Die Linke deputy leader Sahra Wagenknecht interviewed in Il Manifesto, deputy leader of Die Linke, on why Merkel did so well in the elections, the failure of the SPD and the prospects of unity on the Left.
For Sahra Wagenknecht, there is no doubt: the weakness of the Social Democratic challenger was one of the determining factors to promote the Chancellor. ‘Peer Steinbrück could not represent an alternative: he embodies a series of bad choices, from the bank bailout to the increase in VAT, made when he was minister in the Grand Coalition [government] of 2005-2009,’, argues the 44 year old leader, figurehead of the most radical component of the party.
Against the backdrop of the christian democrat (CDU-CSU) victory, how do you judge the result of Die Linke?
We have taken a step back compared to four years ago, but ours is anything but a negative result. In 2009 we had a strong candidate – Oskar Lafontaine – and the party as a whole was still riding the wave of euphoria of our beginning [the party launched in June 2007]. In the following years we went through a serious crisis, and a year and a half ago we fell below the 8.6 % the result we achieved [in this election Sunday]. In addition to the figures at the national level, it should be emphasized that we are at 6.1% in North-Rhine Westphalia [the country’s most populous state, traditionally social democratic] where I lead to party list, and we have entered the regional parliament of Hesse. No one can argue that Die Linke is a party confined to eastern Germany.
It has been said that your party has now established a core vote of around 8 %, but that you have had some difficulty in reaching the most disadvantaged sections of the population, who continue to swell the ranks of the abstention?
I do not think that 8% represents our core vote, if we are talking about our loyal electorate: until a few years ago we were at around 5%, which I think really represents our reliable constituency. That said, abstention is a big problem. The issue concerns us, because they it is the socially marginalised people who do not vote: there is a huge difference between residential areas and the working class neighbourhoods, where abstention can be as high as 60-70%. It’s just the people who would wish for different policies who remain at home, because they have lost hope that their vote can change anything. And we in Die Linke would certainly achieve a better result if more of these people voted for us.
How will your party achieve this?
During the election campaign we often went into the most deprived neighbourhoods and there have been results: among the unemployed we have around 20% of the vote. The great difficulty, however, is to talk to these people every day: you cannot even do that by participating in talk shows on television. Many studies have shown that the lower social classes ignore political broadcasts – not to mention of course the newspapers. We must be able to take root in the places where they live: there is no alternative .
There is a numerical majority in the Bundestag to the left of the CDU – CSU, but there will be no progressive government. Will the time come when the SPD, Greens and Die Linke find unity?
The fact that you are unable to turn the numerical majority into a political majority is a result of the transformation that the SPD and, to a lesser extent, the Greens in recent years. The Social Democrats under [Chancellor] Gerhard Schröder brutally dismantled social protection, and have not yet really marked their distance from that season of “reforms”. This explains why, programmatically, they do not want to seek an agreement with us. I hope, of course, that within the SPD awareness will increase that those policy choices have led to two major electoral defeats in a row: should that happen, that would increase the possibility of our two parties working together.
And should Die Linke not take any steps towards these possible coalition partners?
We are always scolded for our positions in foreign policy. Often, however, they falsify what we say, for example on NATO. We want Germany, not to leave the alliance, but to exit its military facilities, and believe that in the future NATO should be replaced by a system of collective security that also includes Russia. Honestly, I do not think such a position precludes dialogue. And the same goes for other issues, such as the legal minimum wage of 10 Euros, a figure perfectly in line with that in force in France.
The German elections have come and gone but it will not be long before the European elections. Does Die Linke have in mind a strategy to create a pan-European anti – austerity front, with perhaps as a joint candidate of the Party of the European Left for President of the EU Commission?
I do not know whether a joint candidate will be possible, we’ll discuss that within the European Left. What is certain is that we will continue the fight against “anti- crisis” policies that are a complete failure: unemployment and the public debt of countries in crisis confirm that. But I expect that the governments of those countries will finally decide to put pressure on Germany, which is responsible for their conditions because of its export offensive based on internal wage dumping. They should tell the German government: “If you continue like this, we will bring down the euro.” It would be very strong negotiating weapon.
Translated from the Italian by Tom Gill at Revolting Europe