Federal Party Congress of the Left: 15 is a difficult age

Status: 06/24/2022 08:57 a.m

The Left Party has been around for 15 years. But there is little reason to celebrate: the party is in a deep crisis. The federal party conference is now supposed to bring about a turning point. When looking at the issues at stake, this is questionable.

By Kerstin Palzer, ARD Capital Studio

The left was supposed to celebrate its birthday last week, because 15 years ago the WASG and the PDS merged and founded the left. But there was no celebratory mood, the situation of the smallest party represented in the Bundestag is too difficult. In short, it looks like this: Instead of the two specified chairmen, the party currently has only one boss, Janine Wissler, because Susanne Hennig-Wellsow threw in the towel after only 14 months. Now the party has to re-elect at the weekend and is at odds like it hasn’t been for a long time.

The motto on the party’s website at the moment is: “The left… it’s a matter of changing it.” Even the biggest optimists are aware that there are not many chances left for the party to get back on its feet. The probably most important one is the party conference in Erfurt. Four topics offer the potential to blow up the party congress: the accusations of sexism within the party, the assessment of Russia policy after the attack on Ukraine, the conflict over Sahra Wagenknecht and the election of the new party chairmen.

The motto of the party conference promises change.

Image: die-linke.de

First conflict topic: sexism in the party

The first showdown could take place at the party conference on Friday evening. There’s a debate on the program entitled “Fight against patriarchal power structures, violence and sexism”. A topic for which the youth association “solid” is particularly committed. Solid representatives will read quotes from those affected. So women and men who have experienced sexism in the party. The Left, which claims to be a feminist party, seems to have failed because of its own claims.

The delegates must ask themselves whether the party has looked the other way for too long. And it’s about the individual responsibility of Janine Wissler, who wants to remain party leader. She is accused of reacting too late to allegations of sexism in her state association in Hesse as the then chairwoman. Wissler denies this, and the level of human wounding in this conflict is immense.

Competition for Chair Wissler

It is above all the handling of this topic for which Wissler is criticized within the party. Nevertheless, the 41-year-old is standing for re-election, repeatedly emphasizing that it cannot be that her entire political career will fail “because of this”.

Just a few weeks ago, many in the party were certain that Wissler would win the vote, albeit with no outstanding result. But now, in addition to the sexism debate, other allegations are being made. Employees talk about a lack of teamwork and going it alone, and party members criticize the lack of ideas for the future of the party.

There is now an alternative to Wissler. Also up for election is Heidi Reichinnek, 34 years old, born and raised in Saxony-Anhalt, now state chairwoman in Lower Saxony. Reichinnek is hardly known outside the party. She has only been in the Bundestag since September 2021. But she is a co-founder and former speaker of “solid” and has left-wing youth on her side. Although these are only a few dozen delegates, they are quite capable of making their voices heard at the party congress.

Wagenknecht polarized – also with candidates

And Reichinnek seems to have another important advocate: Sahra Wagenknecht. The called for “fresh faces” at the top of the party, although it does not name any names, it is generally known that Wagenknecht feels closer to Reichinnek than Wissler. So it is not a foregone conclusion that the previous party leader will also be the new one. And the choice between the most promising male candidates is just as uncertain: Martin Schirdewan and Sören Pellmann.

Here, too, the most famous woman on the left, Sahra Wagenknecht, seems to share the camp. Pellmann is closer to Wagenknecht’s politics, Schirdewan is not.

Dispute over priorities

And in this respect, the party congress will also make a judgment about the political priorities according to which the party will align itself. Wagenknecht calls for a policy focused on low earners, on the almost proverbial cashier at the supermarket checkout or on pensioners. And she settles accounts hard – in talk shows, interviews and a book – with academic “lifestyle leftists” from big city milieus.

It is precisely this group, however, that makes up part of the delegates at the party congress. You see Wagenknecht as aloof, as someone who can be seen more on television than in the party. A young member of the state parliament says about Wagenknecht: “She doesn’t manage to speak to us on an equal footing. That’s really a problem. And I also think that it’s good for the party to get into an argument.”

What does the party agree on Russia?

The next point of contention: Russia. For a long time there was a lot of understanding for Russian politics in the Left Party. Since the war in Ukraine, the left has had to position itself, and the party leadership has done so, condemning Putin’s war of aggression. But the party congress will not agree on this topic either.

There is an amendment on Russia policy. The left’s classic criticism of NATO, the argument that Russia was pushed into this war by Western politics, these positions also exist within the party. Associated with a nostalgic attachment to Russia. A member of the state parliament from the left says: “It’s no longer “our Soviet Union,” it’s simply become a completely normal imperialist country, like England, like Germany, like all other European countries.”

Three clearly lost state elections this year, in which the left failed to clear the five percent hurdle. A federal election with 4.9 percent, in which she only got into the Bundestag by winning three direct mandates, a weakened party leadership and a bad relationship between the leaders of the parliamentary group and the party leadership.

“It’s a matter of changing the party,” says the party itself, and one almost fears what that means at a party conference that’s not only hot in terms of temperature.

Sahra Wagenknecht will not be there in Erfurt, she has called in sick.

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