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Germany’s Die Linke Splits: Social Chauvinists vs Government Socialists

Sahra Wagenknecht is splitting from Die Linke and forming a new party. Her “left conservatism” is bad for immigrants but bad for German workers too.

Nathaniel Flakin

October 28, 2023
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Photo: Annegret Hilse / Reuters

On Monday morning, German politician and Bundestag member, Sahra Wagenknecht, explained her plans to found a new party. The East German politician announced she was resigning from Die Linke (The Left) and launching the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance or BSW. (Given her nationalist views, it is no surprise that the website lacks any language besides German.) For the moment, they are not looking for activists — the only thing they want is money.

Amira Mohamed Ali, one of ten MPs from Die Linke who resigned alongside Wagenknecht, explained that the new party is “for all people who are not on the sunny side of life, for all those who work hard but are let down by mainstream politics.” Tellingly, the only people speaking at the press conference were politicians making €10,000 or €20,000 per month. Mohamed Ali, for example, is a corporate lawyer in the automobile industry. Her colleague Klaus Ernst, a wealthy union bureaucrat, drives a Porsche and caused quite a scandal when he became chair of the Bundestag committee on climate, as he defends fossil fuel motors. 

Wagenknecht herself is a multi-millionaire who seems most comfortable on TV shows and at cocktail parties of right-wing politicians like Peter Ramsauer — I couldn’t find a picture of her at a strike or demonstration since 2009.

The panel on Monday included the capitalist Thomas Suikat, the treasurer of the new alliance. It would not have been too hard to put an overworked, underpaid nurse in front of the cameras, but Wagenknecht doesn’t seem to know any. The program she presented is focussed on strengthening the Mittelstand, Germany’s medium-sized capitalists, by offering them “fair competition.”

Like any modern right-winger, Wagenknecht is incensed that people can’t say their opinions anymore — which somehow doesn’t prevent her from sharing her odious views to a hundred different journalists: she is against “uncontrolled immigration” and “blind ecological activism,” which she blames for growing inequality in Germany.

It’s not been easy to follow Wagenknecht’s rapid metamorphosis. People wonder: wasn’t she that communist lady? She indeed first became famous as a charismatic defender of East German Stalinism, as well as a Rosa Luxemburg impersonator. More than a decade ago, however, she abandoned any reference to socialism in favor of the “ordoliberalism” of West German conservatives from the 1950s.

Back in 2017, as the far-right AfD had its first electoral breakthroughs, Wagenknecht began arguing the Left should oppose migration. This evolved into a whole program of “left conservatism” with all the right-wing tropes: she wants to defend the German language, she claimed she didn’t get vaccinated against Covid, and — naturally — she hates trans people. Wagenknecht represents social chauvinism: the idea that German workers will do better if German capital is strengthened and non-German immigrants are kept out. 

So far, this might sound like Die Linke throwing off some ballast to their right, which could be a good thing. But the rest of the party is not very left-wing either. While Wagenknecht is calling for more deportations, Bodo Ramelow — the party’s second-most-famous politician — heads the government in Thuringia and carries out deportations every day.

Most of Die Linke aligns with Germany’s imperialist foreign policy, especially its unlimited support for Israel’s far-right government. On Monday, Wagenknecht referred to Gaza as an “open-air prison” — a simple statement of fact — and that earned her a rebuke from Die Linke’s Dietmar Bartsch.

Back in February, Wagenknecht organized a peace rally with 50,000 people at Brandenburg Gate — one that was explicitly open to AfD members and Nazis. Yet she is no antimilitarist: She is a German nationalist who wants more sovereignty, as opposed to the “transatlantic” orientation of kowtowing to Washington.

So which side of this split is worse, Wagenknecht or Die Linke? As Lenin liked to say, they are “both worse.” Social chauvinists are fighting with government socialists about the best way to administer German imperialism. What we need in Germany is a genuinely left party that seeks to unify the diverse working class in a struggle against the capitalists and their state.

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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.

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