Die Linke adopted a new programme at the 2011 Erfurt congress. It was presented as a synthesis between the so-called Marxist tendencies and the very reformist “realos”.
Die Linke is a “socialist party that stands for alternatives, for a better future” (p4). This future includes quite rightly “a life in social security, a penalty-free, poverty-proof guaranteed minimum income and comprehensive protection against dismissal; a poverty-proof, solidarity-based statutory pension for all, solidarity-based citizen insurance for health and care, good, free education available to all, cultural diversity and the participation of all in the cultural riches of society, a fair taxation system that reduces the burden on low and medium earners, increases the load on top earners and draws substantially more on large fortunes for the implementation of democracy and the rule of law, against the extortionate power of big corporations; the abolition of every form of discrimination based on gender, age, social status, philosophy, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation and identity or based on disabilities of any kind”.
But it is not clear whether all this will be realised in this capitalist system or if this system should be abolished. In one part of the programme “we need a different economic and social system: democratic socialism” (p.4). The “social market economy” is criticised as a “compromise between wage labour and capital that never either eliminated the predatory exploitation of nature or the patriarchal relationships in the public and private spheres”. In other parts the problem is not the system, but “unrestricted capitalism” (p58), “the neo-liberal political model” (p56) and “deregulated financial markets” (p15).
The text talks of “a long emancipatory process, in which the dominance of capital is overcome through democratic, social and ecological forces”, leading to a “society of democratic socialism” (p5). In one place “the decisive question of social change is the property question. As long as the decisions made by large corporations are oriented towards desired returns rather than the public good, politics will be subject to blackmail and democracy will be undermined”.
In another part, “public ownership is (limited to) services of general interest, of the social infrastructure, in the power industry and in the financial sector” (p.5).
And the programme copies the old social-democrat thesis of “democracy that extends to economic decision-making and subjects all forms of ownership to emancipatory, social and ecological standards. Without democracy in the economy, democracy remains imperfect...”. So there this “different, democratic economic order” will be a regulated market economy. We will “subject the market regulation of production and distribution to democratic, social and ecological framing and control”. “Business must be subject to stringent competition control.”(p.5) Democratic control of economic development “presupposes that the financial markets be restrained and returned to their basic function of serving the real economy, banning hedge funds (p29), combined with Keynesian measures aimed at “boosting internal demand”. (p28)
The working class has no role in conquering political power. There is talk of “winning majorities” (p20) and “democratic socialism” can be achieved within the “democratic” structures of the German constitution and a “social state of law”. Intelligence services should be abolished but “democratic control” of the army and the police will be enough to transform them into tools of socialism.
According to the program, government participation makes sense if it is based on a “rejection of the neoliberal model of politics” and brings about a “social-ecological” change, and if it can achieve “an improvement in the living standards of the people”. In this way, the “political power of Die Linke and the social movements can be strengthened” and the feeling of political powerlessness that exists amongst many people can be “forced into retreat” (p56).
One wonders how this position was adopted only a couple of months after the debacle of what had always been presented as the vanguard example of the strategy of the party: the Berlin disaster
In August 2010, Die Linke collapsed in the elections for the Berlin senate. After ten years of participation in the Berlin regional government, it fell from 22.3% to 11.5%.
For ten long years, a government coalition of SPD and Die Linke ran the German capital. It closed down nurseries, cut benefits and privatised 120,000 council flats. Die Linke voted to partially privatise the Berlin tram system, campaigned against national wage parity for public sector workers (who still earn considerably less in the East) and spoke out against efforts to bring the company that supplies Berlin with water back into public ownership. It also helped to privatise a part of the main Berlin hospital – leading to worse working conditions and lower wages.
Mathias Behnis, political scientist and spokesperson for the Berlin Water resistance coalition and Benedict Ugarte Chacón, political scientist and spokesman for the Berlin Bank scandal Initiative made a devastating assessment in Junge Welt, 20 August 2011. Right from the beginning in 2002, the SPD-PDS coalition (PDS was not yet Die Linke ) made clear which path would be taken when it approved a risk shield for the Bankgesellschaft Berlin. The coalition took over the risks of a closed-end real estate fund created by the bank to the amount of 21,6 billion euros. Since then the Berlin Region manages the annual losses of this Bank. The PDS agreed to guarantee shareholders’ yields for this fund with public money.
At the same time, they conducted a strict budgetary policy at the cost of e.g. allowances for blind people in 2003, or the social ticket for the urban public transport in 2004 after the federal government cut subsidies. Huge social protests were needed to reintroduce this ticket but at a much higher price.
Kindergartens and universities were not spared. This led to strong students' protests and the PDS Party Congress on December 6th 2003, in the fine Hotel Maritim in Berlin-centre, had to be protected from the students by riot-police who kicked the students off the streets.
Measures were taken in May 2003 to force parents to participate in the purchase of schoolbooks to the tune of up to 100 euros.
Die Linke in Berlin is also responsible for the deterioration of the situation of thousands of people who have to rent their homes. In May 2004, they sold 65,700 houses belonging to the public housing society GSW at the bargain price of 405 million euros to a Consortium from the Whitehall-Fund of the Investment bank Goldman Sachs and the Investment company Cerberus. In 2010 they allowed these companies to go on the stock exchange making thousands of Berlin houses an object of speculation.
They also cut the allowances to house owners who rented their houses at a social rent, without caring what happened to the tenants. In the formerly cheaper old apartments, inhabited mainly by low wage workers and jobless people, rents rose by 17 percent.
Water becomes a commodity
In 1999, the former government had sold 49,9 percent of the Berlin Water supply company to RWE and Vivendi ( Veolia). PDS got the Economy ministry in 2002 but he changed nothing. Water prices rose by 33 percent. Under the former government PDS had campaigned against the partial privatisation. But PDS minister Wolf did exactly what he had fought against: he guaranteed the benefits of the private shareholders and the city budget gained from the high prices of the water.
In the coalition agreement of 2006, Die Linke and SPD stood for the recommunalisation of the Water supply company. Nothing was done. Worse, they opposed with all their might a large extra-parliamentarian movement for the publication of the secret privatisation agreement of the water supply company. More than 666,000 people demanded this in a referendum, campaigned against by the coalition. After the victory of the referendum, they had to acknowledge it, but they went on opposing every legal initiative of the population.
All they had to say in their defence was the eternal phrase of all social-democrats: “without us, it would have been worse”. No, it would have been just the same or even better because their participation paralysed part of the resistance potential.
After being voted out, they complained they had not been able to impose their views on the SPD. There were “restrictions to liberty of movement”, as party leader Klaus Lederer said. Of course, but when you promise to enter a government to change things, you should not be surprised when people ask you: what did you change?
Just like in Berlin, the party has participated in cuts and closures in the regional governments of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg.
Nevertheless, the Erfurt Congress concluded that government participation makes sense.Participation in bourgeois governments, local and even federal, is now hardly disputed in the party. The right-wing in the leadership has even used the recent bad results to demand that the party give up its “desire to stay in opposition”. It should openly declare its intention to seek participation in all levels of government, especially with its “natural coalition partner”, the SPD. Dietmar Bartsch, one of their main spokespeople, is supported by the party in all five federal states in the East, where the organisation has far more members. In the East, government participation is now becoming the norm.
Oskar Lafontaine, who is seen as the left of the party, was never against taking the party into ruling coalitions ‒ quite the contrary. He is a Keynesian and dreams of some kind of nationally restricted social welfare state. Back to the 1970s. He and his supporters keep formulating “principles” or “conditions” which would have to be met before they would agree to government participation.
It is now undisputed within Die Linke that it should at least try to get into regional governments. The left does not dare to say that Die Linke should not. "We cannot let the SPD and the Greens govern alone. Social policy is only possible with us ”, was the title of the main text of the Party leadership at the Party Congress in Rostock in 2010. We must have alternatives to the CDU-FDP coalition.As if SPD and Greens were not in favour of making the workers pay for the crisis. There is no more sharp political criticism of those parties.
« Die Linke can govern, even better than the others. And we in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, have very clear ideas on what is to be improved and how », said Steffen Bockhahn, regional president of Die Linke in the Land of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, at this congress. 
Die Linke says it combines social and political protest with dressing up possible alternatives and political realisations within the frame of the government. As if today, there is a correlation of forces that makes possible putting such pressure on governments that they are forced to implement important reforms in favour of the people. There is not and the only consequence of this orientation is to paralyse the mass movements, to incorporate them into the system as we saw in Berlin.
The experiences of communist participation in European governments have proven that this participation does not even stop privatisations, social regression, nor even imperialist wars. These experiences have shaken confidence in the parties that were part of the government and showed them to be no different from any other party.
Participation in a bourgeois government dominated by capitalist monopolies weakens the anticapitalist forces.