The left has a new party leadership – with a familiar face: party leader Janine Wissler, who was last seen as weakened, was re-elected with 57.5 percent. A mediocre result at best. Her challenger, member of the Bundestag Heidi Reichinnek, was able to achieve respectable success of more than 35 percent. At the beginning of the party conference in Erfurt, it was said that Wissler had to tremble. However, the 41-year-old surprised on Friday with a strong and combative speech. Perhaps this saved her the presidency.
The new co-chairman is Martin Schirdewan. He clearly prevailed with 61.3 percent against the Leipzig member of the Bundestag Sören Pellmann (31.6 percent), who was supported, among others, by the former parliamentary group leader Sahra Wagenknecht.
The 46-year-old Schirdewan is the leader of the Left Party in the European Parliament and comes from the Thuringian state association. Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow sees this as a model for left-wing success through pragmatism. However, the resigned party leader Susanne Hennig-Wellsow had to learn that the Erfurt recipe is difficult to transfer to the federal government.
In his speech, Schirdewan lashed out against the traffic light government: it was letting people down. In its relief package, the SPD forgets pensioners, students and the self-employed, the FDP is shoveling “billions into the private pockets of the oil multinationals” with the tank discount, he criticized. “And guns, guns, guns are the new green.” However, the left also has “homework” to do. “People don’t need a party that constantly gets lost in arguments with itself.” The MeToo allegations should have more consequences than mere lip service, he demanded.
Overall, the movement left in particular can record the party congress as a success. Wissler is also counted among the movement. She prevailed not only in the elections, but also in terms of content. The clear loser, however, is the left wing of the party around Wagenknecht. For example, an amendment by the former parliamentary group leader on foreign policy was mercilessly dismissed. The result by hand signal was so clear that it was not even counted. An initiative from the left wing of the party narrowly failed against the foreign policy motion of the party leadership. In this, Russia’s imperialist ambitions to become a great power are clearly stated and sanctions against oligarchs are advocated without explicitly blaming NATO for the Ukraine war. In the counter-motion, however, NATO’s actions as the cause of the war were emphasized and sanctions were rejected in principle.
The tight vote shows how much the party is still struggling to clarify its position on the Ukraine war. The vote was accompanied by thunderous applause, among others for the European politician Özlem Demirel, who opposed the armament in NATO in a combative statement. “This war is instrumentalized with the blood of Ukrainians,” she said.
The defeats of the left camp also weaken the horseshoe alliance with the reformers, which sets the tone in the parliamentary group. Inner-party peace is likely to complicate rather than promote. It is conceivable that the parliamentary group will not be impressed by decisions of the party executive or wishes of the party leadership in the future either. This discrepancy between party position and faction action is a central source of the ongoing dispute. It will be crucial whether the parliamentary group leaders Dietmar Bartsch and Amira Mohamed Ali find a common path with the new party leaders.
The new national managing director could play an important role in this question: Tobias Bank. The 36-year-old, previously a member of the party executive, surprisingly prevailed against Janis Ehling. According to reports, Wissler would have preferred the latter. Bank, on the other hand, was seen as a candidate for the reform camp.
In any case, Gregor Gysi, one of the founding fathers of the party, made it very clear that the party must pull itself together – and say goodbye to fantasies of secession. He thinks that the idea that it only has to be really “banged up” in order to then found a new party is unrealistic. “Either we save this party or we sink into insignificance,” he said.