German neo-Nazis and anti-capitalism - Jan Langehein

Jan Langehein discusses Fascist forms of "Anti-Capitalism" within the German context. Article originally published in the summer of 2007.

The ‘social question’ has been a focus for propaganda by German neo-Nazis in the past, yet not always did this have an anti-capitalist touch to it. After the reunification of the old GDR with the Federal Republic in autumn 1990, the whole of Germany experienced a rise in unemployment; poverty levels increased in the East and West. Responsibility lay, on the one hand, with the collapse and sale of the industry in the former planned economy, and on the other hand a structural crisis of the capitalist economy in the reunified Germany. Far Right political parties, at the time primarily the DVU and the more moderate Republicans, responded at first with a traditional racism: they exploited the situation for their purposes by blaming migrant labourers and a relatively high number of political refugees for the poverty. The centre-right governing party CDU also looked at migrants as scapegoats for the crisis, accusing them of being responsible for the millions of unemployed and the collapse of the economy in East Germany. Even the liberal magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ [comparable to ‘the Economist’ in its influence; translator’s note] ran headlines suggesting that there was no place for refugees in reunified Germany.

The result of this agitation were dozens of deaths, some beaten or burned to death by Nazi attackers, some driven by German border police into the Oder river, which separates Germany from Poland. The dreadful developments culminated in August 1992: large parts of the population of Lichtenhagen, a suburb of Rostock, together with organised neo-Nazis and aided by the police’s inaction, attacked a refugee’s hostel over days and attempted to set fire to it. The “days of Rostock” received worldwide media attention, and victims of the past - from Russia via Poland to Israel – feared a resurrection of Nazi Germany. Far from pressing ahead with an intensified fight against the neo-Nazis, the German government responded to the situation by basically abolishing the asylum rights and thereby fulfilling a central neo-Nazi demand.

As mentioned, this still followed the pattern of a traditional racism, to be expected from neo-Nazis. The anti-capitalist ‘change of direction’ for the German Nazis only happened at the beginning of the new millennium and is connected to partly two factors: firstly, the National Democratic Party (NPD), with closer historical ties to Hitler’s NSDAP than DVU and Republicans, gained in importance; secondly, the focus of right-wing perception in Germany moved, after 9/11, from migration to the USA and Israel. The NPD’s self-understanding is as an anti-communist as well as an anti-capitalist party. One of its slogans is: “No to Communism, no to Capitalism, yes to German Socialism!”

The political program of this ‘German Socialism’ is based on the ideas of the NSDAP’s left-wing ‘Strasser faction’, which until 1934 comprised almost four million members. Its aim was not to nationalise the industrial establishment, but still to submit it to state control and to build a Berlin-centred structure of command. The centre of control was meant to turn workers from “free sellers of their labour power” into recipients of commands by the ‘Führer’. Those ideas were impossible to put into practice only because Hitler was not prepared to take power away from German industrialists. Just as the NSDAP, the NPD too does not regard capital as an all-encompassing social relationship, but divides it into ‘productive capital’ (workers and entrepreneurs) and ‘unproductive or money-reaping capital’, which without working itself exploits the fruits of honest labour. For the historical Nazis, behind this ‘unproductive’ capital was both the ‘bolshevism’ of the Soviet Union, as well as British and American ‘plutocracy’ with its superior economic strength. In the final instance however, both parts were seen as mere ‘stooges’ of a Jewish global conspiracy, which aimed at world domination and the destruction of the livelihoods of all ‘peoples’.

This is exactly the worldview that the NPD [now the most influential neo-Nazi party in Germany, translator’s note] has adopted today with its anti-capitalist rhetoric. Now they blame ‘Wall Street’ together with the US and Israeli governments for plotting to wipe out ‘peoples’ and ‘cultures’. ‘German Socialism’, they say, should take up the fight against ‘foreign influences’ and build instead a geographically-defined economic order – a European internal market under German control, removed from the global economy and in a world without Jews. It is a ‘culturalist’ and anti-Semitic nightmare, which wants to achieve for modern Europe precisely those plans that Hitler’s strategists had drawn up.

The NPD has understood that it can reach more people with its agitation against the USA and Israel than with the polemic against refugees and migrants. Since the pogrom of Rostock, open racism is ostracised, while the hatred of America and resentments against ‘Zionism’ are almost regarded as proof of one’s critical faculties. Many Germans believe themselves to be ‘critics of globalisation or capitalism’. They do not understand, however, that this should mean primarily a critique of one’s own society. Instead, they look for the reasons of hunger, poverty and violence solely in the policies of Israel and America. This is where neo-Nazis move in: In spring 2007, they initiated a national campaign against the G8-summit in Heiligendamm, which used the same rhetoric as left-wing critics of globalisation. Now, the NPD attempts to organise a co-operation with the main left-wing party ‘the Left’, a successor to the old GDR’s ‘Socialist Unity Party’. While ‘the Left’ is decidedly anti-fascist, its electorate frequently comprises supporters of the authoritarian GDR, which is open to right-wing ideas. The NPD has already managed to be voted into a number of regional parliaments of East Germany. In Saxony, the parliamentary faction of the NPD regularly gains votes by members of other political factions. Nonetheless, the critique of globalisation in Germany is not yet a field dominated by the neo-Nazis. Sometimes however, it is almost impossible to differentiate between anti-capitalist positions with a progressive, emancipatory or with a fascistic, anti-Semitic direction.

Regrettably, the German Left has little to offer in terms of response to the neo-Nazi anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist change of focus. The racism of the 1990s was countered by a still active anti-racist movement, which provides assistance to refugees and attempts to resist racist attacks on migrants. However, anti-American and anti-Semitic positions can also be found in large parts of Left, with left-wing and right-wing anti-imperialist writings hardly distinguishable from each other. What unites both sides is primarily the ‘culturalist’ (völkisch) element of their critiques. Both sides support the terror of Hamas and al-Qaeda against Israelis and civilians of other Western states, while they differ only in their positions to Germany. For the Left, Germans form part of the oppressors, while for the Right, Germans are victims. Ironically, a ‘deserter’ of the Left formulated the Nazi propaganda phrase of the “jewish-american imperialist conspiracy”: Horst Mahler, a one time fighter and co-founder of the left-wing underground organisation Red Army Faction (RAF), is now lawyer and NPD-politico.

For a few years now, a small but publicly outspoken section of the German Left has criticised this phenomenon. Periodicals such as ‘Phase 2’, ‘Bahamas’ or ‘Jungle World’ point out that the NPD, despite its traditional racism, is looking to co-operate with culturalist-religious organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, while co-operation between the Left and those same groups exists too. Several groups of the German autonomous and anti-fascist movement have adopted this criticism. Nonetheless, the Left’s response to the neo-Nazis turned anti-capitalists is still one of uneasiness. Anti-capitalism? Isn't that an anti-fascist subject? Nazis have got nothing to say about it! Often it is said that neo-Nazi anti-capitalism is a mere masquerade, hiding the affirmative role Nazis play for capital. However, such a point of view is not just dumb but also dangerous. The danger is that the German Left refuses to abandon its mistaken positions and becomes, in some respects, indistinguishable from the Nazis. There is the chance, however, to rethink and to reformulate its own critique of capitalism – counter the fascist variant, for the progress and emancipation of humanity and in strict opposition to all anti-Semitic tendencies.

iStill today, evidence suggests that the government had a hand in the pogrom of Rostock or at least tolerated it. The excellent BBC documentary “The truth lies in Rostock” can be recommended.
ii[The original German term here is ‘völkisch’, derived from the word ‘Volk’ meaning ‘people’ or ‘nation’. ‘Volk’ makes a strong reference to ethnicity, autochthonous culture and nationalism and is a central organising principle for the Nazi movement, which opposes it to the idea of ‘rootless’ capital, translator’s note]

Jan Langehein is a radio journalist and regular contributor to the German weekly ‘Jungle World’

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Comments

Nemo Etomer
Nov 16 2017 07:19

"Regrettably, the German Left has little to offer in terms of response to the neo-Nazi anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist change of focus. The racism of the 1990s was countered by a still active anti-racist movement, which provides assistance to refugees and attempts to resist racist attacks on migrants. However, anti-American and anti-Semitic positions can also be found in large parts of Left, with left-wing and right-wing anti-imperialist writings hardly distinguishable from each other. What unites both sides is primarily the ‘culturalist’ (völkisch) element of their critiques. Both sides support the terror of Hamas and al-Qaeda against Israelis and civilians of other Western states, while they differ only in their positions to Germany."

No documentations here! "Large parts of Left" do not "support the terror of Hamas and al-Qaeda against Israelis and civilians of other Western states". Some very few support Taliban and Hamas struggle against the occupations in Afghanistan and Palestinian territory, but hardly military attacks against civilians in Israel and Western states.

There are many so-called left groups in the West and among them the German Die Linke. Sahra Wagenknecht who is one of the leaders in Die Linke came forward a couple of years ago claiming immigration and the refugees could be a problem for Germany, Deutschland. Is it the task of left groups to protect and save a system which is the root of the problems or to point forward to a world with not wars and refugees? By accepting the limitation of the system will the outcome hit hard without mercy on the victims but not the perpetrators. The next step by the same nationalist logic will sooner or later accept lower wages for immigrants and some kind of social apartheid system simply to safeguard to interests of the "own" upper class in the rivalry on the world market. Another "solution" might be to accept camps of refugees close to war zones where children, women and men already face miserable lives as the more developed capitalist states prefer investment into armaments which is part of the international capitalist rivalry. That is why the working class population and working middle class in the more developed capitalist countries have common class interests with the masses in the developing countries either it is in the Middle East, Afghanistan or African countries.

The strategic weak point for the majority of the left groups in the West especially and elsewhere for that matter is that they face the politically and economically crisis of capitalism by trying to turn back the wheel of history to a time where the welfare state was more national, maybe better related to the situation today, societies with less segregation, higher real wages and for some countries lower unemployment. With other words an international capitalist marked with less globalization of the economy. Is such turn back to more nationalist capitalist societies actually possible? Only with capitalist wars! It is in this context we must understand why main stream media is giving huge attention to right wing groups and the police forces are marching to protect their demonstrations as we see in Sweden among other countries. The point is to help the right wing groups to get political momentum and mass influence while the old political parties move closer to the right which further legitimate fascism.

When fascism is promoting radical solutions in the capitalist crises many leftist groups are not going in an opposite direction. The leftist groups face fascism they mobilize on an agenda debating the fascist program but not the program of socialism. The fascist groups are allowed to decide place for confrontation and also to decide time. This is a recipe for handing the whole political initiative to the right-wing groups where state, corporate media and the police mobilize to defend the right-wing groups. As we saw in Germany and Spain in the 1930s will the struggle against fascism lead to defeat if it is not putting the main class struggle in the forefront based upon direct power to the masses and not just a new elite.

Why have the majority of the left groups not grasped the economic system where the states play a crucial role have failed and at best good in promoting wars and inequality? Why are they as in Sweden in early 2017 with the Left-Party, "V", relating to small local crime gangs by holding as the establishment that the answer is more armed police on the streets and suburbs instead of fighting the segregation and inequality? Why are the leftist political parties so eager to support the same state apparatuses which are arming dictators or engaged in wars and occupations with the atrocities we have seen in the twentieth century and lately in 2017 in the Middle East, Africa and Myanmar? The answer is that these groups just as the open bourgeois parties have established economic dependency of the state through not so small economic subsidies for the own newspapers or party apparatus. This among other things such as hierarchy in the organizations is constantly feeding careerists and political opportunism. We see the same kind of development long time ago, not to forget how the unions in Sweden are investing members' money in capitalist corporations and holding several hundreds of millions of $US in bank accounts under supervision of union leaders who are earning from 3-4 up to 10 times more than ordinary workers.

The top leftist leaders just as the open bourgeoisie political leadership have long time ago become integrated as paid elite in the state apparatus. When this more or less privileged elite leave their jobs as professional politicians they are rewarded with other top paid jobs in the state, municipal apparatus, in institutions and corporations. From the website thelocal.de in July 2014: "Germany’s 631 MPs are paid €8,252 a month, plus €4,204 tax free for travel and overnight expenses, placing them at the top end of the table for politicians’ pay in Europe." Dailymail.co.uk wrote in May 2013 about the income of parliament members in Brüssel: "The study found that MEPs now enjoy an average income of £182,826 including allowances for attendance and travel. The figure is almost ten times higher than the average EU wage of £18,617 a year. It is also 695 per cent higher than the average UK salary of £23,000." The top non-elected bureaucrats in European Union earn more than these politicians.

Some honest socialists who still are surprised why the huge majority of the leftist groups face fascism with slogans of defending the political institutions of capitalism such as "Defend the Democracy", typical in Sweden, and thereby hinting the old reformist myth that the institutions of the capitalist state are democratic when the truth is that it is a doll-theatre democracy with huge capacity to corrupt all political structures which get dependent of the state. The leftist reformist parties, the statecapitalist party-state left and the party-dictatorship "left" constantly hail power to the state because they defend own social interests as political bureaucrats or are guided by a political compass where they see themselves replacing the former rulers as it happened in revolutionary Russia which developed a party state and not all power to workers and popular councils, soviets.

Any progressive and revolutionary solution can only be international because a better alternative to capitalism must continue from where we are in history with new relations in economy and political life and not turn back the wheel to yesterday of the few leading the many.

Nemo Etomer,
Stockholm