and
full debate within the party, Gysi warned about a
perception that Die Linke "deals only with
ourselves" at the expense of dealing with the many
problems confronting the German people.

Founding co-chair Oskar LaFontaine in an address at
the Die Linke Congress

"We are the only party with solutions to the
financial crisis," said founding co-chair and
former German finance minister Oskar LaFontaine. He
drew attention to the program's call for regulation
of the banks and establishment of a public banking
sector for people's savings - where money is saved
and not used for gambling and speculation. "The
German bank is already nationalized but taxpayers
are not getting the profits," he noted. "The
billions and trillions spent on war can be used to
wipe out poverty," he said.

In response to the Eurozone debt crisis, the Die
Linke calls for an EU-wide property tax, the
separation of state finances from the financial
markets, and a European public bank to provide
direct loans to the eurozone countries. Financial
injections into banks would be permitted only if
they are nationalized and regulated.

Opposition Party and Governing Coalitions

In an interview with the left leaning newspaper Neu
Deutschland, LaFontaine said the new party program
makes clear what the Left wants. "A key issue is
the ownership question," he said. "We want profound
social changes, more community ownership, more
cooperatives," he said. "The crisis of capitalism
reaffirms our belief that we must be radical in our
thinking." In answer to a question about the
"leftward shift in the party program" which may
relegate it to a permanent opposition party in
government, LaFontaine pointed to several regions
where the Die Linke is in governing coalitions with
the Greens, the SPD and other parties. "Our
participation in government depends on whether
improvements can be achieved for our voters," he
said. Opposition is not crap," said LaFontaine,
responding to the negative connotation of
opposition. "There is no democracy without
opposition," he said.

In his address at the Congress La Fontaine, who led
the breakaway from the SPD and formed the WASG,
called upon his former party to "change its
behavior. We are ready to cooperate but as long as
the SPD and the Greens resort to police state
methods, it is they that have to change, he said.
"Die Linke is the only party in Germany with a
program to defend against austerity and fight for
peace and a sustainable environment, for women's
equality and against discrimination of ethnic
minorities and immigrants."

This call for unity against neo-liberalism was a
theme throughout the Congress. Party Co-Chair Klaus
Ernst joined in challenging the SPD and the Green
Party to fight austerity and war and measures to
save the environment. "We are the only party that
challenges the dictatorship of the financial
markets," said Ernst.

Gysi said "the SPD is not our enemy - if only they
were real social democrats. They should reject
their policies and join with us. The Left alone is
too weak in Germany and Europe to impact social
policy, he said.

Women's Equality

The program devotes much attention to equality for
women in all social, political and economic
spheres. It calls for equal wages for similar work
between men and women and equality of the wage
scale between west and east where wages and
pensions are considerably less. Even in the former
GDR, it was noted, women had lower wages. The
Congress delegates were more than half female and a
woman leader, Gesine Lotzsch, is Party Co-Chair.

Report from the Die Linke Delegation to the
European Parliament

Die Linke has 6 members elected to the European
Parliament. They are part of the 34 member European
Party of the Left bloc of 750 in Parliament. It can
be argued that the Party's leadership within the
European Parliament has even more importance than
the Party's impact on national developments in
Germany. The European Parliament passes legislation
that supersedes individual nation state laws and is
emerging as a key arena for struggle in opposition
to neo-liberal policies and the fight for a "social
Europe." The Left bloc has introduced in the
European Parliament two important measures related
to the eurozone debt crisis - a financial
transaction tax and Euro bonds that would be used
to keep eurozone countries solvent and prevent the
financial markets from launching speculative
attacks on individual euro countries.

The European Left Party bloc has led the opposition
to a number of neo-liberal measures in the EP. One
plan to raise the pension age was met with a
revolt. "The Die Linke and their partners organized
the opposition and managed the revolt," reported
Die Linke EP member Thomas Handel. "It was the
first time the left was able to ally with the
Social Democrats, the Greens and the International
Labor Organization (ILO) in the European
Parliament," he said. Other neoliberal measures
successfully defeated were raising the maximum
number of truck driving hours from 60 to 67 a week
and eliminating the right to strike.

"Some think the European Union is an imperialist
tool," said Handel. "We don't feel that way. We
must fight for a unified, democratic, ecological,
peaceful and social Europe."

The Erfurt Program and Die Linke

While the Die Linke does not identify itself as
Marxist, it claims its place in history as "the
inheritors of the Erfurt Program," a reference to
the first program of the Social Democratic Party
(SPD) founded as part of the Communist
International of Karl Marx. Karl Liebknecht and
others authored the Erfurt Program in 1891, named
after the city where the Die Linke Congress was
held. During the Congress, a staged reading of the
Erfurt program was presented. It was remarkable how
current the program's demands for labor rights over
capital are 120 years later.

In the concluding moments of the Congress, a group
of Nazi youth converged outside the conference
center and shouted "Heil Hitler" at a number of
Party delegates, many of whom were young
themselves. A brief scuffle broke out, a
provocation by one of the Nazi youth, but they were
carefully pushed back until they departed. The
incident was a punctuation mark to the Congress
that had just concluded with its call for an
intensification of anti-racist, anti-Semitic and
anti-fascist education work and a ban on all
fascist organizations.

____________

Pat Fry, is a National co-chair of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy & Socialism

___________________________________________

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