A basic feature of today's imperialist world – the division of the globe into the feasting and the fed upon – has become so unbearable that millions of people in Africa, Asia and Latin America would rather risk death than accept the future that a country oppressed by imperialism can offer them. This, in turn, is seen as a threat to the serenity and stability of Europe.
Surprise and shock rattled all of Europe when the AfD (Alternative for Germany) more than doubled its previous score in the September federal elections and entered the German parliament. Unfortunately, many people saw this turn of events as an anomaly in a self-correcting system. How could fascists have deep and durable appeal in a country they already brought to disaster in World War II? The four parties that have governed Germany in various combinations since the war had held out hope that by making concessions to AfD's anti-immigration demands, they could undercut AfD's appeal, shore up the political centre and prevent further polarisation.
But the opposite happened. German Chancellor Angel Merkel has been unable to put together a new governing coalition. This has produced Germany's most serious political crisis since it emerged from the war's rubble. The consequences are all the more potentially far-reaching because Germany has been an essential pillar of political stability in Europe. Many people would like to see "Mother" Merkel become "the leader of the free world", an alternative to everything Trump represents. She has been, incontrovertibly, the most steadfast representative of the social-democratic and politically liberal consensus that has prevailed in the West since the war, an order Trump and his ilk are out to demolish.
The problem is not only that none of the mainstream parties won a majority, or even just that all lost many voters to the AfD. More importantly, the whole political mainstream is continuing to bleed legitimacy. No matter what Merkel comes up with to patch up the immediate governmental crisis, her impotence and desperation reveal the degree to which the AfD has seized the initiative. It is forcing the other parties to react to it, to adopt parts of its programme and discourse, in fear that otherwise they may further discredit themselves and strengthen the fascists even more. In turn, this legitimises the fascists and feeds their voracious hunger for power. This dynamic is now driving political developments.
The AfD started out as a "Eurosceptic" party, criticizing European Union "cosmopolitanism" for not serving "our" best interests. This focus on the country, which, in context, can only mean the interests of the monopoly capitalist-imperialists who run it, has shifted to a focus on "the nation", whether defined by "Germanness", as some more polite ideologues of the governing parties have put it, or "blood", as Nazi-nostalgic fascists prefer. No matter what other issues may be dear to the hearts of other parties (like Germany's outrageous, calculated dependence on dirty coal), the AfD has succeeded in making immigration the central question for the entire political spectrum. While ideas similar to those of the AfD have long been implied by ideologues of the ruling parties, the fascists have stripped them of their ambiguity and mounted them on a fiery cross: people who are not like "us" have no place on German or European soil.
What this means in programmatic terms was spelled out in neighbouring Poland, where the country's Independence Day (11 November) was celebrated by a fascist march unmatched in the post-war period because of its unashamed call for genocide and its pan-European participation as well as its size (60-90,000 people). Not only did it call for a "white Europe" by means of a "Moslem holocaust", it also promised violent punishment for previous Polish and present European leaders (with Merkel in the front ranks) for betraying "European civilization". In opposition to bourgeois-democratic values, some marchers chanted slogans and carried symbols harkening back to the First Crusade (1095), launched by the Catholic Church, when nobles assembled armies and mobs that started by massacring Jews in Europe and then marched to Jerusalem, where they filled the streets with the corpses of its Moslem inhabitants.
This unrestrained explosion of the same kind of hatred that defines the AfD in only a slightly more discrete form was endorsed by a government Trump chose to closely identity himself with by making Poland the first stop on his trip to Europe last July. It echoed slogans and themes Trump himself loudly voiced when he warned, "The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive." Trump called on Poles to fight for "family, for freedom, for country, and for God", declaring, "Every last inch of civilization is worth defending with your life." Like Trump, Poland's ruling PiS, whose interior minister called the 11 November march "a beautiful sight", is not only implementing a sharp turn to the right but seeking a basic change in the system of government by, among other measures, taking over the judiciary and media.
In reaction to all this, some people, in academia and the streets, argue that it's "natural" for human beings to be worried by the presence of people not like "us". Almost all commentators will tell you that Merkel's humiliation was "caused" by her 2015 decision to accept a million immigrants.
This ignores the demagogic dimension of today's politics. While Germany has become home to many more immigrants than Poland, the AfD's biggest following is in regions with relatively fewer immigrants. In Poland, there are few immigrants at all, and even fewer Moslems. The physical presence of foreigners does not explain the rise of fascism.
At the same time, it is true that a basic feature of today's imperialist world – the division of the globe into the feasting and the fed upon – has become so unbearable that millions of people in Africa, Asia and Latin America would rather risk death than accept the future that a country oppressed by imperialism can offer them. This, in turn, is seen as a threat to the serenity and stability of Europe. There is a real crisis of imperialist domination, and its most important effect is in the superstructure, the ideas and modes of thinking that correspond to the way societies are organized.
In a recent article entitled, "It's the Kultur, Stupid", historian Timothy Garton Ash uses opinion surveys and statistical analysis of the German vote to disprove the view that the AfD's success can be explained by economic hardship. Although its strongholds are in the former East Germany, an area relatively disadvantaged by imperialist globalization, the AfD drew significant support from all but one voting district across the country. Most of its supporters report their economic situation as "good" or "very good". Rather than pocketbook issues, what most concerns them is the weakening of the values they feel should hold together German society, "country, family and religion" – themes paramount for Trump's U.S. social base.
Until recently, Merkel, along with other mainstream European leaders (and the EU central apparatus itself) has been identified with "multiculturalism", the idea that their societies should welcome and tolerate people of different cultures. There's much hypocrisy and blindness to oppression in the way this is practised. In France, by comparison, all political parties hold that foreigners should assimilate into the dominant culture. But in both Germany and France, a key question is the character of that dominant culture, and the dangers posed by its weakening.
Fascists throughout the West have constantly complained that the liberal democratic forces who have been governing the imperialist order have not been sufficiently tough in dealing with reactionary jihadist forces opposing them, particularly in the Middle East – in his election campaign, Trump repeatedly snarled that “Obama is weak!”, and openly brandished the use of torture. But these reactionaries also falsely conflate Islam in general with reactionary fundamentalism and jihad, and perceive Islamic fundamentalism as being everything they think the West should be but is not: societies obedient to traditional authority, cohered by religion, based on "the family" (patriarchy, traditional gender and other oppressive relationships) and aggressively determined to remake the world in that image. Some fascists in the U.S. have even called for "white Sharia", especially meaning forcing women to return to the home and a husband's authority.
In imperialist as well as dominated countries, the rise of ever more extreme reactionary world outlooks is a reaction to the undermining of ways of life corresponding to so-called "family values" by the workings of the imperialist world system and the accelerating effects of globalisation, making neighbourhoods, regions and societies around the world feel unrecognisable to many inhabitants. The changes in family structure and the position of women is one of the most consequential and deeply-felt factors. For instance, a great many women have been drawn out of the home – literally in Poland, where women make up the majority of the millions who have gone to Germany, the UK and elsewhere to work, leaving fathers and other men behind. This is one of many basic changes in women and men's lives bringing the way they live into conflict with the patriarchal values they were brought up to believe.
In Poland, one of the ruling party's main battering rams to restore medieval "Catholic Poland" has been a drive to completely ban abortions (for the sake of God and more Polish babies), already far more restricted than most of the world. This issue continues to be one of the most hard-fought, on both sides. An attempt to pass the ban last year was abandoned when millions of women and men wore black to support a call for strikes in schools and workplaces. Massive women's marches took place in Warsaw and half a dozen other cities. Yet the 11 November march went all but unopposed, except for a small and very brave group of women carrying "Stop Fascism" signs.
Even long before the rise of the AfD, ideologues connected to Germany's governing parties were discussing the need for a "German leading culture", in opposition to what was said to be Islamic values ("We are not Burka", Germany's Interior Minister put it). The culture of his "we" is defined by the same German patriotism and German-style patriarchy that the bloodthirsty fascists advocate more ferociously. This is one reason why the establishment parties are not able to compete well for hearts and minds in Germany and Poland, as well as elsewhere. They represent the same oppressive capitalist system that perpetuates oppressive relations between people, and they, too, are extremely concerned with not only preserving but strengthening those relationships and the values and thinking that both reflect and enforce them.
While the Enlightenment said to infuse German "leading culture" was associated with essential elements for human progress such as reason, science and the separation of society from the control of the church, it also brought the triumph of capitalism in Europe and opened the way for Europe and North America to impose slavery and depredation on most of the world's people. Germany's place in the world, near the top of the world's biggest predators, and the imperative to advance that position amid today's turmoil and increasing competition among the world's powers, is not a point of fundamental disagreement between the mainstream and the fascists. It is considered acceptable among ruling circles to discuss how to free Germany from the "burden" of its past (unburdened by "guilt" so that it can act like WWII victorious powers such as the U.S. and France, that can send in troops and weld weapons of mass destruction without worrying about domestic public opinion). The AfD just takes this a step further by calling for honouring the German military's "achievements" in the world wars. Their delegates wore yellow ribbons in solidarity with the German army when they took their seats in the Bundestag.
So there is an underlying continuity between these positions and discourses, but there are also important differences. One reason for the difference is that the fascists are seeking not only to save all that is most reactionary in today's "leading culture" but to bring it more into line with what German imperialism really has done, but most fundamentally, what it will very likely have to do now.
The reason why Merkel and the German mainstream are so ill equipped to take on the fascists politically and in the sphere of ideas is especially clear if we look at how Merkel – and Europe – have handled immigration, both in terms of measures and the ideology behind them.
Just to be clear, Merkel's original decision to accept a million newcomers to Germany was based on the needs of the German capitalist-imperialist ruling class in the face of the country's very low birthrate and shrinking population. German "family values" stigmatize mothers who work. Yet German employers need a million more workers a year. Further, it's harder for these imperialists to throw their weight around without a lot more Germans.
The governing parties now claim that they have to limit immigration out of humanitarian considerations (otherwise fascists would come to power and their rule would be worse). But the reality is that Germany, like the other European powers, is responsible for almost unfathomable inhumanity on a massive scale, aimed against millions of non-Europeans who have just as much reason and right to travel in search of something better as the millions who have left their homes and families behind in Poland and East Germany, even if they haven't been inculcated with a poisonous sense of entitlement.
Even before Merkel announced a change in policy, Germany had Hungary and other countries do their dirty anti-immigration work by closing the Balkan route northward. Germany made Greece set up horrific "refugee camps" where 15,000 people are spending the wet winter, often in tents and shacks. Germany also embraced its own kind of human trafficking when it offered to pay Turkey for each immigrant sent back from Europe. But the worst is concentrated in Libya, where the chaos produced by cynical imperialist intervention has left a fragmented central state. This has left a breach in the wall of states that have been supported by the West in return for keeping their own and other people from leaving the southern shores of the Mediterranean.
Now the European powers and the U.S. have set up a puppet government in the Libyan capital Tripoli (the so-called Government of National Accord) by backing some warlords against others. After cutting off search-and-rescue operations and criminalizing NGOs and ordinary citizens trying to save people from drowning, this puppet government set up a Libyan "coast guard" apparently run by some of the same militias that had previously been enriching themselves by ferrying immigrants to Europe on unsafe and often doomed vessels. Their new paid mission is to keep immigrants away from Italy and the rest of Europe. In coordination with European authorities, this "coast guard" opens fire on and rams refugee boats in international waters. Those captured at sea and on shore – as many as a million people – are being held in "official" government concentration camps where they are beaten and starved, or turned over to "private" militias operating in government territory. There they are often held for ransom or literally auctioned off as slaves. Once again Europe is delivering black Africans into slavery, not on ships crossing the Atlantic but with policies whose result is the same – while allowing them to pretend their hands are clean.
Germany and other countries have already violated their own and international laws guaranteeing the right of asylum to those fleeing wars and murderous regimes, even if those laws, by distinguishing between refugees and migrants, draw a ridiculous and immoral line between categories of people fleeing a hell not of their own making. Once mainstream political forces have established that some human beings, by birth, have rights and others do not, that only some lives matter, then people have been divided into humans and subhumans. A genocidal logic is embarked upon, no matter what the intent. This utimately legitimises the fascists who want to resolve imperialist hypocrisy by calling for open genocide. The bourgeois-democratic regimes cannot more effectively block the rise of fascist forces because their system itself, with its workings and contradictions and its inherent values, both spoken and unspoken, is driving this rise.
The crumbling of the political, social and ideological order most of us have known all our lives is irreversible. The question is what will replace it. The representatives of that order have no solutions to the crises their system has created. Their values are actually oppressive and highly hypocritical. Because of this, they themselves lack real passion or will to confront fascism. It is time to cast away illusions that these forces can be pushed to “do the right thing” or that playing within the rules of the existing political framework will stop this dynamic. Confronting and defeating the rise of the fascist forces and the poison they are spreading is up to us – to all those who recognize the urgent dangers they pose, and take responsibility for stopping their rise through organised mass resistance.
As an indispensable part of this, there is a vital need to get to the roots of why this madness is happening and how it grows out of a worldwide capitalist-imperialist system, and to spread awareness of the fact that there is a real solution to all this that is in the interests of humanity and the planet – a way to organize the world's people that can put an end to all oppressive relationships between people and liberate humanity's potential. This is possible guided by the vision and science of the revolutionary communism brought forward by Bob Avakian. So it is extremely urgent to awaken and organize and mobilize as many people as possible to beat back this rightwing lurch as part of the struggle to change the world in the strategic and fundamental interests of the oppressed and all humanity.
* JUAN SUI writes for A World to Win News Service (aworldtowinns.co.uk), where this article first appeared.
For more on this, see:
- The Center — Can It Hold? The Pyramid as Two Ladders, by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
- Massacre in Norway, and the Rise of Fascist Forces in the Ruling Classes of Western Imperialist Countries. Revcom.us
- It’s the Kultur, Stupid, by Timothy Garton Ash
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