By Nora Berneis
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Fighting racism in Germany

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Left wing German group Marx21 interviewed Nora Berneis, spokeperson for Stand Up against Racism, about the campaign which is taking on the country’s far-right party Alternative for Germany.
Issue 437

Is it possible to describe Alternative for Germany (AfD) as a fascist party?
I wouldn’t say that the AfD as a whole is a fascist party. However, it is possible to say, the AfD is the party of the fascists. Not because everybody in the AfD is a fascist but because for neo-fascists the AfD is the way to infiltrate state institutions, to build racist protest movements and to gain allies for this strategy.

In what forms does the strengthening of the neo-fascists find expression within the AfD?
This is most clearly shown by the way the AfD has embraced the anti-migrant campaign Pegida: The neo-fascists in the AfD want to gain the support of the population through propaganda and mass mobilisations. For this they need an ostensibly social profile, clear concepts of who their enemies are and socially acceptable allies who have no problems with working together with Nazis.

Why is the battle for the streets so important for the neo-fascist wing of the AfD?
Unlike bourgeois racists, who are just aiming to achieve parliamentary majorities, the Nazis want to take over the state from within and from the streets outside and to transform it into a fascist regime. Their strategy in the parliaments doesn’t always have to be different from that of the bourgeois racists and right wing conservatives. But for the latter the streets aren’t particularly important, whereas for the neo-fascists it’s the key: There they want to build up their own independent power base outside the state apparatus. Towards the end of the Weimar Republic it’s true that Hitler also had high election results, but most importantly he had the SA (Brownshirts) with more than 400,000 members who were able to physically impose the programme of fascism by the use of violence.

But we’re still a long way away from such a situation.
Of course, but it’s not for nothing that one of the most important German antifascist slogans is, “Nip fascism in the bud!” Also at the end of the 1920s nobody could imagine that fascist dictatorship was on the doorstep. Until shortly before he took power, Hitler was still considered by many people to be a figure of fun. Of course, we’re now in a different period, but it would be naive to believe that something like that couldn’t be repeated.
Already today the AfD is acting as intellectual fire starters. The connection between thousands of attacks on Muslims and refugees and the rise of the AfD is difficult to miss. And the resurgence of a “völkisch” (which refers to the nostalgic nationalist ideology of the 1920s and 1930s) nationalism is also functioning as a catalyst for the rise of antisemitic crimes, 95 percent of which can be laid at the door of German right wing extremists.
What is the significance of the increasing radicalisation of the AfD for the resistance against the party?
The radicalisation provides us with arguments and proof that we can use in the struggle against the AfD. Supporting racists is one thing; supporting would-be Hitlers is another. We have to use every opportunity when the fascists in the AfD show their true faces. On the one hand, in order to convince people with anti-racism in their hearts that now is the time to take a stand. On the other hand, to make it publicly clear that all those who cooperate with the AfD are lending the new Nazis a helping hand.

So far, however, the tactic doesn’t seem to be working.
I have to contradict you. Without the committed anti-racist struggle of tens of thousands of people the AfD would today be significantly stronger than it is. But it is true that we’re still not strong enough to beat back the AfD once and for all.

In some regions of Eastern Germany, according to the polls, the AfD has become the strongest party and next year there are elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg. Can the East still be saved?
The danger does indeed exist that in parts of Eastern Germany the AfD will conquer political hegemony. This is extremely dangerous because it leads to a situation where left wingers, anti-fascists and anti-racists are increasingly afraid to stand up and show their colours. But let’s not conjure up doomsday scenarios either. The situation is bad, but the struggle is still far from being lost.

That sounds surprisingly confident. Where does this optimism come from?
Even if, as in the federal election in Saxony, a quarter of voters give their vote to the AfD, these people are, firstly, not all convinced Nazis and, secondly, it means that three quarters didn’t vote for the AfD — even in Saxony the number of non-voters was larger than the AfD vote.

To me that sounds like you’re putting a rosy gloss on things.
I don’t want to put a rosy gloss on anything, but we should always bear this in mind when people from Western Germany sweepingly declare that the East is a lost cause. In Eastern Germany too there are dozens of encouraging examples of solidarity and resistance.
In addition, the AfD is by no means a purely Eastern phenomenon. Considered in absolute terms most AfD votes in the federal election came from North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. Here the AfD does indeed have local strongholds — for example, along the border between Bavaria and the Czech Republic, in the Ruhr Valley and even in well-to-do Pforzheim or Heilbronn.

You spoke of “encouraging examples” in the East. Can you name some of them?
I’m thinking, for example, of the Opel workers in Eisenach, who chased Björn Höcke, the AfD’s key speaker, and his entourage away from their protest meeting. This is more significant than it looks at first glance. The workers there are being threatened with the closure of their works and in such a situation people might tend to accept any “help”, no matter where it comes from. That, nevertheless, they chased Höcke out through the works gate is testimony of political consciousness. Many people who are much less desperate fall for the Nazis’ bait.

The resolute action of the Opel workers in Eisenach was impressive. But isn’t that something of an exception in the East?
That’s also not really correct. In Chemnitz, for example, we have a very active group of our Stand Up against Racism alliance (AgR). The activists are organising lots of information stalls and meetings, most recently on the hostile image of Islam. In addition they’re organising counter-protests against the activities of the AfD. During these they receive a lot of encouragement from members of the public. They also have a large circle of people who are interested in their activities and are winning new activists. On the European Day of Action against Racism they had a demo where trade unions, parties and Muslim organisations went onto the streets together. Currently they are gathering signatures against any collaboration with the AfD. While doing so they are successfully drawing people’s attention to the threat of an AfD-CDU coalition in Saxony, discussing how to deal with the AfD and convincing people to take a clear stand on the AfD.

What are the most important strategic principles in taking on the AfD?
Firstly we need broad alliances where SPD members or pastors can also join in and to which Muslims and migrant organisations can be invited. Secondly we need a clear confrontation with the AfD. In practice that means that counter-protests should take place within view of the AfD. We want to establish mass blockades of the AfD as a legitimate and necessary political practice beyond the broader left in society. Thirdly, we want to bring more people into activity and to support the founding of new alliances. For this purpose we’re developing materials and guides to action with which anybody and everybody can become active. We now have 41 activist groups all over Germany and lots of ideas for people who’d like to become active, whether as individuals, with friends or with fellow workers.

Translated by Einde Callaghan

A vote for clarity and unity in action
Report from Die Linke conference

The key debate at this year’s conference of Germany’s left wing Die Linke party committed the organisation to open borders and social justice, and was accepted by an overwhelming majority. The conference thereby confirmed the position laid out in the party’s election programme which Bundstag member Sahra Wagenknecht had rejected as early as the night of the general election in September 2017, when she claimed our advocacy of open borders lost Die Linke votes. The lead motion defines the fight for free movement and against the racist right as one of the party’s priorities next to social issues and anti-war politics.

At the same time, the party conference was the start of Die Linke’s campaigns for more hospital staff and affordable housing. The party has become more focused on existing movements in the interests of workers in recent years. The fact that every second speech referred approvingly to class politics represents a shift to the left.

Furthermore, a great majority of delegates accepted a second motion on the fight against the right. The motion clearly states that Die Linke supports the “Aufstehen gegen Rassismus” (Stand Up against Racism) alliance and combats the AfD and Nazis on the streets as well as in parliament, at the doorstep of AfD party conferences and during elections. In the women’s caucus, the participants decided to support the right to publicly display one’s religious commitment and ruled out bans on religiously motivated clothing such as the hijab. That also represents an important step in an increasingly polarised climate in which it is not just the AfD which scaremongers about Islam and refugees.

During the general debate as well as in the debate on migration after Wagenknecht’s speech, only a handful of delegates supported her point of view. But Wagenknecht has caused a lot of strife by advocating for immigration restrictions. Her positions are especially ineffective in opposing the right wing narrative that chancellor Angela Merkel jeopardises the social cohesion in Germany through “uncontrolled immigration”. For instance, when Wagenknecht said that “not everyone can come here” or when she pleads for restrictions on labour migration to protect native workers from cheap competition in the labour market, she concedes to the terms of debate of the right.

The approach of declaring migrant workers themselves to be the problem is spurious as it divides the working class. The task of the left, in contrast, is to create solidarity in common struggle where it happens. That means combating the assault on the rights of migrant workers and fighting together with them for equal rights for all.

Die Linke is developing into a party based on a self-confident membership. The high level of participation in the debates has made the following clear: party members demand internal debate and demand their view on vital issues be heard by the leadership. Delegates forced a change to the conference schedule in two instances. They pushed through speaking time restrictions for leading members and enforced a debate on Wagenknecht’s speech. Close to 90 contributions in the general debate and 100 spontaneous contributions in the debate following Wagenknecht’s speech point to the vivacity of the party. Delegates demanded a clear anti-racist attitude and common action of the leadership.

While the old political faultlines, for example on joining coalition governments or the EU, remain, the dividing lines on immigration and racism as well as on the question of what kind of party we want come to the fore.

The conference has put clear demands to the executive of the party:

1 Implement and advocate the positions and main campaigning issues of the party, which include but are not limited to the question of migration.

2 Act in concert and resolve your differences inside party structures.

3 Don’t use your privileged access to the media to advocate for positions that deviate from the party programme.

Senior figures also sent a signal of conciliation at the end of the conference by introducing a common motion against Trump’s escalation in the Middle East.

Beyond a continued political debate, we now need to further develop our campaigns on rents and health care. We need support in building local party branches and integrating new members, in mobilising against the AfD and social deprivation, as well as in the coming local and state-level election. We should demand this of all elected party officials.

Network Coordination Committee
Translated by Frederik Blauwhof

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