Sahra Wagenknecht ©GEOLITICO
DIE LINKE, Left-Right, Left-Right, The Infantry Party

There’s been a visible shift to the political right all over Europe in the past decade, undoubtedly a development many different factors play into. New parties have been formed, older far-right parties have gained in popularity.

Most recently, the refugee crisis has arguably brought out the worst in European politics; lack of leadership and a drop in opposition to right-wing populists have allowed for anti-democratic, racist voices to be part of the political discourse revolving around the issue of refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa.

In 2013, a Eurosceptic movement in Germany founded the far right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has gained most of its momentum through its proximity to the Islamophobic movement PEGIDA. The party has become the leading political voice for xenophobes and far-right extremists, recent polls even suggesting it would be third-biggest party nationwide, if elections were held now.

So what has the political Left been up to during all of these developments? It would have been a good opportunity to come out and rigorously oppose rising right-wing populism. The democratic socialist party DIE LINKE, (“The Left”) has had that chance — or even duty — and wasted it. Worse even, instead of opposing xenophobic agitation against refugees, parliamentary leader Sahra Wagenknecht said about refugees “He who abuses his right to hospitality, has forfeited this right to hospitality,” thus completely disregarding the The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. She was praised by the AfD for that, congratulating her for “nicely putting the situation in a nutshell.”

Some other rather unexpected positions taken up by DIE LINKE include nationalistic concepts while their frequent anti-Semitism resembles that of other European leftist parties.

Wagenknecht told German newspaper Die Welt how providing non-Germans with an education was a “slap in the face for hundreds of thousands of young people who live in Germany, many of whom have never had a chance. […] Before we entice talent from other countries, we need to start an education offensive in Germany and educate the lost generation,” a statement which would be expected from the political far right, not from someone allegedly advocating a concept of solidarity with — and equality for — all people.

Not uncommon, but unequivocally worthy of criticism is the party’s nearness to anti-Semitism. There has been a certain unwillingness among the party leaders to address anti-Semitism within its ranks, even more so since long-time leader Gregor Gysi stepped down as parliamentary leader in 2015. Gysi has always been much more careful about accusations of anti-Semitism than most of his party members.

It’s particularly odd that an alleged democratic socialist party would have party members organising a pro-Hamas demonstration, which included the chanting of “Death to Jews,” the glorification of Adolf Hitler and Nazi crimes as well as swastikas and Al-Qaeda flags.

But that’s just a fraction of anti-Semitic incidents within DIE LINKE. There’s Inge Höger, member of the Bundestag, who publically wore a scarf with a map on it, on which Israel was missing (denying Israel’s right to exist is widely considered as anti-Semitic in Germany), another time the party refused to join a multi-party appeal against a further call to boycott Israeli products. Such a call is reminiscent of Nazi campaigns against patronizing Jewish shops in the 1930s.

Occasional misconduct — like a swastika entangled with a Star of David on a local party website ­– can be put down to one individual, but in 2008, eleven party members of DIE LINKE in the Bundestag refused to support a resolution against anti-Semitism, a dangerous decision for any German party to make.

There are numerous party members who have shown that they have a highly problematic stance on various issues — and then there’s Diether Dehm. Why this particular party member is worth picking out of the mass becomes clear with a glance at some of the dubious things he’s said and done.

Dehm was involved in the so-called vigils of peace, a movement out of which the xeno- and Islamophobic movement PEGIDA evolved, where anti-Semitic, right-wing populist sentiments are more than common. One of his friends at those demonstrations was Ken Jebsen, who is Germany’s leading devotee of conspiracy theories, and once said the “Holocaust was invented as a PR stunt”. He is friends with Kathrin Oertel, founder of PEGIDA. His assistant in Parliament is a former Red Army Fraction terrorist. He compared the choice between the current and the last German president to be similar to choosing between Hitler and Stalin.

To be fair, Diether Dehm is only one of 64 of DIE LINKE’s Members of Parliament, but then again the fact that none of his controversial outbursts has provoked even one comment from the Parliamentary leadership suggests that such issues may be deeply rooted within the party.

All in all, the question arises among the German Left as to whether the party can be rescued on its path to self-destruction or if a new party should be born from the ashes of DIE LINKE. For the past few years, leftists in Germany have seemed too lazy to engage in politics — it’s high time they see the need to participate, if only as a counterweight to the general shift to the right.