300.000 demonstrate in Berlin. What next to stop the AfD?

The demonstration was a success, but building the unity which we need will not come automatically


On Saturday, February 3rd, 300.000 people marched in Berlin against the AfD. Other regional events were held throughout Germany. The demonstrations follow the “Remigration” scandal, when AfD politicians took part in a meeting in Potsdam with neo-Nazis and members of the Identitarian movement to discuss mass deportation of people “with a foreign background”.

Since the Potsdam meeting became public knowledge, there has been growing concern about the AfD, where Nazi Björn Höcke is plays an increasingly powerful role. Höcke is seeking closer connection with citizen forces responsible for anti-migrant PEGIDA demonstrations over the last decade, and for over 200 racist murders since reunification in 1989.

At the end of January, hundreds of thousands demonstrated against the AfD in Hamburg and Berlin. Many more demonstrations have taken place throughout the country. But these demonstrations have not been without issues. Some have been dominated by members of the ruling coalition, which has doubled the military budget, raised fuel prices, and failed to reach its own minimal targets for fighting climate change.

While increasing poverty, the Ampel coalition (SPD, Die Grünen, FDP) has been attacking migrants. In October, in an interview about Palestinian protests in Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) was quoted on the front page of the best-selling Spiegel magazine saying “we must finally deport on a large scale”.

This has led to a discussion in my branch of die LINKE (and elsewhere), where someone asked whether there is a difference between the deportation plans of the AfD and those of the current governing parties. Many more argue that the policies of the Scholz government are paving the way for the AfD. But the scale of deportations discussed by the AfD dwarves anything considered by the German government at present.

It would also be a mistake to see deportation as the only issue with the AfD. This misconstrues the threat posed by a party whose Nazi core is becoming increasingly influential. Hitler’s attacks on racial minorities were preceded by the destruction of any possible opposition, including moderate social democrats. If Björn Höcke came to power, Olaf Scholz would also be sent to a concentration camp.

Palestinian demonstrators finally included

In several instances over the last weeks there Palestinians—currently the victims of the most prevalent form of racism in Germany—were excluded from demonstrations against the AfD. Charges that Fridays for Future actively collaborated with the police to remove the Palestine block from last week’s demo appear to be unfounded. Nonetheless, police did exclude Palestinians, and individual demonstrators, including stewards, abused and spat at people in the block.

Non-German demonstrators have had similar experiences at other demonstrations. Egyptian activist Heba Attia Mousa, who lives in Bonn, reported being racially abused and accused of antisemitism for carrying a home-made placard which read: “Arab in Deutschland, the AfD wants to deport all of us, SPD & CDU want to deport 50% of my friends, The Green Party & SPD are financing bombs that kill my friends in Gaza”.

This week’s demonstration saw the potential for similar divisions after the Berlin police banned Palestine flags from the demonstrations at the last minute. This time, though, organisers welcomed the presence of Palestinians from the stage and there was a lively Palestinian block in the middle of the demo.

One of the speakers at the demo correctly said: “at some demonstrations, the block in which many refugees and migrants were taking part, carrying Palestinian flags or wearing a kuffiyah, were excluded by the police and some of them were attacked by other demonstrators. We need to talk about this, criticize it, and learn from it.”

This does not mean that Germany’s Palestine problem has gone away. Even at this week’s demonstration, Jewish socialist Rachael Shapiro reports: “in general the mood was very friendly—a lot of solidarity especially compared to the last few weeks where there were numerous extremely intense attacks on the Palestine movement and those in solidarity with Palestine from the police but also from Zionist demonstrators…an older German man came up to me and asked me quite aggressively; ‘What are the similarities between Zionism and the AfD?’ I could already see that he didn’t want to have a real conversation. Regardless, I tried to explain and after a few words, he rolled his eyes and half spit in my face, said: ‘ What do you know?’ I said: ‘my family was exterminated by Nazis. I think I am perfectly capable of explaining the similarities between Zionism and fascism’.”

Such behaviour has caused some Palestinians and migrants to consider boycotting the anti-AfD demos. Socialists have a task, both to persuade the victims of racism that their place is in the centre of the movement against fascism, but also to communicate to the White German Left that we need unity to force back the AfD.

Ban the AfD?

There is now a strong discussion about what the movement against the AfD should do next. Many people, including speakers at Saturday’s demo, are calling for a campaign to ban the AfD. A benefit of doing so is that the AfD would lose access to state funds paid to MPs and the people who work for them in the Bundestag. There are, however, some problems with this strategy.

Any attempt to ban the AfD would take years and has the potential to demobilise a movement which is already on the streets. Secondly, it would strengthen the AfD’s ability to position itself as being outside the political mainstream, an alternative to the corrupt government parties.

Furthermore, a ban would give power to the German state which has historically shown more interest in banning left-wingers than Nazis. If we call for a ban on the AfD, we cannot be sure that it will not use this power to ban socialist organisations. There is a precedent for this in Germany; in 1952, the SRP—successors to Hitler’s NSDAP—was banned. Four years later, the same ban was used against the German Communist Party.

What now?

The AfD is hoping for massive gains at the EU elections in June. In September, there are regional elections in 3 of the 5  East German states—where the AfD has been so far most successful. The AfD could become the strongest party in some or all of these states.

Despite the “remigration”-plan revelations, the AfD is currently polling around 20% nationally—higher than any of the parties in the governing coalition and second only to the conservative CDU. In some Eastern States its polling figures are well over 30%. Membership has risen by a third in the last year to total 40,000 members.

Rather than hoping for a state ban, we must ensure that the movement against the AfD stays on the streets, and refuses to allow the AfD to be normalised as a “party like any other”. Every time they attempt to show their face—whether through meetings, demonstrations or election stalls, they must be opposed and physically confronted.

Saturday’s demonstration was a great step forward, but one demonstration will not remove the AfD, nor the conditions which caused them to rise. Germany still has a neoliberal government which supports genocide in Gaza and attacking living conditions at home. We need to intensify the fight, both against the rise of the far right and for redistributative politics which will prevent impoverished people seeing the AfD as any alternative.