What is left wing and right wing

Left in the SPD: fighters and mediators

The Social Democrats used to have two powerful wings. Today the party left is bobbing about - it no longer has much influence.

There is little left in the SPD photo: dpa

BERLIN / ULMtaz | It is not possible to reconstruct exactly from whom the wing metaphor originated. Some say: by Helmut Schmidt. Others: by Oskar Lafontaine. It reads: “The SPD is like a seagull. It has a right and a left wing. And she needs both wings to fly. ”The saying is often quoted in social democratic circles when it comes to the party's arithmetic of power. Both the left and the right should participate equally in the formation of will within the party - and thus transport a strong SPD to lofty heights

The left wing wants more social justice and a stronger redistribution policy. The right wing is pragmatic, its topics are business, innovations, the future of work. He sees Agenda 2010 as a great success.

But the Möwe SPD has not taken off for a long time. For eight years the Social Democrats have been bobbing about in federal elections. If the seagull SPD does not fly, one wing must have become too strong - and the other too weak. While the right wing in the party, parliamentary group and government offices occupies the most important functions and sets topics, the left wing sinks into insignificance.

This story is about the losers. From those who want to swear the SPD to a more social course, but have little influence. Hilde Mattheis is chair of the Forum Democratic Left (DL21), the largest leftist movement in the SPD with almost 1,000 members. “With Agenda 2010, the party said goodbye to wing arithmetic,” she says.

The crux of the Agenda 2010

When Gerhard Schröder became chancellor in 1998, he broke with social democratic traditions. His left opponent Oskar Lafontaine left Schröder's cabinet in 1999 after only five months and resigned the party chairmanship. The party left is leaderless with his departure. Schröder has a free run. Unemployment benefits and social assistance are combined at a low level.

Schröder threatens his resignation several times if the SPD does not vote for the agenda. Deviants are publicly invited to leave the parliamentary group. In the end, most of them take part. Hilde Mattheis also votes for the Hartz laws. “The agenda was voted on with an overall package with all the positive achievements - for example the expansion of all-day schools and daycare centers,” she says today.

But with the agenda one thing is clear: the right wing has prevailed. "After that, the opinion developed to some extent that the left wing was more of a hindrance to the supposedly innovative processes of the agenda," says Mattheis. Externally, the agenda is being sold as a success because unemployment is falling. Anyone who criticizes them is considered to be polluting the nest. Many left parties allow themselves to be condemned to public silence.

Schröder installed followers in the party and government during his chancellorship. “There is a clique of advisors in the SPD who became strong under Schröder,” says Marco Bülow, who is a directly elected member of the Bundestag from Dortmund. "Their agenda is to steer the party away from social issues towards liberal innovation and economic issues."

Since Schröder took over the chairmanship of the party, the distribution of posts has been made via certain desks, according to the SPD - and the left wing is rarely considered. Schröder's confidants, some of whom have joined forces in the Berlin network, are still at work. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Minister of the Chancellery under Schröder, headed the SPD parliamentary group from 2009 to 2013. Networker Sigmar Gabriel was party leader until the beginning of 2017.

How far their influence of the Schröder-loyal networkers goes can be seen in 2009. With 23 percent, the SPD with Steinmeier got the worst election result of the post-war period. Actually, he should now resign. Instead, he announced on the evening of the election that he wanted to lead the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag. The left cannot believe their ears.

Quarrel and Shitstorm

On the following Tuesday, the new, heavily decimated SPD parliamentary group met for the first time. Instead of sending their own candidate into the race against Steinmeier, the left buckle. You don't have your own candidate at such short notice - and the parliamentary group still needs a chairman.

It is because of this lack of determination that the left often fails. Marco Bülow has an explanation for this. "In the SPD - and also on the left wing - many are afraid of unrest," he says. Many fear that if you fought an open power struggle for important positions, the party would suffer. “So they submit.” Bülow likes to address the dominance of the right wing of the party. In the Bundestag he votes against his own parliamentary group more often. The price for this is a certain outsiderhood. Although Bülow has been a member of the Bundestag since 2002, he does not have a speaker position.

Anyone who questions unity draws anger. Mattheis found out about that. When the SPD joined the grand coalition in 2013, the party executive tried to make participation in government palatable to the left with the agreed minimum wage. But when it comes, it contains numerous exceptions, for example for the long-term unemployed. Mattheis criticizes that.

"By stipulating the minimum wage in the coalition agreement, the SPD" got hold of a red apple and it is now evident that it is rotten on one side, "she writes. It follows: an internal party shit storm because Mattheis questions a project that the left wing of the party regards as its own success. Labor Minister Nahles, who is also included in the party left, resigns from DL21 like other party left.

Another weakness of the party left: They are divided. On the one hand there are politicians like Mattheis and Bülow who want a left that is not satisfied with lazy compromises. On the other hand, there are pragmatists who are also looking for small advances. This includes Matthias Miersch, spokesman for the “Parliamentary Left”, an association of left-wing MPs.

Content, but hardly any staff

Miersch is seen as a mediator, someone who maintains good contacts with all the wings of the party. He sees his own wing well positioned within the parliamentary group and party. “With Andrea Nahles and Katarina Barley, the parliamentary left has prominent ministers in the federal cabinet,” he says. In addition, the majority of the spokesperson for the parliamentary group and the parliamentary manager are provided. The problem: spokespersons for policy areas are hardly known. “The parliamentary left wants to influence the program of our party. Getting hold of posts is not the focus of our work, ”says Miersch. The left design the electoral program, they leave the practice to networkers: This is the pattern with which the party left loses again and again.

In 2013, the economically liberal Peer Steinbrück entered with a party program shaped by the left wing. In the coalition negotiations after the election, politicians from the Berlin network and the Seeheimer Kreis, the right-wing SPD wing, spoke again. Now everything should be different: "If coalition negotiations should come about, we will make sure that we are considered in the negotiating delegation according to our personal strength in the parliamentary group," promises Miersch. There is speculation in party circles that Nahles could take over the chairmanship of the parliamentary group if the SPD had to join the opposition after the election.

However, there is also the possibility that the right wing of the party will push through another grand coalition if the Union is ready. In the party left there is speculation that many on the right wing want to hold on to the grand coalition - preferably as a junior partner. This has the advantage of being able to push unpopular decisions on to the coalition partner.

With Martin Schulz a representative of the right wing is again party leader, the former network spokesman Hubertus Heil became again general secretary. After former SPD grandees such as Steinbrück criticized Schulz's campaign for justice, he publicly sought reconciliation with the Agenda generation and invited Gerhard Schröder to the party congress.

Even before the current general election, little came from the left wing. The wealth tax did not make it into the election manifesto. Instead, there should be an internal party commission. A departure from Hartz IV is no longer discussed even in left party circles. The seagull SPD remains on the ground.