‘FORMER BAADER-MEINHOF GUERRILLA CONVERTS TO NEO-NAZI PROPAGANDIST.’ This is a headline in Imre Karacs article in ‘The Independent’ (1/9/00). It might well have had as a sub-heading: GERMAN PHILOSOPHER BLAMED. The convert is Horst Mahler ‘now sitting in the office of his prosperous legal practice in West Berlin’s gastronomic zone’, and the philosopher, that man Hegel, who the convert lawyer claims, he swotted up on during his ten years in the jail as a Red Army Faction associate, and who brought him to the conclusion “Foreigners are salt in the soup. Too many foreigners spoil the broth”.
The language tells a tale, the folksy bad faith of these ludicrous metaphors. In the last week Mahler joined the NPD, the paper reports, and now he has a busy calendar ‘often at the invitation of respectable middle class circles’. There, after or before the speech has been made perhaps, the broth is to his taste, bland but meaty.
This transformation from ultra-leftist of the bolshevik avant-garde type to racist nationalist is not new, it was a standard move for certain pre-war French communists for example. Writing “Mimesis” during World War II in the haven of Istanbul (which had in a previous age provided a safe place for the expelled Jews of Western Europe) the great literary critic Erich Auerbach provided some context for the modernist current in literature when he talked of the crises of adjustment caused by the uneven development of modernity. “In Europe this violent clash of the most heterogenous ways of life and kinds of endeavour undermined not only those…principles which were part of the traditional heritage…it undermined even the new revolutionary forces of socialism, whose origins did not go back beyond the heyday of the capitalist system. These forces threatened to split up and disintegrate. They lost their unity and clear definition through…strange alliances which some of these groups made with non-socialist ideologies…and finally through the propensity of many of their leaders to switch to the side of their most extreme enemies…The temptation to entrust oneself to a sect which solved all problems with a single formula whose power of suggestion imposed solidarity and which ostracized everything which would not fit in and submit was so great that, with many people, fascism hardly had to impose force…” We might add that such leaders switching sides are functional to the capitalist status quo whereby ‘extremist’ becomes a political category of its own, ‘left’ or ‘right’ same difference.
It is true that Turkey no longer provides the liberal refuge it once did and is instead dictatorial expansionist and in receipt of a favourable Western Press vis-à-vis Greece for example, but Mahler’s hostile take is not on the Turkish state but its people. “Turks are a problem. There are simply too many of them over here…and they are becoming more extreme and fundamentalist with every generation,” he is quoted as saying. At the same time he describes Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and the present Chancellor Gerhard Schroder as ‘traitors’. Ironies spring up everywhere. Imre Karacs focuses on the fact that it was Schroder as lawyer who got Mahler out of jail after 10 and ensured that Mahler too could practice again as a lawyer, and also that his government runs one of the harshest asylum regimes in Western Europe. More to the point however is that this government Mahler is confident enough to be rancorous about, is the one that has failed to keep its promise of separating citizenship from ethnic origins. If Fischer is a traitor it is to those who voted for his Green Party and this promise. It is a failure which can only have given confidence to the NPD. And most of all, irony-wise, there is Mahler talking of Turks becoming more extreme and fundamentalist. Nothing to laugh about either. If his allegation is even partially true it must be satisfying to him and his politics since extremist fundamentalists need each other even when they are hate figures for each other.
Turkey as a problem also has its place in the geo-political mish-mash, Mahler now talks, that is, anti-semitism dressed up as anti-American/anti-globalization rhetoric. This is his argument as quoted: “I am convinced that the geo-strategic aim of the US, the East Coast, lets say Wall Street, is to balkanize Europe, thus to neutralize Europe’s competing power for ever. That’s why Clinton is proposing that the EU should admit Turkey.” By ‘Wall Street’, he says “I don’t mean the Jews. I mean the organised bank capital in which Jews play the decisive role. These Jewish circles…they are the ruling world power…The Torah is inhuman…It preaches genocide and issues the divine order to Jews that it expects them to kill men, women and children in the name of their God…In 1968 we went to the streets to fight US imperialism. Nothing has changed. Today it is called ‘globalisation’, but it’s the same thing, a principle that destroys peoples.”
This bog standard European anti-semitism could have been written anytime in the 20th century and as always has the function of sidetracking a critique of capitalism into a matter of ethnicity. Terrible that it should need unpicking yet again but necessary when other voices claiming a ‘leftist’ heritage have opposed a capitalist driven globalisation with what in reality are religious or ethnic fundamentalisms; and when anti-Americanism per se has been the radical rhetoric of the worst kind of ethnic nationalisms. Necessary too when capitalist-defined globalisation is increasing the power and wealth of the already powerful and wealthy, and does need to be opposed.
This globalisation may be American-led but the capitalist powers as a group, European and Japanese too, have long known that they need the USA as the central agent of their collective dominance. It is also true that the USA has a cynically uncritical view of the Turkish regime because of its geo-political role in relation to the middle-east and Russia. But they are not alone in this, other European states are also keen seeing the market size of the country. It is also well-known that the much-criticized Greek opposition to Turkish entry (one based on not wholly unjustified fears) is handy for the German government in that it does not need to be so open in its opposition to Turkish entry, an entry which would surely demand proper changes in German citizenship laws. The ‘traitors’ of the government seem no more keen than Mahler himself for such a thing to happen.
As in 1930s nationalist rhetoric the prominence of finance capital is picked out by Mahler. In the era of financial liberalization and free-floating currencies, the power of such capital (whose flows exceed trade flows many times over) is as never before. Its victims however are not middle class Germans but the peoples of the ‘Third World’ and more recently even the more prosperous parts of South East Asia. Equally the role of the USA is not a monopoly one, far from it, even if it has undertaken to manage potential crises for finance capital. Deutsche Bank, ANB, Lloyds, HSBC and a whole raft of European investment funds have all done well in the deregulated world. Mahler’s Wall St/Jewish conspiracy line also ignores the continued massive economic weight of the oil and armaments businesses which are hardnosed and politicized WASP affairs.
To unpick the arguments of this sad sack of shit may seem to be hardly necessary but his case has a wider resonance. For one thing there is a strong-anti-nationalist movement against capitalist-defined globalisation in the Third and First Worlds which, as we’ve seen in London, Washington, Seattle and Prague is an alliance without an avant-garde, without the manifestos of those claiming a monopoly of the truth, and which in the Third World too has avoided radicalism that is military, charismatic or rhetorical only. This has obviously proved intolerable to Horst Mahler. The defeat of what might be called ‘1968 aspirations’ for 25 years has been a bitter disappointment for many and has produced various morbid symptoms from fantasies of abstract nomadism to adhesion to those ‘sects with a single answer’ as described by Auerbach. In prison, for an avant-gardist Bolshevik, it must have been that much the worse, and his present ghastly certainties more comforting than the messy democracy of a youthful mass movement which has no time for racist paranoia.
This sense of defeat is in the present day both childish and unnecessary and for some leftists who feel it, allowed them to feel comfortable with a strategy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” when the enemy has been ‘US imperialism’. In part it is generational, left over from a Cold War in which leaders however corrupt and repressive could be supported if they said the right things. In more recent times the notion of cultural relativism has provided a similar rationalisation.
In the middle-east where US-led imperialism has prevented the development of any progressive secular politics from the moment Mossadeq was overthrown in 1953, it is at least understandable why many might look to Saddam Hussein-despite his history-to Stand Up to the West. In Europe there is no such excuse, no excuse for example for the de facto support for Milosevic the ethnic-cleanser from sections of the left.
Personally I feel myself to be a European glad not to be an American in a country with a massive prison population and capital punishment regime aimed predominantly at black Americans but have no illusions as to the European ruling class being morally superior. Nor about the way Fortress Europe is being constructed, not by Horst Mahler but those in government. Mahler’s expressed fears of Germany being swamped employs the same language which dominates media debate and political attitudes to immigration and refugees. What Imre Karacs, like most media reporting, leaves out is how functional the NPD, Horst Mahler and ‘sects with a simple formula’ are to globalised capitalism in Fortress Europe. He government who have erected it know that western European demographics demand ‘economic migrants’. It is in the interests of globalised capitalism that such migrants should be made to feel threatened and insecure and thus be more likely to accept wages and conditions that do not threaten those interests.
The western media like Imre Karacs’ report of Mahler’s conversion prefers to concentrate on the racism of ‘skinheads’ and east Germany, despite those ‘respectable middle class circles’ at which he speaks. Not that there aren’t such people, the recent murder of a Mozambiquan man married to a German woman was horrific. But what of the firebombing of a hostel in Hamburg and what of those respectable middle class circles. It is a canard of a certain kind of leftist politics that does not like, let alone trust the working class, that it is this class which is responsible for racism when in large cities and especially amongst young people this is manifestly not the case. Such blindness to the truth can only make things easier for Mahler and his broth.