Above Photo: picture alliance / Michael Cap
Sahra Wagenknecht sees politics in crisis. The rulers are more about power than about content. The group leader of the left now wants to pool left-wing forces across all parties – in a collecting movement. In the exclusive interview, Wagenknecht reveals what the initiative is, how it should change politics and what it has to say to its critics.
Ms. Wagenknecht, your movement “getting up” starts on 4 September. What is the initiative about?
Sahra Wagenknecht: “ Getting up” is a movement for more justice in Germany. There are already other majorities in the population. Polls show a majority wants better pensions, higher wages , advocates a wealth tax and wants corporations to be properly taxed.
Only, this majority is politically not off – since the SPD with Agenda 2010 has taken a course against its own voters and understand the Greens as a power reserve of the CDU.
In essence, it is about the dissatisfaction of the citizens?
Democracy is in crisis. Many people feel abandoned by politics. Especially the poorer see their interests no longer represented. This strengthens above all right-wing parties such as the AfD. If you want to change that, you need a new departure.
What can achieve “getting up”?
If our movement gets really strong, we can change politics. The business lobbyists have the money to buy politics. But if we succeed in encouraging hundreds of thousands to become involved in their interests, we will be more powerful. Then the party system will change, and those in the parties who support a more social policy will receive tailwind.
We want a government that does politics for the great majority of people, not just the upper ten thousand.
How big is “getting up”?
In the first three days already 50,000 people have registered with us.
How is your movement financed?
At the moment, we are financing ourselves through the private money of the initiators. There will not be membership fees in the future either, but we will promote it through donations. Because events, campaigns – everything costs money.
What will your fight for more social justice look like?
We no longer want to leave the Internet and the street to the neo-liberal elites and the Right. We want to bring social issues back to the center of political debate in Germany and prevent the AfD from continuing to dictate the issues.
Even though much dissatisfaction is superficially directed against the Merkel government’s refugee policy, the truth is that people’s anger and disappointment are about completely different topics. It is about low wages, bad care, decaying schools, rent usury.
How can one concretely imagine the work of the movement?
We will be present online with creative, unconventional content. Get up on our website and social media. And we will build local structures. There will be events, street actions, but also larger events.
Above all, however, we will do one thing: to involve our fellow combatants, to speak up, to give their vote a podium. With modern software we can organize discussions with hundreds of thousands of participants.
How do you want to exert political pressure and thus provide for other majorities?
A movement can not compete in elections in Germany. But when we get strong, we can build up so much pressure that the parties open their lists for fellow campaigners. However, our primary concern is not to get parliamentary posts, but to launch an initiative that will make political engagement attractive again.
We want to address people who have turned away disappointed from the parties. We want to win those who do not want party-political ox-tours, but are very interested in politics and want to help shape it. We will be different, in our communication, in our appearance.
After all, the majority of our now over forty prominent founding members does not come from politics. There are actors, singers, writers, scientists, cabaret artists, theater people. But they all no longer want to see how an unprincipled government without backbone and format destroys social cohesion in our country and oversleeps the key issues of the future.
Which role models exist for getting up?
We’ve exchanged views with activists from successful campaigns, such as Momentum in support of Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn in the UK or Bernie Sanders in the US. We also have contacts to France with Jean-Luc Mélenchon and “La France insoumise” (“Indomitable France”). All movements that are fresh and modern.
The conditions are of course very different. French suffrage is different from the American one. And the conditions in Germany differ from both again. You have to develop your own and not just copy. But the exchange is important.
Where did the leftist parties in Germany fail?
The SPD has lost many voters because over the past 20 years it has helped to transform into an unleashed Goldman Sachs capitalism: temporary work, Hartz IV, pension cuts, all of which it defends to this day.
The Greens have moved far from their roots. They were a rebellious party, a peace party. Today, the conservation of the green stops where you have to deal with powerful business lobbyists.
Where did your own party fail?
The left has to wonder why it does not succeed in winning the voters disappointed by the SPD. Many do not vote anymore or choose AfD. But these are not racists, but simply people who are angry and dissatisfied – and have every reason to do so. In recent years, the left has been less and less able to reach the poorer, the low paid and the unemployed. On the contrary, they also turn away from us. That is a big problem.
How can your movement counterbalance the AfD?
We are a counterweight to the shift to the right because we want to give people hope for a different policy. We want to renew democracy by bringing it back to life. Currently, the interests of the majority do not prevail, so many lose their faith in democracy.
Even before the election in the fall of last year, there were big promises. Now the grand coalition is in office for half a year – but rents continue to rise and many retirees can not live on their pensions. Employees continue to be exploited, and fixed-term employment is in business. Social problems are exacerbating and nothing changes. If this continues, more people will turn away from democracy.
After the general election, a left alliance would have been possible, according to recent polls no more. Why?
The Left has always offered the SPD the possibility of common policies: together we could have renewed the welfare state and put peace and disarmament in foreign policy. But it has to be about another policy, not just about power. A red-red-green coalition, which in fact does nothing different from the Merkel government, is not attractive to voters and therefore no longer has a majority.
That is, the left was not strong enough to prevail?
Right, we did not manage to get SPD and Greens to correct their course. The pressure must come from society.
Hence the collecting movement …
Yes, it is not directed against individual parties, but against the orientation of politics that we have been experiencing in Germany for years now.
What role do you play in the movement and who are your supporters?
I am one of over 40 founding members. The names of these celebrity supporters will be released on September 4 as our collection movement officially launches. Some of the initiators come from the SPD, the Greens and the Left. Most are party-free.
Despite a large influx, they are also receiving heavy criticism . Bundestag Vice President Thomas Oppermann (SPD) accuses you of left-wing populism, the deputy SPD chairman Ralf Stegner speaks of “PR actions with Egotrip shares.” Others accuse you of fishing right. What do you say to your critics?
I can understand that those who do not want change are afraid of us. They should have them too. We do not want GroKo forever right now. We want a new government, a different policy.
This is obviously perceived by some as a threat, as an attack on conditions in which they have settled comfortably. That’s why they try to defame us. The SPD leadership should rather ask why ten million voters have run away and part of it is voting right today. That’s a failure of the party and not the voters.
Critics see the danger that your movement will split the left. Is “getting up” also a challenge to the left? Will you weaken and split or collect and strengthen?
I do not see the movement at all in contradiction to my party. On the contrary. It’s about strengthening the social left. The Left Party was founded to change politics. But she does not manage that with her nine to ten percent alone.
Currently, we can only watch the decline of democracy and social cuts. We can talk against it in the Bundestag, but we can not stop it. Therefore, every member of the Left, the SPD and the Greens, dissatisfied with the current situation, should support our initiative.
“Getting up” is an extra-parliamentary movement. So as a political party will it never exist?
We want to collect and not split. If we started a new party now, it would force the members of existing parties to either not participate or leave their own party. In addition, a new party would be little promising. Because many people do not want to get involved in a party.
But you are quite interested in other, creative offers for cooperation. A movement also has very different possibilities for direct democratic debates and decisions. We will ensure that our fellow campaigners really have a say.