Publikation Soziale Bewegungen / Organisierung What does Left-wing mean today? (May 2006)





Juli 2008


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 Some think light and reft
Csnnot be confuaed
Whst s miatske!
(Ernst Jandl)

taz: What is left-wing? Harry Rowohlt: No idea.
taz: Are you left-wing? Harry Rowohlt: Of course

“In general, the right resigns itself more easily to the existence of inequality than the left and, moreover, it rather supports the powerful than the powerless.”       (Anthony Giddens) 

If a decade and a half ago, there raged a fierce debate over the question whether the distinction between “Left” and “Right” was still meaningful at all, a new Party now wants to found as “The Left” in Germany. With the World Social Forum in 2001, there emerged a left-wing counter-summit to the meeting of the power elites in the world in Davos. In Europe, important social and political struggles were conducted in an offensive way from the left-hand side of the spectrum. However, what is Left-wing today? What does Left mean after all? The self-assertive use of this word does not replace the active confrontation with the history and the present of the Left. Therefore, let this essay also be headed by the contribution: “Let doubt be blessed! I advise you, please welcome - good-heartedly and with respect – the one, who examines your every word like a bad penny.” (Bertolt Brecht)

Quiz question:
Please note quickly and without thinking a lot:
1) a person who you think is left,
2) a historical event that to you is left,
3) an organisation you think is left.
Then exchange your notes. Where are there correspondences? Where are there objections that “this is really not left”? 

1) Daily life, protest and opinion research

Although it is ever again proudly announced that the concepts of Left and Right are overtaken and lost their meaning, most people are very much able to handle them. Only a tenth of those questioned, when asked to rate themselves politically on a scale 0 (left) and 10 (right), give no answer at all or say: “No idea.”

However, as anyone can find out by conducting a spontaneous poll in his/her circle of acquaintances, in the family or on the job, the answers to the question what is left today (or what is left-wing today) are certainly quite different from one another. Many people answer that Left is what people think is left: “the Left”, the “Left Party”, “left politics”, “left-wing opinions”, maybe the trade unions or Attac. Others introduce the word “actually” into their answer: The Left today was such and such, but actually, Left should mean this, that or the other. And still others do not think of politics at all, but of people, their sense of self, their attitudes towards life and to others: “left-wingers, those are dreadlocks, and if you smoke pot, do not wear a military hair cut and if you are cool.” Or they name Che Guevara and Rudi Dutschke.

In a survey among students in the middle of the 90s, those polled gave the following replies: Left is: social (19% of the notes on Left), ecological (11%), SPD (9%), socialist (9%), Communist (9%), openness to the world (8%), liberal, individualist (8%), Green (7%), progressive (5%), close to the trade unions (5%).
Right-wing is: conservative (24% of characterisations of the Right), defence of the wealthy and powerful (11%), nationalist (10%), CDU/CSU (9%), right-wing extremist (7%), tradition-oriented (7%), REPs (6%), xenophobia (5%), guidance taken from power (5%), and rigidity (4%) (Alex Demirovic,

These answers point to three different aspects of what is left. There is, first of all, the “Left” as a historical force that defines itself by way of organisations and persons. There are, second, substantive positions that can be left or right. And there are, third, attitudes, cultural, and social patterns of action that we perceive as Left or Right. Not everything that the Left advocates at a certain point in time, will be validated as left or stand for it in a historically lasting way. And between the political and the cultural sphere, between the political organisations and actions in daily life, there are always tensions.

The Anti-Hartz-IV demonstrations of the year 2004 – from the left and from the right    

A poster at a Monday demonstration in Berlin in 2004, the slogan is: “Could it be that Marx was not mistaken after all?”

In late June 2004, the long-term unemployed Andreas Erholdt conceived of an appeal for a Monday demonstration in Magdeburg and copied it. To the first demonstrations, over 600 people came, to the second one far over 6,000. In the third week, there were over 15,000. In September 2004, in more than 200 cities, 100,000s took to the streets. Only in late autumn did the movement die down.

“What shall we do today?”, I asked. “Fight for peace”, Annette answered decidedly. “Not with me”, I said, while Eleanor whined: “Oh, no, Mummy!” I had completely forgotten the anti- nuclear weapon’s demonstration, even though we had marked it already weeks ago first with a pencil and then with a pen on the kitchen calendar. “Pull yourselves together, you anarchists”, said Annette.
        Ken MacLeod, Mars City

These demonstrations distinguished themselves by the fact that they were begun by those members of society concerned themselves. These were not demonstrations by the parties and the trade unions, but by the citizens (women and men) themselves, even if organised left-wing forces increasingly provided support by their infrastructure.

As already in 1989, the demonstrators had created their posters and banners themselves and often adorned them with rhymed slogans and self-authored texts: “Down with Hartz IV, the people is you!”, “We have nothing in our pockets, why does Schröder want our socks now!”, “Unemployed, homeless, destitute and desperate!”, “You won’t get my savings booklet!” and “In the year Hartz IV- Agenda 2010, if we are still alive…”

“The programme of the socialists is a radical programme of freedom, and the socialists know that freedom can only be realised if social existence is safe – the neoliberals and the conservatives don’t know that. Freedom, if properly understood, also means that not the economy reigns, but the people.”
          Oskar Lafontaine

The demonstrations of summer and fall 2004 turned against social expropriation that was linked with the Hartz IV reforms in particular for the older unemployed; they turned against what the protestors considered as disposal over their lives and fates from the outside and with their exclusion from the social middle of the society linked to that. They considered themselves as hurt in their pride.

The organised right-wing in Germany also reacted to this protest by the population. Under slogans like “Social justice for all Germans. Down with Hartz IV!” “Down with Hartz IV! Down with the anti-social system!” it was tried, in a systematic way, to win over the demonstrators. The difference to the left-wingers consisted mainly in that often the very same demands were justified in a nationalist, racist, and anti-democratic way. At the same time, the right-wingers pleaded for cutting off from the outside and for the expulsion of foreign nationals living in Germany, who were considered the guilty ones.

Globalisation means unemployment, wage dumping, social demolition, destruction of the environment and illnesses… There is no just globalisation.
     NPD, Action programme for a better Germany

Criticism of neoliberal globalisation was charged with nationalist and xenophobic overtones. During the confrontations at the Opel works, there appeared a banner with the slogan: “Globalisation kills German jobs – national solidarity with the strike at Opel!”

Criticism of the Hartz laws was linked with defamation of asylum seekers and the slogan “German tax money for Germans”. In an allusion to the infamous speech by Emperor William II in the beginning of the 1st World War, it said on a banner of the Republicans: “We no longer know any parties, only Germans – down with Hartz IV!”

 Quiz question:
Concerning what demands and positions, in your opinion, the distinction between left and right is blurred these days? What would be necessary to restore it? 

The clarification of positions becomes a question of survival for the Left. On the one hand, the neoliberals are trying to denounce any kind of criticism of neoliberal globalisation and any advocacy of state regulation as nationalist, reactionary, and right-wing extremist. On the other hand, social movements and the Left have the responsibility to actively delineate themselves against the right, by explicitly not turning against other weak social groups, but by acting in solidarity with them. This is so important, because openings to the right develop almost spontaneously: People concentrate on “their” thing and discover only later that others may be excluded from it.

Left and right in public opinion research

Public opinion research measures left and right by way of pre-defined positions that are considered symptomatic for left or right. Three positions in public opinion research stand above all for Left: a positive relationship to the social state, demands for direct or “more” democracy and the clear rejection of nationalism, xenophobia, and National Socialism.

Departing from that starting point, three dimensions of the Left in contradistinction to the Right can be distinguished: (1) support for the social state as opposed to the demand for more market freedom, (2) demands for further democratisation as opposed to demands to a “strong hand”, and (3) openness to differing life projects (relationship to gays and lesbians as an indicator) and to strangers (Jews, Moslems etc.). All these features have in common the expectation of a high formability of social relationships. As a Left person, you want to consciously counteract the evils of unleashed markets, free-wheeling political structures and the exclusion of foreigners and expect this of others – the state, parties etc.

Three dimensions of Left and Right

Since by these three dimensions, a whole space of positions can be described, it is completely clear that also different types of left-wingers can be seized in it – depending on how the different characteristics of being left are mixed with one another.

If one follows this model of public opinion, then there is not “the” Left, but only different positions that one can call more or less left. In the strict sense, an “ideal” left would distinguish itself by the combination of social formability, democratisation, and openness.

A position that would concentrate on only one of these axes and would neglect the other dimensions of left or even rejects them, however, will easily tip over to the right. A strong emphasis on social regulation paired with authoritarian attitudes and maybe even combined with cutting oneself off from others and strangers, is no longer left, but right-wing nationalist. The same holds for a unilateral emphasis on openness that is combined neither with social regulation nor with the affirmation of democracy and therefore lands in the neoliberal camp. A social authoritarianism that presents itself as internationalist can result in advocacy of left dictatorship that lastingly suppresses basic freedoms.  The share of right-inclined voters of left-wing parties in Germany at this point lies at around 8-10 percent.

 Quiz question:
Please try to find examples of how left demands can be hollowed out by leaving out the other dimensions of left to right! 

Already in 1929, Erich Fromm had worked out in an investigation that many workers and employees in Germany already before the Hitler dictatorship had unambiguously conservative or reactionary ideas with respect to the rights of women and children in the family and the origins of social inequality (as owed to personal weaknesses and guilt) and were in no way free of racism. The legendary questionnaire contained questions such as: “325. Are you pleased by a woman’s use of powder, perfume and lip stick? 326. Do you consider it right that women exercise a profession? 327. Also when married? 621. Do you think that in raising a child, one can dispense completely of corporal punishment? 624. What do you and your wife think about an early enlightenment of children on sexual life? 630. Do you give your wife household money or simply the whole wage?”

For the empirical measurement of corresponding attitudes along the scales mentioned, opinion research designs questions that are then transferred into attitudes. For instance, those surveyed are asked to position themselves on a kind of ruler with the number 1 (stands for very left-wing) up to 10 (stands for clearly right-wing). They are also asked to mention of what importance the following goals are:  maintenance of law and order in this country; more influence of the citizens on the decisions of the government; fight against rising prices; protection of the right to free expression of opinion; social justice; improvement of the competitiveness of the German economy; environmental protection; security and order.

If one then sets the answers into a relationship with the question for social class; age bracket, sex; educational level; professional group; in work or unemployed; place of residence, one obtains a social and political cartography of society.            

2) Left and right – a historical and analytical distinction

3. If the custom up to now has been that one has taken us to be serfs to be pitied, please consider that Christ has saved and redeemed us all by shedding his precious blood – the shepherd just like the prince, without any exception. Therefore, we conclude from the scripture that we are free and want to be so.
4. Is it unbrotherly and not in accordance with the word of God that the poor man has no power to hunt for deer, for fowl and for fish? After all, when the Lord created man, he gave him power over all the animals, the bird in the skies and the fish in the water.
10. Consider that some have appropriated meadows and acres that belong to a community. These we want to take back into our common hands.

From the “12 articles”, passed on March 15 and 20 1525 in Memmingen by the rebelling peasantry

The labels “left” and “right” for opposite political camps developed in the Great French Revolution (1789-1794). In the second National Assembly, elected in 1791, the adherents of a monarchy controlled by parliament that were fully satisfied with the grand bourgeois results of the first stage of the revolution, sat down on the more honourable seats to the right of the president of parliament. Those on the other hand, who were striving for more comprehensive and more social goals and wanted to drive ahead the revolution, consciously sought the seats on the left-hand side.

The notions of “right” and “left” from the beginning on were focused on the questions of property and power. Should freedom, property, and political power be the privilege of the few or the claim of all, what should be imposed, a dictatorship of the propertied or the democratic participation of all, a society of merciless competition or one of common responsibility and solidarity? Robespierre was to say later on in the name of the left on the bourgeois constitution: “You have multiplied the articles in order to offer the greatest possible liberty to the administration of property, and you have not said a single word to determine its legal characteristics, meaning that your declaration is not destined for the people, but for the wealthy, the insatiable, the speculators, and the tyrants.” He demanded that the right to property should infringe neither “upon security nor on freedom, nor on existence, nor on the personal property of fellow human beings.”

In his writing, “Advice for a Holy war” (1622), the English philosopher Francis Bacon describes the seven heads of the hydra that needed to be cut off – groups of people opposed to the project of the colonial empire, who in his opinion needed to be eradicated: 1) indigenous citizens of the new world, 2) landless and refugees, 3) pirates, 4) robbers, 5) terrorists, 6) Amazons (=women in revolt and resistance movements), 7) Baptists (=  religious “Communists”).
While some write the story of the Left starting with enlightenment (“All thinking by the social movements takes its starting point from the great ideas of enlightenment philosophy”), others see an essential origin of the modern left in the seven heads of the hydra. The contact of those groups that distanced themselves from the early modern Empire had set free practical social fantasy that made the Utopia of a liberated society appear as a real alternative conceivable in the first place.

The seat distribution of 1791 spun a long tradition. Upon entering the federal parliament, the Greens pushed through to be seated not on the Left, but in between SPD and CDU/CSU, while the FDP today takes its seats on the very right and the Left clearly on the left.

Where does the Left begin, however? The contrast between egalitarian-solidary and authoritarian-hierarchical social strategies was known already to the big human apes, where the younger males rally in order to defend themselves against the dominating alpha male and, if possible, to topple it in common.

The above-described three dimensions of left versus right appear throughout history in the shape of the demand for co-determination of the many instead of the decision-making power of just a few privileged; in the demands for an obligation of the strong, the rich and the mighty by social ties “downward”; and the conflicts around the permissible degree of social “deviation” or, respectively, the cultural representation of different groups. However, in former times, only in exceptional cases did they enter a consequent relationship that represented the seed cell of a left camp in society.  Typical, for instance, were social rebellions that put their stakes on authoritarian models of order and proceeded against “dissident” minorities rather by discrimination and by force; or emancipation movements by minorities that cared very little about the social rights of the “many”.

The number of exceptions constitutes the pre-history of the left before modernity. In there belonged the slave and peasant rebellions of antiquity, insofar there developed in them an overarching programme progressive in all three dimensions, as for instance in the famous revolt of the Spartacus around 73 B.C.. The party of the Grecians in pre-Imperial Rome linked the demand for land reform with that for political democratisation and extension of citizenship rights to the Non-Romans. In the German peasant war of 1525, the rebellious peasants drafted a kind of constitution (the “12 articles”) in which they demanded social and collective rights for the peasants and the communities just as religious and individual freedoms…

The pre-history of the modern Left is not a European or Western phenomenon. Anti-hierarchical social strategies and social movements are a firm element in African and (pre-European) American history.

The story of the Left and its ideas developed along the experiences of the oppressed classes, the provocations of social splits and the social experimentation by the “outsiders” – national as well as international. The internationalism of the Left reflects how important transnational intertwining and exchange movements have been for the Left. The movement of the “Maroons”, the slaves escaped from Jamaica contributed just as much to the left democratic-Republican heritage of the American revolution as the ideas of democracy of the “five nations” of American Indians. To the left part of the history of democratic institutions and open society, there also belong such strange constructs as the “pirate states” of the 17th and 18th century that ranged from North Africa to Indonesia.

Quiz question
Please draw a family tree of the left. In your opinion, who belongs to that family, who is derived of whom, who marries in when? Exchange your notes and compare your family trees.

Revolution and human rights

The contrast between Left and Right in today’s form is a result of the large historical turn that assumed its lasting force with the American and the French revolution of the ending 18th century. From the processes of enlightenment, the development of a centralistic state and of capitalist market economies, the transformation of estates into class societies as well as of conduct of wars demanding mass mobilisation, there emerged societies considered modern. And from trouble, misery, exploitation and oppression of these modern societies of new capitalism, the claims of the oppressed, exploited and excluded grew and were articulated in a new form - as universal claims of each and every one to a self-determined life in solidarity, as human rights.

Only modern societies know left and right as universal, self-recognising programmes: “Freedom, equality, fraternity” – the left-wing demands of the French revolution – called forth the counter-revolution and led to the conscious constitution of the Right (“conservatism”) under the banner of order, natural inequality and tradition. In the two great revolutions of 1776 (USA) and 1789 (France), a standard was proclaimed that more and more social groups and movements, more and more women and men citizens applied to their societies – that of freedom, equality, and solidarity, the comprehensive redemption of ever more broadly conceived human rights. The revolt from below became the universal revolution.

In 1762, there appeared Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writing “The Social Contract” that saddled the author with persecution by the powers of the old Europe. The first chapter begins with the famous words: “Man is born free and yet everywhere he lies in chains.”

Only 14 years later, the free citizens of the “good people of Virginia” proclaimed a “Bill of Rights”: “Art. 1. All men are born free and equal and are endowed with certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. Art. 2. That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.” (  Due to the pressure of radical popular movements, these rights became fixed components of the US American constitution. It was to take almost 200 years until in the USA, at least formally, these rights applied at least formally to an equal extent also to women and men, blacks and whites.  

“Freedom is an empty craze as long as one class of people can starve the other one without punishment. Equality is an empty craze as long as the rich by way of monopoly exercise the right over life and death of their fellow citizens. The republic is an empty craze as long as day by day, the counter-revolution is at work, with goods prices that three quarters of the citizens can only muster under tears.”
The leader of the “Enraged”, Jacques Roux, before the National Assembly

Ever since the French Revolution, an essential characteristic of a left position has consisted in underscoring that the mere proclamation of human rights is not sufficient. So that really all can claim these rights and not only the privileged classes, social prerequisites must be created. The redeeming of human rights should not be a result of the skill and the responsibility of the individual but it should be the responsibility of society.

The demands of social groups that were delivered to exploitation or oppression and demanded other property and power structures had to be transformed into the demand for a general emancipation. That, however, is not so easy.

“Art. 2. We demand full employment for our people. We believe that the federal government has the responsibility and the obligation to guarantee to each and everyone a job or a safe income. We believe that the white entrepreneurs, if they do not guarantee full employment should be relinquished of the means of production and that these should be handed over to the black people, so that it can organise and employ all its people and secure them a high standard of living.”
   From the programme of the Black Panther Party of the USA
   of October 1966 

Karl Marx stated as the point of departure of emancipatory politics the “categorical imperative to overthrow all relationships in which man was a demeaned, an enslaved, an abandoned and a despicable creature.” He thus posited a criterion for social transformation that to the Left was to retain its validity until today. The liberation of a group, stratum or class suffering from special exploitation and oppression at the same time was supposed to contribute to the liberation of all. That way, there was also drawn a clear line of separation against class hatred and physical eradication of the former exploiters, against race hatred and annihilation of people, against the imposition of new dictatorships or tyrannies and the creation of new systems of exploitation. The Left constitutes itself after all precisely with the decision to not simply overthrow relationship or to take revenge, but to face the challenge of a better society that can be measured against the standards of people’s rights. Here it is an original claim of the Left that the shaping of property rights has to serve the general realisation of human rights and rights do not follow from the property forms.

Many of the great social movements of the 19th and 20th, therefore, have linked their concrete demands with those for a universal validity of ever more developed political, social, and cultural rights, because this allowed, firstly, to formulate the claims of oppressed, exploited and marginalised forces within the horizon of “bourgeois societies” as generally valid claims and, secondly, to overcome the linking of rights to the propertied citizen in favour of rights of each and every individual independently of property and power without abandoning thinking in legal terms, however, and thirdly, to express collective claims at the same time as individual rights. Simultaneously, however, left movements also gained power who sought to impose their social goals by way of the imposition of party dictatorships, centrally administrative economies and persecution of dissidents (on that see more below).

Individual claims and legal suits always take place in a social context. Everybody knows that from his business, his university department etc.: One cannot be left past the central social conflict of a group. One cannot defend left positions, yet ignore the central split of the group or the central social conflict by which it is concerned. That does not work and would not be taken seriously. In that sense, left requires a social perspective. A left attitude needs the perspective “from below”, it requires social backing. It always must also question all social conflicts in terms of what they mean in the light of the social class division and oppression for those oppressed and exploited. It must aim at material life realities, not at formal rights. It may not ignore the power and property question because otherwise it goes past the real change of the real relationship.

“If someone takes your bread, he at the same time deprives you of your liberty. Yet when somebody takes your freedom, then know that your bread is in danger, because it will no longer depend on you and your struggle, but of the high-handedness of some master.”                              Albert Camus

Human rights are not static. The workers’ movement, the women’s movement, antiracist and anti-colonial movements, the movement of those without passport or of gays and lesbians, they and many others do not only point to fundamental rights. They have extended, interpreted, changed these rights and made them concrete. Measured by their standard no property order, no political regime, no religious world system is legitimate that does not guarantee their general realisation. Only by relating concrete social demands for overcoming relationships of exploitation, oppression and exclusion to universal demands for human rights, do these acquire their liberating content. As the experiences of the 20th century show, the creation of such a link is not easy at all.

Quiz question
The right to property belongs to the most hotly disputed question of the human rights debate. Please plead with assigned roles for or against the right to property. Which different meanings can be invested into that “right”?

3) The Space of the Left

The positions on what is left today are extraordinarily different not only in daily life, in politics, and in public opinion. They also diverge according to cultural and social context, traditions and expectations. In scientific literature, there are very different conceptual approaches.

In order to give a very broad description of what today could be considered left in its heterogeneity, the Spaniard Elias Diaz makes the following remarks: To him, the following attitudes are signs of a left-wing identity:

  • greater readiness to conduct a policy of redistribution and appropriate equalisation based on labour rather than capital;
  • greater respect for the structuring of everything that is public and general face to that which is private and individual;
  • greater weight on the values of cooperation in comparison to the values of confrontation and competition;
  • greater attention face to new social movements and their pacifist, ecological, and feminist demands;
  • care for the actual realisation of human rights, in particular with regard to the marginal groups, the aged, children etc.
  • insistence on the precedence of satisfaction of basic needs such as health, school education, housing;
  • greater sensibility and international solidarity for the poor, dependent, underdeveloped regions;
  • autonomy of free will and rational discussion, not in order to take democratic majority decisions, but in order to develop critical ethics and to build up a transformation that is not forced on society by way of authoritarian arguments or the dogmas of religious institutions.”

A proposal for discussion

All this belongs into the space of the Left or of that which is left. How is this room structured, however? Surely, it cannot be “derived” from a single aim, but does it conversely consist only of single demands that have no clear interrelationship among each other?

Figure 2: The Space of the Left

If one follows the orientation from the declared aims of the Great French Revolution, one might ask whether the left could not be determined adequately by three basic values – liberté, equality, solidarity; supplemented by the basic conviction of a conscious formability of society.

“In contrast to the notion of freedom, equality is a notion belonging completely to the Left. This is not only a matter of fact, but a claim: It is asserted by no means that all people are equal, but that they are supposed to have equal rights. In the answer to the question where people are supposed to be equal, liberal and egalitarian positions are distinct. The liberals demand equality before the law; egalitarians demand equality in social reality. For the latter there are two variants: equality of chances or equality of results. Equality of chances means equal access to social positions which are unequal, however (…) A right to equality of result, by contrast, means that all citizens, not only as a product of chance, but also in reality should have an equal share of the available social positions and resources (for instance, riches). (…)
Egalitarian property conceptions can be realised either by an equal amount of property for all or by communal property.
The notion of equality becomes a basic notion of the Left only by its universality. Independently of that, it is after all conceivable that equality reigns only among the members of a limited group (for instance, an elite that in turn secures itself advantages face to the whole rest of society, on the other hand, however, maintains equality among its members; also an equality of the disadvantaged is possible).”      Georg Fülberth

The Left distinguishes itself not only by its orientation from equality, but it always assumed that equality ultimately – and be it by the detour of a dictatorship or a centrally administered economy – would lead to more liberty. At the same time, however, and this stands in direct contrast to many right-wing notions, solidarity is, as the Left itself declares, not only a means, but a goal in itself. For the left, solidarity and not competition is the striven-for basic form of human life together.

With Marx and other socialist and Communist thinkers, there prolongs itself what was already implied in the Enlightenment and the French revolution: an identification of the left claims with historical progress and with the thought of reasonableness (rationality) of social relationships. “Progressive” could only be what related positively to the victory of the oppressed class, and the victory of the oppressed class could only consist in the realisation of a social order that would achieve a higher degree of social rationality.

The great revolutions in France and America and their social radicalisation by the workers’ movement and Marxism have transferred the Left an exciting, at times also problematic inheritance. It is not only new that freedom, equality and fraternity encompass the demands of left “pre-history” in a more abstract and therefore more easily generalised form. They are supplemented by a fourth aspect that will remain constitutive of the left from then on: the emphasis on the changeability of social reality, the commitment and the readiness to change social rules fundamentally and in a principal way, not to let a new society grow, but to create it consciously. Before, revolution had been the return to a better age, restoration of the actually right, “good-willed” conditions.

One of the strength of the Left since that time lies in that it secularises power and property. Power and property are extracted from the domain of the “natural”, of the personal or group-related “characteristics” and materialise as a question about social regulation. The Left ever again wins provocative force, when it points out what potential of social and human improvement and development opens itself once the distribution of power and property is no longer a taboo.

At the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century, the Left at least in Germany seemed to fuse with the organised labour movement into a common front under the leadership of social democracy. The social, political, and cultural differences shifted into the background. Today this has changed entirely. Maybe the most important global space of the left, the World Social Forum, is mainly a space, a location of the many, of the social movements, trade unions, a multitude of initiatives and groups of active women and men citizens. Already for that reason, we use in what follows the notion of space where many cooperate with many. We do not want to define the left, but rather what unites the many left-wingers in their differences.

“Comrades, your events are insupportable. You are full of inhibitions that you are letting off as aggressions against the comrades who say something stupid or something that you already know. The aggressions only come in part from political insights into the dumbness of the other camp. Why don’t you let out finally that you are wrecked by last year, that you no longer know how to support the stress any longer of having to exhaust yourselves in political actions physically and psychically without drawing any pleasure gain from that. Why don’t you discuss, before planning new campaigns, how they are to be executed at all? Why do you all buy this stupid “Empire”? Why do you talk here about the class struggle and at home about orgasmic difficulties? Is that not a topic for the SDS?”              Heike Sander

By way of the Graph (Graph 2, p. 12), it is tried to sketch a space of the Left where the above-mentioned four basic notions – freedom, equality, solidarity and conscious forming – are supposed to be utilised. In that way, it should become possible to fix orientation points and demarcation lines without having to stick to “the” definition of left: the conception of left as an open space which has room for various things but not for anything you like. This might also help to do more justice to the self-orientation of the left in its plurality, diversity, and heterogeneity than the mere fixation on the one nation, the one category. Movements, theories, and discourses, locations and institutions, women and men socialists, radical women and men democrats, libertarian women and men anarchists, women and men social democrats, left autonomous people can all find each other in this space.

A political session at a living room table in a private apartment: A young woman that up to now has not yet come to any session joins in: “Do you do anything on feminism here?” “No, but if you go back there, into the kitchen, you’ll meet Anni. She is interested in that kind of stuff.”
        The subjective factor
        Producer: Heike Sander

Each of the four basic notions of a modern left is put into a relationship with contrary notions – exploitation, oppression, competition and war, irrationality and conservatism. In its totality, freedom, equality, solidarity and conscious forming of realities circumscribe a pluralist identity of the left that opposes essential tendencies, power and property structures of contemporary societies critically. They grasp the vision of a movement that is aimed at a society “in which the free development of each [becomes] the condition for the free development of all” (Marx).

The Cultural Left    

The movement toward emancipation and the struggle between left and right are raging everywhere in society. It takes place at all of its locations – in the firm, in the family, on the streets, in parliament, in public, in schools and universities, in the city districts, in all of its institutions, groups, associations, media and relationships. It takes place as a political, as a cultural, as a social struggle. 

In that fight, there are no privileged locations or forms that would be fundamentally more important than others. However, there are lacks of simultaneity, contradictions and changing roles.  In some phases, struggles at the firm level are the pioneers of change, in other cases governmental take-over by the left. At certain times, progressive, social forms develop more quickly than politics; at other times, the “private” is inspired in an emancipatory direction by the changes in “politics”. The relationship between political, cultural, and social left is an indispensable productive force for changes in society – and a point for violent contradictions and controversies.

“Both fears – undermining of authority and seduction by corporality – repeat themselves permanently throughout the whole history of music… We might expect that the political left in this war should beat its way to the side of liberty, meaning corporal revolt against prevailing instructions. At times it does that. However, more often than not, the fears of the left as far as music is concerned are precisely the same… Political folk is the left-wing variant of the Calvinist hymn; the text stands in the foreground so as to control the meaning, the music is its water carrier, all indirect appeals to the body are eliminated.”

      Susan Mc Clary, Same as it ever was  

Similarly to human rights, there can be constructed, in the area of culture as well, two contradictory extremes of what is left. Following the one opinion, there would simply count “conviction” – either as political partisanship by the authors or as “substance”. Then culture could simply be questioned as to its political statements and positions; the actual cultural work would be uninteresting and would be the medium of the political. According to the opposite opinion, there would only be one single progressive cultural task, namely the continued enlargement of human possibilities – of the emotional and cognitive, sensual and symbolic capabilities, the search for new forms and new ways of expression for new or deepened feelings, impressions or connections. The question for left-wing or right-wing culture would, therefore, be meaningless.

More meaningful than such a contraposition would be to work here as well with the model of the “room of the left” whose four orientations – freedom, equality, cooperation, and conscious change, however, can be interpreted in very different ways from a cultural perspective. Culture not only talks of words, but also of bodies, movements, “positions” and these are nothing external to the political content of culture.

The aspect of equality can mean, for instance, that the cultural left attributes less significance to the distinction into elitist art and mass culture, in “E” (educational) and “R” (recreational) – but takes seriously popular art and culture. It may mean to be interested in the sounds and images of the street and of production and in the experiences and philosophies of the oppressed, and it can also mean to respect and to process the manifold cultural processes and needs that are expressed in forms of “entertainment”. Critical conflict with all of these forms is always demanded. Yet, in its tendency, left culture is against the ivory towers, that is against a culture that solely exercises the values and the self-projections of the white, male, occidental and bourgeois class and that squarely denies cultural achievement to all others; and also denies to all others to be able to become the subject of art.   

Figure 3: The Space of the Cultural Left

The aspect of liberty can mean to break with the repressive control of corporality, to blast the authority of enforced perceptions, also: to destroy conventions. 

The aspect of cooperation can be related to the cultural way of production by trying collective production and cooperative transgressions. It may just as well be related to the cultural position of cultural actors, in the sense of consciousness of social responsibility and the respect for other activities.

The aspect of wished for change and conscious forming of the world can mean to face technical and scientific revolutions also in the area of culture; to devote to the topical more interest than to the timeless; to understand culture as the means of production for social change.

However differently these aspects may be interpreted, they will always be encountered in art and culture with a left aspiration. This holds for approaches as different as Brecht’s epic theatre; the “social sculptures” of Beuys; the progressive forms of Hip Hop and DJ culture etc. If individual aspects are put to the absolute or if others are missing, the emancipative character gets lost. For that reason, individual artistic directions (or approaches of political culture) are not per se left or right. You can also practice surrealism or pop art in a reactionary way, just as you can take the courage to an uncomfortable artistic avant-garde or turn its financial tap off by way of promotion of “broad mass culture”.  The dialectic that today right can be that what was left yesterday or the other way around operates nowhere as quickly as in the area of culture. 

 “We do not want to forget Rembrandt and Michelangelo. We only want them to make a little bit of space for us… In the light of what has been the reality in cultural history, every exhibition should from now on consist to 99% of works by women and non-white artists. But only for the next 400 years, that should be enough.”         Guerrilla Girls

Here as well it holds: What is left cannot be derived. Yet left culture organises its conflicts also in a space of the left that is structured by contradiction and where the cultural left tips over to the right if it gives up one of the four axes. On the field of culture, the four basic notions of the left face counter-notions. However difficult the answer to the question what is left in culture at the moment may be, the opposite in any case is clear. Left culture is certainly not elitist, it is not repressive, it does not practice a cult of genius, and it does not turn the culture of the past into an untouchable canon.

The Social Left

The thought of the space of the left can also be made fruitful for the social left. It is as diverse as the political and the cultural left is as well. The social left – a notion that for some time has played a role in the Latin-American left – works in social movements. Very often it marks these movements in a major way, or to put it another way, very frequently, these movements are left to a very high degree. That can be the trade union movement, the women’s movement, the self-organisation of refugees and migrants etc. However, to the social left, there also belong all the individuals who in the concrete forms of social cooperation – firm, family, district and association – work for change in the sense of the four aspects that mark the space of the left. Co-determination, direct participation, the orientation taken from social efficiency, forms of social administration of social funds are some of the guiding ideas of a social left. All those may belong to it who do social labour. Under certain historical conditions, parts of the public employment sector may belong to the social left if they are used to go ahead with a progressive example in the work world. And all left people in principle also belong to the social left, because they have to find their place in the daily world cooperative relations.

The aspect of freedom means that left people on the field of the social, for instance, engage for the autonomous activity and self-determination of the people, that they fight against deprivation of their rights and oppression by others. It also means that a left politics of the social always must always leave some space to resistance, to rebellion, to transgression of rules or respectively defending these.

The aspect of equality in this connection appears mainly as contrast to hierarchy – of groups, classes, genders, positions, life projects, recognition and equal distribution, election of office-holders and direct democracy, equal rights and anti-discrimination, respect and conscience of self raise many contradictions; yet they all belong to the aspect of equality.

In the area of the social, the aspect of solidary cooperation, for instance, may mean to conduct an “inclusive” policy; that means to actively resist all forms of exclusion. Here as well, there are contradictions, for example, between the inclination to cooperative solutions of conflicts and the commitment to solidarity, which might make possible struggle and conflict.

The aspect of conscious struggle and wished-for change finally will mean that the left will always sceptically oppose all naturalistic fixtures in the social, that it believes in the force of social formability, of learning, of changing roles and rules. It can also mean that a space will be kept open for social experiment, that the risk of new forms is incurred and enabled.

Figure 4: The Space of the Social Left

The social left invents and practices ways of life, forms of behaviour, instruments of social cooperation – from the “room-mating” to “common reflection”, from “wild marriage” to solidary wage policy, from the anti-authoritarian education to the crawl group, from the cooperative to people’s ownership. It works with the real people and produces “normality” for that which up to yesterday was still considered “sick” and “deviant”. Without the social left, you can change neither life, nor people, nor society.

The other way around, it holds: Even when the social is always political, it remains fundamentally incomplete if it does not refer to a political perspective in the narrower sense. Because society is organised, its fundamental rules are defended by powerful interest coalitions and hard material constraints. Without the leap into the political, without common organisation with the goal of changing basic rules of society by way of abstract decision-making and institutional consequence, the social left will run itself dead and be frustrated.

Political, cultural and social left are in a relationship full of tension. Together they form an enormous productive force of change, that in its conflicts ever gain brings forth the shape of left politics for the present time. In the overall relationship, it also holds: a Left (and that also holds for left organisations and individuals) that limits itself exclusively to the area of the political or the cultural area or the social area cannot be really left. A social force that is politically progressive but culturally repressive is not left. An artistic avant-garde, which is culturally advanced, but politically reactionary and has no political conscience, is not left. A social movement that is socially on the left, but culturally not liberating and politically not enlightening, is not left. Political, cultural and social left can only emancipate together. Alone they remain incomplete and limited and are not sufficient to grasp the complexity of society and of human practice, let alone revolutionise it in an emancipatory way.

Left forming of society and left barbarism
The space of the left is not simply there; it has been created and changed by social groups, classes, organisations and individuals ever again for centuries. Social movements, trade unions, parties, intellectuals, rebellious individuals produce and reproduce this space in which they then themselves move.

“The KPD in the Weimar years (represented) …an emancipatory environment. Even if the dimension of politicising the ‘private’ in official women’s policy that was decisive for the situation of women was reduced to a problem of mobilisation or respectively to a moral problem, the party at least represented an organised space where these problems could be spoken about at all, and the continuity of party life quasi ‘on the side’ made possible the articulation of beginnings of alternative life contexts, where alternative gender relationships could be more easily tested individually than in the less politicised family relationships.”        Silvia Kontos 

As long as capital utilisation, patriarchy and ethnically justified exclusion criteria dominate society, the space of the left is the room of a minority. It may shrink – like in national-socialist Germany – to the action of a small minority, it can become the space of a large current with many articulations and it can, in rare moments, radiate almost to the whole society. These are then holidays of the peoples such as May 68 in Paris or the summer of the same year in Prague.      

The point of departure of the creation and the renewal of spaces of the left are a feeling of discomfort, of distance and frustration, of rejection – and finally protest and open revolt. They are escalating forms of rejection: of the ruling power and property relationships, of the economic, social, and cultural exploitation, oppression and exclusion, the congealing of social relationship to chains on individual and collective development. Opinions such as: “It really should not be that way!”, “That cannot continue that way!” “That I/ that we can no longer accept!” characterise steps of growing readiness to do something against the ruling conditions.

“The dominance of political economy in the Communist strategy discussion shows that it comes easier to the Communist theoreticians to understand the activity of the entrepreneur, the organisation of oppression than to understand the suffering of the masses, let alone, to depart from there in the policy of liberation. The same deficit shows itself in psychoanalysis when it approaches illnesses with a concept of ‘health’ instead of an image of human possibilities.”
         Klaus Theleweit

This confrontation with the given social relationships, ways of life, with parents, teachers, in firms, in a group or in a team, in partnerships or in teams, in strikes and demonstrations, this rebellion against the habitual or that which appears as a worsening can express itself in very different ways.  Often it is simple refusal, beginning with staying away from school or the escape into drug abuse. In many firms, the employed try to do their work “only according to instructions”. Abstention at elections and the rejection of many governing rituals belong to that. The protest can also manifest in the oppression of others, first verbally and then with the fist. It can become a demand to the community or to the state to suppress others even more and to marginalise them, so that one’s own group looks better.

Albert Camus characterises the beginning of revolt with the words: “What is a  man who revolts? Someone who says no… A slave, who has received orders all his life, suddenly finds the last one unbearable. What is the content of this ‘no’? It means for example: ‘things have continued for too long’, ‘until here, but no further’, ‘you are going to far’, and ‘there is a limit that you won’t be able to get over’… In a certain way, he opposes to the order that oppresses him a sort of right not to be oppressed beyond what he can tolerate… He was marching under the whip of his master. Now he faces him.”

So that from the dissatisfaction, the anger and the frustration, the protest and the revolt, there can really develop a space of the left, the actors must succeed to give the rebellion an emancipatory and solidary shape. There are at least three reasons why this is so incredibly hard.

First, exploitation and oppression, however different they may be, are always linked to the manipulation of the rulers of the capacities for self-conscious and self-determined action. Where they act, others are only supposed to react, where they decide, others are supposed to follow, where they create, others are only supposed to execute. They try to usurp for themselves the conditions of sovereign action. This is almost a prerequisite of their rule.

The conditions of work and life, the systems of education, culture, the legal system and contemporary democracy, despite all progress, are still fashioned in such a way that those who are “below” are kept away from those insights, capabilities, and organisational forces that they would need in order to defend themselves “at eye level”. That is not only the collected knowledge of the rulers (that includes much that is needed and necessary). It is also the hardly striven for knowledge of the oppressed themselves, of which they are cut off. It is learning and cooperating, the access to oneself that is interrupted, spoilt and suppressed.

“Inseparable from economic privilege was the superiority of knowledge. To property, there belonged avarice, and those advantaged tried to keep the destitute as long as possible from the way of education. Before we did not gain insight into the relationships and had won basic insights, the privileges of the rulers could not be lifted. (…) Our studying, from the beginning on, was revolt. We collected material for our defence and for preparing our conquest.”
         Peter Weiss, “The aesthetics of resistance”     

Many revolts of oppressed classes and groups in history were often also accompanied by steps backward of culture and of freedom, because those who rebelled lacked important prerequisites for the shaping of a free society. For this reason as well, solidary alliances are necessary between those, who mainly suffer from the conditions, and those, who are partially privileged but do not want to live in a society of such injustice. The demand for an alliance between “people” and “intellectuals” has its origin here. Both however cannot emancipate themselves independently of one another, but only in solidarity with each other. Neither can the emancipation of the workers be the doing of the workers alone, nor can the intellectual middle strata live really freely as long as they are turned into the instrument of the rule over others. Common liberation, however, also means to change the roles up to now, to transgress them, to break out from previous limitations and to overcome previous cases of unawareness.
Second, there is a deep unbalance of power. Those, who rebel, always act from a situation of inferiority. Their possibilities to choose the means of their action are much inferior to those of the rulers.  While the other side, with an over-mighty state and military machine, enjoys the absolute monopoly on force, the temptation to terror and suicide attempts is great. Fair play is not part of the daily experience of the oppressed and who rebelled in the case of defeat was not greeted by another chance, but very often finished off completely.

Precisely in dictatorial societies, under conditions of very high inequality and state terrorism, it holds: It is the oppressed, who are under time pressure, while the rulers profit from the status quo. Possible compromises often change only little. They seem like nothing, measured by what ought to be achieved. “By all means!”, “Now or never!”, “All or nothing!” are patterns of thought and action that almost spontaneously arise from inferiority. The left then starts to define itself only by way of its adversary, and not only mainly by itself and its own goals and values. It is then maybe anti-capitalist, but not emancipatory, anti-imperialist, but not solidary, anti-fascist, but not democratic. First, the “enemy” is successively deprived of all of his human rights, and finally each opponent and enemy can be defined as enemy to whom finally even the right to life can be disputed. First, Stalin in the beginning of the 1930s deported the “kulaks” and partly also executed them, then “the enemies of the people” in the ranks of the Bolshevik party.

There are no unambiguous rules of the susceptibility of individuals or groups or such a tipping over into terror or the readiness to suppress others. Menaced are not only those with whom we have already always suspected a certain readiness to get their way. Often it is also those with the especially high, left ideals and a particularly highly developed capacity for “empathy”, who after a certain point are ready to take any means.

Third, those who decide for active action, often in the beginning and also for the duration are in a minority. Many of them originally belong to socially as well as culturally privileged groups or are integrated into professional organisations of professional politicians or “professional revolutionaries”.

Under conditions of congealed relationships or of a clear minority of the economic ruling class, the majority of the population nolens volens tries to adjust. Then those who as left people commit to change are often socially as well as culturally isolated. If they do not tread the path of adjustment and subordination such as right-wing social democracy in Germany before 1914, the Left quickly gets isolated. In non-democratic societies, this danger is particularly large. If the counter-forces in the society are too weak, there manifest an underground-psychosis, sectarianism, maximalism in means and ends, the readiness to self-sacrifice as well as to the sacrifice of others. The ends begin to sanctify all means. Moral is negated in favour of radical means. The idea of the state of law is de-valued and the law is manipulated. If you are already that much in the minority, you expect unconditional solidarity at least in your own group. Deviation and criticism then are immediately graded as betrayal. Many of the victorious revolutions in the 20th century were decided by a Communist avant-garde, who bore these features. Instead of fighting this underground psychosis, it was then elevated into state doctrine.

In 1909, Sergei Bulgakov in appreciation of the experiences of the Russian revolution of 1905/07 formulated the following evaluation of the revolutionary intellectuals of this country: “Along with the maximalism of the goals, there goes the maximalism of the means that has manifested itself in such a regrettable way in the last couple of years. The scrupulous choice of means, the heroic ‘Everything permitted’ (envisaged by Dostoevskii already in Crime and Punishment and in the Demons) is the highest expression of the god-men cult of intelligentsia heroism, its self-deification that sets itself in the place of God and of divine providence, and this not only with respect to the plans and aims, but also with respect to the ways and means of their realisation. I realise my ideas in action and for its sake throw over the attachments of conventional moral. I do not arrogate to myself a right to property, but also the decision over the life and death of others if my idea demands it. In every maximalist, there is hidden such a socialist or anarchist small Napoleon. Amorality – or with an old expression: nihilism – is the necessary consequence of self-deification. However, here there lurks the danger of its self-dissolution; here its unavoidable failure must be expected.”

For a left that really feels committed to freedom, equality, solidarity, and conscious social change, the constant renewal of left-wing spaces is indispensable part of its project. Without this space, it succumbs to the temptation of transformation of shouting-out-loud and revolt into another dictatorship, of transition from solidary-critical thought and action to operation in polar contrasts and finally of avant-gardism that can lead to the emergence of a new power whose unleashed power in the end in form of the tyranny by Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot assumed totalitarian forms.

Three years after the beginning of the “great purges” which turned mainly against the old Bolsheviki, and ultimately imposed a totalitarian dictatorship, Stalin reported in 1939: “In the light of these grandiose achievements (of the Second Five Year Plan in the USSR – MB/CS), the enemies of the general line of our Party – the most diverse ‘left’ and ‘right’ currents, a mix of degenerates of Trotskyite and Piatakow ilk, the Bukharin and Rykow people – were forced to duck and to go into illegality. Since they did not have the courage to submit to the will of the people, they preferred to make common cause with the Mensheviks, social revolutionaries and fascists, to enter into the service of foreign espionage services, and to oblige themselves to help the enemies of the Soviet Union to hack to pieces our country and to restore capitalist slavery on its territory. That is the inglorious end of those who were the enemies of the line of our party and then turned into enemies of the people. After the party had destroyed the enemies of the people and had cleansed the party and Soviet organisations of decadent elements, it became even more unified in its political and organisational work and closed ranks even more firmly around its central committee.”      

Freedom then becomes the voluntarism of the few, equality the equal oppression of the many; friends in solidarity become ordered followers and the claim to rational shaping of society transforms into the attempt at transforming society into a centrally administered machinery. With the promise of a new mankind, in the name of the left and of socialism and communism, the life of millions of people was sacrificed in a Barbaric way.

The destruction of the living creative space of the left and the raising to the absolute of individual left positions in the 20th century has led to dictatorships that called themselves socialist or Communist. The wish to counter the barbarity of imperialism, war and colonialism by the fashioning of a society of equality and planned development, founded upon the idea of being historically justified and to have reason on its side, at times has made left forces in the 20th century as powerful as never before. At the same time, this combination has contributed in a major way to enormous crimes being committed in the name of the left which large parts of the left were only ready to acknowledge much too late and in a half-hearted way.    

“Of course, every democratic institution has its barriers and defects which it probably shares with all human institutions. However, the cure that Trotsky and Lenin found: the elimination of democracy in general is even worse than the disease it is supposed to curb; after all, it buries the living spring from which alone all innate deficits of social institutions can be corrected: the active, unhindered, energetic life of the broadest masses of the people.”
         Rosa Luxemburg

The left in the 21st century will only become powerful again and be able to influence the course of history, when it elucidates these systemic dangers in its political attitudes and installs robust barriers against the dangers of such a derailment. In there belong among other things a principal commitment to left pluralism an to the democratic and state of law character of the transformation striven for; a criticism of state power and a vision of socialisation beyond centralisation and nationalisation; and a recapitulation of the dark sides of left history without escaping them with reflex references to the crimes of capitalism. By the grace of Western, late or marginal birth, nobody is absolved. The space of the left, condition of its sovereignty, its capacity to act in a solidary way in an emancipatory fashion, is the most important good that has to be defended and constantly renewed.

4. Inner-left conflicts

Not only in the past, in the present as well, the Left is pluralistic in its attitudes, its culture, its forms of organisation as well as in its political offerings. These aim at a change of social relationships and, therefore, concern the concrete expectations and interests of large social groups.

In the “corner stone points” for the programme of a common Left Party in Germany, there are mentioned differences such as the following:

  • concentration on security of employment for all or on an unconditional basic income;
  • extension of public employment or self-organisation of the concerned;
  • upholding of the insurance principle for pensions etc. or transfer to tax financing;
  • interdiction of neo-Nazi and right extremist organisations and parties as sensible contribution in the struggle against these or renunciation to such an interdiction;
  • concentration on growth kernels or branches of emphasis or promotion on an equal basis;
  • reasonableness of international military interventions on behalf and under control of the UN in regional war and civil war constellations as contribution to the return to peaceful development or strict “No” to all forms of military interventions;
  • understanding of tasks of a party in contrast to social movements and the relationship between extra-parliamentary and parliamentary work;
  • whether governmental participation at the regional level is possible or impossible as an effective contribution to left-wing politics.

The points mentioned are typical inner-left conflicts: conflicts around the question what is left today.
Conflict within the left are often difficult, long-lasting confrontations, in which at some point nerves are blank, splits are threatening, and mutual disappointments are on the agenda. This cannot be prevented. However, it is possible to learn from the experience with left-wing conflicts and to make them more controllable to a certain extent.

For or against governmental participation

Whether left-wingers should take part in coalition governments and under what conditions has been under dispute in the left ever since, in 1899, French prime minister Waldeck-Rousseau fetched the socialist Alexandre Millerand as trade minister into his government – against the wishes of the Socialist Party. Governments under the leadership or with the contribution of left parties and left social alliances have developed in recent years in Latin America: Venezuela 1998, Brazil 2003, Uruguay 2004, Bolivia 2005, Chile 2006…

In Europe, the debate has become more topical again also before this background and the new developments in Europe. In that context, there belongs the governmental coalition of the Norwegian Socialist Left Party in 2006 with the social-democratic Workers’ party and the bourgeois Centre Party, the victory of the left party-political alliance (unione) for the voting out of Silvio Berlusconi’s governmental coalition and the forming of the Prodi government, the question of a possible common candidate of the left for the presidential elections 2007 in France after the successful struggle against the neoliberal project of the European Constitution and against the CPE.

The German left as well since the toleration of the SPD regional government in Saxony-Anhalt (1994-2004) has discussed controversially about the pro and con of governmental participation. In 1998, the PDS for the first time joined a Red-Red coalition government in Mecklenburg- Western Pomerania; in 2001, there followed the Red-Red regional government in Berlin.

The conflicts on the governmental participation of the left are again and again conflicts on the question on how to realise left policies. In the German debate, as it is conducted at this point in and around WASG and Left Party, it is for the most part a relatively narrowly constrained inner-left conflict. Under dispute is neither whether to take part in parliamentary elections at all nor the legitimacy of parliamentary work as part of left politics, nor the perspective target of achieving majorities for left politics and of forming clear left governments. Controversial is only whether out of the minority position, the taking part in coalition governments is reasonable and correct and how, in that context, social democracy in particular as partner should be rated.

The left dilemma

In the debate on governmental participation, very different problems are bundled. The most important is the conflict between various aspects of left orientation as shown in the model of the “space of the left”. On the one hand, there is the desire to bring about concrete changes, to be able to intervene with real power in society and to shape it. In the case of the regional government, this often means also wanting to prove that the Left can and wants to govern not only in “fair weather phases”, but that also in difficult and critical situations it is a force to whom power can be entrusted. On the other hand, there stands the solidarity with many, who forcibly suffer disadvantages from a policy that is not in its majority and predominantly determined by the Left but which the Left carries along in its governments. The rage and the anger about the left in governmental responsibilities is then the strongest when the weakest are hit.

“The adherents of council democracy easily overlook that ‘due to the high level of organisation of our society and the technical superiority of a well administered bureaucracy’, bureaucratisation must be ‘considered as a developmental tendency inherent of society’. (…) ‘Modern revolutions only succeeded if they conquered the administration’, writes Forsthoff, and Eberhard Kolb thinks (…) last put not least the experiences of the German revolution 1918/19 had elevated this statement (…) to a kind of ‘basic law of revolutionary maintenance of power’.” 
Wilfried Gottschalch, “Parlamentarismus und Räte-

This conflict of values is combined with strategic and tactical hyperarticulations. From the strategic point of view, by way of governmental participations, a party in fact acquires piecewise “governmental capacity” – experiences with structures, with partners, with the concrete political system. This forcibly goes along with partial rapprochements on certain points taking place with other parties and with the fact that previous conceptual ideas of the Left are put on the testing block, because they are inadequate or inappropriate for concrete politics. Strategically, some therefore expect that the chances of future exercise of power will rise. The others, by contrast, fear that the own programme will be watered down, “material constraints” will dominate and competing loyalties (to partners, to tasks) will develop.

Tactical reflections are targeted at the effects of governmental participations on the own party. Because this is last but not least a conflict of values, it offers itself as a means of pushing, by ambiguous determination of positions, other left people out of the common  party or at least into inner emigration. Not to be lost out of sight at the tactical level is also that governmental participation shifts relationships of forces and also changes the relationship to different extra-parliamentary forces (social movements, interest associations and the media).

“The participation in the government is worthwhile to the PDS in several respects. Materially, it was possible to realise many demands of the PDS that it had spoken for in vain during its time in the opposition in the two-and-a-half years of coalition up to now.  Politically, this is so, because the social acceptance of the PDS has risen significantly. Last but not least to the PDS itself, because the salutary compulsion of governing has presented us with the insight that you can only change the real world, if you make just it and not an abstract ideal the point of departure of your action.”                      Harald Wolf

Pro and Contra

Only a very small minority defends the position that the option of governmental participation has to be seized under all circumstances, or respectively, should never be drawn into consideration as a means of action. Nonetheless, the debate is often conducted as a pro and contra on governmental participations “as such”. This is also not unimportant, because it allows asking certain principal questions with regard to the capabilities for action of the left:

  • Is capitalism a system whose logic ever again enforces certain policies as long as it is not superseded as a whole? Or are there scopes for manoeuvre, variants, and dynamics?
  • Is the state “space of crystallisation as well as terrain for social conflicts and struggles” (Nicos Poulantzas)? Or does it function as an ultimately homogenous force where compromises in “soft” areas (social policy, culture) only serve the better implementation of the “hard” core orientation (finances, the economy and the military)?
  • Can the Left drink “water and wine out of two glasses”, meaning can it distinguish between itself and its role in the government and then also make that possible towards the outside?  Does it hurt its relationship to the social movements, or is it also in their interest to win influence on state power? Does it discredit itself in its approbation to a policy that it criticises outside of government?

“Could we maybe have achieved more by extra-parliamentary pressure if the PDS without its senatorial posts had shown readiness to support all measures in the interest of the working people and the punishment of the debt makers of the previous government?”
         Theodor Bergmann

  • Does the Left turn itself into the useful idiot who in crisis phases procures the necessary supplemental legitimacy to the capitalist elites? Or are precisely such crises the necessary prerequisite to win influence and to be able to use the situation also for one’s own power-political purposes.

All these questions will presumably in the final analysis not be answerable with a single “yes” or “no”. In practice, the debate will be on how

  • To delimit the prerequisites and conditions of governmental participation;
  • To formulate medium term political “essentials” that may not be infringed upon by governmental participation;
  • To work out inner-party and inner-left procedures by which governmental participations can be decided, controlled, examined and, if necessary, terminated;
  • To redefine the structure of the relationship between the autonomy of regional governments and the interests of the party as a whole.

Here it will be possible to make decisions (for a time) and to tolerate them. What should be avoided, however, is any attempt to resolve the basic value conflict between transformative intervention and solidary attachment “once and for all” towards the one or the other side.

“The architects and captains of the left party have not recognised that they cannot tackle the deficits of the capitalist system within that system, since these deficits inevitably result from the laws of its self-reproduction.”
         Hans Heinz Holz

The anti-nationalism conflict in the left

In the beginning of the antinationalism debate in the German Left, there was a flyer that was never distributed. After the fall of the wall and German re-unification, right-wing extremist violence in the new federal regions increased massively, deadly attacks at foreigner (women and men) and attempts against homes for asylum-seekers multiplied. While the political class in West Germany welcomed unification almost unanimously (only very few warned against the foreseeable disastrous consequences of a rushed political and economic merger), the position for the radical left was difficult. On the one hand, it had – with the exception of the majority wing of the DKP – criticised the social system of the GDR as repressive. On the other hand, it could not and would not join the ranks of the capitalist-nationalist euphoria that the end of the GDR and German unification had provoked. Anti-racist solidarity shifted into the centre of left-wing identity, and the delineation against “Germanic” undercurrents came on the agenda in the Left.

“While the Germans, however, were neither capable nor willing to stop National Socialism, the allied had to muster all means in order to do that. Who supports a criminal regime in word and in deed, should not be surprised if their house gets bombed! Today the ‘community of the German people’ starts to look on obediently, when people from other countries are brought to fire death by young German neofascists. (…) Slowly but surely, racist force becomes the ‘normal state’. The question must be asked whether civilisation in ‘Germany’ must again be saved from the outside. Bomber Harris: I would do it again. We say: Do it now!”
        Flyer of the Initiative “Betrayal of country” 

Within the radical left, “anti-nationalism” constituted itself as a new left current. After the congress of the Hamburg “welfare committee”, there followed an anti-racist tour through the new federal regions. On this tour, the Hamburg Antifa group “Action Betrayal of Country” wanted to distribute a flyer in Dresden that would in a sharp polemic turned against a new national identity, in which Germans as perpetrators would no longer appear. The text culminated in the demand to the superior commander of the British bomber fleet of 1945, Harris, to repeat the bombardment of Dresden. The flyer was after all not distributed; however, it afterwards became the subject of a long, political debate.

There was a lot wrong about this flyer, and this turned “anti-Germanism”, as it was later called, into a rather unpopular current subsequently. It justified military force against the civilian population, even if only sarcastically. Worse, it tore open in an arrogant way the gap between arrogant, moreover “Western”, left radical wandering demonstrators and “stupid” Dresden women and men. It in no way bothered with the question what were the sources of racist violence and how that could be fought. And it had developed a form of criticism that – typically left, typically German – made one immune to attack, seemed to apply to everything and whose main purpose seemed to be in feeling oneself superior and justified.

Nonetheless, the anti-German left was necessary, and its criticism of the left was overdue. As a matter of fact, there were a number of points, where the left has more in common with the right than it might like:

  • A thinking in categories of “we down there” against “they up there” where fights for emancipation are obscured just as one’s own (relative) privileges;
  • A criticism of “international finance capital” that turns “foreign investors” into the national enemy image, in contrast to a “good”, home-grown capitalism;
  • A solidarity with “movements of liberation” that define themselves ethnically, argue nationalistically and mainly condemn Western liberalism;
  • A criticism of the USA and of “West” that turns mainly against social liberality and modernity and instead upholds morals, authority, “society” and “healthy popular instincts”,
  • The Utopia of a homogeneous, conflict-free ultimately pre-modern society that is no longer internally torn apart, where pluralism has no space and that, therefore, does neither want nor have to waste a thought on human rights, institutions and democratic procedures.

Nationalism, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism from the point of view of the anti-German left were the pillars of this kind of attitude.

“Nine-eleven” and the consequences

The confrontation escalated after the attack against the World Trade Centre in September 2001. Part of the left sympathised with an interpretation of the events in the sense of Arundhati Roy following which the Al Qaida attempts ultimately had to be placed into the context of an anti-imperialist resistance. The anti-German left by contrast opposed such ideas sharply. It called Islamic fundamentalism fascism, against which armed struggle was legitimate – not only from the side of the Israeli military, but also from the side of the USA.

Parts of the anti-German left went so far as to openly speak in favour of the war of aggression against Afghanistan, justify the Israeli policy face to the Palestinians without any restrictions (including the targeted attacks) and to reproach to the peace movement an “appeasement policy” face to the “Muslim Nazis”. Thereby, they clearly left the space of the Left. Among the anti-Germans themselves, there developed splits and sharp debates, during which they attacked each other with restraint and in a consciously offensive way.

“Wog Attac in the beginning was a project of people, who were mostly socialised within the left, but were of the opinion that the German Left was to a large extent ignoring the problems and positions of the migrant. In Germany, it is after all always a matter of the all or nothing – therefore, migrants with their ‘auxiliary contradictions’ are only disturbing. Why should we make migrants visible at all? In Germany, so-called foreigners or strangers are permanently visible. It is a matter of gaining from this visibility a political project – migrants should after all represent themselves. And I just said it myself a moment ago: The left in Germany partly has immense problems with these kinds of approaches. Moreover, there have been groups lately that consider themselves left, but who have become racist – and quite clearly so – precisely in their rhetorical struggle against ‘Islam’.”    Wog Attac, Interview 

Looking backward, anti-Germanism had reached its peak simultaneously with September 11, as well as the time of its beginning erosion. Both extreme positions (an “anti-imperialist” justification of the attempts by Al Qaida or, respectively, an “anti-fascist” justification of the US war against Afghanistan and, later on, Iraq) were quite obviously untenable. The positions since then have become more differentiated and more varied, and anti-German thinking has to a considerable extent entered the thought code of the political left.

The room of the left – a “work in progress”

The anti-German conflict was not a conflict between different aspects within the space of the left, but a conflict over the space of the left. The borders of the space are shifting, conditioned by social changes, experiences and struggles, pushed ahead by conflicts within the left. Some things that before the 2nd women’s movement could quite naturally be said in the space of the left afterwards were no longer possible. Other things were entered into the “Notebook of knowledge” (Brecht) that before had not been in there.       

The space of the left is, so to speak, furnished with the furniture of historical experience; at times, a much-loved piece has to go, and new furniture enters. Thus fascism has not only turned anti-fascism into a basic feature in the space of the left, but has also clarified that certain forms of generalising anti-Communism, anti-social democracy (and today probably also anti-Green) polemic have no space in the drawing room of the left.

The anti-German conflict was a specific “German” phenomenon; similar conflicts, however, take place in all countries. For instance, in the US left, similar questions are debated in connection with the “cartoon wars”, the world-wide, violent protests against the Mohammed caricatures in a Danish paper. These as well are complicated debates, by which the space of the left has to be adapted to a globalised world with more complex solidarities.

5) For a left culture of conflict

The confrontation with the question what is left today does not make conflicts within the left superfluous. Only by the conflicts within a broad, plural left, you can find out and articulate ever again what is left today – a room of solidary and critical cooperation.

Conflict is a productive force at the disposal of the left with an enormous destructive potential. So that the productive force of conflicts may unfold without blowing up the whole shop, a few basic maxims of left conflict culture may be useful here.

1-) Understand the conflict

Conflicts within the left often cannot be reduced so simply to the scheme of typical “organisational decisions”. Many decisions have real and symbolic significance; they have material effects and at the same time send out signals. Beyond the individual instance that is just being decided, every left conflict brings to expression who and what “the left” wants to be. And at the same time, every conflict partner is always only a part of the left, never the whole.

The first step is to understand what exactly brings the participants “to boil”, and where the differences really lie. It may be sensible to list the time horizons that he/she/they or you/we have in mind. It also should be clarified who prefers what means. And finally, the different appreciation of the real conditions of action should be brought to the point. Often, however, it is a matter of something quite different – a charged notion or the non-recognition of a certain experience, fear, performance. And sometimes simply the tone makes the music.

2-) Share the responsibility – “be the conflict”

Everybody has the right to start left conflicts and to articulate his/her opinion in a hard and pointed manner. But there is no special institution that would then be responsible to look for solutions and to bring the different forces together – all are responsible for that. Therefore, it is the task of all to place themselves also next to their own opinion and to occupy the standpoint of the left in common. We consist not only of opinions, but are also part of the left. Therefore, every conflict hits us personally, and therefore, we must ask ourselves how we can continue to act from now on. Mainly this means: concerning what questions can and must we get active together in spite of this conflict.

3-) Build bridges

Some think that in conflicts, the diverse standpoints should at first be made as clear as possible and the conflict be brought to the boil so as to become visible. In the left, however, one need hardly ever worry about lack of sharpness of conflicts. Rather there threatens the opposite danger that blows are cast that will only get well with great difficulty.
We should, therefore, not dispute ourselves too quickly to belong to the left. Instead we should make clear that the approach we struggle against at the moment has its place and merit in the common heritage, but that it is wrong for instance here and at this point or maybe in its consequence would lead to results that could not be squared with left positions. It is important to respect the subjective conviction of the other even if you don’t share it.

4-) Find and accept compromises

Compromises are inescapable to be able to act in common in the case of different positions. Compromises do not consist in simply meeting in the middle-ground. They must be actively sought for. They are patterns of solution that enable action. At times, concrete questions and symbolic effects must be taken apart; sometimes decisions must be compensated by others etc.  Compromise is an active achievement and should not be treaded back into the dust as soon as it has been reached, but respected as a road sign for the common path into the future. Often it turns out that by way of the compromise real advantages can be achieved that change all sides and enrich the left.

5-) Suffer differences

About many questions, we have already debated once, and it has not helped. In left conflicts, typically, there hit upon one another not greenhorns, who simply have not thought yet of this or the other. Therefore, one has to accept the fact that convictions will remain standing next to one another, without being reconciled. One also has to be able to stand differences. That is really important as well, because without differences, conflict as a left productive force would no longer be able to work any longer.

6-) Find common goals

It is important to find a few common goals among all the different goals. As soon as common goals are found, one can start to debate about ways to reach them. The more concretely we define such goals in common (in between all the other goals that we value differently), the better we will be able to develop common strategies for that. Such objectives are like the next two or three steps, they are the distance until the next crossroads. Only then does one usually see where the road will continue from there.

7-) Think in decisions

The conflict moves along decisions. After one match means before the next match. Decisions lay down medium-range road signs. They signify neither that now all have the same opinion, nor do they mean that directions are set once and for all. Decisions are there to unify what needs to be unified and to remain capable of action. Decisions are good when they can also be accepted by those who have not imposed themselves on that point.

8-) Go to the pub together

One does not have to like all with whom one does left-wing politics. Yet politics is also made by people. A reasonable social life within the left is important. If we experience each other as people (and not only as “position holders”), we shall understand one another better, can learn to suffer one another. The personal is also political, and politics is always also personal.

Even if certainly not always all should cluck together (and even do not want to). Many conflicts would not have been solved if certain people, despite mutual spite, had not drunk a glass of beer or wine or soy milk together or had taken an undisturbed walk or a hike together. It belongs to a left conflict culture that also the conflict has borders.

The keeping of these rules does not solve all problems, but it makes common work for their solution more possible. The Zapatistas had found the maxim for that: We go ahead by the asking. We might also put it that way: Alone, you cannot be left-wing. You need others to act.

Translated by Carla Krüger, June 4, 2006        


The following references to the literature are selective and preliminary. They appear in two blocks: must reads for those, who want to follow the current debate in the German left, and background reading that helped the two of us in the writing of this text. The internet portal left net ( represents the quickest access to the left discussion in Germany.

1-) Must reads 

Abendroth, Wolfgang: Sozialgeschichte der europäischen Arbeiterbewegung (Social history of the European workers’ movement), Frankfurt a. M., 1965.
Bischoff, Joachim; Joachim Hirsch; Karl Georg Zinn: Globalisierung, Neoliberalismus, Alternativen, in: Sozialismus, Supplement 12/2003.
Bobbio, Norberto: Right and left. Reasons and significance of a political distinction. Berlin: Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, 1994.
Brie, Michael; Jochaim Bischoff; Wolfgang Gehrcke et al. Programmatic corner stones on the road to a new Left Party in Germany. Discussion base of the common programmatic commission of Left Party.PDS and WASG, manuscript, February 2006 (
Brie, Michael; Michael Chrapa and Dieter Klein: Sozialismus als Tagesaufgabe (Socialism as order of the day), Berlin: Karl Dietz Publishers 2002.
Dellheim, Judith et al. On the programmes of democratic socialism. A commentary, Berlin: Karl-Dietz Publishers 1997.
Deppe, Frank: Die Linke in der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, supplement to the journal: Sozialismus 1, 2000.
Freire, Paulo: Pädagogik der Unterdrückten. Bildung als Praxis der Freiheit (Pedagogy of the oppressed. Education as practice of liberty), Reinbek Hamburg 1973. 
Giddens, Anthony: Beyond left and right, German edition: Frankfurt, 1994.
Glotz, Peter: Die Linke nach dem Sieg des Westens (The left after the victory of the West), Stuttgart: D-VA, 1992.
Gramsci, Antonio: The Prison Notebooks, New York, 1948, German edition: 1991 by Fritz Haug.
Greffrath, Matthias: Was heißt Links?, in: Die Zeit of July 14, 2005 (http://zeus/
Gysi, Gregor; Oskar Lafontaine et al. : Die neoliberale Hegemonie brechen : Gemeinsamer « Aufruf zur Gründung einer neuen Linken“ (Break the neoliberal hegemony! Common Appeal for the founding of a new left), full text in junge Welt, Saturday/Sunday/Monday, June 3,4, and 5, pp. 10-11.
Hardt, Michael, Antonio Negri: Multitude: War and democracy in the Empire, German edition: Munich 2004.
Kipping, Katja; Caren Lay und Julia Bonk: Freiheit und Sozialismus – let’s make it real! Emancipatory approaches for the new left party,   
Klein, Dieter, ed. Reform Alternatives: social – ecological – civil. Series of writings by rls authors, vol. 2, Berlin: Karl-Dietz Publishers, 2000.
Klein, Dieter: Live instead of being lived. Self-determination and social security. Future report of the Rosa-Luxemburg Foundation, Karl-Dietz Verlag, 2003.
Lenin, Vladmir I.: Left-wing radicalism – a child disease of Communism (1920), (
Luxemburg, Rosa: Zur russischen Revolution, in: Werke, vol. 4, Berlin: Karl-Dietz Publishers 1974.
Marx, Karl; Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party, in MEW, vol. 4,
Meyer, Thomas: Theorie der sozialen Demokratie, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
Poulantzas, Nicos: Staatstheorie. Politischer Überbau, Ideologie, Autoritärer Etatismus (State Theory, Political Superstructure, Ideology, Authoritarian Etatism), Hamburg: VSA 2002.
Prokla 141: Die Zukunft ist links, 2005.
Tiefenbach, Paul: Die Grünen. Verstaatlichung einer Partei (The Greens. Étatisation of a Party), Cologne 1998.
Wagenknecht, Sahra; Tobias Pflüger und Nele Hirsch: For an anti-capitalist left, on or  

2-) More background and more specialised reading

Aglietta, Michel; Antoine Reberioux: Vom Finanzkapitalismus zur Wiederbelebung der sozialen Demokratie (From finance capitalism to the reinvigoration of social democracy) in Supplement to the journal Socialism.
Agnoli, Johannes and Peter Brückner: Die Transformation der Demokratie (The transformation of democracy), Frankfurt a.M., 1968.
Alternative Economies – Alternative societies (on the current debates on utopias, Vienna 2005.
Anand, Anita; Artura Escobar; Jai Sen, Peter Waterman, eds.: Challenging Empires. The World Social Forum, New Dehli: The Viveka Foundation, 2003.
Anders, Ann, ed.: Autonome Frauen. Schlüsseltexte der Neuen Frauenbewegung seit 1968 (Autonomous women. Key texts of the new women’s movement since 1968), Frankfurt am Main, 1988.
Arbeitsgruppe „Rechtsextremismus“ (Right-wing extremism) in ver.di Brandenburg/Working group right-wing extremism in the trade union ver.di Brandenburg: Rechte Gespenster/Right-wing spectres, without date.
Bardelle, Frank: Jenseits des Atlantiks. Zur Kritik der eurozentristischen Kultur und Kolonialgeschichtsschreibung (Beyond the Atlantic. On the criticism of Eurocentric cultural and colonial historiography), Prokla 76, Berlin 1989.
Beer, Max: Allgemeine Geschichte des Sozialismus und der sozialen Kämpfe (General history of socialism and social struggles), Berlin: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaft, 1924.
Bergmann, Theodor: Friedliches Hereinwachsen in die Kapitulation. Linke Regierungsbeteiligungen – von 1899 bis heute (Peaceful growing over into capitulation – from 1899 until today), in: junge Welt, January 14-15, 2006
Berner PR Gesellschaft (
Bock, Manfred: Geschichte des ‘linken Radikalismus’ in Deutschland (History of ‘left radicalism’ in Germany), Franfurt a.M. 1976.
Boehm, Christopher: Hierarchy in the Forest. The Evolution of Egalitarian Behaviour, Cambridge 1999.
Brecht, Bertolt: Über Realismus (On realism. Texts on culture), Frankfurt a.M. 1971.  
Camus, Albert: L’homme révolté, dans: Essais, éditions Gallimard, 1965.
Deppe, Frank: Politisches Denken im 20. Jahrhundert (Political thinking in the 20th century), 3 volumes, VSA Publishers, Hamburg 1999-2006.
Dustar, Fara: Abschied von der Macht (Parting with power), Frankfurt a.M., 1996.
Fraser, Nancy: Sex, lies and the public sphere, in: J.B. Landes, ed.: Feminism, the Public and the Private, Oxford 1998.
Fraser, Nancy: Die halbierte Gerechtigkeit. Schlüsselbegriffe des postindustriellen Sozialstaates (Half-way justice: key notions of the post-industrial social state), Frankfurt a.M., 2001.
Fromm, Erich: Arbeiter und Angestellte am Vorabend des Dritten Reiches (1929) (Workers and employees on the eve of the Third Reich [1929]), München 1980.
Fromm, Erich: Der autoritäre Charakter. Die Gesellschaft als Gegenstand der Psychoanalyse. Frühe Schriften zur Analytischen Sozialpsychologie (The authoritarian character. Society as the object of psychoanalysis), Early Writings on Analytical Social Psychology, Frankfurt a.M., 1993, pp. 69-132.      
Fülberth, Georg: Basisbegriffe der Linken (Basic Notions of the Left), Presentation in the framework of the series: “Missing links”, Marburg 1998/99 (   
Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe – Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland (Basic Historical Notions – Historical dictionary on the political social language in Germany). 8 Bände. On behalf of the Working circle for modern social history, ed. by Otto Brunner, Werner Conze and Reinhart Konselleck Studienausgabe. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta Publishers 2004.
Gottschalch, Wilfried: Parlamentarismus und Rätedemokratie. Mit Texten von Rühle, Adler, Marx Korsch u.a. (Parliamentarianism and Council democracy. With texts by Rühle, Adler, Marx, Korsch and others), Berlin 1968.
Gruppe demontage: Postfordistische Guerrilla. Vom Mythos nationaler Befreiung (Post-Fordist Guerrilla. On the myth of national liberation), Hamburg 1998.
Hahn, Andreas: Die Modelle der Wahlforschung (Models of electoral research) (
Hall, Stuart; David Held; Don Hubert; Kenneth Thompson, eds.: Modernity: An Introduction to Modern Societies, Oxford: Blackwell 1996.
Harold-Hurwitz-befragung der FU Berlin (
Haug, Frigga: Lernverhältnisse, Selbstbewegungen und Selbstblockierungen (Learning relationships, autonomous movements and self-blockages), Hamburg: Argument Publishers, 2003.
Haude, Rüdiger; Thomas Wagner: Herrschaftsfreie Institutionen (Rule-free institutions), Baden Baden, 1999. 
Hildebrandt, Cornelia; Brie, Michael, eds.: For another Europe – left parties in the upswing, Berlin: Karl-Dietz Publishers, 2005.
Hofmann, Werner: Ideengeschichte der sozialen Bewegung (Intellectual history of the social movement), Berlin 1979.
Holert, T. and M. Terkessidis, ed.: Mainstream der Minderheiten. Pop in der Kontrollgesellschaft (Mainstream of the minorities. Pop in control society), Berlin 1996.
Holz, Hans Heinz: Linke in Deutschland (
Ingrao, Pietro/Rossana Rossanda: Verabredungen zum Jahrhundertende (Dates for the turn of the century), Hamburg 1996.
Kontos, Silvia: Die Partei kämpft wie ein Mann. Frauenpolitik der KPD in der Weimarer Republik (The party fights like a man. Women’s policy of the KPD in the Weimar republic), Frankfurt a.M., 1979.
Lafontaine, Oskar: Grundlinien linker Politik (Basic lines of left politics), in: Counting with socialism, XIth International Rosa Luxemburg Conference, January 14, 2006, junge Welt, 2006, pp. 4-8.
Lakoff, George: Don’t think of an Elephant! Know your values and frame the debate, White River Junction, 2004.
Land, Rainer: Moderner Sozialismus versus Neoliberalismus (Modern socialism versus neoliberalism), in: Das Argument 233 (1999), pp. 811-826.
LeGuin, Ursula: Planet der Habenichtse (Planet of the havenots), Novel, Hamburg 1999.
Lessing, Doris: Das goldene Notizbuch (The golden notebook), Novel, Frankfurt a.M. 1978.
Lessing, Doris: Schritte im Schatten (Steps in the shadow), autobiography, Munich 1999.
Linebaugh, Peter and Marcus Rediker: The Many-headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Boston, 2000.
Marcuse, Herbert: One-dimensional man. Studies on the Ideology of advanced industrial society, Writings vol. 7. 
Noelle, Elisabeth: Der Linkstrend ist gestoppt (The left trend is stopped), in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of November 12, 2003 (
Redaktion Sozialismus/Redaktion express, ed.: Perspektiven der Gewerkschaftslinken (Perspectives of the left in the trade union movement), in: Supplement to the journal Sozialismus 7-8, 1999.
Robinson, Kim Stanley: Roter Mars, Grüner Mars, Blauer Mars (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars), 3 volumes, A trilogy of novels, München 2002 ff.  
Siegrist, Christian: Regulierte Anarchie (Regulated Anarchie), Frankfurt a.M., 1967.
Spehr, Christoph: Gleicher als andere. Eine Grundlegung der freien Kooperation (More equal than others: A Basis for free cooperation), Berlin: Karl-Dietz Publishers, 2003.           
Theleweit, Klaus: Männerphantasien (Male fantasies), 2 volumes, Frankfurt am Main, 1978.
Thompson, Edward P.: The development of the English working class, German edition: Frankfurt am Main, edition suhrkamp 1987.
Weiss, Peter: Die Ästhetik des Widerstands (The aesthetics of resistance), Novel, 3 volumes, Berlin 1983.
Wilson, Peter Lamborn: Pirate Utopias, Moorish Corsairs and European renegadoes, New York, 1995.
Wohlfahrtsausschüsse (welfare committees), eds.: Etwas Besseres als die Nation. Materialien zur Abwehr des gegenrevolutionären Übels (Something better than the Nation), Berlin 1994.
Wolf, Harald: Zwei entscheidende Jahre. Plädoyer für die Fortsetung der rot-roten Koalition über 2006 hinaus (Two decisive years. Plea for a continuation of the Red-Red coalition beyond 2006),
Wunderle, Michaela, ed.: Politik der Subjektivität. Texte der italienischen Frauenbewegung (Politics of subjectivity. Texts of the Italian women’s movement), Frankfurt a.M. 1977.    
Zukunft der Linken (Future of the left), in: Vorgänge. Zeitschrift für Bürgerrechte und Gesellschaftspolitik, Heft 171/172 (December 2005).