What is to be done about right wing extremism? Ruthless Criticism

Remarks by Freerk Huisken (GegenStandpunkt editor) at a 1993 Congress called by the German leftist magazine “Konkret” after Germany passed a restrictive new asylum law and several murderous Neo-Nazi attacks on refugees and riots took place

What is to be done about right wing extremism?

A new asylum law is being passed that excludes asylum seekers even more ruthlessly. Neo-Nazis and other enthusiasts of a pure Germany are setting fires to the shelters of asylum seekers and Turks, and the silent majority of good Germans can’t keep their sympathy to themselves. Reason enough to get upset. Reason enough to ask ourselves: what is going on in Germany? The most popular answer to this question among leftists at the moment is: racism is on the loose and can be found everywhere. Among right-wing extremists and in the pubs anyway. Moreover, German politics is permeated by it, and even anti-racists have “difficulty not being racist.” The diagnosis is pretty much finished: If violent discrimination – and this is often mistakenly regarded as the concept of racism – is once again being talked about in Germany, the basic values of democracy, which is committed to equal treatment and equal rights, are in danger. And since politicians have for quite some time been bowing to this attack on democracy from the streets, a tendency towards fascization is palpable.

With this answer, the politics of both the big and the little people are thought to be pretty much explained: Why do neo-Nazis torch asylum seekers? Because they are racists! Why do citizens applaud? Because they have racist ideas! Why does the new asylum law have a majority? Because racists determine politics in Bonn or because the politicians are opportunistically sucking up to racists! Why are we being threatened by a new fascism? Because racism is at work everywhere! This is the political core of the current analysis in left-wing circles. In short, everything is equally racist: nationalism is racism, inequality is racism, ditto violence, exclusion, and so on. More clarification is rarely considered necessary in order to call for the “doing” of “something”: Taking sides with the victims and fighting neo-fascism rank right at the top. Once again, the beginnings should be resisted.

Nothing is explained by this. Of course, there is no denying that the “xenophobia” of the neo-Nazis is racist, that no foreigner is safe from racist attacks by good Germans, that it is not only Lummer and Stoiber [anti-migrant politicians – trans.] who have a repertoire of racist judgments to feed the revanchism of Sudeten and other Germans, and that German foreign policy makes racist demands on a lot of foreign countries. But this analysis is not any good as its own explanation. The diagnosis that racists are at work is satisfied with the answer that the perpetrators are just that: racists. It would be necessary to clarify which intentions, which political purposes, which interests are being pursued with the more or less violent exclusion of asylum seekers which is being presented with racist “arguments” as urgently needed defensive measures and find imitators among the German people. Neither the use of democratic state violence nor right-wing extremist private violence is an end in itself. Unless one declares all perpetrators to be predators without any further thought. At the same time, a critical thinker does not believe a word from the politicians who, for example, justify their asylum policy with humanistic concerns. When they say that they want to save asylum seekers from the German people’s anger by deporting them, or when fascists try to score points by claiming that they are also interested in preserving the cultural identity of migrants, one knows how to distinguish between deeds, the intentions pursued by them, and the way they are whitewashed. But when racism is involved, everything is merged together: justification racist, act racist, interest racist!

Obviously, morality is once again dictating the wrong thoughts; the explanation of racism is being replaced by its moral assessment. One does not want to look for the reasons for evil deeds because there can’t be any. Evil has no reason! Where violence and “discrimination” are discovered, immorality is at work. The question of the “why” of German asylum policy is translated into the rhetorical “how could they possibly?” and thereby considered adequately examined. The racists are thugs, they violate human dignity and equal rights, the insignia of true democracy. They are violent anti-democrats and therefore doubly evil. That is how asylum laws are declared to be transgressions. They are satisfied with the statement that this is not what they want from German politics. The disappointed idealists of democracy do not want to miss the chance to constructively intervene in the nation’s domestic and foreign policies. That’s why they are standing up: For a humane asylum policy! For the preservation of the old Article 16! Protect housing for foreigners! For an immigration law! And for dual citizenship in any case . . . This is how a mock debate with the right wing takes place. German asylum policy, the assertion of its standards inwardly, the allegiance of German citizens and the quite undesirable right-wing extremist “excesses” of the top-down “asylum seekers out!” campaign (see e.g. the Rühe letter*) are discussed as a deviation from democracy, the racist justification of political concerns is understood as its content and purpose, so that ultimately it is no longer possible to distinguish where racism actually determines politics and where it is merely the title of another, e.g. imperialist, cause.

The mock debate begins with the well-known condemnation of the German asylum policy: it is completely inhumane and xenophobic. A strange finding: How is immigration policy supposed to be carried out in a friendly and humane way? The entire sorting of people into nationals and foreigners is already the result of the imperialist competition between state powers which is often enough carried out militarily. And yet because of this – codified in immigration law – every foreigner is initially suspect of becoming a nuisance in a foreign country out of loyalty to his “master.” See Solingen.** In the case of a friendly foreign policy, does one think, instead of war or other forms of pressure, of treaties that always include whatever the superior state power can impose on an inferior state and, above all, on its citizens? Or does one think of a friendly welcome for the “politically persecuted people” who are the material for the unfriendly treatment of the “unjust regimes” from which they come? The means of asserting national interests against foreign countries and their troops necessarily have an “unfriendly” nature. The mock debate, on the other hand, is characterized by the tireless attempt to embarrass them with ideals such as international friendship, multiculturalism or other simple reversals of the usual sorting of states and people (“coming together” as the Congress leaflet calls it).

At the same time, the national concerns of asylum policy are on the table and are not even denied by Kinkel, Klose, Kohl and Seiters: The political interest of the practicing nationalists in the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs has given Germany a new law that – consistently fulfilling the concerns of the old Art. 16 II.2. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany – from now on will only allow foreigners into the country if they can be used for national-economic services (“guest workers,” Polish day laborers, Euro wage workers or capital imports), for political concerns (“politically persecuted people” such as “dissidents,” “freedom fighters,” or the diplomatic corps) or for cultural achievements (X plays, writes, cures diseases or researches for Germany). If not, then the only thing that applies is that he is a foreigner, so he has no place in Germany according to immigration law and often enough can already find out at the border what the core of the distinction made by Western states between nationals and foreigners is. The refugees’ desire for security and their obvious poverty still count for nothing to German authorities. This means that the army of wretches, which has now been made absolutely superfluous for imperialist projects worldwide, naturally has no place in the metropolises. That is why refugees are not left in peace even outside the borders of “Western civilization.” The new concept of a global “disposal” of global pauperism ultimately consists in the obligation of the states of the third and second worlds not to allow their domestic “human waste” to become a disruptive factor for imperialist activity. The implementation of this concept cannot be achieved without massive intervention in the domestic and foreign policies of the countries declared “non-persecution” and “secure non-member” countries; not to mention dealing with the remaining “persecuting states.” With this asylum policy, Germany is heavily involved in the competition between Western powers for the “new world order.”

That’s the cause. It does not follow any racist interest, but obeys its imperialistic responsibility. What is racist about it are the cheap nationalistic justifications that are supposed to make the new German imperialism so irresistible for the majority of Germans: “They don’t fit in with us, they don’t get along with us, they can’t integrate because of their differences...!” These state “xenophobias,” which can rely on its monopoly on violence and, with its attacks on asylum seekers, dwarf anything that a bunch of crazy Hitler fans are currently producing in suffering here, is shared and actively supported by German citizens. They make these national concerns into their cause. They didn’t invent them. The active nationalism of state power finds its confirmation in the nationalism of well-raised citizens. “Asylum seekers out!” is their slogan, which has long since become acceptable to the majority, especially with candle-light demonstrations adding that they have nothing against foreigners and do not intend to kill them themselves; and despite the fact that these good Germans will neither sell German night vision glasses on a Polish market, nor have they ever thought about a Euro-compliant way of breaking up Yugoslavia. The fact that state asylum policy is really not their concern does not stop them from devoting themselves to it, as if it were a policy that wants to prevent harm to themselves. They have and always find in the rich public offerings new reasons suitable for supporting their nationalist lie that immigration policy would somehow address their concerns. Public campaigns are staged for this purpose: There are the classic disaster scenarios about the “capsizing boat,” the theft of a job or apartment or a disturbed night’s sleep. These justifications also include openly racist stuff: the asylum seekers are then criminals, lazy and parasites, born abusers, somehow different and therefore don’t fit in with us, and so on. This is not believed because one is convinced of the truth of the particular conviction, but because, on the contrary, it fits the point of view that the asylum seekers do not belong here and that the asylum policy prevents harm to the Germans: crime, it is said, is what bothers them about foreigners; but they don't want to deport criminals, they want to deport foreigners, among whom they then easily discover criminals – otherwise they would have to advocate for the depopulation of their homeland. Racism therefore provides the visual material that can be supplemented and reduced at will for the nationalist point of view with which these Germans embellish their stubborn lie that somehow their cause is also being pursued by asylum policy; it is not difficult to prove the opposite. The cultivation of self-confident obedience takes strange paths.

Such a racist approval of the concerns of the German nation has nothing to do with any reasonable material interest. Anyone who, for example, blames foreigners for job losses and housing shortages and – if the competitors themselves are wrongly blamed for the lack of these goods they compete for – not every competitor, whether foreign or domestic, has pre-sorted the competition nationalistically. Foreign competitors are thus declared parasites because they assert a claim that they, as non-Germans, do not possess. Every interest immediately becomes a German right or is rejected because it is a right of Germans that non-Germans do not possess. Furthermore, it is completely irrelevant that asylum seekers in particular are generally not allowed to participate in this competition for work and housing and that the nationals do not demand this imaginary right for themselves anywhere near as vehemently as they demand the deportation of asylum seekers. It should therefore come as no surprise that the deportation of asylum seekers is already arousing enthusiasm – even though it does not mean a single job or apartment for any Germans. Then the imaginary right of the Germans is satisfied. As its self-confident enforcers, good Germans not only give their approval to the asylum policy, but also lend a hand themselves. As if it were an “alienated form” of a legitimate protest! It is the racist form of nationalist obedience!

The pattern of these racisms, i.e. the racist legitimization of violent and consequential exclusion and containment, e.g. through national policies on foreigners, is always the same: The victims themselves are the reason for the mistreatment inflicted on them, because in their (imagined) nature – in their biological, cultural or other identity – a disturbance of German interests or of the interests of Germans is identified. The relations of use and exploitation established according to societal interests, which are not good for the people being used and therefore cannot be carried out without force, are presented as a quasi-natural order that is inherent in the victims. Such justifications of national policy seek first to prove that the asylum seeker, for example, is a detriment to the concerns of Germans and secondly wants to make this proof irrefutable by constructing a “natural will,” a will that is not generated by an interest but dictated by nature. Consequently, one is doing the foreigner a favor by deporting him, since he simply must go to the foreign country according to his nature or identity. This is “practical” because in this way – in a racially complementary way – the national must already be satisfied with the fact that he is a national, a German, and among nationals. Racist logic forbids measuring national policies in the distinct interests of nationals.

The diligent observers of German obedience – who find nationalism to be its most convenient form – attach importance to the fact that the citizens do not overdo their racism. It should adapt itself to the concerns of the nation’s foreign policy, not separate itself from them and certainly not lead a life of its own in which the racist justification of a national state interest becomes the leading interest and is perhaps even executed in a national manner. The sorting into good Germans and neo-Nazis is based on this standard, and the most recent criticism of right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis in democratic politics follows it. The reluctance of German law enforcement agencies to take action against the “burning of asylum seekers” (Hoyerswerda, Lichtenhagen ...) came to an end when the wrong people set fire to the wrong people in Mölln. Decent, German-hearted Turks and their families who had worked hard for 20 years for German profits and are also citizens of a NATO partner that has recently gained new importance are – for the time being and if they are not Kurds – explicitly excluded from the national “foreigners out policy”: Their importance to the national economy has earned them the dubious compliment of being second rather than third class foreigners. The neo-Nazis do not share this view: they do not want to differentiate between useful and useless foreigners.

What bothers German politicians about the neo-Nazis, these most radical henchmen of German immigration policy, is the practiced identity of nationalism and racism: for the neo-Nazis, all foreigners are a threat to the German nation simply because they are foreigners. How they arrived at this judgment can no longer be a secret: The state’s diktat sorting between nationals and foreigners makes sense to them; this is the very first and most profound act of equalization by the state power, by which the state declares people who are subject to the reach of its monopoly on the use of violence to be its citizens and conscripts them into service for itself. The radical xenophobes have understood this sorting so well that they declare the opposition between national teams created by bourgeois states to be the nature of peoples whom they want to help gain their state rights. Here too they have learned from democratic immigration policy: where immigration law declares foreigners to be inferior, the neo-Nazi knows how to interpret this as proof of their inferiority, which then corresponds to the superiority of Germanness. One must then be proud of this, make it one’s own concern, keep it pure and make sure that the state of the Germans also has a rank corresponding to their superiority. So they enthusiastically take up the official slogan “Asylum seekers out!” and radicalize it somewhat: they agitate for the complete removal of all foreigners from German territory – even those who are commanded by German politicians because they can be used for national interests or are to be tolerated because of national interests.

This is why recent verdicts against neo-Nazis are not being suspended, why the German people are being called upon to campaign against right-wing extremism, why they should play idealistic vigilantes and denounce anyone suspected of a violent act. Not because racists are doing murderous deeds here, not because they bring suffering to people – those who haul asylum seekers back en masse to the places of their economic and political oppression do not apply the standard of preventing suffering and misery to their own policies – rather, the democratic state is calling for a fight against the ethnic fanaticism of right-wing extremist racism because it is a political competitor; although it does not yet represent a danger in terms of power politics, it should not even get in the way of its domestic and foreign concerns, in particular the German European project.

Otherwise, German foreign policy uses völkisch racism as a justification for intervention when it suits it: Reunification, i.e. the establishment of national unity in order to make Germany bigger and stronger; Volga republic, i.e. the claim to bring together “ethnic Germans,” with which a say in Russia is formulated . . . It is not picky: human rights, peace, the new world order, our historical responsibility or humanity, all these peacefully coexist with the self-determination of the peoples of Yugoslavia or the right of Germans to unity as titles of national policy. And everyone is free to choose the justification they want to believe in.

The fact that German democracy, with the Federal President always at the forefront, is calling for a “fight against right-wing extremism,” is something the German left certainly does not reject from any politician, but seriously counts in democracy’s favor: they consider racism, because it is anti-egalitarian, to be the antithesis of democracy and therefore declare neo-fascism and racism to be “the first enemy that needs to be stopped with more and more radical equality and democracy” (U. Osterkamp). Neither democratic practice nor democratic theory could have copied this praise of the principle of equality – this alleged natural right of people to equality. For in this country, not only is equality, i.e. equality of opportunities and rights, held in high esteem, but at the same time there is fierce agitation against equality of results, which is then called egalitarianism and which everyone was once supposed to translate into communism. And has the truism now been completely forgotten that the democratic constitutional state protects everyone’s private property equally, whether it is a means of production, land, stocks or a pile of comparatively poor means of reproduction, and that this is precisely how capitalism runs and runs and runs? The word might really have begun to get around that the legally guaranteed egalitarianism of democracy consists of using equal treatment in educational, political or economic competition to exploit some of the differences that exist among citizens or that were created among them in the first place to serve the needs of class society. “Discrimination,” the creation and restoration of social differences, is the whole joke of bourgeois equality. In competitive events, in which there is actual equality of opportunity, equal rights and equal treatment, winners and losers are produced in accordance with the interests of the class state in educated people and in the interests of capital in wage-earning labor. Only the performance of the individual counts – even if or precisely because he does not determine the criteria of performance himself, i.e. he does not have performance as his own means, but is only measured against the standard of equal performance, compared with others and treated accordingly.

The socially useful result of this competition is then seen as the separation of the “gifted elite” from the “untalented,” the “lazy” from the “hard working,” the “criminal” from the law-abiding, the “leaders” from those who should be led, etc. Here arch-democratic racism is hard at work and wants to prove that the social contrast between poverty and wealth is either a delusion or is completely in order, since the losers of the competition have themselves to blame if they do not amount to anything, it is in their nature, etc. The winners also have to be responsible for the advantages of the “system,” which is therefore often regarded as the only order suitable for humans. Empirically, racism is always found in this country: because those who are excluded from higher education really are dumber – that’s how they are made; and if the woman is enshrined in law as a womb for Germany, then it should come as no surprise if she actually does not “stand her ground” in professional life at the same time. Women – and Turks – in low-wage groups are then the next use of the differences produced in this country.

It is important to note, however, that capitalists who create low-wage groups for women are not acting out of racist motives. Rather, they always take advantage of a socially produced difference where it can be used profitably. Otherwise, why sort in the case of the commodity labor power when there is no difference in wage labor on the assembly line according to race, religion or culture? The only interest here is in profitable work; which is why it only depends on differences that are produced by competition or a wage hierarchy or can be used for it. According to the relevant democrats, Hitler therefore practiced “senseless racism” and cheated Germany out of the use of a highly useful workforce. This kind of thing is then an officially scolded “discrimination” and abolished. The useful differences in the wage hierarchy are maintained and all wage groups are classified in a completely egalitarian way as blacks and whites, Jews and Christians, nationals and foreigners. The equal right is precisely a “right of inequality, in its content, like all rights.”

The political core of the racism of the well raised German citizen is self-confident obedience to the state and its real concerns. This obedience of the citizen, even where it is critical of politics and accuses it of an “inability to act,” is borne of concern for the imagined concerns of Germany. The German leadership is suitable for this racist partisanship, which does not examine the state as an instrument for private interests, finding it sufficient or insufficient, but sees belonging to the German nation as the unconditional serving of every private interest. That’s why the “fight against (everyday) racism” is only worth anything if it initiates an attack on the citizen’s nationalistic obedience. It is no use “catching” the good German in racist prejudices if it is just a trip to a free speech approval of Germany anyway. The self-confident integration into the national “we” must be subject to materialistic criticism. The “fight against (everyday) racism” is also wrong as a reverse racism, as a command to be friendly to foreigners or as a plea for a multicultural society. Pushing out racism with a – well-intentioned – racism is and remains racism. Taking sides with the victims instead of putting a stop to the game is a false conclusion anyway.

The “fight against right-wing extremism” is worthless. The political danger in Germany is seen as the new Hitler Youth, against whom coalitions are being forged with, of all people, the authors and enforcers of asylum law. This fight exonerates the political perpetrators in power, worries about Germany’s reputation in the world or, at best, helps ensure that, by protecting their homes, asylum seekers can be deported unharmed to their native misery and torture prisons. It is interfering in the competition between two bourgeois camps, between the established democratic camp and the right-wing extremist to fascist camp that is fighting to establish itself. In doing so, it is taking sides with a version of German politics that is supposed to “heal the world” in the future – which, as usual, will not sit well with most Germans. Finally, it does a good job upholding the memory of a “historical responsibility” which has long since become the moral title of new German military excursions. Parts of the German left now seem certain that German violence, both internally and externally, is only used to assert those concerns for which these critical people call for its help. This is why the “fight against fascization” is a failure as long as it is about defending democracy. Democracy is then considered to be either a pretty great value system in principle, in contrast to fascism, or a form of rule that is “at least better than ....” Ultimately, it is about freedom and equality versus lack of freedom and inequality and therefore democracy should be protected from the original sin of “discrimination,” which it itself creates and uses by means of democratic equal treatment. Democracy is first and foremost a technique of rule that works as long as the vast majority of the people share the respective purposes of the nation and are therefore satisfied with being allowed to co-determine the pre-sorted ruling personnel.

The actual political purposes and interests of democratically constituted capitalism are promptly removed from the firing line of criticism. The fact that Germany is devoting itself to the cause of the sovereign nation after casting off the “shackles of the coalition government” somewhat differently than it has before, making new demands on the home team internally for this and also making some changes in the forms of communication of the beloved constitutional democracy to make it more effective – all this is then postulated as a deviation from what has previously existed; the separation of ideals of democracy, the rule of law and the welfare state is noticed as de-democratization and disenfranchisement. If racist tones are also noted, then fascization, the final intrusion of evil into the – relative or in principle – good cause is a foregone conclusion.

And what is to be done? “There is an old saying which maintains that one must not only tear down but must also know how to build up, a commonplace constantly employed by cheery and superficial people who are uncomfortably confronted with an activity which demands a decision from them.” (Gottfried Keller)*** And anyway: What is meant by “done” here? The gods have put brainwork before hand- and footwork. And besides, the best practice is still a correct theory. In other words, it is silly to try to discredit the few ideas presented here by saying that they do not lead to the practice deemed proper by the critic of “uncomfortably confronting.” On the other hand, anyone who takes part in this confronting has no problem with the only “practice” that can exist at present. He has no “pressure of praxis” and knows immediately what needs to be “done”: to put an end to the “we,” including the alternative “we”; to put an end to taking sides with the affected foreigners, to friendliness with foreigners, and to put an end to the equally nationally and morally motivated responsibility for German perpetrators; finally, to put an end to the politicization of every issue, i.e. the trusting calculation that sees the state as the responsible addressee for its own interests, and above all, to pass the message on about all this. Especially to those who need to hear it because the wrong thoughts do them no good, but only harm.

Translator’s notes:

* “A lawyer representing relatives of Turks killed in a firebomb attack last year has asserted in court that senior German politicians share responsibility for the attack . . . The lawyer singled out Defense Minister Volker Ruhe, who was formerly chairman of the governing Christian Democratic Union. He asserted that Mr. Ruhe had fomented hatred of foreigners and thereby encouraged German youths to commit acts of violence. . . . In the case, two young men are charged with a firebombing last November in the western town of Molln in which three Turkish citizens, aged 51, 14 and 10, were killed . . . ‘Various politicians are responsible, but we have singled out Mr. Ruhe because he did more than simply make public remarks,’ Mr. Strobele said. ‘He issued directives urging his party to use the presence of foreigners in Germany as an election campaign issue.’ In the directive, he asserted, Mr. Ruhe urged local party leaders to declare that their communities ‘cannot bear any more asylum-seekers.’” “German Slayings Incite Attack on Politicians,” New York Times, September 15, 1993

** In 1993, Solingen made international headlines for a right-wing extremist arson attack in which five Turkish girls and women were killed. The attack was followed by demonstrations and riots in the city.

*** “. . . one is not always tearing down to build again; on the contrary, one tears things down eagerly in order to gain free space for light and air, which appear as it were, as though by themselves, wherever some obstructive is removed. When one looks matters right in the face and treats them in an upright manner, then nothing is negative, but all is positive, to use the old saw.”