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Die Linke’s Congress of Fire


Choosing a new leadership, internal clashes, Lafontaine imposes his own man, Bernd Riexinger, who will flank 34-year old Katja Kipping from the East. Gysi: ‘If we hate each other so much, better to split.’

It was a high tension and passionate Congress for Die Linke, which yesterday had to choose a new pair of co-Presidents. The first round of elections, reserved for women candidates, was won by 34 year old Katja Kipping. The second, late at night, went to Lafontainite Bernd Riexinger. He beat the ‘realpolitic’  Dietmar Bartsch, who is very popular with delegates from the Eastern regions, as is Katharina Schwabedissen, who aimed to form an inclusive ‘tandem’ with Kipping and who has kept her distance from the party’s internal factionalism.

In a climate of intense competition, not even Gregor Gysi and Oskar Lafontaine seem to understand each other any more. It was they who agreed a joint list in 2005 between the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) in the east, and the WASG (Labour and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative), that was formed [in 2005] the west. They both led, as a team, the parliamentary group in the Bundestag. In 2007 this led to political fusion in Die Linke (The Left). They led the election campaign together in 2009 that yielded 11% of the vote.

On several occasions Gysi, with great generosity, has stood a little aside in order not to overshadow his colleague. In the poster that portrayed them as twin heads of the electoral list, Gregor looked out over the shoulder of buddy Oskar. But now even Gysi appears tired. When the Saarlander said he would not tolerate other candidates beside his, Gysi vainly tried to convince Lafontaine to reach a political agreement with the reformist wing, which is well-rooted in eastern Germany, at least offering Bartsch the post of organizing secretary.

There was no convincing him. Instead, Lafontaine preferred not to stand, insisting that the tandem of President would still have to be a trusty soldier – the Stuttgart trade unionist Bernd Riexinger – perhaps next to a woman like Katja Kipping East, but for certain no representative of the reformists of the east. A solution that Gysi viewed as fatal, because unbalanced. According to Gysi, either the opposing sides – Lafontaine’s intransigent critics of the social democrats and Bartscht’s pragmatists seeking Left coalitions – reach a deal and a solution of this type could be the tandem of two ‘inclusive’ women such as the Ossi Kipping e la Wessi Schwabedissen – or both sides would have to be represented, not only that of Lafontaine with Riexinger.

Yesterday at the Congress in Göttingen, Lafontaine and Gysi spoke one after the other, and there was the impression of a large distance, a mutual misunderstanding. Gysi sees an imminent risk of a split. He believes that the merger of the east, Ossi, and west, the Wessi, has not been accomplished. He warned fellow Westerners to stop lecturing with lessons of revolutionary intransigence those who in the east are engaged in the routine of local government. He had words of fire for the ‘arrogance’ of party federations in the west which reminded him how the Federal Republic behaved after the annexation of East Germany. If Congress does choose a leadership incapable or cooperating, it ‘would be better to separate without rancor.’ Better than dragging on a ‘completely failed marriage with petty deceptions, kicks in the shins, defamatory allegations.’

In the parliamentary group its not a question of normal disagreements, but ‘rather a climate of mutual hatred reigns’. For years, Gysi concluded, ‘I have tried to moderate the conflict, now I’m tired.’ Lafontaine didn’t even attempt to address these desperate remarks. And he sought to minimise the problems. ‘There is no reason even to evoke the word ‘division’.’ It is divided only if there are serious political disagreements, but this is not the case for Linke, which last year at the Congress of Erfurt approved by a majority of 95% its new program: a very ‘Lafontainite’ text which puts the party in an oppositional position with tight conditions placed on participation in government. So, Lafontaine argued, we already have a political line. The difficulties are only ‘personal animosity’ that can and must be overcome. How does the absurd misunderstanding that in the west there are only maximalist radicals be overcome? ‘How can you suggest someone like me, who has governed the Saar region with majorities of 60% (when he was in the Social Democratic Party, ed), is a sectarian extremist?’.

As for ‘personal animosity’ Lafontaine did not display any self-criticism. Without ever naming Bartsch, nor explicitly referring to the proposed agreement advanced by Gysi, he made it clear that if collaboration is not possible the fault is purely that of Bartsch: ‘Between the president and organizing secretary there must be complete confidence ‘. Delegates were in no doubt that Lafontaine was referring to an episode in September 2009. Spiegel published for the first time an allusion to a love relationship, and not only political, between Lafontaine and Sahra Wagengknecht, leader of the ‘anti-capitalist’ and ‘anti-reformist’ wing of the party. For some time the two have been presented in public as a couple. Lafontaine has always suspected that the origin of the indiscretion to the press was the then Secretary Bartsch. This ‘treachery’, real or perceived, has not been forgiven.

Guido Ambrosino

Revolting Europe translation

Big majority for new programme (Die Linke website October 2011)

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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