In the following you find the input held by a member of Antifa AK Cologne (for UG) at the international discussion “No country for old men” – Transnational Organisation of Anticapitalist Resistance!” at the third …umsGanze! Congress.
The Audio recording can be found at Soundcloud.
Who we are and what we do
Hello everyone, my name is Johnny and I’m a member of Antifa AK Cologne, which is part of the …ums Ganze! alliance. We are an antinational and anticapitalist project that tries to bring the criticism of state, nation and capital to the streets. …ums Ganze! means that we are against the whole thing, the whole system of capitalist domination, both in times of crisis or when it is functioning ‘normally’.
Our first public appearance was during the mobilization against the G8 summit in 2007 in Heiligendamm. Our starting point was the rejection of capitalism as a system of domination. We analyzed the Group of Eight, not as “the spider in the web” nor the “distributing center” of “predatory capitalism”, rather, we proposed, the G8 summit should be conceived as a form through which capitalist society reflects itself politically. Based on this understanding, we called for an irreconcilable act of negation. This political practice did not aim to mobilize the “One Family” of the defrauded and the disappointed, but rather at bringing capitalism in its totality into the focus of critique: to criticize it’s structures in institutions, and in our heads, and to develop a perspective beyond domination, violence, repression and exploitation.
Since then, the alliance has grown slowly but steadily and we have organized various campaigns and demonstrations. For example we participated in the mobilization against the so called “Anti-Islam congress” by the right wing populist party Pro Koeln in Cologne in 2008 and started a campaign called “State.Nation.Capital.Shit” during protests against the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of German reunification. More recently we have mainly participated in anticapitalist protests around the crisis and linked this situation to existing,in fact, growing, forms of racism in society. For the moment we are active in 10 cities in Germany and also in Vienna in Austria.
What is the current situation?
With the crash of neoliberal ideology, capitalism has lost its official utopia. However, its need for capital accumulation remains. That’s why nowadays a mix of economic recipes is being thrown together in an unemotionally pragmatic way. Neoliberalism continues to exist through drives for austerity programs and privatization, sometimes supplemented by debt breaks or rescue packages. Its institutions, rules and ownership structures are maintained and developed as a matter of course, legitimized by the incessant mantra of competitiveness: states, companies and locations shall compete until the end of all days.
In an era of technocracy, the old party-political attitudes, ranging from national-chauvinistic, conservative, liberal, green alternative, social democratic, to state-socialist, begin to fade into the background. In some cases – like in the Italy of Monti and the Greece of Papademos – governments consisted of so-called “technocrats” and “specialists”, who implemented the policies of crisis management. In a Europe strongly influenced by Germany, with disregard to future elections, such technocratic governments become detached even from the very principles of so-called “democratic legitimacy”. The other “alternative” arises currently in Greece and Italy: a government on the basis of a coalition between conservatives and social-democrats in order to maintain national unity.
And yet, the authoritarian continuation of ‘business as usual’ does not go unchallenged. Resistance against capitalist imposition has spread significantly during the last years. As its symbols, there are protest camps, occupied squares, the assembleas and the Occupy movement. For many different reasons people carried their disagreements out into the streets. One characteristic of this spontaneous protest movement was its international ambition and its claim to question “the system” or “capitalism”, albeit often in a superficial or confused manner. A major problem was some demands’ strong orientation towards state control and, in parts, their often moralistic, foreshortened, nationalistic and conspiratorially grounded critique of what are – as we know – truly systemic relations.
Here in Germany we are in a pretty shitty situation. The reforms that are being passed in other countries have been performed and tested at the very centre of the European capitalist formation. Under the name of Agenda 2010, the social democrats here, in coalition with the Greens, passed reforms providing flexibility around work and strict control of unemployment. Migration control in Germany is being ‘perfected’: only a few good skilled workers are getting the magical invitation to European territory. All others who now manage to arrive at the centre of Europe are being detained in detention centers, have no freedom of movement, and live in constant fear of deportation. Low-skilled work as a sector grows and grows: first of all care and reproduction, especially in the form of part-time, hourly day-labour or ‘timework’. Austerity exists in Germany today but takes the form of cuts that are being made in certain social and cultural state budgets.. And still, Merkel’s hardline government, which stands for ruthless cuts against precarious parts of society and the reduction of the welfare state all over Europe, still enjoys vast popularity in Germany.
What to say about “us”?
The great times of the autonomous movement in Germany have passed. Self-organization and daily struggles are at a low ebb. Only some debates on the desirability of the commons, some adaptations of old struggles – for instance against evictions, in Berlin – have found their way here from the south of Europe. The only sometimes successful strategy, or rather, bitter necessity for the epoch, is the limited power of symbolic protest, for example projects like M31 – the European day of action against capitalism in 2012 – or Blockupy, the attempt to build up in Germany a broader coalition . From our point of view, these mobilizations concentrate on the goal of breaking the ideological domination of the current state-and-nation propaganda. To break or at least to influence the discourse of the so-called “lazy Greeks”. To break the consensus in society, to at least to send a message of solidarity to other struggles, and to show that at least some people, some thousands, in the heart of the beast, have a problem with the status quo. They pit themselves against the capitalist offensive that is taking the form of wholesale social destruction;against the rise of nationalism and racism. But of course, the achievement of this goal is still far away.
In this historical situation we face different dangers in each specific country, we face nationalism in different formations; be it from government, from protests themselves, or from right-wing formations.
First of all, national unity is being promoted by the various governments in order to keep people working and to try to dissuade social uprisings and insurrections. In this context, nationalistic tendencies and demands within the protests themselves play a specific role: to undermine the movements, and to stop the arrival of the moment when the need to demand state intervention, or the rescue of the nation, is overcome.
Furthermore and worse: rightwing and fascist reactions develop in different ways and styles but on common ground across different countries. In Greece and Hungary the emerging success of fascist parties may be the tip of the iceberg. In France, hundreds of thousands demonstrated against the marriage rights of homosexual people; in Germany, right-wing populist parties like Alternative for Germany are waiting in the wings intent on taking further steps.
We can see some common characteristics in all these situations: an anti-euro rhetoric which tries to instrumentalize EU-scepticism in general, and a strong anti-systemic discourse that presents itself as “the” alternative to the classical political parties. The difference still lies in the success of these parties, but as you can see from the mood in France, it by no means presents merely a problem of the “South in crisis”.
Get up from your sofa!
What remains for us in this critical situation? The question is how to develop our radical perspectives outside of our milieus. We could try once again to build a political party, one that would be, this time, the ‘really good one’ at last. We could try to fight inside the framework of (or against) the nation-state, reasoning that it is ‘closer’ to us and thus easier to strike at. We could try to create the fifth international, gathering all the oppressed people from the world in a supranational structure. Or we can try to think and act strategically. We can try to develop local and international perspectives and campaigns that always retain a critical outlook. We can try to elaborate long-term struggles and to organize the means of leading them. We can learn from experiences abroad and from our common history – and sometimes history is not that long a time ago.
Capitalism is everywhere, its decision-centers can be a thousand kilometers from the place where impacts devastate society. Even “your” government, the one which fucks you up the most, is probably not in your country – this is the miracle of Europe! So, if we want to fight effectively against this domination, we should better understand how the beast works, where we can strike at it and then become able to broadcast this knowledge.
We do not want to appear naïve and overly optimistic in relation to the current struggles. Still, we do find in them, time and time again, possibilities for theoretical and political radicalization. However, the struggle for a better life can only succeed if it comes in the form of social revolution. Until then, we see it as our task to disseminate the idea of antinational solidarity beyond the boundaries of Germany and Europe and to continue to criticize and to act against the correlation of state, nation and capital – free from the illusions of the reformist and traditional Left.
But especially in our milieu, in the radical left here in Germany, we need to overcome some limits that come from different sides.
First of all, we need to get up off the comfortable but isolated sofa of critique. We noticed a lack of understanding of the situation, but also a very problematic view on emerging struggles. As we have written in our texts before, it is not enough to be angry, yet we also know that we don’t have the recipe for revolution in Germany. Nor do we have the perfect master plan to abolish racism and sexism. But in the end, it depends on whether we dare to bring our developed critique of state, nation and capital into the scuffle. Nazis in Greece will not disappear; German state-nationalism will not die by itself; and communism will not fall from the heavens if we persist in living on our correct but lonely planet of critique.
Secondly, we need a new relation to struggles, be they visible or still invisible, and also look for possibilities for future ruptures. Not all struggles are the same, and they cannot all be generalized. And, yes, they are not communist rebellions, but, in most cases, bourgeois-progressive moments of protests hinging on democratic values, rights and demands. But this is nevertheless a good thing if it gives us space for connections and establishes situations where people like you and I can stand on our feet and continue to act.
Happily some things between us are clear and don’t need to be discussed from zero anymore. We don’t think we should try to find the solution to the crisis in personal categories or in an antisemitic, racist or nationalist tradition. Also, we are not attacking the banksters of finance capital in order to protect the good ‘real economy’ against it. The last option is often part of many left answers to the crisis. And we don’t question the need for us to destroy capitalism in its ideological totality.
The basic questions are only how and where to challenge the system. Do we stay behind our desks, boycotting every potential progressive movement and waiting for a magic moment? Of-course not!
What we should do: Antinational processes of organisation! But how?
For the time being, the exchange processes between people struggling in Europe and beyond are still underdeveloped: in the radical groups that do exist, some have traveled to Greece, Tunisia, and lately, Turkey, and this represents a bit of “riot- tourism” perhaps. Just a few groups experimented with more organized collaborations. We are definitely still missing the tools and spaces to coordinate resistance on a European level and to transmit our own history and experiences.
What are these tools, exchange processes and ideas that we need?
We need to (re)occupy the principle of solidarity, that is to say,fill it with left-wing and radical content. Solidarity has to be freed from the isolation of single-issue campaigns; it has to be revived and updated by purging it of its reactionary and, especially, its nationalist blinkers. We also have to take it back from its recuperation by capitalism: by solidarity we don’t mean “charity” or “investment”. And we need to pin our horizons to processes that are happening outside our own national borders: not only to analyse insurrections, rebellions and so on in the Middle East or Occupy worldwide, but also to learn from these movements, that is, from their limits and their possibilities.
We have to discover the links between capitalistic processes within Europe. Information must be gathered about state-institutions or companies that act transnationally: in what ways are they active in different countries to the end of maintaining capitalist order?
Greece is being sold out to international capital: OTE to Deutsche Telecom, Thessaloniki Waterworks to Veolia Environment, Athens airport maybe to Fraport, the highways, the ports, the train companies and many other things will follow. Let us think about “the” crisis, migrant repression, ecological disasters and so on. Many state structures and companies could figure in this discussion, it is the task of research to discover the links between Europe’s different countries and afterwards, a work of coordination that could enable us to take action. Then, regardless if these actions take the form of occupying institutions, we must instigate direct actions, counter-information guerrillas, blockades, these being just a few ideas and prototypes of resistance that must become many and various…
With the background of rising fascist organisations in Greece and Hungary, rising racism and nationalism in western countries, we have to coordinate also on the issue of right-wing answers to the crisis. For example: Greek comrades are organizing antifa groups in every city and neighbourhood. The experience is one we knew here in Germany during the nineties, after pogroms, with the participation of neonazis and German citizens, against migrants and refugees. The antifascist movement has since then naturally developed and changed, collecting experiences and strategies. These we can share with our comrades in other countries so that they do not make similar mistakes, but instead, they can test out more effective strategies for themselves.
And together we have to develop the weapon of critique while simultaneously engaging, slowly, in a discussion on where we are heading. Can we exchange our theoretical and practical expertise? For example, on how to criticize the nation and national unity, which in Greece at the moment plays a particularly expansive role: a topic on which German antifascist and post-antifascist movement activists are experts. And most importantly we need to discuss together topics that concern us all: for example what is this Europe we are living in? Do we want to destroy it? Do we want a new European Federation? What do we want to do with it?
It is clear that if we do not try to get organized in this way, if we do not intensify our exchange processes and adopt a global point of view on the system, we won‘t be able to develop our own agenda. We will keep on waiting for the next spontaneous movement, at the risk of waiting too long and confirming the myth “there is no alternative” to capitalism. In these times of austerity and popular revolt, we have to bring our forms of organization and action to the next level.
We are in a situation where the once pristine white shirt of capitalism is stained and, in more and more countries, right-wing movements emerge and develop their strength on the basis of a resurgence of racism in society. We say that we have to use this chance – and every chance – to bring our radical critiques of state, nation and capital into discussion, be it here, in our milieu, or in all the places of the world. Back to politics, back, with our critique, to society! For a global antinationalism!