Denunciation, the threat of irrelevance, arguments “about petty rubbish” – not only party celebrity Gregor Gysi sees the left in crisis. A new management duo should fix it – but Sahra Wagenknecht immediately crossed shots.

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 chairman of the left.

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

Bundestag faction leader Dietmar Bartsch thinks 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 calls out 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 is absent in Erfurt due to illness. What’s next for her and her followers? The former parliamentary group leader had previously fueled the dispute over direction and leadership with interviews and described the party conference as the “last chance”. Without Wagenknecht, their “camp” in Erfurt suffers a number of defeats. Wissler’s re-election is one of them – Wagenknecht had called for “fresh faces”.

“After this party congress, there is little hope that the left can stop its decline,” Wagenknecht reports from afar. “How a party that is currently at four percent wants to get back up with this list is a mystery to me.”

But their “camp” also draws the short straw in this matter: the delegates support Wissler’s course of condemning Russia in the strongest possible terms for the Ukraine war – they vote against Wagenknecht’s proposal to emphasize NATO’s joint responsibility more strongly.

Majorities are not excessively large

Only this happens with a majority of about 60 to 40 – Wissler gets 57.5 percent of the votes when she is re-elected to the dual leadership, her new co-chairman Schirdewan 61.3 percent. The situation is similar when it comes to decisions 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,” says Andrej Hunko, who supports Wagenknecht’s line. Then he reassures that the decision was made democratically and that there is much that is right in the party executive’s proposal.

Some delegates are less diplomatic. In a personal statement over the microphones in the hall, one criticizes the Russia-Ukraine decision as “shit”, another states: “Now we are in contradiction to our own program.” Because that calls for the “dissolution of NATO”. A woman says at the party conference: “It’s not one thing, it’s a new beginning.” Unity sounds different.

Think about personal consequences

Wagenknecht leaves open how she wants to continue after the Erfurt decisions. She holds out the prospect of organizing a network “and discussing “how to proceed” at a larger conference in the fall”. Before the party congress, Wagenknecht at least left the question of leaving in the room.

The defeated candidate for the presidency, Sören Pellmann, is 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 signals that the party congress is sending out: with resolutions on climate policy and social justice, and with more sanctions for misconduct, such as the hotly debated sexual assaults. In Erfurt, Wissler and Schirdewan dodged an answer to the question of whether there would still be an ordeal. “That will show up on Monday,” says Wissler. Thuringia’s head of state Ulrike Grosse-Röthig is clearer: “I think we’ll 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 use value that the party needs to have: to deal more with “bread and butter issues”, 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: “We know and we like each other. And we know where we want to go.”