Friday, February 11, 2005

Neo-Nazis In Suits

There are two disturbing reports in today's Guardian here and here about the rise and rise of neo-Nazism in Germany. As I have been reading Philip Roth's The Plot Against America I was especially struck by similarities in the insidious normalisation of far right poison in both the novel and today's Germany.

Luke Harding files a long report on the electoral rise of the
neo-Nazi National Party of Germany (NPD) in Saxony. There are even well-founded fears that the party will have MPs sitting in the Bundestag in 2006. What do these new fascists look like? "The NPD's new MPs don't look like skinheads .... They wear suits; they are in their 30s; and they are impeccably polite". This may be true but the NDP's tactics look frighteningly familiar: intimidatory demonstrations (such as the one planned for Dresden on Sunday) and other forms of violence, notably assaults by individuals and small groups on racially identified scapegoats like Jews or foreign workers, are part of the strategic repertoire of fascism.

As Harding notes, the success of the NPD has caught most mainstream politicians by surprise though why this should be I'm not quite sure. After all, the far right - in Germany and the rest of Europe - has been organising for quite some time now, at least since the early 1980s. For example, racist violence in east Germany reached a highpoint in 1991 in a sustained assault on a refugee and guestworker accommodation block in the Saxon town of Hoyerswerda and, in the following year, over 1,000 rightwing thugs attacked asylum seekers in Rostock over five days of mayhem. Some conservative politicians and commentators are even likening today's situation with the collapsing Weimar Republic in the early 1930s - rising unemployment and a remote, unpopular government in Berlin though I don't think the historical parallels really hold. The frustrations with reunification or economic problems are simply not of the same order as the preconditions that allowed for what Robert Paxton calls the "epoch of fascism" in the 1930s.

Nonetheless, the electoral success of the neo-Nazis is deeply disturbing in its own right. Some political opponents, like the Greens, have decided simply to ignore them.
This is hopeless. Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrat-Green government is considering a ban on the NPD and its far-right sister party, the Deutsche Volksunion (DVU). Some will consider this an illiberal and inappropriate response. I think that this is a necessary but insufficient countermeasure to neo-Nazism at this juncture. It is no time to play softball with the fascists in suits. But relying on the state - even a liberal democratic one run by the centre-left - cannot hide the fact that the state is not a neutral institution. The police in Hoyerswerda and Rostock took action against anti-fascist demonstrators with much greater alacrity than when their task was to stop assaults on foreigners which lasted days. This is not difficult to understand given the racist sympathies of sections of police forces in Germany. The fight against fascism in Germany, as elsewhere, will only be successful if mass anti-fascist movements can be mobilised. In a fascinating review of fascism in Germany - written more than ten years ago - Rick Kuhn says this about the power of confrontation:
Challenged by big counter-demonstrations when they try to march or rally fascists loose several of their most important means of attracting support. The acceptability of their ideas is challenged when large numbers of people publicly demonstrate their hostility. The cultivated image of power, ability to intimidate political opponents and hence the credence for their racist programs fascists seek is deflated when they are unable to dominate the streets.
If the neo-Nazi march on Sunday is not banned then the hope must be for a mass demonstration of outrage. And then the next stage of the struggle against this poison must begin in earnest.


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