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What was once on the left

Hope for a left – wing policy change-does anyone really still have it this election year? A red-red-green majority at the federal level seems to have become a distant vision. The SPD is catastrophically weak – but its lost votes no longer end up with the LEFT, which, compared to its high times, is also only a shadow of itself. Nevertheless, their leaders seem strangely complacent. What can be the way out of this dilemma? How can there be such a thing as a left-wing future? Sahra Wagenknecht answers this question with a frontal attack on a large part of the left establishment of this republic. In her new book, “The self-righteous” accuses you of those who want to present today the Left, not less than a page break. Which it is not willing to accept.

However, this change of sides has not only started for Wagenknecht in recent years, but decades ago. The decisive moment for this is precisely the date, which is regarded as a positive turning point for most of the milieu that sees itself as left: 1968. For Sahra Wagenknecht, this was the beginning of the left’s alienation from the working class and the process towards a left that is no longer committed to the interests of the socially disadvantaged, but on the contrary to those of the winning side. Thus, the losers would have lost their authentic political voice.

Wagenknecht focuses on a concept that is overwhelmingly positive in society: left-liberalism, which the majority of the social democratic and left parties have embraced and thus gutted themselves. In addition to neoliberalism, left-liberalism is the second “grand narrative” of the present, which emerged from the lifeworld of the academic middle class and determined the public discourse. At the latest since the turn of the millennium, left liberalism has even replaced neoliberalism as the dominant narrative. He is so successful because he is directly linked to the values and attitude towards life of the city academicians. They benefited from precisely the development that made life difficult for the former electorate of left parties: globalisation, the neoliberal orientation of European integration, labour migration and the liberal economic transformation.

The left-liberal elite, which captured the former workers ' party SPD in the 1970s, sees this development from the perspective of its profiteers: as a supposed history of progress and emancipation. At the heart of their thinking are individualistic and cosmopolitan values.

Left liberalism, Wagenknecht points out, is not really liberal: while liberalism includes tolerance towards dissenters, left liberalism is characterized by extreme intolerance towards all those who did not share its view of things. Left-liberal intolerance and right-wing hate speech are communicating tubes. A cancel culture has taken the place of fair disputes. While liberalism traditionally fights for legal equality, left-liberalism stands for quotas and diversity, i.e. the unequal treatment of different groups.

Wagenknecht describes the formation of a new academic middle class, which had advantages through liberal economic policies, closed itself down and in which the left-liberal narrative had prevailed as a model. Among them, a new academic lower class has recently emerged, which has not benefited from the development of recent years, but which, as is often the case, nevertheless orients itself on the narratives and values of the social group to which it actually belongs and into which it wants to rise; therefore, left liberalism is also extremely popular in this milieu.

As a central project of left-liberalism, Wagenknecht identifies identity politics, which is characterized by placing not the interests of the socially disadvantaged under capitalism, but instead those of supposedly discriminated minorities at the center of their politics, but in reality to provide the already materially privileged with better opportunities on the market. Actually socially disadvantaged from these groups such as precarious women or immigrant children from poorer backgrounds would not benefit from this policy, but would in reality even have to contend with worsening material conditions.

Instead of focusing on the issue of the distribution of property and economic power, identity politics draws attention away from social structures and ownership relationships and instead focuses on individual characteristics such as ethnicity, skin color, and sexual orientation. By separating people according to ancestry groups and sexual preferences and constructing an irreconcilable opposition between minorities and the majority, identity politicians set people against each other and thus destroyed solidarity and social cohesion. In this way, the left-wing social struggles for fair remuneration, social security and democratic participation would remove the foundation.

As a perfidy, Wagenknecht describes how left-liberalism, through the propagation of individualism and cosmopolitanism, embedded neoliberal politics in a narrative that portrays it as overcoming national isolation and provincialism. Left liberalism thus fulfils the function of progressively reinterpreting globalized capitalism. This leads to the negative attitude of non-academics towards the left-liberal narrative, which describes the attack on their social rights as progressive modernisation.

The author sees this failure of the left to acknowledge the real problems of the socially disadvantaged and to offer them an attractive program as the most important cause of the political development of the right. Instead of seeing itself as a representative of the central social interests and thereby making it strong, the left would make itself difficult and prevent political majorities from being created for another future draft.

Wagenknecht criticized the idealization of Migration by the ruling left-liberal narrative. It leaves no doubt that people have to leave their homes in certain emergency situations and that they are entitled to a safe haven. But she doubts the credibility of an emphatically moralising propaganda of migration by well-off left-liberals, since they are not affected by it in their social reality.

Wagenknecht’s argument, however, focuses on the identification of the recruitment of doctors and other specialists from their home countries with a “subsidisation of the North by the South”. But above all, it describes the targeted intake of cheap migrant workers as a neoliberal strategy of wage dumping and the weakening of the workforce in wage struggles.

Wagenknecht addresses other problem areas in connection with migration, the existence of which can hardly be denied, but in which the reviewer also notices how uncomfortable it is to write them down: for example, the competition in the housing market or the reality of districts with schools in which primary school teachers often teach classes “in which the majority of children do not understand their language at all or hardly. Anyone who believes that this is not a problem probably belongs to a social stratum whose offspring never come into contact with such conditions.“Wagenknecht meets a sore point here: I myself, the reviewer, grew up in a very migration-friendly consciousness and would never want to strip that off. Unfortunately, I only experienced a non-European foreigner as a classmate in 13 years of school in a single year, namely in the seventh grade. After that the nice Turkish Sadet had to leave the gymnasium again and probably switch to a realschule with a higher proportion of migrants. An example of real disintegration, which exactly Wagenknecht denounces. According to Wagenknecht’s argument, what is needed instead is massive aid on the ground, an end to the Western wars of intervention and arms exports, a different trade policy, the targeted free education of students from developing countries in Germany and the massive better equipment of the UN organizations that help on the ground.

Wagenknecht does not leave it at this fundamental criticism of the social left. In the second part of the book, she presents key points of a future program. It emphasizes the indispensability of social cohesion. It defines community – oriented values as points of contact for such a policy, which are broadly anchored in the population – especially in the working class-as identity-giving, but do not find a place in the left-liberal narrative: familial and (social)state cohesion, performance orientation, helpfulness, wealth of ideas. The socialist explicitly speaks of” conservative values " on which a progressive and majority-compatible future design can be built. Such a “value conservatism”, which she identified as positive, included a fair togetherness, belonging, stability, security and cohesion. Precisely these values can only be achieved through social balance and distributive justice.

A necessary factor Wagenknecht relies on here is the nation-state, which she sees as “the only instrument currently available for the containment of the markets, for social balance and for the separation of certain areas from the commercial logic that we have at our disposal”. Here it diametrically contradicts the left-liberal narrative of the end of the nation state and its necessary dissolution into supranational structures up to a world government.

If Wagenknecht’s draft is to be understood in such a way that it speaks not only for itself as an individual, but for a broader political context, it becomes particularly clear at this point that her book is in important places also a self – correction of earlier idealistic ideas-after all, the “overcoming of nation-state categories” was for a long time also central topos of the current around Oskar Lafontaine, which understands itself as modern social democracy. Here, on the other hand, the author states that a transfer of competences to a supranational level can only take place under the current conditions at the price of massive democratic dismantling, since any renunciation of national sovereignty inevitably entails a commitment to neoliberalism and social dismantling. For example, a European unemployment insurance system often propagated from the left could be” at best a minimum insurance".

Instead of deepening the current European integration described by Wagenknecht as anti-democratic and anti-social, she advocates the transformation of the EU into a confederation of sovereign democracies, in which elected governments negotiate joint solutions. The most important body in such an EU would be the European Council, while the EU Commission would lose its dirigiste powers. Here, however, the author leaves unanswered the pressing question of how to deal with the European Monetary Union.

On a global level, the former MEP describes her idea of an international security architecture with defensive and non-interventionist defence alliances; she also explicitly mentions the idea of a common security system of the former NATO countries, including Russia, which was promoted by Oskar Lafontaine in the 1990s.

Another field to which Wagenknecht devotes himself with concrete proposals is the prevention of economic power, which undermines democracy and social rights. It advocates the de-globalization of economic and financial markets. Especially before the Corona crisis, such a demand from left-liberal circles was regularly branded as nationalistic and thus tried to delegitimize a criticism of globalization in principle. The economist points out that 80% of supposedly free world trade takes place within the manufacturing chain of large multinational corporations, that free trade leads to deindustrialization and impoverishment in economically weak countries, and that countries that seem to successfully manage the rise from a developing country to an industrial nation, such as China, could do so only by escaping the supposedly natural constraints of globalization. The author describes the inequality and ecological disaster that unbridled globalization entails, and advocates an international set of rules that should once again give individual countries greater scope to shape their own economic policies. As a goal, it creates the image of a “market economy without corporations”, in which the concentration of economic power can be prevented by a strict antitrust law and real competition can be made possible.

Wagenknecht identifies the current economic order as an economy that is slow to innovate and hostile to performance, characterized by market power and monopolies instead of open markets and genuine competition. It distances itself from the left-liberal criticism of the performance society: the criticism of measurable performance criteria and a performance-based distribution would correspond to the efforts of the academic middle class to seal off its own social milieu downwards. Here the author also sees the reason why the idea of unconditional basic income, which would cement the present distribution of property, has so many supporters in academic circles and so few in the working class. She sees the same connection with the left’s criticism of learning effort and school performance pressure, combined with the plea for an abolition of traditional learning methods and grades, which does not lead to more justice, but to an increase in educational differences due to the origin, since thereby the academic children supported with a lot of money and parental commitment are clearly in the advantage.

Wagenknecht takes a significant step beyond the current discourse with her proposal for a new property right, for which she introduces the concept of performance property. A company in performance ownership should not have external owners, but simply investors with different risk of loss. This would ensure that especially those who would really perform in the company would benefit from a successful company development, no longer external investors. The evisceration of companies by grasshoppers, the sale and inheritance of companies, the external imposition of non – relevant criteria of corporate management-all this is thus prevented. A fascinating idea that deserved a broad public debate, but whose timely realization, in view of the power of conflicting interests, is likely to remain a vision for the foreseeable future.

Wagenknecht makes another, completely new proposal with regard to democratic decision-making processes. It advocates the creation of concrete institutions of direct democracy and the introduction of a second chamber with the right to debate and veto, which is to be formed on the basis of lottery procedures from citizens - that is, a democratic Upper house in which randomly selected people are to have a say and have a say on politics. It should have a binding right of veto and the possibility of tabling amendments and its own initiatives, which would then be voted on by parliament and put forward in a referendum on important issues of the population. This is certainly an interesting thought, but the reader would have liked it to be developed even more broadly. There are a lot of questions about democratic stability, practicality – but above all about acceptance, especially among the population classes, which Wagenknecht refers to in particular.

At the end of her book, the author devotes a separate chapter to digitization. She advocates an independent European way of promoting non-commercial digital platforms with publicly accessible software that could not store and thus no longer abuse individual behavioral data. For all companies that want to offer their services in Europe, Wagenknecht wants to prohibit the storage of individual data by law. In doing so, it wants to make non-commercial platforms, which do not have to pursue their own business interests and make no profits, the basis of networking the economy and communication. If – which cannot be denied-digital networking is also part of public services today, a left can hardly help but take up these proposals of its former parliamentary group chairmen and discuss them broadly. The reader is, of course, asked who should implement these proposals, when completely different interests are currently dominating in the left parties.

For anyone interested in a progressive change in the current social conditions and the real perspective of a left-wing political majority, this breathtakingly readable book is a must. But let us be warned: no one who is not completely ill – tempered will leave the reading without blemishes-and he will want to decide on which side he stands on in the future disputes.