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Chemnitz—A warning from Germany

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Several thousand Nazis went on the rampage against migrants and left wingers in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, on the August bank holiday weekend. Gabi Engelhardt from Aufstehen Gegen Rassismus (Stand Against Racism) Chemnitz spoke to the Marx21 socialist magazine about what’s fuelled the far right—and how to push it back
Issue 2619
Nazis are at the core of the rampages in Chemnitz
Nazis are at the core of the rampages in Chemnitz (Pic: PA)

How significant are the Nazi mobilisations in Chemnitz?

GE: What happened in Chemnitz is an absolute shock.

The pictures of violent Nazi hordes, chasing and injuring “foreigners” and leftists on Sunday 26 August, are unbearable.

And on their demonstration the following day, they gave the Hitler salute and chanted, “Germany for the Germans—foreigners out.”

They attacked the anti-fascist counter demonstration and journalists.

We managed to mobilise 1,500 people against them—despite the pogrom mood and warnings of right wing violence. That was an important beginning, but we were outnumbered by the right.

What triggered the far right violence?

GE: At the end of the city festival on Sunday morning there was a dispute between several people, which resulted in two injuries and one death.

The far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and other right wingers immediately suggested that the victim was trying to protect a woman.

State racism fuelled German Nazi attacks
State racism fuelled German Nazi attacks
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They related the crime to refugees and sexual assaults on women—despite the police denying it was about sexual assault.

The party said that women “can no longer dare to go onto the streets alone” and that “Arab culture” does not “belong to us”.

They claim that refugees are particularly misogynist, but sexism and violence are not imported goods.

The AfD’s statements have nothing to do with sympathy for victims of sexual violence.

Which groups are behind the mobilisations?

GE: The whole far right scene in the state of Saxony, which has a population of over four million, mobilised.

At first the AfD called for a “demonstration against violence” for the Sunday of the bank holiday weekend.

The right wing CFC football club ultras from Kaotic Chemnitz also called their supporters onto the streets.

The march last Monday was announced by a group called Pro Chemnitz, but other far right parties and networks shared the call.

What is Pro Chemnitz?

GE: The “pro-citizen” movements came out of the failed Nazi group German League for People and Homeland in the 1990s.

The term “citizen’s movement” is intended to give their racist and nationalist activities a bourgeois facade.

The groups have some conservatives in their ranks, such as in Chemnitz, where the group was co-founded by former Christian Democrat (CDU) member Reinhold Breede. But Nazi cadres determine the direction.

Pro Chemnitz has had three councillors since 2014.

Their council group leader is Martin Kohlmann, who has been active on the Nazi scene for decades. He has strong connections to the far right National Democratic Party (NPD) in Saxony.

And he is linked to the “Kamaradschaft” fascist street-fighting groups, the hooligan and right wing music scenes.

Was the whole mobilisation made up of Nazis?

GE: No, certainly not. But the organising core is made up of Nazi cadres, who tried to gain political influence and strengthen their organisation from the tragic events.

And they partially succeeded.

What role does the AfD branch in Chemnitz play in the marches?

GE: The AfD has prepared the ground for the Nazis to dare to march openly through the city—its policies act like a fire lighter.

For several years, the AfD in Chemnitz has been railing against Muslims and refugees. The entire party has become a reservoir for fascists and nationalists.

After the events last Sunday, AfD MP Markus Frohnmaier tweeted, “If the state can no longer protect citizens, people go out on the street and protect themselves. Today it is a civic duty to stop deadly migration!”

Officially the AfD distanced themselves from the Nazis, but prominent figures in the party called for protest.

And Chemnitz has a well-connected right wing scene, which AfD members and officials belong to.

How big is the right wing scene in Saxony?

GE: Throughout the state of Saxony, the far right are optimistic. The AfD won 27 percent of the vote in Saxony in the federal parliamentary elections last November, making it the strongest party in terms of votes in the state.

The AfD’s proportion of the vote has tripled since elections to Saxony’s state parliament in 2014.

Fury as Nazi MPs enter the German parliament
Fury as Nazi MPs enter the German parliament
  Read More

The fact that Saxony became the stronghold of the AfD is also due to the increased strength of the far right there.

The National Socialist Underground fascist terrorist group hid in Saxony in the 1990s and 2000s. For more than a decade the NPD could count on over 5 percent of the vote in Saxony—and broke into the state parliament with 9.2 percent in 2004.

And more recently we were at the epicentre of marches by the Islamophobic Pegida street movement.

In no other state do Nazis commit more crimes.

From 2011 to 2016 10,269 offences were committed by far right extremists throughout Saxony.

And at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, it was calculated that they committed seven crimes per day.

The 2015 racist riots in Freital, Heidenau, Chemnitz-Einsiedel, Bautzen and Clausnitz were reported in the national media. But the everyday right wing terror that lies behind them receives little attention.

Why is the right so strong?

GE: One reason is certainly the conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) state government in Saxony.

In the past, it has downplayed the threat, claiming that there is no problem with racism or Nazis in Saxony.

At the same time, the Saxon CDU is one of the most right wing regional associations within the national party.

By whipping up racism against Muslims and refugees, former prime minister Stanislaw Tillich has rolled out the fascist “brown carpet” for the AfD and Nazis. The far right has been able to build massively.

What must happen now in Chemnitz to stop the far right?

GE: The democratic forces and parties in Chemnitz have to come together. They range from left party Die Linke, the Greens, the Labour-type SPD and the unions to Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups, migrant organisations and other civil society initiatives.

We need a broad alliance to combat the racist agitation.

We need to revive a strong tradition of anti-fascist counter-mobilisations that we have been cultivating in Chemnitz since 1990. And we must not let the racists and right wingers be on the streets.

The Nazis must realise that large numbers of people aren’t just against their views, but are ready to actively stand in their way. Unfortunately, we were too few to stop the march last Monday.

The Nazis want to march again—but we will be there.

And Aufstehen Gegen Rassismus (Stand Against Racism) will not stop mobilising against the racists and Nazis.

This is an edited version of a translated interview from the Marx21 socialist magazine in Germany

Who’s who on the right?

Alternative for Germany (AfD)

The far right AfD party scored a breakthrough at the federal parliamentary elections last November.

It won 12.6 percent of the vote and has 92 MPs.

The AfD began as an alliance of right wing conservatives, racist populists and fascists that focused on scapegoating Muslims and refugees.

The party’s rightward shift has accelerated since November’s elections.

Around half of its MPs are Nazis or are linked to Nazi groups. And a few high-profile conservative figures quit the party last year, citing growing influence of the fascist wing within local branches and the leadership.

The AfD grew out of a general shift to the right in German society in the wake of the refugee crisis.

Germany’s conservative CDU chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to let in one million Syrian refugees in 2015.

The far right and racists went on the attack over immigration—and Merkel made concessions to their arguments.

Christian Democrats

The Christian Democrats’ conservative bloc is made up of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU).

The CDU organises throughout Germany apart from in the southern state of Bavaria, where its CSU sister party has full autonomy.

The two have been part of an alliance since 1949, but tensions over immigration threatened to split them earlier this year.

Federal interior minister, Horst Seehofer of the CSU, said he would resign unless Merkel imposed border controls.

His grandstanding was designed to outflank the AfD in state parliamentary elections this autumn.

Austerity boosted the right

The rise of the AfD and the far right comes against the backdrop of Germany’s social market model hollowing out.

The German ruling class relied on a “social partnership” between the state, bosses and unions. Yet under pressure from global capitalist competition, it has increasingly adopted free market reforms, such as suppressing workers’ wages.

This has caused big problems for the Labour-type Social Democratic Party (SPD), which has haemorrhaged support at the polls.

Europe’s centre ground is crumbling beneath Angela Merkel’s feet
Europe’s centre ground is crumbling beneath Angela Merkel’s feet
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In the 2000s under chancellor Gerhard Schröder the SPD spearheaded the liberalisation of the labour market. And since 2005 the SPD has three times joined a “grand coalition” with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc.

Throughout this period the SPD has been part of pushing through austerity and privatisation. In the poorer parts of former East Germany, free market shock therapy hammered living standards.


It’s significant that the AfD took 23 percent of the vote in federal parliamentary elections in the former East last November.

In Saxony, where the AfD topped the poll with 27 percent of the vote, the SPD scraped into fourth place.

Many of the AfD’s votes came from the right wing CDU. But the result showed the SPD’s total inability to mobilise people behind a progressive alternative.

The left wing Die Linke, which has been at the forefront of fighting austerity, racism and the far right, came third.

But in Berlin, Brandenburg and Thuringia in the former East, Die Linke has been part of state governments that backed privatisation.

This blunted its ability to put forward a radical alternative.

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