Movement of workers and youth needed against racism and fascism
In different countries of Europe, anti-racists will gather in demonstrations on 9 November. This was the date of "Kristallnacht" or the ’November pogrom’, which took place on 9 November 1938. In remembering the victims of Nazism, we will be warning that far-right ideas and fascist movements are gaining some ground.
In Sweden, 2014 has been a year not only with a growing number of votes for the racist Sweden Democrats in the elections but also a strong and growing anti-racist movement.
A year ago the Nazi Swedish Resistance Movement announced one day in advance that it planned a march in central Stockholm on November 9th to the Greek embassy in support of their fraternal party in Greece – the neo-fascist Golden Dawn. It was the first time that the Swedish Nazis dared such a provocation on this day.
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) contacted other anti-racists and together we mobilised 800 people who swamped the Nazis with slogans. They responded by throwing a shower of glass bottles at us. This became their preparation for the violent attack in Kärrtorp on December 15. This in turn was answered by the largest ever anti-racist demonstration on 22 December with 20,000 protesters (see article:http://www.socialistworld.net/print/6603).
This year a special call for action was made by anti-fascist committees in Greece. In April, an international conference with some 1,000 participants took the decision that co-ordination is needed to strengthen anti-racism locally and 8-9 November would be proposed for days of protest internationally.
Extreme right and fascists
In the European elections in May, the extreme right increased from 50 to 77 seats in the EU Parliament, mostly because of an increase for the Danish People’s Party, the French Front National and the Austrian FPÖ. Some far-right parties such as Vlaams Belang in Belgium have lost support. The neo-fascist Jobbik party in Hungary got fewer votes than it received in the last three elections. In October, this party managed to get more mayors in the countryside despite their total votes falling again. In the industrial city of Ozd, with very high unemployment, Jobbik won the mayoral post after an intimidating campaign directed against the Roma population.
That there is not simply a straight line growth for fascists can also be seen in war-torn Ukraine. The far-right Svoboda, which after the events in February were in government for a while, ended up with less than the five-percent barrier in the elections at the end of October. Another right-wing party, the Radical Party, on the other hand, came from nowhere to get 7.5 percent. Also the leader of the fascist Right Sector and the leader of the Nazi volunteer battalion, Azov, also got elected into the Parliament.
The European political map shows the connection between the crisis of capitalism, which results in high unemployment and major attacks on welfare, and the growth of right-wing extremism. Where workers’ struggles have not been able to prevent attacks from neo-liberal governments, there has been an increased polarisation. A danger in today’s political crisis in Europe is not only from right extremists, but also from establishment parties using nationalism and racism – such as Denmark’s laws against refugees or the French and Hungarian governments’ anti-Roma campaigns.
A movement is needed
In Sweden another cause for demonstrating on 9 November is that the racist Sweden Democrats became the third largest party in the Swedish elections in September with 12.9 per cent of the votes. We cannot wait four years for a better election result; we can here and now win more people to the anti-racist movement. We also need to set our sights on building a broad political alternative that can challenge the capitalist system which creates racism and fascism.
One way is by building grassroots initiatives within the unions, urging them to fight against, for example, discriminatory wage ‘dumping’ and deportations of undocumented people. A common struggle for everyone’s right to good jobs, housing and welfare is needed.
Recently, the courts once again created a shock when they acquitted three Nazis who assaulted two men in south Stockholm on 7 December last year because of their skin colour. The prosecutor first closed the case without going to trial, then was forced to re-open it after a television documentary showed material backing up the case against them. One was assault and abusive behaviour caught on a surveillance camera. The second, which is classified as attempted murder with a knife, was alleged by the victim – Fidel Ogu – and partly by a friend of the Nazis who testified against his peers. The court says that it is impossible to say who did what. But why not convict all three for example for abetting attempted murder?
This is another link in the chain of action by police and judiciary that gives a clear picture that we cannot rely on government and police in the fight against Nazism. We need a mass movement from below, against racism and capitalism. We need to go out and build the movement.
‘The Night of Broken Glass’
Sunday 9 November marks the 76th anniversary of a violent and widespread pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany, which by this time, 1938, included Austria. It was carried out by Hitler’s paramilitary SA troops, backed up by their fascist supporters. The Nazis gave this night the name “Kristallnacht” (Night of Broken Glass) referring to the huge amounts of broken glass that covered the streets outside Jewish homes and premises. Anti-fascists call it the Pogrom Night (“Reichspogromnacht”), regarded as the real start of the systematic murder of six million people by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Up to 100 Jews were murdered that night and another 30,000 rounded up and imprisoned in concentration camps. Seven thousand five hundred Jewish-owned shops, businesses and other premises like orphanages, as well as many as 1,400 synagogues and prayer houses, were either damaged or destroyed.
While the Night of Broken Glass may mark the official beginning of the Holocaust, the Nazis had for a long time directed their reign of terror at Jews, Roma, LGBT people, and other "undesirables", not least against trade unionists, socialists and communists who had opposed the Nazis’ brutal rise to power. Beginning in 1933, when Hitler formally came to power, the Nazis had begun putting Roma in concentration camps as well as forcefully sterilising them, along with people with disabilities and dark-skinned Germans.
After the Nazis’ 1933 seizure of power, boycotts and attacks against Jews were commonplace in the years before the Night of Broken Glass, along with official attempts to persuade Jews to leave Germany.
By October 1938, the Nazis had taken steps to expel "foreign" Jews from Germany and to that end, 12,000 Polish Jews were transported across the border to Poland, where the Polish government refused to accept them. Among those who were stuck in this no-man’s land between the two countries were the parents of a 17 year old Jew, living in Paris, Herschel Grynszpan. On 7 November, Grynszpan made his way to the German embassy where he asked to speak with an embassy official before firing five shots at a German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, leaving him seriously wounded.
For the Nazis, who had long been waiting for a situation that could be used to attack the Jews on an extensive scale, Grynszpan’s actions were a gift. While leading Nazis were wary of openly calling for a pogrom (when it could have had diplomatic repercussions), all it would take was a little push for the growing anti-Jewish hysteria to explode. This push would come when the news of vom Rath’s death reached the leadership of the Nazi party during a dinner on 9 November commemorating the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. Speaking at the dinner, the Nazi’s Minister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, announced to the attendees that it would not be wise to call demonstrations in the party’s own name but that, if spontaneous demonstrations were to break out, the party should in no way prevent their development. While the order was made in such a way that it could be hidden, it was a clear signal to carry out a pogrom.
Within two hours, the first groups, armed with sledgehammers and axes, began their vicious rampage. Jewish premises were smashed up or sent up in flames. A German fireman in Laupheim described how we prevented from leaving the station with his fire engine to extinguish a fire at the nearby synagogue. Only after a local Nazi party member feared that his own home would be destroyed by the flames were the firemen allowed to leave. Afterwards, he described how “the arsonists came in their brown uniforms [SA members wore brown uniforms] to admire the results of their destruction”.
In Vienna every single one of the city’s 94 synagogues or Jewish places of worship were destroyed. Another eyewitness who ran a Jewish orphanage in Dinslaken in Germany remember how a 50-strong mob had destroyed the home. When she and the children fled and tried to seek police protection, they were rounded up by the police and sent back to watch the destruction. A running theme throughout many of the eyewitness reports is how Jews were forced from their homes only to be made to watch as their homes, businesses and synagogues were destroyed.
But the terror did not end there. Before the SA troops had been unleashed onto the streets, Reinhard Heydrich, leading Nazi and head of the Security Police, had ordered that any archives found in the synagogues were to be seized. Over the following days and weeks, the records were used to round up and arrest "healthy, Jewish men who are too old". They were then taken to local prisons before being transferred to concentration camps like Dachau and Buchenwald and, in an early glimpse of the future horrors that would become synonymous with those names, hundreds were to die before the majority of prisoners were released on condition that they left Germany, but only after giving most of their possessions and money to the Nazis.
Despite an official order from Goebbels calling for an end to the violence on 11 November, the Nazis continued with their campaign against the Jews. A collective fine of one billion marks was issued to the entire Jewish community on 12 November as punishment for vom Rath’s murder, while 6 million marks in insurance claims were to be paid out directly to the government rather than to those whose homes and businesses had been destroyed. The victims were to pay for their own oppression.
Any property owned by Jews who had fled the country was seized while a series of laws was introduced which aimed to, in the words of Hermann Göring, "take all measures to eliminate the Jew from the German economy". Restrictions on what Jews could or could not do became more common – Jews were prohibited from having a driving license or owning a car, Jewish children were expelled from "German" schools while discussion of a ‘final solution’ to the Jewish question became more commonplace, even if it was not yet explicitly clear what that would involve.
But despite the Night of Broken Glass and despite the Holocaust and all its horrors, fascism, and Nazism and its advocates have not disappeared. Just as in Germany in the 1920s, the financial crisis and the inability of capitalism to build homes and create jobs for all is creating the conditions for the far right and even fascist forces to get some support. This, coupled with the refusal of the trade union leaders and the traditional workers’ parties to offer an alternative or any sort of fight back, has made it possible for right populist, racist and fascist organisations to exploit the anger and frustration that exists in society. In Greece, where the fascist group Golden Dawn has grown, antifascists are calling for protests in Europe on 9 November. Such demonstrations must be the next step toward building a broad anti-fascist and anti-racist movement that can ensure that there will never again be another Kristallnacht.
What was Nazism?
The Hitler variant of fascism – Nazism – was an extreme form of capitalism where any possibility of workers organising themselves, or democratic rights being respected was trampled on. The petty bourgeoisie – the ruined shopkeepers, disappointed military officers, farmers as well as the destitute "lumpen proletariat", formed the basis for the Nazi’s mass movement. These groups were drawn to Nazism after the 1929 crash which followed the bitter experience of the First World War, the crisis in society and the defeat of the German revolution of 1918-23.
It would still have been possible to stop Hitler in the early 1930s if the Social Democratic and Communist workers’ parties had fought back together. Instead, the Nazis were allowed to take power through the ballot box and immediately abolish democracy and crush the organisations of the working class. Hitler’s plans for a new war against Russia were supported by the capitalist class in Germany who wanted to gain access to raw materials and reach new levels of super-profits based on slave labour. Even international right-wing politicians such as the former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, initially saw Hitler as a necessary bulwark against the workers’ struggle.