All together against far right
A secret meeting of a dozen abhorrent rightwingers has finally given the establishment a rod with which to beat the AfD, writes Carla Roberts
In recent weeks there have been huge demonstrations across Germany. Hundreds of thousands have come out to protest against ‘Fremdenhass’ (xenophobia) and Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Some cities have not seen such big demonstrations in many decades, and rallies in Munich and Hamburg had to be cut short because of lack of space. There have been numerous calls for the AfD to be banned - the feasibility of which is widely being discussed in Germany (more on that below).
The concrete reason is a much-reported ‘Geheimtreffen’ (secret meeting) on November 25 in Potsdam’s Adlon countryside hotel of about two dozen rightwingers, who “discussed the mass expulsion of foreign nationals and foreign-born Germans”, as an overexcited report in The Times puts it.
“A masterplan against Germany”, warns the liberal magazine Der Spiegel: “We need to stick together - tomorrow you could be next” (with reference to a bastardised version of Pastor Niemöller’s poem). It breathlessly claims that “some people are thinking about leaving Germany”.1
The meeting was not that secret, as it turns out. Journalists of the Correctiv campaign were given advance notice, as was Greenpeace. They were able to get hold of all the documents and emails in advance, managed to put up not one, but three TV cameras, various microphones and even had a few people check into the Potsdam hotel at the same time. They then took six weeks to edit and prepare their feature about the “dangerous meeting” that has shaken Germany.
On January 10, Correctiv finally published a report of the meeting, written in the style of a crime thriller and with selected quotes by the bad guys (which has already been read aloud by actors in a number of German theatres, to great publicity). The article is spruced up with grainy pictures of the villains and who, what and where graphics and has helpfully been translated into French, English, Russian, Turkish and Arabic.2
The protagonists were: a couple of mid-range German capitalists, a handful of ‘neo-Nazis’, a couple of members of the rightwing group, Werteunion (which is in the process of becoming a party), and a few eccentrics like the ‘entrepreneur’, Alexander von Bismarck, and Henning Pless - an “esoteric practitioner of alternative medicine”. The meeting also, crucially, included four members of the AfD, among them MP Gerrit Huy, Ulrich Siegmund (leader of the party’s parliamentary fraction in Saxony-Anhalt) and Roland Hartwig, personal assistant of the AfD’s national chairwoman and MP, Alice Weidel (who has since been forced to resign from his post).
The style and composition of the conference are somewhat reminiscent of the ‘scandal’ of December 2022, when two dozen members of the Patriotic Union were arrested for planning a “coup d’état” that was supposed to re-establish a monarchy in the tradition of the German Reich3 by creating civil war. Still, the mainstream media has leapt on the plans drafted in Potsdam as a “fierce attack on the German constitution itself”, as Correctiv writes.
By now, you will have sensed a fair amount of cynicism from this writer. Yes, it is good that people are demonstrating against the far right - we probably would have been there too, with critical literature. But, once you look behind the screaming headlines, it is indeed difficult to find much ‘meat’ to the story - instead we see an artificially generated moral panic designed to counter the rise of the AfD.
Take this paragraph by Correctiv, for example, which many newspapers have simply copied and pasted:
The scenarios sketched out in this hotel room in Potsdam all essentially boil down to one thing: people in Germany should be forcibly extradited if they have the wrong skin colour, the wrong parents or aren’t sufficiently ‘assimilated’ into German culture according to the standards of people like Sellner.
No wonder good German people are on the streets, with Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Greens, Free Democrats and Die Linke (Left Party) having organised demonstrations together, marching arm in arm!
No question, Martin Sellner is an unpleasant rightwinger and wannabe Nazi. But what he actually said in his secretly recorded speech is something quite different. He outlined different approaches to three different groups of foreigners: Asylum seekers – deport ASAP. Foreigners who have the right to remain - chip away at said right. But “most importantly”, those with German passports who have “not assimilated” - they should be the focus of “remigration” by “customised laws” and a “high level of pressure”, so that they adapt to the German way of life. “Remigration won’t happen overnight; it is a project that will take decades.”
“Remigration” is not quite the same as “mass expulsion” based on the “wrong skin colour”, is it now? The speech was allegedly followed by “positive” reactions and questions from the AfD members in the audience, which is the stick the media and bourgeois politicians are using to beat the AfD with.
Of course, as communists we oppose migration controls and other nationalist measures supposedly designed to ‘protect’ the nation-state (in reality the creation of two classes of labour, one legal, the other illegal). People should be free to live, work … and join effective trade unions wherever they please. The same cannot be said of the mainstream political parties.
In fact, it is difficult to see much difference between Sellner’s musings and the policies of the mainstream bourgeois parties who have been out on the streets, buffing-up their ‘democratic credentials’. The need for ‘proper assimilation’ has been a hot topic for many decades: After World War II, Germany begged workers from the poorer parts of Europe to help rebuild the country - as temporary Gastarbeiter (guest workers). Funnily enough, many of the tens of thousands of people - most from Turkey and ex-Yugoslavia - decided they would rather stay than go back to their homelands. But there was never an agreed state-plan to integrate them into German society or even to provide language courses - and there continues to be a real and visible schism that is exploited by the right and those looking for easy answers to the increasing economic problems Germany is facing.
Pushed on by the growing popularity of the rightwing AfD, chancellor Olaf Scholz (of the SDP, which is governing in coalition with the Greens and Free Democrats) has been promising to “finally start deporting in mass numbers”.4 Only last week, on January 18, the Bundestag agreed the Rückführungsverbesserungsgesetz, which will make it far easier to deport asylum-seekers - through “bypassing” the cherished constitution, as it happens. It is the fifth law aimed at speeding up deportations agreed since 2015 and has been described by pro-asylum campaigns as “nourishment for the right”.5
Nancy Faeser, SPD interior minister, has further explained that this law is needed to make space for “the 1.1 million refugees from Ukraine”.6 This distinction between good and bad refugees is very important to the government. Germany is a big supporter of Ukraine, and Scholz - impatient with the increasingly lukewarm approach of France and other EU countries - has just pledged, unilaterally, a whopping £6 billion of German taxpayers’ money to support Volodymyr Zelensky.
This expensive pro-war stance is coming increasingly under criticism within Germany, as is the government’s sickening uncritical support for Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza: Scholz announced that Germany will act as a ‘third party’ in front of the International Court of Justice and wants to provide evidence that Israel is not committing genocide. No easy feat, considering that the result of Israel’s genocidal policies can be seen daily on TV screens, including in Germany.
The appeal to ‘collective guilt’ over the holocaust is starting to wear thin, according to polls. Only 37% agree with chancellor Scholz that Germany has a “special responsibility” to support Israel (51% oppose) and 61% think that Israel’s attack on civilians in Gaza is “not justified”. Only 35% are of the view that “Israel respects human rights” - and “supporters of the AfD are the most critical”: just 30% of them support that statement.7
The AfD has managed to be seen as the ‘peace party’ in parliament. Its 78 MPs are certainly the most outspoken critics of the ongoing war in Ukraine and are arguing for a ‘diplomatic solution’ to Israel’s war against the Palestinians - in contrast to the increasingly respectable Die Linke, which supports the “historic necessity of Israel”, while raging against the “anti-Semitic Hamas”8 and firmly blaming Russia for the Ukraine war.
Despite having a fair share of millionaires in its ranks, the AfD has successfully positioned itself as the representative of the ‘little people’ - those left behind, the discontented - with increasing success. It currently stands at 24% in the polls, way ahead of the SPD (15%), the Greens (13%) and the FDP (7%), though behind the conservative CDU (30%). Die Linke hovers at a measly 4% and will probably be kicked out of parliament at the next general election in 2025 (parties must receive more than 5% of the vote to be represented). Sarah Wagenknecht’s populist split from Die Linke, BSW (Bündnis Sarah Wagenknecht), which holds its launch conference this coming weekend, is faring slightly better at 7% (down from 12% when it was first set up).9
Wagenknecht too has come under heavy fire in this whole ‘scandal’: She was outed as having been “in regular contact” with the host of the Geheimtreffen, Gernot Möring, a wealthy retired dentist, over the course of 10 years. There was at least one dinner and “many emails”. Wagenknecht’s assurance that she “never knew that he was on the right” has been met with many a raised eyebrow.10
After all, the political platform of the BSW is not a hundred million miles away from that of the AfD - both are appealing in a populist manner to those ‘left behind’, are outspoken on the need to restrict “uncontrolled” immigration and try to position themselves as “the peace party”.11 The BSW wants to be a leftwing version of AfD, but there are, as commentators regularly and correctly point out, many Berührungspunkte (points of contact).
Although a ban on the AfD could aid her own organisation, Wagenknecht is quite rightly opposed to it: “A ban is only being discussed, because the AfD is currently so strong in the polls”. Talk about banning the party is “a gift for the AfD”, she quite rightly pointed out. It is indeed likely that those threats will make the AfD appear even more attractive to its potential voters - most of whom will not have been put off by the massive show rallies of the mainstream parties.
Still, a possible ban is widely discussed on the many political talk shows on German TV and is supported almost across the political board. Die Linke demands the banning of the AfD’s youth wing, Junge Alternative, and has called for a leader of the AfD, Björn Hoecke, to be stripped of his citizenship rights. He is leader of the AfD fraction in the federal state of Thuringia, one of three states where the national intelligence agency has found the AfD to be “officially in contravention of the German constitution”. A petition demanding a ban currently stands at over a million signatories.12
Banning a political party in Germany is an extremely complex process, which can only be started by the government or a majority in the Bundestag or the second chamber, the Bundesrat. The last time there were attempts to ban a party - the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD) - they failed rather miserably. The first time, in 2003, the process had to be abandoned after it transpired that the regional and national leaderships of the party were riddled with “too many” informants and spies (this begs the question of how many is ‘just right’). The second attempt led to a four-year process, which ended in 2017 with Germany’s federal supreme court ruling against a ban: although it found that the NPD was indeed acting “against the constitution”, it was deemed too small to cause any real damage.13
Socialists and communists should stay well clear from calls for such bans, even when it comes to allegedly ‘neo-Nazi’ parties. We are, after all, interested in overthrowing the capitalist system, including the various ‘oh so democratic’ constitutions. It is no coincidence that the last time the Federal government was successful in implementing such a ban was in 1956, when the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was outlawed.