Analysis. The Linke party congress this weekend exposed a deepening rift among the party over Germany’s open borders policy. The platform was almost unanimously adopted but only because the wording on borders was left vague.

Linke threatens to split over open borders policy

“In our party there are neither racists nor neoliberals,” said Katja Kipping, chairperson of the Linke, during the party’s congress that closed Saturday in Leipzig. It seems like an obvious statement. But maybe not.

At the heart of the congress of the main German leftist party there is a dispute threatening a laceration. On one side are the followers of the two secretaries Kipping and Bernd Riexinger (plus Gregor Gysi, currently number one of the European Left), and on the other are the supporters of the group leader Sahra Wagenknecht in the federal parliament. Among the supporters of the two sides, respectively: the “neoliberals” against the “racists.” Divergent ideas and discourses arise from the key issue of migrants and migratory policy. According to the secretaries, Linke must not give up the slogan of open borders for all. For the group leader, however, unconditional openness applies only to persecuted asylum seekers.

This internal split is the result of the long wave of the refugee crisis that hit Germany—and Chancellor Angela Merkel—in 2015 and, above all, of the rise of the nationalist right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which was also able to win support in the popular electorate of the Länder of the East Linke basin. For Wagenknecht, and for the still-influential former leader Oskar Lafontaine, the party must correct its political orientation: the no-borders politics has sent the elders, the poor and the unemployed into the arms of the AfD. The current Linke—this is the accusation—represents the middle-class young people in the urban centers. Thus, the party is turning into a kind of Green renaissance.

However, Kipping refused the accusation: “If I look at our young new members, I don’t see hipsters, I don’t see new greens. I see people who, with wonderful naturalness, know that solidarity with refugees and the defense of the welfare state come together. The Linke of the 21st century needs the generation of the 21st century.”

In her speech Kipping reached out a hand to Wagenknecht, but attacked Lafontaine (who is also a life companion of Wagenknecht): “If the party takes a position democratically, he doesn’t constantly question it in the media.” The delegates adopted this position Saturday, approving a congressional document in which it is written: fight against the causes of migration (wars, arms exports, exploitation), “safe humanitarian corridors, open borders and a system of reception and distribution of refugees in Europe respectful of human dignity,” and “social rights for all.” On the symbolic point of borders, the wording is deliberately ambiguous: it is not said for whom they should be opened. For everyone or not? The vague wording allowed the almost unanimous adoption of the motion.

The anti-Lafontaine passage by Kipping didn’t go down to the internal opponents. This explains the low percentage with which the co-secretary was confirmed Saturday in her office: just 64.5 percent, 10 points less than at the previous time. Riexinger did better, getting 73.8 percent. There were no alternative candidates; the re-election of both was a foregone conclusion. The political fact was all in the percentage of their consent: and from Saturday it is more evident that the climate in the party is still far from calming. This is also demonstrated by the unique situation in which delegates had to choose between two people both belonging to two different groups: the election of the organizational secretary, the number three in the internal hierarchy. In an exhausting ballot, the Kipping and Riexinger man won the race by only three votes (out of a total of 550). Moreover, the group leader mentioned the idea to create a “left movement” that could brings together Linke militants who are disappointed with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens.

In the intentions of the group leader is a strategy to build an alternative majority to the great coalition between Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and SPD that currently governs the country. There are those who fear, however, that it may mean nothing more or less than a classic split. If that were the case, it is hard to imagine that it would be good for the German and European left.

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