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End of Germany’s Leftist Party?

At its national convention over the weekend, Germany’s leftist Party -- the Democratic Socialists -- failed to overcome internal infighting over party policy. Is there a future for the former Communist party?


PDS -- on the road to nowhere?

It can't be much fun being a PDS member at the moment. In last month's federal elections, the successors to East Germany’s former ruling Communist Party, the Party of Democratic Socialism, failed to gain enough votes to return them to parliament.

Having failed to clamber over the necessary five-percent hurdle, the leftist party decided it was time for some serious restructuring. And meeting in Gera, in eastern Germany this weekend, party members attempted to discuss their future political course.

But after two days of discussion, the resurrection of the primarily eastern German party seems even less likely than before.

A fully-fledged power struggle between the two internal factions erupted: the traditionalists took the upper hand over the pragmatists who favored stronger cooperation with the ruling mainstream coalition of Social Democrats and the ecology-minded Greens. The traditional core of PDS members is in favor of the party maintaining its alternative, opposition stance, even if it means not being considered as partners in coalitions as is the case in Berlin.

Despite the differences in ideology, the delegates did manage to reconfirm party leader Gabi Zimmer by a comfortable majority, leaving her only challenger, former party floor leader Roland Claus way behind. The party faithful had blamed Zimmer for a lacklustre campaign earlier this year. However, grassroots support for major changes within the party, including the election of a new leader, was low in Gera. As a result, the reform-minded pragmatists refused to cooperate with the new leader.

Party split

Reiner Oschmann, a PDS spokesman, described the atmosphere over the weekend as "very turbulent." Speaking to DW-RADIO, Oschmann explained that what the party had witnessed in Gera was a "kind of split between two wings inside the party, with the one wing coming out victorious and the other side obviously pretty disappointed and de-motivated."

The spokesman warned that it was still too early to say what exactly the split will mean for the new elected party leadership. He cautioned against jumping to any conclusions about the general course of the PDS in the years ahead. However, most political analysts believe that the outcome of the Gera convention spells the beginning of the end for a party that used to have a strong base in eastern Germany, but failed to make inroads in the West.

The end of Germany’s leftists?

The continued opposition to a drastic party reform, the observers argue, means the PDS will slide into total insignificance. According to Oschmann, such a development would be disastrous, because in his view a left-wing party like the PDS is needed in Germany more than ever before.

"The economic and social problems in the country cry out for an alternative party. It is enough just to refer to the fact that unemployment is about 8 percent in the West but about 18 percent in the East. This indicates a strong, and even growing divide between East and West. All these problems have to be tackled. And that cries out for a left-wing party."

But although the PDS is currently suffering an identity crisis and seems to be stalled on its way to reform, the party has a more serious demographic problem. More than 80 percent of the party’s followers are over 60 years old. The younger newcomers, who could help drive the party forward, are few and far between.

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