The “Alternative for Germany”: A chronicle of the rise of a far-right party

 

Nationalism is No Alternative

German anti-fascist group Nationalism Is No Alternative/NIKA (Source).

By Jojo, a Fightback subscriber based in Germany.

22 April 2017: I am sitting at an intersection somewhere in Cologne, together with other antifascists. It is cold, wet and we had to get up early, but people are happy as news has reached us that other roads are blocked as well, and members of the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) are having a hard time reaching their party conference. Nevertheless, it is quite likely that the AfD will enter federal parliament after the elections this September. It will be the first time a party to the right of the Christian-Democratic party (CDU) and the liberal party (FDP) will enter federal parliament since the 50s. So how did we get here?

2013: The AfD is founded. From its beginning, it gets a lot of media attention that helps it to gain  support. Their focus is on financial policy: the AfD criticizes the government’s reaction to the Euro-crisis (supporting Greece with money, but only in turn for brutally enforced austerity). However, the AfD does not criticize this from a standpoint of solidarity with the Greek working class (as the leftist Blockupy network did), but from the standpoint of the German middle- to upper-class tax payer who does not want their tax money being spent on the Greeks. This program is also reflected in the party’s personnel: Its leader and founder is Bernd Lucke, a professor of economics.

The AfD has already developed a program on immigration, demanding stricter rules, but this is not yet the main focus. In the federal election this year, the AfD gets 4.7%, but because of the 5% threshold does not enter parliament.

May 2014: The AfD enters the European Parliament with 7.1%. During the year, they also enter several regional parliaments in Germany.

October 2014: In Dresden (a town in what used to be the GDR or East Germany), 350 people rally under the slogan “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident” (Pegida). They continue demonstrating every Monday, like the opposition in the GDR from whom they also take the slogan “we are the people”. Their numbers will grow to over 10,000 in December. Though they are not formally connected to the AfD, these are also people who would self-identify as ordinary citizens and not as Nazis, but who nevertheless promote a racist agenda. If the AfD is the parliamentary wing of the shift-to-the-right in Germany over the last few years, Pegida is the extra-parliamentary wing. However, they present themselves as a bit too radical for large parts of the AfD, so the party has no clear position on Pegida and will continue to argue about this issue during the coming years.

4 July 2015: At a conference, the party votes for Frauke Petry as the new leader, replacing Bernd Lucke. Lucke leaves the party and founds another one, which will not be as successful as AfD. This split marks a shift in how the party presents itself: While Lucke wanted to have a serious, bourgeois party and his focus was mainly on currency-politics, Petry represents the new AfD, which is far more populist and more openly xenophobic, racist and anti-feminist. With this shift, the party’s electorate also changes: While they still have cross-class support, more and more working-class voters vote for the AfD. Their support also grows in the former East Germany.

August 2015: Thousands of migrants, many of whom have fled the civil war in Syria, come to Germany over the Balkan route. Crowds of people welcome the migrants at the train stations and many organize in networks of refugee support, filling a gap left by the state. This shows that there is still a big portion of people that do not see migrants as potential enemies – is this a basis for a successful struggle against the AfD?

29 September 2015: The federal government reacts to the summer of migration (which is also called the “refugee crisis” in  mainstream discourse) and to far-right mobilisations with the “asylum package I” – speeding up the asylum process, declaring more countries “safe” (so people can be deported to them) and stopping the announcement of deportations (now refugees will be arrested and deported without any prior notice). In 2016, package II follows. Just like in the 90s, the centrist parties (now including the Greens) react to the far-right by adopting its policies.

New Year’s Eve 2015/2016: In Cologne, groups of young men sexually harass women in the main train station. Many are of North-African or Arab nationalities, which will in the following weeks and months be used in racist discourse to portray North-African and Arab men as sexual predators. The far-right including the AfD, that is otherwise strictly anti-feminist, discovers women’s rights for their agenda – these rights can now be defended against migrants. Feminist and leftist groups will answer with a demonstration on International Women’s Day under the motto “our feminism is anti-racist”.

31 January 2016: The communist alliance “Ums Ganze” (“everything is at stake”) has called for a nation-wide meeting of anti-racists and antifascists in Frankfurt. Activists discuss what to do in this situation – so far, many antifascists have felt rather paralysed by the rise of the AfD which they could not prevent. After the meeting, UG launches the campaign “Nationalismus ist keine Alternative” (NIKA, “Nationalism is no alternative”). NIKA is an open campaign and a label that groups can take up to relate to each other. NIKA instigates a lot of small creative actions that do not need many activists but are good for publishing on social media.

The hope that those who showed solidarity for migrants in summer 2015 could be mobilised to join the struggle against the AfD and against asylum packages I and II will only partially be fulfilled. But at least there is now an effective campaign that organizes antifascists and anti-racists.

The AfD’s election campaigns this year are interrupted by these actions and others, but that does not prevent the party entering several more regional parliaments and reaching results far over 10%. The party’s rhetoric radicalises further, e.g. AfD politician Beatrix von Storch suggests shooting refugees to prevent them crossing the border. In the Saarland region, the AfD cooperates with the neo-Nazi NPD; an attempt to kick out this regional branch fails.

3 September 2016: In Berlin, a nation-wide demonstration against the AfD takes place, organised by the alliance “Stand Up Against Racism”, but the participant numbers are below expectations. The intention of “Stand Up Against Racism” was to form a broad alliance including trade unions, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens. However, the inclusion of these organisations does not lead to a bigger mobilisation. It remains mainly the job of the radical left to challenge the AfD.

New Year’s Eve 2016/2017: As a reaction to last year’s New Year’s Eve, the police in Cologne now use racial profiling to prevent every North-African-/Arab-looking man who is single or with a group of other men from entering the square in front of the main station. Once again, the state adopts far-right policies.

17 January 2017: Björn Höcke, a far-right politician of the AfD in former East Germany, holds a speech in front of the party’s youth organisation. He demands a “180 degree change” in the politics of commemoration concerning the Holocaust. He says: “We Germans are the only people in the world who have planted a memorial of shame in the heart of their capital”. He is criticised for this blatant anti-Semitism by members of his own party and the leadership tries to expel him. This debate is part of a bigger clash between factions within the party. After Frauke Petry took over from Lucke who was too moderate for her in 2015, now her faction fears that  ultra-radical politicians like Höcke could endanger the party’s image.

On 22 April, we at least succeeded in delaying the AfD conference for more than an hour. After the blockades, there are several big demonstrations in the city. As Cologne likes to present itself as an open city, it is easily possible to mobilise big parts of civil society here, including the Carnival committees. This day was a success for us, but the AfD seems to carry on despite their inner disputes. The leading duo for the federal elections will consist on the one hand of Alexander Gauland, who supports Björn Höcke and has similar positions, and on the other hand of Alice Weider, who was in favour of Höcke’s expulsion but said she would support his election campaign if he stays in the party. So the different factions seem to get along with each other. The prospect of ending the election success of the AfD in a short term is thus unlikely. While it is important to interrupt their election campaigns, the radical left needs long term strategies on how to go onto the offensive, push forward its own leftist politics and get rid of the basic problems in society that make the success of far-right populism possible.

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