Two Fighting Women in Berlin

Victor Grossman, Berlin Bulletin No. 17

Once again it was the annual big weekend for German
leftists of every conceivable persuasion. It was also a
weekend with tons of slush, the result of weeks of cold
and snow and now ending in thaw weather, but, in the
eyes of most participants, also provided by most of the

As every year, Sunday was marked by the pilgrimage to
the memorial site for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa
Luxemburg, murdered in 1919 and still honored, even
revered, by tens of thousands, including all the
faithful, and a few dozen groups and grouplets, older
parties and wannabe new ones.

Saturday featured the annual conference organized by
the leftist newspaper junge Welt and by Cuba si.
Progressives or radicals from all of Germany attend,
from many other countries as well, there was a full
house all day, and an innocent bystander might have
gotten the impression that the revolution was getting
closer by the hour.

The conference featured many speakers from around the
world, from Greece, Israel, Ireland, Hungary,
Venezuela, USA, Cuba - the latter represented by the
mother of one of the Cuban Five, already imprisoned for
a dozen years in the USA.

Many speeches were interesting, even enlightening, like
the analysis of Middle East dangers by the Israeli
historian Moshe Zuckermann. But the truly central event
was undoubtedly the short speech by Gesine Loetzsch,
co-president of the party called The Left. She had been
headlined in all the German press for the entire week,
usually in tones ranging from sarcasm to rage, with
some politicians demanding that her entire party be

Her party had not had an easy year. It has largely been
involved with internal differences, some of them
unpleasant quarrels, and far too little action , aside
from the speeches of its 76 deputies in the Bundestag
and some leaders on the state level.  This is
especially worrisome because there will be elections in
seven of Germanys sixteen states this year, beginning
in March, all of them important: Hamburg, Berlin, two
important states in the southwest, where the Left has
never yet been represented, and two states in the east,
where it has a chance of becoming the leading party, or
at least part of a governing coalition. But despite
these dramatic events, its own troubles have taken the

One side of the main dispute warns that The Left must
not drift into what it calls reformism, attempts to
alleviate hardships in an economy, which despite media
praise about a great comeback, is still rough and
getting rougher for the weaker sections of society, but
playing down any criticism of the entire social system
and all too willing to make compromises so as to join
in coalition governments on the state or, wishfully, in
2013 on the federal level. To the more leftist people
of The Left this is a dangerous trend, involving
identity loss like that suffered by both the Social
Democratic party and the Greens. They also insist that
the party maintain one firm rule: no German soldiers
should be sent abroad, not even for the UN. There have
been too many bad, even dangerous examples of expansion
in the military sphere, which is now ending the draft
but building a smaller yet increasingly aggressive
voluntary armed force, trimmed for foreign battles.

The other side, less in western Germany but strong in
the states of the former GDR, regards all this as
dogmatic purism, unrealistic and sectarian. To get
elected we must fight for present-day issues, they say,
and we must be willing to join governments so as to
help people now and thus win votes. They wish,
therefore, to alter the planned program of the party,
easing some of its views and demands, which they
believe will only chase away possible adherents, and
completely alienate potential allies, the Social
Democrats and Greens.

And now, what has Gesine Loetzsch gone and done? This
fine speaker and very popular woman, at least on the
Left, wrote an article in advance of the Saturday
conference in which she analyzed and approved the views
of Rosa Luxemburg, daring even to use the so very taboo
word Communism! It was this word, set as a final goal,
which more than anything else drove the media and many
politicians into their angry, sometimes almost
hysterical reaction.

Actually, Gesine Loetzsch had quoted Luxemburg and then
said that basing ourselves on the urgent needs of
working people and large sections of the population we
must work for solutions which markedly improve their
situation while also leading to a structural change in
property and power relationships. Day to day questions
must be answered and capitalism and militarism opposed
with the goal of finally overcoming them. This path
should be marked above all by the democratic activities
of working people and all the people themselves, while
learning in the course of actually changing things. For
my part, all left-wing policy and the policy of The
Left as a party should be a part of this highly
demanding tradition of social change, of radical
reality policies.

Loetzsch, who has been overwhelmingly elected eight
times in a borough of East Berlin and got a 92 percent
vote of as co-president of The Left party, challenged
those denouncing her for being undemocratic. They are
the undemocratic ones, she said, who are spiting the
majority will of the people by sending troops to
Afghanistan and undercutting our social welfare net.

The media, ignoring her insistence on democracy and
rejection of Stalinism, stressing only that C-word,
immediately picked up criticism of her views from
within her own party. The outcome of the controversy is
far from decided. Some say The Left must indeed be more
daring, not only on current issues, but also openly
debating basic solutions with Germans now increasingly
skeptical about the rule of the banks, the biggest
companies and politicians influenced by them.  The
others fear rejection by all but the far left, while
the competition, leaders of both Social Democrats and
Greens, are eager to see the party split, perhaps on
the basis of fictitious east-west differences, and
court the side closer to them.

In any case, those at the conference were extremely
enthusiastic, and Loetzsch got a long, long ovation.
Some of her supporters cautioned that the best way to
save the party was through action, so urgently needed,
and only by means of peaceful but hard-hitting action
could be established which method was more effective in
overcoming both politically icy weather and messy

January 10 2011


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