The Signal is at Interference for a different, better policy
Speech by Lothar Bisky, Chairperson of DIE LINKE, Cottbus, 24th May 2008
Dear Comrades and friends, respected guests,
Hardly one year after our party was established, this week’s ‘Der Spiegel’ news magazine (No.21, p.23), says, “for decades no other party foundation has had a stronger impact on political structures in Germany than that of DIE LINKE…Nobody can anymore afford to ignore the social question. Even the FDP has started talking rather smoothly.” Dear comrades, let me congratulate you on this success of ours (yours)! Occasionally, one feels like agreeing even with “Der Spiegel”.
Cottbus, I am sure, is an appropriate venue for launching the campaign for the Bavarian assembly election. Energie Cottbus evokes a special feeling in Munich. What is more important: In Lusatia, the hunger for lignite as energy source for the big industries has in a geologically short period upturned landscapes and ways of life. Today many problems in Lusatia resemble those in the Ruhr area, in Saarland and other withering mining regions of Europe. Deprivations and utopian concepts are moving and burdening people here alike. The era of digital capitalism has begun.
This region is excellently suited as an example showing that it is better to bank on the existing potential of structurally weak regions instead of playing market economy and, on the taxpayers’ shoulders, subsidizing oversized projects such as the Lusatia racing ring.
Any landscape of the future right in the process of change needs its people, their history, their culture and their identities.
This includes what has been referred to as the East German women’s “unbroken tendency towards gainful employment” the same as the pride of former miners which makes them today defend ecological rehabilitation. This includes ‘Senftenberg reads’ – a recent series of events on the 75th anniversary of the burning of books by the Nazis.
We have chosen a very inspiring environment for discussing the forthcoming tasks of DIE LINKE, for developing a responsible policy which can change this country for the better.
we have not come to Cottbus empty-handed. Our party’s entry into four Land assemblies in Germany’s western part has changed the republic. This is an opportunity to thank all the campaigners from east and west. However, after the elections is prior to the elections. This applies to the entire party. The fledgling DIE LINKE keeps growing. Assistance is needed in many eastern and western German town-halls. District organisations, most of all that of Cologne, keep growing. There situations of permanent overstrain emerge which we can solve only together. But: the problems caused by our growth are in a way problems of luxury and should inspire us to keep working. The Land branch of Saarland experiences an exemplary growth.
On Germany’s only oceanic island, last week I discovered a new yardstick of party building. On Helgoland we are now having 14 members – slightly more than one per cent of the 1303 islanders. Just break it down to Hamburg or even the inhabitants of the Federal Republic…There are still reserves, Comrades, aren’t there? A good result in tomorrow’s assembly election in Schleswig-Holstein will take us another step ahead in the party building process.
While still affected by our foundation fever, we have had to adopt special responsibility in the European Left (EL). Not even in my dreams I fancied that the European leftists would pin their hopes on the German DIE LINKE one day. It is true, though, that we are the party in the EL whose members are rooted both in the west and east European cultures. This does give rise to expectations. The EL comprises 28 member and observer parties with a total 400,000 members. It maintains active networks and a summer university which you may enquire about at Youtube…
Last year the EL acknowledged as its political foundation a network of 13 left-wing, socialist and feminist educational institutions and magazines called ‘Transform Europe’. The second issue of a periodical of the same name has just appeared.
The recent Prague EL congress has thrown the switches for an electoral platform of the European Left. This breaks new ground in cooperation. The left needs a profile and address on the European level, within the framework of the European Union and beyond.
We, the German leftists, add our strength to the European Left and in turn enjoy its support in our work in Germany. We, the German leftists, have for many years experienced the solidarity of other left-wing parties in Europe and reciprocate it when other leftists are in temporary difficulties such as in Spain and Italy. We are aware that only together we will be a strong force in the EU.
Recently, and this was a special pleasure to me on the eve of this congress, our student association DIE LINKE.SDS arranged in Berlin a congress on the anniversary of the events in 1968 under the daring motto: ’It’s we who will win the final battle’. Some 1,300 participants had heated discussions on history and future in east and west, locally and globally. 1,300 people from at least two generations. Doesn’t this prove that DIE LINKE is not simply a traditionalist association of PDS and WASG.
We are in a position to develop critical-historical consciousness from the prospect of a new modern membership party. If we intend to work on a country-wide scale for changing this country we will have to broaden such a way of thinking. This includes media competence, the ability to turn specialised conferences into open forums and so on. If we fail to make ourselves heard as a force for change at universities and colleges, enterprises, the parliament, the state and local assemblies, people will come to our party offices by chance only. We are after all in a position to ourselves live the bridge between the generations, rely in good experience and opt for new ideas. Give our new members a chance to prove themselves in the election campaigns to come, in the program debates and in party building! At this juncture I warmly welcome to our ranks 2,966 new members who have joined us in the first four months of this year.
What are our next tasks?
Today and tomorrow we should deepen our reflections on one question:
What is new with the new DIE LINKE?
We have founded DIE LINKE because the trodden paths were not altogether successful. Convictions and customs should be time and again put up to a reappraisal.
Let’s beware of the old leftist arrogance of knowing an answer to each and every question. Let us beware of the old convenient leftist practice to shut out the multiplicity of social processes by retreating into handy ideological snail-shells. Whatever we intend to do in a new and better way, has to start with inner-party communication.
The preamble to the Key Programmatic Points says: “We take up different views on analysis, policy, world view and strategy, inconsistencies and things we have in common productively and develop them as the strength of the new party.” What we do not need is the struggle for power by ideological ‘currents’. We need opening, not restriction, communication, not confrontation, solutions, not compromise formulas; the capacity to stand conflicts in politics instead of a cantankerous defence of the pure dogma. It is our foremost task to facilitate and organize the co-shaping of leftist policy for the 73,455 members (figure of 30 April 08) of our new party.
Surely, we are looking back on a 150-year-old tradition denoted by key words such as the workers’ movement, the women’s movement in all their diversity, the peace movement, anti-colonial liberation movements… We have not dropped from the sky out of nothing. We all have an individual and collective history. This history will and shall be guarded and respected in the new party.
But the actual history of the foundation of the new left has been a wink of history. It began in 1998 when the Christian Democrat-Free Democrat government of the withering landscapes was defeated by voters at long last. The history of our foundation began when a Social Democrat-Greens government systematically pushed aside historical traditions.
Let me just recall two crucial moments;
First, right on the 40th anniversary the FGR constitution, the Red-Greens government presented us with the first military mission abroad. The German involvement in the war in Kosovo marked a turn in foreign policy.
In May 2008 the conversion centre in Bonn reported a record arms spending. The largest budgets are those of the USA, Great Britain, France and China. With € 8 billion Germany by now has taken third place among arms exporters. Internationally, the arms build-up is underway again. There are people warning against future wars on climate disputes.
Amid mounting signs of raw material imperialism, disarmament talks have come to a standstill. The recent hunger revolts forebode such developments.
The new LINKE sees itself as the heir of a principle the other parties have long discarded: the equal right of all people to strive for equal welfare. DIE LINKE today is the only party in Germany pledged to international law.
The erosion of international law, the cultural fissure of World War II, the Holocaust of the Jewish people call for continuing resistance to the violation of the UN Charter
On 10 December the UN Human Rights Declaration will be 60 years old.
DIE LINKE accepts its commitments as does the peace movement in Germany and beyond.
Philosopher Juergen Habermas saw in the demonstrations against the US war on Iraq on
15 February 2003 the “signal for the birth of a European public.”
We should pick up this thread and with all our strength turn the growing resentment to war and big power politics into concrete policy. We say no to the plans to further expand NATO. We want the troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan.
A new roulette of military policy as facilitated by the EU Lisbon Treaty is counterproductive to European integration.
We will scrutinise the CDU plans of a ‘security strategy for Germany’. A national security council, apart from setting disastrous signal in foreign policy, is an institution which tramples underfoot the constitution.
We stick to it, and may it be said once more rather than once less: No more war must emanate from German soil.
What madness that on this planet mass destruction weapons continue to be piled up and instead of being put for conversion, are fuelling the ‘war on terror.’
For DIE LINKE the UN Charter is and remains the Magna Charta in the spirit of German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s idea of the termination of all wars and the establishment of a universal league of the nations.
DIE LINKE is and remains the anti-war party!
It is a basic part of our foundation history to turn these principles into policy. Making a successful policy with these principles is part of the expectations we have aroused.
Comrades, this takes me to a second formative point: The renewal of the social state and its financial fundaments.
First the agenda 2010 package of reforms of Social Democratic chancellor Schroeder was professedly intended to modernise the welfare state before globalisation would raze it.
Thereafter, globalisation was declared a law of nature and the Agenda was advertised as a feat to contain the forces of nature.
Finally, there appeared no alternative to shaking the welfare state to its foundations.
This statement of bankruptcy resulted in the biggest redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top Germany has seen since the Fifties.
The period after World War II in Germany had not seen a time like this: over several years the real income of the majority of the people fell and the proportion of wages in the social income were systematically shrunk to the benefit of big property income.
The decisive feature was not even the dwindling of income. Decisive was the growing insecurity. Decisive was that the majority of policy and opinion makers proclaimed the message of ‘personal responsibility’ as set against the welfare state.
Policy turned into a threat to the middle-classes. Under the Hartz IV labour laws unemployment benefit was geared to the compulsion to spend all values receivers had acquired by their former hard work. Hartz IV was and has been legally decreed poverty!
When unemployed figures reached their climax low wages and job insecurity started spreading. The policy makers called for more ‘personal responsibility’ on the part of those who were forced more than any time before to rely on the welfare state.
The latest poverty report shows the results: Today every sixth child lives on Hartz IV allowance. This is the result of the systematic erosion of the chances each one should have for personal responsibility and a life in dignity.
At the same time the incomes of managers and fund assets have kept exploding.
The Social Democrat/Greens government had fully abandoned social justice.
This is what millions of people have not accepted.
They have withstood the neo-liberal promises.
The majority of the people have been unwilling to do away with successful principles of living together in society:
Wages facilitating a decent life,
A share in the fruits of welfare for everybody,
No undue social differences,
No managers and enterprises totally shirking their social responsibility,
After a life of work nobody should fall in the abyss of old-age poverty.
The challenge is not to vainly sacrifice social progress attained in the past 60 years to the alleged compulsions of globalisation but to curb the power of the global financial markets and trans-national corporations.
The majority of people do not need a policy feigning helplessness.
Everyday many of us experience the impossibility of a reliable life-planning under the conditions of neo-liberalism. It would not take a new DIE LINKE to come to this conclusion..
But we, DIE LINKE, have succeeded in speaking out what is rotten in the state.
We have stood for elections on behalf of those people who had stopped feeling at home with the SPD, the Greens and the CDU, for non-voters and people fed up with politics..
We are successful, because we speak out what most people feel about the development of the situation.
Therefore the other parties keep reacting.
Topics we have put on our agenda are taken up by others.
The most recent example is the debate about taxation.
We do believe that the ‘cold progression’ with the lower and medium-standard incomes must be abolished, that their should be a top income tax rate deserving its name and that property and inheritance should be taxed more heavily.
But calls of ‘return us our money now, reduce taxes’ irrespective of the composition of these taxes is pure liberal economic populism.
They ignore the financial needs of the public authorities for education, children’s day-care facilities and other urgent public investment. Demanding ‘more after-tax from our pre-tax money’ is repeating the debate on ancillary labour costs, is calling for the curtailment of spending on pensions, health and nursing care and on an active labour market policy.
Since when do incomes rise as a result of taxation policy?
The first and direct way to more income and a balanced public budget are wage rises.
Only then a just taxation policy can remove the imbalance between wages and productivity development.
Therefore, Comrades, we have pointed out in the leading motion of the Executive Board what is needed: A better life in freedom, dignity and mutual respect on the basis of the understanding that all men are equal. This is a common point uniting us beyond all currents. This is what we should concentrate our efforts on in next year’s parliamentary elections.
What is essential now for a political change?
In adding things we, the leftists, are unbeaten. But without setting focal points we are indistinguishable from others. But just this is needed now.
The neo-liberal walkover has been stopped. Now it has become urgent to put on the agenda the interests of the majority- as diverse as these are. Remove the interests of shareholders, of the trans-national return rate hunters, managers and large property owners from the top of the charts. Instead place there the interests of employees, the jobless, children and old-age pensioners and return them again to the centre of politics.
Such a change of course needs our full concentration. It will gradually open the horizon for many different projects. In this way, we will attract also craftsmen and small business owners.
At this congress I suggest we should curb our hunger for campaigns and concentrate on one single campaign– that for higher pensions: No old-age poverty, the reduction of statutory retirement age of 67, the return to the former pension formula, a new income basis.
This concerns us all; sooner or later…this is a campaign which will carry us well into the coming electioneering.
DIE LINKE is definitely poised to win further elections!
Our pension campaign, if conducted full-scale, takes us to the centre of an all-European debate.
The government of Angela Merkel are top players in the division of wage dumping and social retrenchment. Many a European head of government today quotes the German example of statutory retirement at 67 only, refers to the dwindling wages there, to the judgements of the European Court on wage dumping in Germany.
What does DIE LINKE stand for in European politics?
Our no to the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties is borne by our yes to European integration. Similar views are held by trade unionists, members of other parties and representatives of social forums. Berlin’s DIE LINKE stood firm on this line even under strong pressure. I want to state this expressly, because it is an important part of our party’s credibility. Our alternatives of a peaceful, social, democratic and ecological Europe have advanced the foundation of the European Left. For broadening the scope of European integration it is not sufficient to expand the rights of the European Parliament - important as this may be. Democratic co-determination has to be part of every-day life in Europe. We have called for holding referendums on the Lisbon Treaty in all EU countries.
Europe should stand in the world for cooperation and peaceful togetherness. This is precisely why DIE LINKE advocates as a hallmark of its policy a European welfare state.
The wisdom of Europe’s history lies at the conflux of civilian achievements of many continents - in the Mediterranean. Aristophanes’ ‘Peace’ must become true also for the Middle East at long last.
Today, dear comrades, the Sao Paulo Forum is meeting in Montevideo attended by 80 parties and organisations including nine presidents. Cottbus salutes Montevideo!
quite unconventionally and its roots and conditions are quite different from those in Europe.
The aspirations for new socially just prospects are shaped across the oceans. South-south cooperation is built to Johannesburg, Delhi, Hanoi and Beijing.
Any self-determined development is contingent on peace, cooperation and openness.
Economic democracy, therefore, is a comprehensive demand of leftist policy. It accommodates ecological and social question and gives room to co-decision and participation denied by the operational turbo-machine of the big multi-millionaires and financial investors.
The challenges are equal in Germany and all of Europe,
Leftist policy everywhere is concerned with public water supply systems, education, a stable energy supply, general public service which is able to safeguard the future as well as the cultural dialogue.
I am happy to tell you that that at this congress we are committing a city-cleaning lorry for use in Bolivia. The credit for this, first of all, goes to our Berlin Land branch.
I am also happy that Comrade Hans Modrow is representing our party in Montevideo in the exchange of views on of alternative ideals. We intend to intensify our cooperation with leftists in Latin and South America!
DIE LINKE is and remains an internationalist party.
Comrades, in front of us are elections, elections, elections, from the Land assemblies of Bavaria and North Rhine Westphalia, local elections in Brandenburg, Thuringia, Saxony, the Saarland, European and German parliamentary elections – too many to mention them all…
The building of DIE LINKE has gathered momentum. The members of our party’s first Executive Board have a big share in this development. Today we are thanking them for their commitment. The time has come to ignite the next jet engine.
In the coming permanent election campaign in which the established parties will possibly outdo each other in the proclamation of social ideas, it is vital for DIE LINKE to keep its course.
2005 we went into the election campaign with a new social concept. This hallmark has stayed with us to this day.
Our floor group has incessantly put important subjects on the parliamentary agenda. These topics now feature regularly in the election campaigns of SPD, CDU and Christian Social Union: Minimum wages, the struggle against old-age poverty, the reintroduction of full commuter tax allowance and so on.
Nobody, by the way, ever prevented the government from acting, apart from itself. Why haven’t they done anything though they were in a position to?
This mirror we will hold up to the coalition parties in all election campaigns…
As a party we have succeeded in not allowing the social debate to get drowned in the parliamentary discussion. We have won people tired of politics and we should make it plain again and again: political commitment does pay. Very recently even the coalition parties withdrew the planned rise in remuneration for Members of Parliament. Protest is worthwhile, better suggestions are always in demand and alternatives are feasible!
We are right to campaign in Thuringia with a government program. Also in Brandenburg, DIE LINKE is the strongest force now…As a party acting country-wide the very different political challenges faced by DIE LINKE in Baden-Württemberg and Berlin, in North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg, in Hesse and Thuringia, in Helgoland and Brussels should lead to an expansion of our political action.
In such cases an excellent communication is of great help. It is said that not what A says is important, but what B understands. Sometimes B has to seek information at the original source, that is the respective Land branch.
A new Executive Board will find itself amid tough political controversies in our society. Our most important potential: confidence, the combined political experience of old and young people, of women, of working and interest groups, new forms of cooperation, new ideals and the ideas and experience of new members.
It is essential for our political profile to keep our feet on the ground, to remain the party of every-day life which takes serious the worries and requirements of citizens. A politically responsible DIE LINKE is a party which radiates authority and a long breath. It is also a party which has been injected against the lethal fission fungus and which must not necessarily contact each and every infantile disease.
Ahead of us are two years of leftist policy which will further change this country.
Today we are throwing the switches for our ability to find prudent answers to the question: How do we want to live tomorrow? This is a good question. It deserves earthly and realistic answers. Let us tackle it with joy and energy.
Let me, finally, quote German-Sorbian writer Juri Brezan, who has said about his native Lusatia: The waters of the oceans were not the same did they not mix also with the water of the river Spree.
Going back from Cottbus, let DIE LINKE make plain that the signal is at interference - for a different, better policy.