Germany’s Newest Political Party: Sahra Wagenknecht’s BSW

Portrait of a leader type of political party

Posted by Thomas Klikauer and Danny Antonelli

Sahra Wagenknecht has an interesting history as regards her party affiliations. Sahra was once a member of the communist SED, then, after the Fall of The Wall, belonged to the post-East-German PDS – Party of Democratic Socialism. 

She left that party to join Die Linke (the progressive-socialist The Left). But, dissatisfied with her role in that party, she founded her own political party, the BSW or “Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht”.

Telegenic, intellectual, well-spoken and high-profile, Sarah Wagenknecht has kickstarted yet another so-called “real beginning”. According to the results of the recent election to the European Parliament, Wagenknecht’s “one-woman show”, the BSW, received a whopping 6.2% of the vote in Germany.

The party was only founded in January 2024, and in its very first electoral challenge BSW moved from zero (0%) to 6.2%. This is well beyond Germany’s magical 5% barrier that guarantees entry into Germany’s federal parliament. 

However, this was an EU election and there is no such barrier to representation. If it had been a federal election, Sahra Wagenknecht’s BSW would have entered Germany’s parliament – in one go.

It is interesting to note who the people are that provide the BSW with such a high level of support. It turns out that the BSW owes its success mainly to the working class who used to vote for Germany’s social-democratic SPD, the unemployed, and those described as “job seekers”. In short, the old working class (proletariat). 

They fancy the BSW slightly more than they do the conservative CDU. The BSW obviously also collects voters from Sarah Wagenknecht’s former home, Die Linke. And it is no surprise that BSW also gets support from people formerly aligned with Germany’s neofascist AfD. 

Not surprising as well is the fact that BSW gets very few votes from people who like the environmentalist Green Party. In general, people with low income support the BSW just a little more than they support the neo-Nazi AfD. Of course these are also mostly people from the former East Germany. 

Ideologically, BSW is trying to appeal to social and political conservatives and to those with an ingrained right-wing attitude. On the other hand, BSW supports income re-distribution and social justice, a brake against the neoliberal AfD and FDP. 

The BSW’s strategy has been a success. It worked beautifully during the EU election which was held in June 2024. The BSW – very easily – passed the universal 5% barrier. 

The general distrust in political institutions which is prevalent in much of the former East Germany, and low-income workers under pressure from globalization, have been a benefit for the BSW. Both groups are voters who distrust the government and are people with a monthly net income that is under €1,500 ($1,610).

Despite her communist background, Wagenknecht represents serious competition for the neofascist AfD – particularly in the former East Germany. 

Whether in the east or the west, BSW seems to be more attractive to women – more so than the male-dominated AfD. Paradoxically, the BSW is also preferred by people who are on the progressive side of politics.

Those who only recently started supporting the neofascist AfD are thought to be uncomfortable with its latest faux pas and are in the mood to move from the AfD to the BSW. This is more the case in the former East Germany than the west. For example, around 60% of those who voted (in 2021) for the AfD are likely to vote for BSW in the future.

In any case, the creation of the BSW (Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance) is only a small part of the massive upheaval in Germany’s political party landscape. 

The recent EU election as well as the important Sunday-question (the most reputable public polling) show that Sarah Wagenknecht’s BSW currently has between 5% and 9% of voter support (mid-June 2024).

This result for the BSW was more or less reflected in BSW’s victory in the European elections. In the former East Germany, Sahra Wagenknecht’s BSW landed in third place overall. Wagenknecht says that her BSW alliance has passed its “first test”. She also promised: “We will change politics in Germany.”

On that count, Wagenknecht has already succeeded – to a certain extent. With her “political start-up” she won an astounding more than 6% in the European elections and did this with a political party that was just a bit under six months old. In Germany’s political history, that is a momentous success. 

The BSW has stunned Germany’s two established political parties, the conservative CDU and the social-democrat SPD, as well as the neoliberal FDP and the progressive Left Party,

In the former East Germany, BSW is ahead of the social-democrat SPD and the environmentalist Greens, even though it is in third place behind the neofascist AfD and the conservative CDU. 

This is more than an extremely excellent starting point for the upcoming state elections scheduled for autumn 2024. However, in mid-June the BSW was still in the process of setting up party structures and recruiting staff.

Today, her BSW fans are in an exuberant mood. The poor result for the Greens in the EU election represented “good news” for the BSW. Meanwhile, some people attribute the slight losses for the AfD to the stratospheric rise of the BSW. 

In other words, some AfD voters have moved to the BSW. The equally poor performance of Wagenknecht’s former home – the progressive Die Linke – further added to the success of the BSW. In short, the BSW collected votes from the far-right AfD as well as from the progressive Die Linke.

Wagenknecht’s BSW-supporters truly believe that BSW made political history during the EU election. Yet, Fabio De Masi – the BSW’s top candidate for the European elections – warns that it is imperative for the BSW to remain realistic about future electoral prospects.

Unsurprisingly, Shervin Haghsheno – one of Sahra Wagenknecht’s key apparatchiks – also sees the recent EU election result as a “huge success” and as “evidence that there is a gap” in Germany’s political landscape. The BSW will fill that gap. Even among young voters, the BSW scored plenty of points. 

Some pundits argue that it was mainly “the peace issue”. Pro-Putin Sahra Wagenknecht strongly campaigned for immediate negotiations with Russia. She took a more pro-Russian view than is currently propagated Germany’s right-leaning corporate media.

Haghsheno argues that this has become “very important” again in recent weeks. He says, “this is a very emotional topic for many.” He is referring to the decision to allow Ukraine to use Western weapons against targets in Russia as well.

BSW has faithfully repeated the Kremlin’s saber-rattling and openly warned of a nuclear war during the election campaign. Sahra campaigned for her BSW party nationwide, with twenty election rallies in Germany’s largest cities, even though she herself was not even on the ballot. 

BSW has also reached a lot of people via online platforms (social media). That is important for a young political party that did not have as many resources when compared to other parties. Because of its electoral success, the BSW will send a newly elected team of six people to the EU parliament in Brussels.

Surprisingly, Ruth Firmenich was the only woman on the team who got into the EU parliament – she was ranked number 4 on the BSW list. The 60-year-old has worked in Brussels before. For five years she was a research assistant for Sahra Wagenknecht. 

At that time, she was in the EU parliament with Sahra Wagenknecht’s former political party, Die Linke. Later, she moved into Germany’s parliament (the Bundestag) in Berlin as office manager for Sahra, her boss.

After 15 years at Wagenknecht’s side, Firmenich will have to pack her bags for the move back to Brussels very soon, this time as an MEP – a member of the EU parliament. 

The Cologne-born Firmenich wants to advocate for a different peace policy. And, she says: “Taking care of Sahra Wagenknecht is going to be a challenge.”

The BSW’s Fabio de Masi, Thomas Geisel, Michael von der Schulenburg, Jan-Peter Warnke and Friedrich Pürner will also be packing their bags for the move. 

The BSW’s delegation is a rather colorful group since it contains anti-vaxxer Pürner, who gained notoriety as a critic of the Covid-19 measures during the pandemic. That resulted in him losing his job as head of a health office in Bavaria.

On the downside for BSW, the result was not good enough for Michael Lüders. The 65-year-old journalist, author and Middle East expert had been the “candidate of hearts” because he is well-liked inside the BSW. He was number 9 on the BSW list, and only got 6 seats.

Lüders, the foreign policy expert, sees the reason for the success of his party in the BSW’s position on the two wars: Gaza and Ukraine. He believes that the current “unrest” in Germany’s population is on the rise. 

He worries that German weapons will continue to be used against a Russia he doesn’t recognize as a ruthless aggressor after the mineral wealth of Ukraine and also engaging in “abduction and transfer” of children to Russia.

In the end, Wagenknecht’s BSW offers something that has never been seen before in Germany: a populist mixture of conservative social values spiced up with socialist economic values. Two things are indicative: 

  • 6% of Germans have aligned themselves with Wagenknecht’s rather odd mixture of “progressive-populist-conservative” ideology; and 
  • a rather significant group of people – 2.5 million – support Sahra Wagenknecht. 

Germany has never seen those two things: an anomalous collage of progressive/conservative ideas; and the massive support for a political party that only months before the EU election did not even exist. 

The closest analogy to the BSW internationally might be the Socialist Party (SP) in the Netherlands, which has now taken a tougher line on immigration and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) which, strangely, voted against a bill that supported same-sex marriage.

As it stands now, Sahra Wagenknecht and her BSW has truly shaken up Germany’s established system of political parties. She is, thankfully, a very serious challenge for the neofascist AfD

And she is set to win handsomely in the upcoming elections in three of the former East-German states of Saxony, Thuringia, and Brandenburg.

What happens after BSW’s era of “Realpolitik” begins, and how the party will shift political positions in order to advantage itself, is still to be seen.

Photo: Sahra Wagenknecht (source: YouTube)

Born on the foothills of Castle Frankenstein, Thomas Klikauer is the author of over 990 publications including a book on Alternative für Deutschland: The AfD – published by Liverpool University Press.

Danny Antonelli grew up in the USA, now lives in Hamburg, Germany and writes radio plays, stories and is a professional lyricist and librettist.

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