Jeffrey Herf: Undeclared Wars with Israel East Germany and the West German Far Left 1967-1989 (Book Review)

Jeffrey Herf: Undeclared Wars with Israel
East Germany and the
West German Far Left 1967-1989
Cambridge University Press, New York 2016
ISBN 978-1-107-46162-8

Jeffrey Herf is a history professor at the University of Maryland and has published extensively on Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and political Islam. Undeclared Wars with Israel 1967-1989 is his latest book. At the core of this book is the ideological, economic and military support for Arab dictatorships and the Palestinian nationalist movement by the government of the German Democratic Republic in the period between the 1967 Six-Day War and the end of the East German state in 1989/1990. Herf uses extensive research of the Stasi (GDR secret service) archives, the official party press, documents from the United Nations, including the extensive reports by Israeli ambassadors regarding the territorial intrusions and massacres perpetrated by the PLO and its associated member groups in those years.

This (partially new) research is embedded in a history of the relationship of the Soviet Bloc with the state of Israel and the development of the struggle of Arab/Palestinian nationalists against Israel, whether through open warfare, shelling of Israeli cities across the border with rockets, guerrilla actions inside Israel – often consisting in massacres of civilians – or hijackings and murder in the international arena, or through diplomatic means on a bilateral level and often at the UN.

Herf is broadening this research to cover the role of the West German far left in the context of these conflicts. The post-1967 radical left is portrayed here as radically anti-Zionist, if not anti-Semitic. Prominent examples after that time are people and organisations like Dieter Kunzelmann and the Tupamaros Westberlin, Ulrike Meinhof and the RAF, the Revolutionary Cells and their partaking in the hijacking of an Israeli plane to Entebbe, as well as examples from the so-called K-Groups. In my opinion, Herf, while accurately displaying dubious points in the history of the radical left in West Germany, fails to describe the often contradictory developments of some of these groups. For this reason I divide this review in two parts. The first is the book review proper, while the second extends the discussion of the relationship of some of the groups on the West German radical left with both anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in a way that goes far beyond the confines of a book review and hopefully offers additional insights. [Read more →]

Far-Left Press Coverage of the 2016 Anti-Semitism Row in the Labour Party and other Leftist Groups

“When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

April 28, 2016 at 8:50 in the morning, Ken Livingstone, former mayor of London and prominent figure in the Labour Party for several decades made the baffling statement quoted above on Leading Britain’s Conversation (LBC) radio. Supposedly he was defending MP Naz Shah1. She had reposted a meme on facebook in 2014, suggesting Israeli Jews should relocate from Israel to the US. This was made public in April 2016 and led to the suspension of Shah from the Labour party, because the posting was seen as anti-Semitic. Livingstone, asked to comment on it, said ‘her remarks were over the top. But she’s not antisemitic. And I’ve been in the party for 47 years. I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic’.

While Shah made a concerted effort to minimise the damage to herself and the party and swiftly issued a number of apparently genuine apologies (and eventually got reinstated), Livingstone’s radio comments made the whole thing turn into a proper scandal and a gift to the right wing press and the Tory party, since the local elections were only a week away.

Livingstone was swiftly suspended from Labour and sacked by LBC, where he had hosted a show with former Tory minister David Mellor for 8 years. He remained unapologetic, quoting the book by Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of Dictators, which tries to posit a collaboration and similarity of intention between Zionists and Nazis. This is not supported by serious historians. Hitler himself left absolutely no doubt that he detested Zionism. In Mein Kampf he dismissed the conflicts between liberal Jews and Zionists as mock fights, in his opinion the ‘inner togetherness’ of all Jews was beyond doubt.
Hitler’s professed anti-Semitism explicitly included anti-Zionism.2

What did Livingstone want to achieve with his idiotic statements? The Weekly Worker wrote in 2004 ‘Livingstone is an accomplished political operator, with a near genius for manipulation and backroom freewheeling’ whose ‘further ambitions (…) no doubt stretch to No10 Downing Street’, adding ‘Livingstone himself cheerfully admits: “I love meetings and plotting. I didn’t get where I am today without plotting”‘.3

What was he plotting this time? Was he trying to plunge Labour into a crisis a week before the elections? Perhaps he’s not so close to Corbyn after all? Or is he just a loose cannon — or more than that — a liability?

And what did the far left say about these incidents? Let’s look at a few examples. [Read more →]

Anti-Imperialism – Bankruptcy of the Left? (2016 Version)

It’s a tale from another century – when most people who situated themselves on the radical left also felt they were part of a world civil war. It was a war between good and evil, the oppressed vs. the oppressors, the proletariat vs. the capitalists, the countries of the periphery vs. the centre. Support for anti-colonial struggles and for the Vietcong as well as the various Latin American guerillas was based on a wide consensus, and was in many cases the starting point of individual and collective politicisations. This consensus seemed to override the knowledge and assessments of the crimes of Stalin and Mao, and many other ‘details’. Apparently the way towards socialism was not a straight road, it could be a zig-zag at times. The more the Western proletariat seemed uninterested in revolution, and the Eastern Bloc seemed a bureaucratic aberration, the more the national liberation movements in the ‘backwards’ countries became the global hope of Western middle class ‘revolutionaries’.

The root of this idea goes back to the Conference of Baku in 1920 and the second congress of the Communist International in the same year.
This is when Lenin revised the Marxist slogan ‘Workers of all countries unite!’ and changed it to: ‘Workers and oppressed peoples and nations of the world, unite!’
This slogan significantly changed the direction of the ‘official’ communist movement. Workers are members of a class and at the same time individual human beings. In oppressed peoples and nations the individuals are absent.

In point 11 of his Preliminary Draft of Theses on the National and Colonial Questions, Lenin proclaimed that Communist parties in ‘backward states and nations, in which feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate (…) must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement’. But at least he recognised some of the dangers, and stressed ‘the need for struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements’ as well as the ‘need to combat the Pan-Islamic and similar trends which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc.’

This advice was heeded less and less as the Soviet Union degenerated – and in fact even less so by those who accused the SU of ‘social imperialism’ and supported a Maoist alternative to the Russian line, supporting shameless nationalist dictatorships with a ‘communist’ cloak in Albania, Kampuchea or North Korea. [Read more →]

Everything Else is Even More Ridiculous – Introduction by Christoph Fringeli

Datacide_Buch_Cover_PROMO_300x425

What strikes me when I look back at the first issue of datacide is that there is no editorial, no statement of intent — something remarkable for a new marginal publication launching itself.

Instead, the zine jumps right in with a reprinted update on the then proposed new police bill. This is followed by news items about a record company trying to copyright the term ‘Teknival’. We perceived these events as a two-pronged assault by the state and by commerce on what we saw as an emerging underground movement connected to hard electronic dance music. Indeed the following news about ‘new networks of distribution and communication’ were trying to counteract this with the optimistic proposal of a mode of autonomous organisation that would function in an ‘entirely decentralized manner that allows the specific identity of its “members” maximum freedom, a rhizome-like structure that is invisible and everywhere at the same time’. This is then illustrated with news about current activities of record labels and soundsystem crews, reviews of parties and interspersed with some experimental fiction pieces. The mixture of artist interviews, record reviews, technology critique, counter-cultural angles as well as programmatic texts set the tone for the following issues. In datacide one it was left to the London Psychogeographical Association to make an explicit call for communism, while it was Flint Michigan who provided a programmatic text titled BREAK/FLOW versus DATACIDE.

Due to the political climate at the time the first issue went to print, datacide didn’t need explanations or an explicit statement of intent to be understood by its audience. [Read more →]

Marcel Bois: Kommunisten gegen Hitler und Stalin – Die linke Opposition der KPD in der Weimarer Republik – Eine Gesamtdarstellung (Book Review)

Marcel Bois
Kommunisten gegen Hitler und Stalin
Die linke Opposition der KPD in der Weimarer Republik – Eine Gesamtdarstellung
Klartext Verlag, Essen 2014
ISBN 978-3-8375-1282-3

boiskommunisten4

With this 600 page strong book Marcel Bois offers the first comprehensive overall presentation of the history and sociology of the left opposition of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in the 1920s and early 1930s. The emphasis is on a very detailed and scientifically documented depiction of those groups who left the KPD from the mid-20s onwards in the course of its Stalinisation. These were on the one hand the groups around the former leaders of the party such as Ruth Fischer, Arkadij Maslow and Werner Scholem, who with Hugo Urbahns and others, founded the Leninbund (Lenin-League). On the other hand there were the Entschiedene Linke (Decisive Left) and the Gruppe Kommunistische Politik around Ernst Schwarz and Karl Korsch respectively, as well as The Wedding Opposition and smaller groups like Bolschewistische Einheit (Bolshevik Unity). A bit later, the organisational roots of Trotskyism in Germany also emerged. The Spartakusbund linkskommunistischer Organisationen around Franz Pfemfert had a special position in the milieu of the left oppposition.

The founding conference of the KPD took place at the turn of the year 1918/1919 within two months of the end of World War I. Less than two weeks later, two of its most important leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, were murdered. There were several attempts from this time through 1923 to make the revolution in Germany happen, which all failed. Already in 1919 a back-and-forth started between more ‘left’ or ‘right’ leaning leaderships, and as early as October 1919 a large section of the party’s left were expelled. The issues at stake were the rejection of elections to parliament and the Leninist party concept by the left. In April 1920 this left constituted the Communist Workers Party (Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, KAPD), and took with them a large part of the membership of the KPD. This marked a decisive historical break in the international communist movement that was echoed in similar processes of regroupment in other countries. Lenin famously targeted the left with his nasty pamphlet “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, denouncing its ‘opinion, declamations and angry ejaculations’ as ‘childish’, ‘particularly stupid’, ‘fundamentally wrong’ and amounting ‘to no more than empty phrase-mongering’. In the process he defended participation in parliamentary elections and reactionary unions, and effectively the dictatorship of the party over the dictatorship of the proletariat. The KPD in the meantime ditched the ‘right’ leadership under Paul Levi, who was appalled by the fact that the party had been dragged into the ‘putschist’ adventure of the ‘March Action’ in 1921. Levi then printed the previously unavailable – now famous – text by Rosa Luxemburg in which she severely criticised the Bolsheviks. [Read more →]

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