Where does Die LINKE Stand? Interview with Christine Buchholz

Die LINKE is in a state between crisis and renewal. In November, the party had its national conference in Augsburg. The Initiative Sozialismus von Unten (Socialism from Below) spoke with Christine Buchholz about the crisis of the left-wing party, the departure of Sahra Wagenknecht and the war in Gaza.


Hello Christine. What is happening with Die LINKE?

Die LINKE is in a crisis. Sahra Wagenknecht has left, and created the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance [Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht, BSW], which will form a party at the end of January. As a result, the parliamentary fraction of die LINKE lost its status as a fraction and must sack 100 employees. The fraction will also lose many parliamentary rights.

At the same time, Die LINKE is currently experiencing a wave of new people joining. Just in the last 2 weeks of November, over 1,500 people joined the party via the national website. Even more joined on a local level.

It is too early to declare Die LINKE as dead. But the current developments indicate shifts in the political framework within the party. These affect the deep conflicts, in particularly considering the imperial role of the EU, and Germany as the strongest economy within the EU. These issues have largely paralysed Die LINKE as international conflicts have intensified.

At the moment Die LINKE is barely recognisable.

The party is currently failing to adequately respond to one of the central political conflicts – the protests against the war in Gaza and the ongoing disenfranchisement and dehumanisation of Palestinians by the State of Israel, with the German government at its side.

But it also remains toothless concerning subjects which are less controversial within the party, such as criticism of budget cuts and massive rearmament. This is because it does not combine its criticism with a perspective of resistance.

Let’s talk about the points one at a time. What is your assessment on how the departure of Sahra Wagenknecht will affect Die LINKE? Has this resolved a long-standing conflict?

Yes and no. On the one hand there was the conflict about migration. Sahra Wagenknecht never won majorities inside the party for her positions [translator: e.g. for stricter border controls], but that was an open conflict, as were her attacks on positions reflecting so-called “identity politics”.

At the same time, she was prepared to publicly and sharply criticise the German government, while the party leadership dithered. We saw this, for example, with the war in Ukraine, where she made clear statements against the delivery of weapons and government sanctions.

Moreover, the problem regarding migration policy did not just come from Wagenknecht and her supporters, but also from Die LINKE in government. In Thüringen [translator: where the president is a LINKE representative], the number of deportations has gone up in the past year.

But the key point for the future is that the departure of Wagenknecht and her followers has shifted the political balance within the party.

Who is joining Die LINKE at the moment?

It is too early to draw an exact balance. People are joining in different places. This is most noticeable in the large cities, but there is also a large number of new members in rural areas. Regarding this, it is worth looking at 2 different political actors.

First, there is a call from the post-autonomous spectrum of the Interventionistischen Linken (Interventionist Left). Some actors, who until now were mainly involved in extra-parliamentary movements, have said that they are joining Die LINKE (for example, Wir. Jetzt. Hier.).

On top of this, the team around Carola Rackete [translator: independent ship captain and refugee activist, who will be the lead candidate for die LINKE at the coming EU elections] is very involved in the renewal process. They are also playing a central role in the campaign Eine Linke für alle [one Left for everyone].

Politically, this means that the old conflicts are anything but over. Alina Lyapina, a campaigner from Carola Rackete’s sphere, has not tired of demanding that Die LINKE must change its foreign policy [translator: that is, become more NATO-friendly]. Other new members are bringing important anti-imperialist positions with them. Still more are being completely politicised for the first time.

In general, at the moment the position of the reformer wing [translator: the right wing of the party] is being strengthened. That corresponds to our experience in many areas, where local government fractions have generally shaped the political work while the party structures have been weak.

How was this expressed at the party conference in Augsburg?

For example, in the fact that the fundamental criticism of the EU was much weaker compared to earlier conferences. Since then, a position has asserted itself that doesn’t fundamentally criticise the EU, but wants to use it as a political room for discussion.

The draft Europe programme, which was already weak in many areas, was weakened further by a series of motions from the Progressiver Linke [Progressive Left], a group which comes out of the reform wing of the party. Now, a positive attitude towards the EU expansion eastwards has been decided.

The party’s position on sanctions, which was already wrong, was further extended to also include sanctions on the Russian nuclear sector. The party was not prepared to utter a single word about the reality that sanctions have so far failed, and future sanctions will fail when it comes to stopping the war in Ukraine.

That sounds as if the reformers won every argument.

We put forward several anti-war motions for the party programme. Some of them were accepted. A few won the vote, even though the party leadership opposed them. Above all, we won the motions which described the role of capital as profiting from militarism and robust imperialist competition.

We didn’t win motions where we argued, for example, that concrete criticism of sanctions or EU Eastern expansion should be built into the election programme. This is a fundamental problem in Die LINKE. As long as criticism of the conditions is expressed in abstract terms, it doesn’t hurt. It’s only if they are applied in a concrete situation that they have an effect.

Die LINKE was always split on the situation in Israel/Palestine. You could hear both pro- and anti-Zionist positions.

The current attack on the population of the Gaza strip eclipses everything that has happened since the 1948 Nakba. In such a situation, the current positioning of Die LINKE is absolutely inadequate, as it tries to maintain a balance between criticism of Israel and criticism of Hamas. This is why I also rejected the resolution of the party conference.

You also spoke in the debate.

In a contribution, I demanded that the attack of 7 October be put in the context of the occupation, and I rejected the criminalisation and delegitimisation of protest in Germany through demo bans and sweeping accusations of antisemitism. In a nutshell: solidarity, not Staatsräson [translator: reason of state – the catch-all label used to prevent any debate of Palestine in Germany].

An MEP, Martina Michels, accused me of using “the language of Alice Weidel” (AfD) and of relativising the massacre by Hamas. As I was not allowed the right to make a personal statement, 130 comrades who were at the conference issued a resolution of solidarity with me. Even the party leadership has recently rebutted the defamation against me.

How has the withdrawal of solidarity manifested itself?

In Berlin, the black-red Senate [CDU-SPD local government] has withdrawn financing from Oyoun, a left-wing and diverse cultural centre, under the pretext that the centre gave a space to antisemitic positions. This means that 32 people working for this important meeting place and cultural space are facing the sack.

There are local councillors in the parliamentary fraction of Die LINKE who support the attacks on Oyoun. But many party members are against them. Die LINKE would be much more effective if it explicitly stood behind Oyoun.

You brought your own motion to the party conference. What was that about?

The initiative Linke gegen Krieg [Left against war], which was formed around the positioning to the Ukraine war, put its own motion, which provided a basis with which Die LINKE could become able to intervene. We formed a grouping around this motion, which was broader than what we could organise around Palestine solidarity before. We should think how we can continue this debate inside Die LINKE.

After we published our motion, the party leadership formulated a motion which was to the right of ours. That was not enough for the so-called “progressive Left”, who put forward their own motion, which blamed Hamas for the escalation in Gaza. This would mean that DIE LINKE would have fully distanced itself from its international aspiration to be a party of peace.

What happened then?

Shortly before the party conference, a working group formulated a compromise.

As the vast majority of supporters of our motion agreed to this compromise – although some had reservations – I and others decided not to put our original motion to the vote.

However, those of us who didn’t accept the compromise have made it clear that we do not agree with the new text. The false orientation in the final motion means that Die LINKE is still no practical factor in solidarity with Palestine and is barely able to stand up against the criminalisation of Palestine solidarity.

This is happening although the party conference explicitly resolved to support demonstrations and other activities, and to initiate our own actions as Die LINKE. We are using this passage to actively mobilise within Die LINKE for demonstrations and public meetings.

At the same time, we have to operate independently in order to be able to act. We are doing this in the Initiative Sozialismus von Unten, by being part of the organisation and active supporters of protests against the war in Gaza.

You were part of the recent foundation the Initiative Sozialismus von Unten. Why do you feel this was necessary?

We do not want to wait on any decisions made by Die LINKE. This means that in many places we are active in the organisation of solidarity with Palestine. Similarly, in the question of war in Ukraine, we must not wait for die LINKE, which has not been able to intervene for at least 2 years. We are organising protests with other people and can then win different groups within Die LINKE to support these protests.

Despite everything, we also see that people are joining the party because they want to do something about government policy, against the deaths on European borders, and against social problems. We can address such people with positions of class struggle and internationalism and win them for activities. We also want to organise others, who have left Die LINKE out of disappointment.

With the Initiative Sozialismus von Unten, we want to build an organisation which formulates socialist positions for concrete conflicts, and uses them to intervene – in society, in extra-parliamentary movements, and in Die LINKE. We want to politically develop people, so that they can take on such conflicts.

The challenges are immense, and won’t become smaller with the continuing climate crisis, the expected attacks on the working class, and the increasing international rivalry.

Interviewer: Simo Dorn. This interview originally appeared in German on the Initiative Sozialismus von Unten website. Translation: Phil Butland. Reproduced with permission.

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