Could you briefly present your group, its activities and current goals as well as your development since the first days?
TOP: As the name of our group, T.O.P. – Theorie.Organisation.Praxis, already shows, we are following three major goals:
1. Theory, which means developing and presenting a radical critique through public speeches and seminars, the Marx Autumn School, publishing publications, posters, leaflets and of course the journal “Straßen aus Zucker”, which has become quite big and important and is a project which also includes people outside our group. Recent issues have covered topics such as racist mobilizations in Germany, refugee protests, protests against the crisis and anti-capitalism in general, such as Blockupy and feminism, including the preparation for the demonstration on the 8th March.
2. Organisation means organizing our own group, which has become quite big recently and which is divided into different working-groups. At the national level we participate in the organizational processes of Ums-Ganze!, which also includes working with other alliances like Interventionistische Linke (Interventionist Left) and certain projects like Blockupy or the preparation against the ECB (European Central Bank) on the 18th of March 2015, or the feminist march on the 8th March. Last but not least, we organize at the European level, through the “Beyond Europe” network, collaboration with groups in other countries as well. This level of organization is often based on certain events like the mobilization against the WKR-Ball in Vienna (a big rightwing ball), the “Blockupy” protests against capitalism and crisis in Frankfurt or the big political-festivals organized by Alpha Kappa in Greece.
3. Praxis: Critical thinking and theoretical analysis are crucial for an adequate understanding of society. The theoretical critique of capitalism, however, must be connected with a practical critique: political action and social struggle. If we are convinced today that capitalism as a self-sufficient, unnecessary relationship of constraint must be overcome for the establishment of a humane and reasonable society, than we should develop a political action that is directed to this mission. Today, we are still experimenting with different forms of action, from our marginalized position, and we try to reflect our experiences on a strategic level.
This November Germany celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since your group is based in Berlin, how and to what extent is that experience of Mauerfall influencing your political struggles? What could you say now after 25 years of this undoubtedly decisive event, which however didn’t end the history?
TOP: The fall of the Berlin wall has to be discussed on a nationwide and even worldwide level, because it changed nearly everything. It was a real epoch-making change that ended the situation established after World War II. Our group stands in the tradition of the anti-authoritarian, autonomous left, which always saw the real-socialist states as a failed experience, and not only that, but a part of capitalist modernization under the conditions of an underdeveloped country, initiated always in situations of a war and civil war and in an anti-communist and imperialist world. So under these conditions “socialism” was right from the beginning an authoritarian project of state-capitalist industrialization and modernization with all progressive points and all horrors that production and modernization of a whole society, of “the masses”, bring about. Concerning the specific situation in Germany: in the radical left the DDR was always accepted as an outcome of National-socialism and the war which Germany had started. Without Ostalgia, the reunion was seen as the beginning of a “new” Germany that would try to follow old goals through economic means, but also with a military option, which became clear in the destabilizing politics against Yugoslavia and the resulting NATO-attacks. The case of Yugoslavia is crucial to understand the new situation: The Green Party was also involved in this kind of destabilizing politics, they were in favor of military aggression not despite, but precisely because of the German past, because of the historical experiences we had and the responsibility and burdens that arose from it, together with the typically new kind of argumentation (“we have to do it for humanist reasons” etc.).
It was also expected and feared, especially from the anti-nationalist and radical left in Germany, that after the loss of the real-socialist part of the world, the “one world” of capital would not only be declared as being “without an alternative”, but that anti-capitalist reactions would become irrational and that we would enter a worldwide period of competition between everyone and everything; a system of rackets and warlords instead of a victory of liberal democracy and growing reactionary and irrational versions of anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism like religion, right-wing populism and even open fascism and racism. And so it came to be.
For example, the German elections from last year showed (source: http://berlinwahlkarte2013.morgenpost.de/) how voting results almost follow the Mauerweg line (the western parts of the city are black colored, with the Merkel’s Christian-Democrats, the central, let’s say, more tourist parts are for the Social-Democrats and the Green Party, while the eastern parts of the city are supporting Die Linke). Is Berlin still somehow a divided city, beyond the common image of a jovial, creative, funny, multicultural and tolerant city that attracts so many?
TOP: The city is partly divided, but for example the former eastern parts – Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain – have totally changed their population and their whole habitus; they are now so gentrified that they don’t fit into a East/West schema. It is true that in the western quarters the Christian-Democrats (CDU) are strong, while in the eastern periphery it is Die LINKE; but in these eastern areas there is also a stronger fascist presence.
There are some recent studies and analysis which try to demonstrate that German reunification 25 years ago – interpreted as the extension of sovereignty of the West German capital to the eastern DDR – shows strong analogies with the current enlargement of the European Union in domains such as monetary policy within the single currency, deindustrialization, rapid privatization under Treuhandanstalt etc. This shock therapy had already been applied to East Germany in the early 90s. Is it according to you justified to talk about some sort of “internal colonization” inside the EU which aims to produce sharp divisions between North and South, East and West, center and periphery?
Moreover, it is interesting that “German model of development” still figures as the model to follow in the rest of the Europe, especially in the southern and eastern countries, even among the political agents and forces that are critical towards austerity politics and neoliberalism. Somehow, the image of an industrious, enterprising, progressive society with some elements of the Welfare state, still remaining, conquers the minds of many – some kind of a real utopia realized as “German wonder”. In other words, people (abroad) don’t get enough information regarding inequalities in German society, working conditions, exploitation of labor force, the effects of neoliberal labor reforms which introduced a large scale of precarious work with so called MiniJobs, etc. Is there really a “German wonder” or do we rather have a “German illusion”?
TOP: The actual “German wonder” is based on high productivity combined with relatively low income. Rather than the countries in crisis having “lived beyond their means” (as Germany calls it), Germany has lived under its means. That means it has used its economic strength, the unified EU-market and the common currency to compete against other economies. This works on various levels, not only by exporting commodities, but also by giving the importing countries credit-money to import German commodities, paying more and more high interest and then, when they are in debt, forcing them to pay back the credit and the debt or to accept the Troika’s conditions. This is how Germany finally won World War II: If war is the continuation of politics through different means, so economy is the continuation of war through different means. But of course it is not simply Germany against Greece or Italy, but also the ruling class & capital in Germany together with the ruling class & capital of other countries, and of course, there is also a growing gap between the rich and poor in Germany. The big problem in Germany is that there is no solidarity with the countries in crisis, especially not in the poorer part of the population. On the contrary, nearly all people in Germany say that Germany has done right – that’s why “we” are not in crisis – whilst the countries in crisis haven’t. It is hard for the radical left to show the connection here, especially to demonstrate why Germany is not in such a big crisis precisely because it profits from the crisis of the others.
It is also important to show that here in Germany as well there is neoliberalisation and financialisation of the economy and politics implemented and enforced by the Social-democratic and Green Party coalitions through policies like Agenda 2010 or Harz IV. There is also a special corporatism in Germany, which could be clearly seen during the crisis, between unions and the government. Responding to the crisis Germany has taken measures for itself (Keynesian measures for example) it did not impose or allow in other countries.
Similarly to the Yugoslavian case, we guess that German society is still not immune to a certain anti-DDR sentiment. On the other side, the phenomenon of Ostalgie (with Jugonostalgija, its Yugoslavian companion) is stuck into the memories of the idealized past. So are these two phenomenon not just a sign of the incapacity to think our future beyond capitalistic modes of production? What is your relation to the DDR past?
TOP: As we already said above, we have no Ostalgie for the past real-socialist states, but we say openly that the world hasn’t become a better place, that there was no pronounced worldwide success of liberal democracy, that instead, even the “democratic” countries have become something different (without saying that they were all good in former days), that the one world of capital is not the end of history and not the last word, and finally, that we must overcome capitalism and find an alternative. An alternative that we, perhaps for the first time in world-history, could call communism.
But also if we have no Ostalgie, we take no part in denouncing the DDR as a dictatorship. We have to remember what the western states did in the period after the war in “their” colonies, whose military dictatorships they installed and supported all over the world – in Latin and South America, in the Middle and Far East, in South Africa – while the DDR often supported the opposing side. The same goes for the post-fascist ideology with the personal continuity that happened in West-Germany after the war. Furthermore, the democratization of the western part was less an accomplishment of the official western German politics, of the state and its institutions, and more the result of the occupation forces and the movement of 68 and other social movements, often in a struggle against the German state and the post-fascist ideology.
But there is something like Westalgie, in the sense that also the western part during the period of two states and systems was something different. The competition between two states and two systems also forced the Western World to concede things such as the welfare state or good working conditions. All that was gradually dismantled after the end of the bloc-confrontation. In the West it was like there was always a socialist alternative on every negotiating table, on every level. Also, if the real-socialist world was only a farce, the empty promise of an existing alternative, the contemporary one world of real-capitalism is, in a way, without alternative.
It can be interesting to recall one figure from your radical leftist history, namely Rudi Dutschke, who in the 60s was writing that Berlin was a politically dead city missing its historical chance of mediation between the two models of society that had divided it. His idea was to build a large anti-authoritarian space (starting from the politicization of the University) and continuing through the so called long march through the institutions and weak links in the social chain. What significance can these claims have now, and what could today's left-wing agents take from those years, figures like Dutschke and the movements of the 60s, 70s?
TOP: We refer to these debates and also stand in this tradition of political praxis, because it was the beginning of a new social sequence of radical leftist critiques and politics. But the situation was far from coherent and the history is quite complex. Rudi Dutschke’s idea of a way between West and East is seen as quite suspicious because of its openness for right querfront strategies and a problematic understanding of anti-imperialism. The long march in fact was chosen by people from the student movement and the so called K-groups of the 70s: It ended in the Green Party. Ended is the right term. We see in this example how this idea ends in other countries and situations as well: in the first place there is the idea to institutionalize oneself so as to strengthen the movement, to avoid its decline, or to be its organized part. Therefore, the first step is to build a party, then go to elections, still in order to strengthen the social movement or its critique etc. The next logical step is to take responsibility, at least on a communal level, which means not only to be in opposition, but to take power in the parliament. One further step is to form coalitions with other leftist parties, take responsibility at a regional or even national level, and finally to form coalitions with everyone and take responsibility for everything and the whole world. This is exactly what the Green Party today wants: to be the better, “civil” part in all wars and in all negotiations about the world and teach them green politics.
But the first lesson of the movements of the 60s was that movements and uprisings are short-lived, they comprise only a historical moment – but there is need and desire for more, that the moment should last forever. But what is more? What is the next and also the right step? Now we are in a quite different situation: There is no such a moment like ‘68, we have to make politics in very “uncomfortable” conditions, far not only from every emancipatory revolution, but since 1979, since Iran, in an age of ongoing reactionary, religious revolutions or corresponding takeovers like in the Arab rebellions.
Historically speaking, the question of “the constitutive impossibility” for the revolution within German history is a very interesting topic, which was thematized already by Marx and Hegel (i.e. the thesis that what the French people have done in practice, Germans have done only in thought). Anyway it is a clear fact that the German unification in the 19th century under Prussian hegemony (similarly to the Italian Risorgimento) was actually not a popular revolution from below (is it then accidental that exactly these two states got stuck in Nazism/Fascism, as signs of “missed revolutions”?!). The experiences from the 1919 and thereafter the policy of the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) in the 20s and 30s give us also indicative lessons for contemporary left-wing emancipatory politics. However, apart from possible theoretical answers we would like to concentrate on some organizational issues while still having in mind this historical background (the history of defeats): what organizational form should revolutionary political forces assume today? Is it a party, which participates in parliamentary life, or heterogeneous extra-parliamentary movements? Or do we need some kind of “double strategy” and “united front”?
TOP: How to organize? This is not only a good question, but the question, and of course not only in Germany. And nobody nowhere has the answer. We don't have much expectations from the spontaneity of the masses, nor from a mass-Party or the Avant-garde. We stand in the tradition, or even continuity, of the autonomous antifa groups of the 90s, which were an outcome of the critique of the autonomous movements of the 80s. These were a reaction to the dogmatic K-Groups (communist groups) in the 70s, which tried to maintain the uprising momentum of the ‘68 student movement and overcome its fluctuating and temporary character. So we try to learn from all these experiences and achieve some kind of a compromise or a combination between the two poles, on the one side the spontaneous, un-dogmatic, antiauthoritarian, sub-cultural pole and on the other side the well organized, committed, engaged and quite “professional” pole. But the way the radical left is organized is not only an outcome of tradition and of historical experiences, but of the actual circumstances and conditions of society as well. We try to organize ourselves under the banner of a radical critique of contemporary capitalism and we prefer to maintain that claim, even if in the foreseeable future we remain a small minority. But we also try to mobilize under that banner on a wide scale and openly and work together with other leftist groups in an open and non-dogmatic way. Up till now we have been able to go step by step: constantly doing activities and organizing theory, becoming bigger as a group and as a nationwide alliance whilst making bigger coalitions with others and connecting on an international level…
To understand the context in which your movement today acts we would like to know something more about the antifascist legacy in Germany. It seems that so far the so called “confrontation with the past”, and elaboration of the sense of guilt has had a strong impact on the collective self-perception of German people since the World War II. Do you find it necessary to distinguish between different forms of anti-fascism, among which some of them can be even reactionary: let’s say there is also bourgeois, liberal anti-fascisms that are politically correct, as the politics of “common sense” and the mainstream, which should be separated from anti-capitalist anti-systemic antifascism. Or to put it as Max Horkheimer did: “Whoever doesn't want to talk about capitalism shouldn't talk about fascism”.
TOP: Yes, we should distinguish between them, although against fascism all forms and kinds of antifascist politics should work and act together – when else if not in this case? One important suspicion we always should have is that we can never be sure and safe. Where did all the masses come from when historical fascism arose and came to power? And where do all the rightwing populists and their leaders all over Europe come from? The experience is that the same democrats, the same liberals, the same “middle of the society” can become, from one day to another, especially during a crisis, totally different. Particularly in Germany it could be enough to have a small state of emergency, as in the 70s during the confrontation between the state and the “Red Army Fraction” (RAF). Another example is nowadays, in the “experience” of an external crisis of the others, which can be activated by an authoritarian ideology with the masses ready to go onto the street (if not further) against – to give an actual example – the “Islamization of the Christian occident” or against refugee housing.
Horkheimer was not only right in his sentence about the inter-connection between capitalism and fascism, Critical Theory was also right about the inter-connection between bourgeois-liberal democracy and its transformation into the contrary – if we can even place them in such an easy opposition. We have to be aware that democracy and its democrats are not in antagonism against fascism and that in crisis – not to speak about a revolutionary situation – there is no reason why they wouldn't take that option. Of course, not the historical form of fascism but authoritarian forms like we can see in Turkey, Russia, Hungary and so on, or the authoritarian elements that the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) propose in Germany.
One of the activities that you organize is MarxHerbstSchule, every autumn in Berlin. Can you give us some ideas about how this seminar functions? And since there are many readings of Marx, what approach do you take to Marx? Which aspects or interpretations of Marx’ thought would you select as especially important for your work?
TOP: The autumn school is a three day seminar with around 150 people all reading, in different groups, selected texts from Marx on a specific issue like “class” or “primitive accumulation”. The school is organized in cooperation with the Rosa-Luxemburg Foundation, Helle Panke, the association for supporting the Marx-Engels-Collection (MEGA e.V.) and the Marx-Gesellschaft. The team members initially came from this Marx-Gesellschaft, which dissolved last year. It was an important place for the so called Neue Marx-Lektüre (New Marx Reading) that started in the 60s in the German student movement with various research groups and the early works of Hans-Georg Backhaus and Helmut Reichelt, later with Nadja Rakowitz and Michael Heinrich – all of them took part in the discussions around the Marx-Gesellschaft. So the Autumn School is within this tradition and follows a close reading through a logical-categorical reconstruction, but without any attempt to hegemonize a certain reading or understanding of Marx. Ultimately there is a new generation that comes from the Capital-reading groups organized by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation; every two years there is also a Marx spring school organized by law students and a special issue around Marx and law. Besides the reading groups there is also a program for the whole weekend with a “big act” on Saturday evening, like a podium-discussion featuring an interesting figure – this year it was Dipesh Chakrabarty and Toni Negri came some years ago.
Since our group is in the tradition of the un-dogmatic, anti-authoritarian left we don’t follow a special Marx-reading or a special “Marxist” politics. We are interested in the topic of “what is critique with and after Marx” and of course we are interested in a radical critique or even in radicalizing the critique in general.
The name of your group – somehow in accordance with the title of our “Journal for theoretical practices” – contains a claim about the interdependence and inseparability of theory and practice. What is the significance, but also the limit of theory in current anti-capitalist struggles?
TOP: Yes, theory is a special and often more radical kind of practice and practice is a kind of theoretical thing as well. But also even though we have a lot of theoretical debates, we are not a reading group. The theoretical debates are about actual events going on, and are often centered around our practical engagement. And above all, we see our job mainly in organizing theory, which means organizing speeches, seminars, schools like the Marx-Autumn school, writing papers, leaflets, pamphlets and so on.
What’s your opinion about the attitude of the European left toward some conflicts that happen in other countries, like Palestine, but Ukraine also? Or the case of the Kurdish community in Kobane, which wages a hard struggle and resists not only ISIS, but also defends great social and political achievements in anti-authoritarian and anti-hierarchical autonomy, direct self-managed democracy, multiethnic and multi-religious participation, gender equality etc. Leaving behind the typical Eurocentric paternalism, where Europeans usually take the roles of moralizing helpers in some distant struggles in order to maintain the image of their own superiority, is the European left actually able and ready to learn something from the Kurdish Rojava revolution and their resistance, and to take it as their own struggle?
TOP: The situation in the three examples is quite different. In the Ukraine for example our critique and our problem, first of all, is the fact that the coverage in nearly all the media is one-sided. The position of nearly all political parties on this question (and not only in Germany) are also one-sided. So our first goal here is to get reliable information so that we can orientate ourselves in this conflict.
In the case of the Kurdish community we are of course on the side of the Kurdish resistance and we are organizing and participating in solidarity demonstrations and campaigns, together with our Kurdish comrades. This solidarity, as well as the solidarity with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), has a long history in the German radical left.
In the case of Palestine our group, like many others in Germany, has no clear, one-sided position. The solidarity with Palestine changed during the 90s for various reasons, not only because of the debates around antisemitism and the so called Anti-Germans, but also because of the struggle in Palestine itself changed and became more and more religious with no clear distinction between criticizing and fighting the Israeli military or government and all Jews in general, with even some questioning the existence of the state of Israel.
Of course we take positions on international conflicts and declare solidarity, but our main interest in the first instance is to criticize our own nation and its role in these conflicts. And we also try to get in direct contact with groups with a similar interest and similar politics. This is particularly relevant in Europe (and answers already your final question), where we try to build alliances and ultimately a network – “Beyond Europe” – with other antinational, radical leftist and non-dogmatic groups in other countries, right now especially in Greece, Italy and England. The name “Beyond Europe” already shows that, although this network for now exists at European level, our goal is to overcome “Fortress Europe”, just as the goal of our nationwide organization Ums-Ganze!, in which we are organized, is to overcome our nation and its nationalism.
Finally, we would be curious to ask with which similar leftist, anti-capitalist and antiauthoritarian groups from other countries do you collaborate? Have you had any contacts with groups or movements from ex-Yugoslavian territory in the past?
TOP: Having already talked about our European contacts, we must admit that concerning ex-Yugoslavia we mainly have contacts on a personal level only, and primarily with “expats” from ex-Yugoslavia living in Berlin…
Priredio: Saša Hrnjez