On-site visit to the left party: fight over crumbs

The new dual leadership of the Left Party invites its members to breakfast: Wagenknecht and Bartsch are already at odds.

Apparent closeness: Dietmar Bartsch and Sahra Wagenknecht. Photo: dpa

He slips two large pieces of Camembert onto his wholemeal roll and takes three big bites. She grabs a dry roll, tears off small pieces of dough and chews on them with concentration. When Sahra Wagenknecht finally swallows and takes the floor, when Dietmar Bartsch puts down half his roll and looks up from the dining table, the designated dual leadership of the Left has basically already lost: The two can’t even find common ground over breakfast. And now they want to lead a parliamentary group together?

Wednesday morning in the Jakob Kaiser House next to the Reichstag: The Left Party has its offices here and regularly invites journalists to breakfast. Someone from the group leadership (sometimes Gregor Gysi, sometimes his deputies) then chats for three quarters of an hour about the current week, about the votes in the plenum and about the pitfalls of neoliberalism.

The fact that Bartsch and Wagenknecht have breakfast there together is a novelty. The appointment has to do with their joint future, of course: On Monday, the party leadership announced that the two are to succeed Gysi in the fall.

These two, of all people, the social democrat in disguise and the retired communist. "The two harmonize as well as Tom and Jerry," wrote the Suddeutsche Zeitung recently. And now they have to endure 45 minutes at the same table.

From Athens to Hagenow

"If there were a debt moratorium for Greece, the whole debate about new aid packages would be obsolete," Wagenknecht says. Not a good start: Since March, aid packages have been a difficult topic in the Left Party. At the time, the members of the Bundestag voted in favor of new aid for Greece – against Wagenknecht’s will.

For a while, she didn’t even want to chair the parliamentary group anymore. If she hadn’t reversed her decision, there would now be no dual leadership, no breakfast and no Bartsch.

Her colleague in spe doesn’t take this lying down and launches a counterattack. He takes another bite of Camembert, then takes the floor himself and changes the subject: from Athens to Hagenow.

That’s in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, has just under 12,000 inhabitants and has had a left-wing mayor since Sunday. "This is a nice event. Also because the Social Democrats there supported us," says Bartsch. Whew. Governing with the SPD. Nothing for Wagenknecht. But she reacts confidently, shoving a new breadcrumb into her mouth and staring at the tabletop.

Repeat without camera

"From now on under three," the press officer then shouts from the side. "Under three" means that the journalists are not allowed to write what is said. That sounds exciting to outsiders: as if Bartsch is now talking about secret contracts he signed with the SPD and the Greens for 2017, whereupon Wagenknecht chokes on her bun and quits the dual leadership.

The reality is usually less exciting. It could be that Bartsch does not mention secret contracts and Wagenknecht does not choke, but both repeat what they last already said in TV cameras. That they had different positions here and there, for example, but agreed on most points. Even on the issue of Greece: Initially, there would be no new aid package, and when the time came, they would first have to look at the details. As I said, we are unfortunately not allowed to write whether it was like that.

Only one piece of information is released: The next opportunity for the scandal will be on Wednesday, July 1. That’s when the next breakfast is scheduled.

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