‘Never again!’ says Germany’s anti-national movement

Raphael Schlembach reviews Against the Nation: Anti-National Politics in Germany, by Robert Ogman

May 14, 2013
3 min read

yellow book coverRobert Ogman’s short book charts an important point in the development of the radical Left in Germany, just before and after the country’s reunification. It introduces and assesses a heterogeneous anti-national social movement that at first swam against the stream of nationalist euphoria in 1990 and that in subsequent years fought against a tide of resurgent xenophobic violence.

Ogman shows how the demise of real-existing socialism that culminated in the collapse of the German Democratic Republic not only signalled the triumph of neoliberal capitalism; it also initiated a new phase of aggressive and xenophobic nationalism in the reunified Federal Republic. While the nation served elite-purposes to smooth over labour conflicts and class interests, this was also echoed as nationalism from below. The euphoria that accompanied the new nation-building process was soon followed by significant increases in xenophobic sentiments and violence, so terrifyingly captured in the pogroms of Rostock and Hoyerswerda, when neo-Nazis and locals joined forces in driving asylum seekers from their towns.

It was in this context that a distinct, and rather unique, anti-national movement began to take shape. Ogman focuses on two campaigns of the time.

The first, which at its highpoint in 1990 attracted more than 20,000 people to an anti-national demonstration in Frankfurt, was the radical Left’s response to what it perceived as the ‘annexation’ of the former GDR by the Federal Republic. Using a phrase by the popular singer Marlene Dietrich, the campaign called itself ‘Never Again Germany!’ Somewhat hopelessly, it opposed reunification outright, with many activists fearing a geopolitical and economic strengthening of Germany that could pave the way for something akin to a Fourth Reich.

The second, after reunification, arose as a coalition of anti-racist activists that joined together in the ‘Something Better than the Nation’ campaign against a seemingly national consensus of xenophobia. Here again, it wasn’t the state alone that forced a tightening of asylum laws. The campaign highlighted how wide sections of society were actively involved in at times violent attacks on refugees and migrant workers.

Both campaigns brought together activists from a variety of backgrounds, former members of the Greens, Maoist organisations, Autonome and squatters. Ogman suggests that its heterogeneity also led to the movement’s decline. Yet, many of its principles live on in today’s German Left and still inform current campaigning.

While the sections on these specific campaigns are rather short, the non-German reader might find Ogman’s contextualisation of particular interest, and indeed it describes an aspect of German history that is often conveniently forgotten. It looks at the support for xenophobia not just amongst the reconstituting far Right but also among wide sections of the German public, some of whom joined in with acts of violence.

Ogman argues that the anti-national campaigns rightly broke with more traditional left-wing attitudes towards the nation. They were questioning of notions such as ‘the people’, and instead grappled with the problem that broad sections of the population had been complicit in supporting and even enacting nationalist and racist ideology. For Ogman, this is not just a matter of history. His point is that we can find lessons for the Anglophone Left today.

Raphael Schlembach is an Associate Lecturer at The University of Central Lancashire

@RaphSchlembach


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant


89