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Political Conferences in Berlin – Opportunities for English speakers

Some tips for conference sessions in English in May and June


10/05/2022

May-June is conference season in Berlin. The weather encourages people to leave the house, and most people haven’t started their summer holidays yet. Most importantly, there are a string of public holidays which enable you to take a long week-end off work. This year is no exception, and I’ve noticed that more conferences than ever before are offering at least some workshops in English.

This article is a summary of some of the conferences coming up soon, with a particular focus on the meetings you can attend if you don’t trust your German.

Contesting Authoritarianism: Perspectives from the South

What it is: Discussing the various manifestations of authoritarian neoliberalism, reactionary populism, and strategies of resistance

Where it is: rosa luxemburg stiftung Berlin, Straße der Pariser Kommune 8a & Franz-Mehring-Platz 1

Meetings in English:

  • The crisis of civilization & the authoritarian turn (with Alex Demirovic, Zeynep Gambetti, Hugo Fanton and Börries Nehe)

  • Roundtable: Beyond Authoritarianism. Counterstrategies, Solidarities, Utopias (with Eva von Redecker, Harsh Mander, Sabrina Fernandes, Damir Arsenijevic and Yunyun Zhou)

  • And more (programme here)

Register here.

19th – 21st May Frequencies – Sharing Feminisms

What it is: Over three days, the festival will open up resonant spaces for feminist debates and movements – multiperspectival, intersectional and diverse

Where it is: Pfefferberg, Schönhauser Allee 176 and Sophiensaale and Sophienstraße 18

Meetings in English:

  • Feminist Resistance through the Arts (with Urvashi Butalia, Aram Han Sifuentes, Sabika Abbas, Farzana Wahid Shayan, Carola Lentz and Nabila Horakhsh)

  • Intersectionality and Its Critics (with Nikita Dhawan, Mario do Mar and Castro Varela)

  • Feminicide and Violence against Women (with Meena Kandasamy, Hannah Beeck, Aleids Lujan Pinelo and Valeria España

  • And more (programme here)

Register here.

22nd May Left journalism Day School

What it is: Your chance to develop practical skills in journalism in a fun and relaxed environment

Where it is: Spreefeld, Wilhelmine-Gemberg-Weg 14

Meetings in English:

  • How to do an interview

  • Storytelling and research tricks

  • Live radio broadcast: Radio Berlin International on reboot.fm 88.4 MHz

  • and more (programme here)

Register here

27th – 29th May Deutsche Wohnen & Co Expropriation Conference

What it is: Conference around the subject of expropriation and the nationalisation of the real estate companies

Where it is: TU Berlin, Straße des 17. Juni 135

Meetings in English:

  • How can non-Germans get involved in the fight against gentrification? Sunday 29th May, 10 am (Organised by the DWE English-language working group Right2The City)

Register here.

3rd – 6th June Marxismuss

What it is: one of the largest left wing conference in Germany

Where it is: Franz-Mehring-Platz 1

Meetings in English:

  • Imperialism Today (with Alex Callinicos)

  • Perspectives from Sudan (with Muzan Alneel, Think Tank for People-Centered Development, Khartoum)

  • Can Israel’s Left be part of the liberation of Palestine? (with Ilan Pappe (historian), Michael Sappir (Jewish Israeli Dissence, Leipzig) and Mays Ashash (Jewish Bund))

  • 10 years Arab revolutions (with Hossam El Hamalawy and Anne Alexander)

  • and more (programme here)

Register here.

10th – 11th June Socialism in Our Time

What it is: Join Jacobin magazine and Transform! Europe in summery Berlin for two days of stimulating debates and conversations

Where it is: oyoun, Lucy-Lameck-Straße 32

Meetings in English:

  • Socialism in Europe and the US in the 21st Century

  • The Shape of Capitalism

  • Class Struggle for the Climate

  • and more (programme not yet online)

Register here.

25th- 26th June Linke Internationals Summer Camp

What it is: A week-end of networking, fun and political discussion on the edge of Berlin

Where it is: Naturfreundehaus Hermsdorf, Seebadstraße 27

Meetings in English:

  • The War in Ukraine: Voices from Eastern Europe (with Sasha, Russian Socialist Movement and Oksana Dutchak (Deputy Director of the Center for Social and Labor Research (Kyiv))

  • Palestine and the German press (with Palestinian journalist sacked by Deutsche Welle)

  • Reading from WTF Berlin? Expatsplaining the German Capital (with Jacinta Nandi)

  • And many workshops (programme here)

Register here

Photo Gallery – Bans Off Our Bodies Berlin, 8 May 2022

Rally at Brandenburger Tor. Photos: Phil Butland, Kate Cahoon, Rosemarie Nünning and Dervla O’Malley


09/05/2022

 

Defend and rebuild the NHS but remember that it is social injustice that makes us sick

Review of Christopher Thomas’s book, ‘The Five Health Frontiers. A New Radical Blueprint’.


08/05/2022

This book provides a helpful and eminently readable overview of ‘health’ and how a government with a ‘health justice agenda’ might effect meaningful change. ‘The left’ (a troublingly amorphous concept that casts the Royal Colleges in the role of key institutions of the ‘health labour movement’) is castigated for being romantic and defensive rather than innovative and visionary, placing a narrow focus on health services rather than the more important social determinants of health.

Some arguments appear overstated for rhetorical reasons, for example: “We believe in 1948 as an ultimate victory for the left on the health agenda”. This disregards justified and longstanding criticism of the NHS by progressives that it was a ‘sickness’ service rather than a ‘health’ service, and that some elements such as mental health were never given the investment they warranted. The author also acknowledges that Bevan’s plan did not include a universal public health service.

In any case, few would now look at the current state of the NHS with its record waiting lists, staffing crisis, relatively poor outcomes and increasing penetration by the private sector, and not reflect that the ‘ultimate victory’ may yet prove to have been only a temporary respite. The Just Treatment ‘NHS New Deal’ is singled out as an exemplar of a myopic fixation on the NHS (exacerbated by Covid), and yet a glance at this organisation’s website shows it also has an international focus including vaccine equity and challenging the profiteering by big pharma. There is no mention of last year’s People’s Covid Inquiry which critically examined the government’s response to the Covid pandemic, but also explored health inequalities and in fact opened with internationally renowned Michael Marmot as an expert witness.

The book is divided into sections on the NHS, social justice, economic issues, social care, sustainability, and finally, a new deal for public health. Work on health inequalities by pioneers such as Marmot, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson is duly acknowledged. The section on social care is rightly critical of the limitations of Labour’s National Care Service (“the NCS does not sufficiently change the nature of care, the power relationships that define it, or the level to which institutionalised and paternalistic care dominates provision”) and advocates a much broader approach, similar to the campaign for a National Care Support and Independent Living Service (NaCSILS).

There are a couple of minor if surprising errors. It is stated that “Since 2010, about 10,000 hospital beds have been closed in England”, whereas according to King’s Fund data around twice this number were lost. Of less importance is the attribution of the Black Death to a virus rather than the bacterium Yersinia pestis.

The author makes a cogent plea that health improvement and health justice require looking beyond health services to a public health system as a whole. This is perhaps the key message overall for health campaigners. The issue of affordability is dealt with well, although there is little on reformation of the tax system as a way to finance public services. While the author distances himself from the suggestion that the book is really a polemic with a somnolent Labour Party in need of “a far more compelling vision”, statements such as “the leftist strategy in health has therefore become defined by maintaining the status quo”, leaves little doubt as to exactly where the barbs are aimed.

If we agree that it is conditions of social injustice that make us sick, the questions remain as to whether democratic socialism is up for seriously challenging the dominance of those businesses and corporations who profit from our ill health, and what might be revealed about the balance of power in the course of such a struggle. Even more reason to rally the troops around defending and rebuilding the NHS perhaps, while setting this in the context of a much broader vision of public health as outlined in this book.

Christopher Thomas. ‘The Five Health Frontiers. A New Radical Blueprint’. Pluto Press, London, 2022

Repealing Roe vs Wade is part of a far more sinister plan

The attack on abortion rights in the US is about more than just reproductive rights. It is an attack on democracy itself


07/05/2022

The recent leak of a Supreme Court decision to overturn the landmark Roe vs Wade decision, opening the door to legalising abortion in the USA, has sparked outrage among women globally. Naturally, The Democratic Party leadership’s eyes lit up with dollar signs in anticipation of the fundraising potential the leak presents. No single issue is more animating for Democrat and Democrat-aligned voters than abortion. Much like how sales of firearms experience an uptick in the aftermath of a major mass shooting, Democratic Party leaders have used abortion rights as a totem to rally around in spite of their consistent failure to secure them.

The leak itself is a major headache for Republicans, since it has occurred before a set of mid-term elections that they hope will secure them control of the House of Representatives and even the Senate. This outcome would absolutely sabotage whatever slivers of reform Biden intended to deliver. Taking a longer view, it is not immediately apparent what the benefit of repealing Roe vs Wade would be.

After all, Republicans have not explicitly made overturning Roe vs Wade a pillar of their strategy. They are fully aware that abortion can be made de facto illegal if not de jure. Several Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed draconian laws to severely limit or outright prohibit abortion. Furthermore, explicitly attacking Roe vs Wade burnishes their opposition with political ammunition. We on the left need to think a little deeper about the intentions behind this attack on not just the rights of women, but on democracy.

 

US state legislatures by party control. Blue = Democrat control of legislature, red = Republican control of legislature, purple = states split control of legislature (By Sbowman123 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64708268)

The map above should be the single most terrifying map of US politics, yet its significance is understated. To explain, of the 50 states in the union, only 17 state legislatures are under Democrat control, with 30 under Republican control. To provide some context, these states account for 307 electoral college votes, whereas Biden won 306 in the 2020 election. The contrast between Republican domination at the state level and at the presidential level tells us something about their ability to win electoral majorities, despite being in a clear popular minority. The latest US census predicts that the country will become a majority-minority country within the next 25 years. This phenomenal demographic inversion poses, potentially, an existential threat to Republican political hegemony.

In this context, overturning Roe vs Wade should be seen not as a pillar of Republican electoral strategy, but as part of a multi-pronged attack on the barely functional democracy that is claimed to exist in the USA. For multiple election cycles, Republicans have entrenched minority rule through egregious gerrymandering of congressional districts, legal impediments to suppress voting among the poor and minorities, and outright disenfranchisement through criminalising those same groups. It is not accidental that people with criminal records are being stripped of the right to vote, nor is the criminalisation of the poor and minorities through vicious policing tactics. Soon poor, minority women seeking an abortion will be criminalised, too.

The manoeuvre by Republicans to attack abortion is driven in equal parts by fear and brazen confidence. On one hand, their domination of politics at the state level, their generation-long seizure of the Supreme Court, and their prophesised victory within Congress makes them feel that the time is right to deliver on their promises to their Evangelical fundamentalist wing. Yet, a fear of demographic shifts that can erode their minoritarian stronghold compels them to seek new avenues to disenfranchise as many voters as possible, while they still can.

All this is synergistic with their response to calls to defund the police: to repeat mantras on “law & order”, boosting funding for police departments and prisons, passing laws to prevent “voter fraud”, or enhancing the power of the police, while criminalising a growing list of “crimes”. To call these machinations anything other than a modern version of Jim Crow is to deny the reality of the millions of ethnic minority citizens of the USA. The scale of the problems requires something akin to a new civil rights movement that is not specific to a single issue, but to an entire apparatus of control and subjugation.

Far too many people are falling into the trap of responding to the attack on Roe vs Wade by focusing solely on arguments around the “right to choose”. Liberals have succeeded in conditioning people into self-defeating myopia. In actuality, the attack on Roe vs Wade is an attack on black people organising against police violence, on the poor, on the right to vote.

People understand that abortions cannot be magicked out of existence, and that overturning Roe vs Wade will impact poor women and anyone who tries to help them. People know that poverty is concentrated among black people in particular and minorities in general. And yet political leaders seem unable to join the dots. Instead they offer pithy slogans, fundraising emails, calls to just vote in greater numbers no matter how many hours you have to wait in line or how many forms of ID you need to show at the polling booth. As animating as abortion rights are, it is simply delusional to expect to build an overwhelming electoral coalition to merely defend an emaciated status quo around abortion.

Joe Biden has refused to countenance decriminalising marijuana; he has vocally supported police departments and treated the demands of Black Lives Matter activists with contempt. Neither he nor his coterie of sycophants has passed any legislation to secure voting rights. The PRO Act is dead in the water and neither is there any prospect of the most milquetoast economically redistributive policies on the horizon. The Democrats can scream themselves hoarse about a woman’s right to choose but until they mobilise popular forces around a full suite of interlocking issues, they will fail once again.

Of course, we on the left know exactly why the Democrats love to feign helplessness. It is the left that must join the dots between poverty, voting rights, police violence and criminalisation, and the attack on Roe vs Wade. I write these words frantically as a means to start this process. Every crisis is either an opportunity to despair in nihilism or to organise with optimism. We must craft a narrative that goes beyond issues of bodily autonomy. Just as attacking abortion is a conduit for Republicans seeking to entrench minority rule and ruling class interests, the left has to mount a defense of the working class and democracy through the defense of the right to safe, legal, and unencumbered abortion.

Berlin Demonstration Bans are Linked

Three apparently unrelated cases tell us a lot about anti-racism, the Palestine discussion in Germany and the politics of Franziska Giffey


05/05/2022

On 28th April, Berlin police banned all demonstrations for Palestine until the 1st May. Police press spokesman Thilo Cablitz said “we have deployed emergency forces, particularly in North Neukölln and Kreuzberg [both districts with a large Muslim population] which will ensure that people do not come together. If necessary, people will be ordered to disperse.”

On the same day, police rerouted the Revolutionary 1st May Demo, which for years has been the largest demonstration on International Workers’ Day in Berlin. Neukölln mayor Martin Hikel (SPD) and the conservative evangelical Deutsch-Arabisches Zentrum had organised a series of last minute Iftar (fast-breaking) events which blocked the planned demo route.

Following the 1st May demonstrations, Palästina Spricht, an activist organisation of left wing Palestinians, was accused by the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism of being anti-Jewish. The Forum objected to the slogan “Intifada is our class struggle”, which it claims equates Jewishness with capitalism.

You may or may not have heard about these incidents. If you have, it was almost certainly as separate news reports which implied that they have nothing to do with each other. And yet, taken together they show at least two worrying trends in Germany, and particularly in Berlin politics.

The original ban

The pretext for banning all Palestinian demonstrations was that if they took place, this could lead to antisemitic incidents. Berlin’s interior minister Iris Spanger (SPD) said “If the administrative authorities make a comprehensive overview and decide that in Berlin there are the preconditions for a ban according to freedom of assembly, I would greet and support it.”

This followed a previous demonstration, when a couple of kids shouted offensive slogans. This is a danger at all demonstrations which bring together people from different backgrounds and political beliefs. The main organisers of the demonstration were Palästina Spricht, whose spokesperson Nizar Haddad said in an interview with 99 zu Eins “I found these chants shit. They made me sick. Is it racist? Of course. But a single slogan by a young unorganised person does not make a demo of more than 2,000 people a racist or antisemitic procession, as was presented in all media”.

Palästina Spricht itself offered the following statement: “Our common consensus is international, intersectional and therefore consistently anti-racist. We have made this clear in our speeches and slogans. Of course it was clear to us in advance that this is a thorn in the side of the right-wing, racist media world. That’s why Springer & Co. [the owners of the main German tabloids] were on the look out for individuals among hundreds who they could show in order to drag the whole demo through the mud.”

Bans were not just threatened in Berlin. There was also a call to ban a demonstration in Frankfurt-Main on 30th April. SPD mayor Peter Feldmann justified the ban by saying that the demo had clearly gone past the borders allowed for legitimate protest, and that it would foment hatred and agitation.

I was on the Berlin demonstration. There was a significant Jewish contingent and a lot of anger about the incident that provoked the demo. But the subsequent press reports did not mention the Israeli forces who had brutally and repeatedly attacked Palestinians praying in the Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan. Once more, a protest against Israeli aggression ended up in a discussion which was entirely focussed on alleged Arab antisemitism.

The Revolutionary 1 May demonstrations

If you were to believe the official statements, the change of route for the 1 May demo was an accident. After all, no serious anti-racist could oppose an Iftar festival during Ramadan could they? And yet, as Aicha Jamal, speaker for the Revolutionary 1 May demo noted, the Iftar events were scheduled for 7pm, not 20.33 (sundown) when they should take place. Jamal argued that this showed an “actual ignorance of the Muslim communities on Sonnenallee”.

On the demonstration itself, police broke the demonstration into half on Karl-Marx Straße. The Rote Hilfe criticised the police behaviour, saying “the only reason that mass panic did not break out in this narrow space was the calm reaction of the demonstrators.” Later on, protestors were kettled by police, who attacked them with pepper spray.

Anyone looking for the real reason for the police attacks would do better by looking at the statement by the speaker of the police trade union. Benjamin Jendro justified the ban on Palestine demonstrations by saying “we already saw last year that pro-Palestinian organisations took part in the so-called revolutionary 1 May demo”.

The fact is that Berlin has recently experienced a new and welcome development. When Gaza was bombed in 2014, we struggled to mobilize 1,500 people. Last year, 15,000 took part in a lively demonstration through Berlin. For reasons that some of us are too aware of, the number of white Germans was small, but there was a significant number of non-Germans and Germans of colour who had been activated by the Black Lives Matter movement.

One of the more lasting effects of this has been a willingness by the organisers of the Revolutionary 1 May demo to take Palestinian rights seriously. This was by no means automatic – much of the German Left has traditionally taken an awful position on Palestine. But, partly because of the number of migrants involved in organising the revolutionary demo, significant progress has been made.

This means that the Revolutionary 1 May has become a crystallisation point for anti-racist activists who also want to overtake the German Left in their solidarity with Palestine. The attempt to neutralise this development has led to specific attacks on a demonstration that was once confined to a small section of the radical Left but has started to make political generalisations.

Accusations against Palästina Spricht

I already mentioned the Jewish Forum’s attack on Palästina Spricht. In an uncritical report by the Berliner Zeitung, the Forum also claimed that the banners “Apartheid exists, Palestine resists” is antisemitic. The reason? The banner had a subtitle: 27.027 km². This is the combined area of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. This, the Forum claimed, “was aimed at a one-state solution, without the existence of Israel”.

If you want to check the bona fides of the Jewish Forum, you may also look at the Tweet that they made “proving” that the Revolutionary 1 May demo was full of “antisemitic events”. This tweet, was of a photo of placards saying things like “This Jewish voice is anti-Zionist” and “Apartheid states are not democracies”. The placards were produced by the entirely Jewish Jüdische Stimme (German chapter of the Jewish Voice for Peace).

In the topsy-turvy reporting to which we have become accustomed, calling for a state where everyone has equal rights, is somehow dangerous and undemocratic. Meanwhile demonstrations by Corona conspiracy theorists are allowed to continue unimpeded, despite the prevalence of actual antisemitic slogans, blaming “Rockerfeller, Rothschild & Co” and accepting the presence of organised Nazis.

The role of Franziska Giffey

The recent attacks on Palestine demos are part of a general trend which includes the secret dossier compiled on Anna-Esther Younes, the refusal of Amnesty International Germany to accept its mother organisation’s definition of Israel as an apartheid state, the Bundestag resolution outlawing BDS, the sacking of 7 Palestinian journalists at Deutsche Welle, the cancelling on German-Palestinian journalist Nemi El-Hassan,  and many more incidents too numerous to list. So yes, this is at least in part about the peculiar refusal by large parts of German society to accept the possibility of Palestinian rights.

But it is also about something else. I would now like to spend a few words talking about Berlin’s new mayor Franziska Giffey. Giffey is currently best known for actively ignoring Berlin’s 60% vote to expropriate the big landlords. But she is not just an opponent of democracy. She also has a track record of authoritarianism and racism.

As Giffey was poised to become the SPD’s candidate for mayor, die Welt lauded her as “definitely a law and order politician.” It quoted Giffey as saying “the subjects of security and order are important to me – they are ur-social democratic subjects.” The election campaign with which she became mayor tried to focus less on stopping expropriation and more on law and order.

Before becoming Berlin mayor, Giffey was mayor of the racially mixed area of Neukölln. Her predecessor Heinz Buschkowsky (also SPD) was notorious for his racist policies, warning about parallel societies in which Arab magistrates supersede state justice. Giffey was the natural successor to Buschkowsky. She followed his tendency to parrot racist clichés in interviews by talking about criminal Arabs who were involved in drug dealing, prositution and money laundering. Her solution included a call for more video surveillance in working class areas.

In 2017, Giffey attacked clan criminality, one of the favourite code words used by German racists. She approved and encouraged raids on restaurants and arcades owned by non-white Germans. Regarding the 30,000 Neuköllners from Arab families, Giffey talked of those “who foul the whole reputation and do not abide by any rules and values.” Although she also spoke of “respectable Arabs”, she called for the confiscation of high-horsepower cars from criminals. The implication was that the criminals who would lose their cars would not be blond, blue-eyed Germans.

In the same year, when Eastern European migrants were forced to live in tents, Giffey issued a statement that “we can’t accept that new camps of tents appear with 30 or 40 people in a park. The answer can’t be ‘let the poor people have somewhere to sleep’”, adding “if you can’t afford it in Germany you must go back to Romania”.

Many of Giffey’s statements appear at first glance to be reasonable, but behind them an indifference to – or possibly hatred of – young migrants is never far behind the surface. This is the woman who is now in charge of Berlin’s policing. She is also already the focus of growing opposition – a video of a demonstrator throwing an egg at her on 1 May was widely shared on social media.

Conclusion

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that most people mentioned in this article as cracking down on the right to assembly are representatives of the SPD. Just as SPD Chancellor Olaf Scholz has increased Germany’s military budget without much visible opposition, social democrats are both eager to prove themselves willing partners of the establishment and able to convince their own constituency that a strong state is necessary.

This is the choice faced by social democrats who try to run the state. Some, like Giffey, eagerly take over all apparatuses of repression. Others are more circumspect, but still end up criminalising migrants and particularly Palestinians. Many good Leftists, who have tried to control the worst excesses of the police and army, have ended up endorsing more repression.

I do not know whether Giffey personally ordered the bans on demonstrations, or that the police feel empowered by her election after a campaign which focussed on law and order. In a sense it does not matter. Despite it’s liberal reputation, Berlin is becoming a city which denies the freedom of assembly to many of it’s non-white citizens.

What I do know is that every socialist, and hopefully everyone who reads this article, should be on the next demonstrations against police repression, against the attacks on free speech on Palestine, and against the horrors which are being inflicted on the Palestinian people on a daily basis. Thanks to the inspirational work of groups like Palästina Spricht, we finally have a serious movement against repression, racism and Israeli apartheid – even in Germany. This movement 100% deserves our full support.