German Fascism on the Rise
Defend the Left and Workers’ Movement
The following is an edited version of an article from the December 1992 issue of Bolschewik, publication of the Gruppe Spartakus, German section of the International Bolshevik Tendency.
Last year when asylum seekers in Hoyerswerda had to flee for their lives from a fascist mob, bourgeois public opinion criticized the “inefficiency” of the police. Recently, when the living quarters in Rostock of immigrants seeking asylum went up in flames, a great sigh of relief was heard throughout the land: “The reason for the attacks is finally gone!” The German public is growing accustomed to the daily reports of fascists burning down houses, desecrating Jewish cemeteries and launching murderous attacks on immigrants, lesbians, gays and leftists.
The latest mass demonstrations in Berlin and Bonn have shown that hundreds of thousands of people support the retention of the democratic right to asylum. The fact that these actions were limited to one–day events, and the opportunism of the major organizations that participated (particularly the Party of Democratic Socialism [PDS—the successor to the former Stalinist ruling party of East Germany] and the Greens), made it easy for the German Social Democratic Party (SPD—the main parliamentary opposition to the three party coalition government) to use the demonstrations to push their own nationalist/racist plans for dismantling the right to asylum.
Racist Hatred and Fascist Action
The interplay between the parliamentarians and the fascists is clear for anyone to see. The stage is set with the “official” expressions of xenophobic nationalism, such as the constant complaints about the “flood” of asylum seekers (often described as “economic refugees”) who supposedly threaten to “overwhelm” Germany. The fascists eagerly seize on these sentiments, and set out to “solve the problem” through terrorist attacks. The police, who pretend to be unable to do anything about these attacks, are utilized only when the Nazis threaten to get out of control.
When the authorities decide that the right–wing thugs need to be mined in a bit, they usually only place them under “temporary arrest.” Meanwhile, leftist anti–fascist demonstrations (for example, those in Hof and Rostock) are met by overwhelming mobilizations of police and border control troops. Last year the black/yellow (conservative/libera1 coalition) government began stepping up their campaign of racist nationalism. Of course, the German bourgeoisie and the democratic politicos do not embrace the murderous program of the Nazi mobs; they only want to modify immigration procedures to make them more closely correspond to the requirements of German capital.
When the international coverage of pogroms against asylum seekers and immigrants begins to threaten Germany’s image and export markets, these democratic servants of capitalism announce that the fascists have gone too far. But while deploring fascist excesses, the capitalists still use the fascist attacks to anchor more deeply in the “soul of the people” the big lie that asylum seekers are the cause of the embarrassing racist/nationalist violence. German nationalism does not cost anything, yet it is very profitable for the bourgeoisie. Nationalism obscures the reasons for sinking living standards, unemployment and housing shortages. The campaign against asylum seekers is the marching music accompanying the emergence of German imperialism as a new, more aggressive, world power. The re–emergence of German imperialism on the world stage means the erosion of social and political rights at home.
Theodor Waigel, the minister of finance, indicated the sort of game bourgeois democrats and fascists are playing over the asylum question when he said he thought the coalition government should have a “right profile.” In the midst of a three–day long fascist assault on immigrant living quarters in Rostock, the SPD decided to drop its opposition to amending the constitutional right of asylum. An SPD spokesperson in the state parliament for Mecklenburg–Vorpommern (where Rostock is located), who had earlier pointed to SPD complicity in the pogroms in Rostock, was fired. Oscar Lafontaine, SPD vice–chairman and the party’s candidate for chancellor in the last general election, went even further than the government and advocated the cancellation of the right of individual appeal procedures for asylum seekers. The SPD leaders have now effectively agreed to the abolition of the right of asylum. They apparently hope that their pursuit of a “grand coalition” will enable them to retain the support of the rightward–moving elements in their electoral base. The fascists have good reason to feel heartened by all of this.
The Prospects for Fascism
In Bolschewik No. 1 (May 1992) we wrote: “The left and the workers’ movement must succeed in driving the fascist rats back into their holes before they grow into a mass movement.” Recent events have underscored the urgency of stopping the resurgent fascist movement. There is a growing danger of the development of a centrally organized mass fascist party. Such a formation, recruiting from sections of the petty bourgeoisie, the unemployed and rightist workers, could use traditional fascist anti–capitalist demagogy to gain a mass base. The widespread sympathy shown for the fascist attacks in Rostock, for example, should sound a warning.
The experiences of the 1930s demonstrate the nature of fascism. It aims to destroy the workers’ movement, while politically atomizing the rest of the population and suppressing all bourgeois–democratic rights. The fascists aspire to replace parliamentary democracy with a ruthless terrorist dictatorship, committed to maintaining the rule of big capital. In spite of all the talk these days about Helmut Kohl’s “Fourth Reich,” things have not gone that far yet. The fascist actions in Rudolstadt last August and Rostock in September, however, show that the fascists are coordinating their activities. The German Alternative, a Nazi group, is seeking to create a “Special Mobile Detachment East,” to link the forces of the German National Party, the Free Workers’ Party, NSDAP/AO and the Halle German Youth (Tageszeitung, 17 October 1992). The targets for their terrorist attacks are clear: first the asylum seekers, then the immigrants, and then they will begin large–scale, organized attacks on the left and the workers’ movement. The banning of fascist groups by the bourgeois state will have no effect. As in the past, every banned group will rapidly reappear as a “new” formation, with the toleration of the authorities.
Reformist Betrayal by SPD, DGB, PDS
The Nazis are not yet attacking larger gatherings and demonstrations of the organized left and workers’ movement. However, the obvious inexperience, ignorance and disorientation of the left, (for example, the deluded appeals to the state) and the active sabotage of the SPD, threaten to lead to tragedy in the coming confrontation with the fascists. In spite of all their “immigrant–friendly” propaganda, the PDS has refused to differentiate itself from the treacherous policies of the SPD, and failed to call for real actions against fascism. The outrage of tens of thousands of PDS militants has been squandered by their leaders (Gregor Gysi and Hans Modrow) in a series of impotent protests and assemblies.
The PDS, as well as the DGB (the main West German trade–union federation) called for participation in the 8 November 1992 demonstration in Berlin initiated by two of the government parties to prettify the international image of “the ugly German.” Leftists could not participate in this sham aimed at covering up for the democratic racists and nationalists, but instead had a duty to denounce the official hypocrisy, and to organize counteractions and try to influence those well–meaning demonstrators who were being used. The justified disruption by the anarchoid Autonomen of this cynical maneuver at least partially lifted the mask of hypocritical concern worn by German president Weizacker & Co. for the occasion. The capitalist media was full of denunciations of “red fascists” and “rally terrorists” in their coverage of the event.
The SPD leadership has had some problems implementing their leaders’ pro–government policies on the asylum question. But the results of several SPD state conventions show that the so–called leftists in the SPD are not really concerned about retaining the present unrestricted right of asylum. Instead, they agreed to limit Article 16 of the constitution governing the right of asylum, and they also endorsed a restrictive immigration law. In reference to the latter, Hans–Ulrich Klose, the SPD’s parliamentary fraction chief, has already indicated that this anti–democratic decision is insufficient. The banner carried by the Young Socialists (SPD–Youth) in Rostock, which asked: “Racism in instalments, Social Democrats?” indicates that there may be elements in the SPD base opposed their leaders’ capitulation to the right. Yet it appears unlikely that there will be any real pressure from the SPD base for militant action against the Nazis.
The DGB bureaucrats must proceed a little more cautiously than their parliamentary colleagues, because some unions have concentrations of immigrant members. On paper the DGB leadership advocates keeping Article 16, but in practice, the union bureaucrats willingly associate themselves with the initiatives of the bourgeois democrats and the employers. The left’s attempts to organize large mobilizations to counter the Nazis in Wunsiedel and Rostock were both deliberately sabotaged by the DGB leadership.
Which Way Forward Against Fascism?
Only the workers’ movement, with its large component of immigrants, has the social power to smash the fascists. To do so, it will be necessary to go beyond the bounds of what the capitalists are willing to approve. Every day the contradictions of German capitalism produce new cadres for fascism, yet so far the workers’ movement has been very slow to respond. After the murderous fire–bombing in Molln, people all over the country began talking about the need for organized self–defense. Today there are thousands of trade unionists and leftists participating in hundreds of local anti–fascist alliances and anti–racist groups. It is vitally necessary to bring together and coordinate these diverse initiatives. The best way to do this is through the trade unions.
Despite the passivity or hostility of the trade–union bureaucrats, union militants must seek to forge united–front alliances for self–defense. Union–based defense groups should be based on a few clear demands: expel all fascists from the DGB; for mass mobilizations to prevent fascist demonstrations; no free speech for fascists; full citizenship rights for all immigrants; defense of the right to asylum.
Effective self–defense can ensure the security of all the potential victims of Nazi attack. The mass industrial unions, with branches throughout Germany, are the natural means of connecting the dispersed forces of all the organizations of immigrants, asylum seekers, gays and lesbians, leftists and other anti–fascists. A first step for trade–union defense groups would be to organize protection for immigrant and minority living quarters, as well as demonstrations and forums of the left and immigrants. Then it is necessary to find out when and where the fascists meet, to locate their headquarters, and move against them. It is necessary to break up major national fascist gatherings, such as their annual rally at Wunsiedel. Only by successfully confronting the fascists can they be demoralized and dispersed. If the left and workers’ movement fails to take steps in this direction today, the fascists will launch even more brutal attacks tomorrow. Those who naively imagine that they can set about “peacefully persuading” the Nazis to reform themselves are likely to be rewarded with a whack on the head.
The precondition for effective anti–fascist action is organization on an independent working–class basis. This precludes any concessions to democratic racism or nationalism. The impotence of pacifist/liberal protests that straddle the class line is underlined by the current growth of the fascists. The Gruppe Spartakus participates in anti–fascist actions, even ones limited in scope, as long as they do not sabotage the struggle against the Nazis. Ultimately, the struggle against the fascists can only be successful to the extent that it brings to bear the social weight of the organized proletariat, involving the masses of workers throughout the country.