As Germany analyses an election which shows a rise in support for both Die Linke (the left) and hard right elements like AFD, Darragh McCarthy gives us an eyewitness account of challenging Fascism in the heart of the EU. Includes quotes from German Anti-Fascists.
Germany has a problem with the far-right. More specifically, Germany has a problem with Nazis. To many this may come as a shock and a surprise, for me it was. But the extent of the problem is truly remarkable, especially for the Left. The political establishment and German government, for all intents and purposes, is ignoring the problem. This was to be my very first time visiting the continent, I was to spend three months working on a terrible mandatory university internship program within the post-industrial city of Dortmund, and was looking forward to linking up with my comrades in the city and the region of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).
With the far-right growing globally, and in Europe like nowhere else, I knew surprisingly quite little of any real substance about the far-right in modern Germany, other than unlike in Ireland it actually had a presence and visibly existed in society. On my first Friday evening on my way home from work, I made some phone calls and went to meet my comrades at a counter demonstration against a group of Neo-Nazis. Being a queer socialist I was initially terrified to be so close to fascists in the flesh. With their banners, flags, generally hateful expressions and stares, it was the kind of thing I would have only seen on news feeds from other countries. It was certainly not something I thought I would have had the displeasure of experiencing in person. Every now and then someone on our side would shout something, sometimes in an attempt to get a chant going, but to little avail. As my very first confrontation with the far-right, I found this disorganised affront to them to be incredibly frustrating. With no knowledge whatsoever of the German language, a comrade kindly translated and taught me some chants. Quickly putting them to good use at a volume and proximity to the Nazis that clearly made the police uncomfortable, I learned that they have very little patience for leftists but seemingly quite a lot for Die Rechte, something I would learn to get used to.
The members of antifascist and socialist groups present at the counter-demo seemed so nonchalant to me, as if this kind of gathering of fascists outside the main train station was a normal occurrence, as if fascists on the streets full stop were something that just happens. Coming from Ireland, the idea of becoming accustomed to regular fascist activity, or even any such far right activity at all is just unimaginable to me, a German anti-fascist activist went on to explain the situation by saying;
“[The Far Right]… are mostly organized in a party called Die Rechte [The Right], the Nazi scene in Dortmund consists of maybe 60-100 individuals. They‘ve tried to paint themselves as a legal and respectable party for a few years, winning about 2000 votes (1%) and a council seat in the 2014 local election. The fact that they‘re obvious Nazis who openly defend and praise Hitler makes it impossible for them to win actual mass support, unlike the right-wing populist AfD (Alternative für Deutschland).”
Die Rechte appears to be aware that their current tactics are not working, so over the past month or so now they have been returning to a well-practised tradition of using violence against left and anti-fascist activists. The situation in Dortmund has worsened rapidly over this period, seemingly beginning with a successful attack carried out by the same Dortmunder Nazis in the city of Cologne after a major demonstration at the end of July. With over 2300 extra police deployed on the day, a group of Dortmunder Nazis were still permitted to run riot in the central station, leading to me and a group of 8 activists having to flee a train being boarded by a group of approximately 40-50 Nazis, after its departure was delayed by the Polizei so the Nazis could board it, unaccompanied by any police. This was after the very same group had attacked left activists on the train on their way to Cologne earlier that day. This second blundering and almost fatal police oversight resulted in the assault of a number of anti-fascist activists, including the hospitalisation of one due to head injuries, this triggered a rapid and entire deterioration of my mental state, as well as a great deal of mental trauma to a number of other comrades. In the few days that followed, comrades and I were chased through the streets of Dortmund by a group of armed Nazis, and this was then followed by the attempted murder of another comrade outside his home in Mid-August by three masked, knife-wielding Nazis. This inevitably led to security measures having to be taken during any and all of our activities, with the threat of Nazi attack always present and real, at a time when Nazi activities were so frequent and at some points felt as if they were almost constant.
“Unfortunately the left in Dortmund is traditionally split quite deeply and united action against the fascists is hard to achieve.”
Many antifascists in Dortmund support anti-German ideas, which means they regard some other parts of the left as antisemites. As bogus as their arguments are, they result in an entirely fractured antifascist movement in Dortmund. But the Social Democrats, meanwhile, also worsen matters. The SPD has led the city council since the war, and with its big influence within the trade unions, it seriously damages any possible united cooperation by refusing to engage in any meaningful antifascist actions. The SPD maintains that mass blockades against Nazi marches are illegal and refuses to participate in them.
“The local Nazi scene in Dortmund is portraying itself as a success story among the far-right in all of Germany, and the police‘s behaviour definitely helps them with that.”
In recent years many major Nazi marches have been prevented by mass blockades all over Germany. But the Polizei in Dortmund always do their very best to make sure the Nazis can actually march whenever they try to. In Dortmund, antifascists are regularly kettled, beaten and pepper-sprayed by police before they are able to get anywhere even close to the Nazis‘ marching routes. The Nazis are aware of this, and this is why they confidently held a nationwide march earlier this year in June, the “Day of the German Future”. Before the march the police and the press kept talking about “violent extremists” from both sides and even fabricated stories about “rock deposits” antifascists had supposedly prepared to throw at the Nazis. This was my first march that was on after I arrived, and I saw first-hand how zero tolerance the police here are to leftists. The police began the march with a wave of pepper-spray and kettling us before we could march anywhere near the Nazi route, and throughout the day would kettle us in the hot summer sun in various parts of the city for the entire day, detaining and arresting as they went. While a great opportunity to work on a tan, it meant that the Nazis could spread their hateful ideas through the streets, instilling fear into the hearts of the diverse population there that the Nazis so despise.
“After the recent attacks, we organized a demonstration to Dorstfeld, the area where most of the Nazis live, on August 20. It was the first time in many years trade unions, left parties, antifascist groups and immigrant organisations actually did something together in Dortmund. We‘re preparing for another demo on the 24th of September…”
It’s arguable that what happens in Dortmund over the coming months and next year and the success of the campaigns against the Nazis in the city will say a lot about what the future holds for Nazi groups in Germany, and how they will be dealt with and fought against. The situation is one that is truly unimaginable to me as an Irish socialist. The extent to which the leftist landscape in Germany is shaped by the actions of these Nazi groups is terrible and unacceptable, and if such groups get a proper foothold in Germany with the public, it could have severe repercussions on the rise of far-right groups across Europe.
“We need common, determined action to weaken the fascists. We might actually be taking steps towards that now. At the same time the fight against the Nazis needs to be connected to the struggle against state racism and the general shifting of political discourse to the right we‘re seeing across Germany now, and linked to the causes of racism deeply rooted in the capitalist system.”