Leipzig made the national news over the weekend for all the wrong reasons. Less than a kilometre from the impressive Leipziger Weihnachtsmarkt, another reality was playing out: one that led to 69 police being injured and 23 arrests of anti-Nazi demonstrators. The local AfD were quick to jump on the riot, lamenting the violence from ‘Antifa’ (anti-fascists) that has led to numerous attacks on politicians’ offices, personal property and even Frauke Petry herself in a restaurant.
This follows a trend where opposition to the AfD in general is lumped into the ‘Antifa’ basket, labelling any and every protest as anti-democratic. In one press release, Frauke Petry even claimed that a return to the problems of the Weimar Republic needed to be remembered.
On the other hand, many news features have profiled the incredible increase of attacks on refugees, foreigners, Muslims and refugee housing, with Saxony being a ‘standout’ performer (see the infographic here). Any attempt to address the crimes of ‘right-wing extremists’ is countered with the maxim, ‘Of course we are against violence, but what about Antifa…’.
The offensive-countering by either side is reminiscent of a playground battle. Any statement which is followed by a ‘but’ can be forgotten. Blame-shifting means no responsibility to change is required by either side.
Many have come out and said violence in any form is unacceptable. Burkhard Jung (SPD Leipzig’s Lord Mayor) also issued a prompt statement claiming that criminals took the opportunity to mix with mostly peaceful protesters and that one cannot lump all the anti-Nazi protesters into one basket.
To an extent, that is correct. But the fact that bank windows were also damaged and that Connewitz has a section of housing which has been occupied by anarchists who are by definition sceptical of the state apparatus (including the implied force of a police presence) indicates that there is an ideology behind the riot. Why else would police be equipped with two armoured vehicles in addition to water canons and tear gas?
There is a profound confusion regarding this Left-Right antipathy. For instance, the National Socialists undertook a program of capital works and protectionist economic policies which could be considered as a state-supported society.
Marine Le Pen (FN) also claims to have socialist goals. The AfD have been mute regarding the first round of electoral successes in France, with Petry claiming that beyond nationalism, the two parties cannot be compared – the AfD wants to pursue a liberal economic agenda. In that sense, the National Front is closer to the Left than the AfD on the Left-Right ideological spectrum.
The fact is, that in attempting to sketch the profile of the Right and the Left, the ground rules seem to have changed. That much can be seen in the AfD picking up votes from both Die Linke and the CDU. At the same time, the New Right are making use of a ‘Quer Front’ strategy, which attracts some from the traditional Left, as evidenced in the Montagsdemo movement prior to the emergence of Pegida. Even the New Right‘s leading ‘intellectual’ Dr. Thor von Waldstein grasps at Gramscian theory to justify a cultural battle in society.
The instrumentalisation of a ‘demo culture’ could be seen as an extension of extra-parliamentary movements. The Thurigen-based AfD have also said as much: to pursue regular demonstrations in addition to parliamentary action.
It’s time to move past using problematised categories as a calling card for ‘the other side is doing it too’. Otherwise, this dialectical oppositionalism will continue to be corrosive for democracy.