Sahra Wagenknecht (born Sarah Wagenknecht; German: [ˌzaːʁa ˈvaːɡŋ̍ˌknɛçt]; 16 July 1969) is a German politician, economist, author, and publicist.[1] Since 2009 she has been a member of the Bundestag, where until 2023 she represented The Left. From 2015 to 2019, she served as that party's parliamentary co-chair. With a small team of allies, she left the party on 23 October 2023 to found her own party in 2024, Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht, to contest elections onwards.[2]

Sahra Wagenknecht
Wagenknecht in 2023
Leader of
Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht
Assumed office
8 January 2024
Serving with Amira Mohamed Ali
General SecretaryChristian Leye
DeputyShervin Haghsheno
Preceded byPosition established
Leader of Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht
in the Bundestag
Assumed office
11 December 2023
WhipJessica Tatti
DeputyKlaus Ernst
Preceded byPosition established
Leader of the Opposition
In office
12 October 2015 – 24 October 2017
Serving with Dietmar Bartsch
Preceded byGregor Gysi
Succeeded byAlexander Gauland
Alice Weidel
Leader of The Left in the Bundestag
In office
12 October 2015 – 12 November 2019
Serving with Dietmar Bartsch
WhipJan Korte
DeputySevim Dağdelen
Caren Lay
Preceded byGregor Gysi
Succeeded byAmira Mohamed Ali
Parliamentary constituencies
Member of the Bundestag
for North Rhine-Westphalia
Assumed office
27 October 2009
Preceded bymulti-member district
ConstituencyThe Left List
Member of the European Parliament
for Germany
In office
20 July 2004 – 14 July 2009
Preceded bymulti-member district
Succeeded bymulti-member district
ConstituencyParty of Democratic Socialism List
Personal details
Born
Sarah Wagenknecht

(1969-07-16) 16 July 1969 (age 54)
Jena, Bezirk Gera, East Germany (now Thuringia, Germany)
Political partyBündnis Sahra Wagenknecht
(2023–)
Other political
affiliations
The Left
(2007–2023)
Party of Democratic Socialism
(1989–2007)
Socialist Unity Party
(1989)
Spouses
  • Ralph-Thomas Niemeyer
    (m. 1997; div. 2013)
  • (m. 2014)
ResidenceMerzig-Silwingen
EducationUniversity of Groningen
TU Chemnitz
Occupation
  • Politician
  • publicist
  • author
Websitesahra-wagenknecht.de

Wagenknecht became a prominent member of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) from the early 1990s. After the foundation of The Left, she became a leading member of one of the party's most left-wing factions as leader of the Communist Platform. She has been a controversial figure throughout her career due to her hardline and populist stances, statements about East Germany, immigration and refugees (which moved away from traditional antiracism), and her political movement Aufstehen.[3][4][5] From 2020 onward Wagenknecht was less active in parliament, but often interviewed by German media. She is not a member of any parliamentary committee.[6]

Since 2021 she has openly considered forming her own party, due to growing and enduring conflicts within the Left Party and at the end of September 2023 she formed BSW – Reason and Justice political party in 2024.

Early life edit

Wagenknecht was born on 16 July 1969 in the East German city of Jena.[7] Her father is Iranian and her mother, who worked for a state-run art distributor, is German. Her father disappeared in Iran when she was a child. She was cared for primarily by her grandparents until 1976, when she and her mother moved to East Berlin. While in Berlin, she became a member of the Free German Youth (FDJ). She completed her Abitur exams in 1988 and joined the (then ruling) Socialist Unity Party (SED) in early 1989.[8][9]

From 1990, Wagenknecht studied philosophy and New German Literature as an undergraduate in Jena and Berlin, completing mandatory coursework, but did not write a thesis as she "could not find support for her research aims at the East Berlin Humboldt University". She then enrolled as a philosophy student at the University of Groningen, completing her studies and earning an MA in 1996 for a thesis on the young Karl Marx's interpretation of Hegel, supervised by Hans Heinz Holz and published as a book in 1997.[8][9] From 2005 until 2012 she completed a PhD dissertation at the chair of Microeconomics at TU Chemnitz, on "The Limits of Choice: Saving Decisions and Basic Needs in Developed Countries", awarded with the grade magna cum laude in the German system[10] and subsequently published by the Campus Verlag.[11]

Political career edit

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the transformation of the SED into the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), Wagenknecht was elected to the new party's National Committee in 1991. She also joined the PDS's Communist Platform, a Marxist-Leninist faction.[9]

In the 1998 German federal election, Wagenknecht ran as the PDS candidate in a district of Dortmund, garnering 3.25% of the vote. Following the 2004 European elections, she was elected as a PDS representative to the European Parliament. Among her duties in the parliament were serving on the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and Delegation, as well as the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly.[9][12]

Following the merger of the PDS and the WASG that formed the Left Party (Die Linke), Wagenknecht considered campaigning for the position of party vice-chair. However, party leaders such as Lothar Bisky and Gregor Gysi objected to the idea primarily because of her perceived sympathies for the former German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany). Following the controversy, she announced that she would not run for the post. Wagenknecht successfully contested a seat in the 2009 federal election in North Rhine-Westphalia.[13] She became the Left Party's spokesperson for economic politics in the Bundestag. On 15 May 2010, she was at last elected vice president of the Left Party with 75.3% of the vote.

Early in 2012, the German press reported that Wagenknecht was one of 27 Left Party Bundestag members whose writings and speeches were being collected and analyzed by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.[14]

She has been one of the main driving forces in the formation of Aufstehen, a left-wing political movement established in 2018, which exists outside of traditional political party structures and has been compared to the French movement La France Insoumise.[15] In March 2019, Wagenknecht announced her withdrawal from her leadership role within Aufstehen, citing personal workload pressures and insisting that after a successful start-up phase, for which political experience was necessary, the time had come for the movement's own grass roots to assume control. She complained that the involvement of political parties at its heart had "walled in" the movement. She would nonetheless continue to make public appearances on its behalf.[16][17]

Wagenknecht was elected co-leader of the Left's Bundestag group in 2015 alongside Dietmar Bartsch succeeding long-time leader Gregor Gysi. Wagenknecht won 78.4% of votes cast.[18] As the Left was at the time the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, she became a prominent leader of the opposition for the remainder of the parliamentary term. Bartsch and Wagenknecht were the Left's lead candidates for the 2017 federal election.[19]

The biography Sahra Wagenknecht. Die Biografie by Christian Schneider [de] was published in 2019 and focuses on Wagenknecht as a person, including her family background and interest in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.[20] In November 2019, she announced her resignation as parliamentary leader, citing burnout.[21] Her activities from 2017 to 2019, culminating with her resignation, are covered in the 2020 documentary film Wagenknecht [de], directed by Sandra Kaudelka.[22]

Wagenknecht was again nominated as the lead candidate on the party's North Rhine-Westphalia list in the 2021 federal election. She was re-elected, but described the results as a "bitter defeat" for her party.[23]

Secession from Die Linke edit

Due to the growing conflicts within Die Linke, Wagenknecht has been considering forming her own party. There was speculation since 2021 that her faction and other like-minded groups within Die Linke, such as the Socialist Left or the Karl Liebknecht circles, will break off to form a separate party.[24][25] Policy-wise, the new party was expected to follow a left-nationalist strategy.

At the end of September, people from Wagenknecht's circle founded the association "BSW – For Reason and Justice e. V.". According to the news magazine Der Spiegel, the abbreviation in the club's name stands for "Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht" ("Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance"). The association is intended to serve as a precursor to a future party.[26][27]

In mid-October, over 50 members of Die Linke submitted an application for Wagenknecht's exclusion from the party. The initiators said they wanted to prevent Sahra Wagenknecht from building a new party with the resources of Die Linke. "This is no longer acceptable," said Sofia Leonidakis [de], leader of Die Linke in the Bremen parliament.[28] The ongoing speculation about the founding of a new party and the resulting breakup of Die Linke also put a strain on the election campaigns in Bavaria and Hesse. Die Linke failed to enter both state parliaments.[citation needed]

In January 2024, her new party was officially launched.[29]

Political views edit

Economic policy edit

Wagenknecht has argued that the Left Party must pursue radical and anti-capitalist goals, thereby remaining distinct from the more moderate Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Green Party. She has criticized the Left Party's participation in coalition governments, especially the Berlin state government, which has made cuts to social spending and privatized some services.[30]

On 14 February 2014, the German business and economics newspaper Handelsblatt put her on the cover of its weekend edition, wondering: "Are the Left the better at understanding economics?" (Sind die Linken die besseren Wirtschaftsversteher?) The ambiguous headline made it unclear whether the question referred to left-wingers in general or to Wagenknecht's party, The Left, in particular. The newspaper had earlier interviewed her about her ideas about liberalism and socialism.[31]

Ahead of the launch of BSW in October 2023, Tagesschau noted that Wagenknecht's modern positions emphasise "economic reason" and place economic fundamentals before social welfare, comparing her stance to that of the conservative CDU and FDP. In an interview, she described her goals as combating inflation, encouraging small and medium enterprise and domestic technology development, and establishing stable trade with a wide range of partners. She previously rejected accusations that she sought to establish control bodies for various industries, and cited as inspiration the ideas of economist Mariana Mazzucato, who is also considered a source for economics minister Robert Habeck, whom Wagenknecht frequently criticises.[32]

Foreign policy edit

In 2017, Wagenknecht called for the dissolution of NATO and for a new security agreement that links Germany and Russia.[33][34] Throughout her career, Wagenknecht has argued in favor of a closer relationship with Russia. In 1992, she had published an essay praising Stalinist Russia, a view she said in 2017 she no longer espoused.[34]

Wagenknecht has expressed strong support for the rise of left-wing leaders in Latin America, such as Hugo Chávez,[35] and for SYRIZA's 2015 electoral victory in Greece.[36] She serves as a spokesperson for the Venezuela Avanza solidarity network, and as an alternate on the European Parliament's delegation for relations with Mercosur.[12]

In 2010, she refused to join a standing ovation when former Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres gave a speech in the Bundestag on Holocaust Remembrance Day.[37][38][39][40][41]

Russian invasion of Ukraine edit

Before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Wagenknecht was a prominent defender of Russia and its President Vladimir Putin, arguing that while the United States were trying to "conjure up" an invasion of Ukraine, "Russia has in fact no interest in marching into Ukraine".[42][43][44] After Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Wagenknecht said that her judgment had been wrong.[45][46] Wagenknecht opposed sanctions against Russia over the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, and, in a speech in September 2022, accused the German government of "launching an unprecedented economic war against our most important energy supplier". Before the war, over half of Germany's gas was supplied by Russia. In May, The Left had voted in favor of economic sanctions against Russia. Her speech was applauded by The Left party leadership and by the far-right Alternative for Germany. Her speech prompted the resignation of two high-profile party members.[47]

On February 10, 2023, Wagenknecht and Alice Schwarzer started collecting signatures for their Manifest für Frieden (lit.'Manifesto for peace') on Change.org. It called for negotiations with Russia and a halt to arms deliveries to Ukraine. By the end of the month it had received 700,000 signatures. A rally for peace with Wagenknecht and Schwarzer on February 25 was also attended by far-right groups,[48] and was said to have appealed to the Querfront.[49]

Refugee policy edit

In response to the 2015 Cologne sexual attacks, Wagenknecht stated "Whoever abuses his right to hospitality has forfeited his right to hospitality". This statement was almost unanimously criticized in her party and parliamentary group colleagues, but did receive praise from some in the AfD.[50]

On May 28 2016, an activist from the anti-fascist group Torten für Menschenfeinde ("Cakes for Enemies of Humanity") pushed a chocolate cake in Wagenknecht's face at a Left Party meeting in Magdeburg in response to Wagenknecht's calls for limits on the number of refugees. Wagenknecht has criticized Angela Merkel's refugee policies, arguing that her government has not provided the levels of financial and infrastructural support required to avoid increasing pressure on local authorities and the labor market, thereby exacerbating tensions in society.[15] She has also claimed that Merkel's policies were partly to blame for the 2016 Berlin truck attack.[51]

Partly in response to these experiences, in 2021, she published the book Die Selbstgerechten ("The Self-Righteous") in which she criticizes so-called "left-liberals" ("Linksliberale") for being neither left nor liberal but rather supporting the ruling classes, and, to some extent, their own interests. The book features, among several other topics, a discussion on immigration's alleged negative impacts on the domestic working class. It reached number one in the German non-fiction bestseller list as published by Der Spiegel.[52]

Family policy edit

At the beginning of June 2015, Wagenknecht, together with 150 other celebrities from culture and politics, signed an open letter to the Chancellor calling for same-sex civil partnerships to be given equal treatment to opposite-sex marriage.[53] In 2017, Wagenknecht advocated for legalization of same-sex marriage.[54]

COVID-19 edit

Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Wagenknecht has opined that only the elderly and vulnerable groups need to be vaccinated against the disease, and agitated against the German government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wagenknecht has opposed proposals for COVID-19 vaccine mandates, arguing they should be a personal choice.[55]

Wagenknecht's positions have been compared to those of the far-right Alternative for Germany. In November 2021, party colleagues such as Maximilian Becker, Martina Renner, and Niema Movassat suggested that Wagenknecht leave the party.[56][57]

Personal life edit

Wagenknecht married businessman Ralph-Thomas Niemeyer in May 1997.[58] On 12 November 2011, politician Oskar Lafontaine stated publicly that he and Wagenknecht had become "close friends".[59] At the time, Wagenknecht and Lafontaine had already separated from their respective spouses.[60][61] Wagenknecht married Lafontaine, 26 years her senior, on 22 December 2014.[62] She is an atheist.[63]

In 2023, the media estimated Wagenknecht's assets at three million euros.[64] In addition to her parliamentary remuneration, Sahra Wagenknecht earned around 750,000 euros in book and speaking fees in 2023.[1] She is one of the German politicians with the highest earnings in the Bundestag and a millionaire.[1][65]

Books edit

  • Kapitalismus im Koma: Eine sozialistische Diagnose. ("Capitalism in a coma: A socialist diagnosis.") Edition Ost, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-360-01050-7.
  • Die Mythen der Modernisierer. ("The myths of the modernizers.") Dingsda, Querfurt 2001, ISBN 3-928498-84-3.
  • Kapital, Crash, Krise… Kein Ausweg in Sicht? Fragen an Sahra Wagenknecht. ("Capital, crash, crisis… No way out in sight? Questions to Sahra Wagenknecht.") Pahl-Rugenstein, Bonn 1998, ISBN 3-89144-250-5.
  • The Limits of Choice. Saving Decisions and Basic Needs in Developed Countries. Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2013, ISBN 978-3-593-39916-4. (Also doctoral dissertation at the Technische Universität Chemnitz in 2012.)
  • Kapitalismus, was tun? Schriften zur Krise. ("Capitalism, what to do? Writings about the crisis.") Das Neue Berlin, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-360-02159-5.
  • Freiheit statt Kapitalismus: Wie wir zu mehr Arbeit, Innovation und Gerechtigkeit kommen. ("Freedom instead of capitalism: How we will achieve more work, innovation, and justice.") Eichborn, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-8218-6546-1.
    • Freiheit statt Kapitalismus: Über vergessene Ideale, die Eurokrise und unsere Zukunft. ("Freedom instead of capitalism: About forgotten ideals, the Euro crisis, and our future.") 2nd expanded edition, Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2012, ISBN 978-3-593-39731-3; ungekürzte Taschenbuchausgabe: dtv, München 2013, ISBN 978-3-423-34783-9.
  • Wahnsinn mit Methode: Finanzkrise und Weltwirtschaft. ("Methodical madness: Financial crisis and global economy.") Das Neue Berlin, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-360-01956-1.
  • Reichtum ohne Gier. Wie wir uns vor dem Kapitalismus retten. (Prosperity Without Greed: How to Save Ourselves from Capitalism). [66]
  • Die Selbstgerechten: Mein Gegenprogramm – für Gemeinsinn und Zusammenhalt [de]. ("The self-righteous: my counter-scheme – for public spirit and social cohesion.") Campus-Verlag [de], Frankfurt am Main 2021, ISBN 978-3-593-51390-4.

References edit

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  61. ^ "Lafontaine stellt Wagenknecht als seine Freundin vor". Süddeutsche Zeitung. 12 November 2011. Archived from the original on 13 November 2011. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  62. ^ Geheime Hochzeit: Oskar Lafontaine und Sahra Wagenknecht haben geheiratet Archived 20 September 2020 at the Wayback Machine (Secret wedding: Oskar Lafontaine and Sahra Wagenknecht got married, German article on www.faz.net, 22 March 2015)
  63. ^ http://www.sahra-wagenknecht.de/de/article/7.das_leben_leben.html Archived 6 October 2017 at the Wayback Machine Interviewer: "Gibt es bei Ihnen auch ab und an Zweifel am Atheismus? (Do you doubt your atheism from time to time?)" Sahra Wagenknecht: "Eigentlich nicht. (Not really.)"
  64. ^ "Sahra Wagenknecht: So viel Geld hat sie jeden Monat zur Verfügung". Ohmymag Deutschland (in German). 29 July 2023. Retrieved 9 January 2024.
  65. ^ Asim, Noor (28 December 2023). "Sahra Wagenknecht Vermögen". Promi Medien. Retrieved 10 January 2024.
  66. ^ Sahra Wagenknecht (2016). Prosperity Without Greed: How to Save Ourselves from Capitalism. Frankfurt am Main: Campus-Verlag. ISBN 9783593507583. Archived from the original on 4 November 2023. Retrieved 4 November 2023. ISBN 978-3-5935-0516-9

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