The new management duo is to lead the left out of the crisis. But even after the federal party conference, the party remains divided. Could the left still be able to govern again at some point?

She smiles, chats with the delegates, strolls through the rows. Janine Wissler looks a little lost on Sunday in the huge party hall at Messe Erfurt. But one thing is clear: a load has been lifted from her. “I’m relieved,” admits the 41-year-old federal leader of the left.

Despite electoral failures, despite constant disputes and allegations of sexism, Wissler managed to get re-elected. The Erfurt party conference also elected their preferred partner to the dual leadership: the European politician Martin Schirdewan. The 46-year-old Berliner also announced straight away: “We understood as leftists. We’re back.”

Bundestag faction leader Dietmar Bartsch thought that the left should be proud of itself. After all, she is the Prime Minister in Thuringia with Bodo Ramelow, she is in four state governments and nine state parliaments, in many local parliaments and town halls. “It’s not nothing,” Bartsch shouted to his comrades.

But is the party, which has been at odds for years, saved after these three days in Erfurt, after the endless and loud debates? Will it come back as a serious political force? Will it become the “caretaker party” that many have invoked, driving the traffic light coalition in front of it and fighting for help for citizens plagued by inflation? Will the left ever be able to govern in the federal government? doubts remain.

The Phantom Wagenknecht

One reason: Wissler’s prominent opponent Sahra Wagenknecht was absent in Erfurt due to illness. What’s next for her and her followers? The former parliamentary group leader had fueled the dispute over direction and leadership with interviews in advance and described the party congress as the “last chance”. Without Wagenknecht, their “camp” in Erfurt suffered a number of defeats.

Wissler’s re-election was one of them – Wagenknecht had called for “fresh faces”. The Wagenknecht “camp” also lost out in this matter: the delegates supported Wissler’s course of condemning Russia in the strongest possible terms for the Ukraine war – they voted against Wagenknecht’s proposal to emphasize NATO’s joint responsibility more strongly.

Majorities are not excessively large

Only this happened with a majority of about 60 to 40 – Wissler got 57.5 percent of the votes when she was re-elected to the dual leadership, her new co-chairman Schirdewan 61.3 percent. The situation was similar when it came to deciding on Russia and NATO. “It is a very large minority of more than 40 percent of the delegates who want to take a much more critical stance on NATO,” said Andrej Hunko, who supports Wagenknecht’s line. Then he reassured that the decision had been made democratically and that there was much that was right in the party executive’s motion.

Some delegates were less diplomatic. In a personal statement over the microphones in the hall, one criticized the Russia-Ukraine decision as “that shit,” another noted: “Now we’re at odds with our own program.” Because that still calls for the “dissolution of NATO”. A woman said at the party conference: “It’s not one thing, it’s a new beginning.” Unity sounds different.

The left must think about personal consequences

Due to illness, Wagenknecht does not comment on the Erfurt decisions, according to her office. Before the party congress, she left the question of leaving at least in the room. The defeated candidate for the presidency, Sören Pellmann, is also considering personal consequences. Withdrawal from the parliamentary group? “I’ll think about all the options in the next few days,” says Pellmann when asked. Is it a split in the left?

Wissler and Schirdewan never tire of talking about the signs of departure that the party congress is sending: also with resolutions on climate policy and social justice and with more sanctions for misconduct such as the hotly discussed sexual assaults. In Erfurt, Wissler and Schirdewan avoided answering the question of whether there would still be an ordeal. “That will show up on Monday,” said Wissler. Thuringia’s head of state, Ulrike Grosse-Röthig, was clearer: “I think we will see exits next week.” It is unclear whether this divides or unites the party.

The new face in the dual leadership

In terms of personnel, it is at least half a fresh start: Schirdewan, the co-leader of the Left Party in the European Parliament, is the newcomer to the dual leadership. “He’s a pragmatist,” say party friends. Schirdewan likes to talk about the practical value that the party must have. She must focus more on “bread-and-butter issues” that move people – such as exploding energy and food prices and high rents. Wissler is not bothered by the fact that Schirdewan, who was sent into the race by the strong Thuringian state association, wants to remain a member of the European Parliament. It is good to have a party leader with European policy competence. And: “We know and we like each other. And we know where we want to go.”