A Tough State and Soft Heads

Demo at Hoyerswerda 29 September 1991
Demo at Hoyerswerda 29 September 1991

Wildcat article on an anti-fascist demo in Hoyerswerda, Germany, in response to a week of racist violence in the town in September 1991.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 28, 2021

The following does not claim to be a comprehensive critique of the demonstration in Hoyerswerda. A vehement discussion is currently taking place in Berlin on this. The demo was successful on a number of scores: there was a lot of spraying and sticking up posters (for a few days Hoyerswerda must have been the most colourful town in the Federal Republic). On the day a lot of things were discussed in general and this probably had consequences which went beyond the day of the demo. Instead we want to draw attention to a few weak points in autonomous anti fascism and pose a few questions which are, unfortunately, not being raised by anyone at all. The following is, therefore, a mere start and not an analysis of the overall situation; just a few ideas on how our struggle against racist tendencies and our intervention in the class struggles of '91/92 might look.

Until the 1960's Hoyerswerda was a small village in Saxony. Then a "workers' town" with 60,000 inhabitants was built overnight, with almost everyone there working in the brown coal mines. From the early 1980's on, the G.D.R. imported tens of thousands of cheap labourers from Mozambique and Vietnam to work in the Cottbuss brown coal mines. They were crammed into hostels, with frequently 4.5 men to a room. With the end of the G.D.R. and the projected closure of the gigantic open pit, brown coal mines they were gradually sent back to their home countries. About 200 were still there when a group of fascists drove Vietnamese traders from the weekly market in the middle of September. The latter retreated into the hostel. That night stones were thrown at the hostel... For some time the management of the brown coal mines had been making life difficult for the foreign workers. For example, they had raised the bonus for German workers by more than DM 800, whilst raising it by about DM 200 for the foreigners and simultaneously making an "offer" to these workers to terminate their contracts prematurely. Instead of accepting this they went on strike for the same bonuses, and the management responded by forbidding them entry to the company premises. Subsequently, negotiations followed in the hostel without producing any results three hours later the attacks on the hostel started. In order to get rid of the foreign workers, the enterprise would have had to give them severance pay. (There is also a rumour that the owners paid or incited the fascists; some people claim to have seen them talking.) The following night the fascists returned, and this time there were two dozen of them. The workers finally lost their tempers and hit back with a counter attack. Afterwards the attacks shifted to the hostel for refugees applying for political asylum and intensified each night. Fascists came from the whole surrounding area, and gradually about 300 people gathered around the scene, clapping every time mollies hit their targets. The crowd also included a number of youths who wanted to have a go at the police and who couldn't care less about the fascists and the foreigners. For days on end the state played little games with its ostensible helplessness before suddenly arranging for most of the workers and all the refugees to be transported away on 29th September: through rows of applauding residents from the neighbourhood.

"Hoyerswerda" was the most concentrated mobilisation of the state to take place so far. At the same time it revealed the most concentrated agreement between the left and the state: from pamphlets to the taz (left/alternative newspaper) to Springer's Morgenpost agreement prevailed: the Ossis (East Germans) had to be taught democracy. The taz even went so far as to demand BGS (Federal Border Police), barbed wire and stricter laws for the Ossis.

On 9th September a convoy of some 1,000 people set off from Berlin for an "anti racist demo" in Hoyerswerda. After gathering on a car park outside the town, the demo proceeded towards the new town: an incredible mixture of 60's style rabbit hutches one slab of concrete after another, visibly beginning to disintegrate built for the working class in the period of real socialism. There were the standard slogans "Nazis out, foreigners in" (not being able to think of anything better we decided to stay quiet), there were those who, with foaming mouths, planted themselves in front of the blocks of flats, pointing up at the people on the balconies shouting "You should be ashamed!", "Anyone who remains silent agrees!", "Nazis out!". Such clear expressions of one's political standpoint were followed by deeds: cars were attacked and stones thrown at private dwellings.

Then the cops formed a thin line in front of the (deserted) refugee hostel and wouldn't let us go any further. Demonstrators began, as a result, to break up concrete slabs and to prepare to charge through the police line only to be immediately surrounded by others wanting to stop them. The masked demonstrators retorted with "autonomous reformists!", punches and hitting people on the head with batons. Finally, the demo leaders decided to turn back. We could no longer stand it in the demo with the moralistic, anti fascist slogans, its inner confusion and the aggression directed at each and everyone there, and five of us set off for "enemy territory". During our walk through the new town we ran into people who were, almost without exception, horrified about the attacks on foreigners but who did not see any way of intervening personally or of at least standing up and stating quite clearly that they thought that what was happening was shit. One young woman said: all the older people think like my mother, that what the fascists did was good. In the future it will be embarrassing if someone asks you where you come from. When we returned to the demo it had been standing in front of a second police cordon of the BGS. Negotiations were conducted for about two hours. This time outside pressure had once again ignited bloody disputes within the demo. In the meanwhile its character had also begun to change: an increasing number of young people from Hoyerswerda began to join the demonstration, making announcements over the loudspeaker. An old man standing on a balcony waved his red flag and lowered drinks, others distributed sandwiches among the demonstrators ... As it was already beginning to get dark, we were finally given permission with vicars leading the way to start demonstrating. When we set off there were about a thousand of us and probably about a thousand came out and joined in; by the end of the demo there were about three thousand of us i.e. several hundred people from Hoyerswerda had joined in (in front of the demo, behind the demo, most of them alongside it, but quiet a few of the courageous people joined in). The demo came to an end at the workers' hostel, where 21 people from Mozambique were still staying. They were in the two top floors (probably the 11th and 12th) and hung white sheets out of the windows. Now the emotional climax was reached: "We've got a song for you." And then it was played through the loudspeakers at full power: "Deutschland verrecke! (Go to hell Germany)". This is when most of the demonstrators with black masks discovered the child inside each of them, their knees went weak and they began to dance and shout for joy. International solidarity had been re established, the demo was a complete success at least for all those who thought that they would be running into 60,000 fascists and now saw that this was not the case! For everyone else a number of questions remain open:

1) With the new Law on Foreigners, with the fascist groups bawling their heads off at the Polish border, with the systematic attacks on hostels for foreigners, and not least with African workers and asylum applicants being driven out of Hoyerswerda together with the gestures by politicians and the Police operations, the Federal German state is preparing a new sector of the labour market: the (illegal) exploitation of several million new immigrants "Hoyerswerda" was the provisional climax of a state campaign against the immigrants coming here and the foreigners who live here.

This constellation is remarkably similar to that of 1986: industrialists in the Federal Republic are faced with the problem that immigration is now declining substantially (in the building industry, catering and agriculture there are bitter complaints about a "shortage of labour") following the 1.1 million coming across from the East in 1988 an 1989. In analysis and strategy papers prepared for their own use, industrialists and their consultants assume that the Federal Republic will require several million new immigrants in the 90's. For some months now politicians have been stirring up the "refugee question" (although people applying for refugee status only constitute a minute proportion of immigrants). The FRG needs more immigrant workers who should not, however, come here feeling self confident but intimidated and as "tolerated" workers. The state is experimenting: huge waves of immigration have, to be sure, always led to explosions within the class, but have usually and rapidly also brought fresh wind into the class struggles ("Italian strikes" in the sixties, "Turkish strikes" at the beginning of the seventies, etc.) Whereas earlier state measures aimed at "integrating guest workers", they are now directed towards "making immigration precarious": work permits for persons applying for refugee status, eroding the laws on political asylum, the new Law on Foreigners, the toleration of fascist groups, the media campaign over the "issue of political asylum" (racist conditioning of the indigenous working class), the sudden outcry in the media over attacks on "foreigners" (with the desired imitations). These are all aspects of a state strategy which is intended to prepare the ground for the immigrants arriving in the next few years.

2) This campaign is also directed against the entire working class and, in particular, against the threat of struggles in the former GDR.

The many attacks on hostels for foreigners over the past few years were generally published as short reports on the "colour page" of the newspapers. In the week in which the press suddenly took a fancy to publishing these attacks on the first page of the paper, a few thousand workers at the Tridelta Werke (an electronics company) occupied the Hermsdorfer motorway intersection a few miles away, shutting it down for the entire Friday afternoon. They had discovered that Tridelta was to be shut down. This kind of struggle was unprecedented in the history of the Federal Republic (at best there had been the one minute motorway occupation under the strictest control of the unions following prior consultation with the police) and it was not to be allowed to spread under any circumstances. For in the coming months, hundreds of thousands of dismissals are impending in the south of the GDR And in the Hoyerswerda area two events are taking place almost simultaneously, as in the rest of the former GDR: two days after the demo took place the rents were increased five and even six fold. A one room flat in one of the glorious housing blocks now costs DM 250 (= £87 per month). Secondly, at the end of the year the short time working regulation will cease to apply: almost all the 60,000 workers in Hoyerswerda work in the open pit brown coal mines and in coal processing, which are to be reduced in size at the end of this year. Unemployment will be sent soaring. What will happen if the workers revolt? What will happen if they discover their power in the conglomeration of Hoyerswerda? The working class in the former GDR has not ceased struggling and putting up resistance since the GDR was driven to collapse. By stirring up "hatred of foreigners" two things have been achieved: the people have been given a scapegoat within reach for their own impoverished situation, and at the same time all Ossis have been branded potential racists in order to intimidate them and to keep a lid on the impending class struggles.

3) Hatred of foreigners grows from below. There are countless isolated reactions (in the family, in the "German" housing estate, groups of different nationalities in the factories, during leisure time, etc.) to the uncertainty and, in some cases, aggravation of material conditions by the 1.1 million "immigrants from the east", to the stagnation in class struggles in the old Federal German state, to the widespread social rejection and mobilisation experienced through "re unification"', to the traumatic events taking place at the level of "foreign policy" (the Gulf War, the civil war in Yugoslavia ...). There is widespread fear of the future (ecological, with the war, with mass unemployment or for whatever reason). There is growing aggression and an increasing tendency to make "too many foreigners" responsible for one's own problems and even more so for fears projected into the future. People are becoming more aggressive. And, in general, the situation is reminiscent of the sixties and the defamation of the "Itacker" (a pejorative term for Italians): as being lazy, depressing wages, chasing the German women etc ... Two things are different: today there are far more movements, but there is far less of the spirit of upheaval and revolt than in the sixties. This has made it very easy for the state so far to exploit these tendencies in the class for its own use.

4) There is no left in the world which cares so little about the "proletarian world" yet is so ready to put the blame on "racism, fascism, sexism, Teutomania" etc. etc. when problems arise. These slogans have one prime goal: to keep the social reality at bay and to confront them on a moral level only.

The mobilisation which followed Hoyerswerda took place under the banner of moral outrage: "You make us sick and now we're gonna show you!" Some anti fascists saw it as a "punitive expedition" and let themselves go accordingly. They still maintain after the event that "90 or 99%" of the inhabitants of Hoyerswerda are fascists.

Nobody took the trouble to see whether there were real problems between the "foreigners" and the "Hoyerswerda locals" (all of whom are "newcomers"), or how people have dealt with the situation up to now. These are problems which exist in any (alternative/leftist) scene pub and in every squat in which German comrades and foreigner workers try to live together. For example, there have also been fights with Africans in Kreuzberg scene pubs because they tried to get off with the women; there were also fights at the demo between "Germans" and "foreigners" Is it an accident when it happens "in our circles"? Racism when it takes place among workers?? Something that has to be kept hushed up when it happens among refugees???

5) "Hoyerswerda" was and is being used by the political class (from the [neo fascist] Republicans to the Greens) for their own use. The state created a fait accompli when it deliberately rushed the "endangered foreigners" away in buses: an invitation to Nazis and their drunken mates to continue. It succeeded far better as a state spectacle directed against new immigrants than the brutal expulsion of Albanian refugees from Italy in that case the state was visible, in Germany the "mood of the people" is presented as something which the state can hide behind or oppose.

The campaign is better prepared and with more advance planning than the "Flutkampagne" denouncing the flood of refugees, especially via East Berlin of 1986 (at the time the state campaign tended to produce solidarity). That also led to a considerable dissolution of solidarity among institutional groups and the liberal left. Today almost everyone, from left to right, from green to brown, church to "pro asyl", Turk to Ossi agrees on two points: first we haven't got anything against foreigners. Secondly, the boat is full. The only ones who aren't in this front are the industrialists. The Wirtschaftswoche (c.f. the Economist) carried the headline "There is still room in the boat", adding quite bluntly that the whole dispute was mere "electioneering". The CDU was trying to gain votes with the "asylum question". Lafontaine, who for years has counted among the most savage demagogues opposing applicants for asylum and immigrants from the east, made an effective media pose standing on the market square at Hoyerswerda. The "taz" demanded border police and barbed wire against the "Ossis", who weren't yet ripe for democracy. The German left more or less "nationalised" itself (from the green to the autonomous social workers). At best they envisage "politics from below" as street work. Their practice confirms the fascist view of the world: oppose the left and their state ...

6) The West German state uses the fascists. The German state cannot cover the "new Federal Länder" as extensively as it would like to, and in a manner to which we Wessis are accustomed. There is little police presence, social workers are scarce, etc.. But this state is in the process of coming out of its position of weakness. Southern Italy is an example of the way in which weak state presence need not mean anarchy at all: there the mafia has assumed the functions of the state. Hoyerswerda demonstrates that this state can use a dozen fascists in order to show all foreigners with the help of the media (including the "left") that this time the wind of change is blowing: that is why those who fled from Hoyerswerda will continue to be given bad treatment in an exemplary fashion (through being torn apart, not legalised, etc). Yet the power of the state really is too weak in the area which was formerly the GDR, and not only against the hooligans. It hasn't had any means so far of proceeding, for example, against motorway occupations, strikes, etc.. A few fascists are certainly not enough to make up for this. on the other hand, an excuse was needed: one cannot openly send in troops trained in putting down civil disobedience just one year after re unification. The excuse for moving in the border police is now there (the taz has grounds to celebrate!).

Triggered off by the politicians and the media, there were systematic attacks on hostels for foreigners throughout Germany. For the first time the fascists had a broad public impact. Hundreds of right wing drinking pals finally felt called upon to act.

Nor can the observation of a LKA (state criminal investigation department) cop be dismissed out of hand, i.e. that some of the attacks were "in their precision, untypical of the far right scene", and untypical was also the fact that there were not any letters claiming to have been responsible ... What was the story behind "Gladio"? (see Wildcat 53 p16, c.f. also the use of fascists by the state in other NATO countries, e.g. Italy.)

7) The West German state uses the anti fascists. Political fascism as a revolutionary strategy is finished. It is no longer able to do anything which cannot be functionalised by either the state or the Nazi squads. It has no political substance: when organised anti fascists announce that the situation now is the same as in 1933 they only make fools of themselves. They have no moral substance: the hardest fights and the largest number of casualties came about as a result of demonstrators attacking one another at Hoyerswerda. The functionalisation of young kids who see to it that the heat really gets turned on at demos is now rebounding. Political anti fascism is now only a recruiting ground for hierarchically structured, political organisations and, of course, continues to be a field of activity for militant big shots. However, this should by no means distort our view of the many new people who are simply sick of the way in which foreigners are being treated here, and who want to do something about it. As long as we have nothing better to suggest and to practice, they will first politicise themselves through the anti fascist groups ...

8) Let's turn "Hoyerswerda" on its head. The demonstration in Hoyerswerda was a concentrated experience which could happen anywhere in this society: decisive action can rapidly become a crystallisation point, since the atmosphere has become highly politicised everywhere.

* In a Berlin factory, with an almost exclusively Turkish workforce, the mass employment of Vietnamese, and then of immigrants from the east, and finally of Ossis, completely undermined the combativeness of the collectivity. Following the Gulf War huge splits appeared among the workforce: playing cards, eating, talking with one another in the breaks all these things were done almost exclusively according to nationality. The press reports about Hoyerswerda did a lot to break this down and set things in motion: the Turks first started to discuss it a lot among themselves, asking how they could deal with the situation (it is important to know that they started to conquer the surrounding area this summer together with their families: you can now buy döner kebabs at all weekly markets within a radius of 50 km, as well as Turkish clothes etc.). Then there was a lot of aggression directed primarily against Ossis with short hair: "Hey, are you also a fascist?" and so on. Over the next few days this behaviour was greatly stepped up by the Turkish and Vietnamese workers and directed against all German supervisors. After a while they no longer dared go near the assembly lines because they were greeted everywhere with cries of "Heil Hitler!" and so on. The day the state expelled the foreigners from Hoyerswerda the supervisors felt compelled to issue a formal declaration that they were not Nazis, had nothing against foreigners and that they regretted the incident. In this heated and highly politicised situation the Ossi's and the Turks did at least start to talk to one another. Yet a week later the discussion subsided: the debate in the Bundestag on the current situation and the newspaper reports were generally understood as an all clear signal, the German state would protect people because it still wants to have foreigners working here.

* People in Berlin occupied a house in Königs Wusterhausen, the stronghold of the regional fascist scene. When they moved in they first had to paint over the Nazi slogans inside the house. They are trying out a mixture of living, making music, doing cultural projects, creating a meeting place for youths and space for everyone. They have had trouble with the Nazis and things have been demolished, mollies thrown, cars wrecked in front of the house, etc.. At the annual "beach party", which has been violently disrupted by Nazis for the past three years, it comes to the (prepared) show down: 40 fascists with baseball bats are driven off by 20 people. One fascist is left lying on the ground with a cracked skull. The next evening a group of people are shot at from a big BMW passing by, someone is hit in the upper arm. But these are acts of desperation by the fascists. Anti fascist activities follow, scaring the young Nazis to such an extent that they leave their outfits at home and stop running around in Königs Wusterhausen and call a "peace conference". But, above all, the people in the squat have succeeded in rapidly establishing good contact with their neighbours and they write: "The Ossis are provincial somehow, you notice that because they are so damned human. Thank God we are immune to that because we walk around in a suit of armour full of prejudices which we would call racism elsewhere." The (autonomous) left, with its (superficial) morality distorts analysis of any social reality. The real phenomenon, i.e. that the class is directing its hatred against itself in some cases, is only dealt with as fear (mixed up with the fear of their own decline). Shouting their own fears into the society: "Foreigners, don't go to the DDR!", "Girls, don't go on the streets!", "Tomorrow it will be your turn!!"" are no substitute for revolutionary politics.

Instead of withdrawing and isolating ourselves in line with the general trend we must intervene!

Not as a punitive expedition of people with a superior morality, but in confronting the situation day by day. That presumes that we learn to distinguish between real problems and fascist slogans. And that we have some idea of the way to overcome these problems.

We need access to the entire class situation if we want to intervene in a revolutionary sense.