'Anti-Germans': Excusing capitalism of role in rise of Hitler
Susann Witt-Stahl of the Hamburg-based Assoziation Dämmerung examines the enigma of the anti-German Germans
The so-called ‘anti-German’ Germans, although they are obviously a specifically German phenomenon, should be of concern to the international left. The Antideutsche pose a big problem for the left in Germany, especially the anti-capitalist left. Their ideology can perhaps be compared to the kind of thing you will see on the blog Harry’s Place.
The German left is suffering from a process of neo-conservatisation - a very regressive development that comes in the guise of anti-nationalism and even communism. For me this phenomenon is a structural-historical development that has to be explained with regard to German history and so-called German reunification. It has filled the political vacuum generated within the anti-capitalist left by the collapse of ‘really existing socialism’.
A left no longer able to project its hopes and dreams through the old ‘official’ communism now sees its land of milk and honey in Israel. The emblem of ‘anti-German’ anti-fascist groups is made up of half the flag of the USA and the other half of Israel.1 I have often wondered why people involved in anti-fascist, grassroots and autonomist groups in Germany stopped protesting against imperialist wars and instead began to wave the flags of the USA and Israel2 and chant, ‘Anti-fascism means an airstrike!’3 Hardly what you would expect from the left. I have also wondered why, on the one hand, these people declare themselves to be anti-nationalist, yet, on the other, they are fanatically pro-Zionist and pro-US. And I have noticed that many people who called themselves communists oppose anti-capitalism and say that it is anti-Semitic. Some say that the Third Reich represented a classless society featuring a ‘negative sublation’ of capitalism.
‘Anti-German’ demonstrations and blogs feature militaristic symbols4 and demands for the arming of Israel - a very common slogan. Young people especially will curse and swear at the traditional leftwing movement, calling us ‘inter-National Socialists’ - a play on ‘National Socialists’ obviously. They also talk about the ‘anti-Semitic International’.5
‘Anti-German’ groups slander working class people, referring to them as the Volksgemeinschaft - a term used by the Nazis to refer to the German ‘people’s community’, free from Jews, Marxists, etc.6 These same groups spread hatred of the Arab people, especially the Palestinians, whom they call anti-Semites and Jew-murderers, and who they maintain are the successors to the Nazis. The ‘anti-Germans’ began to appear in the early 1990s. After the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic there were many racist and xenophobic attacks against immigrants and non-white Germans. You may know about the shameful pogroms conducted in Rostock-Lichtenhagen in 1992, for example. In response to these events parts of the communist movement began discussing the possibility of an impending ‘fourth Reich’.
The ‘anti-Germans’ were born from a struggle within the important Kommunistischer Bund group. It was a struggle between the traditional ‘official’ communist wing and the emerging ‘anti-German’ wing, which saw in Saddam Hussein the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. They claimed that Saddam Hussein would complete the ‘final solution’ in Israel. As a result the ‘anti-Germans’ demanded unconditional solidarity with the Jewish state, where holocaust survivors and their children are waging the final, ongoing defensive battle of World War II, which in their opinion never really ended.
They think that the continuation of Nazi ideology was imported into the Arab world by the then grand mufti of Jerusalem.7 By the way, the leftwing historian, Gilbert Achcar, has recently written a very interesting book on this issue8 and he did a good job in demonstrating that the stories about the importation and supposed influence of Nazi ideology in the Middle East were false.
In the following years the ‘anti-Germans’ began to take on a neo-con agenda - it was a radically new politics that embraced the neo-conservatism of the Bush doctrine. The so-called Bahamas - a leading group of hard-core ‘anti-Germans’ who publish a magazine of the same name - call themselves ‘friends of the American war’.9 Their proponents have agitational images of George Bush mixed with communist iconography, implying that today real communism is represented by George Bush.10
A Bahamas leader, Justus Wertmüller, referring to the ‘historical task’ of the anti-German movement, said: “We are the wrecking company of the international left.” I am confident that they will not succeed in this project, but at the moment it is certainly making an impact. It has managed to paralyse a good part of the autonomist scene, much of the communist left and especially the anti-fascist movement.
As I have said, many of the Antideutsche came from the communist movement. But I think it is very important to note that the majority of them came and come from the upper and middle classes. Many are students and academics, but there are also a lot of journalists in this movement. And what worries me is that the art and music scene is also very much embroiled. ‘Anti-German’ politics have also spread into the foundations of the wider left and liberal politics: for example, the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, the leftwing Die Linke party and also the union movement and its Hans Böckler Foundation, something which saddens me a lot.
So what are the theories of the Antideutsche? Many ‘anti-Germans’ insist that they are Marxists, but on closer examination one can find that their ‘Marxism’ amounts to little more than the neutralising of its revolutionary impulse. Integration and reformism instead of revolution. They spread a version of Marxism that is more like something derived from Friedrich von Hayek than from Karl Marx.
The mainstream of the Antideutsche is strictly against anti-capitalism and anti-capitalist struggle, because such a struggle ‘always end in barbarism’. So, they say, we have to restrict our criticism to political economy. A leading ‘anti-German’ theorist, Stephan Grigat, says that “Communism is nothing more than the movement of materialistic criticism”. With such a point of view, class struggle is removed from the practical agenda of global change: in other words, the negation of Marx’s 11th thesis on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”
Many ‘anti-Germans’ refer especially to the value theory of Moishe Postone, who reduces class struggle to a mere contradiction within the relations of capital - an interpretation without any potential to open the way for a free society and the emancipation of its people.
Then there is a concept that is very important for ‘anti-German’ ideology: the ‘automatic subject’ of Karl Marx. Everybody knows that for Marx capital is a social-economic relation that is produced and reproduced by human agency within given structures. Hence, it can be liquidated and re-ordered through human agency. But the Antideutsche mainstream, in the name of Karl Marx, says that capitalism is the automatic subject and interprets this to mean a mystical, irrational structure moving independently of any agency. They deny that the relations of capital are those of class. Some ‘anti-Germans’ go so far as to deny the existence of class and class relations.
Capitalism, they say, is the irrational logic of a subjectless ‘capitalistic self-purpose’. The denial that capitalism is a man-made social-economic structure is at the core of ‘anti-German’ ideology: because capitalism arose historically and reproduces itself in an entirely automatic fashion, its limits can likewise only be set according to the same automatic logic. The ‘automatic subject’ is viewed as a god-like entity.
The consequence of this type of thinking is that humanity is powerless to do anything other than sit and wait - and watch, as one disaster after another engulfs the world. It is a kind of political Buddhism, where everything depends on fate. It is a ‘Marxism’ without a proletariat, without class war and without revolution, presided over by an impotent Marx.
It would seem that there is a close relationship between the critical theory of Theodor W Adorno and the thinking of the ‘anti-Germans’. They claim in some way to be spiritual successors of Adorno, but if you take a closer look you can see that they do not actually base their ideas on any critical theory. Even on the essentials the ‘anti-Germans’ contradict critical theory.
For example, does the proletariat have any role as an agent of global change? According to Joachim Bruhn, one of the chief ‘anti-German’ ideologists, the revolutionary impulse of the European proletariat ended with the Spanish revolution in 1936 and will never reappear.11 He assumes the complete historical failure of the proletariat, which was only ever a passing moment in the transition from the formal subsumption of labour under capital to its real subsumption. The proletariat is now seen as impotent individuals dominated by capital - a system which no longer allows for social contradiction or for class and human agency.
The proletariat represents the fetishisation of labour in the sense of the Nazi slogan, Arbeit macht frei (‘Work sets you free’) - that is the opinion of the mainstream of the ‘anti-Germans’. The proletariat is no longer capable of class war, let alone socialism. Its existence can only be manifested through fascism and anti-Semitism. So the ‘anti-Germans’ think that the priority is to ensure that the proletariat can never again become a fascist Volksgemeinschaft - in order to repress its fascistic impulses it must be integrated into bourgeois society.
The ‘anti-Germans’ quote Adorno almost as a founding father of their ideology, but I want to stress that Adorno has nothing in common with their cultural pessimism. In 1969, the year that he died, he wrote a work focusing on the contradiction between class and society: Can one live after Auschwitz? - a philosophical reader, in which he says the following:
“The rigidified institutions, the relations of production, are not Being as such. Even in their omnipotence they are man-made and revocable. In their relationship to the subjects from which they originate and which they enclose they remain thoroughly antagonistic. Not only does the whole demand its own modification in order not to perish, but by virtue of its antagonistic essence it is also impossible for it to extort that complete identity with human beings that is relished in negative utopias.”12
So you see that Adorno does not agree with this despair with civilisation that characterises ‘anti-German’ thought. Adorno also said in 1969 that capitalist society remains founded on class war today just as much as when it emerged. So he never renounced the idea of class struggle and human agency.
Another very important issue with the ‘anti-German’ ideology is the concept of anti-Semitism. For Moishe Postone, whom they constantly refer to, Auschwitz was an attempt to exterminate value.13 But Postone made a big mistake in his theory. From the fact that Karl Marx at the beginning of his Capital abstracts from the use-value of the produced commodity - something he did only for methodological reasons, just to analyse their value - Postone draws the false conclusion that value itself is “abstract”. And because some anti-Semites have characterised the “power of the Jews” as “abstract” Postone deduces that their hate is directed at the value which they personalise as being in “the Jews”. And so his ‘anti-German’ supporters maintain that the holocaust was not a phenomenon of capitalist society: it was in fact an anti-capitalist phenomenon. If you look at the book by Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of enlightenment, you get a completely different perspective on modern anti-Semitism. Adorno and Horkheimer regarded it as a form of false consciousness within capitalism, which distracted the aggression from the capitalist to the Jew.
I will give you one example:
“The responsibility of the circulation sector for exploitation is a socially necessary pretence. The Jews were not the sole owners of the circulation sector, but they have been active in it for so long that they mirrored, in their own ways, the hatred they had always borne. Unlike their Aryan colleagues, they were still largely denied access to the origins of surplus value. It was a long time before, with difficulty, they were allowed to own means of production.”14
In the chapter, ‘Elements of anti-Semitism’, you will find a lot of very interesting analysis on how anti-Semitism is connected to capitalism. One cannot be divided from the other - anti-Semitism is not an anti-capitalist phenomenon.
Let me turn now to the actual political practice of the ‘anti-German’ movement. As I have noted, the ‘anti-Germans’ demand unconditional solidarity with the state of Israel and by extension the ‘defence’ forces of the USA. This means that they condemn all forms of criticism of Israel and all forms of protest and resistance against Israel and Zionism as pure anti-Semitism and nothing but anti-Semitism.
For the Antideutsche, anti-Zionism is just anti-Semitism in an acceptable form. In practice this means that they oppose not just anti-Zionism, but anti-imperialism, internationalism and especially Islam. For them Islam is the Nazism of today. They say: “Never again, Germany; never again, Islam”.
It is important to understand the depth of ‘anti-German’ hatred for the leftwing movement as a whole. They hate the concept of the Marxist-Leninist party. To quote one ‘anti-German’ website: “Down with aggressive criticism of capitalism, anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism! Take away the rights of the German left and other Nazis! Never again, Germany! Solidarity with Israel!”15
One of my favourite pieces of Antideutsche nonsense is taken from a sticker produced around the time of the second Gulf War against Iraq in 2003. It has a picture of bomber pilots and the words, “Sir Arthur Harris did the right thing. Mr Rumsfeld, proceed with his anti-fascist mission!”16 A very typical slogan of the anti-Germans is: “IDF in Ramallah is the real anti-fa!” Another rhyming chant is: “We wear Gucci, we wear Prada - death to the intifada!”
Lifestyle is a very important part of ‘anti-German’ politics. They are aggressively pro-consumption, pro- hedonism and pro-gentrification.17 They are pro-culture industry, pro-McDonald’s - which for them is a symbol of civilisation and progress. Very central in this lifestyle is fetishising Israel. They repeat the usual neo-con lines about Israel being the ‘only real democracy in the region’, how its a paradise for homosexuals in contrast to the Arab states, how the Israeli Defence Force is the most moral army in the world, and so on.
The ‘anti-Germans’ also have a thriving subculture. The band Egotronic plays to sell-out concerts, with its homages to the old punk-rock scene, but the neoliberal politics of the music stand in stark contrast. Egotronic calls for solidarity with the IDF and support for the war on Gaza. Its lead singer has even said that a Die Linke politician, Anne Höger, who took part in the Gaza relief flotilla deserves a bullet in the head. He even dedicated the song, ‘Hunting Nazis’, to her!
The most important media outlet for the ‘anti-Germans’ is Bahamas, although there are also more moderate publications. For example, until 1990 Konkret was actually a straightforward anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist magazine, but it suddenly metamorphosed into an ‘anti-German’ journal: it supported the first Gulf War in 1991, for example. Then there are the vulgar magazines - Jungle World for example - for the more casual and life-stylist ‘anti-Germans’. I always joke that these are the ‘party Zionists’.
Another problem we have is the position of the Antideutsche within broadcasting. In fact most independent radio stations are now in the hands of the ‘anti-German’ movement. In Hamburg SFK radio regularly spreads rumours about individuals involved in the anti-imperialist movement. For example, it was claimed that anti-imperialist activists in Hamburg were planning “pogroms” against the Jewish community.
It is important to understand just how far these people are prepared to go politically. For example, the Bahamas ‘anti-Germans’ are in solidarity with the English Defence League. According to their reasoning, the EDL is a very good, patriotic organisation, which embodies the spirit of Churchill (who was a real anti-German), so we have to be close to them.18
Finally, let me touch on the influence of the ‘anti-Germans’ within Die Linke. Their neo-con ideology has been responsible for promoting significant changes in party policy. In the past Die Linke was critical of Israel and called for solidarity with the Palestinians. But now a part of the party is pro-Israel.
In 2011 the Die Linke fraction in the Bundestag decided unanimously and published a declaration in which anti-Semitism was redefined along neo-conservative lines. Examples of anti-Semitism are: demanding a one-state solution; taking part in the Gaza flotilla; and boycotting Israeli goods.19 No other party in Germany has adopted such a definition of anti-Semitism.
The problem we have on the streets is that the ‘anti-Germans’ do not just talk aggressively: they act aggressively. Some work closely with the political police - and they are proud of it. They make malicious false charges against anti-imperialists.
So what is the ‘anti-German’ movement? Since the founding of the Berlin republic there has been a strong tendency in Germany to share the historic burden of National Socialist history - including the anti-fascist imperative of ‘No more wars’, which is seen as rather obstructive to military operation like the one in Afghanistan.
While the right either denies the holocaust or tries to put an end to debates about it, the ex-left pursues similar goals through a presumptuous and distasteful lack of distance from, as well as a hostile takeover of, all those they identify as Jewish victims. But the desire to be aligned with innocent victims - without ever having had to suffer, of course - goes hand in hand with another desire: to shed not only the distasteful history of that victimisation, but also the chauvinist pain of military defeat. To be associated with the historical victors, in other words.
The Zionist ‘Bear Jew’ of the film Inglourious basterds who defends the eastern borders of the civilised west against the barbaric Islamo-Nazis represents this ‘anti-German’ fantasy and projected identity. On the other hand, Jews who embody the extinct diasporic world and the related experience of suffering, as well as the Jewry to which the Marxist philosopher, Max Horkheimer, once attributed an “infinite gentleness”, are treated with contempt by the ‘anti-Germans’. Mourning for the victims of the holocaust - just like committing to anti-militarism and peace - is perceived as ‘unsexy’. They prefer to celebrate the liberation of Auschwitz with a week of raves, as they chant, “Palestine, on your knees - the settlers are coming back” or “Bomber Harris, superstar, come and join my anti-fa”.
The Nazis’ grandchildren today claim to be the successors of the Allied ‘liberators’.
8. G Achcar The Arabs and the holocaust London 2011.
12. TW Adorno Can one live after Auschwitz? - a philosophical reader Stanford 2033, p120.
14. TW Adorno and M Horkheimer Dialectic of enlightenment London 1997, p174.