Last Friday, on the 25th January 2014, about 8000 people from Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Italy and elsewhere took part in protests against the “Akademikerball” in Vienna. This ball was a meet-and-greet for numerous right-wing parties such as the FPÖ (Austria), “Front National” (France) as well as the “Partij voor de Vrijheid” (Netherlands), but also for extra-parliamentary organisations including reactionary students’ fraternities. Here, several right-wing organization came together to coordinate their sexist, homophobic, nationalist and fascist propaganda, with a common bloc for the European elections being planned.
The protesters were not intimidated by the extraordinary measures from Austrian police, who seriously tried to isolate the venue in a so called “danger zone”, where basic rights like assembling and independent reporting were forbidden. After the two central demonstrations, clashes between protesters and the police occurred in many places. Amongst others, a police station and several shopping streets were attacked.
The organisers of the protests against the “Akademikerball” draw positive conclusions from the day, despite brutality from the police. This year, only 400 visitors attended the ball – a small number compared to previous years. The organisers against this ball want to keep continuing the protests until this right-wing event is stopped.
Impressions of the protest
The day after, Beyonde Europe’s …ums Ganze!-alliance (GER&AUT) organised an antinational workshop-day about racism, democracy, right-mobilisation in the crisis and much more!
Beneath we edited two inputs (about racism, the right-wing and Europe) and put them into theses to leave you with an impression not only from the action of that day, but also of the debates.
1) Racism and Right-Wing Populism in Europe
These theses are the shortened version of an input by TOP Berlin, held on the “Antinational Workshop Day” in Vienna on 25th January, 2014.
No racists anywhere?! Racism seems to be an easy target, everybody claims to be against racism nowadays, even the fraternities who are co-organisers of the right wing “Akademikerball” we came to block. And that’s why it’s so difficult to discuss, and so difficult to defeat. We need to come up with a working definition of racism and right-wing populism that goes beyond such superficial and opportunistic “anti-racism”. A conception that enables us to connect antiracist action with other social struggles – theoretically and in our practical interventions. Because contemporary racism clearly reflects the tensions – some would say the contradictions – of today’s capitalist regime and its crises.
Right-wing-movements… Right-wing populist movements and parties have emerged almost simultaneously in many European countries within the past 10-15 years. There are still big differences among these movements: some have a neofascist background, others are neoliberal ultra-nationalists, to name but the most relevant line of division. But there are also very obvious issues where these movements converge: There’s a cultural racism against muslims or people identified as muslims; there’s growing, often militant anti-romaism; and there’s a common, popular resentment against refugees and migrants from the global south.
…and the “Akademikerball” in Vienna. The WKR-ball, now “Akademikerball”, has tried to present itself as a platform for these movements. In the past, some high level right-wing populists from other countries participated as guests of honor: Marine LePen, whose Front National may be the strongest party in France today; Filip Dewinter, a leader of the Belgian – or rather anti-Belgian – Vlams Belang; or Markus Beisicht of the chauvinist ProDeutschland party. To us, these symbolic visits may not seem too impressive, but they clearly indicate a new trend in Europe: the transnational solidarity and cooperation of ultra-nationalists. Today’s nationalisms in Europe no longer compete ideologically. There’s no feeling of enmity or even of ideological competition between, say, German, French and Polish right-wing populists. Only some very retro nationalists will portray their nation as superior to other European nations. Instead, they see other nationalisms as allies in a common quest: to “restore” national sovereignty and the privileges of the indigenous population, and at the same time to “defend” what they consider occidental, European values.
Contradictions of the European Union. In the past, these two parameters – a quest for “national sovereignty” on the one hand, and a European, occidental chauvinism on the other – have been spelled out very differently in different countries. As we said before: some right-wing populist parties emerged from traditional neo-fascism, while others started as nationalist neoliberals. Most were and many still are militantly anti-EU, others not so much. But as a social phenomenon, they’re all children of the European Union (EU). Since the European markets were integrated in 1992 (Maastricht treaty), the EU emerged as a powerful yet paradoxical social and economic entity. Powerful, because the EU became a huge market of advanced industrial nations, where capital could flow freely and investment was secure – a citadel of global capitalism. Paradoxical, because the EU was created as an economic union of competing national economies. The terms of work, trade and investment became unitary, and since 2002, there’s even a monetary union, with the Euro as a single currency. But the economic imbalances didn’t disappear. As we know today, these imbalances were only hidden under some very flimsy layers of credit and investment.
The three columns of populist racism. Today’s right-wing populism in Europe is an ideological reflex of this paradoxical situation. Their nationalism reflects a reality of economic competition among Europe’s nation states. But at the same time, their populism reflects the reality of an integrated European economy that would be hard to leave for any single nation. Of course, there is a fair degree of resentment among national populations within the EU, especially since the crisis hit and the austerity measures were introduced – like the German chauvinism against Greeks that allegedly “steal our money”. But the three main targets of populist racism tell us there’s a different trajectory here:
– Anti-muslim resentment: This didn’t start with 9/11 (2001), but 9/11 helped to create a clear cut culturalist resentment. 9/11 gave racists a claim to draw a bold line of exclusion and inclusion. And coincidentally, this line exactly mirrored the territory of the European Union. It was “us Europeans” with our “European values” against what is construed, one way or another, as “oriental barbarism”, aka “Islam”. Thirty years ago, ordinary German racists didn’t see a big difference between Italian, Portuguese, Turkish or Moroccan migrant workers. Today they do.
– Racism against and persecution of refugees: The EU has strong anti-refugee policies, masterminded and pushed forward by Germany for 20 years. So EU anti-refugee policies and the EU economic integration developed hand in hand. Not by coincidence, of course: The European growth model is extremely aggressive: open markets, free trade, free investment. In other words: Brutal competition against and exploitation of weaker partners. It is clear that these policies lead to massive social destruction and civil unrest wherever they hit. EU borders are protected with paramilitary means against refugees and migrants from these countries, and there’s administrative discrimination and deportation against most refugees that manage to enter the EU. This warfare against refugees has a symbolic dimension: It erases any context of economic exploitation and poverty created by the EU free market regime. Right-wing populists can capitalize on this ideological regime. It’s again “us Europeans” against “those cheaters” who allegedly only claim to be refugees, migrants from poverty at best.
– Anti-romaism: This is a resentment against a group within the EU. And since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU single market, most migrant romanies enjoy full legal privileges of a EU citizenship. But anti-romaist resentment still reflects EU neoliberal realities, and even serves as a cohesive ideology for all central European nationalists. Here, racism and social chauvinism converge. As political and economic refugees from within the EU, Romanies embody the inherent conflicts this union institutionalizes. So the racism against them is an ideological exorcism. It tries to fend off those contradictions and make them invisible by blaming and deporting their victims. Not only are romanies held responsible for the effects of the discrimination they have to endure. The blame game against them for allegedly being lazy and exploiting the welfare state reaffirm the neoliberal fetishes of the EU, its competitive work ethic etc.
Practical threats and possibilities of taking action
“Right-Wings in Europe, unite”?! As for right wing populism, we’re facing a new and very dangerous development. In the wake of the upcoming European elections on May 25th, right-wing populists are building a transnational alliance. Marine LePen and Geert Wilders from the Netherlands have been leading this effort. And despite some reservations, many other national populist movements are interested or have already joined. This alliance would not only form a huge right-wing populist faction in the EU parliament, with a potential for 20% or more. They could become the nucleus for the first transnational right-wing populist movement in Europe. For the moment, they’re still caught up in the paradox mentioned above – as national movements with a populism largely inspired by the institutional and economic reality of the EU. But they may one day be able to really challenge the EU as an institution – and thus the paradox they’re currently tied to. One can only guess what the ideological repercussions would be.
Making racism visible. As for mainstream and government racism, the challenge is to punch a hole in the ideological discourse, and to create or support platforms for everyday resistance. Mainstream society generally isn’t aware of its racism. The political arena is full of ideological screens, like the discourse on “integration”, which generally suspects migrants from the global south to have a certain cultural deficit, or an unwillingness to adapt. Discrimination is made invisible: Refugees are often isolated in remote camps, kept under tight administrative control, and stigmatized as “poverty migrants”. Other migrants are intimidated and often harassed by the aliens’ authority. In other countries, especially at Europe’s southern borders, harassment and neglect of refugees is even worse. Often, racism is mingled with social chauvinism, most evidently in the case of anti-romaism.
Transnational Platforms for Debates and Action. In the context of the crisis, a number of attempts have been made to create a transnational platform. Currently, and from a German perspective, the most promising project is “Blockupy” – an anti-austerity and anti-capitalist network that had two big protest gatherings in Frankfurt. The next major Blockupy project will be a blockade of the new headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) some time in late 2014, again in Frankfurt. In this initiative, extra-parliamentary movements and the main opposition party Die Linke cooperate, and there are efforts to find allies abroad. But it’s totally unclear wether the opening of the ECB headquarters will be a significant event at all. And comrades from Greece have told us that they have no resources for such a slow and long term process that perhaps doesn’t lead anywhere. More generally, economic nationalism and the different consequences of the crisis in different countries seem to undermine any perspective even for a moderate social and internationalist movement in Europe.
Support Refugees in Europe. The only struggle that is transnational by nature is the struggle of refugees against the European anti-asylum regime. And this struggle has picked up momentum all over Europe. Refugees come from all kinds of places, and many pass through various European countries. Their desperate situation within the EU has led many to rise up and resist. In this struggle, many refugee movements have developed an anti-capitalist agenda. Two of their slogans clearly express this perspective: “We are here because you destroy our countries”, and consequently: “Every refugee is a political refugee”. So the refugee struggle is not only about their immediate living conditions and individual asylum cases. It criticizes the general economic and political order. Therefore, many leftist groups have joined the refugee struggle.
2) Europe and the right wing – what to do? Some thoughts by Antifa AK Cologne
This paper is written for the antinational workshop-day in Vienna in the context of the mobilization against the so called “Wiener Akademikerball”, organized by reactionary student unions and right populists around the FPÖ (“Freedom Party of Austria”). These short theses are written in a situation where right-wing activists from across Europe are coming together (like here in Vienna) and planning common projects, for example the “European Alliance for Freedom” (EAF),bloc for the European elections in May 2014. The topic of Europe stands at the centre of these debates, So, in the first section we deal with the question of how to judge the situation in Europe and how to position ourselves amongst all those different popular approaches. We then continue by developing some thoughts on how to act against the right-wing beyond our national borders. We do not have a complete solution, of course, so we are looking forward to discuss these ideas with others.
– The failure of “Nation Europe”. During the current crisis of capitalism the “supranational project” (Habermas) and its European identity are breaking down. The united “Nation Europe”, which was proclaimed for decades as an intercultural as well as a political-economical issue, is falling apart, especially by the material and ideological brutality of austerity imposed by the “winners” of the crisis onto the “losers”. The dream of inner-European harmony is as far away as ever: in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and others the “laziness” and the “economical inability” of the “European periphery” are made responsible for the crisis, whereas in those countries (e.g. Greece, Portugal, Spain), amongst others, nationalists get angry about dictates from Brussels and compare Germany’s dominant role with the 3rd Reich. From both perspectives, trust in a common European project is vanishing.
– Rollback to a “Europe of Nations”. Unable and/or not willing to understand the crisis as a necessary and always returning system-error of capitalist accumulation as a whole, the reasons for its malfunctions are personalised and therefore ideologically twisted. Right-wing forces have been on the rise for about 15 years in Europe and, accelerated by the crisis and the poor explanations it is given, their propaganda against migrants & refugees (esp. in the figure of “Islam” and the “Muslim”) as well as Sinti & Roma finds more and more supporters. It is also influencing the politics of some national governments, whether social-democratic or conservative. Simultaneously, there is a diffuse criticism against the European Union and the demand for national sovereignty.
– A dangerous mixture. The right-wing forces agitating against Europe cannot be treated homogenously. On one hand, we can find neo-fascist organisations like the Jobbik in Hungary or the Golden Dawn in Greece. On the other hand, there are parties and organisations coming from an ultra-nationalist, populist and neoliberal tradition, understanding themselves as clean democrats. Examples of these are the FPÖ in Austria or the “Party for Freedom” in the Netherlands. Yet, between those different tendencies within the right, there are close links, as the development of the “Front National” in France shows; under Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party was situated more in a neo-fascist corner, whilst the new head of the party Marine Le Pen is trying to lose this image and to connect to the more populist wing of Europe’s far right.
– Beyond Europe. For us antiauthoritarians, i.e. antifascist anticapitalists, any kind of right-wing force is dangerous and an obstacle to our political goals and visions of a society beyond state, nation and capital. This is why we have to take this threat from the right very seriously and fight it on every level. But how can we manage that in a longer perspective without affirming neither the current plan of austerity and forcefully keeping together the Euro-Zone or its left-liberal modifications for a more “just” capitalist system? Regarding our international, antiauthoritarian platform against capitalism we demand to go “Beyond Europe” for a fully different solution: We argue for the option beyond state, nation and capital brought about by anti-authoritarian struggle and self-organisation. There is no other choice but to discuss and take action internationally. Capitalism has always been a form of society with international relations, as will any emancipatory attempt to overcome it.
– Discussion is important but not enough. Concrete exchange transformed into practice should be the basic recipe! In the last months, Greek comrades are organizing antifa-groups in every city and neighborhood. The experience is one we had here in Germany during the nineties after pogroms, with the participation of both neonazis and German citizens, against migrants and refugees. The antifascist movement has since then 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. Many can be named: use of civil disobedience (blockades) with civil society, research and outings, propaganda at schools or inter-regional antifa co-ordination. Through exchange of concrete experiences of critique and action we also hope to develop new ideas: in Germany, for example, there is a tradition of youth-antifa camps. Would it be not a good idea to organize a transnational antifa camp-event in Athens combined with a transnational callout for action? Until now antifascist struggles have remained a national business, with some exceptions. Would it be not a good idea to organize transnational and regular antifascist coordination meetings?
– Alone we stand? One controversy between radicals is around the question of cooperation with civil society. In the German antifascist movement we have experienced that big alliances including social democrats can be very effective for a concrete purpose, e.g. to stop fascists from demonstrating or getting their arguments into the media. In general, we are not dogmatic in one or the other direction; for anti-crisis-campaigns we think it is useful, at the moment, to engage in wide alliances in Germany, because the ideological image of Germany being the “winner” is too strong for us to challenge alone. In Spain or Greece, the situation is different and anti-authoritarians can be a relevant voice on their own. Anyway, in whatever we do we need to maximise our impact without losing the essence of our analysis and criticism.
– European Election 2014. A concrete date for action could be the European election at the end of May 2014. Here, the EAF is campaigning for votes. This alliance consists rather of right-populist democrats and is mainly led by Front National (France), FPÖ (Austria) and Vlaams Belang (Belgium) – all of these parties already enjoy a certain national discursive strength. This dangerous mixture has the potential to reach 20% of the votes and therefore get access to greater resources at a European level. The potential for right wing formations is growing: in Germany for the first time in its post-WW2 history, a right wing populist and eurosceptical party called “Alternative für Deutschland” will probably make it into the European Parliament (EP). But danger is increasing also from the “classical” far right: the neofascists from Jobbik in Hungary are already in the EP, and in Greece Golden Dawn are looking forward to big electoral success – if the state does not manage to forbid them. Soon the “brown international” could become a reality. For us it does not seem suitable to call for a big counter-campaign or something like that, but through coordinated, decentralised and public action we could at least reveal this alliance for the right-wing scum they are. The international Blockupy-alliance already has similar ideas, so we would not be alone. Futhermore, a refugee demonstration will take place in Bruxelles, which is probably worth of supporting.
– Fight Racism, Support Refugees. Another concrete, transnational struggle we could organise around is the refugee struggle. Their basic rights for a more human situation for refugees should have our support anyway; furthermore, amongst those many initatives which have came up in numerous countries, lots of them have developed an anticapitalist agenda. We can see this in slogans such as “We are here because you destroy our countries” or “Every refugee is a political refugee”. We have seen some potential in connecting migrant struggles and housing struggles in Hamburg recently. Supporting refugees would be an act against the right-wing, who make them responsible for the crisis and want them out. More than that, it is a struggle against the anti-asylum-regime of the EU, the so called “Fortress Europe”. This field gives us the opportunity to fight fascists and the right wing, as well as institutional racism, from the so called “political centre” of capitalist society.