Sascha, an activist and a member of TOP-Berlin, talked to Neil Laker from Solidarity.
TOP Berlin was founded in 2006 as part of the counter-mobilisation to the G8 in Heiligendamm. TOP stands for Theorie-Organisation-Praxis. We are part of the ums Ganze-Bündnis, a collective of groups across Germany and Austria. At an international level we are part of a Beyond Europe.
We produce a newspaper called Straßen aus Zucker [Streets of Sugar]. We are active in various campaigns, anti-fascist work and the student movement. Politically, we are the child a group called Kritik und Praxis, which was part of the anti-Deutsche/antifa/anti-capitalist scene. We see ourselves as anti-national anti-authoritarian communists. There are different perspectives on strategy within the group, but broadly we ourselves are not a party. We see that the struggle must be organised in the streets and in organisations which are not part of parliament and the bourgeois state, but outside of it. Whoever you vote for, capitalism will still be intact at the end. What perhaps differs us from more anarchist movements is that we think an ongoing structure is needed. There has to be a continuous organisation for a continuous struggle. We cannot move to a communist society through affinity groups and housing projects alone.
Within this vision, what about the classic subject of Marxist politics, the working class?
Of course we are rooted in the workers’ movement to an extent, but we are the offspring of ‘68 and the antifa movement, which practised communist ideals in an era of defeat for the working class. But importantly, although this antifa tradition didn’t have a base in factories, the political project is ums Ganze: for the whole. We have some collaboration with Amazon warehouse workers across Germany, which is informing our thinking about tactics, worker action and work in contemporary capitalism.
How about the issue of labelling yourselves ‘communist’ in East Germany?
[Laughs – we are holding the conversation in a courtyard behind the old Stasi headquarters in Berlin-Lichtenberg]
We are anti-Stalinist and we foreground that in our propaganda and educational work. We are an enemy of the Tankies. We draw inspiration from the left-communist movement and the anti-authoritarian elements of the ‘68 movement. The Stalinists won precisely because they suppressed the left wing of the movement.
But we don’t want to hide that our basic idea – that the means of production and the land should be held in common – is a communist one. We work to show that this has nothing to do with the heritage of dictatorship and the DDR [East Germany]. We must be clear that we haven’t won communism – yet. In Germany now there is hardly anyone who call themselves communist. [Parts of The Socialist Equality Party which ruled the DDR is part of Die Linke and espouses a more rigid version of Die Linke’s social democratic programme]. We want to popularise the idea that this is a legitimate political position, a radical one, but one which is known and understood without being associated with the politics of state repression.
Sound. Tell us a bit about the campaigns you are involved in?
One of the things I am proud of from our work in recent years was our intervention at the G20 in Hamburg. It was barely covered in the media, who focused on the rioting, but we blockaded the harbour. This can be an incredibly effective way of disrupting the daily functioning of capital which relies on just-in-time production. We see this as a situation in which our tactics and those of militant workers could combine.
Connected to this, there are important questions raised by digitalisation which the left needs to respond to. We successfully (for now) opposed Google who wanted to manage and develop an area in Kreuzberg as a ‘Google campus’. We said no. [For German-literate readers: see TOP’s pamphlet on this battle ‘Do the Red Thing’]. Digital monopoly power is beginning to reimagine and develop urban space in its own neoliberal, commodified and individualised image. They do this via ‘smart city’ strategies, hubs and co-working spaces, which are basically forms of rent-seeking dressed up in technological and attractive language. R&D is being outsourced to consumers, which generates rent for digital monopolies who own spaces in the city. It speeds up gentrification and raises rents across the area.
Of course in times of rising fascism and nationalism, we are still in antifa politics. We support the NIKA - Nationalismus Ist Keine Alternative Campaign. We try to oppose the ping-pong of horror between the fascists of the "new right“ such as AfD and the so-called middle of society with its policy of isolation. Antifa politics has to come from defence mode and take the offensive. Therefore we try to share our skills and support organisation and networking of new activists. But also engage in broad alliances such as #unteilbar. At the big demo in Dresden at 24th august we will organise a block where we will initiate a block with networks We’ll Come United, Tribunal “NSU-Komplex auflösen”, and antifascist, antiracist and migrant groups.
We also see the necessity of feminist politics. Neither class war nor antifascism works without it. Therefore we organised a feminist NIKA block on the 8 March 2019, international women’s fight day to strike against patriarchy, capital and fatherland. In the current debate on new class politics, we would like to point out that feminism and class are not seperate, but feminism is class war.
What about the housing question?
Our fight against Google is a leading example of how to approach this. There was a combination of neighbourhood initiatives, community and renters’ groups with the activist left and militant anarchists. We had a clear anti-gentrification politics which used the power of organised grassroots groups and the skills of anarchists into hacking and tech to promote an understanding of what Google was doing. This created a clear anti-gentrification politics. It is continuing elsewhere such as in the "Gemeinsam gegen Verdrängung und #Mietenwahnsinn" campaign to lower rents and expropriate private housing companies like Deutsche. The renters’ movement in Berlin is gaining strength – there was a demonstration of 40,000 in town in April, and 77,000 signatures were collected for a referendum for expropriating big housing companies. The pressure from the streets is already showing results. The Berlin government has been sporadically recommunalising some housing instead of selling it, and a rent cap has been put forward in parliament.
What is your perspective on Europe and the question of the EU?
This is very controversial within our group as I know it is on the British left. The EU has a contradictory character. It is of course a capitalist and neoliberal project under German hegemony. The Euro functions to underdevelop southern, peripheral economies while it advantages and supports German exports. German capital was the clear beneficiary of the debt crisis in Greece: for example, many German capitals moved into the Greek harbours which were privatised in that process. I would even say there is an imperial character to these relationships. And Germany is pushing for a further consolidation of its power within the Euro and EU framework.
On the other hand, the EU somehow represents an anti-national project, and we as opponents of nationalism acknowledge this. In fact, with the resurgence of fascism many of our comrades who were opposed to the EU readdressed the question and dropped their opposition as such. The fragmentation of Europe into stronger national states is clearly a bad thing for communists, who should be clear opponents of nationalism. That said, it is a very bad situation either way; it is not that we ‘support the EU state’. For us it is not a vehicle for emancipation. We must build bottom-up power. The only choice we have is to strengthen our organisations and anti-capitalist politics.
We continue to discuss the EU question in the Brexit context, which the German left is alert to. Personally I am very critical of Brexit, which will not lead to any shift in power, rather a consolidation of it towards the top. Pro-Brexit politics, even if dressed up in the language of left social democracy, is nationalism, and works on the basis of racist ideas.
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