In Berlin, sports, parties and griddle cakes yield to concern about war
Massive peace rally for an end to Germany sending weapons to Ukraine was held in Berlin. | JungeWelt

BERLIN – What excited Berliners most in May? Surely soccer! But the reaction was split between “Wessies” and “Ossies”!

When a second-to-last-minute goal pushed West Berlin’s legendary “Hertha” team (founded 1892) out of the “top 18” league and down into the second league, with less TV-time, less endorsements, tickets and profits, two-thirds of Berlin groaned. Then East Berlin’s “Union” (no labor union ties but once a GDR team) finally reached so close to the top in that top league (4th) that it can now compete in the European Championships. Thus huge joy, more TV time, more fans, more €€€€!

A different split divided people with a Turkish background (many have dual citizenship), with one and a half million voting at their consulates in Germany for the Turkish elections. Two-thirds, with roots in conservative, religious Anatolian villages, helped Erdogan win while in Berlin, with many professionals, exiles and Kurds, it was fifty-fifty. The vote often reflected less interest in distant politics than a protest at discrimination against those with Turkish names in job hunts, housing or in general.

On a happy note, the 25th “Carnival of Cultures” parade returned to Berlin after a 3-year COVID break. Fantastically-costumed dancers, musicians, drummers from twenty nationalities (and from disability groups) snaked, banged or shimmied through Kreuzberg, the most international borough.

Lots of color, lots of imagination, no lack of visibly well-shaped bodies (also some less well-shaped) were admired by a few 100,000 on the sunny Sunday. The parades oppose racism, hatred of foreigners, environmental destruction and barbed-wire, tear gas barricading of Europe’s outer borders.

Not just frolicking

But the weekend was not marked solely by what Germans satirize as “Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen” (“peace, joy, griddle cakes”)! The right to demonstrate peacefully is guaranteed under German law; barely-disguised fascistic marches are not just permitted but protected.

But when Palestinians applied for a Berlin rally to commemorate Naqba, the brutal expulsion of at least 750,000 Arabs from their homes and villages in 1948 and all the years since, most recently in East Jerusalem, permission was denied; “It might result in violence or anti-Israel slogans and shouts which could be construed as anti-Semitic.”

A small protest rally of Jewish Berliners, many from the Linke party, favoring Palestinian rights, was first permitted (perhaps by mistake), then brutally disrupted by the police and blamed in the media on the befriended (and peaceable) Palestinian guests, misconstruing them as hostile.

Two weeks ago Roger Waters (from the band “Pink Floyd”) gave a big concert in Berlin after failed attempts to prevent him from singing in Frankfurt and Munich based on false, malicious distortions about “a Jewish star on a pig balloon” or his use of a uniform mocking the Nazis. The attacks were really because he opposes Israeli repression of Palestinians and U.S. policies generally.

Defying the hypocrisy involved, he countered: “The elements of my performance which were questioned are quite clearly a statement in opposition to fascism, injustice, and bigotry in all its forms… My parents fought the Nazis in World War II, with my father paying the ultimate price.” The concert was sold out!

If not Roger Waters, Berlin’s new Christian Democrat-Social Democrat government could easily find other villains. Avid young adherents of the “Last Generation,” determined to confront the world about continuing destruction of air, earth and water, about climate change and suffocation under mountains of plastic rubble, used methods which angered people instead of winning them, like throwing soup at (glass-protected) masterpieces, smearing buildings or, most upsetting to many, blocking traffic by gluing their hands to the pavement, forcing cops to cut them free.

Despite their decision to switch to less anger-provoking methods, cops charged into 15 of their offices in seven states, also Berlin, hunting for evidence that they were “forming or supporting a criminal organization” (with alarming demands – like lowering speed limits and cheaper rail tickets). Were the raids inspired by Bavarian politicians intent on rescuing their “Christian” party from defeat in their October state elections or one more omen of tightening reins for rougher times ahead? Last Generation’s defiant rejoinder was: “When will they raid the lobby structures and seize the government’s fossil fuel money?”

Tensions were sharply increasing on the national level. The largest member of the governing coalition, the Social Democratic Party, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, is torn between seeming socially conscious enough to win back lost working-class support but also proving itself a faithful ally of NATO-USA policy by approving, step by step, every escalation of weaponry and warfare inUkraine.

Adding spice with Scholz is a re-awakened scandal about how, as mayor of Hamburg in 2016, he allegedly tipped off the big Warburg bank regarding its tricking the government out of tax money. Was it € 47 mill, € 169 mill – maybe far more? Scholz’ memory somehow failed him about his chats with the head of the bank, but others seem to have better memories, and evidence, which might yet force a skeleton or two out of a cozy closet. Or even a chancellor?

The Greens in the coalition are also trying to revive sagging poll results. Their rescue-the-environment exertions, which meant ending Russian oil and gas imports in favor of far more expensive liquefied gas from North America and costly switches to renewable energy heating systems in most homes are far behind schedule but also hotly attacked as inadequate, overdone or just confused.

Nor have their loudest-of-all demands for more and bigger weapons for Ukraine won them many voters. And then their Robert Habeck, who is deputy chancellor, was caught in his own little scandal when it was revealed that his pal, heading a key department job, had lovingly appointed family or friends to other rewarding jobs, with or maybe without Habeck’s knowledge. He may yet survive – to stave off coalition collapse.

The third rub-a-dub-dub man in this leaky tub, Finance Minister Lindner, is head of the smallest partner, the big-biz Free Democrats. He faces no scandals I know of thus far but is strong in black mail pressure against the other two. “Do what we demand or we quit,” he hints, while playing footsie under the table with the Christians, who hope the triple house of cards will fall apart and they can jump in as the winners, just like in Berlin. Their common goal is: “Aid the wealthy, soak the poor!”

The biggest scandal

But the biggest scandal involves a “Christian” – a privately-managed deal between European Union president Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer boss Albert Bourla to buy boatloads of anti-COVID vaccine, far too much and now wasting away, but which the EU must pay for.

Somehow neither von der Leyen. nor Bourla can find any documents regarding the trifling sum – € 1.8 billion! Or if they can they’re keeping them well hidden (or shredded). And lurking somewhere in the background is her husband, an expert somehow mysteriously involved with the vaccine market. President von der Leyen could yet land in a Belgian courtroom – or worse. But then, such folks rarely get locked up. That fate is reserved for people like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier or Julian Assange.

But, however these parties, in or out of government, may quarrel and compete, they are quite united in supporting Zelensky’s efforts – and not simply those aimed at defending his country from the Russian invasion.

The Green chair and foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, always aiming to “ruin Russia” made it clearer: “We are fighting a war against Russia…We will hit Putin where the Russian regime must be hit, not only economically and financially but in its power center.”

Olaf Scholz again, after urging all-out support for such efforts, stressed that, until victory was won,”We of the European Council must maintain bridges to the representatives of another Russia, another Belarus, and thus the perspective for a democratic, peaceful future for both countries.”

Only rare, unfriendly observers might be heard muttering about “regime change” history or earlier bridges with “peaceful futures” in places like Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan – or Maidan Square. Such cynics, or hopeless “old leftists,” unmindful of Zelensky-enthusiasm wherever he shows up, worry less about massive government corruption in Kiev than about heroization of wartime killer Stepan Bandera. When Andriy Melnyk, ambassador to Germany, was presented with a Bandera leaflet calling for the annihilation of  “Muscovites, Jews, Poles and Hungarians” and could no longer deny it he snapped: “I am not going to distance myself from it here today. And that’s that!” This was going too far and he had to be recalled from Germany, but was soon appointed Deputy Foreign Minister in Kiev – where the 23-ft heroic statue of Bandera never seems to show up in video reports on visiting dignitaries.

Other items rarely found in the media are references to happy folk like James D. Taiclet, new CEO of Lockheed Martin, whose net worth, estimated at about $360 M, is heading upwards, or Northrup Grumman’s Kathy Warden, whose annual salary already tops $36 million. Not far behind In the second row are Germany‘s armament masters, preservers of long old traditions.

While such men and women rub their hands and grin on the way to the bank (or to background wheelers and dealers like Vanguard and BlackStone), Ukraine is being wrecked, now flooded! Thousands are dying, millions are suffering and the war is already expanding, with metal and explosives beginning to fly in all directions. The old Ukrainian lady I saw in a recent video said with tears: “We want peace!” The invasion – and the killing – must be stopped! And above all the atomic war danger, ignored by too many good citizens, must be banned! Soon!

Somehow the war dangers are being ignored less in eastern Germany, where perhaps decades of contact with the Soviets, including visits and exchanges, meant that far fewer succumb to mounting campaigns of confrontation ¬¬and pressure to get more deeply involved in a war which “must end in victory,” no matter how much suffering and menace that involves.

But the party which has profited from this unexpected difference is the far-right, quasi-fascist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has soared up to 18% in national polls, tying with the Social Democrats, ahead of the Greens, while it has achieved top rating at 28% in Saxony and Thuringia and over 25% in the other three eastern, former GDR states. (It is weaker only in Berlin). And elections are looming ahead in three of them.

Reasons for the gains

These far-right gains have various causes: hard times, worsened since COVID by horrific price increases for foods and fuel, lack of affordable homes, soaring rent costs, uncertain job markets, indeed, general disappointment and worry about outlooks for their children, all nourished by distrust of the established parties and their broken promises and demeaning treatment as “poor cousins” from the start – and all augmented by growing fears of possible war.

It has been the AfD which stepped in and made points, advancing itself as the party of protest, of resistance against an “Establishment” which excluded it, and which it opposed in almost everything, even in its sharp anti-Russian development, which had it far easier in West Germany, always built on Russophobia.

It also developed local ties in sports groups, volunteer fire departments, jolly concerts, often tolerated or assisted in its violent outliers by local sheriffs, mayors, judges. And always hostile to immigrants, especially non-whites. But it favored a big army, even conscription – and low taxes for the wealthy.

And the Linke? Where was it? Valiant Linke activists put up good fights on some issues, many were active in opposing fascists. But too many, especially those who obtained official positions, had lost militancy and become, for much of the population, just one more wing of the Establishment.

Its faithful base, the devoted old-timers who had toiled to build the GDR and regretted its downfall, were dying out by the dozen and polls in East German states, which once gave the Linke over 20%, now stood at about 10%. Even in Thuringia, its stronghold, where it once triumphed with 40%, it is now trembling at 22% and has been overtaken by the most rabid AfD group in all Germany.

Except for a freak exception in western Bremen, Germany’s smallest state, where the Linke held on to its long-standing inclusion in coalition rule, the all-German level of the party, hardly 5%, threatens its further existence.

Why, why, why? From the start its pride lay in its being the “one and only party of peace.” This meant voting against sending troops, ships or warplanes to fight in Serbia, Afghanistan, Mali – or any Bundeswehr deployment outside Germany. It meant demanding that the martial, expanding NATO be replaced by a peace alignment extending from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

But over the years it was this issue above all (exacerbated by personal animosities and ambitions) which divided Linke leaders. Too many longed to become respected members of a leftish-leaning national coalition, with Social Democrats, with Greens (and with cabinet seats). The chances for that were never strong, but were non-existent unless the Linke dropped its opposition to NATO and foreign deployments.

Some, like government head Bodo Ramelow in Thuringia and Berlin city leaders, said: “After all, in politics compromises are sometimes necessary.” The left opposition in the party said: “No! Such a retreat breaks with our basic stand; that German policy, especially foreign policy, is still being determined by the same giant forces which waged World War One, built up Hitler and waged World War Two, also in unity with similar forces elsewhere and above all in the USA.

Air Force 2nd Lt. Kenneth Mantle of the Georgia Air National Guard conducts airfield security while a C-130 Hercules is unloaded May 10, 2023, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., while preparing for the exercise Air Defender 2023, led by the German air force. he largest ever in history air wars that are coming are sure to get Berliners to replace the celebrations of spring with worry about war. | Caila Arahood/U.S. Air National Guard

Compromises on these basic issues would deprive the Linke of its status as a socialist party, opposed to German imperialism, indeed of its entire meaning. They are impossible! Some daring souls even pointed to names like Krupp, Siemens, Bayer and BASF, Daimler, BMW, Allianz Insurance and Deutsche Bank and recalled the words of the socialist Karl Liebknecht in 1915, during World War One: “The main enemy is in your own country!” (Four years later, like Rosa Luxemburg, he was murdered for such radical views and actions.)

With internal dissension already dividing the Linke and detracting from street-level militancy on basic working-class issues, the war in Ukraine sent it really spinning! At last year’s party congress the “reformers” won most leadership positions and, with a 60-40 % majority, basically approved Germany’s course, joining Washington and NATO in full support of Zelensky and a continuation of the war until Putin is forced back to pre-2014 positions. It did not succeed in canceling the LINKE program point rejecting weapons shipments, but Ramelow and his friends try to forget or ignore it.

A major breaking point arrived in February, when the party’s best orator, its most popular and most controversial figure, Sahra Wagenknecht, joined with Germany’s most famous feminist, Alice Schwarzer, to frame a manifesto calling on both sides for a cease-fire and peace negotiations in Ukraine. It soon had over 750,000 signatures and led to a rally at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, which amazed friend and foe by drawing an enthusiastic crowd, most likely over 50,000.

Leadership refused to join

But, just as amazingly, or disgracefully, the Linke leadership nationally and in Berlin not only refused to join in but advised members (luckily in vain) neither to sign nor take part. Why? Like most of the media they charged that leaders of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) also supported the manifesto and the rally.

True enough, some far rightists do support Putin and oppose aid to Zelensky, also in France and elsewhere, either to oppose any and every official line, to win over pro-peace voters in East Germany, possibly even to discredit any active peace movement. Who knows? Wagenknecht and Schwarzer welcomed all people wanting peace, rejected any support from the far right, but could hardly forbid “undesirables” from adding their names to the 750,000 signing a public manifesto or from joining a huge outdoor rally.

At the latter, a small group of rightists at one far corner of the crowd were peaceably blocked off and isolated. Totally unnoticed by the giant majority, they were headlined by the hostile press and even magnified by “reformer”-Linke,” who had organized no peace rallies at all but used their ink or vocal power to distance themselves from this rally because of allegedly invasive fascists and their supposed “toleration” by the organizers. The real reason, without doubt: Such a manifesto and rally would alienate potential Green and Social Democratic partners!

Dismayed members of the Linke responded differently to the twisted opposition to this biggest peace rally in decades. Not a few, some of them prominent, simply quit the party.

There were countless angry letters to the few left or leftish periodicals. But far more dramatically, Sahra Wagenknecht raised the possibility of breaking away, of forming a new party to fight militantly for workers’ rights, for peace and a new foreign policy. A newspaper poll found surprisingly that large percentages of Linke voters, but also people from other parties, even in West Germany, even many who had switched to the AfD, might consider voting for a party with Wagenknecht.

Others, like Gregor Gysi, the party’s first leader, in fact its savior in 1989, warned that with none of the offices, resources and connections of the existing party and without even a rudimentary organization, such a break-away would almost certainly mean the demise of both old and new left parties, leaving Germany’s rulers in total, unchallenged control – with no real organized opposition.

At a meeting on May 6th in Hannover about 250 angry delegates met to debate strategy, with Wagenknecht speaking to them briefly per video. Despite many hot-headed demands for a break, there was enough realism present to put off any decision but try to establish a network of leftists genuinely opposed to German imperialism, militarism, expansion and monopoly rule. They would prioritize pressure for negotiations in Ukraine – and against any and every escalation.

There are signs that some party leaders, including both chairpersons and the two Linke caucus chairs in the Bundestag, awed by the Berlin rally and facing fears of a total, fatal split, are trying to reach some kind of truce, at least until the elections to the European Parliament a year from now.

But a decision is due earlier, quite likely at the party congress in November. And while various leftist platforms, circles and groups seek common ground while leaving the door ajar for the always mysterious Sahra Wagenknecht, who still avoids concrete plans (and said, perhaps in jest, that she might even retire from active politics), the other side has not been idle.

Deceptively call themselves “progressive”

About 40 from the “reformer” wing, deceptively calling themselves “Network of Progressive Leftists,” met on June 3 in Berlin. No doubt still alarmed by the angry response to their rebuff of the peace rally, and by reports on Wagenknecht’s popularity, their meeting was devoted to nipping all such threats in the bud.

During all the years of disagreement and quarrelling and despite bitter losses in nearly every election in east or west, these same people persistently avoided any in-depth analyses but instead blamed only “stubborn old leftists, “GDR-apologists” or “outdated Marxists” who reject coalitions, denounce NATO and currently stress peace negotiations instead of, like everybody else,  demanding the defeat of Putin’s imperialism.

As always their attacks centered on Wagenknecht with some demanding that she give up her seat in the Bundestag or that she and her backers, whom they mislabel, again deceptively, as the “left conservative camp,” should somehow be punished or excluded before the party congress.

Such extreme demands were not maintained but it was clear; the months ahead can be tough and confrontational. It is they whose hold on most leadership positions, offices, publications, websites and financial resources provide a strong position. But so many members are dissatisfied with the leaders’ lack of militancy or principles and fear further catastrophic election defeats that the tables could be turned. In which case it could be the reformers who do the quitting.

Can the party be saved? As with leftist parties in other countries, its problems are closely related to world events, above all the war in Ukraine, and to the success or failure of China, Brazil and countries of the south to defy all the warriors and move toward peace, hopefully aided by growing grassroots pressure in Europe and America.

Starting June 12th, 250 war planes from 20 countries, including F-35 jet fighters manned by 10,000 soldiers from the USA will be roaring and zooming over East German fields and forests. The largest air maneuvers in NATO history will be to “test how quickly American war planes can be deployed to Europe and to practice “the defense of NATO air space.” That explains why the maneuver is named “Air Defender 2023”. Can any sane person read this item without foreboding – and fear of where such a “defense exercise” can be leading?

How proper it would be to organize at least one or two protests, even modest ones, but with all sides of the Linke, with many groups and grouplets in the peace movement, and many, many unorganized people turning not to fear but to determination!  Yes, I know, I am an eternal optimist.

Just before sending out this article, I read that Die Linke has officially called for demonstrations against the maneuvers, and adding that the planned protest will be visible from the sky. Christine Buchholz, a member of its executive committee, writes:

“Threatening gestures against a nuclear power on the brink of a terrible war are risky and extremely dangerous. A major war would bring immeasurable suffering to large parts of the world. We stand with those who are suffering from war and its consequences all over the world. War is always part of the problem, not the solution. The Left calls for a ceasefire as soon as possible and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory. NATO’s escalation is NATO’s wrong response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its continued escalation. NATO’s aim is to strengthen its position in the face of global shifts in power. The war in Ukraine is being used by its member states as a pretext to push ahead with the militarization of politics and set in motion a new arms race.”

I also watched the latest reports from Ukraine – including today’s statement by Janine Wissler, co-chair of the Left, condemning the horrifying Dnepr dam destruction and calling for humanitarian aid and increased efforts for peace. She is evidently convinced that the Russians are to blame.

“The destruction of the Kakhovka Dam means a further escalation in a terrible war in which the Russian army continues to attack Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. With this attack, the death of thousands of civilians was at least approvingly accepted. This is a terrible war crime. The Russian army must immediately stop attacks on infrastructure and withdraw troops. What is needed now is rapid humanitarian aid. Everything must be done now to end this war as soon as possible. First of all, we need to negotiate protection zones to protect nuclear power plants, dams, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure and to prevent humanitarian, ecological and nuclear disasters.”

When will we know the truth?

Relevant quotes from the past

Here are some random older and contradictory quotations which still might be seen as relevant:

Pres. John F. Kennedy, June 10 1963 (exactly 60 years ago):

“Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy–or of a collective death-wish for the world.”

Williams J. Burns, Ambassador to Russia, now CIA-director, February 1, 2008 /secret cable):

“Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests. Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.”

Pres. William J. Clinton,  June 1, 1997 (at WestPoint):

“The bottom line to me is clear; expanding NATO will enhance our security. It is the right thing to do. We must not fail history’s challenge at this moment to build a Europe peaceful, democratic, undivided, allied with us to face the new security threats of a new century… NATO enlargement is in our national interests.”

Petition to Pres. William J. Clinton, June 26, 1997: Signed by 44 prominent retirees, including cabinet secretaries like Robert McNamara, ex-CIA boss Stansfield Turner, senators like Sam Nunn (D.) and Gordon Humphrey (R.), ambassadors, generals, governors and professors, as well as noted anti-Communists like Richard Pipes and Paul H. Nitze:

“Dear Mr. President, We, the undersigned, believe that the current U.S. led effort to expand NATO, the focus of the recent Helsinki and Paris Summits, is a policy error of historic proportions. We believe that NATO expansion will decrease allied security and unsettle European stability … will involve U.S. security guarantees to countries with serious border and national minority problems, and unevenly developed systems of democratic government…

“Russia does not now pose a threat to its western neighbors and the nations of Central and Eastern Europe are not in danger. For this reason, and the others cited above, we believe that NATO expansion is neither necessary nor desirable and that this ill-conceived policy can and should be put on hold….”

Mairead Maguire, Irish Nobel Peace Prize Winner,  July 9, 2022:

“NATO – the U.S.-dominated global war machine – whose policy is “full dominance spectrum, contrary to its claims, is not a defensive organization. Its purpose has been to act as an instrument for U.S. world domination and to prevent all challenges to U.S. hegemony.  It should have been disbanded in 1991 after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, but instead expanded into 15 new countries…

“This relentless eastward expansion of NATO during the past decade has been an existential threat to a nuclear armed Russia and the main cause of the present military conflict in Ukraine.  Russia’s military intervention into Ukraine should never have happened and the suffering inflicted upon the Ukrainian people (and Russian) has been horrific and it is right all those who have suffered so much should be helped.  However, sending arms into Ukraine only adds fuel to the fire.

Secretary of State Madeleine  Albright, February 19, 1998, Washington:

“It is the threat of the use of force and our line-up there (in Iraq) that is going to put force behind the diplomacy. But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us. I know that the American men and women in uniform are always prepared to sacrifice for freedom, democracy and the American way of life.

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Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled his U.S. Army post in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive, and became a freelance journalist and author. His latest book,  A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, the tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, the reasons for the fall of socialism, and the importance of today's struggles.