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FelS - For a leftist current

August 1998

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 developed that

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 protests.


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 FRG?

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 politics.

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 that made

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 stop.

- 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 it.

- 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 of action.

- 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 other groups.

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 us again.

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 immigrants.

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 from you?

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
Gneisenaustr. 2a
10961 Berlin

Diskussionstexte zur Existenzgeld-Debatte
Ökonomische und soziale Situation in Berlin

FelS - Für eine linke Strömung, c/o Schwarze Risse, Gneisenaustraße 2a, 10967 Berlin