Race for the Reichstag

first_imgThe poster says it all. The symbol is the word ‘capital’ being crushed inside a hammer. The slogan: ‘We’ll win the final battle.’ The combination of red and black and large, vibrant lettering is the sign of a campaign that means business. Pictured are black 60s icons from Jimi Hendrix to Malcolm X. There’s a photo of Che Guevara, and another one of Lenin. In one shot, Marx, Engels and Lenin stand proudly, under the slogan: ‘Everyone’s talking about the weather. We’re not.’ The final man pictured is Rudi Dutschke, the voice of the German Left, whose death in 1979, eleven years after surviving an assassination attempt, made him into the martyr of the political revolutionaries.The selection of symbols on the poster advertising this May’s ‘1968 Congress’ is one usually associated with the past — a failed attempt at a revolution. But 40 years after the events of 1968, in Europe’s home of student activism, Germany, the Left are trying to rekindle the spirit. Die Linke (‘The Left’), Germany’s eight-month-old hardline socialist party (they’re closet communists, in reality), has already won seats in four state parliaments in western Germany, as well as occupying 8% of  the federal parliament in Berlin.And the student wing is all the rage. Covering almost every inch of free placard space inside the University of Frankfurt are the slips of paper advertising the conference in Berlin, which aims to bring the ramifications of 1968 into the limelight. At the time of writing, 48 speakers were confirmed, from Marxist academics to contemporary historians. The spirit of 1968 is on its way back.It was the year that saw a new left-wing politics come to Europe. The global ‘liberation’ movement — ranging from the black civil rights campaign in the US to the protests against the Vietnam War — coincided with an uprising in Czechoslovakia in favour of liberalisation, a student revolt in France that led to the fall of Charles de Gaulle’s government and a general shift in cultural values. Few places were influenced more than Germany, where the term ‘‘68er’ is used to define an entire generation captured by the political and social transition.Jan Schalauske, a student activist who ran for Die Linke in January’s state elections in Hesse, says the 1968 movement in Germany was down to the establishment’s inability to break with its fascist past, plus a capitalist society that, in truth, limited individual freedom. ‘Many people who played a role in the Nazi regime were placed in important positions in the Federal Republic,’ he says. ‘And, with the economic miracle, post-war reconstruction and a heavily regulated society, people hardly had any room to move and develop their own personality.’The result of this was an uprising that most British student unions would die for. But the consequences of 1968 were played out more than just in the debating chamber. The anti-capitalist terrorist movement that started in that year and died out finally in the 1990s dominates perceptions of the generation, and still plagues the German Left. Die Linke is under permanent surveillance by the state, thanks to a law protecting the constitution that places any political groups considered extremist as a potential threat to democracy. It all started in April 1968, when a pair of left-wing extremists set fire to two department stores in Frankfurt. In the 30-year history of Germany’s far-left extremist wing that followed, groups kidnapped and killed an employers’ union head, worked with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to hijack a Lufthansa plane, and, in the notorious operation of 1976, hijacked an Air France flight from Tel Aviv and redirected it to Uganda. Here they singled out 105 Israelis and French Jews on board, who they threatened to kill. And when the Palestinian organisation Black September murdered eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics of 1972, Ulrike Meinhof co-authored a document praising the act.The German Left, therefore, has a difficult history to grapple with if it’s going to regain recognition. But insanely, it seems to be doing little grappling. Die Linke has no formal manifesto — just ‘a few open questions’, according to Schalauske — so they have little policy of substance to counteract anything other than what the faction is already associated with. Schalauske, who is helping run the 1968 congress in May, admits that the terror campaign was wrong but finds it ‘wrong to limit 1968 to a discussion of terrorism’.It’s perhaps no wonder that Die Linke, despite its electoral success, is finding it difficult getting accepted by the political establishment. The Social Democrat Party would easily form a ruling majority if it accepted a coalition with the far-left party, but refuses to do this and it seems would rather stay in opposition. But the Social Democrats are split over their views of Die Linke. Klaus Wowereit, the Mayor of Berlin, considered a future candidate for Chancellor, has already formed a coalition with Die Linke in the city, and, according to leading pollster Professor Klaus Kocks, such a coalition on a national level would get Wowereit into power in the Bundestag at the next election. The question is whether they want to put power ahead of a potential shift to the left, and whether the move would put off Social Democrat voters. Die Linke’s members claim to be nothing more than social democrats themselves, but everything about it — the communist credentials of its leader, Lothar Bisky, Marxist intellectual Alex Callinicos’ praise of it as a ‘profound challenge to social democracy’, the pictures of Marx and Stalin on the posters — suggests otherwise.Nevertheless, the Left looks likely only to increase its popularity. A poll last week put it as the top party in eastern Germany, ahead of the mainstream Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. The West, on the other hand, is a very different place from the country it was 30 years ago in the aftermath of the economic miracle. The economy has still not recovered from reunification. Social cohesion is abysmal, Turks live in fear of racially aggravated violence, recognisable Jews can’t safely walk in parts of many cities without danger of attack, and Germany is now one of Europe’s biggest Al-Qaeda hotbeds. Voters are turning to the extremes, with the far-right neo-Nazis and Republicans, as well as the far-left Party for Social Equality, also active. Complete realisation of the ideals that defined 1968 might be beyond reach, but the German Left of that era is still alive, and their goal may be more attainable than some people think.by Joshua Freedmanlast_img read more

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