How did Die Linke fare in the recent European elections?
Volkhard: Expectations were very high – the leadership of the party hoping for around 10 percent of the vote. The actual vote was around 7.5 percent. We managed to keep the fascists out.
The main Nazi party, the NPD, is in deep crisis and didn’t stand any candidates at all.
However, the vote for the left has fallen since the autumn of last year. Everyone expected that the left would gain as a result of the developing economic crisis but in fact it revealed some important weaknesses. In particular, Die Linke seems to have no practical answers to the recession.
The leadership of Die Linke feel uncomfortable with arguing for state intervention because they equate nationalisation with the Stalinist state in the former East Germany – so their solution to the crisis is one based on the free market.
Frank: Many in the leadership come from the post-communist Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS). They are cautious. In Berlin they ran the regional government in coalition with the social democrat SPD (Germany’s equivalent of the Labour Party). This coalition pushed through cuts in local services.
The balance between the left and right in Die Linke means that party’s response to the crisis is dependent on the general level of class struggle.
Here we have a problem – workers have been on the streets marching behind their bosses on the many protests and demonstrations to demand government action.
How does this confusion in the leadership affect the membership?
V: The recent party congress saw the election of a left wing leadership on the basis of good policies for the next elections, including a minimum wage of ten euros an hour and withdrawing German troops from Afghanistan.
But we are still without real policies on the issue of factory closures, and that is a problem.
F: Those who put forward radical policies, such as calling for state-led investment to revive the economy, have been boosted by the anger at unemployment among the public.
V: The left of Die Linke is not clear-cut either. One of the two influential currents is the anti-capitalist left. Many of them talk about the need for an alternative to the system but are not concrete about the struggles that are going on now.
The other current on the left of the party is the socialist left, of which Marx21 is a part. These are closer to the trade union movement. But too many of its resources are absorbed in a constant battle with the right wingers.
As Die Linke is not putting forward clear policies to deal with the crisis, what is the basis for the left/right split?
F: One of the questions is whether Die Linke should participate in a future coalition government with the SDP.
V: Those from the PDS background, who have long been used to having elected positions are most in favour of getting Die Linke into coalitions.
Despite predictions in the media, the Die Linke congress managed to stay united. Why was that?
V: The press had tried to present an image of a left that was badly split and fighting itself. But the congress was a success.
The party’s standing in the polls improved immediately. In advance of the congress the party leadership called the heads of the four main factions together and forced them to thrash out a common platform. They agreed to fudges and compromise.
F: But beneath the surface, many conflicts are simmering away – like on the question of foreign military intervention. Undoubtedly, these questions will re-emerge.
The press moved on to say that the party had become too radical to win votes. But this backfired because a lot of people in Germany are looking for radical solutions to the crisis and they don’t care about what the press says.
How would you describe the state of struggle in Germany at the moment, and has Die Linke been able intervene in the strikes and protests?
V: There are a great many demonstrations, there are some significant strikes and resistance to factory closures. Comrades in Die Linke have been able to offer solidarity but they are faced with the problem of what practical solutions they can offer.
How well is Marx21 faring inside Die Linke?
V: We’ve played an important role in influencing some of the debates – but I don’t want to overestimate our effect. In Frankfurt we were able to pass policy demanding the nationalisation of the banks. It was a hard debate but we won it and our regional party congress in Hesse took it up by a massive majority.
Marx21 has fought very hard in favour of equality for Muslims and opposing Islamophobia. Our position won out, and as a result we were able to effectively oppose those who wanted to ban the construction of a new mosque in Frankfurt.
F: Although we are in a small minority over some questions, we are prepared to put our position. By doing this we attract a lot of people who are dissatisfied with the party leadership.
But there are also issues where we are with the mainstream, like opposition to the Nato summit in Strasbourg earlier this year.
This shows that at the same time as raising a flag for minority positions, Marx21 can also work with people over issues where there is agreement.
For more go to » www.marx21.de (in German)