Germany: In the Streets against Fascism, Again


An Interview


The far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (“Alternative for Germany,” AfD) has been gaining momentum in German politics since 2017, when they entered the parliament. On January 10, 2024, the investigative journalism group Correctiv published a report that the previous November, prominent members of the AfD had met with a member of the “Identitarian Movement” (a pan-European fascist and ethno-nationalist party) at a mansion outside Berlin to devise a plot to deport millions of immigrants, including those with German citizenship. This precipitated a wave of demonstrations around Germany. In the following translation and interview, German anti-fascists explore the rise of fascist politics in Germany and the potential of the mobilizations against it.

Although the initial wave of demonstrations has passed, smaller demonstrations are still taking place, especially in small towns in Saxony. A protest is planned in Pirna on March 26, when the first AfD politician will be sworn in as mayor of a town. As fascist parties gain momentum around Europe, it is urgent to draw more people into material efforts to stop them.

Thanks to Jannis Grosse for the photographs.

“AfD=Fascism.” On Saturday, February 24, 2024, some 350 anti-fascists marched in memory of Mehmet Turgut in Rostock. Twenty years ago, on February 25, 2004, Mehmet was murdered by Nazis in a snack bar in the Rostock-Toitenwinkel district. At the demonstration in February 2024, speakers called for the street where Turgut was murdered to be named after him, as his family has wanted for ten years. Photograph by Jannis Grosse.

Never Again Is Now! By All Means against Nazis

A statement from Black Mosquito, an anarchist distribution project based in Flensburg.

Who would have expected it? Suddenly, millions in Germany are taking to the streets against the shift to the right and the fascist AfD, and in favor of a society based on solidarity. One record number trumped the next, numerous rallies and demonstrations could not even get off the ground due to overcrowding—in Flensburg, the demonstration moved through the city in a closed circle. More and more smaller towns, in the supposedly quiet countryside for Nazis, are also reporting protests, while encountering massive obstacles in some cases. We too are somewhat moved, pleased to see a break from the lethargy.

And yes, there is much to criticize. Now those who have just allowed themselves to be politically chased through parliament by the AfD, who have just pushed through stricter deportation policies and impoverishment measures, are hypocritically styling themselves as saviors of democracy and human rights. In the course of the protest, an attempt is being made to swear everyone back in to the nation that has become good again with anti-fascist gestures and anti-social policies; a swearing in to parliamentary democracy and liberal economics, which have created many of these injustices and the breeding ground for fascism in the first place (more on this, for example, in our translation of From Democracy to Freedom). We hope for critical interventions, content, and texts. But in all of this, we should not fall for the trap of big politics and confuse those who are taking to the streets with us and are possibly in some local group associated with some left-liberal party with the politics of that party itself. The majority of people are standing beside us out of conviction and in clear rejection of fascist politics.

Some of us are reminded of the “uprising of the decent” [in the year 2000], when hundreds of thousands took to the streets against an anti-Semitic arson attack and other right-wing acts of violence. Although the masses quickly returned to their comfortable sofas, the demonstrations opened up spaces in which people could find each other, connect, and network. Those were times when people got a tailwind, when we village anti-fascists didn’t feel alone and the fascists didn’t dare to take to the streets with such confidence. These connections and groups remained afterwards—and some of them still do today.

If we manage to take something similar from this momentum, we will have gained a lot. If thousands take to the streets again and again in response to the next scandal about fascist plans for a coup, much would be gained. But even if it remains just a few organized anti-fascists who can act with more support in society, that will also be something. Because, as the AfD itself knows, “Antifa [is] the biggest obstacle for the right.”

Anti-fascism means more than broad alliances on the streets. It requires research, education, blockades, and direct, tangible interventions. Now is exactly the right time to take action against local fascist meeting places, to create new structures and to join forces across ideological boundaries. And right now, we must not forget those who are facing repression for their alleged practical anti-fascism—which is why we are supporting the campaign against the extradition of anti-fascists to Hungary.

Siamo Tutti Antifa,

the BM crew

Nearly 100,000 people demonstrating against the far right in Hamburg on January 28, 2024. Photograph by Jannis Grosse.

In the Streets against Fascism

We conducted the following interview with anti-fascists in the north of Germany who have been active in various groups for many years. They desired to preserve their anonymity.

The AfD has accumulated considerable momentum since the pandemic. According to one report, “Recent polling put the party in second place nationally with support of around 23%, far above the 10.3% of the vote it won during the last federal election in 2021.” Why has the AfD been able to more than double its support in less than three years? What is the larger context of this political shift in Germany?

We are seeing a general shift to the right. The governing coalition comprised of the “traffic light parties”—the SPD [Social Democratic Party] being red, Die Grünen [the Green Party] green, and the FDP [Free Democratic Party] yellow, hence the “traffic light”—are hardly distinguishable in their policies. The SPD and Greens, the supposed “left” parties, are being pushed towards neoliberal policies by the FDP, and they go along for fear of breaking the ruling coalition. In addition, the major “people’s parties” [the Volksparteien, including the Christian Democratic Union, the SPD, the FDP, and the Greens] are all trying to pick up votes on the right-wing fringe and catering to right-wing demands from the majority of society. And unfortunately, there is a right-wing potential in German society, which has now found a voice in a right-wing populist party through the AfD.

The AfD has also become better structured internally, better trained, and has created networks. According to various studies and polls, the AfD can draw on a voter potential of 20-30 percent with its extreme right-wing positions. It has succeeded in retaining this core electorate. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s protective measures, a protest milieu has emerged that refuses to engage in democratic negotiation processes and is more interested in constructing personified images of an enemy. This imaging of the enemy can be used to depict supposed or actual elites, such as representatives of the government, but it can also target figures from science and the established media. It is about a generally negative attitude based on an authoritarian worldview. The focus is on holding on to and preserving one’s own privileges, which means opposing much-needed economic and ecological changes.

The AfD has succeeded in integrating the motif of a supposed struggle of the elites against the people into its narrative. This allows it to constitute itself as the parliamentary arm of younger protest movements.

To what extent is this a conflict between different regions in Germany? What are the causes?

There has always been a rural/urban divide. In the city, there are more bourgeois, cosmopolitan structures; these can also be racist and right-wing, of course, but they tend not to be openly fascist. Many right-wingers have settled in the countryside, where they live and work.

Divisions between east and west are also a problem. In the so-called DDR (the German Democratic Republic, commonly known as East Germany), there was a prescribed state anti-fascism, but in fact the state simply ignored right-wing structures. Officially, according to the government, no neo-Nazism existed—even though in fact, it did exist. There were hardly any forces in civil society acting against the right; there was a small grassroots anti-fascist movement, but it was criminalized.

After the reunification of Germany [in 1990-1991], a lot of West German neo-Nazis moved to the east and began to establish structures. The worst riots against migrants in living memory took place as a result, from August 22 to 24, 1992, in the Lichtenhagen district of Rostock. Nazis all over Germany emulated this, and the so-called “Baseballschläger-Jahre” [the “baseball bat years”] began. From 1990 to 2000, right-wing terror and street violence were common—and not only in the “neuen Bundesländern” [the former east German states].

Over thirty years later, the consequences of that can still be felt.

The massive street protests in East Germany are also nourished by the experience of having overcome a system once before. This feeds into references to the protest movements at the end of the GDR [the German Democratic Republic, known as East Germany], but also into slogans such as “We are the people.” There was no equivalent in West Germany. Overall, conservative parties in the West have long endeavored not to allow any effective political actors to emerge to their right. However, supporters of these revanchist, racist, and right-wing conservative positions have felt less and less represented by a modernized conservatism, and the AfD has been able to use this circumstance to its advantage in the West.

A demonstration in Hamburg on January 28, 2024. Photograph by Jannis Grosse.

Why have the far right been so successful in using immigration as an issue? Are there any other issues they have also been able to use to build support?

Immigration has been a major issue in Germany, especially from 2015 onwards. The social situation at the time was very divisive. Right-wing populist parties like AfD and fascist groups like Generation Identity sought to spread fear of migrants, using lies such as the idea that refugees pose a threat to women and children or that the welfare state could not afford to accommodate refugees. When refugees were settled in parts of Germany where the residents were unfriendly and racist, right-wing groups and parties led the protests against refugee camps.

The far right capitalized on this division for recruitment, while the AfD took up the issue in the election campaigns. In general, right-wing parties are currently gaining support from those who reject the positions of the established parties (the “traffic light” coalition) around the issues of “climate change” and racism.

Some of the places that the far right has been most successful in Germany, such as small towns in eastern Germany—and across Europe as a whole, such as Hungary—are not the places that immigrants are going in the first place.

There is a lot of racism in Germany, which is also shared in the mainstream of society. This sort of racism works even without any real migrants. It is about prejudice, hatred, and ingrained attitudes like nationalism and authoritarianism. There is no need for real migrants to make this ideology convincing. It is most effective when people can project their fears onto imagined migrants.

Compare the rise of the far right in Germany to what has happened in other European countries—such as the Netherlands, Italy, France, Hungary—and the United States.

We can see many similarities to the rise of the extreme right in other European countries. For example, in all of these countries, the conservative parties in particular are no longer succeeding in reconciling the neoliberal policies of the European Union with the demands of local nationalists. In some ways, this is the result of attempts to modernize the conservative parties by updating their agendas and public image, which has coincided with a part of the conservative base radicalizing. Quite a few former members of the CDU [the Christian Democratic Union of Germany] can now be found in the AfD. We are also seeing this “crisis of conservatism” in many European countries. Many people are attracted to the idea of returning to the model of nation states that are free to decide on migration, their own economy, and other things independently of political developments in the EU; they assume that this would mean overcoming a supposed disadvantage.

Another factor is the common migration policy of the European Union, which has been increasingly aimed at sealing itself off, while at the same time individual states still rely on the immigration of certain people, such as specialized professional groups. Various European right-wing parties are exploiting this ambivalence. According to their simplistic logic, all our supposed social problems could be solved simply by individual states consistently sealing themselves off from the outside world.

A demonstration in Hamburg on January 28, 2024. Photograph by Jannis Grosse.

How important was the article published by the investigative journalists’ group Correctiv? To what extent do you think that “revealing information” has a role to play in mobilizing people against the far right?

The research was important in order to make it clear to a broad section of society what lies behind the ideas and slogans of the AfD and other right-wing parties. The links between conservatives (CDU) and right-wing populists (AfD) have also become clear once again. The fact that this research was picked up by almost all daily newspapers, TV stations and mainstream media also contributed to making many people show up at the demonstrations.

These links were not news to the radical left. The information and the networks and structures were already known. However, it is of little use if some radical anti-fascists know about it, but it is not communicated to society. Antifa research is good and important, but it’s also important how and where the information is placed. And despite all the love for the big demonstrations—they are this big because the established parties promote them and act as speakers themselves. This is dishonest, because the SPD and the Greens are at least as guilty of racism and deportations because of their role in tightening the laws as the AfD and the fascists are of incitement and violence against refugees.

What has been the political impact in Germany of recent shifts in the information landscape, with the spread of disinformation and the control of social media platforms by rival factions of the elite?

In Germany, the fascist group “Identitäre bewegung” was banned by Facebook and YouTube before this shift. That had a massive Impact on them. The latest shifts have not made much of a difference in Germany compared to the United States, except on X/Twitter, where right-wing trolls have gotten a massive boost.

Fascists have been using social media all along. The far right has long used social media channels such as Telegram and Instagram for its propaganda and networking. In recent years, however, they have also increasingly been using TikTok. The companies/providers let fascists get away with it because they cannot be held responsible under German law. Most of the companies are based in the USA and have much more permissive laws than Germany does when it comes to the use of Nazi symbols, for example. In Germany, such symbols are prohibited.

The extreme right-wing and conspiracy ideology scene has created its own media formats that contribute to the spread of disinformation based on conspiracy narratives and, in some cases, deliberately false reports. They are quite successful at this, partly because this type of media consumption is suitable for confirming their own worldview. Within this worldview, established media are only portrayed as the mouthpieces of the elites or government and as untrustworthy or controlled. This is problematic insofar as it goes hand in hand with a refusal to seek to understand complex processes or social dynamics or to enter into political debate.

On Saturday, February 3, following a football game in Hamburg, several thousand people joined FC St. Pauli fans to demonstrate against right-wing politics. “The vast majority of people here and at the other demonstrations are protesting not only against the AfD, but against the increasing shift to the right—we don’t care at all which party is pushing it,” one speaker declared to applause at the beginning of the demonstration. Photograph by Jannis Grosse.

Describe the wave of protests in Germany over the past few weeks. Who has benefitted from them, and how?

The protests chiefly consist of large rallies and demonstrations that always involve broad coalitions, are nonviolent, and are accepted by the cops. These are signs that the parties currently in power are also interested in these demonstrations. As anti-fascists, we are more used to police attacking us and trying to prevent us from taking direct actions against Nazis.

On the other hand, many activists certainly benefited, especially in smaller towns, where people who have been campaigning for a diverse and open society for years finally saw a noticeable increase in their numbers. Especially in places with a right-wing hegemony on the streets or in politics, such moments can give strength, regardless of how long the protests continue. This is probably one of the biggest challenges of the coming months: will some of those who are now taking to the streets against the AfD become integrated into long-term organizing processes, or will this be nothing more than a short-lived expression of outrage?

What strategies are the centrist political parties using to try to channel and control this movement?

They are presenting themselves as true anti-fascists, giving speeches at the large coalition demonstrations or even calling for the demonstrations themselves. In addition, large alliances sometimes try to exclude left or radical left positions. As a reminder: a few weeks ago, the current government passed the biggest and most blatant tightening of the asylum laws in years. At the same time, they are upset about the AfD and its phrasing. In terms of racist content, there is hardly any difference.

Anarchists and anti-fascists in the mass mobilizations. Photograph by Jannis Grosse.

Were there places in Germany where anti-fascists succeeded in using this opportunity to connect with people and build momentum? What strategies can you propose for anarchists and anti-authoritarians to engage with people and take action in such moments, when large numbers of people are suddenly motivated to respond to the rise of the far right?

Individually and regionally, people have certainly become politicized through the big demonstrations and are looking to network with local leftists. Such demonstrations are also a good way to reassure your friends and comrades that you are not alone.

But so far, the demonstrations have not had any social impact. The AfD, which was the target of the demonstrations, was able to gain even more percentage points in the polls for the upcoming elections. We call on people to get actively involved in such mobilizations. Make your own blocs, be there with banners and fliers and try to create a radical left-wing image. In addition, politicians who belong to parties that are themselves racist should be booed and forced off the stage.

Furthermore, the demonstrations are not as big everywhere. Especially in the east or in the countryside, the demonstrations are smaller and sometimes neo-Nazis provoke people from the sidelines. There, it is important to protect your own structures and chase the neo-Nazis away.

In the long run, what do you think it will take to prevent the far right from coming to power, to prevent centrist political parties from adopting the policies of the far right, and to build an anti-fascist movement that can transform society?

The main problem is that the parties of the “traffic light” coalition are pursuing neoliberal policies through and through. Solidarity and the welfare state are just empty words. Austerity measures are being implemented everywhere and fears of decline are being stirred up among the “middle classes.” However, the majority of society and other fans of authoritarianism are not looking for the causes in the system itself, but are looking for scapegoats to blame. The scapegoats include not only the right (such as the AfD), but also the parties of the traffic light, the poor, refugees, and others.

We need to campaign for more solidarity within society, we need to proactively protect our structures and friends—both from Nazis and from cops. More militant options must be used in dealing with the right. At the same time, we must prevent established politics from co-opting the major protests.

Demonstrators in the St. Pauli neighborhood of Hamburg on February 3, 2024. Photograph by Jannis Grosse.

Some anti-fascists have feared that in resisting far-right parties, we could drive more right-wing conservatives into supporting them. But fascists are not created by opposition to fascism—they are the result of successful fascist recruiting. We should seek to alienate people from the far right by all means—for example, by excluding AfD members from all public events, including family gatherings, bars, and concerts. It should not be possible for them to create the impression that they receive tacit support from the rest of the population, nor to cultivate an air of political and social legitimacy.

In some German cities, such as Flensburg, the AfD have been unable to find locations to host their events, and when they have organized public activities there has been so much resistance that these could only take place due to a major police presence. Where the AfD has met powerful street resistance, they have not been able to increase their percentage of the vote as significantly. This may simply be correlation, rather than causation, but no one joins a fascist party to be a victim. When participating in fascist activity fails to help them achieve their goals or give them an outlet for their agency, we can hope that they will ultimately focus on other things.

-The Rise of Neo-Fascism in Germany (October 2017)

Photograph by Jannis Grosse.