Is Germany going fascist?


By Jurgen Vandalaar and Mary Merkenich

At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking, that the federal Republic of Germany is heading in the same direction it did in 1933. However that would be an over-simplification.

The German ruling class wants a strong rightist state to protect its interests. On the domestic front it wants to increase the police apparatus and restrict democratic rights, so that it can successfully impose harsh cutbacks in living standards. The ruling class would also again like to play a central role in the international arena. Since Germany's recent intervention in Somalia the federal constitutional court has given the green light to German "out of area" military involvement. It has agitated to be allowed a place in the United Nations Security Council to match its central political role in the European Community. But it does not, as yet, see the need for a fascist state, especially in the same form as in 1933.

Neo-Nazi parties and fascist thugs are tolerated because they can be used to help intimidate sections of the workers movement. However the ruling class doesn't need them to crush progressive movements as did the Hitler regime. This does not mean that the future will be an easy one for the working class; the living standards of the average German citizen, and those living in the FRG who do not have German citizenship, are under massive attack.

The hardship experienced by many people and the widespread disillusionment and distrust in the traditional political parties gives an opening to the fascist parties. The working class' disillusionment is not unfounded: 1 million (many of whom are young) are homeless: at least 4 million are unemployed; social services are being cut; rents are skyrocketing; and corruption, and other scandals involving the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/Free Democratic Party (FDP) coalition government are on the rise.

The economic needs of German capitalism have changed; foreign workers are no longer necessary to carry out the dirty and dangerous work. Those seeking a better life, or just the chance to survive, have become a burden to the ruling class; the state doesn't want to finance low-cost housing, nor fund the bill for unemployment benefits or any additional social service areas.

As a consequence, the establishment political parties have began a propaganda campaign using the slogan "the boat is full". Among the list of charges levelled against immigrants, the campaign says that Germany cannot afford any more foreigners because: they drain resources; many seeking political asylum are not genuine; they are more likely to be criminal; they treat women badly; they are more prone to be violent and; they are dirty. This hate propaganda also says that immigrants bring their political differences to the FRG and engage in violent sectarian warfare which endangers innocent, German law-abiding citizens.

This campaign is being championed, in its crassest form, by the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Socialist Union (CPU). It is enthusiastically supported by the daily newspaper Bild. The Socialist Party of Germany (SPD), the equivalent of the Australian Labor Party, soon joined in, albeit in a more "refined" way.

In the absence of a strong counter-campaign this propaganda has been accepted by many setting the scene for the relatively successful entrance of neo-Nazis back onto the political stage. The neo-Nazis do not have a radically different position to the government on the economic climate and solutions to unemployment. They simply say it more clearly: foreigners are the cause of unemployment among Germans and they are responsible for the housing shortages, the rising crime rate, drug problems and the breakdown in values.

To those who accept the analysis and solutions served up by the SPD, CDU and the FDP, the neo-Nazis' policies appear more consistent. The neo-Nazis distance themselves from the violence against foreigners, claiming it is the frustration of individual desperate youth.

In the June 12 European elections, sections of the CDU/CPU, especially in the conservative state of Bavaria, tried to outflank the Republikaners (one of the neo-Nazi parties standing for election) from the right, to win back some support.

While big sections of the left remain disoriented after the collapse of the East German Socialist state (DDR), this drift to the right will go unhindered. Although criticised by most on the left, the presence of the DDR did provide huge moral support. In West Germany, for instance, when disputes between workers and employers broke out, it was common to say that the DDR was at the negotiating table as well. But since the collapse of Stalinism, the establishment media has had a field day with revelations about the horrendous Unrecht Staat (unjust state) saying that everything in the DDR was inhuman, ineffective, impossible and just plain wrong.

Recently a newspaper article claimed that the DDR was responsible for the actions of a rapist and murderer of five women because, while imprisoned for life in the DDR, he had never received psychiatric help. After the annexation of the DDR, the "just state" released him, whereupon he committed the crimes. The fact, that he was released against his will and without any psychiatric help from the West German state was not important.

The present campaign against the rising crime rate is another example of how the establishment media works hand-in-glove with the status quo. Social impoverishment is causing an increase in petty theft and drug-related and violent crimes. People are being frightened into believing that a stronger state apparatus is necessary. Regular horror stories of mafia influence are blown out of proportion to help implement reactionary and undemocratic laws.

Political violence or crime is reported in a very slanted manner. The activities of fascist thugs are often made to seem almost harmless compared to a fantasised threat from the left — the "red terrorists". The old bogey man, the Red Army Fraction, is still cited. The CDU Interior Minister Herr Kanther claims that the left is actively promoting terror while violence from the right is only the action of individuals.

Since the end of World War II, union structures and organisation have been designed to be as apolitical as possible. Political strikes are banned. In the last 10 years, and until recent hard economic times, in the "miracle economy" of West Germany it was not necessary to organise militant industrial actions to win good wages or working conditions. Consequently union leaderships have forgotten how to organise and become much too comfortable with a "gentlemanly" negotiating strategy. New ideas and critical members are not very welcome.

All is not bleak, however. Germans are not passively tolerating everything. The big demonstrations and protest actions against the Gulf War, the more recent candlelight demonstrations against racist violence, the womens' strike in March 1993, and various other union struggles (including one of the most controversial in Bischofferode in East Germany, where workers and their supporters began a long hunger strike to save their workplaces and the postal strike), show that people are willing to take action.

Although the once radical Green party has shifted right and is no longer so attractive to progressive forces or young people, a strong left party has come onto the scene. Out of the ashes of the old East German Communist Party (SED), a new party, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) has been formed. Reform elements from the old SED and various left-wing and progressive currents and individuals from West Germany have come together and were able to win 16 seats in the first parliament after the annexation of the DDR. Since then, its support has been growing rapidly, especially in the former East German states.

In the European elections the PDS polled 4.9% federally (just 0.1% short of representatives entering the European parliament). But in Sachsen-Anhalt, a former East German state, it received almost 20% of the vote. The Greens received just over 5% and the FDP didn't receive enough for a seat. The neo-Nazi Republikaners got about 1.5%, also missing out on a seat.

These election results have forced the Greens and the SPD to debate forming a coalition with the PDS. Both see the PDS as their biggest political threat and sections of both would rather work with the CDU/CPU.

At a recent Berlin trade union conference the leaders of all the political parties, excluding the neo-Nazis, were invited to address a rally. While the SPD leader, Rudolf Scharping received a polite and moderate applause, Gregor Gysi, the PDS parliamentary leader, received repeated applause during his speech. His appearance caused about 80 social democratic trade union leaders (out of an audience of 600) to leave the conference room in protest.

The PDS, with which growing sections of the working class are now identifying, is becoming a force which cannot be ignored. Surveys show that apart from old SED supporters, many young people, intellectuals and unemployed women vote for the PDS.

There a also a number of smaller left-wing parties and anarchist groups. Alliances on the left, especially around anti-fascist and anti-racist issues, are on the increase. Together, this activity shows that Germany's future is not a dismal as some would have us think.