Berlin is getting a new mayor. If everything goes according to plan, then the social democrat Franziska Giffey will be elected Regierende Bürgermeisterin on December 21.
But things might not go according to plan. As Der Spiegel writes, it is kind of amazing that typically embittered Berliners have been so forgiving toward Giffey. She had to resign as Germany’s family minister because she plagiarized her PhD dissertation. Returning to Berlin, she led the SPD to its worst result since 1945 — but still just a nose ahead of the competition.
Giffey wants to be elected by the same red-red-green coalition that has run Berlin for the last five years: her SPD alongside the Greens and Die Linke. This supposedly left-wing government does not have a very left-wing record. Alongside exploding rents, privatizations, and precarious working conditions, Berlin is Germany’s capital of deportations and evictions. I have often written about Die Linke’s tendency to make nice-sounding promises and then do the exact opposite.
But now, members of Die Linke seem to agree. They held an extraordinary party congress on December 4 to debate the agreement with Giffey, and more than a third of delegates were opposed. All party members have until Friday to vote in a referendum. Two members of the Franziska, i.e. the parliamentary group in Berlin’s Abgeordnetenhaus, have announced they will vote against their own government. The youth organization has also declared itself in opposition.
There are plenty of reasons why any leftist would reject Giffey. The Greens are pushing forward with their plans to privatize the S-Bahn (have they never heard of climate change?). In the face of extensive racial profiling, the new government wants to increase funding for police. As Ferat Kocak has said: “With this coalition program, Die Linke is contributing to an increase in racist police violence.”
But the main reason is the referendum on the expropriation of realty speculators like Deutsche Wohnen. On the same day of the elections, 59.1% of voters said they wanted these companies put into public ownership — more than voted for red-red green. Giffey is working to sabotage the will of the majority. She wants a commission to “study” expropriation for two years. This follows the SPD “studying” the question for over a year before the referendum. Everyone agrees that the demand is well within the bounds of Germany’s constitution — except for “experts” in the pay of the realty lobby. Now Giffey hopes that a commission full of financial speculators will reach a different conclusion.
This betrayal of basic democratic norms is too much for many in Die Linke who collected signatures in favor of expropriation. They have launched a platform called Together for a Left Opposition, saying they would rather be “right and in opposition than wrong and in government.”
The left oppositionists will, in all likelihood, lose. Die Linke has a ton of very old members in East Berlin who will vote however the party leadership tells them to. The government socialists are firmly in control of their apparatus. Nonetheless, this is the first serious dissent I’ve ever seen inside Die Linke.
The party leadership doesn’t deny that Giffey’s government will go against all their campaign promises. But, they claim, the alternative would be Giffey and the Greens in a coalition with the neo-liberal FDP, and that would be even worse.
What they are ignoring is that political decisions are not made in a parliamentary vacuum. Politics depends on struggle. Social democrats and left reformists can be particularly effective at neutralizing resistance — that is why their governments are often worse for working people (as we have seen in Berlin). Inversely, an openly right-wing government often cannot carry out neoliberal measures if the Left is mobilizing on the streets.
The Left Party named their foundation after Rosa Luxemburg. The Red Rose wrote about whether socialists should offer concessions to the government in order to win small improvements:
“The assumption that one can achieve the greatest number of successes by making concessions rests on a complete error. […] In our no, in our intransigent attitude, lies our whole strength. It is this attitude that earns us the fear and respect of the enemy and the trust and support of the people. Precisely because we do not yield one inch from our position, we force the government and the bourgeois parties to concede to us the few immediate successes that can be gained.”
In other words, Rosa said Nein. Members of DIE LINKE would be well advised to follow her — and not betray the 59.1% who voted for expropriation.