Dr. Viola Neu on the Left Party’s wish to undermine mainstream democracy
The Left Party seems perpetually interested in annoying others. Why does party leader Gesine Lötzsch muse about the paths leading to communism? Why does it have such a hard time calling a spade a spade? East Germany was a repressive dictatorship that locked up its own people to implement a socialist field experiment.
It results simply from a fundamental problem with the party’s identity. It is more than another leftist grouping pursuing concrete political issues and therefore it is drawing up ideology based concepts to help create a perfect socialist society in a not too distant future. Unfortunately – and the Left Party tends to speak rather nebulously about this – that means “overcoming” the old guard, i.e. civic democracy.
In truth, the party does not really need a different system to push through its political demands. Its proposals usually do not violate basic democratic principles (though calls for a political general strike, expropriation without compensation or the “democratic” control of the media do). Calls for the expansion of the public sector jobs market, more Gemeinschaftsschulen (comprehensive schools which teach children ranging from 1st to 10th grade) or widening the social welfare state would not undermine the German constitution. All of these demands could be realized within the limits of civic democracy – if they have majority backing.
That is why it could cause surprise that the Left Party always links its policy proposals to changing the system although it is unnecessary if the party – like every other political grouping – just wanted to shape policy. But there are serious doubts in that regard. It would be superficial to equate calls by the Left Party to similar requests by other political actors such as Social Democratic, Green, Free Democratic or Christian Democratic policymakers. The Left Party regards its political demands only as a stage on its way to the overarching goal of socialism.
The party is using the term “democratic socialism” on purpose. It obviously has no link to the SPD’s own understanding of democratic socialism; the Left Party is actually turning the term on its head. In its current party platform the “inviolability of human rights” is mentioned in connection with the following explanation: “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” (MEW, Vol. 4, p. 482, 2011, programme of the Left Party, p. 21). But in citing Marx the platform fails to mention – as it always did in the past – that this inviolability only becomes possible once the revolution has violently eliminated the bourgeoisie.
So internal party debates are always underway on the best strategy to reach that goal. If environmental issues are discussed then this already amounts to a partial contradiction in terms. After all, capitalism, and that means parliamentary democracy, must first be abolished before all environmental problems can magically be solved. Or so the party believes. The issues do not matter to the Left Party; only the ultimate outcome does. And that could apply to nearly every policy field. Worth mentioning here is that the party’s extremism can be called “smart”, to quote political scientists and experts on extremism Eckhard Jesse and Jürgen P. Lang. There are only aesthetic differences between the party’s strategy and how it presents itself to the repulsive self-staging of the extreme-right National Democratic Party (NPD).
There are many forms of extremism. Despite this “smart” approach in everyday politics, one must never lose sight of the extremist core. The public tends to be underinformed. Many now view the party differently, in particular once Oskar Lafontaine began to represent the face of the party. The Left Party is now seen as a normal democratic party. No broadcaster would have any qualms to invite Left Party officials as guests on a talk show, even if they have just called for abolishing the system. This shift in image has consequences for the party system: Extremist tendencies within the party have not kept it out of governments.
Neither its predecessor, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), nor the Left Party, have ever fundamentally questioned their fundamental ideologies. It never even made it onto the agenda. The party could have taken a critical approach. Instead from the very beginning it identified one culprit responsible for the problems and ultimate downfall of “real socialist” countries: Stalinism. But the party never debated its own ideologues. That does not mean every Left Party idea is necessarily wrong. But a party that refuses to question its ideological lies – while planning to create a socialist heaven on earth because it believes to know the eternal truth – must be treated with extreme caution in the political debate.
Dr. Viola Neu is team leader of Empirical Social Research, Data Protection Representative, Department of Politics and Consulting at Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. The article was published first at Annual Report 2011.