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John Riceburg: Die Linke isn’t left-wing enough

John is an unrepentant lefty – so why does he hate the Left Party so much?

Image for John Riceburg: Die Linke isn't left-wing enough
Photo by DIE LINKE Nordrhein-Westfalen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Just six more months until the elections to Berlin’s Abgeordnetenhaus on September 18! Are you excited? I’m wondering who I should vote for – if I could vote, that is.

I was never a big fan of the Pirates. After their sensational result in 2011, they have now all but disappeared. I make no secret of my love for DIE PARTEI, the party of comedian Martin Sonneborn.

But I’m a lefty – so what about DIE LINKE, the party that megalomanically refers to itself as “THE LEFT” in all caps?

When I moved to Berlin in 2002, I was excited by the fact that a left-wing party – the PDS, the forerunner of today’s Linke – had won 22.6 percent of the vote and formed a government with the SPD. My personal hero at the time, Gregor Gysi, had even become a Senator (a municipal minister).

But it didn’t take long for disappointment to set in. Berlin had been robbed of about €40 billion in the Bankenskandal. As a result, the new “red-red” government carried through the harshest austerity program in the city’s post-war history. The Genossen (comrades) drastically cut wages in the public sector. They closed schools and youth centres. They privatised everything that wasn’t nailed down: power, water and about 150,000 publicly owned flats.

I could go on. In fact, I think I will. The SPD and PDS tried to introduce tuition fees – and were just barely stopped by a semester-long revolt of Berlin’s students. The “red-reds” promised to introduce identification badges for cops, to get a handle on Berlin’s out-of-control police violence and widespread impunity. We got, as the Berliner say, nüscht.

At a campaign event in 2006, I was able to ask Gregor Gysi about these… “discrepancies”. The man whom I had once considered a great orator had an unimpressive explanation: “If the CDU had been in government, everything would have been worse.” The thing is, no, not really. By 2011, after two terms in government, there wasn’t a single flat left to privatise. These “socialists” in government were literally as bad as they possibly could have been.

Last weekend, Die Linke held a conference to decide on their candidates. They presented a list of 30 politicians and the first thing that I noticed was: In a city where something like a third of the population has a Migrationshintergrund, there is a single person with a non-German name.

These are old faces – people who were in government in 2001-2011. One internal critic referred to them as “handpicked yes-men”. I like the people from the local Left Party office in Neukölln – but they didn’t get a single spot on the candidate list. Berlin’s branch of Die Linke includes a few cool activists (including their English-speaking group), but they’re stuck in a big mass of Ossi pensioners and apparatchiks. 

So I, for one, am not going to fall for this again. Like so many people in this city, I can say that Berlin made me a radical. I want change, but I don’t expect to get it just because “comrades” get well-paid ministerial posts. Change is only going to be a result of organising and protesting.

And while Die Linke is wondering what they’re going to privatise next, Martin Sonneborn lightens up every single day with his funny reports from the European parliament. Just saying.