History Since 1989 - Die Linke's Perspective

The so-called "grasshoppers democracy" movement that forced the dismissal of East German head of state Erich Honecker in 1989 also empowered a younger generation of reform politicians in East Germany's ruling Socialist Unity Party who looked to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika as their model for political change. Reformers like authors Stefan Heym and Christa Wolf and human rights attorney Gregor Gysi, lawyer of dissidents like Robert Havemann and Rudolf Bahro, soon began to re-invent a party infamous for its rigid Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy and police-state methods. By the end of 1989 the last hardline members of the party's Central Committee had resigned, followed in 1990 by 95% of the SED's 2.3 million members. A new name, "Party of Democratic Socialism", was adopted to distance the reformed party from its communist past (after a brief transitional period as the SED/PDS). By early 1990, the PDS was no longer a Marxist-Leninist party, though neo-marxist and communist minority factions continued to exist.

1990 to 2005

In the first all-German Bundestag elections in 1990, the PDS won only 2.4% of the nationwide vote, but under a one-time exception to Germany's electoral law entered the Bundestag with 17 deputies led by Gregor Gysi. In the 1994 election, in spite of an aggressive anti-communist "Red Socks" campaign organised against the PDS by the then-ruling Christian Democrats aimed at scaring off voters, the PDS managed to increase its vote to 4.4 percent, winning a plurality in four eastern electoral districts, and re-entered the Bundestag with an enlarged caucus of 30 deputies. In 1998, the party reached the high-water mark in its fortunes by electing 37 deputies with 5.1% of the national vote, thus clearing the critical 5% threshold required for guaranteed proportional representation and full parliamentary status. The party's future seemed bright, but it suffered from a number of weaknesses, not the least of which was its dependence on Mr Gysi, considered by supporters and critics alike as a super-star in German politics who stood in stark contrast to a colorless general membership. Gysi's resignation in 2000 after losing a policy debate with party leftists soon spelled trouble for the PDS. In the 2002 election, the vote sank to 4.0%, and the party was able to seat only two back-benchers elected directly from their districts, Petra Pau and Gesine Lötzsch.

After the 2002 debacle, the PDS adopted a new program and re-installed a respected moderate, long-time Gysi ally Lothar Bisky, as chairman. A renewed sense of self-confidence soon re-energized the party. In the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, the PDS won 6.1% of the vote nationwide, its highest total at that time in a federal election. Its electoral base in the eastern German states continued to grow, where today it ranks with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats as one of the region's three strong parties. However, low membership and humble voter support in Germany's western states continued to plague the party until it formed an electoral alliance in July 2005 with the newly-formed Electoral Alternative for Labor and Social Justice (WASG), a leftist faction largely consisting of dissident Social Democrats and trade unionists.

Alliance with the WASG

After marathon negotiations, the PDS and WASG agreed on terms for a combined ticket to compete in the 2005 federal elections and pledged to unify into a single left party in 2006 or 2007. According to the pact, the parties did not compete against each another in any district. Instead, WASG candidates — including the former Social Democratic leader, Oskar Lafontaine — were nominated on the PDS electoral list. To symbolize the new relationship, the PDS changed its name to The Left Party/PDS, with the letters "PDS" optional in western states where many voters still regarded the PDS as an "eastern" party with personal and ideological links to the SED regime.

The alliance provided a strong electoral base in the east and benefited from WASG's growing voter potential in the west. Gregor Gysi, returning to public life only months after brain surgery and two heart attacks, shared the spotlight with Lafontaine as co-leader of the party's energetic and professional campaign. Both politicians will co-chair the Left's caucus in the German Bundestag after the election.

Polls early in the summer showed the unified Left list on a "high-altitude flight," winning as much as 12 percent of the vote, and for a time it seemed possible the party would surge past the established German Greens and the pro-business Free Democratic Party and become the third-strongest force in the Bundestag. Alarmed by the Left's unexpected rise in the polls, Germany's mainstream politicians hit back at Lafontaine and Gysi as "left populists" and "demagogues" and accused the party of flirting with neo-Nazi voters. A gaffe by Lafontaine, who described "foreign workers" as a threat in one speech early in the campaign, provided ammunition for charges that the Left was attempting to exploit German xenophobia and voters from the far right.

Despite this enmity, the 2005 elections saw the emergence of a powerful Left Party, which received 8.7% of the nationwide vote and won 54 seats in the new German Bundestag.

Die Linke's Policies

Die Linke aims for democratic socialism, which differs from the definition given by the SPD. In accordance to socialist tradition, the capitalist system of Germany is questioned as well as current neoliberal concepts. As a platform of left politics in the wake of globalization, Die Linke includes many different factions, ranging from communists to left-leaning social democrats.

As of December 2007, Die Linke hasn't yet adopted its own party program. This is planned for 2008. In March 2007, during the joint party congress of Left Party and WASG, a document outlining political principles was agreed on. In labour market and fiscal policies, those include solidarity and more codetermination for workers, redistribution of wealth through different means (including tax increases for corporations and big companies), the end of privatization and the introduction of a minimum wage.

Concering international politics, Die Linke welcomes the European Process towards integration while opposing all forms of militarism rising in the current political climate and the market-oriented policies of the European Union. The party strives for the democratization of the EU institutions and a stronger role of the United Nations in international politics.

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