On October 23 it was announced at a press conference in Berlin that the association called “Sarah Wagenknecht Union – For Reason and Justice (BSW)” will become a party in January next year. As a public organization, the association officially announced its creation on September 26 and it was the result of a long confrontation between the leader of the new party, after whom it was named, Bundestag deputy Sarah Wagenknecht, and her former party Die Linke. It began back in 2021, when Wagenknecht’s personal prestige and popularity began to severely outpace the party’s, when the party’s rating had long hovered around just 5%, threatening to keep Die Linke out of the German parliament in the future. An important point of conflict was also Wagenknecht’s strongly oppositional platform, which was vigorously at odds with the establishment’s position, which even led to her being labeled a “Russian agent”. Apparently, the leadership of Die Linke chose the path of comfortable coexistence with the country’s authorities, and the presence of a rebel like Wagenknecht in its ranks was seen as a potential threat rather than an opportunity. The separation controversy had been brewing iwithin the party for quite some time, and Wagenknecht had been subjected to regular reprimands and threats of expulsion, but Die Linke probably did not want a scandal and did not dare to carry out the threats. The divorce, which took place in the fall, according to some Die Linke functionaries was a “relief” for them, although it is unlikely to contribute to the party’s electoral results. “The Left” will now rely on the mercy of the establishment and the desired victory in at least 3 single-mandate constituencies, which will allow them to form a faction in the event of a general failure.
But how did the creation of the BSW does not affect Die Linke individually, but the German political and electoral situation as a whole? In addition to Wagenknecht herself, nine other deputies left the party, including such influential figures as Ali Al-Dailami, Sevim Dağdelen, Klaus Ernst and Alexander Ulrich. In fact, the party split in two, although Wagenknecht took pity on her former fellow party members and did not break up the faction in the Bundestag, which, however, will now be in constant danger of collapse until 2025. Even Wagenknecht’s biggest critics estimated the new party’s rating at 2-3%, which was half of Die Linke’s available support. Realists, on the other hand, believed that support for BSW would not be less than 5-7%, given the personal trust in Wagenknecht’s persona of many voters. However, the first polls showed that both were wrong, and a new force with strong support from a unique electorate has emerged on the German political scene. The immediate goal of the new party was declared participation in the elections to the European Parliament, which will be held in June 2024, and in the elections to the Land Parliament in East Germany, which will also be held next fall, and in these elections Wagenknecht’s associates have very good prospects. Already on the day of the press conference, the INSA agency gave BSW as much as 12%, which is comparable to the 12.5% support of the ruling and very old Green Party in the same poll. The new party was 5th in the overall ranking, behind only the CDU/CSU (26.5%), Alternative for Germany (18%) and SPD (15.5%). Obviously, BSW “took away” 0.5-1% from almost every party among voters dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, and also attracted the votes of many Germans who had not gone to the polls before. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) was particularly hardly hit in this regard, losing as much as 4%. Apparently, the protest electorate, especially from the former GDR, which had previously chosen right-wing nationalists on the principle of “the lesser of evils,” found in the more moderate but equally unsystematic BSW a suitable political niche for itself. And the fact that the party’s success was not accidental was already confirmed by the next two polls, where some of them such as Wahlkreisprognose gave it 13% and the new INSA survey as much as 14%.
What is the secret behind such a strong performance at the start of Sarah Wagenknecht’s very young political project? At a press conference, the former co-chair of the Die Linke faction, Amira Mohamed Ali, said that the party’s ideology rests on four pillars, among them economic development, social justice, peace and freedom of thought. But behind these standard populist terms lies something new for modern Germany. Wagenknecht does indeed propose to ease sanctions against Russia and even start buying Russian gas again. The motivation for this position is not the “love for Putin” of which she has been accused, but common sense ideas about the loss of competitive advantage of the German economy. It is these problems that she believes are leading to crisis and recession and can be solved by supplying cheap resources from the east. The uniqueness of this approach is that socialist Wagenknecht does not fight her own industry, as many leftists and Greens do, but defends national capital, which is a kind of synthesis of different ideological approaches. In the section on social justice, BSW draws attention to the fact that the minimum wage today does not prevent poverty, pensioners live in poverty, there is no equality of opportunity in education, and millions of people, even working people, struggle to make ends meet. In this context, demands for decent pay, safety at work, good working conditions are formulated, and it is proposed to moderately tax the rich a little more.
In essence, Wagenknecht is returning to a traditional leftist agenda, long forgotten by many nominally leftist parties that focused on cultural Marxism with its defense of minorities and green politics. And while such ideas resonated with Germans in an era of prosperity, in times of real economic crisis, BSW’s focus on more pressing social issues is naturally gaining more support. The new party’s rejection of migration contrasts even more with the left’s usual practices, leading some experts to characterize the BSW’s ideology as a combination of left-wing economics and right-wing values. This is very similar to the ideology of National Bolshevism of German politician Ernst Niekisch, who tried to implement his concepts in the 1950s in the GDR, as well as to the positions of many Eastern European communists before the collapse of the USSR, who also negatively perceived migration as a factor that hit the stable labor market. Among modern parties, Wagenknecht’s approach has been compared to the platforms of the Communist Party of Greece and the Socialist Party of the Netherlands. However, Wagenknecht went further and avoided positioning her party as left-wing, believing that the term had not only lost its meaning, but had begun to carry a negative meaning for BSW politicians. In light of her past, Wagenknecht will still be positioned as a leftist, but she has stated that many people today associate the term “leftist” with a completely different content. She believes that the carriers of such ideas are now the well-to-do middle class who playfully fight for LGBNQ+ rights, woke or “ecology”, and that such values are in reality alien to the majority of Germans for whose votes her party will fight. In Wagenknecht’s eyes, the modern German left is “too focused on diet, pronouns and the perception of racism,” and indifferent to “poverty and the ever-growing gap between rich and poor.” In fact, both the Greens and even Die Linke have become liberals, while BSW wants to appeal to a wide range of voters who are closer to moderate nationalism and economic socialism.
But what will the BSW’s appearance on the parliamentary stage lead to in the practical political and electoral sphere? So far, Wagenknecht is not in direct conflict with the establishment, and has offered the CDU to form a coalition government if the elections in the states of Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg in 2024 do not result in a majority without the Alternative for Germany. On the one hand, BSW’s left-wing ideas are more acceptable to the government than the far-right, and Wagenknecht’s party even takes votes away from the nationalists, which could be beneficial to both the CDU and SPD. On the other hand, the party’s focus on partnership with Russia, breaking with the United States, leaving NATO, and rejecting a “progressive agenda” in domestic politics makes it as unsystematic as the Alternative for Germany. The establishment faces a difficult choice between accepting such a deeply oppositional force as fully harmonious with the political system and demonizing it as “Putin’s alien agents and extremists.” Such a trick has already been realized with the Alternative for Germany, and none of the five parties of the Bundestag demonstratively had no contact with the right-wing party and did not join even situational coalitions. This “sanitary zone” led only to a jump in the nationalists’ ratings and the same scheme could be implemented with regard to BSW, with the CDU refusing so far to enter even a hypothetical alliance with it in the regional elections. The problem is that the AfD used to be alone and retained a certain degree of marginalization and “safety” for the establishment.
Now the AfD, together with the new Wagenknecht movement, already have a combined rating of 31-32%, which is a strong expression of protest sentiment in German society, really threatening the establishment’s monopoly on power. The situation is even more difficult in East Germany, where the AfD has up to 30-35% and the BSW up to 26-27%. If the Wagenknecht Party, in the face of the other parties’ rejection, goes for a temporary alliance with the Alternative, the opposition could come to power in 5 of the 6 federal states of the former GDR, with the exception of Berlin.This would further deepen the gulf between the west and east of the country, which is already culturally and economically isolated, and create the prospect of slowly growing separatism. What is also even more worrying for the liberal authorities is the general situation in the country, which is well illustrated by the phenomenon of the emergence of BSW. The change that the new party promises is what a large part of German voters are now waiting for. German society is disappointed not only with the government, but also with the systemic opposition represented by the conservative CDU/CSU bloc. Few people in Germany believe that a change from the Social Democrats and the Greens to the Conservatives will make a difference. All of them offer the same program, differing from each other only in nuances. This frustration is the reason for the rise in popularity of Alternative for Germany and Wagenknecht’s party in recent months. And whatever efforts the establishment makes in the form of current political solutions and technologies, in 5-7 years it may lead to the complete inflation of the current regime in Germany.