Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

“Aufstehen” Sits Back Down

Just six months after its foundation, Sahra Wagenknecht’s “movement” has collapsed. Inspired by Mélenchon and Corbyn, the politician from Germany’s Die Linke party had attempted to build a project centered on her popularity. Using a combination of social demands and chauvinism, she had hoped to form a new government coalition.

Nathaniel Flakin

March 27, 2019
Facebook Twitter Share
Britta Pedersen/dpa

On March 10, German politician Sahra Wagenknecht announced her resignation from the leadership of Aufstehen (Stand Up), an organization she had founded six months earlier to win a majority for the left by activating people whom the traditional parties weren’t reaching. At first this “movement” seemed to succeed, as 170,000 supporters registered on the website—more than the total membership of the Green Party and the Left Party combined—and up to 200 local branches were set up.

Now, in an interview with the right-wing newspaper FAZ, Wagenknecht announced she wanted to hand over the leadership of Aufstehen to the rank and file. Other members of the movement’s leadership learned about her decision in the press. The following day, Wagenknecht added that she would not run for reelection as cochair of Die Linke’s parliamentary group.

The plan had been to develop a “Team Sahra” as an electoral apparatus tied to a charismatic leader, inspired by La France Insoumise (Mélenchon), Momentum (Corbyn) and Podemos (Iglesias), Who needs the trouble of a party’s democratic structures when Wagenknecht has 450,000 likes on Facebook, almost twice as many as her party? The internal structures of Aufstehen were completely opaque, seemingly based on the motto of East German Stalinist leader Walter Ulbricht: “It has to look democratic, but we must have everything in our hand.”

Wagenknecht’s hypothesis was that she could use her popularity to find a majority for a left-wing government including the German Social Democratic Party, the Greens and Die Linke, even though the first two made clear that they were not interested in forming a government with Wagenknecht as a minister.

The launch of the “movement” took place at a press conference in a federal government building on September 4, 2018. Wagenknecht sat alongside the mayor of Flensburg, a minor figure on the left of the Social Democracy, and a former deputy foreign minister from the Green Party who had helped organize the NATO war against Serbia. The launch featured no representatives of social movements, workers, renters, refugees … no, these were bourgeois politicians looking for a majority for “red-red-green” government coalitions. Aufstehen got 170,000 email addresses, but it was never able to mobilize more than a few hundred people to demonstrations. Bureaucratic fighting behind the scenes even led to the website going down for several weeks.

Wagenknecht’s resignation marks the end of Aufstehen, even though it might take some time for the organization to formally dissolve. Essentially, the end had come just one month after its launch, when on October 13 a broad coalition organized a demonstration in Berlin against racism and the country’s shift to the right. Wagenknecht had refused to support the demonstration, arguing that the demand for “open borders” would attract a “certain milieu.” In the end, the march surpassed all expectations, with almost a quarter of a million people on the street. The narrative about the need for social chauvinism to win masses of working people was severely damaged—alongside Wagenknecht’s belief that to overcome the electoral stagnation of Die Linke (which in two years lost 400,000 East German voters to the right-wing AfD) should abandon its pro-refugee positions.

Wagenknecht was once the young face of the post-Stalinist Party of Democratic Socialism, gaining attention with her defense of the Berlin Wall. But as she rose to national prominence, she discovered her love for the “social market economy” and “ordo-liberalism.” In recent years, she has combined social demands—against low wages, precarious working conditions and evictions—with chauvinism. She has employed the typical rhetorical tricks of right-wing populism, demanding a public debate about the problems being caused by refugees. Wagenknecht went so far as to denounce the people who protested the G20 summit in Hamburg—just a few days before it was revealed the police had invented the number of 500 supposedly injured officers!

Wagenknecht particularly attacked the demand for open borders as “unrealistic.” At a party congress last summer, a big majority voted to keep the demand in the program. Of course, Die Linke was never really for open borders. Linke ministers in provincial governments are responsible for deportations every single day. In fact, many politicians who accuse Wagenknecht of racism are themselves responsible for enforcing racist laws. Wagenknecht, isolated in her party, was attempting what is known in German as a “Flucht nach vorne,” an escape to the front. She needed her own power base, separate from her party.

Much ink has been wasted debating whether Wagenknecht or the various currents opposing her within Die Linke represent the party’s “left-wing.” In reality, all the party’s wings are eager to join government with the Social Democrats as soon as possible. Their bitter disputes are all about how best to get ministerial posts. Anticapitalist activists in Die Linke do need to build up a new left-wing movement, one that fights all the parties responsible for social cuts and neoliberal reforms, including Die Linke. In the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg, the left needs to unite in opposition to the government socialists.

This article was first published in Greek in the weekly newspaper PRIN.

Facebook Twitter Share

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.



A mash-up of Macron over a palestinian flag and articles detailing the rising repression

Against the Criminalization of Opinion and in Defense of Our Right to Support Palestine: We Must Stand Up!

In France, the repression of Palestine supporters is escalating. A conference by La France Insoumise (LFI) has been banned; a union leader has been arrested and charged for speaking out for Palestine; court cases have increased against those who “condone terrorism”; and the state has stepped up its “anti-terrorism” efforts. In the face of all this, we must stand together.

Nathan Deas

April 23, 2024

Occupy Against the Occupation: Protest Camp in Front of Germany’s Parliament

Since Monday, April 8, pro-Palestinian activists have been braving Germany's bleak climate — both meteorological and political — to protest the Israeli genocide in Gaza, and the unconditional German support for it. 

Erik de Jong

April 20, 2024

Thousands of Police Deployed to Shut Down Congress on Palestine in Berlin

This weekend, a Palestine Congress was supposed to take place in the German capital. But 2,500 police were mobilized and shut down the event before the first speech could be held. Multiple Jewish comrades were arrested.

Nathaniel Flakin

April 12, 2024

Fired by a German University for Solidarity with Palestine — Interview with Nancy Fraser

The University of Cologne canceled a guest professorship with the philosophy professor from The New School. In this interview, she speaks about Germany dividing between "Good Jews" and "Bad Jews," her politicization in the civil rights movement, and her time in an Israeli kibbutz.

Nathaniel Flakin

April 10, 2024


A group of Columbia University faculty dressed in regalia hold signs that say "end student suspensions now"

Faculty, Staff, and Students Must Unite Against Repression of the Palestine Movement

As Gaza solidarity encampments spread across the United States, faculty and staff are mobilizing in solidarity with their students against repression. We must build on that example and build a strong campaign for our right to protest.

Olivia Wood

April 23, 2024
SEIU Local 500 marching for Palestine in Washington DC. (Photo: Purple Up for Palestine)

Dispatches from Labor Notes: Labor Activists are Uniting for Palestine. Democrats Want to Divide Them

On the first day of the Labor Notes conference, conference attendees held a pro-Palestine rally that was repressed by the local police. As attendees were arrested outside, Chicago Mayor — and Top Chicago Cop — Brandon Johnson spoke inside.

Left Voice

April 20, 2024
A tent encampment at Columbia University decorated with two signs that say "Liberated Zone" and "Gaza Solidarity Encampment"

Dispatches from Labor Notes 2024: Solidarity with Columbia Students Against Repression

The Labor Notes Conference this year takes place right after over 100 students were arrested at Columbia for protesting for Palestine. We must use this conference to build a strong campaign against the repression which will impact us all if it is allowed to stand.

Olivia Wood

April 20, 2024

Left Voice Magazine for April 2024 — Labor Notes Edition!

In this issue, we delve into the state and future of the labor movement today. We take a look at the prospects for Palestinian liberation through the lens of Leon Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, and discuss the way that Amazon has created new conditions of exploitation and how workers across the world are fighting back.

Left Voice

April 20, 2024