The Sahra Wagenknecht alliance wants to achieve its first successes in the European elections and the state elections in the east. But the young party is still under construction. Can you manage a convincing election campaign even with little staff?

Sahra Wagenknecht and her party are in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, the BSW, which was newly founded in January, wants to overtake established parties in the upcoming European and state elections, and there is even talk of participating in the government. On the other hand, the party leadership is stepping on the brakes. Not everyone who is interested is allowed to become a member; slow growth is the order of the day.

Christian Leye has to organize this organizational balancing act. He has been General Secretary of the BSW since its founding. Like many of his colleagues, he was previously active on the Left, including as an employee of Sahra Wagenknecht, state spokesman in North Rhine-Westphalia and a member of the Bundestag.

So he is experienced in politics, but in an interview with FOCUS online he said about the current phase: “The amount of work is an enormous challenge. You can only do something like that once in your life.”

The burden of the party’s work is currently distributed primarily on the shoulders of the approximately 600 members. It could be many times over: around 18,000 supporters and interested parties have registered with BSW, but they cannot become members at the moment. “We don’t want people with extremist backgrounds in the party,” explains Leye. That’s why you have conversations with interested parties and research their background. The party should not be hijacked by people with completely different views.

In fact, this has advantages: fewer views have to be reconciled when creating election programs. And when the candidate lists are drawn up, there is also less competition for the promising places. The Thuringia regional association, for example, currently does not have much more than 50 members. If the BSW achieves between 15 and 20 percent in the September election – which is what the surveys are currently predicting – almost 20 BSW candidates could enter the state parliament.

Thuringian Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow (Left Party) has criticized the exclusive circle. With its focus on party leader Sahra Wagenknecht, the BSW would reduce party democracy to absurdity. “Is this an oligarchy or even a caliphate?” he asked in the “Stern” newspaper. Decisions will be made in Berlin “as they used to be”. Those interested in the waiting list will only be able to exercise their membership rights at a later date, when there is nothing left to distribute.

Leye is amused by the criticism from his former party: “I am not aware that Bodo Ramelow has submitted an application for membership to us.” In addition, the Prime Minister would probably also express criticism if, for example, former AfD members found their way into the party the Secretary General suspects.

But he also admits that not all interested parties in the waiting queue are enthusiastic about the party’s approach. “The majority of supporters show a lot of understanding. But there are perhaps five percent of interested parties who view this critically,” says Leye.

The party leadership therefore has to explain itself again and again. Sahra Wagenknecht, for example, called for support at an event in Leipzig at the end of April, but also asked for understanding for the long recording times. Apparently there was dissatisfaction among one or two interested parties.

Leye doesn’t seem to mind that much: “We’re trying to achieve an optimum between protecting the party and keeping our people happy. But we also know: You can’t please everyone in life. The vast majority of supporters understand very well that they cannot get a party register quickly.”

“Despite the fact that the party was founded almost smoothly, we should have communicated some things better internally,” admits the Secretary General. There are friction losses at one point or another, which is normal in the initial phase. For example, the state party conference in Thuringia had to be postponed.

“Everything is happening at the same time at the moment, we have a few construction sites,” explains Leye: checking membership applications, setting up state associations, writing election programs, street election campaigns. “We actually need staff everywhere, on site and at the party headquarters. It’s a big challenge for the people we have.”

This may also have something to do with the fact that two targets for limiting membership are no longer mentioned. According to reports, the BSW wanted to accept a maximum of 1,000 members by the end of the year and 2,000 members by the next federal election. “I don’t want to commit to a number. Our growth is not an exact science,” comments Leye today.

In order to make the party more professional, some positions are advertised. According to Leye, there are numerous applicants. Filling the positions is also urgently needed because even with a large number of supporters, they still need central control. Upon request, the BSW cannot or does not want to disclose how many employees the party headquarters have at the federal and state levels. It seems as if some of the work for the party is also organized in MPs’ offices. That wouldn’t be officially allowed.

Has the BSW tripped itself up by only being founded six months before the European elections and now facing difficulties in the election campaign? Leye doesn’t see it that way. “We wouldn’t have been ready to set up a company before. In this respect, it is pointless to speculate whether a few more months would have been good for us.” But the Secretary General is clear: there are still stressful times ahead.