German policy and the refugee problem: playing with fire
The following article is a contribution on the question of refugees as it is posed today in Germany. Certain aspects are not easily transferable to other countries of Europe. For example the demographic problem treated in the article doesn’t exist in countries such as France, Spain or Italy, given that a high youth unemployment rate exists in these countries despite a low birth rate. However, because of the economic and political weight of Germany in the EU and in the world this article has an importance that goes beyond its national borders.
When, surprisingly and suddenly last September, Chancellor Merkel opened the doors wide to the Promised Land of Germany (and has more or less kept them open since) to thousands of refugees camping in shameful conditions in the Central Station of Budapest and its environs, when she defended with speeches full of emotion (unusual for her) the opening of the frontiers to Syrian refugees, facing considerable criticism from her own camp, and then declared that despite the more and more open protests from municipal authorities that couldn’t cope with the influx, that there was to be no upper limit to the welcome of political refugees, the entire world asked itself why Merkel, who is reputed “to reflect on consequences”, to weigh up everything before acting, could engage in such an “adventure”. Because in fact this is an equation with a good number of unknowns which is facing Germany’s Grand Coalition. The question is also posed of how to stop the wave of refugees. A little while ago it was a matter of 800,000 refugees arriving in Germany this year; predictions are even saying that it will be at least a million-and-a-half. Merkel equally seemed, which is also unusual, to have badly calculated the effect of the policy of the helping hand on the local population; for the first time in a long while, she has, according to the opinion polls, gone backwards in the eyes of the electorate and has even been overtaken by a Social-Democrat (Minister of Foreign Affairs Steinmeier). She has not done well here in keeping the populism of the extreme-right at bay; endless waves of refugees, the majority of them Muslims, are grist to the mill of the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD)[i] which has been rising in the polls as least in Thuringia as a third force catching up with the SPD.
Why has the Coalition government under the leadership of Merkel and minister of the Economy Gabriel engaged in such a perilous game? Could it be a product of the Merkel-bashing that came out of the Greek crisis, an attempt to brighten her image, or is it some form of sentimentalism? Perhaps the pity of Merkel at her “town-hall meeting” regarding the fate of a young Palestinian girl threatened with expulsion, or the outward emotion of Gabriel regarding the no less cruel fate of a Syrian family in a refugee camp that he visited in Jordan, are really sincere? Even bourgeois politicians have an emotional life…
In our opinion the open door policy has far more material causes. It has motives which are not as altruistic and disinterested as the numerous acts of kindness we’ve seen from the German population, without which the chaos which reigns in the receiving centres for asylum-seekers would be much greater. The objectives of the policy have an importance which largely go beyond the risks and effects involved in such a policy. Let’s examine in some detail the secret objectives pursued by “the policy of opening up the frontiers”.
For some years now the theme of the “demographic problem” has haunted the media. According to the Federal Institute of Statistics, the Federal Republic is threatened with the ageing and lowering of the national population which decreased by 7 million inhabitants to fall to around 75 million around 2050. Already, since the reunification of 1989, the population of the whole of Germany had fallen by 3 million, in particular with the dramatic fall in the birth rate in East Germany. As much literature referring to this issue these last years has shown, it is clear to the German bourgeoisie that if this process isn’t checked and continues, it will in the long-term turn into a considerable loss of influence and prestige of German capitalism on the military, economic and political levels.
Already today, the lack of well-trained workers constitutes a brake on the necessity for Germany to remain a strong economy. In about a sixth of all professional branches there is a lack of qualified personnel which is so serious that according to some managers it badly affects the competiveness of a good number of enterprises. According to a study of Prognos AG (Arbeitslandschaft 2030) “.. in 2015 a good million higher diplomas were lacking -180,000 more than the number expected by economists for this same year before the arrival of the refugees. Concerning professionally qualified workers the gap is still estimated at 1.3 million. And there is even a lack of some 550,000 unqualified workers in 2015”( Handelsblatt, October 9 2015 ). In eastern Germany the lack of qualified personnel is already creating the following vicious circle: the flight of young workers towards western Germany at rates constantly above those of arrivals leading to the closure of small to medium-sized firms, which in their turn accelerate the process of departure.
In this situation the flux of numerous war refugees is manna from heaven for the German economy. The latter has recognised this: Telekom offered its help with lodgings and provisions for the refugees as well as personalised support towards some cases. Audi has spent a million euros in initiatives favouring refugees. Daimler and Porsche aim to create places for apprenticeships among the young refugees; Bayer supports the initiative of its employees in favour of the refugees. It goes without saying that the “personal responsibility” on which these firms pride themselves serves their real interests. It is quite simply a question of drawing a profit from the potential for exploitation that the refugees hold.
The Syrian refugees in particular represent an interesting source of human capital, for which many enterprises now have a pressing need. Firstly, the great majority are young; they can thus contribute to rejuvenating the age of workers in firms and – in general – lower the average age of society. Secondly, the Syrian refugees are clearly better educated than other refugees, as the enquiries from the Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge – the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees - show. More than a quarter of them had higher levels of education and represent a particularly lucrative source of labour power, including engineers, technicians, doctors, care workers among others - all categories which are most eagerly looked for. German businesses even profit from the refugees from a double angle: first of all, it allows them to fill in the gaps in the workforce; then, German capital draws advantage from the effect (called the “brain drain” in the 70’s) of siphoning off highly-qualified workers from the Third World, allowing the saving of a considerable part of its costs of reproduction (that’s to say the cost of education, school, university, etc.).
On to the third advantage offered by refugees of a Syrian origin which is attractive to the German economy. It is the extraordinary motivation of these human beings which fascinates the bosses of the economy such as the President of Daimler, Dieter Zetsche. The mentality of these people has been forged by the experience of being rendered powerless by Assad’s incendiary bombs and the horrors of Islamic State, of losing everything they had and going through the terrible experience of the flight to Europe. And it’s precisely this which makes them recognisable prey for the system of capitalist exploitation. Escaping from Hell, they are ready to work hard for little wages, thinking that for themselves things will only get better. It’s exactly the same mentality that the Trummerfrauen (“the women of the ruins”) had after World War Two: rather than submit to fate and do nothing, they swept and cleaned up the ruins of the devastated German towns with their bare hands, thus taking a decisive role in the reconstruction and the German “economic miracle” (Wirtschaftswunder) after the war, something the bourgeois economists deliberately forget.
This energy and this remarkable spirit of initiative seen among the refugees offers the German bourgeoisie a source of promising human capital full of profits. In addition, just as with the immigrants from the 1960’s and 70’s, in the short-term they can be used to serve capital’s efforts to maintain or even increase the pressure on wages.
But the refugees also form an area of manoeuvre for German imperialism, as it turned out in the past days and weeks in the context of the aggravation of the war in Syria; and for more than one reason. The Federal government used the refugee question not only on the moral level, but also on the political level by pillorying other countries, which as it happens include the country of immigration par excellence, the United States, for their hesitations about welcoming the refugees. Just lately, we have been able to see clear indications showing Germany giving a new orientation to its policy towards Syria. Knowingly linking the refugee drama to a so-called solution to the Syrian crisis, the main representatives of German foreign policy (Steinmeier, Genscher, among others) have underlined the necessity to integrate Russia, Iran and even, temporarily, the butcher Assad into the Syrian peace process. Moreover, Berlin and the Kremlin are acting together in putting the war in Ukraine to one side so all of their forces are concentrated on the question of the situation in Syria. Not even the move by Putin to deploy additional military forces in the Syrian town of Latakia has caused any particular irritation to the Federal government. The Minister of the Economy, Gabriel, even called for the end of economic sanctions against Russia, affirming that:”...sanctions couldn’t be maintained in the long term on the one hand, and on the other hand, what is needed is (...) collaboration”.
With this political reorientation Germany is again moving, for the first time since the war in Iraq, towards an open confrontation with the United States. The latter, via the State Department, has lately upped the tone against Assad and have shown themselves far from amused by the latest diplomatic offensive of Putin at the last UN General Assembly. On the other hand the US has a very ambivalent attitude towards IS to say the least; its role towards the Islamic State has been extremely dubious, and the half-hearted way in which the US has attacked it poses a whole series of other questions as to the real intentions of American imperialism towards this terrorist organisation.
The change of course in German foreign policy seems to be partly the result of interventions and pressure from German industry. Within the latter criticisms towards the sanctions against Russia are growing as it becomes clear that it is the German economy that is bearing the brunt, while the big American enterprises such as Bell and Boeing continue to do major business with Russia despite the sanctions. Whereas the volume of German economic trade with Russia has fallen by 30%, in the same period trade between the US and Russia has increased by 6%. And further to these economic reasons political arguments also come into play for German capitalism in its opposition to the maintenance of the economic embargo against Russia. Not having a military potential to threaten and dissuade comparable to that of the United States, German imperialism has to have recourse to other means in order to validate its influence on a global scale. One of these is the economic and industrial power that German policy can use to force and constrain the development of commercial relations. One aspect that shows the mixture of politics and business as well as the political use of economic projects are official state visits to countries like China, Brazil, India or Russia, where the Chancellor is systematically accompanied by a whole suite of influential German business leaders and even representatives of small and medium businesses for the construction of machine-tools. In this sense, the policy of sanctions deprives the German bourgeoisie of more than a contract and thus goes against its general imperialist interests.
The mass of Syrian refugees welcomed by Germany must also be considered as another means of compensation for military weakness – and here, the circle is complete. In this context we shouldn’t underestimate the way that the profound human need for recognition and gratitude can be manipulated in the relations between countries. The evident sympathy for the refugees, expressed by the attempts at assistance by the greater part of the local population, is a point that the German bourgeoisie can profitably use. This debt of thanks towards Germany by a good number of those stranded there can in the longer-term become an opening for its imperialist interests in relation to the Middle East; it can bring about the rise of pro-German factions who through their lobbying could act for the profit of German interests in their country of origin.
What immediately strikes us is the change of appearance in German nationalism. Up until just recently the Greek crisis saw Germany described abroad as the “IVth Reich” and its representatives caricatured, decked-out in Nazi paraphernalia, heartless and merciless. But this is being repaired by its newly-acquired glory as the saviour of the wretched of the earth. Globally the Germans are the “good guys”. Never since its foundation has the reputation of the German Federal Republic been so good as it is today. And as well as this external effect, it also spreads inwards, in the form of democratism. At this moment the German state has provided itself with the bearing of a paragon, tolerant, close to its citizenry, open to the world, thus animating a process that is actually deadly for the working class – the dissolution of social classes into a national unity. Chancellor Merkel, the cold scientist, clearly finds a growing pleasure in her new role as the Holy Mother, the saint of the asylum-seekers. How did she put it? “If we now have to begin to excuse ourselves for showing a friendly face in a situation of urgency, then that is not my country”.
You couldn’t put it better. In fact it’s simply a question of showing a sympathetic front; and behind this friendly face they continue to hunt down and divide. Thus, in parallel to this “culture of welcome” a cynical division is put in place between refugees from war and the “false asylum-seekers”, a merciless selection of “economic refugees”, mostly young people from the Balkans with no perspective but pauperisation. Very quickly the federal state and the Lander have agreed to deliberately declare Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro as safe countries, thus preventing any asylum for people coming from those regions. However even the “real” asylum seekers are themselves not spared from the venomous attacks of the political world or the media, as was shown by the Federal Ministry of the Interior De Maiziere against recalcitrant refugees.
Moreover, some parts of the media, despite the diehard rhetoric from the Chancellor (“we ourselves are going to succeed, we will get there”) are tireless in stirring up worry and panic within the national population. They talk about entire peoples coming towards Europe, denouncing the threat of terrorist attacks by Islamic “moles” coming with the army of refugees and asking when the atmosphere is going to “change”. But above all, the chorus of those hysterically warning about Germany being “overwhelmed” by masses of refugees and shouting that the place is full up are getter louder.
It’s not very difficult to foresee how the two routes, the opening or closing of frontiers, will end up. To be sure the policy of “open frontiers” has only been an exceptional intermission, unique in time: the near future will be marked by a new locking-up of the frontiers, as much on the national level as by EU as a whole. In the future its plans propose that the selection of asylum-seekers “useful” to Germany must directly take place at source in the country of origin. The campaign against smugglers is particularly perfidious: it is not solely aimed at the mafia gangs but also those who professionally help the refugees in flight without profiting from it. “The European Union, which says it is a place of liberty, security and rights, as well as its member states, have created a system making it almost impossible for people being pursued, tortured and oppressed, who have need of urgent help, to find protection in Europe without having recourse to professional smugglers. To bring these people in front of courts and put them in prison is hypocritical, contradictory and profoundly inhuman” wrote the Republikanische Anwaltinnen-und Anwaltevein (RAV) in its Information Letter “Praise to the smugglers”.
It’s incontestable that the world sees in the present wave of refugees a drama of a dimension that they have never known before. In 2013 there were 51.2 displaced persons, by the end of 2014 their numbers reached 59.5 million – being the most important increase in the space of a year and recorded by the UNCHR: these are unprecedented figures. After Syria, Libya threatens to slide into a civil war – with all the consequences identical to Syria. In the refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey where the great majority of refugee from the Syrian war have found asylum, the threat is shaping up of a new mass immigration towards Europe following drastic reductions in aid from the UN, with hunger now adding to the desperate absence of perspective.
However, the media is deliberately over-dramatising the already dramatic conditions and adding another layer to them. Thus for some time now the spectre of immigration of entire peoples haunts the greater public, television broadcasts the frightening scenario of millions of Africans, waiting with bags packed, for the least chance to set out and try their luck in Europe. Such assertions serve only to sow worry and fear in the population and – to say the least – do not correspond to the facts. If one examines the movement of refugees closely one can see that the greater number of them in the world look for shelter close to their countries of origin; it’s only when all hope of a return has disappeared that those refugees who have the financial means to move can make the long and perilous trek towards Europe, North America or Australia. The rumours of a mass exodus coming from Africa has no basis at all up to now; migrations from the continent are largely less chaotic than the scare stories in the media would have us suppose. Often entire village communities sell their goods and belongings and club together to finance the voyage to Europe for a single young man chosen by the whole of the community and who is given the responsibility to then support the village – this is the model for the search for work tested over decades.
However, startled by the growing number of refugees, the Federal government has been compelled to act on the profound causes of the refugee drama, as it said. But the mountain gives birth to the molehill. Everything coming from the minds of Merkel & Co in relation to solving this basic global problem is only fine words and hundreds of millions of euros out of the coffers to finance the refugee camps of Turkey and Lebanon. Not a word of responsibility of the major industrial nations in the destruction of the foundations of human existence in the Third World. Let’s look once again at the words of Republikanische Anwaltinnen-und Anwalteverein (RAV) who come close to the real causes of the misery in the so-called developing countries, even if they inevitably lack precision (what do they mean by “the Europeans”, who is “us”?): “For many reasons, Europe has created the causes and continues to still make them today. The political relations that the European colonial powers left behind after their retreat, including the tracing of arbitrary frontiers, are only part of it. From the 16th to the 18th centuries the Europeans invaded South America, wading up to their thighs in blood, robbing gold and silver by the boatload which served as start-up capital for an economy about to flourish. The Europeans turned about 20 million Africans into slaves and sold them throughout the entire world. Through the vampirisation of their raw materials, overfishing to death of their waters, the exploitation of their workers for the least costs of production and the export of highly subsidised provisions which wiped out local agriculture, it turns out today that the population of the majority of the countries of emigration are still on the hook”.
Populism and pogromism
The formation of nation states in the industrial countries of the 19th century rested on two fundamentals. The first of them – economic centralisation – was very rational; on the other hand the other was by its nature completely irrational. The constitution into nations of the 18th and 19th centuries took place on the basis of founding myths containing all sorts of narratives but one fundamental idea, one common fictitious myth united them – the fable of a great national community, of a family even, defining itself by a common origin (“the blood line”), culture and language. It was characteristic of the bourgeois nation to turn inwards and close in on itself in relation to the outside on one hand, while on the other hand the outward tendency of each capitalist power aspired to the conquest of the planet, forming one of the contradictory principles inextricably gripping capitalism.
The present refugee crisis shows to what point it is difficult to reconcile these two principles. If one solely takes the economic point of view, the flow of refugees of good working age should, if possible, never cease. A million people arriving every year pose no problem. However what makes sense at the economic level can have fatal consequences politically because within capitalism refugees are not just poverty-stricken but at the same time competitors for lodgings, social benefits, jobs. What isn’t a problem for the capitalists is one for the authorities, wages are lowered and the locals uprooted.
It is of course not the first time that a wave of refugees has broken over Germany. In the five years after the war (1945-1950) more than 12 million were expelled from the eastern provinces of Bohemia-Moravia, making their way towards a ruined Germany whose population suffered from deprivations. It’s evident that at this time there could be no question of “a culture of welcome”; on the contrary these refugees came up against resentment, hatred and massive rejection from the local population. Finally, the social integration of all the deported was achieved with much less difficulty than it was feared. This was down to two conditions: firstly the fact that the deported came from the same linguistic and cultural space, secondly, it took place in the context of the reconstruction, which was starting up in West Germany with the creation of the monetary union. The need for available workers was such that it was the bosses who were in competition for the dwindling numbers. Today, on the other hand, the masses of refugees almost without exception come from a foreign cultural and linguistic zone, and come up against a society which for a long time has suffered a constantly worsening economic crisis where competition for work, lodgings, education has taken on an unexpected scale, while catapulting important layers of the population into pauperisation.
When a general economic crisis is added to a lack of perspective and the absence of a social project to counter capitalist misery, then political populism is on the rise, nourishing a phenomenon that Marx called “The religion of daily life”. It’s the “little person’s” mentality which refuses to recognise that capitalism, contrary to past social forms, is a depersonalised, objectified system in which the particular capitalist isn’t a sovereign actor on the move but on the contrary is moved by the latter. As Engels said, the capitalist is dominated by his own product, and the representative of the political class is animated by “necessities” and not his own predilections. Populism is the philistine outrage of the petty-bourgeoisie which confronts the dominant class and blames “its” representatives, but ends up throwing itself into the arms of those it still calls “traitors to the people” in the hope of finding protection against “foreigners”. It is a completely reactionary mentality celebrating conformism as a supreme ideal, and is quite capable of leading pogroms against those that think otherwise, those who have another colour, against everyone who is different.
The Pegida movement[ii], principally established in the east of Germany is a striking, as well as abject, example of this spirit of the extreme right. Intolerant and hypocritical, its war-cry is “We are the people” completely ignoring the working class: the people (to use its jargon), have never, in Germany nor elsewhere – and today still less – been the homogenous collective which this movement fantasises about. Its boycott of the “lying press” as well as its shrill fury against the established parties (going towards death threats against politicians) only illustrates its disappointments over the “betrayal” by politicians and the media, as if the aim of these profoundly bourgeois institutions was to restore or represent the “will of the people”. In reality their unbridled hatred doesn’t confront the ruling class but the weakest layers of society as shown day after day by their rallies in front of the lodgings of refugees, as well as their cowardly attacks against them and foreigners. What is completely typical of pogromism is that it is the parts of the population that are least able to defend themselves which serve as the scapegoats and are made to pay the added costs of their already perilous existence.
The problem of populism and pogromism is that it forces the established parties, particularly the governing parties, to play with fire. In their actions they resemble the famous sorcerer’s apprentice who lets the (bad) genie of panic and hatred of strangers escape from the bottle, thus risking a loss of control. Up until now, contrary to the majority of other European states, the German bourgeoisie has prevented the emergence of a populist party, of the left or right, the reason being that its deadly past is a particularly important preoccupation. It will depend on the way the refugee crisis is treated if things remain thus. Everything seems to indicate that it’s particularly the populist milieu of the right which has profited from the policies of Merkel. The AfD, as we mentioned earlier in the introduction, is presently moving up in the opinion polls, the Pegida movement, quoted above, seems to have the wind in its sails. The “Monday demonstration” at Dresden was again accompanied by crowds of more than 10,000 people, whose potential aggression was sharpened by the speeches into real acts of violence.
How has the German bourgeoisie dealt with this problem? Firstly we should note that a part of the political class is not fundamentally opposed to the attacks of the extreme right. This is shown by the way the seriousness of these attacks has been minimised up till very recently. Now however those who carry out the attacks are being labelled as “terrorists”. That’s important inasmuch as the term “terrorism” provokes certain reflexes and associations of ideas linked to the Second World War where large numbers of so-called saboteurs were immediately executed; or else it evokes the memory of the “German autumn” of 1977 where the terrorists of the RAF were raised to the rank of Public Enemy Number 1. Moreover, by using the accusation of terrorism, the state can call on a number of instruments to prevent the torments and harassments getting too far out of hand. At the same time the AfD is divided. Finally one can see how desperate the politicians and media are by the way they place the Pegida movement close to neo-Nazism, which has always constituted a tested means to socially isolate movements of protest, whatever their colour.
On the other hand the established parties are working to give the impression that they understand the preoccupations and worries of the population. Thus the Federal government tries with financial inducements and moral pressure to relieve Germany of the burden of a part of the Syrian refugees onto other countries of the EU, so far without success. The Great Coalition has quickly concocted a law for a fast-track return to the borders and has begun to strongly enforce it even before it becomes law, solely with the aim of being able to preach to the electorate that it will protect them against Überfremdung or “foreign super-colonisation”[iii]. Within the government there is already a question of returning 50% of the refugees arriving in Germany back across the borders. This essentially comes from the President of the CDU Seehofer and General Secretary Soder who, as part of a division of labour, assume the role of the “bad guys” by vehemently asking for the closure of the frontiers as well as the limitation of the right to asylum written in the Constitution.
The consequences of the situation for the working class
In a certain sense these different conceptions within the Coalition reflect the diffused state of spirit in the population, that’s to say among the wage-earners and unemployed of this country. There’s a very loud and growing minority within the population in general and the working class in particular, composed of its least qualified part, often socialised in the context of the old GDR and/or those living on state benefits, who form an open terrain for the anti-Muslim campaigns orchestrated in the world of politics or culture (Sarrazin, Broder, Pirincci, Buschkowsky, etc.) who appear as the spokesmen of the CSU and of certain sectors of the CDU[iv]. There is a silent majority, which up to now left it to young activists, those mainly coming from the anti-fascist milieu, to respond to the racist harassment by blocking roads and counter-demonstrations, feeling obliged to act by the images of misery coming from the Balkans. They are also strongly expressing their protest against the inaction of European states and their indignation over the exactions against foreigners at Dresden, Heidenau and Fretal, by demonstratively applauding the refugees when they arrive, or getting involved by the thousands in helping the masses of refugees, inundating the relief centres with all sorts of assistance and donations.
The spontaneous solidarity of significant parts of the population has surprised the ruling class and wrong-footed it; it wasn’t disposed to promote sympathy towards the war refugees but rather to create an atmosphere of panic and isolation. However, Merkel once again showed her infallible flair for sensing the moods and feelings within society. Just as after the serious nuclear accident at Fukushima, when the principles of maintaining atomic energy were practically got rid of from one day to the next, Merkel took the same abrupt turn regarding asylum policy, annulling a passage in the Dublin Agreement which up to then gave permission to the German bourgeoisie to rid itself any responsibility towards refugees stranded in Italy and in other parts of the EU’s ‘exterior borders’.
We have already mentioned some of the motives which have pushed Merkel to adopt her “policy of open borders”. It is however possible that another motive has played a role in this risky policy. Since the Bundestag elections of 2005, where the expected victory was lost because the then Chancellor Schroder managed to use against her the liberal turn that she had taken at the Leipzig Congress of the CDU in 2003, Merkel learnt something about the consequences that can come from not taking into account the feelings of the “rank and file”. Just imagine what the impact of images of hundreds of thousands of refugees abandoned at the Hungarian border, as well as the endless headlines, would have today on the electoral behaviour of those wishing to give a welcome to the refugees from war in Syria.
According to all appearances two groups in the population are particularly implicated in solidarity with the refugees. On one hand the young, who have been involved in other movements in other places, participating in the anti-CPE movement or that of the Indignados. On the hand, older people who, either from their own experience, or else through the experience transmitted by their parents about the mass expulsions at the end of the Second World War, know about the fate of refugees and so cannot be indifferent to the camps, the barbed wire and the new wave of deportations. Having grown up in the dark decades of the 20th century, this generation is impulsively pushed to act differently today. The important participation of retired workers reveals something else as well: the profound desire for the rejuvenation of society, expressed in the combination of children and adolescents with older people. This demand for rejuvenation can be distinguished from the need for younger workers for the German economy. The ageing of society constitutes a central problem not only for capitalism but for humanity, quite simply because the absence of youth doesn’t only mean a deprivation of a source of joy, life and a vitalisation of the old but is above all a negative setting for one of the most important functions in the evolution of humanity: the transmission of the treasures of experience to the generation of grandchildren.
Finally, the question posed is: does this wave of solidarity constitute a class movement? We don’t think that it possesses any of its characteristics. What’s immediately striking is its completely apolitical character: solidarity takes the form of charity. There is almost no discussion, no exchange of experiences between young and old, between natives and refugees (with the language difficulty in respect of the latter). Any point of departure for any self-organisation outside of the state isn’t there: instead of that, hundreds of thousands of volunteers become casual labourers for a state which, despite the gestures to the gallery by Merkel, provides very little; a state whose representatives, having led the volunteers to exhaustion by their own inaction, are now talking about the “limits of capacity”.
Once again: the wave of solidarity across Germany these last weeks is not unfolding on a class terrain. The working population, the principle subject of this solidarity, is dissolved almost to non-existence into the “people”. This was also the case with the solidarity towards the victims of the Tsunami in 2004. Then as now the solidarity was emptied of all class character and expressed itself in the framework of an inter-classist campaign. However, the difference with the Tsunami was that it happened far away in Asia whereas the misery of the refugees is happening right here under our eyes, so much so that solidarity and everything that concerns it takes on quite another dimension.
In fact this refugee crisis, which has only just begun, can become a decisive question for the working class. It is not yet determined how the working class, or rather its preponderant parts at the national as international levels, will react to the stakes: through the development of solidarity or though demarcation and exclusion. If our class aims to recover its class identity, solidarity can be an important means of unification in its struggle. If, on the contrary, it only sees in the refugees competition and a threat, if it doesn’t form an alternative to capitalist misery, to a system which forces millions to flee under the threat of war or of hunger, then we will be under threat of a massive extension of the pogromist mentality and the proletariat at the heart of it will not be spared.
[i] The Alternative for Germany is a Eurosceptic party created in 2003, following the “no-alternative” policy in response to the debt crisis in the Eurozone. It is nicknamed the “party of professors” because counted among its founding members are numerous professors of the economy, public finances and the right. It presents itself as anti-euro but not anti-Europe; its main demand is the progressive dissolution of the Eurozone. Its party members (who claim to be neither of the right nor the left) are united in the feeling that Germany has paid too much for the other states, notably in the relief funds for the Eurozone, and call for the return of the Mark. It doesn’t so much insist that Germany leaves the Eurozone but that those who don’t respect its discipline do so (according to Wikipedia).
[ii] Abbreviation of the “Patriotische Europaer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes” (European Patriots against the Islamification of the West), a movement of the extreme-right against Islamic immigration into Germany. The movement was launched on October 20 by Lutz Bachmann and a dozen other people. Bachmann was a petty criminal who was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for a number of burglaries he made in the 1990’s. He fled to South Africa and took a false identity before being extradited. He was later sentenced for drug trafficking. Since October 2014, the Pegida movement has demonstrated each Monday at 18h30 in a Dresden park against the government’s asylum policy and the “Islamification of Germany”.
[iii] A difficult term to translate that, in bourgeois political language, has taken on a palette of nuances since the 70’s. Today it seems to mean “an excessive proportion of foreigners” and a colour prejudice.
[iv] The CDU/CSU is the political force formed in Germany at the Federal level by the two “brother parties” of the conservative, Christian Democrat right. The Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) is present in the all the Länder except Bavaria and the Social Christian Union (CSU) in Bavaria only.