The Agitated Ones
The Nostalgic Left Fits Perfectly into the Present
As yet, it is impossible to know if the combination of two political divas – Oskar Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi – will turn into a kind of GDR nostalgia show with a Saarlander* as a special guest, or if the cunning of reason left these two publicity hounds no alternative but to merge their parties. Until a few days ago, at least, a pan-German party to the left of Red-Green** seemed impossible. The new lifestyle rebels, who avail themselves of the globalized market of worldviews and participate in Attac events every now and then, shy away from organizational structures that are too clearly defined. The country’s revolutionary avant-garde already had its swan song fifteen years ago. On May 12, 1990, around 11 o’clock, they gathered in front of the Old Opera in Frankfurt am Main to march up to the Römerberg, the main square. “Never again, Germany!” was the slogan. In those days, that could only mean: No monetary union! No unification! There were banners with the slogan “No to the imperialistic annexation – yes to a socialist Germany.”
To writer Gerd Koenen, the demonstration seemed like a carnival parade of revenants, a final gathering of everyone who had been keeping the revolutionary flame. The protest march also included a block of people in the blue shirts of the Free German Youth***, but it was the Left from the West who set the tone, albeit in borrowed costumes. A shawm band played, and one float showed Lenin, dressed as a proletarian, standing on a giant globe, sweeping the exploitative scum from the earth. This was followed by heavy-metal chanting from the Black Block.
Water cannons were in position, rocks flew. Riots, injuries, and arrests confirmed the worldview of the world redeemers. The Left from the West had discussed emancipation and liberation strategies in never-ending seminars and dozens of magazines. As soon as the East German citizenry had shaken off despotism and freed itself from a state of [political] immaturity, the revolutionary avant-garde could hardly think of anything better to do than to drone on about the master strategies of capital.
At that time, the PDS, too, had rejected unification according to Helmut Kohl’s plan. Their Communist Platform was present in Frankfurt, but it would have been political suicide for the party to join the marching columns of the small groups en bloc. In the end, Hans Modrow also demanded “Germany – united fatherland,” and the brighter of the remaining SED comrades knew that they couldn’t keep feeding East Germans the abstract war game of “proletariat versus bourgeoisie.” Having an ear for their fears of loss and everyday hardship was more important than any major historico-philosophical scenario.
For a long time, Oskar Lafontaine balked at the monetary union and a speedy accession of the new federal states. Early on, he had fuelled the mood against the East German citizens who moved westward in droves after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he called for cutting payments to them. Contemporaries attest to his having wanted to prevent unification. The Greens sulked about the course of events. Like many moderate leftists, they developed a sudden nostalgia for the republic in Bonn. Yet neither uproar nor withdrawal helped. In the 1990s, everyone who had gotten comfortable left of the SPD was concerned about the unexpected end of the Cold War. It was the hour of the renegades and the revisionists. In both the SPD and the Green Party, the pragmatists and the realists were the winners. It seemed like only sectarians or young rebels were cavorting around farther to the left. Or the regional PDS party, which everyone assumed was going to disappear very quickly.
* Gregor Gysi (PDS) is from the GDR, and Lafontaine (WASG) is from Saarland – eds.
** The coalition government consisting of the SPD and the Greens – eds.
*** The youth organization of the Socialist Unity Party – eds.