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The Rise of Germany’s Vile Far Left

They equivocate over the East German dictatorship, yet elites refuse to condemn them like right-wing populists.

Bernd Riexinger, party chairperson of Die Linke, speaks to journalists alongside Katja Kipping, party chairperson of Die Linke, at the federal press conference on the election in Hamburg. Photo: Carsten Koall/dpa (Photo by Carsten Koall/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Germany remains a political barometer for Europe. Following the happenings in Berlin and the 16 German state governments can give you a good idea of where the continent will be heading. During the sovereign debt crisis, German criticism of the euro as a common currency opened the floodgates for mainstream opposition (that ultimately did not substantiate). Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das!” (“we can do this!”) approach to the refugee crisis came to define the political division between those EU member states that were permissive and those—mostly in Central and Eastern Europe—that were not.

A few weeks ago, the German liberal democrats (FDP) took a lot of flack for accepting a local state presidency election win in Thüringen, which was made possible through the votes of the far-right “AFD Alternative für Deutschland” (Alternative for Germany). In an article for TAC in April 2017, I laid out how disconcerting the AFD really is and how far-right figures were able to take what was initially a project of fiscal and monetary policy reform and transform it into a pack of reactionary and bigoted trolls. Amid sinking poll numbers and intraparty criticism, the FDP backed down, dismissing all AFD support. Temporarily, the far-left “Die Linke” now holds the presidency in Thüringen.

However, Die Linke’s legitimization is a strange and historic occurrence in Germany. The party is the successor to the East German communist party SED, which tortured political opponents and bankrupted the country. Over 200 East German refugees were killed by border guards in efforts to get to the West. 

The East German regime was equally known for its discrimination against the LGBT community. Homosexuality was considered a result of “the decadence of the bourgeoisie” and became a target of the regime. One 1990s study commissioned by the Berlin Senate found that the East German Ministry of State for Security (MfS) used the so-called Rosa Listen (“pink lists”) to keep records of over 4,000 homosexual men and women. The same lists had been used by the Nazis’ secret police in order to arrest and intern homosexuals. On the basis of these lists, gays in East Germany were systematically harassed, criminalized, and declared ill.

On this alone, you’d think that Die Linke would have distanced itself from the East German dictatorship. That is not the case.

On its website, Die Linke talks about the Berlin Wall and the East German regime, but in comparison to German history curricula, their descriptions are mild. The term most associated with East Germany, notably “Unrechtsstaat” (a state of injustice), does not appear. The dictatorship is described as “a legitimate attempt, after the Allied victory over Nazi Germany, to prevent a resurgence of the social driving forces of National Socialism – keywords here are land reform and the smashing of big business – and to build a socialist state on German soil.” Whoever has seen East German prisons, and the horrors of collectivization, ostracization, and violent confiscation, will read this paragraph with great dismay. 

Prominent members of Die Linke were involved in this communist regime. They now brush off any attempts by Germany to clearly identify and point to the horrors of socialism as it was practiced in the East. They also remain secretive about where millions of Ostmark (East German currency) in SED party funding went after the fall of the wall.

According to Der Spiegel, more than 10 percent of Die Linke party members were still SED members before the collapse of the regime. That is noticeable when attending their events.

At a Die Linke event on energy transition, one party member said: “Energy transition is also necessary after a revolution. And even though we shot the 1 percent of the rich, we still want to heat, we want to move forward.” 

Bernd Riexinger, co-chairman of the party, responded: “We will not shoot them. We will use them as useful labor.”

With all that in mind, mainstream German political parties have been keen on working with Die Linke. In the federal states of Thüringen, Berlin, and Bremen, the social democrats (SPD) and environmentalists (Die Grünen) have worked with Die Linke to form governments. In communes and cities such as Erfurt and Saarbrücken, the SPD, Die Grünen, and Die Linke work together. In Berlin last year, this “coalition building” led to the city not allowing the historic “raisin bombers” (which provided East Berlin with supplies after the border had been shut down) to land in Berlin. Their excuse was unconvincing: they said they did not receive the necessary paperwork.

On a national level, the participation of the far-left in government becomes more plausible every year, as German coalition building becomes more difficult. The moral superiority of those going after the far-right AFD will be quickly demolished if they do not condemn with equal passion the far-left. If the political establishment in Berlin fails to recognize this, then they will end up justifying communist parties across the continent taking their places in government.

Bill Wirtz comments on European politics and policy in English, French, and German. His work has appeared in Newsweek, the Washington Examiner, CityAM, Le MondeLe Figaro, and Die Welt.

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