The fascist mobs in Chemnitz and the need for a radical way forward

A World to Win News Service for 20 September 2018 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it credited.

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The fascist mobs in Chemnitz and the need for a radical way forward

20 September 2018. A World to Win News Service. People in Germany and around the world were horrified by the images flashing across their TV screens at the end of August, not sure if they were seeing the return of the dark past or a preview of a horrible future. In the city of Chemnitz, located in the state of Saxony in former East Germany, hordes of Nazi hooligans and other right-wing thugs hunted down pedestrians who looked like “foreigners”, left-wing counter-demonstrators (who the Nazis call “ticks”) and journalists. Some people in the mob displayed Hitler salutes (officially forbidden in Germany) and chanted, “Germany for the Germans! Foreigners out!”, “This is our city!’, the Nazi slogan “Free, social and national!”, “We are football fans – Adolf Hitler hooligans” and “For every dead German, one dead foreigner.”

The immediate trigger for these lynch-mob outbursts was the death of a 35-year-old German, reportedly stabbed to death in a drunken brawl at a street festival. Two asylum-seekers were arrested almost immediately. One, described by the police as the “principal suspect”, was eventually released for lack of evidence. Even so this was just the kind of incident that the fascists were waiting for. Like lynch mobs in the U.S., an inflammatory rumour claimed that somehow the murder was connected with sexual assaults on women by refugees.

According to media reports, about 800 people responded to a call from the informal right-wing skin-heads and football hooligan scene and marched through the streets that same evening. On the following evening, about 6,000 people gathered in the city centre. Nazi street thugs came together with organized neo-Nazis and supporters of Alternative for Germany (AfD), a fascist party and now the country’s third biggest force in parliament. There were also many self-styled “concerned citizens” who reject the Nazi label but had no problem with other demonstrators making the Hitler salute and joining in chanting their slogans.

The police largely let the mob do what it wanted, even when it threatened and attacked people. The political significance of what went on during those days was described in a newspaper article: “But if you’ve followed the pogrom-like mood that has spread since the crime both in Chemnitz itself and on the Internet, if you’ve seen the scenes of mobs hunting down anyone who looks like they might be foreign, then it becomes clear that the demonstrators are less concerned with justice and mourning than they are with sending a message. A throng of several thousand right-wingers and right-wing extremists paraded through the city, throwing stones and displaying the Hitler salute… Something has emerged in Saxony whose dimensions we have never seen before. And it should be a cause of great concern. In the streets of Chemnitz, neo-Nazis, hooligans, supporters of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and disenfranchised citizens have coalesced into a lynch mob who see themselves as storm troopers on the front lines of German identity… How could such a thing happen?” (Die Zeit, 30 August 2018)

In the days immediately following, mainstream politicians reacted hesitantly. It took days before the Saxony Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer, from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and a federal minister went to Chemnitz. When on the following Saturday no less than 8,000 participants answered the AfD’s call for a “funeral march” to Chemnitz, counter-demonstrators, not even half as many, were able to block the route for so long that the march was finally dissolved. But this can hardly give reason to return to a business-as-usual agenda.

The events in Saxony are a major concentration of trends wracking all of Germany. In fact, the right-wing mob in Chemnitz was fuelled by a smear campaign carried out over the past months by mainstream politicians, not least the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s CDU, against asylum seekers (called “asylum tourists”). The racists could thus feel their view of the situation confirmed and feel strengthened in their demand that such words be followed by deeds.

The fascist pogrom found shameless allies in Merkel’s governing coalition and within the CSU. One of the vice-presidents of the German parliament declared that “at the root of the violence” was the Chancellor’s “We can do this” policy when her government decided to accept about a million immigrants in 2015. Merkel’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, from the CSU, even expressed his “understanding” for the racist demonstrators in Chemnitz and remarked that he himself would have taken part.

Justification of the Chemnitz lynch mob and political assaults on Merkel converge. In reaction to the huge, widespread disgust at the amateur videos showing the fascists in action, and in defense of her government and Germany’s current political system, Merkel issued a statement that her government would not tolerate “the hunting down of people who appear to be from immigrant backgrounds.” Directly and deliberately contradicting her, Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of the country’s internal security service, publicly retorted that his agency “does not have sufficient solid evidence to conclude that such a manhunt for immigrants actually took place.” “There is good reason to believe”, he continued, that the videos were “fake news meant to distract public attention from the crime committed in Chemnitz.”

This deliberate echoing of AfD propaganda and siding with the fascist mob from within Merkel’s government left it reeling. Immediately after the elections last year and the entry of 93 AfD stormtroopers into the Bundestag, Germany’s Parliament, Merkel had openly announced that she and her party would tack to the right to re-capture AfD supporters – a move that has proved, over and over in imperialist countries, only to give the fascists more legitimacy – as has now happened in Germany too. A tug-of-war erupted between Merkel and the Social Democrats (SPD) in her coalition, which demanded Maassen’s firing, and the CSU and forces around Seehofer, the Interior Minister, Maassen’s boss, who protected him. In the end, Maassen was allowed to resign as head of internal security – but he was awarded a higher Interior Ministry position! Seehofer was said to have gone on the offensive against Merkel to keep the AfD from conquering his CSU’s electoral base, and Merkel ceded ground. But the biggest winners were the AfD and the open Nazis whose political positions, once considered out of bounds, have been legitimized by the mainstream, and whose thirst for power can only have been whetted by this entire turn of events.

The history of the involvement of the German state and especially of its secret services in fascist operations goes back decades. Merkel’s previous Interior Minister was accused of supporting the AfD. He finally admitted to meeting with its leader, although he denied the charge that he advised them about how to avoid government surveillance. Perhaps the most significant case is that of the Nazi terror group the National-Socialist Underground (NSU), which over 13 years assassinated at least nine immigrants in cold blood, carried out bomb attacks and robbed banks. Several dozen informants from various state security and surveillance agencies circulated around the group, yet it supposedly remained undetected until it was finally exposed in 2011, when the file shredders in the various security authorities must have got very hot. In the course of the five-year-long trial in Munich of some NSU members and supporters, the court repeatedly refused to investigate state involvement or any additional supporters other than the five defendants. The relatively mild verdicts recently issued against these Nazis made the matter all the more outrageous. A trial observer summed up: “The fatal signal that was sent from Munich to the German Nazi scene was: This state will not prevent you from doing what you are doing.” And further: “Chemnitz could be understood as the implementation of this legal signal.”

The rise of the AfD and the broader development of the right in Germany would be unthinkable in such a form if this party were not receiving increasing support from the ranks of significant sections of the German bourgeoisie, partly open, partly covert. There is much more to this than tolerance and/or covert support for Nazis from certain sections of the state apparatus. Fascism is on the rise in many countries around the world, and Germany – long considered by many to be “immune” to this because of the Nazi past – has proved to be no exception. In the U.S., the most powerful imperialist country in the world, the Trump/Pence regime is working to consolidate its power. In Europe, fascists are entering one government after another, often in decisive positions, and persistently working to transform their countries according to their aspirations. Chemnitz marks a turning point, not only because of the extent of racist violence that escalated there, but especially because of the shift in the political framework in the world and Germany and what that portends.

While the AfD’s participation in the government is not a question on the table right now, the number of those who would rule it out in the future is falling sharply. Many Germans can hardly believe their eyes as ghosts of the past unexpectedly awaken to new life. Previously existing barriers for collaboration between militant neo-Nazis, the AfD as a parliamentary arm, “New Right” intellectuals and “concerned citizens” seem to have fallen. While Merkel has played a decisive role in the reactionary tightening of laws in recent years, including measures to expel immigrants and other harsh steps that belie her “Mother Merkel’ image, the entire right-wing political spectrum in Germany is uniting against her. The determination, brutality and cynical ruthlessness with which this unified right has seized the initiative has frightened many people and left them speechless.

In a recent interview with the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, AfD leader Alexander Gauland publicly announced that the aim is to bring down the “Merkel system” in Germany. This is not just about the overthrow of a head of government, but essentially about doing away with the liberal-democratic form of rule that has existed in the Federal Republic of Germany in the past decades and replacing it with the more naked dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Increasingly sharp contradictions are already becoming apparent. Who will prevail in the end seems to be more uncertain today than ever.

A particularly bad answer to these developments is the Aufstehen (Rise Up) project largely initiated by Sahra Wagenknecht, a leading politician of Die Linke (The Left Party). At its core, Die Linke aims to win a majority of voters again in Germany for a potential “left” government combining with the social-democrats (SPD) now in Merkel’s coalition, and, outside it, the Greens. The aim is to bring about a turn away from a “neo-liberal” (“free market”) orientation in business and politics and a return to the classic social democratic “welfare state” model of the 1980s.

Wagenknecht’s Aufstehen project could lead to a split in Die Linke. This shows how much the strengthening of the AfD is upsetting – and re-shaping – the entire bourgeois political spectrum. Wagenknecht & Co would like to win voters who have shifted to the AfD back to a “leftist” programme. But she does not want to confront their racism and German chauvinism, for which she expresses appreciation and which she constantly downplays. She would rather like to show that the AfD actually pursues a neo-liberal programme itself, and that only a “leftist” political agenda can respond to people’s material worries and needs. Basically, the credo is: a strong welfare state is the best answer to the rise of the AfD. But attempting to appeal to these voters by focusing on their own immediate “material” interests is dangerous for a number of reasons.

First, any real emancipatory politics cannot avoid engaging with people in an uncompromising ideological struggle over racist, chauvinist and other reactionary ideas that influence them. To reject that approach and instead merely appeal to narrowly understood “immediate” interests is not only a rejection of any claim to a liberating political perspective, but also, simultaneously, in a paternalistic way assumes that people are not in a position to broaden their outlook and stand up for goals that are higher than their own narrowest self-interest. Not least this means challenging “Germany for Germans” patriotism from the broader perspective of the interests of oppressed humanity.

Second, the assumption that people vote for right-wing parties primarily because of the economic and social consequences of neo-liberal politics is refuted by countless studies. On the contrary, AfD supporters base their election decisions more strongly on “cultural” factors such as the fear of an (imaginary) “Islamization”of German society, “social alienation” (the loss of socially shared values, customs, etc., and ripping apart of the perceived social fabric) and their opposition to the breakdown of traditional gender and family relationships. To the extent that individual AfD supporters could possibly be won over to any truly radical political approach, then it will only be by means of a hard ideological confrontation over these very questions.

Third, it is not out of the question that the AfD might ultimately exchange its neo-liberal program for intensified social demagogy. This would not be the first time in history, and such efforts already do exist within the AfD. What if at some point the AfD were to demand a higher minimum wage? What then, Sahra Wagenknecht?! During the late years of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) attempted to erect a wall against the growing Nazi movement by telling workers that the Nazis would ultimately break their promise to eliminate unemployment. Such a policy proved tragically wrong – and fruitless.

There are also positive developments working against the rise of the fascists and the country’s jolt to the right. Wherever fascists march, there are usually far more counter-demonstrators (at least outside Saxony). During the past months there have been huge protests against planned reactionary police laws, especially in Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia. Tens of thousands recently demonstrated throughout Germany for the rescue of refugees in the Mediterranean and against the cynical European policies that deliberately accept the drowning of thousands of people. Large protests are planned in Hamburg on 29 September and Berlin on 13 October. Such protests deserve support and must become even stronger.

At the same time, however, many people who are taking to the streets for such justified demands tend over and over again to seek a safe haven under “the wing of the bourgeoisie”, to quote Lenin. In this way, “fortress Europe” and the rise of fascist forces is combated with the illusory lure of a better “Europe of human rights and social justice”. Because broad circles don’t see or don’t know about a radical alternative to the ruling order, too many people who have some notion that fascism grows out of the womb of capitalist society ultimately wind up opposing the fascist danger with a defence of bourgeois democracy. Yet it was decades of the routine functioning of German bourgeois democracy, including during the years when the SPD led the country, which saw intensifying inequality, mega-brothels dotting the cities, the wage-slashing Hartz laws, millions of youth offered nothing but dead-end futures, while all along Germany’s bourgeoisie have kept their blood-drenched claws on its high-up position in the imperialist food chain – all this has paved the way for the declining legitimacy of liberal mainstream politics and the rise of the rabid fascist challenge. Today the liberal democrats in Germany, even as they squeal and protest, are ceding to the fascists over and over again. As shown vividly by Merkel’s latest concession, they care more about order than about justice.

All this underlines the critical importance of the task of the revolutionary communists to get out their vision of the emancipation of humanity, for which Bob Avakian’s new communism has opened new perspectives, more vigorously and widely among people looking for a real alternative, together with Avakian’s materialist analysis of the rise of the fascist forces in the US – the critical dangers this poses, and the pressing need to go boldly into the tumult and turbulence of the current upheavals with a genuinely emancipatory alternative (watch Avakian’s talk “The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go! In the Name of Humanity We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America! A Better World IS Possible! – ).

A few days after the Nazi manhunt in Chemnitz, a big open-air concert with well-known bands took place. The media estimated that about 65,000 people came to raise their voices against right-wing agitation and violence. The concert’s slogan was, Wirsindmehr – “We are more”. That may be true. In fact, AfD & Co represent only a minority of the population. But that offers little reassurance: When in 1933 the gears of supreme state power were handed over to Hitler & Co, only a minority of the population consisted of convinced Nazis. Nevertheless, the fascists were able to consolidate their power within a short time, through a combination of terror, fraud, demagogy, overpowering and bribery. All too many, including not a few later victims of the Nazi regime, kept calm at that time – out of fear, opportunism, an illusionary trust in the law and tradition in “civilized” Germany, out of greed or the deceptive hope that things would “not get so bad”. We must learn from that historical experience – quickly.

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