In bang effects, you have to give him that, he understands himself.
In 1999 there was a big bang when Oskar Lafontaine resigned as SPD chairman and finance minister in a hurry. In 2005, things were shaken when he brought together the western and eastern left to form the Left Party.
This time it’s just the timing that makes his final game effective. A good week before the state elections in Saarland, he also throws the pieces to his own creation. Lafontaine resigned from the Left Party on Thursday.
That really isn’t a surprise. “I wanted there to be a leftist alternative to the politics of social insecurity and inequality across the political spectrum,” the 78-year-old wrote in a statement, “which is why I co-founded the Left Party. The left today has abandoned that claim.”
That sounds like a very principled decision. But as always with his effective outings, there is at least a second, more banal truth behind it. “There are not many people who were presidents of two parties and then left,” commented former president Bernd Riexinger. “It’s probably not just up to the parties.”
In 1999 it was because he miscalculated. Lafontaine believed that he could determine the direction of the red-green coalition in the combination of leader of the SPD and owner of the federal budget.
When it became clear to him six months later that the chancellor would set the tone here and there, he tossed a farewell letter to Gerhard Schröder on his secretary’s desk and disappeared into the Saarland. A few weeks later he posed for photographers with his infant son in his arms, Götz von Berlichingen’s version of him.
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This time, too, alienation in terms of content and personal disappointment are mixed, only this time mainly on the small stage in Saarbrücken.
For years, Lafontaine has been waging a power struggle with state president Thomas Lutze. The plot had strong traits of a mafia piece in goo theater.
It concerns the allegation of fraudulent majorities, falsified membership lists, and envelopes of money that Lutze is said to have slipped to his supporters. The Public Ministry investigated. Long-serving party officials turned their backs on him, and two members of parliament founded a new parliamentary group.
Lafontaine publicly asked to stop voting for the party. Since then, an elimination process has been underway against him.
His resignation letter, it is rumored in the Saarland, was ready weeks ago. In it, she not only accuses Lutze of a “fraud system” and the federal party looking the other way, but also attacks federal co-chair Susanne Henning-Wellsow.
At home, the Thuringian was one of the architects of the realpolitik of Bodo Ramelow’s leftist governments. Lafontaine now accuses her of sacrificing “principles of peace policy” when she and others called for the 100 billion euro package for the Bundeswehr to be approved.
The parliamentary group finally said no to Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s (SPD) plan. But from Lafontaine’s point of view, a fundamental change of course had already taken place since 2015: the left had gradually become a party aiming at goals and constituencies similar to those of the Greens. Retired or low-income people no longer felt represented.
You have to know that 2015 was the year in which his wife Sahra Wagenknecht became co-chair of the parliamentary group. In the meantime, she has largely become a soloist in her own group. She is heard on talk shows.
Wagenknecht remains on board anyway. Lafontaine’s departure, on the other hand, was predictable.
The quartet of party and faction leaders from the federal party commented tight-lipped on the process: “We believe your resignation is wrong and we regret it.”
Henning-Wellsow, Janine Wissler, Amira Mohamed Ali and Dietmar Bartsch only indirectly address Lafontaine’s accusations: Especially in times of growing inequality, war and weaponry, a strong left is urgently needed.
At least in the Saar, that should be history by now. According to the polls, the left must tremble to return to the state parliament on March 27. When Wissler and Bartsch recently campaigned in Saarbrücken’s pedestrian zone, hardly anyone sat still.
Bitter for a match that has long been good for double-digit results. But they had a lot to do with the man who is only greeted as “Oscar” in Saarlouis or St. Wendel.
When he appeared on the market with an old-fashioned Polaroid during the election campaigns, everyone wanted an instant selfie with him. To many, he remained the former prime minister of the Saarland, who made it in federal politics and even nearly defeated Helmut Kohl as chancellor candidate in 1989 had German unity not intervened.
One can always be a little proud of one’s motherland in the smallest of flat countries, even if one doesn’t choose to.
All the greater the effect that he was able to achieve in the last of his outings. Many in the party see it as an act of revenge. The timing was “extremely unfair”, complained Eva von Angern, president of the state of Saxony-Anhalt in Magdeburg, and “quite deliberately from my point of view”.