The events of Chemnitz and the role of (east) German fascism

How is it that there are riots against immigrants in the heart of the former German socialist republic?

Eva Niemeyer

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This article was contributed to Proletarian by a comrade from the German communist movement.

The events in Chemnitz – formerly Karl-Marx-Stadt (!) – certainly presage a change in Germany’s political landscape. What is not new, however, is:

– the outburst of anger and hatred of the local population towards the political system and its media;

– the appearance of a violent mob under the watchful eyes of the police;

– the downplaying of such events by leading politicians, despite their alleged commitment to ‘democratic values’.

What is new is the connection between the ‘bourgeois party’ AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) and the right-wing mobs of semi-literate hooligans that first came into existence in the Federal Republic of (west) Germany (FRG )during the 1970s.

Originally, AfD was formed as an anti-EU platform by dignitaries from the political and economic scene, who gained little following but were able to acquire one by taking advantage of anti-immigrant hysteria largely manufactured by ‘respectable’ political parties seeking to divert on to immigrants the blame for all the ills of capitalism from which the masses were suffering.

Also new is the nation’s preoccupation with a single word ‘chivvy’ (meaning the hunting down of refugees) to describe the mob’s behaviour against foreigners at the Chemnitz demonstrations.

This word, used by journalists to describe the behaviour of the mob during demonstrations, was condemned as inaccurate by Saxony’s prime minister Michael Kretschmer, but supported by the chancellery, then denied by the head of the state office of criminal investigations Hans-GeorgMaaßen. In short, the controversy is splitting the coalition government apart.

Suddenly, all are at odds with one another – the coalition parties, federal and local governments, journalists and law enforcement forces –while the AfD looks on and laughs.

From an outside perspective, Germany seems to be in a state of disarray. However, since Germans may claim to be ‘experts’ on fascism and antifascism alike, be it in theory or in practice, it may be worthwhile to recapitulate the insights provided by famous German antifascists from both eastern and western Germany.

The role of German fascism

Thanks to work done by the GDR (German Democratic Republic, the socialist state established in east Germany after WW2), the transition from the Weimar (bourgeois-democratic) republic to a fascist state (Nazi dictatorship) is minutely documented, with the result that antifascist scholars in the GDR and FRG alike were able to reach basically the same conclusions:

Although the German bourgeoisie was initially able to regain its strength and successively dilute and postpone the reparations imposed on it by the Versailles Treaty, the global economic crisis of 1929 hit it unawares. Its successive austerity measures provoked mass rebellion under the leadership of the fast-growing Communist Party, while at the same time the popularity of the social democrats waned dramatically, causing the bourgeoisie to look for alternative parties through which to mislead the masses.

Moreover, German capitalists where at odds with one another as to which external markets needed to be secured by which alliance partners (the chemical industry, seeking for its staple diet – oil resources – aimed to gain influence in the Caucasus, while the steel industry was after French iron ore resources and an open American market for its products). German fascism provided a ‘one size fits all’ solution for all the German monopolies’ problems.

However, it could never have succeeded without strong support from a large section of the German masses. This was made possible by shifting the system’s principal reliance away from the labour aristocracy (the mainstay of mass support for bourgeois rule in most of the western capitalist countries) in favour of a dispossessed petty bourgeoisie, which was offered an ‘enemy within’ (the jews) and a bright future once such enemy had been successfully removed, with expropriated shops and homes being handed over to German ‘Aryans’.

The fascist story continues

The first economic crises in the FRG in the 1960s gave rise to new fascist movements, which were christened ‘neo-fascist’. Antifascist specialists in western Germany analysed the origin and functions of such movements, revealing that nothing about them was ‘new’, being merely a repeat of a familiar bourgeois strategy for management of political crises.

The capitalist economic crisis is in fact accelerating, with recovery from one recession nowadays incomplete before the next one sets in, leading to endemic mass unemployment, job insecurity, and deterioration in education, welfare and health provision. This being the case, the seeds of an openly terrorist regime (fascism) need to be kept nurtured in case of future need.

Keeping fascist forces bubbling away on the back burner achieves several purposes – not only to enable a transition to fascism as needed, but also to promote all kinds of undemocratic measures even while still within bourgeois democracy. Such measures include:

– absorbing protest potential against the system and redirecting class consciousness to racism and jingoism;

– functioning as a barometer for the ruling class to gain insights into the potential for mass mobilisation;

– promoting reactionary policies that would not otherwise easily be accepted by the majority of the population;

– triggering a shift of the whole political spectrum to the right, enabling the most reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie/monopolies to put pressure on more moderate sections;

– supporting continuous ideological reframing, with a view to making fascism acceptable: promoting cultural shifts in language and historic discourses (rewriting history) to create a perception change in the population (not all was bad in Nazi Germany, fascism is only a reaction to communist evils, etc);

– promoting terrorist intimidation of all working-class protest and social movements.

The world economic crisis, the crisis of overproduction and accumulation that continuously sweeps the capitalist landscape, does not leave Germany unaffected, even if, as the capitalist world’s export champion, it has been able so far by and large successfully to export side effects such as unemployment and poverty.

Nevertheless, like its competitors, it has to maintain the option of resorting to fascism and must therefore ‘play’ with such functions as outlined above.

Chemnitz makes sense

The events of Chemnitz make perfect sense when viewed in this light. The link between terrorist right-wing elements, right-wing parties and ‘ordinary’ people, mainly impoverished workers and middle strata demonstrate that the bourgeois-democratic system today is at a crossroads, with huge pressure on it either to make the ‘necessary’ shift to the right (the whole spectrum) or to give way to a different (openly repressive) system – ie, fascism.

This is why it is very important for the German bourgeoisie to endeavour to reframe the cultural landscape, including introducing new language. Is there a ‘chivvy’ against foreigners? Is migration the ‘mother of all problems’? The polarisation in the use of these phrases is an indicator (barometer) of whether and to what extent a systemic change could be foisted on the majority.

And the reactions from those sections of capital that heavily rely on exports and unhindered trade need to be carefully tested as well. In fact, the class that has up to now been the main prop of the bourgeoisie, ie, the labour aristocracy and its organisations (the trade unions and the social-democratic party) also show signs of having absorbed many tenets of right-wing ideology.

The first function, however – ie, absorbing protest potential and redirecting it towards racism and jingoism – has until now primarily been deployed in the area of the former GDR.

When in 1989 it became clear that the ‘costs’ of reunification would be high and would have to be borne primarily by the eastern population, policy makers, together with homeland security, developed a master plan from the very first moment on how to redirect the inevitable protests.

Already well trained and experienced in provocative terrorist actions by Nato’s Gladio programme (for destabilising western democracies, where it was feared the left was gaining in strength, as well as fomenting dissent in socialist countries), they were well able to deploy their skills in other areas, such as the 1980 Munich attack at the October festival (designed to undermine the peace movement opposing the deployment of new cruise missiles).

These right-wing hooligans, serving as homeland security agents, were also sent to focal points of protest and frustration in eastern Germany, successfully scapegoating refugees and leading in Rostock in 1991 to one of the most scandalous outbursts of hatred against foreign workers. Ever since, such right-wing forces, together with fascist parties, have formed a bloc in the east to absorb and redirect any kind of social protest away from capitalism and the bourgeoisie.

It was out of such connections that the National-Socialist Underground (NSU) arose, responsible for killing nine German citizens with a ‘migrant background’. This organisation had such support from homeland security forces that a vast number of files had to be shredded to cover its tracks. In fact, the federal council of Germany’s motion to ban the fascist NPD (National Party of Germany) fell flat because of its significant membership overlap with homeland security agents.

Chemnitz is right in the middle of these political developments, which first arose from the first crises in western Germany and have now – deliberately – been extended to the former GDR. In fact, this is not surprising. The erstwhile GDR population is extremely frustrated and has been greatly cheated. It was promised “flourishing landscapes” by the then chancellor Helmut Kohl but, instead of gaining western German wealth on top of the GDR’s social achievements and provisions, it lost the latter and never shared in the former.

One of the right-wing heartlands in eastern Germany is the eastern coastline between Stralsund and Usedom, one of the country’s most attractive tourist destinations, where hotel chains are investing at high speed while employing staff at minimum wages. In some counties there, 40 percent of the electorate and more have voted for the NPD and AfD.

During a public poll, one of the interviewees, protesting against refugees, stated (and his comment might be a representative voice of the east German protesters): “Ever since the wall was torn down, they took everything from us. In the GDR everything was fine. The workplace was fine, the environment was fine, social life was fine – everything was perfect! But now we are nobodies, no decent jobs, no community life any more, only big money flocking in and rich people from abroad. Wish they had never removed the wall.”

The obvious solution would be to restore socialism – something that is obviously not acceptable to the bourgeoisie. The job of all bourgeois parties, therefore, is to harness the anger of the masses and direct it against innocent refugees.

In the 1930s, the German bourgeoisie managed to hoodwink large sections of the German masses into blaming innocent jews for the disasters wrought by capitalism. Let it now be a case of once bitten, twice shy!