The Left Party/PDS (German: Die Linkspartei/PDS), formerly Party of Democratic Socialism (Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus, PDS) was a socialist political party in Germany. It is the legal successor to the Socialist Unity Party (SED), which ruled the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) until 1990. From 1990 through to 2005, the PDS had been seen as the left-wing "party of the East", and whilst achieving minimal support in western Germany regularly won 15 to 25 percent of the vote in eastern Germany, entering coalition governments (with the SPD) in the federal states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin.
In 2005, the PDS, renamed The Left Party/PDS, entered an electoral alliance with the western Germany-based Labour and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative (WASG) and won 8.7% of the vote in Germany's September 2005 federal elections (more than double the PDS' 4% share in the 2002 election). On June 16 2007, the two groupings merged to form a unified party called The Left (Die Linke).
The party has many Social Progressive policies. For example, they want to legalize same-sex marriage, and they also want the state to grant better conditions for immigrants.
After the 2002 debacle, the PDS adopted a new program and re-installed a respected moderate, long-time Gysi ally Lothar Bisky, as chair. A renewed sense of self-confidence soon re-energized the party. In the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, the PDS won 6.1% of the vote nationwide, its highest total at that time in a federal election. Its electoral base in the eastern German states continued to grow, where today it ranks with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats as one of the region's three strong parties. However, low membership and voter support in Germany's western states continued to plague the party on the federal level until it formed an electoral alliance in July 2005 with the Electoral Alternative for Labor and Social Justice (WASG), a leftist faction of dissident Social Democrats and trade unionists, with the merged list being called the Left Party. In the 2005 federal election the Left Party received 8.7% of the nationwide vote and won 54 seats in the German Bundestag.
After marathon negotiations, the PDS and WASG agreed on terms for a combined ticket to compete in the 2005 federal elections and pledged to unify into a single left party in 2006 or 2007. According to the pact, the parties did not compete against each another in any district. Instead, WASG candidates—including the former Social Democratic leader, Oskar Lafontaine—were nominated on the PDS electoral list. To symbolize the new relationship, the PDS changed its name to The Left Party/PDS or The Left/PDS, with the letters "PDS" optional in western states where many voters still regarded the PDS as an "eastern" party.
The alliance provided a strong electoral base in the east and benefited from WASG's growing voter potential in the west. Gregor Gysi, returning to public life only months after brain surgery and two heart attacks, shared the spotlight with Lafontaine as co-leader of the party's energetic and professional campaign. Both politicians will co-chair the Left's caucus in the German Bundestag after the election.
Polls early in the summer showed the unifed Left list on a "high-altitude flight," winning as much as 12 percent of the vote, and for a time it seemed possible the party would surge past the Alliance '90/The Greens and the pro-business Free Democratic Party and become the third-strongest force in the Bundestag. But, alarmed by the Left's unexpected rise in the polls, Germany's mainstream politicians hit back at Lafontaine and Gysi as "left populists" and "demagogues" and accused the party of flirting with neo-Nazi voters. A gaffe by Lafontaine, who described "foreign workers" as a threat in one speech early in the campaign, provided ammunition for charges that the Left was attempting to exploit German xenophobia.
Although Germany's once-powerful trade unions distanced themselves from the Left in the 2005 election, some union leaders expressed interest in cooperating with the party after the election. A number of regional trade union leaders and mid-level functionaries are active supporters.
At the 2005 federal election, the Left Party became the fourth-largest party in the Bundestag, with 54 Members of Parliament (MPs) (full list), ahead of the Greens (51) but behind the Free Democrats (61). Three Left Party MPs were directly elected on a constituency basis: Gregor Gysi, Gesine Lötzsch and Petra Pau, all in Eastern Berlin constituencies. In addition, 51 Left Party MPs were elected through the party list element of Germany's Additional Member System of proportional representation. These include Lothar Bisky, Katja Kipping, Oskar Lafontaine, and Paul Schäfer. Besides Lafontaine, a number of other prominent SPD defectors won election to the Bundestag on the Left Party list, including a prominent leader of Germany's Turkish minority, Hakkı Keskin, German Federal Constitutional Court justice Wolfgang Neskovic, and the former SPD leader in Baden-Württemberg, Ulrich Maurer.
When the votes were counted, the party doubled its federal vote from 1.9 million (PDS result in 2002) to more than 4 million—including an electoral breakthrough in industrial Saarland where, for the first time in a western state, it surpassed the Greens and FDP due, in large part to Lafontaine's popularity and Saarland roots. It is now the second strongest party in three states,all of them in the former GDR, (Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia) and the third strongest in four others, all but Saarland in the former GDR, (Saarland, Berlin, Saxony, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern). It was the only party to win over protest voters broadly across Germany's political spectrum: nearly one million Social Democratic voters defected to the Left while the Christian Democrats and Greens together lost half a million votes to the resurgent party.
Exit polls showed the Left had a unique appeal to non-voters: 390,000 Germans who refused to support any party in 2002 returned to the ballot box to vote for the Left Party. The Left's image as the last line of defense for Germany's traditional "social state" (Sozialstaat) proved to be a magnet for voters in western as well as eastern Germany.
All other established parties had ruled out the possibility of a coalition with the Left Party prior to the election (in other words, a cordon sanitaire), and refused to reconsider in the light of the closeness of the election result, which prevented either of the usual ideologically-coherent coalitions from attaining a majority. The possibility of a minority SPD-Green government tolerated by the Left Party was the closest the Left Party came to potential participation in government at this election.
In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Left Party suffered no serious losses and remains the third-strongest party in the state. However, it was dropped as a coalition partner by the Social Democratic premier, Harold Ringstorff, and now heads the opposition in the state assembly.
Despite its losses in Berlin, support for the Left Party/PDS and its WASG ally remain stable at about eight to ten percent of the vote. Cooperation between the two parties on a national level and in their single Bundestag delegation has been largely free of tensions. Though a minority of WASG members oppose the merger of the two parties scheduled for June 2007, it seems likely the new party—to be called simply The Left—will be on Germany's political stage before the next federal elections.
Charges of a Stasi past were also a factor in the Bundestag's decision to reject Lothar Bisky as the Left Party's candidate for the post of parliamentary vice president. Though Bisky's candidacy was supported by the Greens and by some Christian Democratic and Social Democratic leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, after two failed votes the party decided to withdraw his nomination. Five months later, the Left Party's Petra Pau was elected vice president.
In the Free State of Saxony, the chairman of the Left Party group, Peter Porsch, could lose his mandate in the Saxon parliament because of his alleged Stasi past. In May 2006, all parties represented in the parliament, except the Left Party, voted to initiate proceedings against Porsch. However, in November, the state's constitutional court dismissed the complaint against Porsch on technical grounds.
http://www.monthlyreview.org/0507is.htm Ingo Schmidt, "The Left Opposition in Germany. Why Is the Left So Weak When So Many Are Looking for Political Alternatives?", in Monthly Review, May 2007]