Is Die Linke a Syriza of the north?

The German left are now rallying behind Tsipras. It is an alliance that might shape the future of the European left.

It’s not just in the Mediterranean that Syriza is galvanizing hopes for a new European left project. In Germany the former communists Die Linke – who recently won control of their first region since 1989 – have been vocal in demonstrating solidarity with Greece. Unlike Merkel’s CDU which will likely permit few concessions to a Syriza government, Die Linke’s programme is defiantly internationalist, emphasizing historical grievances and Germany’s obligation to pay further war reparations.

Tsipras received a riotous applause when he spoke at Die Linke’s congress in May 2014. Addressing the room as a “sister party” he spoke of the need to “overcome the north south division” and fight “the ghost of fascism in Europe”. In emphasizing these factors, he brought with him an unexpected solidarity, arguing for Greece’s role in supporting the struggle of workers in the wealthier North. A Syriza government, he claimed, would fight for German people as much as for its own: “soon, [Merkel] will have to deal with a government of the Left in Greece. A government that – and I promise that to you – will negotiate with her on your behalf as well.”

A year ago, such rhetoric seemed the epitome of Marxist hyperbole. As the elections approach, however, Die Linke will play an important role in determining how these statements are interpreted abroad and moreover, how they might shape the programme of the Party of the European Left.

The party’s EU representatives, such as the young Katja Kipping, have spoken of the need to echo Syriza’s critique from “the belly of the beast” as a component in building a social Europe. It is vital to recognise, though, that for Die Linke this means something quite specific, namely building a narrative about precarity and structural inequality against the prevailing ideology of ‘Merkelism’. While Syriza must provide solutions for many in absolute poverty, Die Linke are more concerned with: “the agency worker; the self-employed on their laptop; the unemployed person who is stressed because they have to go to the unemployment office and be subjected to all sorts of pressures and humiliations”.

If Syriza do win a large enough majority to be able to govern with confidence it is likely that support for Die Linke will be bolstered. If the latter does move closer to power, however, real solidarity with Greece would require that the party embed its economic critique within an understanding of ‘pan-European’ issues such as the refugee crisis and large-scale unemployment in the South.

As Syriza look for support, all eyes are on the Spanish party Podemos as a potential twin, and with good reason. In the long term, however, it may be in Germany that the party finds its most influential ally.

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