Nuanced History of the Anti-Germans
The following is a post written to the Marxism email list by Henning Böke, titled simply “Antideutsche, once again”. It presents a nuanced overview of the development of the anti-Germans, one of the very few english-language resources on the topic. It was originally posted here: http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/marxism/2006w24/msg00284.html
The discussion on "anti-Germans", based on a heavy dose of half-knowledge and speculation (this is, of course, a criticism towards my German compatriots posting on this list), is mixing up some things. Lüko Wilms mentioned two - in his opinion "petty-bourgeois" - organizations that he suspects to have been protagonists of anti-German politics: the Arbeiterbund für den Wiederaufbau der KPD (Workers league for rebuilding the KPD) and the Kommunistischer Bund (KB, Communist league). But actually, none of them has any relation to contemporary "anti-German" currents. The Arbeiterbund, in the 1970s the major Maoist "ML" group in Munich and Bavaria, had a certain influence in trade unions, a little remainder still exists. The leaders are would-be poets who try to imitate Brecht. But members must be industrial workers, or membership application must be supported by two workers. They combined Maoism with a strictly orthodox, nostalgic Stalinist traditionalism, and they always rejected "petty-bourgeois" trends like ecology (until 1986 they fiercely defended nuclear energy). By origin, they are not "anti-German": In the 70s, they were rather "patriotic". According to their Maoist doctrine, they regarded Germany as divided and oppressed by US imperialism and Soviet "social imperialism". They even used the slogan "Deutschland den Deutschen" (Germany to the Germans), which is actually a demand of the neo-nazi NPD. After 1980, when China became even more "revisionist" than the USSR, they gradually changed their attitude towards the Soviet Union, becoming less hostile. In 1990, they resolutely defended the GDR against the imperialist "annexion". They uphold the orthodox Leninist theory of imperialism, i.e. they believe in an increasing conflict between US imperialism and European imperialism under German leadership. According to Karl Liebknecht's "Der Hauptfeind steht im eigenen Land" (your main enemy stands in your own country), they claim that in Germany one must struggle against German imperialism, not US imperialism, so they did not take part in manifestations against the war against Iraq because they believe that in Germany any action against an US war would strengthen German imperialism. They are quite sensitive concerning anti-semitism. They do not support "anti-Americanism" and "anti-Zionism". In the late 1990s, they tried to build an "Alliance of the peoples of Europe against Germany," as far as I know they only found some allies in Poland. You may think of the Arbeiterbund whatever you want (their 1920s-style cabaret performances are quite funny), but anyway they are not "petty-bourgeois". Their opposition against growing German power is anchored within a strictly Leninist framework and has nothing in common with the core of "anti-German" ideology. The KB had its centre in Hamburg. The organisation was founded by students, young workers and apprentices. They supported the basic ideas of Maoism, but they rejected the Chinese doctrines on "social imperialism", "three worlds" etc. They also did not really defend Stalin. In general, their policy was rather undogmatic and pragmatic. I think one can say that among the Maoists the KB played a role similar to that of the Mandelists within Trotskyism: They tried to combine a Marxist tradition with an opening-up to new "alternative" movements. They were the first to generally oppose nuclear energy (even in "socialist countries"). Their special feature which made them outsiders was their theory of an imminent "fascization" (which Lüko mentioned). In the 1970s, almost the whole German left expected that the increasing economic crisis would lead to a left-wing radicalization of the masses. We should be honest: This was an illusion, and the KB was the only organization which did not share this illusion. Today we have ten percent disoccupation and a government which does not fight against disoccupation but against the disoccupied. But there is no real mass movement. In the 1970s no one on the left could imagine that in such a situation the republic would remain stable. The KB, as a revolutionary organisation which did not share the ingenuous revolutionary optimism of the others, was more realistic than the other groups in seeing that in Germany there would not be a left mass radicalization. (It was Lenin who said that there will not be a revolution in Germany because it is forbidden to set foot on the lawn, and before storming a railway station Germans first buy a ticket.) But the KB expected the other extreme: They feared that the crisis would result in a fascist tendency. (They interpreted e.g. the measures taken by the social democratic government against RAF terrorism in 1977 as "fascist." Actually, in Helmut Schmidt's all-party "crisis management staff" the possibility of killing the RAF prisoners was taken into consideration. When these prisoners then committed suicide there were serious doubts.) In the 1980s, the theory of "fascization" was critically revised. In this context, a debate on German history and society began which finally resulted in a split. Jewish KB members began to question the hidden anti-semitism within the left: What did it mean that German leftists found "fascism" in Israel and compared the Shatila massacre with Hitler's "Endlösung" (this was a headline of the KB newspaper Arbeiterkampf which was criticized by many members)? What did it mean that the first "selection" of jews after 1945 was done by the German and Palestinian hijackers at the airport of Entebbe in 1977 (they actually selected not Israelian citizens, but all passengers with jewish-sounding names)? What did it mean that a rival Maoist organization had called the emission of the US film series "Holocaust" in German TV "Zionist propaganda"? This debate was a great merit. In 1989/90, differences emerged within the KB on how to deal with the imminent reunification of Germany. The major faction considered this as inevitable and recommended to support social protest against the consequences of the capitalist restoration in the former GDR (most of them joined the PDS). In january 1990, before the first free election in the GDR, a huge victory of the social democrats was expected - most leftists hoped the east Germans to vote for social justice. But the triumphant winner was Helmut Kohl who was celebrated as a hero. In particular the formerly "red" industrial areas of Saxonia had vast conservative majorities. The KB minority drew the conclusion that in this situation of a disastrous defeat of the left the main task, and the only chance of survival of a radical opposition without being integrated into the new national mainstream was not "class struggle" but resistance against Germany's new national self-consciousness, its imperialist ambitions (e.g. the role Germany played in the destruction of Yugoslavia by recognizing Slovenia and Croatia), opposition against the efforts to draw a "final stroke" under the German past and to rewrite German history by presenting the Germans as victims of "two totalitarian dictatorships", and the defence of immigrants against the growing racism (which should dramatically become manifest in 1992 when neo-nazis set on fire a refugee asylum in Rostock, with resolute support from the population of the neighbourhood). I do not understand, Lüko, what should have been "petty-bourgeois" about this, and I cannot remember that your truly proletarian troops did contribute anything noteworthy to this (defensive) struggle. In other words: In those years radical politics in Germany could not be based on something like "the working class," but only on radical minorities. If you had shouted on the street in 1990, "Up with proletarian class struggle! Long live socialism!" everyone would have laughed. But if you said that you dislike German unity then you could at least be sure that you were recognized as a serious enemy, not just as a madman. To describe the situation with Mao Zedong: The "main contradiction" had "changed its place." There was no way to mobilize any "proletarian masses" against the new German chauvinism. The "reunification" of Germany was a dramatic turn. Its result was that opinions which had formerly been the exclusive ideas of neo-nazis and the far right now became part of the consensus of the "democratic centre." The national "normalization" of Germany meant - and is still meaning - a big shift to the right of the whole society (not only the bourgeoisie). The only possibility of opposition was to openly attack this. Within the whole left the same division which split the KB occurred: On one side there were the pragmatists who wanted to make "Realpolitik" (mainly by joining the PDS), on the other side there was the "radical left" which organized the "Nie wieder Deutschland" (Germany never again) manifestation in may 1990. ("Germany? Never again" was a quotation from the actress Marlene Dietrich who stayed in the USA after 1945 and was therefore considered as a "traitor" by many Germans.) As far as I know, the first one to use the term "anti-German" was Jürgen Elsässer, then a KB member. Nowadays he is a well-known journalist, but he has changed his positions. In the late 1990s he was a resolute supporter of Serbia (because Serbia has suffered much from Germany). His books and articles had certain merits - he uncovered the lies which were used to legitimize the war against Yugoslavia; on the other hand his opinions on "uncivilized" Albanians and Muslims are at least close to racism. He has turned back to more classic anti-imperialist positions, and today he believes that movements like feminism or gay emancipation are tools of imperialism in order to undermine non-aligned countries. Now he also supports the idea that France, Germany and Russia should build an alliance against the US empire. In general, Elsässer tends to exaggerations. As a former pragmatic Maoist, he seems to uphold Mao's "We must support anything that our enemies dislike" (which, in my opinion, was not Chairman Mao's best idea). Serious differences within the "anti-German" radical left emerged in 1991 when some individuals - not organized currents - supported Bush senior's war agaist Iraq. They were heavily promoted by the monthly magazine "konkret," but they were a minority. After the KB split the minority, now calling itself "Gruppe K", began to edit a new magazine called "Bahamas" - this was an ironic allusion to a dispute when a speaker of the majority had recommended them to emigrate to the Bahamas if life in Germany was so terrible. Bahamas was a review of the radical left, mainly focused on nationalism and racism. The main problem of the former KB members was their lack of theory - in the 1970s their rather pragmatic approach to politics was their strength, because they were less dogmatic than others, but now, in a situation which required theoretical reflection, it was a disadvantage. They decided to open the editorial staff to other persons, and this was a lethal mistake. Until 1994, the former KB members were ousted by a group of "theorists" mainly coming from Initiative Sozialistisches Forum, a little sectarian group calling itself "left communist" or "council communist", dominated by the sect guru Joachim Bruhn in Freiburg. They mainly refer to Adorno's and Horkheimer's "critical theory" (but I do not believe that Adorno would like them) and to Moishe Postone. (As far as I know, only one single former KB member remained among the Bahamas editors, most of them retired.) It is essential to distinguish the new anti-German current which emerged after 1994 from the anti-German tendency of the early 1990s. I frankly confess that in 1990 I supported anti-German politics and the "Germany never again" campaign. I am still convinced that this was necessary. But for us this was a temporary position in a particular situation, and it was a necessary element of left-wing self-criticism in order to correct the shortcomings of our former positions which under-estimated e.g. the persistence of anti-semitism and racism. We criticized the "Realpolitik" leftists (including, of course, all the economistic mainstram Marxist currents) because they missed the point that in such a situation one could not do a political "business as usual." More in general, to be anti-German simply meant: to show in public that we are not patriotic, we do not love Germany, we are "vaterlandslose Gesellen" (guys without motherland), as the social democrats were called in the German Reich of Wilhelm II. However, we did not intend to create a new general world view. The new anti-Germans who came after us were radical academics who never had been involved into any social movement, but preached an elitist "dialectics of crisis and criticism." They constructed the core of the new anti-German ideology by rejecting any kind of workers movement and, even more, any idea of a collective emancipation. Their basic doctrine was the idea that liberal bourgeois emancipation is a necessary condition of communist emancipation (in fact a complicated matter), and they pointed out that in Germany this bourgeois emancipation has never been carried out consequently. In substance, this refers to the distinction of "Gemeinschaft" (community) and "Gesellschaft" (society): Around 1995, the anti-Germans liked to emphasize the difference between e.g. the French nation, based on democratic citizenship, and the German nation which is based on origin and blood. (Since then, the German laws have undergone some slight changes, but German citizens with coloured skin, of Turkish origin or jewish confession are still regarded as "foreigners" by large parts of the German population.) Anti-Germans claimed that France, the USA and Israel (!!! - the latter in spite of being a State based on religion) are "civilized" modern nations, whereas the way of building society in Germany or in the Arab world is pre-modern and "völkisch" - I think it is impossible to translate this German word into other languages: The English word "people" is derived from Latin "populus", in romanic languages "el pueblo", "le peuple", "il popolo" means "la gente", "les gens" as citizens, whereas the German idea of "Volk" is associated with a community of common origin and blood. This is a distinction which in fact should be considered. But the anti-German doctrine distorted its own rational insights in the different ways of nation-building by projecting them to an idealistic abstraction: The anti-Germans created an idealistic image of bourgeois democracy and "civilization" and opposed this idealistic construction to peoples whom they considered to be "fascist," anti-modern and anti-semitic by nature - the Germans and the Arabs. (I think it is necessary to defend Adorno, who, in spite of some problematic assumptions, never made such an idealistic and uncritical use of the notion of "civilization," against his anti-German admirers.) Of course, the anti-German "communism" is bogus because their outlook is based on an as radicalized as abstract liberal individualism and an idealistic view on "western civilization." Their ideology is linked to a chauvinism of "civilization". Their attitude towards Arabs and muslims has soon become openly racist. They denounce any collective social movement, any collective defense against neo-liberal imperialism and any claim for social justice as a "shortcut" false anti-capitalism. Any spontaneous popular anti-capitalism, based on intuitions of moral, solidarity and justice, is associated with the nazi-German "Volksgemeinschaft", any criticism against exploiters and persons in power (instead of analyzing the objective relations of commodity production) is denounced as "structural anti-semitism." For them, true anti-capitalism can only be the critical analysis of commodity fetishism made by enlightened intellectuals. However, during the last years, some of them have begun to replace Marx, Adorno and Postone by Karl Popper's "open society" liberalism as the new key to "emancipation." For them all, the US and Israel are the bulwarks of "civilization." Interestingly, there has been a change in their attitude towards France: Initially they idealized France, nowadays they are anti-French because France did not support the war against Iraq. In summary, I want to emphasize that "anti-German" motives have appeared in very different frameworks. In the early 1990s, being "anti-German" was an element of radical leftism in Germany, but it was not a special ideology. "Anti-Germanism" as a distinct current emerged in the mid-90s, and a further radicalization took place since 9-11. Of course, not all anti-Germans are as extreme as I described them. I would say that the most extreme of them are rather radical liberals than leftists, their attitude is a kind of non-conformistic conformism, they are active supporters of imperialism. Their style of writing is thoroughly aggressive and fanatic, and ironically their vocabulary (describing Arabs, anti-imperialist leftists etc. in terms like "bandits", "gangsters", "scoundrels") is almost fascist. The Austrian Stephan Grigat, whose article has been posted on this list, is rather moderate; at least he tries to make serious theoretical arguments. The bigger problem is that this ideology has a certain influence among many young Antifa activists. But for most of them, the "anti-German" attitude is rather an emotional disposition than a "theory". But I also want to say that a critical confrontation with anti-German doctrines should take into account that the early "anti-German" debate, of which in particular the KB was a protagonist, had legitimate motives and contributed much to correct the shortcomings of the traditional left. Problems like hidden or structural anti-semitism in the left do exist, and the anti-German debate helped to detect them. Lenin once said that when criticizing our opponents, we should examine which grain of truth their positions include. (I am not a Leninist because average Leninists do not obey this maxim.) Please allow me an important final word: In general, I use Marxmail as a source of information, and I wrote this contribution mainly as a piece of information in order to help non-German readers to understand the different meanings of "anti-German". Normally I do not write on Marxmail because the dogmatic style predominating on this list is not my cup of tea. Expressions like "petty-bourgeois left" do not belong to my vocabulary because such a term, for decades used by different Marxist currents to insult and condemn each other (Stalinists against Trotskyists and vice versa, different Trotskyists against each other, Soviet communists against Maoists and vice versa ...), simply does not explain anything. Another example: Someone said that anti-Germans are "detached from class struggle." Of course, this statement is not wrong, but it does not explain anything. In my opinion, this dogmatic "Marxist" language is as useless as the Beavis and Butthead language from MTV. Sincerely Henning Böke (Frankfurt, Germany)
This entry was posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2012 at 1:13 pm and is filed under anti-german. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.