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But this was not even a year ago and now the situation is completely different

Rede auf einem Seminar anläässlich des Parteitags der Vänsterpartiet (Linkspartei) Schwedend im Januar 2005 in Göteborg

Dear Comrades and Friends,

In the invitation to your party congress you asked for a brief report on the present situation of my party.

I am the leader of the parliamentary group of the “Left Party.PDS” in the Berlin City Parliament. The “Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin” is one of the 16 Lander parliaments in Germany. But before I tell you a little about the situation in Berlin, where we are part of the government, I will talk about the leftists in Germany generally. I have greetings for you from our chairman Lothar Bisky and I am happy to have greetings for you from the leaders of our parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Oskar Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi, too.

It was three years ago, that our party was in a very difficult situation. In the Bundestag we had only two members, because we failed the five percent hurdle at the September elections in 2002. We had hard debates in our party about being part of the government in the two lander Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and Berlin and about the general political direction of our party. One part of our members thought, that we should be more left, more radical and less focussed on parliamentary seats and governments. The other part of our party members wanted to bring more substance to our proposals. The voters, who elected us, should not only believe, that we have good plans for the future, but that we even have concrete ideas how we can make it in the present – here and now.
After strong debates in July 2003 we elected our Party Chairman Lothar Bisky. With his election, the discussion changed to one about the „how“ of left coalitions and no longer about the „if“.
And we discussed and decided a new party program which included, that the PDS will orientate itself on a so called “strategic triangle”. That means that we are

a) in opposition to capitalism,
b) that we make proposals which go beyond the borders of capitalism
c) but that we even in coalitions change the situation for the people who voted for us.

Based on this agreement we were successful in the last elections. We had very good results in the elections for the European parliament and in the elections in the lander of Brandenburg, Thuringia and Saxony where we came second of all parties in the parliament now.

But the elections in Nordrhein-Westfalia and in Schleswig-Holstein were showing us the limit of this success. We were still an East German party. We failed very clearly the five percent hurdle in both elections. But this was not even a year ago and now the situation is completely different.

The former PDS is now a nationwide modern left party with the new name: “Left Party”. We are back in the Bundestag with the best result we ever had, 8.7 % and I will shortly tell you how this happened:

On 18 September 2005, we had early national elections in Germany. These elections were called for by the German Federal President on the initiative of chancellor Schröder one year before the term of the red green government ended. Confronted with a dramatic fall in popularity and a long series of lost lander elections because of his economic and social policies as well as its dismantling of the German welfare state, the chancellor took what he saw as his last chance to receive the voters’ mandate to stay in power. SPD and Greens made their "reform" of the German economic and social systems the focus point of their campaign strategy, presenting it as being without alternative. They promised their parties and the voters a continuation of their politics. The conservative CDU/CSU and the liberal FDP answered with an even more neo-liberal offer in economic and tax policies.

Schröder's initiative was a surprise attack at his political opponents, thought to prevent them with an extremely short campaign from presenting alternative offers. This strategy was also designed in order to prevent a possible strengthening of the global German left which would have been achieved through the unification of its two main formations at the time. The bigger of the two was the PDS and the other, the Election Alternative for Employment and Social Justice (WASG), which was newly founded using last year’s strong protest movement against Schröder’s course. Within only three months the two organisations managed to organise their cooperation in order to avoid spoiling their respective chances to overcome the five percent barrier and enter parliament. The agreement of our leaders to merge into a united political party was not possible to realise in such short time. But it was also most important for the new cooperation that not only the most popular PDS-politician, Gregor Gysi, but also the former chairman of the SPD, Oskar Lafontaine agreed to be a top candidate for this left cooperation – if this cooperation should be formed.
And so the PDS changed its name to “Left Party” with the possible appendix “PDS” and opened its candidates’ lists for representatives of the WASG and other personalities of the left.

In the elections, the governing Social Democratic Party SPD got one of the worst results in its history. It has been further weakened in comparison with the 2002 elections which it won with a narrow margin. With now 34,3% of the overall vote it came second, but with a loss of 4.2%. Due to this result, Red Green missed by far their declared goal to renew their governing alliance. The SPD lost voters mainly to the Left Party and to the non-voters.
Although the conservative Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union CDU/CSU came in as the strongest party, they could not form a right-wing coalition with the liberal FDP. Their result of 35.2% is the third lowest in the history of the party – a further reduction compared to the lost election of 2002 by 3.3% of the vote.
However, the two losers of the election, SPD and CDU/CSU, formed a so called “grand coalition” with the first female and Eastern German chancellor in the history of Germany, Angela Merkel.

The Left Party.PDS was the winner of these early elections. We reached our main goal to enter parliament with our own group. The party could more than double its result of 4% in 2002 and received 8.7% of the vote. Moreover, the cooperation with the WASG worked. The overcoming of the five percent hurdle in most of the country, in particular in 6 of the 10 lander of Western Germany, is the most important outcome of these elections. And even in the lander with government participation, highly disputed among its followers, the Left Party.PDS got large increases: in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania 7.3 % (23.7 % altogether) and in my city Berlin 5 % (16.4 % altogether).

This election has changed political life in Germany. For the first time since the 1950s there is a nation-wide political force left of the SPD. Our Party Congress in December 2005 in Dresden undertook practical steps to push further that the merger of the Left Party.PDS with the WASG will go ahead. And so we could have a new party in 2007. A pluralistic, modern and left party bringing together the different outlooks, experiences and biographies of reformed communists, left social democrats, trade unionists, alterglobalists and other personalities of the Left, of politically active people from the East and West.

And this new party should not only fight against the grand coalition, but also for new politics, and maybe for a new left government after the next elections too. And my opinion is that we have to use the possibilities to be a strong part of such a coalition. But this will be highly disputed in the next months.

In Berlin, our experiences of forming the red - red coalition are positive. Since January 2002, the Berlin government (Senate) is formed of a social-democratic mayor, Klaus Wowereit, five social-democratic ministers (Senators) and three ministers from Left Party. We have the Department for Economics, Labour and Women's Issues and the Department for Science, Research and Culture and the Department for Health, Social Services and Consumer Protection.

We did make many big decisions that were not possible in the past. We now have in Berlin more social justice, more civil rights, but we also have many problems. Now the Berlin boroughs have the opportunity to hold referendums for which it was necessary to change the Berlin constitution. This change was only possible because of the red-red coalition. We also created a better situation for refugees. For instance, now they no longer have to live in allotted and segregated accommodation but in normal flats and are therefore more integrated into society. Additionally, they no longer have to buy food in supermarkets with special coupons, but instead get normal money. We have saved the future of the three big opera houses, the three universities, and, last but not least, of both zoos. The fact that we have more operas, zoos and universities than most other cities of the world is a direct result of Berlin’s divided past.
And many people in the West which thought before the red-red coalition was formed, that the PDS is an old Marxistic-Leninistic communist party, now see that we are a normal modern socialist party.
But the most important thing in the last three years was the total change of the financial politics. This brought us some hard discussions in the party, with both the trade unions as well as with some (former) friends on the left. The PDS (and the SPD) said before the elections that the financial reorganisation will be the key for the future of Berlin. In the past the „grand coalition“ mounted up debts of 40 billion Euros on a budget of 20 billion Euros. They got deeper and deeper into debt to pay the accumulated interest using money that could have been used for social, cultural and educational purposes. That was not our way. We wanted a change and we made it. Our goal was it to reduce the expenses to match the income (without debts and interest) by 2006 and we will achieve this. In 2003, we sued the federal government to pay two thirds of our debt. The Federal Constitution Court will rule on this issue this year. This is the most important decision for the future of Berlin.

In the polls we had an up and down in the last years. Now we have a stabile red-red majority and we are looking forward to the elections in September 2006. We think that this development in Berlin has value for the party generally, because we show in Berlin that the Left Party.PDS is not only a good left wing opposition, but even more: it is a pragmatic modern left wing party in the government. And I think that this could be our way in Germany generally also on a federal level. Not because it is fun to be a part of a government, but to change the politics in our way.

Dear comrades and friends,

I am very curious about your discussions. I hope you will make good decisions and the German Left Party wishes you all the best for the general elections next year.