On Saturday 16 June a new left was created in Germany as 750 delegates from two parties – Linkspartei (PDS) and WASG – voted for the founding of a new party called Die Linke (The Left). With 72,000 members Die Linke will be the third biggest party in the country.
The founding of the new party has resonated across Germany. In a new poll 24 percent said they would vote for Die Linke. On its founding day alone the new party won 300 new members, including striking Deutsche Telekom workers and local leaders of the Greens.
Oskar Lafontaine, leader of Die Linke and a former leader of the SPD, the German equivalent of the Labour Party, made the keynote speech. He spoke of the new party’s heritage: “We stand in the tradition of the German working class movement. We stand in the tradition of those, who were persecuted under Bismarck’s anti-socialist laws and were executed in Hitler’s concentration camps. We are bound to the heritage of those who were jailed as Social Democrats in East Germany and those who were persecuted as Communist in West Germany”.
In the run up to the conference a strike wave was rolling through Germany – by telecom workers, building workers, teachers and metal workers. As the conference expressed its solidarity with the strikers, Lafontaine took up the issue: “We need new forms of struggle – we need to learn French. Die Linke is standing up for the general strike, for the political strike”. Strikes for political reasons are illegal in Germany – a law that Die Linke, together with the unions, wants to campaign against.
Another left tradition is the fight against war. Lafontaine said: “Karl Liebknecht was a resister. He founded the tradition of resistance to war in the working class movement, when he voted against the war credits in the German Reichtag during the First World War.” At the end of the conference the delegates voted overwhelmingly to start a joint campaign with the peace movement for the withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan.
Another big issue at the conference was climate change. There was a broad consensus among the delegates that the issue of environmental disaster throws up the questions of the capitalist system itself. As Lafontaine pointed out: “A system, that only focuses on expansion of profit, cannot solve the ecological questions. The green formula of the ‘ecological market economy’ is a fake. No, the question of the system is asked through the question of the environment. Die Linke knows this, the others don’t”.
Now that the party is founded, the real work begins. Die Linke brings together very different traditions. There are trade union activists, who have been active for decades, students who were politicised in the anti-war and anti-globalisation protests. There is also a broad layer of former Linkspartei and PDS functionaries from the east, who have sat in local and regional parliaments and succumbed to politics of “lesser evil”, administrations of capitalist misery.
The mood of the founding conference was left wing – now the task is to organise this mood into campaigns that really show that Die Linke is a party that stands up for the interests of the majority.
Stefan Bornost is editor of Marx 21, a new socialist magazine in Germany