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"We all want democratic socialism, but how do we spell it?"

Sabine Ritter and Thomas Iwan talked to each other for the first time this summer.

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"We all want democratic socialism, but how do we spell it?"

Sabine Ritter and Thomas Iwan talked to each other for the first time this summer. You, the 54-year-old sociologist and lecturer. He, the 36-year-old economist and civil engineer. A basis was then quickly found. "We don't tick the same way on all political issues, but we agree that we're both left-wing," says Ivan. They could work together, he adds, while Ritter nods in agreement. This means the task of getting the Hamburg left back on track, which is why Ritter and Iwan are running for the new dual leadership of the state association next weekend. But reaching the goal is more like an obstacle course, since the Hanseatic left is seen as divided, shattered and crumbling.

Ritter and Iwan took a seat in a café in the Karoviertel to talk to WELT AM SONNTAG, in the middle of the lively island between Feldstraße and Schanze. The quarter has blossomed from a former slum into a lively part of St. Pauli, with boutiques and jewelery shops, bars and restaurants, as the city planners describe it. It's a good patch for the left, who got the most votes in this district in the 2020 general election with 28.8 percent after the Greens. And the Hamburg-wide result of 9.1 percent gives an idea of ​​the potential of the party in that metropolis where the gap between millionaires and those on social security is said to be larger than anywhere else in Germany.

However, as FC St. Pauli fan Ritter writes in her application to the members, her party has been “in a deep crisis” for some time now. In Hesse, for example, accusations of sexism against the leadership were added to the ongoing dispute between the wings and the disastrous result of the federal election, while in Hamburg the incumbent chairman Keyvan Taheri denounced racism in his own ranks.

In a Facebook post at the beginning of July, the politician with Iranian roots attested to his party's "lack of unity and clear positions on key issues" as well as "dictation from the top down". Migrants were also “denounced and insulted”. The state and parliamentary group leaders reacted with astonishment to the allegations, which Taheri has not substantiated to this day, and vehemently rejected them.

But like a red thread, in addition to the means of “self-mutilation” – and the members self-critically admit this to this newspaper – the “penetrative urge to discuss” through the state association and “to internal trench warfare”. The picture that the left is currently drawing of itself is as multifaceted as the number of its currents - a pool founded in 2007 of the disappointed, the failed and the forgotten, of comrades, socialists, communists, anti-capitalists and greens, of dreamers, reformers and realists.

What some in the party call vibrant, others call grueling. Because it is the internal cacophony, firmly anchored in the base, that keeps getting in the way of the content and ideals of the self-proclaimed do-gooders. This goes so far that the “Liste Links” group, brimming with radicalism and dogmatism, is tolerated in its own ranks, even though some observers believe their influence is currently dwindling.

And yet the fundamental conflict between those who want to reform the country and those who are striving for system change remains. "We all want to change the world, because it sucks," says Ritter. It is also about what the left understands by democratic socialism. "We all want it, but how do we spell it?" asks the 54-year-old. Her suggestion: “We come from different directions, but move in a broad corridor in which we want to work together. It is not without reason that we all ended up in one party.”

The national association currently has 1,800 members. Sabine Ritter and Thomas Iwan believe it is possible to pacify them all. Not only because she "does not want to imagine a German political landscape without a powerful left-wing party," emphasizes the sociology lecturer at the University of Bremen. But also because "left-wing politics focuses on social equality, without which there is no freedom". To be left means to be emancipatory and to fight for ways together that enable everyone to live freedom, explains Ritter, who does not feel that she belongs to any current. She has ideals, but sees herself as a pragmatist who wants to make concrete offers to improve people's lives.

Offers that the city's employed bridge construction engineer Ivan explains using an example. "It annoys me how the federal government is considering the topic of saving energy," says the 36-year-old, adding: "We get tips everywhere about how long we can shower or how many degrees we can heat our apartment to. Apparently everyone has to step back now.” However, this is “an absolute mockery for all those who have been holding back for a long time”. These people don't need any money-saving tips because they already know "how and where they save because they have to do it to make ends meet."

He therefore suggests: “Why don't we talk about why landlords have failed to properly insulate their homes? Why should we take cold showers instead of enforcing regulations that people no longer heat their pools until the end of the day? Why is there a call to save electricity while huge billboards are being lit up in Hamburg?” Since a large part of the population is already cutting back, business and the public sector now have the opportunity to follow suit, demands Iwan, who sees himself as a progressive leftist.

For his comrade-in-arms Ritter, it is "completely incomprehensible" why many European countries are introducing an excess profit tax, while FDP Finance Minister Christian Lindner "sits like a Cerberus in front of the finance gate and protects the companies". According to Ritter, we are currently experiencing "a multiple crisis of the most violent proportions, the likes of which the Republic has never experienced before". And the level that “shovels its pockets full” due to Corona, the war and other crises sails happily past everyone, while others are supposed to wash themselves with a washcloth,” she criticizes.

The complete offer from Ritter and Iwan is five pages long, poured into a lead motion signed by more than 100 party members, wing-spanning. The paper - "an alternative to the prevailing policy" - calls for a Hamburg minimum wage of 13.50 euros and an increase in social benefits, the continuation of the 9-euro ticket and a ban on electricity and gas cuts, a rent cap, and the remunicipalisation of hospitals as well as Tempo 30 throughout the city. In addition, Ritter and Iwan are committed to "finally adopting an ecological investment package that lives up to its name".

In Hamburg, however, "a hardcore Realo wing of the Greens with the Seeheimer Kreis" governs, i.e. the business-friendly wing of the SPD, as Iwan calls the red-green alliance of Mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD). In this state, both parties are not capable of forming a coalition for the left. "Should that change, we will let the SPD and the Greens know," emphasizes Ivan. Ritter also considers a fundamental incompatibility decision to be wrong. First of all, according to Ritter, Hamburg needs a “socialist left that is not afraid of a confrontation with the powerful in politics and business”. She wants a policy "that keeps an eye on social equality" and "creates spaces for discussions at eye level" within the party.

On the way to the 2025 state elections, Ritter and Iwan, unlike other party members, seem to have understood that it is not enough to protest against everything. "We have to show people," says Ivan, "that we are committed to making improvements in their lives bit by bit". If his party has managed to do that, "people will listen to us when we draw a larger social sketch".

Ritter and Iwan's application is initially a proposal to the 138 Elblinken delegates who will vote on September 10 in the Wilhelmsburg community center. "We two cover a wide range of left-wing positions with our candidacy," says Sabine Ritter, and therefore has legitimate hopes that she will be named the new dual leadership in Hamburg together with Thomas Iwan. Other applicants can register until the party conference. It will be a directional choice for the left.

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