FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

German Know-Nothings Today

by

Berlin.

“I don’t know.” Those words, often repeated 160-odd years ago in the USA, earned the gang of those using them the nickname “Know Nothing Party”. Those were no expressions of intellectual modesty; party doings were secret, so members were not supposed to disclose anything about them, but just say “I don’t know”. Their patriotic title was actually “American Party” but many members truly knew almost nothing except that they hated immigrants, especially Catholic Germans and Irish, and wanted to bar them from entry, from citizenship and from the vote. This uplifting program, including violent attacks on those fleeing famine in Ireland or repression in Germany after a lost revolution, won the “Know-Nothings” by 1856 eight state governorships, five seats in the US Senate and forty-three in the House of Representatives.

Today we are also blessed with Know-Nothings – in many countries. We hear similar views in London and Paris, in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, in Munich and Berlin. And we hear of results worse than in 1855 in Maryland or Massachusetts: of desperate misery in the “Jungle” of Calais or at the Italian-French border, of broken windows and flaming roofs in refugee hostels in more and more German towns. Such attacks, vicious graffiti, insulting hog carcasses, increasingly, Molotov cocktails as well, numbered 173 in Germany alone in the first half of 2015, almost three times the number in 2014.

No-one can deny that serious problems exist. Refugees today are not from Ireland or Germany, now one of their main goals; 160,000 applied here for asylum by June 30th and the numbers are increasing. Very many are fleeing war zones, their direct dangers and their hunger and destruction – people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Turkey, Sudan and South Sudan. Hunger and destitution play key roles for many from African countries, often paired with repression. Then there are those from Bulgaria, Rumania and the countries carved out with the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. These ”Eastern Balkan” asylum-seekers are mostly Roma (“Gypsies”), discriminated against nearly everywhere, pressed into miserable schools, largely bound to the worst of jobs or none at all, subject to hatred and often violent attacks. All the refugees want only a chance to earn a living, care for their families, return where possible or to find peaceful new homes.

Germany was often faced by waves of newcomers, not only in past centuries. Millions of ethnic Germans, forced to leave Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary after 1945, faced difficult, often frosty receptions in places where they were resettled. Then huge sums were invested to build up West Germany and workers from Spain, Italy and then Turkey were “imported” by government agreement, especially after 1961, when the Wall prevented further recruitment of East Germans. Most of these nicely titled “guest workers” were given heavy and dirty jobs, on shift work and assembly lines, and their employment helped keep wages down in Germany while lessening unemployment and political radicalization in their home countries. The program ended in 1973; almost all 14 million returned home; two million stayed, grew roots, fetched and raised families and are now in their second and third generations. But the integration process is far from concluded and was complicated in the early 1990’s by German unification – or annexation. There was nasty violence against people with different colors, clothes and languages, by West Germans but even worse by East Germans suddenly deprived of their jobs, less accustomed to many nationalities hence more easily misguided in their frustration and disappointment to attack peaceful, industrious people they were led to see as intruders.

The situation cooled somewhat after 2000. But today, with large new numbers arriving, it is again threatening, indeed very threatening. Despite some people’s theories, however, not all Germans are the same! Many feel great sympathy toward them after the terrible scenes of warfare in Syria and Iraq or the terrible tragedies of capsized vessels and lost human beings in the stormy Mediterranean. Perhaps some recalled their own travails. In addition to many who accept the newcomers with at least mental welcome mats, not a few offer food, clothing, toys and personal care to help them settle at least temporarily. Thousands, especially young people, demonstrate in their defense, march with “Welcome” signs, and defiantly confront that other contingent – the modern Know-nothings.

However, as more and more are assigned to city boroughs, small towns, even villages, as container homes are erected and even school gymnasiums get filled with cots or mattresses, it becomes easier to stir up hatred, spread fear of disease or crime and warn of dangers to schoolchildren. Public aid sums are falsely magnified to encourage envy. Donald Trump’s vicious words about Mexicans or pictures of anti-alien vigilantes in the US-Southwest can give a hint of this. But very icy fears are bor of recollections of the not so distant German past, of similar visages and bulging, shaven napes.

Among such German Know-Nothings are still the Pegida demonstrators with their “anti-Islamic” shouts and banners. Nationally more organized are those in the Alternative for Deutschland party (AfD), which recently ousted its moderately far right leader and moved even further to the racist right; the split cut its poll numbers to 3-4 %, which would at least keep it out of the Bundestag. The older National Democratic Party (NPD), no longer seated in Saxony’s legislature but very present in its main districts, has now been augmented by a newer group called the Third Way, a mix of violence-prone neo-Nazis which has spread from Bavaria to the eastern Brandenburg –  and of course Saxony.

Though small in number, they are clever in stirring fear and resentment, especially when those responsible for bringing in refugees fail to discuss and explain the move to local residents. Freital near Dresden, in GDR days a flourishing steel town, has been plagued for weeks by noisily menacing rallies led by such right-wing forces. The police hold them back from the hotel assigned to asylum-seekers, but just barely; at a public meeting those supporting the refugees were booed and denied the word, including Saxony’s Interior Minister, who as mayor in another town once took a strong stand on the issue, but more recently, like his boss at the helm in Saxony, often seems nearly tongue-tied. Freital’s mayor, on the other hand, was anything but tongue-tied during his election campaign when he demanded “sanctions against the swarming, violent asylum-seekers…adventurers coming to Germany to live a life of ease at the cost of the community”. All three politicians are from the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party of Angela Merkel.

One city councilor, a leader of the LINKE (Left) party who took a courageous stand for the refugees, awoke one night when his car exploded and burnt. Threats mailed to him had been dismissed by the police. In Meissen, to the north of Dresden, threats to a building being repaired for use by the new arrivals were similarly dismissed. It was also wrecked by fire.

German politics are again split. With a low birthrate and sinking population, new people are needed by many corporations, to whom national background is of little importance. Upright democratic words come easily to the tongue-tips of politicians – if they want them. But above all the demands of working people must be contained, and how better than, despite all doubletalk, to let them be misled into fighting not the big firms but those “greedy foreigners” – whether Greeks in Athens or Syrians in Dortmund? New laws now demonstrate this bipolarity; refugees who have lived here four to six years, if they speak German and have jobs, have better chances to remain, which is humane. But for those refugees still outside the borders it will be tougher.

Perhaps not for all of them. Qualified engineers, doctors and other desirable professionals will now have better chances, for they are needed. The right-wing Bavarian leader Horst Seehofer had a new plan, now being copied elsewhere. Sort out those from the “East Balkans” with little hopes of acceptance, keep them in gyms or tents and throw them out speedily. Only a few on the Left or some Greens have noted the possible resemblance of such “Gypsy camps” with those of the Nazis before the trains brought the Roma to Auschwitz.

No, it’s not the same. But too few realize that the wars which force so many to risk their lives in leaky death traps were caused or armed by the major western powers in Bagdad, Kabul and Aleppo, or that the poverty sending Africans along the same route derives from giant, lasting exploitation, with cheap exports of “northern“ goods destroying the livelihoods of small farmers, tailors and other craftsmen, forcing them into giant, hopeless slums and from there across the deserts to Libya, where warplanes of the great powers created the chaos conducive to today’s racketeering boat-dealers. s.

The solutions will not be easy. They demand peace and justice in the Near East, without western armies and armaments, they demand truly independent, healthy development in Africa, north and south, and fair, humane treatment of everyone living in a country, regardless of origin. No, not easy!

The old Know-Nothings in the USA, with nothing to offer voters except hatred, were soon overrun by the approaching Civil War, though the human problems still remain. In Europe, especially in Germany, the forces misusing the problems of properly treating such increasingly desperate “undesirables” represent a growing threat, far more dangerous than the old Know-Nothings, and actively awaiting their chances – in all continents.

More articles by:

Victor Grossman writes the Berlin Bulletin, which you can subscribe to for free by sending an email to: wechsler_grossman@yahoo.de.

February 22, 2018
Jeffrey Sommers
Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector
Mark Schuller
Haiti’s Latest Indignity at the Hands of Dogooders, Oxfam’s Sex Scandal
T.J. Coles
How the US Bullies North Korea, 1945-Present
Ipek S. Burnett
Rethinking Freedom in the Era of Mass Shootings
Manuel E. Yepe
Fire and Fury: More Than a Publishing Hit
Patrick Bobilin
Caught in a Trap: Being a Latino Democrat is Being in an Abusive Relationship
Laurel Krause
From Kent State to Parkland High: Will America Ever Learn?
Terry Simons
Congress and the AR-15: One NRA Stooge Too Many
George Wuerthner
Border Wall Delusions
Manuel García, Jr.
The Anthropocene’s Birthday, or the Birth-Year of Human-Accelerated Climate Change
Thomas Knapp
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Russiagate
February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail