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Germany: The extreme right is growing – how about the resistance?

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Ten thousand demonstrators mobilised in the north German city of Hanover on December 2 against the conference of the far right party, the Alternative for Germany, AfD, which won 12.6 per cent in the September elections and entered the country’s parliament for the first time. The AfD also has seats in 14 of Germany’s 16 Länder (regional) parliaments.

From the early morning, 1,500 demonstrators mounted four blockades and a fifth was massively attacked by the police, with baton charges, pepper spray and water cannon. A number of demonstrators were injured, one with a broken leg. This direct action actually succeeded in barring the 600 delegates' way to the venue, delaying the conference opening for one hour. But, after their embarrassment over the riots during the G20 summit in Hamburg, the 5,000 cops were better prepared. The Zoo district was turned into a veritable fortress and nearby tram and bus traffic was halted and cars excluded.

In the event, the blockades were mainly carried out by radical leftist, anti-racist and anti-capitalist groups as well as some young members of the Left Party and the trade unions. Members of ArbeiterInnenmacht, German section of the LFI, and REVOLUTION joined the actions, blockading streets heading towards the AfD-convention centre. We also joined in the demonstration after the protests, distributing leaflets calling for a united front against racism.

The blockades could have been more effective if larger forces from the trade unions and the reformist parties had joined them but the organisers of the main demonstration moved the route of the demo away from the AfD conference venue. Indeed, the district chief of the union confederation, the DGB, Reiner Eifler, even explained that they were hoping for, "a de-escalating effect".

Apart from refugees, who did not form a distinct block, the bulk of the demonstration represented left-wing organisations and movements, including sizeable delegations from Kurdish migrant organisations and the Left Party. There were far fewer from the unions. Church representatives were given the right to speak, but did not show up on the march, nor did the NGOs.

The rapid rise of the AfD and the near paralysis of the “traditional” ruling parties, the Christian Democrats/Christian Social Union and the Social Democrats, make it clear that the pattern of local alliances, put together to oppose particular events or racist incidents, is not enough either to fight racism or to defend the broader interests of workers and immigrants.

Dirk Schulze, of the engineering union, IG-Metall, told the Neue Presse Hannover, "The AfD is an anti-worker party. It calls into question trade union co-determination and has spoken out in favour of raising the retirement age and lowering pensions”. Very true, but a Grand Coalition between CDU/CSU and the SPD would be likely to actually implement such measures!

If, as seems increasingly likely, such a Grand Coalition takes office, then the AfD, with 94 MPs, will be the main opposition party in the Bundestag. It will certainly use its parliamentary tribune to attract voters disillusioned by the running down of social services and focus the blame on immigrants. This will be all the more dangerous if the trade unions continue to paralyse the workers' resistance, as they have done in the past when the SPD was in government, even as a junior partner in a coalition.

All of this shows the importance not just of anti-AfD or Pegida mobilisations, absolutely necessary as these are, but of a working class united front against any government attacking the gains of the working class. The radical left, already in the forefront of demonstrations like Hamburg and Hanover, needs to put much more pressure on the trade unions and the reformist parties, the SPD as well as the Left Party, Die Linke, for a united front of resistance. Only if there is a powerful, openly working class, alternative can the swamp of racist populism and fascism be drained and a revolutionary alternative be offered.

What direction for the AfD after Hanover?
Although the AfD's big breakthrough came from the backlash against Angela Merkel's decision to let in over one million refugees, mainly from Syria and other parts of the Middle East, it was well on the way to establishing itself as a right-wing party before that. In 2013, only one year after its foundation, it gained 4.7 percent, only narrowly missing the five-percent threshold to enter parliament.

The following year it gained 7.1 percent in the European elections. From 2015 on, it openly campaigned around racist slogans like "Islam does not belong in Germany", “Stop Islamisation!” and “We want our homeland back”. It demands that the EU's external borders be "completely shut".

The AfD reflects the crisis in bourgeois society but it is by no means a unified bloc. After its entry into the Bundestag, the congress in Hanover was the forum in which to sort out the conflicting currents and to establish the party's direction of march.

Since its foundation, the leadership of the AfD has moved more and more to the right. Originally, the party was primarily anti-European, aiming to become the sister party of the British Conservatives. It was headed by Bernd Lucke, a professor of economics, and Olaf Henkel, the former president of the board of German industrialists. Its main goal was to leave the EU and the Euro-zone, which it combined with an extreme version of neo-liberalism.

From the very beginning, however, it also included a nationalist, right wing populist wing, and appealed for right-wing support. With the so-called “refugee-crisis”, the right wing ousted the professors and “moderates”. Some of those who initiated the removal of the old leadership, like Frauke Petry, later themselves fell victim to the growing right wing, nationalist, völkisch and even fascist elements attracted to the party.

The growth of the right wing in the AfD, itself an alliance between national-conservative and far right and even fascist forces, was revealed in the elections for the two party chairmen on December 2. Whilst the former chairman, Jörg Meuthen, a supposedly moderate economist was re-elected, the second post was contested.

The “only conservative” candidate and leader of the AfD-Berlin, Georg Pazderski, was challenged by a less well known right wing candidate, Doris Fürstin von Sayn-Wittgenstein. This ultra-right aristocrat, who rejects collaboration with all other parties and demands the promotion of the “Fatherland” instead of “multiculturalism”, won almost half of the votes. She was the candidate of the extreme right wing of the party around Björn Höcke, AfD-leader in Thüringia who collaborates closely with organisations like Pegida and “Die Identitären”. He become infamous for his anti-semitism, branding the holocaust memorial in Berlin as a “shameful memorial”.

At this point of crisis and chaos, Alexander Gauland, the leader of the parliamentary faction, entered the scene. The other candidates withdrew and he became chairman of the party, its real leader. He belongs to the hardline majority. Gauland, a former long standing CDU-politician, has praised the German army in the Second and First World Wars. Politically, he represents the national-conservative tradition, clearly prepared to work closely with those like Höcke and to model the AfD around the strategy of the FPÖ in Austria.

The content of the AfD's policies has not changed in the seven months since the adoption of their programme in Cologne. The programmatic proposals of the East German Länder associations, demanding a more "social" profile for the AfD, were postponed and transferred to a strategy commission. That does not alter the fact that the majority have shifted to the right, in particular since its pro-boss wing has no difficulty combining racism, anti-establishment rhetoric and neo-liberalism. Thus, the way seems to be open for the right-wing nationalist party strategists, who are relying on mobilising the reactionary elements of society.

Currently, the majority of the AfD have the strategic aim of joining a coalition government but, as Gauland put it, only on an "equal footing", similar to the Freedom Party, FPÖ, in Austria. If they entered government only as junior partners they fear that would be worn down like the Liberals, FDP, were a few years ago. Gauland and his supporters clearly want to follow the FPÖ model. The extreme right-wing faction around people like Hans-Thomas Tillschneider only want to enter government if they have the majority, whether by election or some sort of coup, they leave open.

For this reason, the AfD will continue to move to the right in the coming months and years, relying even more on racism and appeals to the "homeland", the people (volk) and the soil. It will continue to be open to street movements such as Pegida, to which the party's doors were never shut anyway.

At the same time, however, it will also work on its own "normalisation" in the municipalities, where initial alliances with "respectable" bourgeois forces are only a matter of time, and in individual Land parliaments, where it will seek cooperation with the CDU on "classical" right-wing conservative issues such as deportations, "fighting crime" and combating "left-wing extremism".

Clearly, all this underlines the need for the German left and labour movement to go beyond one day actions against right wing conventions. We need a working class united front against the racists; one that defends all the immigrant communities and the social gains and organisations of the working class.