Germany Calling

For the first time since the fall of the Third Reich the far-right has been voted into office in Germany. A. Shaw asks who's to blame?

On Sunday April 26 the German People's Union (DVU) scored 12.9% of the vote in regional elections in Saxony-Anhalt. Recognised as Germany's poorest province, Saxony-Anhalt, situated in eastern Germany has at street level since 1990, been the political preserve of the far-right. Consequently an electoral breakthrough has been a long time coming. As one commentator pointedly remarked: "That the DVU's success was unexpected cannot be maintained". And yet no viable counter strategy on a local or national basis shows any sign of emerging.
Back in 1990 the anti-foreigner chants of 'Auslander Raus' were widely regarded as an embarrassment, the principle concern among politicians being that the unwelcome publicity might 'damage Germany's image abroad'. Then the far-right was seen as a sort of sub culture; or a social problem in much the same way as race attacks and football hooligans are regarded in England.
The Saxony-Anhalt result where the DVU 'came from nowhere' to snatch 13% of the poll has markedly changed perceptions. Now as the governing Christian Democrats face defeat in September's general election, the feeling is that there is nowhere for them to seek new votes except by 'Kohl playing the race card'.
Despite this direct echo from France and Austria where the far-right have also pulled the centre toward them, the perception remains that (a) this is a protest vote and (b) support for the far-right is something that its youthful supporters will grow out of.
But far from growing out of it German youth appear instead to be growing up with it. Two thirds of the DVU vote came from first time voters who four years ago could not have voted, or would not have bothered
Nor is the orientation and appeal to youth restricted to Saxony-Anhalt or the DVU. The Junge Nationaldemorkaten (JN) the youth wing of the NPD held a 5,000 strong demonstration in Leipsig on May 1. Unlike the FN in France and the Freedom Party in Austria, the political presentation of the NPD is recognisably national socialist, with many of the traditional trimmings. According to the Observer (April 12) much of JN leader Oliver Handel's "rhetoric on economics makes him sound like a socialist, or even a communist, and he supports many of the enviromental policies of the Greens."
The night before the Leipsig demonstration a rock concert called "Leipsig shows courage" was organised by local unions, political parties and artists. More than 10,000 people attended and hung a banner reading "Fascism never again" on top of a war memorial in protest. But that was all.
As a militant anti-fascist from Hanover commented: "after the last band had left the stage at 1am all the 'couraged' left with them. Nobody from the stage calls on the 'couraged' to stay and occupy the plaza where the Nazis planned to meet the following morning. An anti-fascist rally organised by the local metal workers union was cancelled by them in the night, after it became clear that the Nazi rally would be allowed." All in all, the type of posturing followed by capitulation to make the make the heart of any fascist soar. Now militant anti-fascism has never been merely a matter of 'getting stuck in'. And undoubtedly because of its own history German anti-fascism has never appeared to lack the appetite for the physical side of the battle. Though often caricatured, militant anti fascism is more than propaganda by deed. Physical prowess, though vital, is on its own rarely enough. Successful anti-fascism is as much a political as paramilitary strategy. This in recognition that if you allow the political argument to be lost, then sooner or later you begin to lose the physical argument. Germany is now at that stage.
In hindsight it can be seen that the naked ambition and political potential of the far-right has been flagged up for at least a decade. The broad strategy of the German far-right is not simply to embrace designer fascism as typified by the Freedom Party and the FN, but to combine it with the more traditional strong-arm language and methods. From the beginning the orientation has been directly toward the 'bottom 30% in society.' Because the foundations were being put in here, as always a section of society shunned by middle class commentators, the media sought to glamourise the violence while at the same time reassuringly dismissing the political aspiration as anodyne and imbecilic. The alleged stupidity of fascism's working class supporters is a staple diet of these features which only coincides with a societal view of the working class as a whole.
As always it proved convenient for many on the Left to be both flattered and reassured. On the other hand those who sought to address the problem, did so by dealing only with the surface manifestations. Lacking the ambition to 'put the whole rightward drift into reverse' anti-fascist strategists were too taken up with the fleeting concerns and challenges of the moment, dealing for the most part with symptom while leaving fundamental issues, and most crucially the targeted audience unaddressed.
In mitigation it might be suggested that the influx of 2 million immigrants in addition to the collapse of communism and German reunification was directly responsible for this unprecedented, accelerated, development. While perfectly valid, it is equally true that with everything else in place anyway, acceleration is all that it was. In as much as the set pattern already existed. Surely time for plan B?

Reproduced from RA Vol 3, Issue 2, August/September 1999