Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

War against Ukraine: Intervention on the political orientation of the Party DIE LINKE (Germany) – Bernd Riexinger

with one comment

Introduction :

The content of this article is tremendously important. It strikes to the heart of significant dilemmas many activists have never before imagined, but which they cannot walk away from.

Can we be in favour of arming the popular resistance fighters in Ukraine without playing into the hands of NATO? Do we favour a Ukrainian victory over the Russian invaders? A strongly recommended article. Source :

The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military is an act of aggression that causes untold suffering for the Ukrainian population and cannot be justified by anything. The bloodshed also affects Russian soldiers and the population in Russia will have to pay bitterly for the war costs. Both the resistance among the Ukrainian population and the first signs of Russian protests against the war therefore deserve our full solidarity.

It is good that the party and parliamentary group strongly condemned the war of aggression by Russia and demanded an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops. Also, the humble admission that our party did not believe the war by Russia was possible was correct and looks credible. Only a few days before the first bombs fell, individual party members had called for a rally under the slogan “Security for Russia means security for Germany,” relegating warnings of an invasion to the realm of storytellers. What a devastating misjudgement. The dispute over relations with Russia has preoccupied the party since its founding. The role of the Red Army in the liberation from fascism, the 27 million deaths caused by the fascist war and terror, hardship and deprivation imposed on the people of the then Soviet Union were not forgotten worldwide in the left. Especially in times of the Cold War, this was not a popular stance. Parts of the party also moved in the line of tradition of Soviet-influenced “real socialism,” which still shapes its attitude toward Russia today. Regardless of the justified criticism of many leftists of the character of this system, a neoliberal-influenced transformation to capitalism has taken place in Russia. The Putin regime embodies an authoritarian oligarch capitalism that goes hand in hand with a strengthened nationalism. This system has nothing to do with leftist ideas; on the contrary, it falls far short of the standards of even bourgeois liberal democracies. Under Putin, Russia has once again taken a more active role in world politics. This involves hard-nosed interests that are also being enforced militarily. Tommaso Di Francesco of il manifesto, who already assessed Putin’s decision to recognize the independence of Lugansk and Donetsk as an “act of violence” and an adventurous harbinger of a new war, describes Russia as “driven by its ideological and military expansion”.

The attitude of the vast majority of our party members toward Russia has become more differentiated and critical for quite some time due to the authoritarian developments in the country and Russia’s foreign policy (which for some years has also included support for right-wing authoritarian and nationalist forces in various countries). We are a peace party and not a foreign policy interest group representing other countries. This attitude has often been criticized as an ‘equidistance’. This is a misjudgement. It is not a trivialization of U.S. imperialism to criticize Russia. DIE LINKE, however, becomes untrustworthy when it applies different standards of human rights, democracy, social equality and peaceful foreign policy to different imperial powers. It must unreservedly criticize and fight all belligerent and imperial policies. If only to be credible vis-à-vis Western politicians who have no problems with wars of the USA or NATO that violate international law. They always serve the narrative that we are dealing with the first war after 1945 on European soil. Serbia, which was bombed in 1999 with the active help of the then Red-Green government, belongs to Europe just like Ukraine.

It was correct that the LINKE parliamentary group rejected the motion of the traffic light coalition, which combined support for Ukraine with a massive rearmament program in a kind of knee-jerk action, at the latest after the speeches of Olaf Scholz [SPD] and Friedrich Merz [CDU]. The Bundeswehr will be provided with a special fund of 100 billion euros. Financial resources are being mobilized within a very short time, which this and the previous government have always refused to provide on social issues, the reception of refugees or development aid. NATOʼs two percent target is to be exceeded and with it the increase in armaments spending to over 70 billion euros. The jubilation of the other parties at this announcement by Scholz in the Bundestag is disconcerting. The same applies to the approval of arms exports. Obviously, all dams are threatening to burst right now. “With the historic decision to supply lethal weapons and his speech in the Bundestag, Olaf Scholz has turned into the war chancellor” writes Barbara Junge in the Taz, not without calling it a historic exception. At the same time, the Taz headlines, “Putin arms Germany”. The narrative that there has been no rearmament so far and that we are witnessing a complete caesura in German foreign policy is only partly correct. The resources for the Bundeswehr have already been increased enormously in recent years and the two percent target has not been fundamentally questioned since then. It is also true that the last resistance in the SPD, e.g. against armed drones, has now been broken. As always, the Greens are wrestling with themselves, only to end up supporting the massive rearmament.

Even if it is difficult and currently a majority of the population supports the measures of the federal government, DIE LINKE must stay the course and be the voice of reason against rearmament and militarization. A new arms race not only increases the danger of war, it also costs money that is no longer available for other purposes. Moreover, the criticism of NATO is still justified. It has considerably expanded its sphere of influence to the east, it is not a peace alliance, it is part of the problem, not the solution. However, this should not be confused with justification. Even the reference to justified security interests of Russia does not justify a criminal war or relativize the criticism of its perpetrators.

Precisely because we are for disarmament, negotiations, against arms exports and rearmament, we cannot be against sanctions at the same time. The previous position “sanctions affect the population, therefore we are against them” cannot be sustained. That is why it is right to include sanctions against oligarchs and warmongers in our motion. Who could seriously object to that. But that will not be enough. Ukraine was attacked and has the right to self-defence. But arms exports to Ukraine threaten to prolong the bloodshed; they may even lead to a direct military confrontation with Russia, dragging us into a war. But those who, in this acute situation of a war of aggression, are backing de-escalation and rejecting arms exports for good reasons, are immediately confronted with the equally justified question of how Russia can be put under pressure to agree to a ceasefire or even to end the war. Economic sanctions are the better way than military sanctions. Of course, sanctions will put pressure on Putin. Economic consequences, for example as a result of sanctions against the Russian Central Bank, are also an inevitable part of this, as only they create effective pressure. Putinʼs economic policy has succeeded in reducing Russia’s per capita income below the level of Romania. The standard of living of the Russian population is falling and will continue to fall as a result of the war.

In the end, it is an open question and a matter of political contention in Russia whether a worsening economic situation will also lead to growing protests against the war; they certainly put Putinʼs government under pressure.

Targeted sanctions are a clear and ultimately the only currently politically employable alternative to arms exports. Otherwise, all that remains is appeals or the demand that Putin make an offer he cannot refuse. What should that be? Peace negotiations must ultimately take place between Ukraine and Russia. For this, a ceasefire is urgently needed. This, however, is in the hands of Russia alone, whose belligerent act of aggression must not remain without consequences. If we cannot make any statements on how to exert pressure on Putin, it will be all the more difficult for the mood, “now only weapons will help” and the right appeal. That we should not leave the Ukrainian population alone, something to counter.

In my opinion, DIE LINKE must therefore be open to targeted sanctions with moderation that hit the Russian oligarchy and at the same time prevent an uncontrollable spiral of escalation.

By the way, it is also not the case that DIE LINKE was not in favour of sanctions before we founded the party. Of course, we supported the boycott campaign against the apartheid system in South Africa and port workers who did not unload South African products. Putin being stopped by his own people would of course be the best thing. However, that will not happen quickly and the war is long underway. That Niko Popp says in Junge Welt that if the left goes on a course of sanctions, then its departure is in the service of imperialism is a vicious misjudgement. We do not associate sanctions with rearmament and militarization, as most other parties do, but with the opposite: with disarmament and peace policy.

In addition to the existing sanctions, the confiscation of a relevant part of the foreign assets of Russian oligarchs, as meanwhile also recognized left economists like Paul Krugman or Thomas Piketty bring into play in different ways, would be suitable to make clear the left approach in this historical crisis. Oligarchic wealth could be a bargaining chip for the withdrawal of Russian troops.

The point that the lower groups of the population will pay for the energy price increases that come with it cannot simply be ignored. Here, however, it is more correct to demand state support, social compensation measures, state price regulation against the energy companies and a greater burden on the rich. It would be a dead end if the impression is created that parts of the LINKE are discussing gasoline and gas prices while thousands of people are losing their lives in Ukraine. We can avoid this dilemma if we make it clear that the immense billions spent on rearmament will come at the expense of social justice. The billions for rearmament are better spent on a real European social-ecological transformation and a peace plan than on confrontation and billions for arms corporations. Without a different socially just and climate-just European economic order, no peace in Europe and elsewhere. With this direction, the LINKE can work in the new, much younger peace movement and make clear: lasting peace is opposed by the interests of the oligarchs in Russia and Kiev, the EU and the USA.

New peace movement

At the moment hundreds of thousands are taking to the streets against the war. It is right that DIE LINKE joins the call and at the same time clearly takes the side of the “new” peace movement. Depending on the local situation, this is not so easy, because there is mistrust against DIE LINKE, because of its supposed or partly actual lack of criticism towards Russia. We are rather seen as part of the “old” peace movement, which lost the connection to the younger generation and in some cases did not say a critical word about the troop marches on the Ukrainian border in their appeals or calls for the Easter marches. Whether it will regain access to the people who are currently taking to the streets is an open question and will depend on whether it credibly makes a correction to its previous course. We should oinot be held jointly liable for this. It is quite clear that very different groups and people with sometimes conflicting ideas are meeting in the streets and squares. There are also demands for arms deliveries or for Ukraine to join NATO. And of course, anything else would be surprising, the ruling bloc is trying to take them over, to sweep criticism of NATO or the German government under the carpet. DIE LINKE can combine clear criticism of Russia with criticism of rearmament and militarization, be a clear voice against a renewed arms race. The dangers of nuclear armament can also come to the fore again at a later date. Putin’s threat, whose behaviour is irrational and dangerous, makes clear what dangers nuclear armament poses, and that much of it is directed at countries in Europe.

Many of the hundreds of thousands who are now taking to the streets are horrified by the suffering and misery this war is causing. They are rightly outraged by the brutality of the Putin regime and the disregard for the interests of the people in Ukraine. They do not want to stand idly by and watch a bloody war being waged just a few hoursʼ flight away from us. In many cases, these are the same young people who are also taking to the streets against the threatening climate catastrophe. That is encouraging. The political direction this will take will depend in no small part on our own attitude and credibility. Initial surveys show that 25-30 percent of the population is critical of the rearmament plans. Among supporters of the left, the figure is 67 percent. They must find credible representation in our party.

Bernd Riexinger


• Bernd Riexinger is a member of the Parteivorstand (party executive) of DIE LINKE and a member of the Bundestag (federal parliament). In 1991 he became a trade union official. He was active in the Social Forum movement in Germany and in an initiative for networking between trade union leftists. In 2003, he was among the initiators of mass protests against the Agenda 2010 of the “red-green” federal government at that time. He joined “Labour and Social Justice” (WASG) in 2004, a left-wing split of the Social Democratic Party with many trade union officials in it. He served as the party’s regional chairman in Baden-Württemberg until WASG merged into DIE LINKE in 2007. Until 2012, he was executive director of the Stuttgart division of the trade union ver.di, as well as a member of the executive board of DIE LINKE in Baden-Württemberg. From June 2012 to February 2021 he was co-chairperson of DIE LINKE alongside Katja Kipping.

He has published two books: Neue Klassenpolitik: Solidarität der Vielen statt Herrschaft der Wenigen, (2018) and System Change: Plädoyer für einen linken Green New Deal – Wie wir den Kampf für eine sozial- und klimagerechte Zukunft gewinnen können (2020).

The current “Bewegungslinke” is part of the left wing of DIE LINKE. It exists since 2018 and is one of the many “Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaften” (federal working-groups) recognized and funded by the party. Its motto is “verbindende Klassenpolitik” (unifying class politics).

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. More good thinking. Thanks Tomás for this.


    Mar 4, 2022 at 12:31 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: