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PORTSIDE  June 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE June 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Rescue From a German Cliff-Hanger

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Date:

Tue, 5 Jun 2012 22:09:41 -0400

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text/plain (173 lines)

Rescue From a German Cliff-Hanger

By Victor Grossman

Berlin Bulletin No. 44 
June 4, 2012

 Published by Portside

 The media were keen for a real wide split in the Left Party.
 In truth, a lot of the members feared the same. The long
 standing quarrel between the two wings - often called the
 reformers versus the fundamentalists - had crippled
 activities in the party far too long. It seemed very
 possible that all the hopes of past years might be buried at
 the election congress this past weekend in Goettingen. The
 party's victory in 2009, with nearly 12 percent of the
 national vote and 76 deputies in the Bundestag, had been
 frittered away, there had been one defeat after another on
 the state level, the national polling figures had dropped to
 about 6 percent, thus threatening the ability of the party
 to even remain in the Bundestag after next year's elections.
 That required 5 percent hurdle was by no means certain, the
 other parties were simply ignoring the Left as if it was
 already a goner, and the key role of the Left as an example
 and support for leftist parties all over Europe had all but
 disappeared. Would the Gottingen congress sound a tinny
 death knell to all the old hopes?

 If you believe some of the media you might think it did.
 Some journalists dug hard to explore and exploit any
 differences, disappointments or disagreements. That is,
 after all, their assignment. But it would seem that they
 missed the boat.

 It is true that one grand old man of the party, Gregor Gysi
 (now 64), started things off with a merciless analysis of
 past blunders, especially of the sharp political division
 which has split the Bundestag members into two feuding
 factions - he even used the word hatred to describe the
 worst outcroppings, and said  that if things continued that
 way he could no longer act as caucus chairperson, indeed if
 they can't overcome differences  it must be considered
 whether the two groups should not separate. His analysis
 dwelt on the dispute about whether the Left should welcome
 or join coalitions with the Social Democrats, as often
 advocated and sometime practiced in the eastern German
 states, or condemned, as by some in the West. He pointed out
 that for historical reasons the situations were completely
 different in the two regions; at the height of its strength
 in 2009 the Left got 8.7 percent in the western states, in
 no small measure thanks to Oskar Lafontaine, 68, the West
 German leader from Saarland, while getting 28.5 percent in
 the East (but with a far smaller population). Considering
 past history and media hostility both were remarkable
 achievements, but the differences obviously required
 different strategies and tactics, which must be understood
 and appreciated by the other side.

 Then, after his polemics about the disagreements, nasty as
 they have been, Gysi pointed out that a strong revival of
 the Left is not only important to its own members. As the
 only true fighter for the needs of most people, the only
 real antagonist of the financial interests now ruling the
 roost, and ruining it, the only fighter for a policy of
 peace - no military deployment, no export of weapons - it
 bears a responsibility to the people of Germany and Europe
 as well.

 The other grand old man, Lafontaine, also made a very
 passionate speech. The media waited for an angry response;
 rumors of their allegedly broken friendship have been
 circulating for weeks. But he disagreed with Gysi on only
 one main point - or rather one word: "We must ban the very
 word `split' from our vocabulary", was his message. Despite
 disagreements we are united in all our basic aims! It was
 due to our influence that the other parties even considered
 the question of a minimum wage, hitherto rejected by all of
 them. We raised the question of dropping the pension age
 back to 65 from 67; we helped channel sentiment against the
 war in Afghanistan - or anywhere. We are needed, more than
 ever.

 Basically, both men said the same thing, so did both of the
 new co-presidents, and so did other major speakers,
 including the party's leading theoretician, Sahra
 Wagenknecht, 42, who rejected calls to run for co-president
 and was elected as one of four vice-presidents. It was she
 who warned that the lack of a strong left, in times of
 crisis, opened the way for the far right.

 The votes, with the possible candidacies open until the last
 minute, were full of suspense. Part of this was due to the
 long-announced, hotly controversial candidacy of the East
 German Dietmar Bartsch, leader of the so-called Reformer
 wing, who tends towards closer ties to the Social Democratic
 Party (which almost always rejects such advances, on all but
 local levels).

 The Left has an unusual rule in all its elections, including
 the one for the highest office. First a women's slate is
 voted on. When this is completed a second, mixed slate is
 open to both men and women. This has resulted in the
 majority of female representation in the Bundestag, and it
 now meant that the first vote for president was between two
 women, Katja Kipping, a 34-year-old redhead from eastern
 Dresden versus the older Dora Heyenn, head of the party in
 western Hamburg. In Kipping's Saxony the reformer wing is
 very strong, but she herself has not been too close to
 either wing; her mainly private interest was the question of
 a guaranteed basic income. It was no political split between
 the two, but the younger, more dynamic woman won with 67
 percent of the vote.

 An unwritten but not iron-clad tradition expects a balance
 of one man, one woman, one East German, one West German. At
 one point it looked as if there might instead be a
 leadership of two women. But when it came time to choose the
 co-president the other woman dropped out, leaving two male
 contenders, the controversial Dietmar Bartsch and Bernd
 Riexinger, head of the party in western Baden-Wurttemberg, a
 union leader, not too well-known generally but a friend of
 Lafontaine. Bartsch was disadvantaged; his election would
 have meant two easterners. Partly to avoid this imbalance,
 perhaps, but also to avoid the greater possibility of a
 split on political differences, the delegates chose
 Riexinger with 297 votes against Bartsch with 251.

 For the other governing positions there were Easterners,
 Westerners, men, women, reformers and "fundis", though those
 leaning further left seem to have been somewhat stronger.

 But thus far there has been no more talk of a split;
 everyone, including Bartsch, speaks of building a fighting
 party, of winning more elections, of fighting coming battles
 against very definite levels of poverty in Germany and, even
 more, against fear -fear of not finding a job, fear of
 losing a job, fear of impossibly higher rents and of cuts in
 medical care.

 It is too early to tell whether the two wings can really
 grow close enough to fly upwards again. There seemed - from
 afar - near unanimity on the need for it. Problems certainly
 have not disappeared, but hopes seem high again, and there
 is a deep sense of relief among nearly all the delegates
 that they are still together. The almost entirely new
 leadership team - led jointly by Kipping and Riexinger, must
 now try to cement over fissures, to grow together and lead
 the way for the only party in Germany with the will and the
 potential for moving forward, fighting the good fight,
 developing solidarity with similar groups and parties in
 other countries - and maintaining a belief that the current
 economic system in Germany, the rule of big business and the
 big banks, with all their servile politicians, eventually
 needs profound changes.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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