FelS - For a leftist current
In the FRG, as elsewhere, there has been a recent
massive restructuring of the social and economic system. The FRG
is one of the last countries of Eastern and Western Europe in which
such a restructuring has once again benefited the rich at the cost
of the poor. Since the 1990 annexation of the GDR, which happened
without the resistance of the people there, the process of social
cutbacks and repressive security measures has rapidly increased
and shown the following characteristics:
1. The development of full flexibility of working
hours to maximise the profit interests of capital (over-time, weekend
hours, early retirement, etc.).
2. Cuts in the social sector (unemployment pay and
welfare, frequently based on racist principles).
3. Cuts in funding for culture, education, and health.
4. The closing of facilities in the social sector
(youth centres, cuts in educational facilities, budget cuts and
or the elimination of
funding, the privatization of public swimming pools).
5. Mass layoffs and increasing unemployment, accompanied
by the disqualification of work.
6. Price increases in general but above all in all
public services (public transportation, telecommunications, etc),
and simultaneous reduction of wages.
In addition, in the new Länder (former East Germany),
unemployment is twice as high as in the West, the wages and pensions
are smaller although the costs of living are equally as high, housing
and real estate are being returned to former owners in the West,
and above all the situation for women (esp. single mothers) continues
to get worse.
Among people from the former East, the rates of unemployment
and the number of people on welfare are the highest in the country.
Although most of the population of the East supported the 1990 unification,
which in fact more closely resembled an annexation, in the hopes
that they would benefit from the new social system, these hopes
have long since given way to reservation and disappointment. The
possibility of a 'third way' outside of capitalism or state-socialism"
was already gone by 1990, when the population oriented themselves
towards capitalist structures; a solution to the current problems
has to be formulated and realized in a new way.
The radical undogmatic left was still active in social
debates in the first half of the 80s. Since then, the notion has
engagement in such discussions is 'reformist'. Most
of those of the radical left had little in common with the daily
life of the normal population. Since 1996, however, the radical
left has taken an interest in social conflicts beyond their own
sphere, despite the fact that there is little correspondence between
the content of their politics and the actual ongoing strikes and
A few words about us:
We are the Committee for International Solidarity
from the group FelS (For a leftist current). We understand ourselves
as internationalist and would like to set up contacts beyond our
national borders. Towards this end, within the next one to two years
we would like to network with other left radical groups in Europe
and become informed from a leftist perspective about the social
situation in other countries, given that we are all fighting the
same basic problems. It is rare that we hear news from other countries
and of the radical left's efforts there. And such news usually comes
to us distorted through the bourgeois press.
The situation of the left in Germany since 1989:
In the 80s the undogmatic radical left movement had
a relatively prominent presence and was active in various social
conflicts (the anti-nuclear power movement, the squatters movement,
anti-militarism and against NATO, against various government programs).
Often several thousand people were mobilised for mass demos, and
the movement had an impact socially as well as in the media.
Since the successful mobilisation against the IMF
in 1987 (a week of actions and a demo of 50,000), there has been
a slow decline of the movement. The falling of the wall in 1989
furthered the crisis of the undogmatic radical left movement , even
though real existing socialism was never a point of reference. Since
the social conditions have changed radically since 1989, it is evident
that the old politics are outdated and can no longer be successful.
The undogmatic radical left movement in Germany in
the 80s was largely a subcultural youth movement that located itself
'outside of society'. As long as a social democratic integrative
model dominated in Germany, the movement functioned as a provocation
to the system. But given the rise of neo-liberalism in Germany since
the mid to late 80s, in which large groups are shut out of society,
the self-marginalization of the radical left no longer functions
as a provocation but instead fits all too well into the new social
model. Since the fall of the wall and the annexation of the GDR,
aggressive German nationalism is on the rise and has brought about
a wave of fascist and racist acts. In the early to mid 90s, 1,500
fascist and racist offences were counted per year, and the number
of anti-Semitic acts has increased 50 percent. Since 1990 there
have been 150 fascist and racist murders, and the number of organised
right extremists in Germany exceeds 65,000.
At the same time, laws regarding immigration and asylum
have changed in such a way that asylum has been de facto eliminated
and Germany no longer follows international agreements. These new
policies have been supported by not only the right-conservative
parties (the Christian democratic CDU and CSU, and their liberal
coalition partner, the FDP), but also the social democratic party,
SPD. In the first years the police and politicians took no measures
against the rise in racist attacks and organised right extremist
and neofascist propaganda. In the wake of such far-right mobilisation,
the government was able to pass new laws restricting immigration
and asylum. Only with international pressure have political measures
been taken against fascist structures starting in 1994, but even
then, Nazi groups were notified weeks in advance that they would
be outlawed, thereby giving them enough time to reorganise and survive.
Only a broad anti-fascist movement committed to opposing
Nazis and racists, if necessary with violence, was able to prevent
such groups from dominating the streets and neighbourhoods. Open
fascist attacks are, as a result, limited to a few towns and neighbourhoods,
and many Nazi groups have had to resort to clandestine and terrorist
actions. The situation is now perhaps less threatening physically
and psychologically since there are more regions dominated by leftists,
but this does not mean that the situation is less dangerous. In
'95-'96 the organised right has restructured itself. Newspapers
serve to bridge the divided structures of the right scene, and serve
as a communication forum to unite diverse groups and to allow racist
and fascist ideas to be further propagated among the population,
for example among youth centres. Music, computer games and comics
also belong to the propaganda tools of the organised right. So in
1997 and early 1998 there was another rise in fascist and nazi-activities
and the election-results for extreme right-wing parties. In 1997
there were more fascist crimes (including propaganda-crimes, the
svastika or other nazi-symbols are still forbidden by law in Germany)
carried out then in any year since the end of WWII. The fascist
DVU (German Population Union) recently won nearly 13% in the regional
elections of Sachsen-Anhalt (the regional capital is Magdeburg).
The DVU won the votes by massive propaganda with the
slogan "criminal foreigners out!", the same sentence that the social
democratic candidate to chancelor for the general elections in september
1998 is repeating on every pre-election-meeting. From the ruling
CDU and CSU to the supposed social -democratic opposition SPD, every
bourgeois party is using racist and xenophobic tunes for its electoral
propaganda. Today the left faces the problem that a large portion
of the population is open to racist and fascist ideology, and that
esp. youths exhibit racist behaviour that is part of a widespread
right-extremist subculture in which offensive and violent actions
against immigrants and refugees have become the norm. The homeless
and handicapped are also increasingly targets of such attacks.
Racism on the part of the state has increased rather
than decreased since the new immigration laws were enacted. In particular,
criminal law, which German police tend to enjoy, are being questioned.
Refugees and immigrants are being beaten and tortured. Amnesty International
has established that in the last few years there has been an increase
of torture and abuse of immigrants by the German police; this is
no longer a matter of 'isolated incidents'.
On the whole, a reactionary-fascist body of thought
and understanding of history has become a social norm. One example
of this is the Berlin monument 'Neue Wache' ('New Watchkeep'), which
was originally supposed to be a memorial to the victims of fascism.
This memorial now reads as a reminder of the 'victims of war and
the reign of violence', thereby representing the perpetrators as
victims. Wreaths for Wehrmacht soldiers lie next to those for concentration
camp victims--this is German history as it is imagined today.
The authoritarian tendencies of the German state are
also evident in the increasing attacks of the police and the courts
on journalists and the media. In the last few years many offices
of newspapers have been searched, in many cases because they have
printed declarations from armed resistance organisations-- a practice
that is in most countries considered very normal.
Mass obstruction of journalist work, including threats
and physical force, and even physical injury (for example a journalist
in Hamburg suffered a broken tailbone) are not uncommon. The committee
on journalism for the media union (IG Medien) counted over 20 such
cases in 1994 and determined a trend of increasing incidents. For
example, the photographer Oliver Neß was severely injured
by the police two years ago, intentionally. In 1996 the journal
'radikal' was criminalised and several people were arrested and
are awaiting trial. In 1997 the Berlin weekly 'Interim' was criminalised
and at least 10 collective houses were searched.
What is our situation as a left radical group in
The group FelS arose out of discussions and debates
about the 'Autonomen' movement and its politics that took place
in 1991 in the Berlin weekly 'Interim'. The debates concerned a
critique of the 'Autonomen', but for most it was clear that such
critique by no means meant a frustrated departure from left radical
At this point we will outline a few of our points
of critique so that our politics will become clearer. We have now
developed our own political project, so the critique isn't as fundemental
as it was when we formed the group.
- Among the 'Autonomen', a rejection of all formal
organisational structures led to an informal hierarchical structure
democratic decisions impossible. Decisions were not
made at open meetings or general assemblies, but through informal
'scene' structures. The informal nature of such processes was not
only undemocratic, but it was also impossible to critique or to
- The communication structures of the Autonomen were
also mostly informal (through bars, parties, and private visits)
and as such were open only for the 'initiated' with the proper habits
and spare time. Those with stressful and time-consuming jobs were
not able to participate, and for example those with children were
also de facto excluded. We view this as undemocratic.
- Most of the political structures and discussions
of the Autonomen are unbinding. As a result, it is not possible
to develope a continuous, common basis for left radical politics.
Because there is no forum for a binding discussion, critique has
no way of being incorporated. This means that left radical politics
cannot develop further and improve, and it also is very unsatisfying
for individual members; mistakes are repeated again and again.
- Theory has changed in nature among the Autonomen:
rather than being a description of social relations and the development
of possibilities for intervention in the given relations, it has
become a mere description of the machinations of the enemy. Whoever
has closed off the possibilities for practice, and thus cannot discuss
strategy anymore, for them all that remains are the technical details.
- The Autonomen movement takes account of the enemy
only in their offensive actions. Attacking the enemy at his strongest
point will rarely lead to success. Even in such cases of success,
they are usually observed with disinterest and are not viewed from
the outside as a success.
- The Autonomen movement lacks a sense of history.
The knowledge of the history and experience of leftist struggles
and movements is not understood as a fundamental prerequisite for
ones own politics. For this reason, no 'collective memory' exists,
and each time we begin again at null. What remains is only the possibility
of repressing experience or learning on the individual level from
- The concept of a 'single issue' movement (in relation
to a social conflict such as for example nuclear energy) with the
goal of coming to a constant and grounded politics that takes into
consideration the larger social parameters has shown only failure.
Campaigns should be the result of strategic discussion, and not
its replacement. A political movement has to formulate an analysis
that considers the social whole, and this must be done with continuous
dialog in a public sphere (in so far as repressive measures allow)
that is accessible not only to the group itself but seeks dialog
with other groups as well. From this analysis, the recognised conditions
must determine the means that are necessary and the main emphases
- The Autonomen are more a subcultural ghetto than
a political movement; their fixation on themselves hinders others
who potentially would be interested in left radical politics from
becoming part of a movement that requires of them a particular lifestyle.
- Because many groups are unapproachable, they rarely
enter the public sphere, and rarely write down the results of their
discussions and the goals of their politics, the politics of the
Autonomen are hardly able to be communicated to the outside (although
in this respect esp. many antifa groups have made a change).
The necessity of building a new political project
outside the Autonomen groups became apparent to us, a project modelled
on our own sense of politics but directed toward people outside
the immediate 'scene'. We formed the group FelS towards the end
of 1991, and we oriented our politics at least in part on the basis
of our critique of the Autonomen.
>From the beginning the group strived for uniting
theory and practice with a perspective of the big picture, rather
than limiting our work to isolated issues. At first we concerned
ourselves with theory and organised seminars.
Back then the topics that interested us were debates
around different organisational-political experiences in the FRG,
but also in other countries. We reflected on the meaning of culture
and (liberation) pedagogy , and we took a critical look at 'real
existing socialism'-- esp. the GDR--, thereby developing our first
practical experiences through discussions and through our work with
FelS has now been around seven years. We have several
committees working on different projects and on various topics (antifa/anti-racist
work, social/work issues, culture); we put out the magazine ARRANCA!;
and we have organised a local community center in Berlin Friedrichshain
(Zielona Gòra in Grünbergerstr. 73), one of the poorest
neighbourhoods in Berlin; and we are involved in various local,
regional and nation-wide coalitions. In practice we have from the
beginning seen the social arena as being of central importance,
and we tried to organise practical intervention; this failed however.
In 1992 we began ARRANCA!, which appears every 3-4 months with a
central topic that we think is important for the new constitution
of the left. Past topics have been: organisation, learning processes,
media, militancy, a recapitulation of the left, real socialism,
sexuality and gender, neoliberalism, restructuration and city planning,
repression and "Germany". With a circulation of about 3, 500 ARRANCA!
is the most widely sold left-radical magazine in Germany and is
also available in Switzerland, Austria, Holland and Luxembourg.
In 1992 FelS developed a political practice in the
area of anti-fascism and supported two initiatives for a nation-wide
organising effort. We first organized the Initiative for Leftist
Organising, taking advantage of the interest in ARRANCA: This group
ultimately failed because rather than striving for a new organisation
of the left, the purpose was more to warm-up left over concepts
and strategies. Next we concentrated our organisational work on
the AA/BO (Antifascist Action/ Bundes-wide Organisation). We left
the AA/BO in 1995 because the work of the other groups did not meet
the goal of opening up to issues beyond anti-fascism, and because
pragmatic currents that had little interest in discussion of content
but instead were focussed primarily on the quantity of actions were
becoming increasingly more important in the organization.. We also
found working together with some of the other groups impossible
because they held Stalinist positions. In 1994 we were very involved
in a campaign for the freedom of 9 anti-fascists and the warrants
for 4 others, who had been accused of murder in conjunction with
an attack on a gathering of fascists in which a functionary of a
nazi party died. One of our own members also faced the state's persecution
in connection with this event. After one and a half years the warrant
for her arrest has been dropped and we are happy to have her with
At this time, that is in 1995, FelS consisted of the
committees working on ARRANCA! and on antifascism. The committee
on antifascism extended its work also to include anti-racism. It
worked with vietnamese people threatened with deportation and is
now participating in a campaign to support rights of undocumented
At the end of 1995 a Committee for International Solidarity
developed, namely the authors of this letter. One of our first actions
was support for the campaign for Benjamin Ramos Vega, a Catalonian
being held under arrest in Berlin and accused of supporting the
Basque liberation group ETA. Then we set up contacts in Mexico and
organized an ongoing exchage with the collective and magazine La
Guillotina. But the international solidarity committee dissolved
in early 1998 and we now carry out international solidarity work
in all the committees and as a whole.
In 1996 our Committee on Social Issues was formed
and works on topics such as cuts in the social sector, work related
issues, unemployment, welfare, European unification, etc. The committee
took part in a Berlin coaltition against cuts and exclusionary mechanisms
in the social system, and helped to organise demos and actions.
At the high point of this movement, 30,000 took part in demos. Unfortunately
the momentum necessary to unite individual interests into a general
movement was lacking, and the coalition fell apart. Actually the
committee is organizing a congress about fordism, postfordism, work,
guaranteed income ecc. in march 1999 (see web-page).
In early 1998 a committee called culture club was
formed, that aims at developing a cultural intervention. But they
are still discussing their (self-)definition. In addition, FelS
has participated in various co-ordination efforts and coalitions
dealing with other issues as well, including international meetings
and exchanges (primarily in the Basque Countries, Italy and Mexico).
We also actively took part in the Zapatista conference.
In 1996 we decided to devote more energy to anchoring
our work in an East Berlin neighbourhood. To this end we opened
a community centre in Berlin Friedrichshain in early 1997as a meeting
place for social, political and cultural activities. Various discussions,
meetings, film viewing, and parties take place there, and information
is available there for those resisting the draft.
The purpose of this community centre is to provide
us with a particular location for our political and social work,
and to make leftist politics and daily life visible to the people.
With the help of the centre and the infrastructure that it offers
us, as well as with ARRANCA!, we are making a concrete effort to
realise our project. The various committees in FelS aim at creating
a practice in the neighbourhood. They meet once a week, delegates
of the committees meet also once a week and there is a general meeting
for all members of all committees once a months. We believe strongly
in this organisational structure because in order to develop a social
alternative it is necessary that those working in different areas
come together. At the general meetings, central and strategic discussions
take place and relevant decisions are made, whereby the individual
committees weigh importantly. Our experience on a small scale in
FelS has proven valuable in moving from one field of practice to
another. Other groups have fallen apart on this point in the past.
Currently FelS is working on the following issues in addition to
our work in the neighbourhood and organizing seminars:
-campaigns against fascist publishers (Antifa Committee)
- campaign to support the rights of undocumented immigrants and
a caravan for their rights - see web-page (Antifa Committee)
- fordism, postfordism, work, guaranteed income, unpaid work etc.
for preparing the congress - see web-page (Committee for Social
Issues) international contacts-- with you? (all of us)
- an issue on the congress-themes to be published in dec. '98/jan.
'99. (ARRANCA! Committee)
The group numbers about 45 at the moment with more
or less equal numbers of men and women between the ages 19-35, among
them students, unemployed and working.
Why are we writing all of this, and what do we want
In the first place we are interested in an exchange
with you about your practice as leftists in your own countries,
your views on social relations, and your estimation about perspectives
for left politics. In the last two years we have been showing films
in our centre made by left and alternative filmmakers and dealing
with various topics esp. from others countries. We have had visitors
from Mexico and have discussed with others who do solidarity work
with other countries. All this has happened rather unsystematically,
and without previous knowledge of the political situation in the
other countries, and without any in-depth exchange with leftist
movements in other countries. The only continuous exchange we have
at the moment is with leftists and the media in Italy, with Basque
leftists and Mexico.
We would like to extend our contacts. This means in
practice that we would like to work through information we get from
abroad in discussions, slide-shows, films, exhibitions or articles,
and we would like to exchange visits. If you are interested, contact
us and send your ideas. We would also appreciate any info material
and tips for further contacts to other leftist groups.
c/o Schwarze Risse