Germany: what is behind Pegida?
Wolfram Klein, Socialist Alternative (SAV, CWI in Germany)
In recent weeks Germany has seen growing demonstrations in favour and against Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West).
The Pegida protests started in October in the east German city of Dresden, in Saxony. Weekly 'Monday demonstrations' in Dresden grew to include thousands. While there have been similar, much smaller, demonstrations in other towns, there has also been a much bigger wave of counter demonstrations of up to 35,000.
The Pegida Monday demonstrations are an attempt to copy a tradition from the revolution that began in autumn 1989 in the then Stalinist state of East Germany. Those Monday demonstrations started in Leipzig (also in Saxony) and soon became a mass movement throughout East Germany, playing a big role in the overthrow of the Stalinist regime.
Since then there have been several attempts to revitalise this tradition of protest. These latest Monday demonstrations use slogans from 1989 (especially "we are the people"), but they give them new and reactionary content.
Pegida tries to avoid the traditional far-right labels like anti-Semitism. In their original list of demands they claimed that they were in favour of the right of asylum for people who are persecuted or fleeing from war. They claim that they are only against economic refugees, criminal foreigners and so on. But such claims are only camouflage.
There are many factors behind the movement. At the beginning of the 1990s many people lost their jobs after the restoration of capitalism in East Germany. A layer became self-employed. They work hard to make ends meet and are afraid that their economic situation will worsen.
People can easily get the impression that Germany is an island of stability in a sea of crisis and get afraid that this island might get overwhelmed by the sea. So the fear of individual social decline combines with the fear of a collective social decline of Germany, and nationalism can be seen as some protection.
Two years ago a new party, AfD (Alliance for Germany), was founded in response to the Euro crisis, calling for exit from the Euro. There are right wing populist tendencies inside it. They have been elected to the European parliament and to three state parliaments in eastern Germany.
In the first eleven months of 2014 there was a 55% increase in the number of asylum seekers in Germany. In several places new shelters for asylum seekers were opened - in many cases leading to protests being organised by fascists and other racists.
An important factor is the feeling that the interests of easterners are not represented at the top. The ruling class is overwhelmingly west German, despite the fact that the two top official positions in the formal political structure, the president and chancellor, are currently held by east Germans.
Unfortunately the Left party, despite its generally strong electoral base in the east, has not been able to lead sustained campaigns that offer an alternative. In Saxony the Left party is dominated by its right wing. In Dresden the majority of Left party councillors even voted for the sale of all 48,000 council houses in 2006.
Anti-fascists have been challenging attempts to replicate the Dresden Pegida protests elsewhere. Often there were blockades of thousands of people that prevented these demonstrations from marching. Members of SAV participated in these demonstrations from the beginning.
After the big anti-Pegida demonstrations on 5 January we produced a two page special edition of our paper with arguments against Pegida and proposals to build the movement against it.
We explain that racism is not only against immigrants but serves to split and weaken the working class. We call on the trade unions and Left party to organise a campaign against Pegida and racism with leaflets at workplaces and in housing areas. We also need rallies and a national demonstration.
We call for a joint fight of German and immigrant workers and unemployed people for education, welfare, housing and decent jobs, against state racism and for a democratic, socialist society.