For the German left, this is a moment of reckoning

An annual socialist demonstration in Berlin was the target of police brutality. The left must unite against this unwarranted suppression and the practice of banning socialist organizations behind it

February 01, 2021 by Franziska Kleiner
Protesters holding the flag of the Free German Youth. Photo: FDJ - Revolution und Sozialismus

Every year, a demonstration at the Socialist Memorial in Berlin-Friedrichsfelde commemorates the assassination of the two great German workers’ leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in 1919.

The Free German Youth (FDJ) are a socialist youth organization founded by German anti-fascists in exile in the thirties. They were the biggest official youth organization in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The FDJ fights for peace and socialism. This year, surprisingly, unjustifiably and brutally, the police used disproportionate force to disrupt the march of thousands of people and many left-wing organizations. Part of the justification for this attack was the police claim that the FDJ is a banned organization.

In fact, the organization was only banned in the pre-unification former West Germany, and not in the former East where the march took place, and the group remains allowed.

Despite the fact that the FDJ had been marching at the demonstration under their blue and gold flag with the radiant sun at every one of these demonstrations for many years, the false claim of illegality was used as a pretense to find a reason to attack and try to stop the entire demonstration altogether. This police attack was widely reported on social media and in the press.

The origin of the illegal orders remains unclear, a subsequent investigation will determine whether the police were following directions from the Senator of the Interior of Berlin, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

This attack on the peaceful demonstration cannot be allowed to stand without a strong response and protest from the left.

This annual demonstration is the most important public manifestations of the political left in Germany. The German left must stand together against this deliberate attack intended to stigmatize and divide us.

Attempts to divide the left by the representatives of our class enemies are as old as the workers’ movement itself; that they end up coming from a so-called left government is no surprise. It is especially no surprise that they target this day of commemoration. The Luxemburg-Liebknecht commemoration receives international attention and the SPD would very much like you to forget that it is under their leadership, and with their approval and cooperation that Liebknect and Luxemburg were murdered in 1919.

Every year, tens of thousands march in the demonstration. This year, the participation was much lower as a result of the global pandemic. Though the participants were following all pandemic protocols, the police took this opportunity to attack.

The international left must stand together in solidarity to confront attacks on socialist demonstrations and to stand against the unjust banning of socialist organizations. This is a threat to the entire left. Our united goals must go beyond  protest against police brutality on this one occasion, and must be directed against the reactionary measures of the federal government to suppress and ban the left.

We must center the struggle against the bans on the FDJ and KPD imposed in 1951 and 1956. We urgently require a mass struggle on multiple fronts, legal as well as on the streets, against these fascist-motivated bans of socialist organizations. Germany must be held to account for the barbarity of these bans, that make a mockery of the promise of democracy and violate the country’s own constitution.

A protest against the banning of the KPD in the 50s. Photo: Deutsche Fotothek‎, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE via Wikimedia Commons

As the German bourgeoisie regained its footing after it’s defeat in WWII, it failed to effectively eliminate or punish the Nazis and war criminals in the country. Instead, it instigated a decades-long struggle against the remaining socialists and communists. Friedrich Wolff, a well-known lawyer, wrote that in the three major historical waves of criminal trials in the Federal Republic of Germany – against Nazis immediately after the end of the war, against communists mainly in the 1950s, against SED functionaries after the GDR joined the Federal Republic – most of the trials and convictions were against communists.

Communists had been in the frontline in the fight against fascism, and now are targeted to prevent them from interfering with the re-emergence of monopoly rule, and especially with the rearmament of West Germany. That is why they had to return to the prisons from which they had narrowly escaped after 1945. That is why they were attacked and arrested during political actions and demonstrations in the 1950s. That is why the FDJ and the KPD were banned, that is why the FDJ member Philipp Müller was shot in 1952. This dark chapter of German legal history has been covered up and forgotten.

But those “criminal excesses” that “did credit to a full-blown police state” – as leading West German politicians and officials themselves put it – must be made public both nationally and internationally. The task of an international solidarity movement must therefore be first and foremost to get to the root of the practice of banning and discriminating against left political organizations.

Our struggle must be a struggle against the FDJ and KPD bans and for the right of socialist organizations to operate legally and free of repression.