Dead Men Left

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


There are plenty of worthwhile things to be said about what's happening in Germany now. Between the Wahlalternative and Hartz IV, the tectonic plates of German politics are shifting: as in Britain, the two major parties, the SPD and CDU/CSU, are seeing their votes and memberships crumble. However, I wanted to quickly move away from the grand events in official politics and discuss perhaps the strangest political organisation I've ever seen.

British readers may be familiar with the antics of the "Alliance for Workers' Liberty" (AWL). A tiny group of apparent marxists, they have specialised in providing a left-wing gloss to aspects of the "war on terror": a "minority position" was initially adopted within the organisation in its overt support, whilst its attitude to the Iraq war was somewhat equivocal, and its condemnations of Iraqi resistance to the occupation notably ferocious. One of its leading members, Sasha Ishmail, presented the only speech against condemning the French hijab ban at this year's NUS conference; despite Ishmail's half-hearted defence of institutional Islamophobia, the motion of condemnation passed overwhelmingly. The AWL's major role at present has been to act as a conduit for assorted smears about the anti-war movement for the pro-war "left" in the liberal media, Nick Cohen honoring them with the name of "honest marxists". Of late, leading AWL members have described themselves as "Zionists". All this comes served up with lashings of "left" rhetoric to disguise the bitter lumps of extreme liberalism beneath.

I mention all this to set the scene. (In fairness to the AWL, they aren't nearly as bad as what follows; but some familiarity with the style is needed, I think.) Imagine, if you will, that the AWL had become both more verbally radical, and more overtly pro-war and pro-Israel. It would strike you as a bit odd, would it not, if such an organisation existed: arriving, perhaps, with the slogan "Solidarity with Israel for communism". Ladies and gentlemen, I present for your delectation, "Deutschland hassen" - the "Germany haters".

Because they hate Germany, they think it is necessary to love Israel. The opening statemtn I don't have an especial problem with, at least not as made by Germans. (Plain old English xenophobia would be a different matter, but anti-nationalism is certainly defensible, if rather abstract.) Serious concerns arise with the immense confusions evident in the second half of this position, of uncritical support for Israel on the grounds that it is a "Jewish state": obvious concerns that "Jewish" is not the same as "Israeli", that Israel does not speak for all Jews, that the government of Israel does not even speak for all Israelis... there is a slight, queasy feeling in all this that these "Germany haters" have overlooked the possibility that someone might be, for example, Jewish and German: driven by migration from the former USSR, Germany currently has one of the fastest-growing Jewish populations in the world. These new immigrants' rights to citizenship status should be unconditional, and it is particularly necessary when they are fleeing persecution abroad.

Of course, Deutschland hassen also support the US military as the only power that can adequately protect Israel from (inevitably) marauding Arabs, and so support the war on terror, supported the invasion of Iraq, and despise the UN: the front cover of the latest issue of their magazine, Bahamas, features a cariacature Kofi Annan reading bedtime stories to junior anarchists, ATTAC members and suicide bombers.

In a curious echo of British nationalist rhetoric, they despise the EU, seeing it as a German plot, resulting in Frankfurt lamp-posts plastered with stickers reading, "Smash Germany-EU for Israel!" It's Robert Kilroy-Silk meets Ariel Sharon at an anarchist bookfair; since by far the weirdest thing in this procession of conventional right-wing tropes is its presentation. Issue 35 of Bahamas led on "For Israel - against the Palestinian counter-revolution". "Counter-revolution"? Great, learned articles on "Antizionism is the form of democratic antisemitism, Noam Chomsky its prophet" and "The Islamist Tariq Ramadan isn't modernising Islam, but Islamising modernity" sit alongside esoteric marxisant discussions of Adorno and Foucault. Squats in Berlin are sprayed with "Long live Israel!", and Bahamas advertises "anti-fascist" demonstrations seemingly in support of Ariel Sharon.

Odd doesn't even come close. Is this the reductio ad absurdum of the pro-war "left"?