Published in Weekly Worker 847
“Grandpa was Sturmführer of the SS – his grandson will be Sturmführer of the SS”, went a chorus typical of Berlin’s neo-Nazi rock group, Landser, whose rather nauseating songs recommended the murder of Jews, blacks, “Polaks”, “gooks” and communists. In 2005, the group was classified as a “criminal organisation” and banned by the German federal court, its front man Michael Regener earning himself 40 months in prison for Volksverhetzung and “distributing extreme rightwing propaganda”.
Like most jailbirds, he came out a hardened rather than rehabilitated man. Continuing his music career with combos such as Die Lunikoff Verschwörung, Regener now wraps his messages in more skilfully law-dodging rhymes. What’s more, he is always a welcome guest at events of the far-right National Democratic Party, which has extended a paternal helping hand to this “martyr of the national resistance”. Regener’s performances are sure to attract an additional bloc of bikers and skinheads to the organisation’s rallies, adding some much needed spice to the otherwise stern atmosphere of petty bourgeois outrage.
That is the sad saga of Regener’s life so far – a life that has been worthless because it was entirely dedicated to bringing a bit more chauvinism, pain and idiot hatred to a world that is already full of it. Perhaps Regener will manage to stay out of prison in future. But, as long as capitalism breeds resentful degenerates with such efficiency, the class that threw Regener in jail will not be too hard pressed to find more examples to parade around and penalise.
Last year, for instance, 23 German far-right activists were arrested on suspicion of running Resistance Radio, an online radio station that broadcast neo-Nazi skinhead music, known to aficionados of the genre as ‘white power rock’ and often as ‘RAC’: rock against communism. “Music is deliberately used to recruit youths and young adults into the far-right scene,” argued Jörg Zierke, the head of Germany’s federal criminal office.
To those who have ever found themselves at the wrong end of a Dr Martens boot or baseball bat somewhere in Europe, there can be little doubt that the recruitment process has seen some success. Likewise, when one is exposed to footage of sieg-heiling crowds at white-power skinhead gigs, it can be tempting to brush aside the rational approach that one would extend to death metal or gangsta rap records. But seeds only sprout if they fall on fertile ground. When neo-fascist organisations recruit thousands of youths – particularly in the eastern European countries that have undergone free-market shock therapy over the past two decades – it becomes hard for liberals to speak of isolated, psychologically unstable kids from broken homes.
The German government responds with bans, arrests and jail sentences. But it has not always been this way. After all, white-power rock has been widely available in West Germany since 1984, when the Cologne based Rock-O-Rama label released the Skrewdriver album, Hail the new dawn. The record kick-started a flood of British, American, French, Italian and German far-right skinhead rock releases on the former punk label. Albums of bands with names such as Brutal Attack, Freikorps, Legion 88 and No Remorse were the staple of many independent record outlets well into the early 90s.
But with the exception of the comparatively harmless Böhse Onkelz album Der nette Mann, which was restricted to those over 18 because it allegedly contained “national socialist slogans”, rightwing skinhead records did not attract the attention of the German government in the 1980s. The Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons was far too busy removing leftist punk fare such as Polizei SA/SS and Deutschland by Hamburg band Slime from the shelves.
In the early 90s, just after reunification, nationalist sentiments ran high, boosted by the belief that ‘communism’ had been defeated. Christian Democratic politicians routinely blamed asylum-seekers and “criminal foreigners” for all social ills, including those caused by the merciless plundering and privatisation of the annexed East German territories. Die Republikaner, a far-right populist party led by former Waffen SS officer Franz Schönhuber, jumped on the chauvinist bandwagon and gained respectable election results.
In this climate, it was not unusual for skinheads to sport Nationalistische Front patches at high school without causing much of a stir, and tapes of white-power bands were swapped in class. To run into serious trouble with the school administration, on the other hand, all you had to do was draw the red star and the Heckler & Koch machine gun logo of the Red Army Faction on your textbook.
A couple of years later, and all of a sudden newspapers and magazines were packed to the rafters with horror stories of racist bands. Third-rate combos like Störkraft were gaining national exposure through interviews in the magazine Der Spiegel and on prime-time TV talk shows. Every woman, man and child in the country knew their names. What had happened? If you were to believe the press and media, these bands bore direct responsibility for the latest wave of racist violence that was sweeping the country. Two teenagers from Mölln, so we were told, had been listening to white-power rock before firebombing a Turkish family home and killing two young children.
From August 22-26 1992, a mob of several hundred far-right hooligans and assorted local teenagers held an asylum-seeker refuge in Rostock-Lichtenhagen in the north east of Germany under siege. They smashed windows, entered the building wielding baseball bats, threw bricks and Molotov cocktails. Parts were set on fire. The largely Vietnamese asylum-seekers were terrorised for four straight nights – it was a miracle that nobody died. While the police did precious little to stop the racists, citing lack of resources, they did, however, manage to arrest all the Anti-Fascist Action activists that had travelled to Rostock to intervene.
As it happened, the ruling Christian Democratic Party led by Helmut Kohl had been pushing for a change to article 16 of the German constitution: the right of asylum. All the CDU needed was a majority vote in parliament. When the Rostock pogrom erupted, the Christian Democrats were faster than lightning to link it to the asylum debate. And so, like clockwork, their proposal went through – officially to prevent further such events, the new policy made it more difficult to claim political asylum in Germany. Journalist Jochen Schmidt, who was held under siege alongside the asylum-seekers, believed it “at least possible” that a “controlled escalation of popular anger” was planned in the build-up to the Rostock pogrom, serving as a pretext to strengthen the arguments of the bourgeois right.
Now that the job was done and the neo-Nazi fringe groups had served their purpose, the only cloud on the otherwise clear horizon was the fact that Germany’s reputation abroad seemed at stake. The international press predictably milked the new wave of barbarous racism from the fatherland for what it was worth, and – shock, horror – even foreign investors began to tut audibly. In short, it was time to regain the moral high ground.
That is when crocodile tears started to flow and heads began to roll. Plenty of far-right splinter groups such as the Nationalist Front and the Free Workers Party, which had been active since 1985 and 1979 respectively, were outlawed. Vanloads of neo-Nazi skinhead records, many of which had been widely available at independent record stores throughout the 80s, were confiscated against the backdrop of a well choreographed media uproar.
The Rock-O-Rama label – whose owner, Herbert Egoldt, had made a fortune ripping off dumb bonehead bands – was raided. And while they were at it, the police confiscated a couple of old punk records too: the 1981 Rock-O-Rama release Jedem das seine by Cotzbrocken did not have a lot to do with the far right, but if you can kill two birds with one stone, why not also ban releases that contain pro-Red Army Faction lyrics?
Despite the token album bans, the white-power music scene remained alive and well in the following years. Bands such asLandser dodged the authorities by recording and releasing their music abroad, then smuggling the CDs back to Germany. While the preceding generation of bands was content to play crudely racist and nationalist songs and only implicitly referred to the Third Reich, the likes of Landser took the genre to new excesses by openly celebrating Hitler, the SS, concentration camps and genocide.
The Social Democratic Party-Green Party coalition that formed a government in 1998 could not have been more grateful for neo-Nazi bogeymen of this sort. Here was a cabinet whose chancellor had once been a left-leaning member of the Jusos and, as a young lawyer, had defended Red Army Faction terrorist Horst Mahler. The Green Party represented the generation of 1968: former ultra-lefts and Maoists, often recruited from the Kommunistischer Bund, worked alongside eco-centrics, liberals, and assorted strands of the petty bourgeois centre-left.
Now duty-bound to administer capitalism, it was this government that approved of German military participation in the Kosovo war of 1999 – the tail end of a long and bloody conflict that had served to restructure the former Yugoslavia in the interests of international, and particularly German, capital. With politicians like foreign minister Joschka Fischer, in his youth a member of a group called Revolutionärer Kampf (Revolutionary Struggle), actively perpetuating the inhumane system they once opposed, there was but one way for them to present themselves as the forces of progress: by cracking down on neo-Nazis.
Following the firebombing of a Düsseldorf synagogue in 2000, chancellor Schröder called for a “revolt of the decent”. To Schröder, often sardonically dubbed Genosse der Bosse (comrade of the bosses) in the German press, the incident served as a useful device to rally the ‘decent’ majority behind what he called the ‘new centre’ – a business-friendly national consensus, in opposition to both “right and left extremism” and represented by the government coalition.
Suffice to say, whatever crimes German neo-Nazis committed – and they committed many – paled in comparison to the atrocities inflicted upon the ex-Yugoslavian peoples by the new centre coalition of the “decent”. It is tempting to believe that the political mainstream has a vested interest in the existence of a certain level of neo-Nazi activity – especially when it comes in media-friendly Hollywood mode, with swastikas, skinheads, and a dangerous rock soundtrack.
Not only does the extreme right provide a welcome distraction from the crimes of the bourgeoisie; it also serves as a bogeyman that – unlike Islamic terrorism – can even drive sections of the left to accept the sacrifice of civil and political liberties. Angela Merkel’s current Christian Democratic government understands that as well as Schröder’s new centre did.
“In the struggle against rightwing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism,” trumpeted a press report on October 11 2010, “consumer protection minister Ilse Aigner (Christian Social Union) has encouraged social network providers to make use of their domiciliary rights and lock out Nazis.” In case this sounds fair enough to you, stick around for the small print: “Enemies of the constitution, whether left or right, should have no place on these platforms,” Aigner elaborated in a statement in Die Zeit, the centre-left daily that founded the misleadingly named Net Against Nazis campaign.
Choosing the butcher
In a more rational world, every communist, socialist and radical democrat worth their salt would vigorously protest such sneaky attempts at abolishing the right of free communication and information. They might even point out that the CSU, the Bavarian establishment party that Ilse Eiger represents, is to all intents and purposes a party of the far right. But the second the word ‘Nazi’ reverberates around the room, all reason is thrown to the wind – even on the presumed left.
Nazis raus aus dem Internet (‘Nazis off the internet’) is the name of the Left Party’s own version of official ‘anti-fascism’, a campaign set up as early as 2000, when the core of the Left Party was still known as the PDS. “The internet must not continue to provide a platform for the Nazis’ propaganda and networking,” said the campaign’s web page in 2010, “so let’s continue to build pressure until web providers block such websites”. But in a country that blocks and censors everything from Red Army Faction history websites to body modification online forums, the decision as to what is acceptable and what is not will not be assigned to the Left Party and the DKP. Like turkeys voting for Christmas, the Left Party and the campaign’s supporters from the German Communist Party (DKP) and the Young Socialists in the SPD (Jusos) play right into the hands of Ilse Eiger and co.
Likewise, Left Party activists are regularly heard pleading with the state to ban ‘extremist’ demonstrations, such as the annual march through Dresden that sees thousands of far-right militants commemorate the 1945 Allied bombing. Last year, the city of Dresden banned the anti-fascist counter-demonstration instead, confiscating placards put up by Nazifrei – eine Stadt stellt sich Quer, a Unite Against Fascism-type popular front supported by the trade unions, Left Party, Jusos, Greens and celebrities such as the punk rock band, Die Toten Hosen. Rico Gebhardt, chairman of Saxony’s Left Party, could not think of anything better to say than: “Consequently, the Nazi demonstration should have been banned too” – referring to a Federal Constitutional Court decree regarding “assemblies that may disrupt the public peace”.
As a German rhyme goes, Die allerdümmsten Kälber wählen ihren Metzger selber: the stupidest calves choose their own butcher. In this respect, Left Party vice-chair Katina Schubert took the biscuit for suing the German version of Wikipedia for displaying “symbols of unconstitutional and banned organisations” such as the NSDAP’s swastika – she hoped to “force the providers to introduce political and ethical standards” to the online encyclopaedia.
This, despite the fact that the Left Party itself is considered extremist and possibly unconstitutional by Angela Merkel’s government coalition. The Federal Administrative Court ruled in July 2010 that the German state security service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, may continue to monitor the Left Party and its members, recommending that particular attention be paid to the Communist Platform and Marxist Forum factions.
Perhaps the comrades in the Left Party are not aware that neighbouring Poland has just outlawed the open display of ‘extremist symbols’ such as the red star and the hammer and sickle. Maybe they have not heard how in 2006, Stuttgart’s punk mail order, Nix Gut, was banned from selling patches that displayed a crossed-out swastika – an extremist symbol, argued the state prosecutors. Perhaps it also escaped them that this year the government coalition decided to use the budget that had hitherto “only been used against the extreme right” to fight “all forms of extremism – ie, left extremism and Islamic extremism”, and paying particular attention to “red-painted fascists”.
It is as if they did not know that despite all the jazz about fighting neo-Nazis, the most consistent opponents of the bourgeoisie will be hit the hardest. A cursory look at West German history would put them right. After all, anti-democratic endeavours dressed up as paternalistic do-goodership have a long and unholy tradition in the Federal Republic.
As early as 1950, Adenauer prohibited public servants from belonging to 13 “extremist organisations”, using a decree known as the Adenauer-Erlass. In practice, it was targeted almost exclusively against the left. Several thousand members of the Communist Party (KPD) and groups such and the League of Anti-Fascists, a socialist organisation of concentration camp survivors, were interrogated and eventually sacked from their jobs.
The first political party to be banned in West Germany was the Sozialistische Reichspartei (Socialist Party of the Reich) in 1952, an organisation of stubborn Nazis that failed to adapt to the change of circumstances in 1945. The existence of such a party was seen as too embarrassing during the deNazification era. After all, West German Nazis had been given every opportunity to get on message, with the possibility of splendid careers as Christian Democratic politicians, employers and other such big shots.
Four years later, the ban sledgehammer hit the KPD – only 11 years after the Nazi ban had expired due to the demise of the Third Reich. The official reason given was that the KPD was “leftwing extremist” and its vision of a dictatorship of the proletariat incompatible with the new liberal-democratic order of West Germany. Having just emerged from an uneasy alliance with national socialism, the German capitalists represented by Adenauer desired a ‘political peace’ favourable to their new partners, the United States. To eliminate the uppity KPD, whose campaign against West Germany’s joining Nato had found resonance with the war-weary population, was therefore their prime objective.
Anti-communist witch-hunts, however, were by no means the preserve of the conservative right. In the early 1970s, none other than SPD chancellor Willy Brandt, also known as ‘red Willy’, revived the spirit of McCarthy and Adenauer. Brandt’s so-called Radikalenerlass (anti-radical decree),which once again banned communists from the civil service and the teaching profession by implementing Berufsverbote (occupational bans), was the somewhat left-leaning chancellor’s bid for respectability. Officially a reaction to the terrorism of the Red Army Faction, in truth the decree was mainly enacted against members of the now reconstituted German Communist Party (DKP) – a legalistic, Khrushchevite party of peaceful coexistence, originally approved by Kiesinger’s CDU government as a safe alternative to the racier extra-parliamentary left of 1968.
Being the only European country beside fascist Spain and Portugal to enact such draconian laws against communists earned West Germany not only flattering comments abroad. Enter SPD chancellor Helmut Schmidt, the ‘hey presto’ man of the German chattering classes. “Cannons were used for shooting sparrows” was how Schmidt jovially referred to the Berufsverbote in hindsight. He did relax the decree to some extent. But that did not stop him from significantly expanding the legal and technological means of data collection to supervise political undesirables. Once again, the Red Army Faction served as a pretext – and once again, all radical left groups were targeted, including those that strongly disapproved of terrorism.
In the past, so-called anti-extremist decrees, bans and campaigns have been used for many different reasons. Applied against the far right, they have legitimised government machinations or served as a distraction. They have provided evidence of a government’s good intentions and cemented the state’s paternalistic role as protecting us from Evil. And, yes, they have even served leftwing organisations by fooling their supporters into thinking they are doing something useful.
But, as has been the case so many times in Germany and other countries, calls on the capitalist state or institutions to implement political censorship will eventually backfire against the left. Socialist Workers Party members who, in an eerie echo of the Berufsverbote, demand that BNP members be sacked from their jobs or barred from public service, are virtually serving up to the capitalists on a silver platter the weapons that will be used against us.
It took the working class decades of struggle to extract limited democratic rights from the bourgeoisie: freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom to form political parties. As we have seen with the student demonstrations in London at the end of last year, the ruling class permanently attempts to further limit, and if it can, abolish these rights. Let us not help the ruling class in this endeavour. Let us not give up our rights without a fight. In short, let’s not be stupid, comrades.
As advocates of extreme democracy in every sphere, communists have no business assisting the capitalist state in banning the expression of political beliefs or withholding information from us. On the contrary, we support and applaud the widest possible dissemination of all information, including the opening of government archives and the release of state and company secrets. We vigorously oppose state and corporate censorship on the internet and in all other media.
As we have often argued in this paper, there are many tactics to counter fascism, and which one we use depends entirely on the circumstances. An argument in a pub or a debate on TV certainly requires a different ad hoc response than, say, a situation where one is confronted with a raging fascist mob in Rostock-Lichtenhagen. Leftist punk poet Attila the Stockbroker put it very nicely in one of his songs: “If it takes a voice – shout the truth. If it takes a hand – hold them back. If it takes a fist – strike them down.” To call on the class enemy for help, however, is never a very good tactic to fight fascism.
Ultimately, it is no use merely adopting reactive measures against fascism; the only long-term solution is to offer an alternative to the sick system that breeds it. Communists in the German Left Party must cease their advocacy of political censorship of “extremist” or “unconstitutional” groups, symbols and ideas. Instead, they ought to attack the hypocritical bourgeois construct of ‘extremism’ itself – a construct that tars those who aim to liberate all of humanity with the same brush as reactionary chauvinists. It is up to communists in the Left Party to take the lead in fighting for a mass Communist Party in Germany – not as a Stalinist, Trotskyist or Luxemburgist sect, but a real party of the working class, united around a revolutionary programme which, unlike that of the Left Party, fosters no illusions in ‘overcoming’ capitalism by constitutional means.
- Literally “incitement of the people”, though commonly used to mean “stirring up racial hatred” in German legislation. The ambiguity of the term, however, allows for various interpretations and can potentially be used to mean “incitement of the people” against individual politicians, capitalists and so on. It has been employed in the latter context for polemical purposes.
- An obscurantist might want to include the German band, Ragnarock, which released a series of abysmal seven-inch singles beginning in 1979. The group was founded by National Democratic Party members who were unaware of any new developments in popular music since 1964, and their Hammond organ-driven ‘rock’ with lyrics about Rudolph Hess failed to recruit anybody.
- The “national socialist slogans” the censors believed they heard were in reality football hooligan songs that spoke of “invading France” for the 1984 World Cup. The track ‘Deutschland’ was no more nauseatingly nationalist than any national anthem.
- The latter song, whose chorus went “Germany must die so we can live”, contained lyrics that ‘defiled’ the colours of the German national flag. Much to the dismay of the band, which hailed from the anti-imperialist autonomist milieu, the track is now very popular with the pro-imperialist ‘anti-German’ movement.
- The Nationalistische Front was a group that recruited almost exclusively among young skinheads and adhered to Strasserism.
- While beleaguered by rightwing hooligans in the burning asylum-seeker building, Schmidt wrote a farewell letter to his wife – help just did not seem to be forthcoming despite the many pleas from within.
- Why albums by an early 80s punk band known as OHL were confiscated during the same raid, on the other hand, is anyone’s guess. Regularly speaking out “against all extremism”, they should have been Helmut Kohl’s favourite group.
- Jusos is an abbreviation for Jungsozialisten in der SPD, the Social Democratic Party of Germany’s youth league. It serves as an umbrella for young careerists, left Social Democrats and undercover Trotskyists.
- Ironically, Mahler converted to neo-Nazism in the 2000s. Having decided that Germany was an “oppressed nation” that had to be defended against “foreign” capitalism from the “Zionist-controlled USA” when he was still a Maoist, his conversion to neo-Nazism was perhaps not really such a huge step.
- The left-Maoist Kommunistischer Bund, while a typical product of the 1970s, stood out from the rest for its Arbeiterkampf paper, which, instead of hammering home a party line, featured plenty of controversy and debate.
- Die Linke press release: die-linke.de/nc/presse/presseerklaerungen/detail/archiv/2010/januar/zurueck/aus-den-laendern/artikel/zum-verbot-der-dresdner-nazi-demo
- These statements can be found in a German-language article carried in the magazine Analyse und Kritik: strassenauszucker.blogsport.de/2010/01/27/total-extrem-extremismusbegriff-und-totalitarismustheorie