26.06.2022, Thüringen, Erfurt: Martin Schirdewan und Janine Wissler, Parteivorsitzende Die Linke, stehen nebeneinander auf der Bühne beim Bundesparteitag der Linken in der Messe Erfurt. Neben den Parteivorsitzenden war beim dreitägigen Bundesparteitag in Erfurt der gesamte Vorstand neu gewählt worden. Foto: Martin Schutt/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

Gregor Gysi should actually congratulate his party on his birthday. But the leftist co-founder refrained from giving a humorous speech at the Erfurt party conference. “I can’t think of a good way to say congratulations on our 15th birthday. The party is in an existential crisis,” Gysi called out to the delegates. “Either we save our party, or we sink into insignificance.”

Gysi’s dramatic warning is by no means exaggerated: The left only achieved 4.9 percent in the federal elections and only secured the re-entry into parliament in parliamentary group strength with three direct mandates. The party governs in four federal states and provides the prime minister in Thuringia. But the left has also recorded losses in state elections for years. This is particularly painful in eastern Germany, where the party has lost its status as a people’s party. As a result, the left at the federal level can no longer make up for its traditionally meager results in the West.

For years, the bitter dispute within the left has been the focus of public attention. In Erfurt, Gysi spoke of a “climate of denunciation” in his party that had to be overcome. He appreciates the fact that the Greens argue no less than the left, but don’t take it out on the media. It says a lot about the state of the party that the re-elected chairwoman Janine Wissler gave the delegates the following warning: “The political opponent is not in this party, but outside it.” Group leader Dietmar Bartsch said instead of a tweet about one To depose a comrade or a comrade, one should rather talk to each other. From this Monday the following must apply: “Internal solidarity, external attack”.

Wissler, who has been at the helm of the left since February last year, was re-elected despite the electoral defeat and criticism of her handling of sexism and abuse within the party. In a contested candidacy, she prevailed with 57.5 percent of the votes in the space reserved for women against Bundestag member Heidi Reichinnek and another competitor. The Lower Saxony left leader Reichinnek came to 35.9 percent.

Wissler’s election result shows that a larger part of the party would have preferred another candidate. The party leader said she had a “clear majority, with a lead of over 20 percent”. With an unusually combative speech on Friday, Wissler was apparently able to convince many delegates. After her election, there was a scandal in Erfurt because two victims of sexualized assaults sharply criticized the vote for Wissler. One of the women said, on the verge of tears, that she didn’t know how she could stay in the party now.

Second place within the double leadership went to Wissler’s preferred candidate Martin Schirdewan, he came up with 61.3 percent. Both know each other from working together on the party executive, of which Schirdewan previously belonged. The 46-year-old has been a member of the European Parliament since 2017 and has also been co-head of the Group of the European Left for three years. So he has experience in leading “a colorful collection of leftists,” he said after his election. In terms of content, the political scientist in Strasbourg has mainly dealt with the topics of economy, taxes and money laundering. He wants to continue his work in the EU Parliament. The new Linke boss is the grandson of the SED functionary and Stalin critic Karl Schirdewan.

Schirdewan said after his election that the party congress sent a signal: “We understand, we’re back.” Member of the Bundestag Sören Pellmann, who won one of three direct mandates from the left in Leipzig, received 31.7 percent of the vote. Left-wing politician Sahra Wagenknecht spoke out for him.

The party congress agreed on a common position on one of the biggest points of contention, foreign and security policy and the attitude towards Russia. “We condemn in the strongest terms the criminal war of aggression. Our solidarity is with the people in Ukraine who are suffering, who have to resist or who have to flee,” says the leading motion passed on Sunday. Russia is trying to set up “authoritarian vassal regimes” in post-Soviet states. “It is becoming clear that Russia is pursuing an imperialist policy.” However, the left continues to reject arms deliveries to Ukraine.

Wissler himself went to the microphone several times in Erfurt to defend the motion against critics. The left-wing member of the Bundestag Wagenknecht, who was absent from the party conference due to illness, had previously requested that the passages critical of the Kremlin be deleted and instead referred to the “wars in violation of international law” by the USA. The delegates rejected this with a large majority. Opponents of this position complained that the left was “eroding the principles of peace policy” and “adjusting to the olive-green mood in this country”.

A video recorded at the party conference by the Ukrainian Olena Slobodian, who represents a left-wing movement, shows how big the gaps still are on this topic. “We workers call on you to show solidarity in the fight against Russian fascism,” Slobodian said. She criticized the German arms deliveries as insufficient. When the Ukrainian called on the left to give up their resistance to sanctions against Russia, she was booed in the hall. The deputy Berlin left chairman Tobias Schulze was appalled by “boos and whispers” during the video from Ukraine.