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Out in left field

June 3, 2012

With a new, inexperienced leadership duo, the socialist Left party in Germany wants to follow up on old successes, but that's not going to work, says DW's Marcel Fürstenau.

Katja Kipping (L) and Bernd Riexinger, new leaders of Germany's left wing Die Linke party, stand on stage
Image: Reuters

At the end of their party conference, the Left party delegates joined in to sing the "Internationale," a battle hymn of the socialist workers' movement that traditionally ends each of the party's gatherings. It's supposed to be a symbol of solidarity and closing ranks, of confidence and the will to win.

But so much for theory. In reality, Germany's Left embodies quite the opposite. The party is divided, pessimistic and at a loss as to what to do with itself. The attempt to create a serious alternative to the Social Democrats (SPD) by amalgamating leftists in East and West has more or less failed just five years after the party's founding.

The "Internationale" as triumphal assertionAt the party conference in Göttingen, the forces that held sway were those who would rather bide their time in the opposition than accept compromises as a governing party in a coalition.

Because this was the dominant political state of mind among the delegates, the reformer Dietmar Bartsch failed in his attempt to win one of the two party leadership posts. Instead of the deputy parliamentary group leader, the majority preferred to elect the nearly unknown trade union functionary Bernd Riexinger. His supporters were so intoxicated by the victory that they boomed out the "Internationale" - long before the end of the conference, it should be noted.

Marcel Fürstenau is a senior editor in DW's German service
Marcel Fürstenau is a senior editor in DW's German serviceImage: DW

The ballet hymn of the proletariat as a triumphal assertion - that's how the winners put the losers in their place. It was an unworthy spectacle that essentially sealed the division of the party.

And no one felt this more than Gregor Gysi. Before the delegates voted, the parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag held an emotional speech about the hatred and denunciations swirling in the ranks of the Left party. His recommendation to split in fairness was meant as a warning, but the majority turned a deaf ear and callously gave the pragmatists the red card.

Swan song 2013?

Germany's socialists now have an untested tandem guiding party fortunes from its Berlin headquarters. 34-year-old Katja Kipping and the 56-year-old Riexinger have to explain and defend the party's policies.

The two will not get a political honeymoon. The task ahead: to sharpen the profile of the left-wing party and reconcile its rival camps. Both of these tasks are intertwined, and it would come close to a miracle if they were to achieve them.

The weakness of the Left Party has repercussions for the balance of power in Germany. After the 2009 national election, the Left was brimming with confidence and political clout, having won nearly 12 percent of the vote. Making the most of this new-found political heft, the party put a lot of pressure on the Social Democrats and the Greens.

Now, however, there is no other party to the left of them, and the numbers speak for themselves: one election defeat after another in state elections and dangerously low approval ratings hovering around 5 percent. The possibility that the Left party gets tossed out of parliament in 2013 is even more likely after seeing what took place at the party conference.

Author: Marcel Fürstenau / gb
Editor:  Greg Wiser