Germany’s “left populists” collapse

Submitted by AWL on 20 March, 2019 - 9:25 Author: Ann Field

Sahra Wagenknecht has resigned as a member of the Executive Committee of Germany’s “left-populist” movement Aufstehen (Rise Up) and as co-chair of the parliamentary fraction of Die Linke.

Rise Up is the German equivalent of Momentum. Die Linke has its origins in the post-DDR Communist Party, which subsequently merged with a breakaway from the SPD (German equivalent of the Labour Party).

Wagenknecht has cited health reasons for her double resignation. But more fundamental political considerations are also in play.

Rise Up was launched with great fanfare just six months ago. It would bring together members of Die Linke, the SPD and the German Greens. It would reach out to the alienated (read: right-wing voters). It would challenge austerity on the streets. It would inspire millions.

The movement was consciously designed as left-populist. But since left populism is a contradiction in terms, it was simply populist. With Wagenknecht as its figurehead, it took a decidedly anti-immigration and anti-refugee stance.

It also lacked democratic structures. Membership was free and involved no more than providing an e-mail address. Some 170,000 people did so. Thereafter it was steadily downhill.

The e-mail addresses were not the property of the movement but of a separate legal entity, also called Rise Up. Local groups could not establish themselves without the permission of the legal entity. And they could e-mail their own members only through the legal entity, which was also the owner of the Rise Up Facebook page.

Although it was run by the founders of Rise Up, including Wagenknecht herself, that legal entity was not, and was designed not to be, accountable to Rise Up members.

Few “big names” joined Rise Up. Most of those who did were “big names” from the past. Rise Up got round this problem by arguing that it was first and foremost a grassroots movement of “ordinary people”.

Rise Up garnered little support among Green and SPD activists, and only marginally more among Die Linke activists. It got round this problem by arguing that this showed just how out of touch the established political parties were with “ordinary people”.

And it attracted little support for its public activities. In fact, as a top-down creation, it lacked a focus for any activities. Not even Rise Up could get round that problem.

The public face of Rise Up was always Wagenknecht. And the disappearance of that public face will almost certainly be followed by the disappearance of Rise Up. Some of its leading figures have already publicly written off any future for the organisation.

Others have appealed for local Rise Up groups to maintain their existence and act autonomously. (Given their inability to contact other local groups, this is making a virtue out of necessity.) But even they are clearly deeply demoralised.

The effective collapse of Rise Up will also impact on future political developments in Die Linke after Wagenknecht’s resignation as the co-chair of its parliamentary fraction.

There has been a longstanding conflict between the Wagenknecht-Bartsch leadership of the parliamentary fraction and the Kipping-Riexinger party leadership. Wagenknecht’s resignation has seriously weakened the former.

The collapse of Rise Up has weakened it even further. In its brief heyday Rise Up represented the threat of a new political party, primarily at the expense of Die Linke. But, like Wagenknecht herself, that threat has now gone.

Some Die Linke parliamentarians see the double resignation as an opportunity for revenge. According to Norbert Muller: “Rise Up has paralysed our party for a year and a half. Those responsible cannot simply creep away and pretend that nothing has happened.”

What impact this will have on the future political orientation of Die Linke is as yet unclear. But with the European elections and three federal-state elections looming, the day of reckoning will not be long delayed.

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