Does Russia endorse left-wing politics?

Parties in Germany

Frank Decker

To person

Prof. Dr. Frank Decker teaches and researches at the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn. His research interests include political parties, western systems of government and right-wing populism in an international comparison.

The party’s history is reflected in the basic program of the LEFT: Anti-capitalist positions of the PDS stand alongside the social and tax policy demands of the union-related party parts. In foreign and security policy, the party consistently speaks out against military operations.

A sculpture by Karl Marx during a party's election campaign rally. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

The ideological classification of the left is controversial. Some scientific and journalistic observers still consider the party to be extremist and see its commitment to the constitution and democracy as primarily instrumental. Others emphasize that the left is primarily concerned with overcoming the capitalist economic order, which is not an essential part of the democratic constitutional state and parliamentary system (Pfahl-Traughber 2013: 548 ff.). The lack of clarity stems from the party's ideological mix-ups, in which moderate and radical currents compete with one another. The former do not want to eliminate the capitalist system in general, but only its "neoliberal" excesses. Such a reform, which aims at a stronger regulation of market forces and redistribution of the generated prosperity, is quite possible within the framework of the existing democratic institutions. Radical movements in the party, on the other hand, see liberal democracy as a guarantor and stabilizer of the capitalist system. Its goal is the social revolutionary overcoming of the political and economic order in the sense of a comprehensive social democratization. Within these radical currents, some alliances in the party are viewed by the constitution protection authorities as "openly extremist" and are mentioned in the constitution protection reports.

The rapid succession of programs adopted since 1990 is symptomatic of the ideological dispute. While the principles established during the fall of the Berlin Wall were still determined by confidence in the market economy that had just been introduced, the anti-capitalist criticism of rule revived in the Berlin program of 1993. The rise of the PDS to a people's party, which made it a contributing force in the East German states, gave the reformers a tailwind in the period that followed. The climax of this development was the Chemnitz Program, adopted in 2003, which acknowledged freedom as the "reference point of socialist politics" and weakened the party's rigorous positions on the property issue. State associations such as Saxony-Anhalt or Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania went even further in the "de-demonization" of capitalism (Jesse / Lang 2012: 279 ff.).

The current basic program, which was decided after a long struggle at the Erfurt party congress in 2011, reflects the radicalization that has occurred since the merger with the western left. In Marxist diction, the capitalist order is now again denounced as a "system of exploitation" and made responsible for the "crises of civilization". Real democracy can only exist under socialist auspices. The prerequisite for this is overcoming the existing ownership structure and state control of the economy. Services of general interest, social infrastructure, financial institutions and the energy industry belong in public hands and should be democratically controlled (New 2018: 397 f.).

If the anti-capitalist positions are in the continuity of the earlier PDS, the demands of the left in social and tax policy also bear the signature of the union-related representatives from the West German state associations. They include, among other things, the gradual reduction in weekly working hours, the reversal of the social and labor market reforms introduced in 2002 (Hartz IV, retirement age 67), a significant increase in the statutory minimum wage and extensive public investments in education and infrastructure. These measures are to be financed from additional government income through fairer taxation (reintroduction of wealth tax, significant increase in inheritance tax and the top tax rate of income tax, as well as higher corporate and capital taxes).

In addition to the social question, the ecological question takes up a large part of the program. The positions of the left now seem more decisive than those of the Greens, because they rely on direct state intervention and are closely linked to the goal of comprehensive social democratization. The preservation of the natural foundations of life thus becomes a further field of their criticism of capitalism. There is agreement within the party that climate protection and social justice goals must not be juxtaposed. The remaining accent differences are more of a semantic nature and are reduced to whether one should speak of a "New Green Deal", like the Greens, or rather of "Eco-Socialism".

The left can claim a programmatic unique selling point in foreign and security policy, where it consistently advocates the principle of nonviolence as an "internationalist peace party". The party rejects military operations by the Bundeswehr, even under a UN mandate. The left demands the withdrawal of the Federal Republic from the military part of NATO. This is to be dissolved in the long term and replaced by a collective security system including Russia. The party wants to rededicate the defense budget into a civil aid corps for humanitarian measures and disaster control. At the international level, she calls for reform of the UN institutions and intensification of development cooperation.

In refugee policy, the left advocates an even more liberal opening course than the Greens. This catches on with the supporters especially when it comes to the war-related causes of the crisis: Here the party can fully exploit the anti-militarist, anti-capitalist and anti-American positions of its ideology. When it comes to accepting and integrating immigrants, especially in East Germany, there is a mental and substantive distance to their own voters, many of whom have defected to the AfD since 2014. Parts of the party are therefore questioning the official course. Wagenknecht and Lafontaine in particular exposed themselves as critics. Because their demand for a more restrictive immigration policy is based not only on distributive but also on cultural arguments, the representatives of the majority line accuse them of being close to right-wing populist positions.

Where the left advocates democracy and the rule of law, the economy and society are usually in the foreground. It has difficulties with an unconditional recognition of the values ​​of the Basic Law and the institutions of the free-democratic state. Symptomatic of this is their devaluation of individual freedoms as merely "formal" - in contrast to the more comprehensive, substantial freedom that can only exist in a society without exploitation and oppression. It is partly due to the party's oppositional self-image that it advocates strengthening parliamentary rights and the introduction or expansion of direct democratic procedures within the framework of the political system. In addition, she advocates better democratic control of the judiciary, security services and traditional and digital media in order to prevent power accumulation in the state and society.

The left's criticism of the existing democratic constitutional state is reflected in its past political positions (Jesse / Lang 2012: 285 ff.). Here, on the one hand, it clearly distinguishes itself from the Marxist-Leninist ideology and dictatorial practice of rule of the real socialist systems. On the other hand, however, she avoids calling the GDR a blanket "injustice state" and consciously places herself in the social-revolutionary tradition of Rosa Luxemburg, for which freedom and pluralism were only possible within the socialist order. At the same time, critics see this as the intention to morally exonerate communism, which is reinforced by the strongly emphasized anti-fascism of the left and its determined opposition to the USA - as the predominant power of capitalism. The dedicated partisanship for Russia must also be seen against this background. Although the successor state of the Soviet Union is far removed from the ideology of the left in terms of the autocratic character of its system of rule, the allegations made against Russia have always taken a soothing stance to the last - from the annexation of Crimea and the Ukraine crisis to Russian participation in the war in Syria to the persecution of the opposition critical of the regime - while it does not hold back with clear criticism of other dictators or authoritarian regimes (such as Turkey) - including the course of the German government.


Literature on DIE LINKE

Decker, Frank (2013), The Relationship of the SPD to the Left - The Open Future, in: Gerhard Hirscher / Eckhard Jesse (ed.), Extremism in Germany. Focus, comparisons, perspectives, Baden-Baden, pp. 549-563.

Holzhauser, Thorsten (2019), The "Successor Party". The integration of the PDS into the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany 1990 - 2005, Berlin / Boston.

Jesse, Eckhard (2015), On the way to the establishment? The performance of the PDS / Die Linke in the elections since 1990, in: Recht und Politik 50 (2), pp. 98-106.

Jesse, Eckhard / Jürgen P. Lang (2012), DIE LINKE - a failed party ?, Munich.

Meuche-Mäker, Meinhard (2005), The PDS in the West 1990-2005. Conclusions for a new left, Berlin.

Neu, Viola (2018), Die Linke, in: Frank Decker / dies. (Ed.), Handbook of the German Parties, 22. Ed., Wiesbaden, pp. 384-401.

Neugebauer, Gero / Richard Stöss (2015), Passed the zenith. The Left Party after the 2013 Bundestag election, in: Oskar Niedermayer (ed.), The parties after the 2013 Bundestag election, Wiesbaden, pp. 159-173.

Niedermayer, Oskar (2006), The electorate of the Left Party. PDS 2005: socio-structural change with unchanged political positioning, in: Journal for Parliamentary Questions 37 (3), pp. 523-538.

Oppelland, Torsten / Hendrik Träger (2014), Die Linke. Formation of will in an ideologically divided party, Baden-Baden.

Pfahl-Traughber, Armin (2013), The Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) / DIE LINKE, in: Oskar Niedermayer (ed.), Handbook of Party Research, Wiesbaden, pp. 541-562.

Spier, Tim et al., Ed. (2007), Die Linkspartei. Contemporary idea or alliance without a future ?, Wiesbaden.

Vollmer, Andreas M. (2013), Work & Social Justice - The Alternative Choice (WASG). Origin, history and balance sheet, Baden-Baden.

Zettl, Christian (2014), Die Voters der Linkspartei.PDS from 1994 to 2009, Wiesbaden.