Martin Suchanek, Berlin
On 7 December, the German Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office mobilised 3,000 police officers and special forces in the largest anti-terrorist operation in the history of the Federal Republic. In a coordinated operation, 150 venues were searched, materials and whole weapon caches were seized, and some 50 persons detained. They were accused of forming a terrorist organisation, the “Patriotic Union”, plotting to carry out a coup which would have included storming the Reichstag building, the seat of Germany’s parliament.
The declared aim of this group of conspirators, coincides with the declared aim of the wider, thousands strong, Reichsbürgerbewegung (Citizens of the Reich Movement ): i.e. the overthrow of the “illegitimate “ Federal Republic, founded in 1949, and the establishment of a “transitional government” aiming to restore the German Reich within the borders of 1871.
There is no doubt about the murderous intentions of the “Patriotic Union”, even though there is something clownish about a network, gathered around Heinrich XIII, Prinz Reuss zu Köstritz , scion of a 700-year-old minor Thuringian dynasty, whom they intended to make King of Germany.
The ideology of these conspirators centres on the belief that their “race” or nation is superior to all others but, despite this, has been subjected by a cunning international conspiracy of Jews, international financiers, liberals, gender activists, etc, etc.. This is recognizably similar to the ideas of the Nazis and other extreme right wing German right wing populists (the Völkisch tradition).
What makes them dangerous are their attempts to penetrate the state’s police and armed forces, their willingness to take violent action, with the aim of provoking a civil war in the chaos of which they could seize power.
Their mindset is reminiscent of militia groups like the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, etc who stormed the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. The same sort of conspiracy theories, including QAnon, also inspired members of the would-be monarch’s “shadow cabinet”. For years he and his “court” have been spreading the fairy tale that the First World War was the result of a conspiracy of Freemasons and Jews, that the monarchy still exists and the Federal Republic was just the creation of the Allied Occupiers and/or “world Jewry”.
Another of their number is the former Alternative for Germany (AfD) member of the Bundestag and judge Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, destined to be Minister of the Interior. She has long been agitating against migrants and refugees and became more radical identifying herself with the anti-vaxers.
The other major part of the conspiracy is made up of former officers of the Bundeswehr, especially units like the Special Forces Command (KSK), as well as some old East German National People’s Army (NVA), whose patriotic virtues, they believe, are being undermined by “liberal” politicians and “effeminate” traitors to the fatherland.
It is not yet clear how far the plans for an armed coup really went. There is little doubt that they had got beyond the stage of general declarations and wishful thinking. It apparently included plans to kidnap the Minister of Health, Lauterbach, and “neutralise”, i.e. murder, his personal security detail. The “Patriotic Union”, represents a right-wing terrorist conspiracy more serious than anything which has existed in Germany for decades. Also it is part of a radicalisation process that goes far beyond this small grouping.
It is one sign of a wider alienation from the political system of parts of the petty-bourgeois and middle-class strata. The economic, social and political crises since 2008 have undermined their social position. On this grows the fantasy of a conspiracy for the “repopulation” of Germany by immigrants, the “bleeding out” of Germany’s wealth via the Euro and the EU institutions, up to the fantasies that “vaccination” is aimed at sterilising the “white race”. The aims of this supposed conspiracy include subjugation of the country by the USA, a “Jewish world conspiracy”, for which gender transitioning, feminism, anti-racism, cosmopolitanism, etc., serve as preparation.
The rise of the AfD, the reactionary movement of the Querdenker (lateral thinkers), the German variety of the Antivaxers, have prepared the social ground on which groups like the “Patriotic Union” and other forms of right-wing, violent terrorism and militant conspiracy forces are emerging. These reactionary delusions, including a large dose of anti-Semitism, have taken hold of layers of the population in recent years – basically since the beginning of the shift to the right and the spread of racism against the arrival of Syrian and now Ukrainian refugees.
The “Reichsbürger”, which gained popularity during the pandemic, according to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is said to have grown to 21,000 individuals.
Self-proclaimed militants declare their houses and garden arbours to be “independent states” or even principalities and print bogus passports. Some dream of founding Germanic rural communes that vegetate as “self-supporters”, others again are part of the actual Nazi scene or closely connected to it.
They should not be understood as simply isolated, marginalised groups. Especially during the pandemic, irrationalism and petty-bourgeois radicalisation have increased significantly and have also taken hold of parts of the working class, too. Above all, however, they flourish among the modern middle classes not least in the apparatus of the “democratic state” as well as the traditional petty bourgeoisie.
It is no coincidence that the AfD is voted in by an above-average number of police officers. And no coincidence that right-wing activities are on the increase in the armed forces, the Bundeswehr, despite its constant invocation as a democratic and humanitarian force. Right-wing chat groups are regularly exposed in the armed forces. But these scandals are only the tip of the iceberg.
In the course of the crisis, and the conversion of the army for intensified imperialist interventions, albeit with a humanitarian veneer, the officer corps, professional soldiers and police forces are tending towards the right, more than average citizens. The professional soldier recruited to defend “our” values, i.e. “our” profits and geostrategic goals on NATO borders, in Mali or the Horn of Africa, must first be a “patriot”, ready to die for German imperialism, if necessary, but preferably to kill for it
It is part of the hypocrisy and double standards of the bourgeois democratic parties, especially the Greens and the reformist SPD, that they do not want to see that the capitalist crisis and its capital-conformist policies create precisely the breeding ground on which right-wing populism, conspiracy theorists and ultimately full-blown fascism thrive. They do not want to admit that it is not humanitarian or democratic hypocrisy but the imperialist course of the German Republic that shapes and educates people in the security apparatus who are particularly receptive to right-wing and extreme imperialist ideology.
The “Patriotic Union” cannot simply be played down as a troupe of clowns. Rather, it is a harbinger, a warning, of what is yet to come in a period of economic crisis and war in Ukraine, and conflict between the imperialist powers. But unlike in the biblical story, this “writing on the wall” is not of supernatural origin, but the result of human action or, more precisely, human inaction.
That right-wing and irrationalism can take root in this society, that a right-wing terrorist group can pave the way for a more dangerous right-wing movement, is also due to the failure of the workers’ movement, more precisely its leadership, in the crisis, during the pandemic and in the face of the war.
It is not by turning to bourgeois democracy – and certainly not to its police or prosecutors – that will help us in the struggle against a right-wing danger. What is necessary is that the left, the trade unions, all parties of the workers’ movement break with this policy of subordination to capital and together take up the struggle against crisis, environmental destruction, and war, in order to deprive the right of its social breeding ground.