What should the Far Left do when “the people” turn against immigrants? The dictatorship of the proletariat is one of the givens of Socialism. In practice, as with Momentum in the UK, such dictatorship is normally exercised on behalf of the people through whichever self-appointed commissars dominate the relevant party structure. They sniff the wind, discuss what should happen behind closed doors, then announce in public, preferably at a large gathering, that the voice of the people has been heard and that appropriate action will be taken.
We now see this happening in Germany, where the unease felt by millions of ordinary citizens concerning the arrival since 2015 of more than a million refugees from the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa has led this month to street riots – thus far confined to the formerly Communist East – and to the formation within the avowedly Socialist Die Linke party, which holds 69 seats in the Bundestag, of Aufstehen (Stand Up!), a movement dedicated to the protection of the rights of native workers.
Die Linke (The Left) is a curious beast. Formed out of two previous Far-Left groupings, the Democratic Socialist Party (PDS) and the more sinister-sounding Electoral Alternative for Justice and Socialism (WASG), it has strong anti-capitalist and Communist leanings.
It is hard to say definitively who is in charge, but the two best-known names are Sahra Wagenknecht, a self-declared Marxist and current leader of the party’s faction in the Bundestag, and Oskar Lafontaine, once a leading light of the moderate SPD, who we are asked to believe woke up one morning reborn as a Socialist agitator. In fact, Lafontaine’s conversion to the Far Left seems in part attributable to the fact that he and Wagenknecht, 26 years his junior, began an affair in 2011 and later married. But whatever the cause, the one-time federal finance minister and long-standing minister-president of the state of Saarbrücken appears these days to move in ideological lock-step with his wife.
The pair, who in most respects would give John McDonnell a run for his Marxist money, now stand behind Aufstehen, which, in the best traditions of Stalinism, opposes open frontiers and warns immigrants who cause trouble that they could face forfeiture of their rights as citizens and deportation to their countries of origin.
On the opposite side of the political spectrum, the Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD), which has made most of the running up until now on anti-immigrant sentiment, suddenly finds that it has a rival for the bottom-end constituency. It might seem facile to point out that in the late 1930s some former Communists, having lost their bloody fist-fight with the Nazis, ended up flocking to Hitler’s banner. But sometimes what is easy is also the hard truth, and there is no denying that voters in Germany are being given the opportunity to vote Far Left or Far Right safe in the knowledge that the two are agreed on the central need to protect the Volk.
Not everyone in Die Linke goes along with Wagenknecht and Lafontaine, and Aufstehen – which has even attracted support from Green politicians – is keen to point out that it is a pressure group, not a new party, and that its radical agenda extends far beyond issues of immigration. The party’s base would probably assert that while Angela Merkel’s decision to throw open Germany’s borders was a mistake, the means of correcting the error is not to penalise or expel those who arrived, mainly from Syria and Iraq (but also from North Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan), in the wake of the violence that had torn their countries apart.
But the feeling has certainly grown within the Left that if it is to hold on to its support in the midst of a strong recruitment drive by the AfD, it has to toughen up on foreigners, who are being served notice that they are guests whose welcome depends on their learning German, keeping their religion to themselves and integrating as quickly as possible.
The riots that have gripped Chemnitz, the former Karl-Marx-Stadt, this month are seen by some as a test bed for a wider protest on the part of the Far Right, now joined by elements of the Far Left. Wagenknecht, who, ironically, is herself half-Iranian, knows the city well. She is an Osti, born in nearby Jena, and studied for her PhD in economics at the Chemnitz University of Technology. While condemning the use of force against innocent Muslims, she has made it clear that Islamic immigrants are on probation in Germany and must learn to confirm to its societal norms.
A likely majority of the city’s population shares this position, including, it has been said, elements within the police. Should the public mood more generally across the country come to be seen as broadly supportive, then the future for Muslims could turn nasty. The best hope for a happier outcome lies in the fact that most Germans in the West of the country, having learned over the decades to exist alongside a substantial Turkish minority, are deeply disturbed by the recent turn of events. Even in the West, however, there are rising tensions. It was in Cologne, after all, following attacks on New Year’s Eve revellers by Muslims in 2015, that the current drive against immigrants first gained traction.
Elsewhere in Europe, similar feelings have not only surfaced, but boiled over. In Sweden, sections of the Left have begun to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment. In Italy, the recently-formed coalition government made up of La Lega and the Five Star Movement is predicated on the country’s resentment of the influx of Muslims and Sub-Saharan Africans over the last seven years. In France too, the hopes of the Front National (now renamed the Rassemblement National) repose more in the widespread distrust of Islam than in resentment of the EU or Emmanuel Macron. Even in Spain, which this summer under its new Socialist government welcomed immigrants refused entry by Italy, is now seeing the first stirrings of a movement aimed at closing the country’s ports and frontiers to further undocumented immigrants.
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What is different as we head into what could be an autumn of discontent across the Continent is the fact that the Far Left is now openly stealing the clothes of the Extreme Right. And for the same reason. They have gauged the public mood and they have seen that votes are there for the taking. Idealism is one thing, as is singing the Internationale beneath the Red Flag. But nothing unites Left and Right more completely, and truly, than a people’s awareness of who they are and where they come from. Nationalism hasn’t gone way, you know.