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Why the NHS should turn away from the Private Sector

Opposition parties should oppose destructive deals with the private sector


The founding principles of the NHS have long been attacked. Now some politicians from both Conservative and Labour parties predict its impending collapse unless radically reformed. But they want to divert even more money to health care and insurance companies, and prop up a small, inefficient and often unsafe private sector, famously described by Julian Tudor Hart as ‘the red light district of the medical profession’. Saving the NHS requires acknowledging and reversing the catastrophic underfunding that has brought about its decline.

The recent report commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care, embrassingly identified a “decade of neglect” by successive Conservative administrations as having weakened the NHS to the point that it cannot tackle the 7 million-strong backlog of care.

A publicly funded, provided and accountable NHS is the fairest and most efficient way of providing good health care. It is essential for a productive economy. The founding principles of the NHS are just as relevant today as in 1948. Those long ideologically opposed to this model, now argue it has failed and merits more privatisation. But the evidence for this is weak. In fact, a market in healthcare increases the likelihood of inequity and exploitation with suboptimal care for both rich and poor.

What is the real deal with the current crisis in the NHS?

Privatisation is not the answer to the NHS’s problems

Current dire problems in the NHS are directly linked to lack of workforce planning and chronic underfunding. The Health Foundation has estimated that spending on healthcare in the UK lagged behind comparable European countries to the tune of £40bn each year over the decade before the covid pandemic. Some US academics, keen to see a single payer system in their country, looked at recent pro-market developments in the NHS with a mixture of horror and incredulity, and put their finger on the motivation – ‘such reforms offer a covert means to redistribute wealth and income in favour of the affluent and powerful’.

Only a coherent long-term plan to build capacity in the NHS will solve the current crisis

The government published its elective care recovery plan for dealing with the pandemic backlog in February 2022. It was immediately criticised for lack of a workforce plan and addressing emergency care, both intimately connected to waiting lists. Neither were mental health nor general practice covered despite their considerable difficulties. In fact the plan was focused on long term reliance on the private sector although private providers during the pandemic showed themselves as very poor value for money. Block booking of 8000 private beds led to a 25% increase in NHS spending on commissioning while 27 private hospital companies delivered 43% less funded NHS healthcare than the year before the pandemic.

The ‘plan’ institutionalises NHS dependence on costly and inefficient private sector hospitals and beds, while recognising that the real problem is lack of adequate NHS capacity. Private hospitals make more money from self-paying patients than through NHS bills. This means the NHS is likely to pay over the odds, with such private providers who benefit from long NHS waiting lists and help themselves to NHS staff. The delivery plan anticipates that in the long term, the NHS will be confined to providing emergency services, medical care and more costly or complex treatments that the private sector has avoided.

‘Turbocharging’ – or throwing money at the private sector?

The government has set up an Elective Recovery Taskforce (‘Government turbocharges efforts to tackle Covid-19 backlogs)’ to help deliver its recovery targets. It again emphasises using the private sector. But the private sector is relatively small (around 8000 beds) and lacks capacity. While more patients who can afford it are turning to private hospitals, the same hospitals treat fewer patients under their private medical insurance. Because of the pandemic, fewer consultants work in the private sector and most who do so also work in the NHS. This means that if a surgeon, for example, does more work in one sector, he/she does less in the other.

Nineteen community diagnostic centres (CDC) have also been added to the 92 already established, supposedly to deliver more ‘life saving checks, tests and scans and speed up diagnoses for local patients. CDCs are supposed to separate urgent tests in hospital, from non-urgent investigations in a community setting. Whether they actually move care closer to home is controversial (many are located in hospitals). Hyped as ‘life saving’ they were first recommended in 2020. But the NHS Confederation pointed out ‘It is vital that we have a sustainable staffing model for these hubs, as well as any new service provision in the future, given critical constraints on the existing NHS workforce’. It is clear that the government has favoured headline-grabbing short-term funding for local partnerships with independent providers, rather than long-term investment in staffing and capital equipment for the public sector.

Chipping away at the NHS as a public service

With underfunding and understaffing led to horrendous NHS failings for all to see, the massive majority of the public still support its core principles. Pressure has come from right wing think tanks obscurely funded by foreign donors and given a platform by the BBC. Some prominent politicians use private health care services while other public servants undermine the NHS. For example, ex-Tory MP Sir David Prior, when chair of the Care Quality Commission, called for massive cuts in hospital bed numbers, and for hospitals to be taken over by US healthcare corporations.

Simon Stevens was appointed as chief executive of NHS England for seven years, after being a leading Blairite special advisor; an unapologetic proponent of competition in the health service; and working nine years at the top of an American health insurance company. Many argue he is as far removed from Aneurin Bevan as you can get.

Many proposals in Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill were drawn up by McKinsey (the leading US Consultancy) and included in the 2012 legislation. The recent Health and Care Act signposted further fragmentation of the NHS, greater privatisation and damage to services and the workforce. Sunak has appointed Bill Morgan, a private healthcare lobbyist with links to controversial clients to advise him in Downing Street. Morgan was previously a special adviser to Lansley. Patricia Hewitt has been recruited by Jeremy Hunt to advise on health service reform. Yet as Labour Health Secretary in 2005 she set up ‘independent sector treatment centres’, brought in contracts with the private sector for pathology tests, scans and elective surgery, and pressed GP commissioners to outsource services. After allegations over political lobbying she was suspended from the Labour Party; Wes Streeting (the shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) expressed delight at her recent appointment.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Health Care Infrastructure explores key challenges facing the buildings, technology and facilities supporting the NHS. It recently published its first report. They have no formal parliamentary status, but produce reports often endorsed by ministers, and they are commonly advised and even directly managed by private entities. This APPG is sponsored by four private firms with a financial interest in health infrastructure.

Business (as usual) is the All-party group solution for the NHS

The report notes huge problems from massive maintenance backlog, shortage of staff, and lack of funding for new equipment. It commented the NHS allocates only 7% of its total expenditure to capital compared with a European average of 10%. But rather than concluding more should be spent, it argues that meeting all health infrastructure needs through public funding is unviable. Third party development of community facilities is endorsed, citing the NHS LIFT 2001 programme for public private partnerships. Tellingly, there is no comment on the massive burden on the NHS represented by the Private Finance Initiative deals (

In Scotland the question of a future two tier health service came out into the open.

Senior health officials said they were given the “green light” to discuss reforms by NHS Scotland chief executive Caroline Lamb. Leaked minutes, reveal proposals to design ‘a two-tier system’ where those who could afford to, go private. No doubt such discussions have also been going on in England. Reporting of this story highlights that journalists are good at listing the symptoms of the NHS in distress without ever questioning the underlying cause. The public would be served better if journalists started asking: “Why is the NHS in crisis? What is the truth behind the repeated assertion that the NHS is receiving record funding? Why can’t we afford the NHS?”

What does Labour say?

The Labour Party has remained relatively silent on the NHS believing that it is trusted by the population to “do the right thing”. A comprehensive motion was passed by delegates at this year’s party conference, including a position of outright opposition to, and commitment to vote against, any and all forms of privatisation. It is not binding on the executive and is likely to be ignored, just as was the 2017 conference motion calling for reversing all privatisation. Labour has made a welcome commitment to increasing staffing. But it has not given details of addressing underfunding, crises in mental health services, difficulty accessing urgent care, pressures on GPs and the ongoing toll of Covid 19. Labour’s ten-year plan for the NHS is deals only with generalities (importance of prevention, access to GPs, shifting resources from hospitals to social care and community). Such thinking has been ineffective because of lack of funding, lack of staff to deliver, and a failure to tackle the social determinants of health.

Wes Streeting, ,clarified Labour’s position recently. His comments ring alarm bells with NHS campaigners and the public. In a Guardian Opinion Piece, Streeting endorses use of the private sector, saying he does not want those who cannot afford to pay (‘working class people’) to be in pain while waiting for treatment. He also states that ‘Had a Labour government been in office this year, hundreds of thousands more patients would have been treated on the NHS in private hospitals’. Insisting that ‘We cannot continue pouring money into a 20th-century model of care, if we are to meet the challenges of the 21st century’. This sounds worryingly like blaming the Bevanite model of care for failure, not recognising it has been failed by politicians.

Claiming that the NHS must ‘reform or die’ is a readiness to depart from founding principles; while pointing out the NHS is ‘a service and not a shrine’ borrows directly from disparaging right wing rhetoric that the NHS is treated as a national religion. Unsurprisingly, these perspectives are coupled with reports of a desire to ‘take on the hostile unions holding back the NHS’. David Rowland (Centre for Health and the Public Interest) points out that private hospitals do not spend money on training staff but take them from the NHS; are difficult to hold to account when scandals over patient care arise (such as the rogue breast surgeon Ian Paterson); do not have intensive care facilities so transfer sick patients to the NHS; and provide poor medical cover, putting patients at risk. Moreover some companies involved were found liable over price fixing and healthcare fraud.

The logic that given its current difficulties the NHS must turn to the private sector suggests lack of any serious long-term vision as well as a blindness towards the parasitical nature of private care. The end result is to hasten the likelihood of a two tier service. A major reform of the for-profit sector is long overdue. In the meantime, what about the radical idea of simply requisitioning its beds at the present time to reduce further pain, suffering, and death? As did the Spanish government when Covid struck – (in contrast to the decision in England to rent 8000 beds at £300/day/bed. The UK situation now undoubtedly constitutes another grave emergency, with literally thousands of preventable deaths occurring each month.

In conclusion: What should we expect from opposition parties?

Opposition parties should explain clearly to the public that the crisis in the NHS is a consequence of government policy decisions. The failure to fund the NHS adequately over the last decade now makes it difficult for performance to recover. The public needs to understand why, in the face of ‘record funding’ (untrue) – waiting times remain poor and waiting lists grow. The increasing public money for contracts with the private sector instead of expanding the capacity of the NHS means drawing staff and funding away from the NHS, progressively weakening it. Cherry picking of patients by the private sector leads to greater inequalities, and increases the diversion of NHS budget away from health care. That money is channelled into pockets of shareholders, directors of private companies and as second salaries or fees to doctors practising privately.

Clear commitments to public provision are essential as is a willingness to improve pay and working conditions and to safeguard professional status. These are essential for staff morale, for safety and efficiency. The wider determinants of health must be addressed through redistribution of wealth and reducing economic inequalities. The NHS has been shrunk and cannot now meet the needs of an expanding population and increased demand for services. This, together with the unrealistic targets for “efficiencies” among NHS providers must be exposed.

Unambiguous commitment to adequate funding, the retention of taxation-based funding and expansion of NHS capacity to reduce waiting times is essential. A sense must be created that the opposition merits election to government on the grounds of vision, values, trustworthiness and ability to implement sound policy

An evidence-based analysis of new service configurations and funding mechanisms for health and care to maximise effectiveness and equity – must involve the public. Only this can build a consensus around a new vision fit for the pandemic era.

Although the NHS has been battered and fragmented and continues to be under relentless attack, there is still much left to defend. Currently around one fifth of the NHS budget flows to the private sector. That means four fifths is still spent on publicly provided services. Whereas the challenge to campaigners is huge, the conclusion by some that the NHS has already been downgraded to an American-style managed care system dominated by private health insurers is premature and only as a disincentive to fighting back. We will not give up the struggle.

John Molyneux (1948-2022)

Einde O’Callaghan from the Marxists International Archive remembers the British-Irish socialist who died this week


I was shocked and dismayed to hear last Sunday morning that my friend and comrade, the socialist activist and Marxist theoretician John Molyneux, had died of a heart attack the previous afternoon. It was all the more poignant because on that Saturday I had had an email exchange with John, something that we had increasingly done over recent years.

John was one of that generation of socialist activists that had been aroused by the events of 1968 in London and Paris, In an interview for a recently published book called “We Fought the Law” John graphically described how he had been both shocked and radicalised by the confrontation with the police in Grosvenor Square outside the American Embassy during the massive demonstration against the Vietnam War in March 1968. Another formative event was a visit to France during May 1968. Shortly afterwards he became a revolutionary socialist and joined the International Socialists, a commitment that he maintained until his death last weekend.

Within the IS and its successor the Socialist Workers Party, John quickly established himself as a significant theoretician. His first major work was Marxism and the Party, a study of the Marxist tradition of revolutionary organisation from Marx and Engels through Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and Gramsci. The book emphasised the necessity of a democratically organised activist interventionist party rooted in the working class to prepare for the overthrow of capitalism and lay the basis for socialism.

John not only produced major theoretical works such as What Is the Real Marxist Tradition? and Is Marxism Deterministic? but also a huge amount of material aimed at providing a basic introduction to Marxist ideas in the form of regular newspaper columns in British and later Irish Socialist Worker. These articles also appeared in a number of papers associated with the International Socialist Tendency. Many of them were reproduced as popular pamphlets such as The Future Socialist Society, Arguments for Revolutionary Socialism and “Is Human Nature a Barrier to Socialism?”.

However, John wasn’t just a populariser of a Marxist orthodoxy, he was also prepared to raise awkward questions that sometimes brought him into conflict with many members of his own organisation. A case in point was his second major theoretical work, “Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Revolution”. John was a great admirer of Trotsky, but in this work he raised serious questions about some of Trotsky’s weaknesses, such as his tendency to make sweeping predictions about future developments – some of these resulted in powerful and valuable analyses such as his treatment of the rise of fascism and the fate of the Spanish Revolution, but after his death his predictions about the outcome of World War II led to serious disorientation of many of his followers in the post-war period.

Other bones of contention were his orientation during a major debate in the SWP about women’s oppression and the nature of democracy in a revolutionary organisation. But despite such differences John remained a committed and loyal member of his organisation.

In 1992 John became a lecturer at the School of Art and Design of the University of Portsmouth. This allowed him to concentrate more on one of his great passions, the visual arts. He not only theorised about art, producing detailed studies of many artists in their social contexts ranging from Rembrandt and Rubens through Van Gogh to the Young British Artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin. This aspect of his work culminated in his 2020 book, “The Dialectics of Art”, in which he expounded his somewhat controversial concept of art as “work produced by unalienated human labour and characterised by a fusion or unity of form and content”.

He didn’t just concentrate on the visual arts – he also managed to produce major studies of Shakespeare and even wrote a Marxist critique of J.R.R. Tolkien.

In 2010 John retired from his position in Portsmouth and moved to Dublin to be with with his partner, Mary Smith. But instead of settling into a well-deserved retirement, John threw himself into the politics of his new home and rapidly became a leading member of the Irish SWP, later Socialist Workers Network, and the People Before Profit party. He became a familiar figure with a bunch of papers and pamphlets under his arm on virtually every demonstration that occurred in Dublin.

John didn’t just participate, he became a leading member, populariser, pamphleteer and theorist of various campaigns such as Unite Against Racism, the Global Ecosocialist Network and the Irish Anti-War Movement – indeed he died after attending a meeting of the IAWM last Saturday.

During all of this activity John kept producing a prodigious amount of written material whether as editor of Irish “Socialist Worker”, founder-editor of the “Irish Marxist Review” or author of books on a wide variety of subjects. I’ll just mention a few: “The Point is to Change It”, “Anarchism: A Marxist Criticism”, “Lenin for Today”. About the only topic he didn’t deal with was economic theory, which he left to comrades he felt were more competent. His final publication earlier this year was appropriately “Selected Writings of Socialism and Revolution”.

I first met John more than 40 years ago while I was helping organise the first couple of Marxism Conferences in London. He impressed me as a giant of a man with a friendly smile who was prepared to discuss with anybody who approached – although he was already a major intellectual figure there was nothing distant or academic in his approach and he was prepared to discuss relatively difficult issues in such a manner that even people with little experience were able to follow his arguments without too much difficulty. This was also true of his meetings, which were a joy to listen to and where you could always be certain to learn something new.

Later I got to know him better while I was working at Bookmarks bookshop. Among other things I helped promote the various Bookmarks publications, including John’s. We were never particularly close because we never lived in close proximity to each other, but one memory sticks out: About 15 years ago we were both invited to speak at a conference in Prague. We were both staying at the same accommodation and met with our hosts in a pub where we had something to eat and drink. We then moved to our accommodation and beds were prepared, but we ended up talking about all manner of subjects until after 4 in the morning although we were supposed to be at the conference by 10 a.m. Somehow we actually managed to make it, but I still have the impression that John’s contributions to the discussion were more lucid and coherent than mine!

More recently we have collaborated on making a mirror of the IMR within the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism section of the Marxists’ Internet Archive, which involved me converting the articles from PDF format to searchable HTML format. We also corresponded occasionally about particular articles and John also asked me for suggestions for reading – not so much for himself but for other comrades who had approached him for advice.

I send my sincerest condolences to his partner, Mary, and to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as his comrades and friend in Ireland, Britain and all over the world. He will be sorely missed, but his contributions will not be forgotten.

Einde O*Callaghan, who is one of the administrators of the Marxists International Archive has already created a rudimentary archive for John Molyneux’s writings, which will be added to regularly over the coming weeks and months.

Regenbogenfabrik (Rainbow Factory) Berlin

Neighbourhood Centre for Kids and Kulture

Regenbogenfabrik Berlin is a children’s, culture and neighborhood center in the middle of Berlin. We have a wide range of offers for Berliners and guests from all over the world. Have a look: here on our website or live at Regenbogenfabrik, Lausitzer Straße 21a, 10999 Berlin.

The rainbow factory is a children’s, culture and neighborhood center in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Occupied in 1981, we still see ourselves as part of the housing and tenant movement and are committed to building and maintaining self-governing, collective and emancipatory structures from below.

As a collective, we work without bosses and make decisions together and in a grassroots-democratic manner according to the consensus principle. Solidarity and cooperation form the basis of our joint work. For the rainbow factory, every job is of equal value, which is why every job is paid the same.

Volunteers are also integrated into the decision-making structures. Each of us bears responsibility for the entire organization. We reject pressure to perform and thoughts of competition. In addition, we are committed to the greatest possible transparency of operational processes and decisions, both within the collective and in relation to the outside world.

About the factory

The Rainbow Factory was declared a monument in 1998. We learned that from a dry letter from the Berlin administration and were surprised. We were perhaps frightened because in the letter the authority imposed on us that changes in or on the building must be discussed and coordinated with the responsible monument protection authority with immediate effect. It wasn’t until 2004 that we discovered that we could also use it to tell exciting stories.

Monuments are many things: stores of knowledge, storytellers, eye-catchers, places to live or study. People live or work in them, crafts are learned, applied and passed on from them. This has been celebrated in Europe for several years on Open Monument Day. We go along with it and year after year we get a new opportunity to tell our story from a new perspective.

The Rainbow Factory is not spectacular architecture. But it is part of an ensemble, it tells the story of the Kreuzberg mixture of living and working in a very small space. We are glad that we can continue this story today.

No Border No Nation

On Saturday17th December from 5pm until 10pm, there will be soli drinks, Glühwein, waffles and music in the Regenbogen Café, Lausitzer Straße 22. All profits from the event No Border No Nation will go to raise money for the costs of refugees fighting for the right to stay.

News from Berlin and Germany, 15th December 2022

Weekly news roundup from Berlin and Germany


Berlin judge and former AfD MP resigned from civil court after arrest

Among the suspects arrested in the nationwide raid against the far-right “Reichsbürgerszene” (Reich citizen movement) is Berlin judge and former AfD member of parliament Birgit Malsack-Winkemann. Due to her arrest, Malsack-Winkemann is for the time being no longer performing her duties of the Berlin Regional Court. According to a spokesperson the Judge resigned on Wednesday from Civil Chamber 19a, which is responsible for construction affairs. AfD leadership has said it knew nothing about the alleged activities of former Bundestag member in the so-called `Reichsbürgermilieu’. Source: tagesspiegel

Expropriation of real estate corporations in Berlin possible says expert commission

The expert commission for the implementation of the referendum “Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen und Co” (DWenteignen) considers the expropriation of large real estate companies to be possible. This is the conclusion of the “interim report” produced by the commission, which was set up in April. The 13 members of the committee have said the proposed law is financially feasible and the state would have the ability to implement it. In addition to the legal feasibility, the interim report also deals with the question of financial compensation for the real estate groups potentially affected. Source: tagesspiel

“Reich citizens” in Brandenburg and Berlin

In Brandenburg and Berlin the Reich citizen movement gained new followers during the Corona pandemic. Police and constitutional protection authorities estimate a total of 1,300 “Reichsbürger” and self-governors live in the region. The danger posed by this radicalised movement and its affinity for weapons had been known for a long time and had been pointed out again and again, said Berlin Senator of the Interior Iris Spranger (SPD) in the Interior Committee on last Monday. Spranger also named a whole series of groups that belong to the movement such as “”, “Gelbe Westen Berlin”, “Verfassungsgebende Versammlung” and “Vaterländischer Hilfsdienst”. Source: rbb



Fired because of Palestine trip

The media and political hunt against public figures in Germany who stand up for Palestinian rights has claimed a new victim. The former presenter of the children’s channel (KiKa), Matondo Castlo, announced the channel has decided to no longer work with him. “So I’m out” wrote Castlo on Instagram. Since 2021, the actor and social pedagogue has entertained viewers of the channel for children and young people operated by ARD and ZDF. The 29-year-old’s “undoing” was his participation in a youth festival organised by the left-wing Palestinian People’s Party in the village of Farkha near Nablus on the West Bank in July this year. Source: jW

Who might benefit from simpler naturalisation

Compared to other European countries, Germany lags behind in naturalisation. With the proposed reform, Syrians and Turkish people living here could apply for German passports. Up to now, conditions such as having lived in the country for eight years, and being financially self-supporting, among others, are necessary for naturalisation. Also, as a rule, new Germans must renounce their previous citizenship. But the country is reconsidering some requirements, such as the latter. In particular, it means it would be possible for migrants of Turkish origin, who make up the largest share of the German population with a migration background, to obtain dual citizenship. Source: dw

Xenophobic attack in Karlsruhe

An unknown man assaulted a 14-year-old with a knife in Karlsruhe in a xenophobic attack last Saturday. According to police, the youth left a shopping mall area near Marktplatz in Karlsruhe with others at around 6.10 pm. An unknown man then approached them, threatening and xenophobically harassing them. The suspect was holding a knife and stabbed the 14-year-old with it. Afterwards, the unknown man insulted and threatened other passers-by on Karl-Friedrich-Straße. The perpetrator was able to flee. The youths informed the police, who are now looking for witnesses. Source: bnn

Letter from a “Last Generation” activist

Activist Miriam Meyer, who is currently sitting in cell 105 in Stadelheim Prison, has written an open letter to us “on the outside”, sharing with us her motivations and beliefs related to the movement. She speaks emotively of “Helplessness and a plan that could work, a lot of desperation and a little hope, an orange high-visibility waistcoat and a few tubes of superglue”. She also criticises the Germany Government: “Chancellor Scholz is currently telling the climate conference what Germany is doing for the climate while at the same time building new fossil fuel infrastructure”. For her, it is imperative to stand against this. In her words, “Not resisting is the worse alternative!” Source: letztegeneration


How dangerous are the Reichsbürger?

The recent coup attempt may have seemed farcical, but the growing Nazi threat in Germany is very real


Recent police raids have led many people to question the strength of the Reichsbürger, the right-wing organisation which was accused of planning to overthrow the German state. 25 people were arrested, including a prince, a former MP for Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and an opera singer, who the Reichsbürger were planning to install as Germany’s new Minister of Culture.

The Reichsbürger’s beliefs are abstruse, and include the idea that Germany is under occupation. They believe that the last valid German state existed under the Kaiser and call for a restoration of the monarchy. Comparisons have been made to the pro-Trump demonstrators on 6th January, and QAnon.

A US-American friend recently contacted me in consternation. How can any movement in the 21st Century call for a return to the monarchy? Here is what I think: the Reichsbürger represent a form of reactionary anti-capitalism, which sees capitalism as a problem, not because it exploits workers, but because it offers a limited form of social mobility.

They blame the current instability on “new” capitalists, who come from the wrong sort of families. Instead of moving forwards, they want to return to a time when everyone knew their place, and your position in society was determined at birth. Their love of the monarchy dovetails well with fascist authoritarianism.

Many people first became aware of the Reichsbürger during a Covid demonstration in August this year. As 40,000 people took part in a demonstration through Berlin on a protest led by right-wingers, a group carrying imperial flags and Nazi symbols split off and marched on the Reichstag.

As the Guardian reported at the time: “The Reichstag building, where German MPs meet, has a powerful symbolic role in the country. The domed building was burned down in 1933 in an act that enabled the Nazis to destroy what remained of German democracy between the two world wars.”

In this article, I would like to argue against two problematic reactions that I have seen on social media: some suggest that Germany has returned to 1933 and the Nazis are about to seize power. Others say that the Nazi threat is just something cooked up by right-wing media to win support for the German state.

While we shouldn’t overstate the problem, the Left ignores the Nazi threat in Germany at its peril. Particularly in the light of recent far right gains in elections in Italy and Sweden, we should see that the attempted coup, apparently by a few individuals, as the tip of a much more dangerous iceberg.

How strong are the German Nazis today?

At the moment, the main Nazi threat in Germany comes not from the Reichsbürger but the AfD. The groups are sometimes linked – the arrested included not just former AfD MP Birgit Malsack-Winkemann but also Christian Wendler, who has been an AfD local councillor in Saxony.

Just over a year ago, the AfD was the official opposition party in the German Bundestag to the SPD-CDU “Grand Coalition”. Although the AfD vote dropped to “only” 10.3% at last year’s elections, they are currently consistently polling at 14%. Some polls put their support as high as 15% or even 16%

In Eastern Germany, these figures are much higher. The AfD are polling at at least 20% in each of the 5 East German States, lying in first place in three States or second in the other two. This is all happening at a time when the AfD is moving rapidly to the right. While the AfD was always a party with Nazis in it, the Nazis in “Der Flügel” (the wing) around Thüringen leader Björn Höcke are slowly taking over the party.

At the same time, the far Right has been building a street movement. In October, the AfD organised a march of 10,000 people through Berlin in a demonstration against the politics of the German government. This was largely unopposed with only 1,400 protesting against it.

One of the characteristics of many European Nazi organisations, such as Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, has been their concentration on populism and electoral politics. While they still have their (often hidden) street fighting cadre, these do not (yet) have the same strength of the SS and SA in Germany in the 1930s. We are currently seeing signs that the German Right is starting to adopt a slightly different strategy.

This is the lens through which we should see three recent protest movements which have taken to the streets, particularly in Eastern Germany – on Covid, war and inflation. In each case, the far Right, aided by a divided Left, has tried to play a leading role. I will now go into each movement in a little more detail.


The German government’s reaction to the Covid crisis was never the roaring success depicted in memeland. Most workplaces were never closed, and people were forced into overcrowded trains to go into work. Meanwhile, playgrounds were arbitrarily closed, and Germany’s death rate was, at best, similar to in most other countries, despite a better-resourced health service.

Nonetheless, the default reaction of most Germans was to observe the lockdown and respect the health of their neighbours. Demonstrations in Germany effectively stopped (the first major left wing demo since the Covid outbreak was for Black Lives Matter in May 2021). This made it difficult for the Left to mobilise.

The far right had no such scruples. A movement developed, known sometimes as “Querdenker” (alternative thinkers), elsewhere as “Coronaleugner” (Corona liars). Tens of thousands of “Querdenker” demonstrated against lockdown. The composition of these demonstrations, and their organisers, was not the same in all areas, but the far right was there from the start,

As Christine Buchholz, then a LINKE MP, argued at the time: “Members of the AfD and NPD, as well as adherents of the Reichsbürger movement – and neo-Nazis – can all participate in ‘Querdenken’ without objection. Fascism and racism are styled as ‘opinions’ to be accepted. In a published manifesto, ‘Querdenken’ declares: ‘We are non-partisan and do not exclude any opinion.’”

Protest researcher Peter Ulrich noted that “it wasn’t just convinced Neonazis who were marching. But it was people who are clearly not bothered that organised Neonazis were regularly there.” Ulrich went on to say that this had the potential to force people who are undecided or have no hard ideology towards far right positions.”

Some of the Left, most notably LINKE MP and talkshow favourite Sahra Wagenknecht argued that the Querdenker demonstrations could be co-opted by the Left. This followed Wagenknecht’s attacks on refugees and is part of a mistaken strategy to address AfD voters by adopting reactionary politics. The truth is, though, that it was only the Right who profited from the Querdenker mobilisations.

War and the Ukraine

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine initially provoked two well-attended demonstrations in Berlin. The problem was, that these demonstrations meant different things to different people who attended them. Alongside anti-imperialist banners, you could see home-made posters calling for more German militarisation. Such a contradictory movement was never going to hold.

The “liberal” government tried to appeal to the latter faction. One of its first acts was to double the military budget and pledge an extra €100 billion to military spending, an act which you could compare to SPD MPs voting for war credits in 1914. Yet there have been no demonstrations of a comparable size since the first month of the war.

The Left – both inside and outside parliament – was unable to fill the anti-war vacuum, and was split between (at least) 3 different factions. One stream is sympathetic towards, even apologetic for Putin. Of course, not everyone denounced by German media as a “Putin-versteher” (Putin understander) actually supports the Russian dictator, but some really do.

A significant part of the leadership of the German anti-war movement has been soft on Russia. Some, but by no means all, see Putin as the continuation of their old USSR allies, and have refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. Some even argue that the invasion was necessary. Because of the legacy of Cold War politics, this tendency is stronger in Germany than in most other countries.

As a reaction to the first group, a second emerged, which included part of the revolutionary left. This group quite rightly argued that imperialism is a world system, and that anti-imperialists must oppose Putin’s adventures. But, despite stating that there is more than one imperialist country, they remained largely silent about imperialism in their own country, with many of them calling for sanctions, and even the delivery of NATO weapons.

Increasingly, these two parts of the anti-war movement have come to mirror each other, spending increasing amounts of time and energy attacking each other rather than the imperialist powers. This is not a strategy which is able to win over people who are worried by the very real threat of nuclear war. A third group – which opposed both Putin’s invasion and NATO’s attempt to join the war by proxy, was just not large enough to fill the gap.

This result was, as Albert Scharenberg reported, that “the AfD has successfully linked up with widespread criticisms of the German government’s sanctions against Russia — especially in the eastern states. Economic ties to Russia are traditionally stronger in eastern Germany, and in many areas, small- and medium-sized businesses have been mobilizing to protests against the sanctions.”


All this has been exacerbated by rising inflation, which has stood at at least 10% for the last three months. The last time that German inflation went above 10% was following Currency reform in 1948. If anything, perceived inflation has been even worse. At the beginning of Autumn, every time you visited a supermarket, prices had gone up again.

Building a campaign against inflation provides a twofold problem for parts of the left. If you have been celebrating weapons shipments to Ukraine, and holding banners which say that rising oil costs are a price worth paying, you shouldn’t be surprised when people who can no longer afford to heat their small flats do not see you as a natural ally.

Furthermore, this is happening on the watch of a government which is dominated by the “left wing” SPD and Greens. The LINKE strategy at last year’s election was aimed at joining a coalition government, so all serious criticism of its neoliberalism rivals was dropped.

In the East, where the far Right is doing particularly well, the situation is exacerbated by die LINKE being part of a coalition government in 3 East German States. In Thüringen, the home of Björn Höcke, the state president, and deporter-in-chief is Die LINKE’s Bodo Ramelow.

This means that many Easterners have more than one reason to see Die LINKE as an establishment party. To some, it is the Stasi party of the old DDR. To others, it is responsible for the current austerity politics. This does not make it a natural partner in the fight against capitalism and inflation. This allows the far Right to take a lead, as it has in the fights against Covid and war. Tagesschau described the recent demonstration in Dresden against rising prices as a Pegida comeback.

What has all this to do with the attempted coup?

The specific coup plot for which people have been recently arrested was almost certainly the work of a few marginalised people. This does not mean that it was not relevant. As LINKE leader Janine Wissler tweeted: “even if the coup plans of the Reichsbürger sound megalomanic, unfeasible and confused, this does not make them harmless cranks. Remember the killers of Utøya, Halle and Hanau”.

Wissler is referring to three cases in Norway and Germany of murderous gunmen who had links to neo-Nazi networks. Each attack was portrayed in the press as the work of a “lone gunman”. These murderers were not alone, nor are the Reichsbürger, who are estimated to have 21,000 members. Many are armed and 2,000 are described by state authorities as “ready to commit violence”.

One of the arrested Reichsbürger is a former army colonel. This comes after reports that the German army has a Nazi problem. In 2020, a whole division of the German special forces was dissolved following reports of Nazi activity. This is not the basis for a Fascist coup, but does show that we have more to worry about than 25 strange individuals.

Added to this, there is the memory of the NSU, the Nazi cell which murdered 10 “foreigners” while receiving state support. The police reacted by harassing the victims’ families, while the press reported the killings as “Döner murders” and blamed the victims. Under certain circumstances, the German State and press are prepared to support violent neo-Nazis.

But we are not in 1933, when German President Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor. Then the ruling class needed the Nazi stormtroopers to crush the workers’ movement. This is not the current situation. A better comparison is not 1933, but 1923, when Nazis in Munich carried out the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch. This short-term failure was an important step in the far Right building up the power which they were to wield 10 years later.

History is made by individuals, and never exactly repeats itself. Germany’s future depends on what we do, both as individuals, and as part of the political Left. We can stop the far Right, physically if necessary, but also by offering political alternatives which are more attractive than those offered by the Reichsbürger, the AfD and their fellow-travellers. For the sake of humanity, we’d better hope that we are up to the task.