Germany: Left party conference renews leadership

May 21, 2010
Oskar Lafontaine.

On May 15, German left-wing party Die Linke held its national congress in the eastern city of Rostock, electing a new national leadership and debating its new draft program.

At the conference, charismatic left-wing firebrand Oskar Lafontaine stepped down as the party’s co-leader for health reasons. Lafontaine, the former head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and finance minister, quit the SPD in 1999 because of the party’s neoliberal policies.

He helped found Die Linke in 2007 when the Electoral Alternative for Jobs and Social Justice (a coalition of disillusioned former SPD members, militant unionists and left-wing organisations and activists) merged with the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor to the old East German ruling party.

Die Linke co-leader Lothar Bisky, a former PDS, also stepped aside.

The new Die Linke co-presidents are radical Bavarian unionist Klaus Ernst and Gesine Lotsch from Berlin.

Also elected were four deputy leaders and a new national executive of 17 women and 17 men.

The conference, attended by 558 delegates, also discussed Die Linke’s new draft program, which includes calling for the democratic socialisation of certain industries and immediate, strong action on climate change.

Lafontaine’s farewell speech brought the house down. “Red Oskar”, as he is known, took aim at the economic system behind the global financial crisis and the governments that let it happen. He suggested that politicians be honest enough to wear the logos of the companies that sponsor them on their shirts, like athletes do.

He also outlined Die Linke’s current goals: a minimum wage, lowering the pension age to 67, reversing privatisation, withdrawing German troops from Afghanistan and softening harsh unemployment laws. He stressed Die Linke’s democratic and socialist credentials.

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