Letter to the Damned of Israel

Abraham Serfaty. Translation: Meriam Mabrouk and Joe Haynes

28 September 1982.

To my brother and sister Arab Jews, oppressed in Israel.

My brothers, my sisters, I am writing to you from the depths of a prison where I am being held as a revolutionary, in the same country from which you were chased. It is now twenty or thirty years since the lies of the Moroccan Jewish bourgeoisie pulled you into the trap that is Zionism. The discriminatory and racist politics of the majority of the Moroccan Muslim bourgeoisie did the rest, even whilst you were under the supposedly protective tutelage of the Moroccan regime, itself nothing but a feudal subjugator, reinforced by the racist brutalities of the police. Since 1961, this regime never hesitated to sell you off to Zionism.

My brothers, my sisters, I address myself to you in order to speak of your future and the future of your children. I would like to speak to you about the struggles you will have to undertake, if you have not already, to guarantee your children the justice, the peace, and the dignity that your exploiters have denied you up until the present, in your country of origin just as much as in the land of Palestine; a land which you were assured would be a happy and welcoming one for you, with a state, the state of Israel, that you were told was founded by your Jewish brothers.

Your brothers; what bitter irony! They are your oppressors. They despise you, only calling you ‘Oriental’ or ‘Sephardic’ to further deny your identity, and in their own jargon referring to you as schwartze. They deny you access to education, to skilled work, to dignity. They reduce you to workhorses for the most backbreaking of labours and to cannon fodder for their army, with their senseless, criminal dreams of domination and conquest. They refuse you even the chance to exercise the religion that our forefathers practiced for centuries. They have transformed this religion of peace, of justice, of mutual respect, into one of hate, of war, of injustice.

What a shame for the sacred memory of our forefathers! Murderers like [Menachem] Begin and [Ariel] Sharon, having their mercenaries massacre women, children, the old, in the name of Judaism. What shame; what sacrilege!


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


Begin posed as someone who would put an end to the racism and the discrimination of which you are the victims. Begin is a terrorist trained in the fascist, Hitlerian demagoguery of Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionist party: a party that can accurately be described as a Jewish variant of fascism, with which he marched in the 1930s in brownshirt, chanting ‘Germany for Hitler, Italy for Mussolini, Palestine for us!’ This fascist demagogue claims that the discrimination which you suffer is merely the result of Labour Party policy. But has racism and discrimination decreased over the five years that Begin has been in power? Has your lot improved? Quite the contrary. Has Begin’s placing in his cabinet – like a puppet – a careerist such as David Levy changed anything in your life, in your misery? Your future and that of your children remains just as impassably blocked, whilst the madness of colonisation and conquest never stops worsening, dragging you further into cycles of massacres and death. Going from a Peres to a Begin or back again will not and cannot change anything: The situation will remain thus, as long as this oppressive, racist, conquering regime persists.

Indeed, the root of the problem is not to be found in the knesset’s puppet show. It is in the racist nature of the regime that oppresses you, a nature that cannot be altered by a change of leader nor of party, but only by a radical change of the regime itself. In Israel, such a change could never come through the parliamentary way. It will be the result of struggle – of your struggle and that of all those oppressed people who are suffering under this yoke. And in your case, the first thing to do is to bring your fight to the streets.

Remember my brothers, my sisters, how the demonstrations of the Black Panthers almost twelve years ago shook the regime far more than a dozen electoral cycles would. You have expressed your anger – but without organisation, without a programme, without definite objectives. As a consequence, this historic movement was appropriated by professional politicians and thus lost to the quicksands of Israeli “democracy”: a democracy like that of Ancient Rome, in which you are the plebeians, kept in the slums and in ignorance; a democracy that for you means oppression, and for the Palestinian people, massacre; a democracy where real power is held by a barbarous military junta made up of solidly fascist generals, from Raphael Eytan, to Mordechai Gur, to Ariel Sharon. The deeper reality of this regime, founded on the racist, expansionist essence of Zionism and its organic alliance with imperialism, is that it is a forward military base for American imperialism’s domination of the entire Middle East – a military base of which the Euro-Americans, the “Ashkenazis”, are the pilots and technicians, and of which you are the workhorses and cannon fodder.

Such is the reality of this regime; such is its nature!

It is founded on a racist ideology, one which has nothing to do with the religion of our forefathers and which was rejected from the beginning by the rabbis of Europe, of America, and of the Arab countries. This ideology was only able to impose itself as a result of the capitalist Jewish bourgeoisie taking it up in the context of first Britain’s, then America’s conquests. The Zionist leaders did not hesitate to use the Nazi holocaust to drag the whole of European and American Jewry into their venture, making them, as required, the objective accomplices of the holocaust. In 1938, for example, Ben Gurion was opposed to every offer of evacuation of German Jews to England and the United States (see his 17 December 1938 letter to the Zionist General Council).

Zionism, this racist and chauvinist ideology born from the crisis of Judaism in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century in the context of European colonial expansion, is contrary to all the traditions and all the achievements of European Judaism: The same tradition that gave the world Spinoza, Einstein, Freud, and so many others.

Zionism is contrary to the glorious history, spanning more than a millennium, of Arab and Mediterranean Judaism, which was historically forged in symbiosis with Islam within the Arab civilization. The splendour of al-Andalous’ golden centuries continues, moreover, to illuminate our culture through works such as the Zohar: an expression of this symbiotic relationship that did not cease to bring its message of fraternity and justice from the bottom of the valleys to the very tops of mountains, and across the plains where our mothers and fathers laboured. Since it reaffirms the essential content of the biblical message – a universalist call for justice and human dignity – the Zohar is opposed to the distortions that the ancient Hebrew state itself introduced (for the purposes of its dominant classes), as well as to the various legacies of that same tribal fanaticism.

Today it is Zionism, this tribal and racist ideology of modern times, that exalts fanaticism. Witness how the criminal Zionist leaders and the sacrilegious rabbis, created by and in the pay of the Zionist apparatus, deform the biblical message and deny its fundamental reality – one which has, through both Christianity and Islam, won over half of humanity. That message, enriched by the Gospels and Liberation Theology, served as a clarion call for the oppressed masses of Latin America; that message which, throughout history, has been the unshakeable core around which Judaism has maintained itself, despite all persecution. Thus the sacrilegious Zionist leaders overturn the religion of our fathers, transforming it into an ideology of racial hatred and war. This ideology, and the state apparatus which upholds it, has incessantly aroused in you a hatred of our Palestinian brothers – of our Arab brothers – only in order to make cannon fodder of you, as required for their criminal, senseless projects.

Zionism, an ideology that issued from colonial Europe and that is a foreigner to the historical essence of Judaism, is above all an ideology of war and conquest. The aim of Zionist leaders – the aim of Ben Gourion, who had nothing but contempt for you and your culture – was to create a “Greater Israel” from the Nile to the Euphrates. As bloodthirsty a villain as Sharon, crazed with ambition, pushes for still more conquest, wanting to impose Israeli hegemony from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean – even into the heart of Africa! The Lebanese war, the massacre of the Lebanese and the Palestinians, the death of your brothers and of your sons who died only to satisfy the dreams of Begin, Sharon and other Zionist leaders: this entire parade of crimes and tragedies is but another phase of the insane fantasy pursued by the Zionist clique with such great perseverance for more than half a century. Every means is acceptable – lies, crimes, wars – none of which will end except by the defeat of these dangerous men and their political and military apparatus.

This ideology of war and conquest, this ideology of insane rogues, is above all a racist ideology. It is the Jewish counterpart of Hitlerism. Hitler made the Jews the least of the ‘races’ … along with Arabs. Zionism does not change this hierarchy, other than to make Jews the first of the ‘races’.

It is imperative and indeed urgent to put an end to the myths of the “Jewish people” and the “Chosen people” on which the Zionist ideology is based. These ideas, born in the tribal period of the history of the Hebrews, must be rejected in our era . Do you form one people with your oppressors? What an insult! Both the Arab Jewish and European Jewish traditions view this notion as having a purely religious content: the “Jewish people” is therein analogous to the Islamic “Ummah” or to “Christendom”. As for the idea of a “Chosen people” – whose inanity Spinoza has shown – the great Jewish thinkers of Andalusian mysticism and their Arab successors understood it as a requirement that Jews behave, wherever they find themselves, justly: thus they would encourage the advent of God’s Kingdom on earth, bringing a reign of justice and peace forall people. Today, in a time when the great religions have abandoned their pretensions of superiority over other faiths and when dialogue between believers and non-believers is finally allowed, it is time for Judaism to definitively move beyond this notion. Thus it would conform to the universal content of its own religion as well as its historical dynamic, and could thus overcome the fatal regression that Zionism has caused.

Indeed, as Martin Buber has written, “Once religious rites and dogmas have become so rigid that religious feeling is no longer able to alter them, or even comply with them, then the religion itself becomes uncreative and therefore a source of falsehood.”

Martin Buber speaks out against the ultimate mendacity of such a tendency without understanding that it is inherent to the fundamental logic of Zionism. This logic wants to reduce Judaism to the tribal mores it knew two thousand years ago, making Judaism another form of racism. It proclaims the State of Israel a “Jewish state above all”, just as Hitler proclaimed Germany “Aryan”.

In order to achieve its mythical, mad objectives, Zionism must above all erase “the Arab”. It must first of all disappear the Arab Palestinians as a people without hesitating to resort to genocide, as in the cases of Sabra and Shatilla, and indeed throughout its long and bloody history since 1948, at Deir Yassin, Qibya, and Kafr Qasim. Zionism must reduce the Arab to a sub-human, and certain ideologues are happy to justify this erasure. 

This is why Zionism, in its racist anti-Arab logic, wants to debase you too to this condition, even whilst proclaiming you as full citizens of the state of Israel as Jews. This citizenship is nothing more than the citizenship of the plebeians of ancient Rome. It is precisely here that the reality of Zionism is unveiled: you are Jews, but you are Arab Jews. Your conception of life, your culture, and even your practices of Judaism are rooted in the centuries-old past, in the lands of the Atlas Mountains, of Yemen and Iraq, which our ancestors contributed to shaping. An Arab culture that was as equally enriched by the Jewish Arab philosopher Moses Ben Maimoun as it was by the Muslim Arab philosopher Ibn Rushd; an Arab culture of the interwoven songs and dances of peasants and artisans, of Muslims and Jews, from the mountains of Yemen to the oases of Tafilalt.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel – hold your heads high! This culture, our culture, is a culture of peace and justice, of harmony with nature, of familial and social warmth, and of fraternity and dignity.

What is this so-called “culture” that your oppressors want to impose? It is a mechanism of death and hatred, a world of bunkers and shrapnel that uproots the thousand-year-old olive tree in order to displace Palestinian peasants, and that makes of you slaves of Euro-American capital and indeed as the intended victims of its military maneuvers. What is this so-called “culture”, my proud and dignified sisters, that reduces many of you to prostitution? And you, my brothers, to unemployment and the misery of slums?

Hold your heads high! Wrest your freedom and your dignity from oppression! Destroy your oppressors and build a just society, a society of peace and fraternity!

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel, I am writing to you because even in the summer of 1982 – marked by the bloody reality and murderous insanity of the Zionist political-military apparatus, culminating on Rosh Hashanah, crimson with the blood of the innocents of Sabra and Shatila – a prospect for peace nevertheless lies before you. In the face of the Camp David fraud, the road to a realistic and lasting peace lies before you, in opposition to this murderous insanity.

Such is the objective of the realistic program of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO), sole representative of the Palestinian people, as adopted in Fez[1] alongside almost all the Arab states. I must insist that this program should be viewed as the PLO conceived it, that is, as a whole with eight inseparable points. It is important not to allow yourselves to be influenced by the propaganda claiming that this program is the PLO’s first step towards a capitulation, one which would converge with the projects of Ronald Reagan, Shimon Peres, and King Hussein.[2] Those latter projects are incompatible with the raison d’être of the Palestinian revolution: to win back the homeland whilst taking into account the right to life, peace, dignity, and respect for the culture of Jews who, deceived by Zionism, settled on this land.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel: I am a revolutionary militant. I have paid enough in struggle and sacrifices to be without personal ambition, and to have acquired a certain degree of lucidity. I know that the fight is hard, and that it will be harder for many years to come. I know that I will not personally witness the victory of this struggle, which is inevitable. It is with full responsibility that I am addressing you. I do not tell you to trust the heads of Arab states, whether feudal or bourgeois, kings or emirs, generals or colonels. You know the responsibility that they bear, both those who were and those who were not at Fez – a responsibility that lies in their false independence and in racist and chauvinistic demagoguery. They forced you to leave the land of your ancestors for your current exile: No, I will not ask you to trust them.

However, I know the people of Palestine, its militants and leaders. Strengthened by half a century of suffering and struggles, rooted in the millenial culture of the Holy Land, the Palestinian people are by far the most advanced of all Arab peoples. The Zionist rulers hailing from Europe, from Ben-Gurion to Begin, wanted to tear them away from this land where Muslims, Christians, and Jews have continuously lived in fraternal harmony for thirteen centuries, the imprint of which the Palestinians bear. The Palestinian people’s leaders and organisations were forged in the fire of one of the most difficult revolutionary struggles of this century; they carry the best that humanity has built in its long, painful march towards a society of justice.

Since the Palestinian people began their revolution, which allowed them to assert themselves as a conscious people with their own organisation — the Palestine Liberation Organisation, independent of any external control and their sole legitimate representative — they have continuously reassured all Jews settled in Palestine that there is a possibility of living in peace on this land. Whilst continuing their legitimate fight to liberate Palestine, they promise Jews full respect for their democratic rights and full equality of religion and language, under the condition that they renounce Zionism, which is in its essence opposed to a just and humane solution. Since January 1969, the Palestinian people have not stopped affirming this noble objective, each time more concretely. And, since 1975, they have clarified the steps needed to achieve it.

The Fez Initiative is part of this search for a realistic and viable route to peace. Certainly, it does not require Israeli Jews to renounce Zionism for specific, concrete steps to be achieved. The Palestinian people have reaffirmed, through the voice of their leader Yasser Arafat, their determination to maintain their legitimate resistance across all of the territories occupied since June 1967, and that by all means: “nothing more, nothing less”. The Palestinian people resists occupation and colonisation, as well as the terror inflicted by the leading Zionist clique, alongside their diplomatic efforts to implement the Fez Initiative.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel! Personally, I am convinced that the Zionist rulers — Begin, Peres, and the military clique who are the true masters of the state of Israel — will by every means block such a route to peace, and will not hide it either. Nevertheless, it is the only possible path, since the Palestinian people will accept neither submission nor any other form of capitulation: they will never renounce their legitimate and inalienable right to win back a homeland that was forcibly seized from them. This path – the only path towards a just and lasting peace for both Palestinians and Israeli Jews – is contrary to the very essence of Zionism, which can only bring its unreasonable, fanatical project to fruition through the negation of the Palestinian people. Thus, the Sabra and Shatila massacre, however deranged it may seem, speaks to the objective of the barbaric and criminal Zionist leaders: to block this opening to peace, precisely because it is realistic and viable.

The path to peace is possible. However, it is only possible if you throw off the yoke of your oppressors, the yoke of the Zionist apparatus. What is Zionism for you, concretely? What has it brought to you other than evermore suffering and misery? It has killed even hope. What is Zionism concretely, if not an institutional, political and military structure that ensures – through its interpenetration with the Jewish capitalist bourgeoisie of Western Europe and the United States – the survival and strength of the Euro-American caste that oppresses you? Within this structure, Israel is linked principally with American imperialism, which itself views the country as nothing but a means of dominating the region and as an immense advanced military base – of which you are the cannon fodder.

By fighting against the political apparatus of Zionism, against Begin, Peres, and the others, and by refusing to follow its military clique in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, you will fight against the core of your oppression: you will fight both for your liberation and a future of lasting peace for you and your children in the Near East.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel! I cannot, from my prison, thousands of kilometers away from the social and political reality that you live, tell you how or through which political and social organisations, whether they exist or are yet to be created, to proceed, though I aim to follow your struggle both with heart and mind. It seems certain to me that any organisation that claims to be Zionist can only reinforce your oppression, even as it claims to do the opposite. It also appears certain to me that you must get closer, within and for this struggle, to your Palestinian Arab brothers onto whom the status of ‘Israeli citizens’ was imposed. You must refuse to take part in any acts of repression aimed at our Palestinian brothers in the occupied territories, and in any military adventures, whether they be in Lebanon or elsewhere. Undoubtedly, you must fight alongside other progressive Israeli Jews, who work courageously for a real and lasting peace, for the evacuation of all territories occupied since 1967, and protest against the bloody and criminal maneuvers of Zionist leaders.

However, I do not think that this should prevent you from simultaneously asserting yourselves specifically as Arab Jews politically, culturally, and in all areas of social and political action. Take control of your culture and your identity; they are your primary weapons of liberation! But, of course, do not let your struggle be hijacked by these opportunists who only flaunt the label of “Sephardic” to better succeed in their careers and political ambitions, whether they be unscrupulous demagogues like David Levy, bourgeois politicians like Yitzhak Navon, or corrupt rabbis like Abouhatzeira, who tarnish the names of the long line of rabbis of the people, righteous and respected.

You are Arab Jews, my brothers and sisters; you are, we are, Arabs. You are also oppressed workers, and it is alongside your fellow oppressed workers, and above all, alongside other Arab workers, that you must fight your battle – all without allowing yourselves to dissociate from your identity. On the contrary, the more you can assert your identity in this fight, the more it can be incorporated into the shared struggle with all Arab workers and the oppressed of Israel, in the shared struggle with the first victims of Zionist and racist oppression, our Palestinian brothers, and in the shared struggle with all the progressive voices of Israel. With regards to the latter in particular, one must be careful not to counter the anti-“Oriental Jewish” racism of the Zionist political military clique with a reversed, anti-“Ashkenazi” racism. The more you are able to reclaim and reassert your identity, the more you will be able to overcome the divisions and mistrust between yourselves and your brothers in oppression and struggle: all of your brothers in oppression and struggle!

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel, to say more would be presumptuous on my part. This is an appeal for militancy, for dignity, for a future of peace and justice. In a secular state of Israel – freed from Zionist oppression and racism; having evacuated from all the territories occupied since June 1967 and rectified the injustices of the 1948 colonial aggression; having rid itself of the tutelage of American imperialism and its role as aggressor against the whole Near East – you and all the citizens of this state will be able to work fraternally alongside a Palestinian state, preparing for a shared future where the Holy Land, the land of Palestine in its entirety, will become a Palestinian, democratic, secular, reunified state. It would then be a beacon of light for all humanity, and above all, for the entire Arab region — not that of kings, emirs, generals and colonels, but founded by the Arab peoples, liberated from imperialist oppression, feudal and comprador reaction, and the so-called bourgeois saviours. Thus, in this glorious land of Palestine, in which fraternal unity has been reconstructed and taken to a higher level, Arab Judaism will be able to flourish. It will exist in creative and democratic harmony with all the other Islamic and Christian components of Palestinian society – an Arab culture and a Palestinian people of tomorrow. Similarly, the distinctive culture of those European Jews that the tragedies of history have discarded onto this sacred land and who remain attached to it, will be able to assert themselves and integrate into its culture, both themselves and their descendants. And thereby, simultaneously, the spiritual home of Judaism as a religion – the objective need for which is the only explanation for the irrational attachment that so many Jews across the world have towards the state of Israel as a Jewish state – would be attained in the Holy Land.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel.

Such is the noble prospect before you. Such is the path that your vital struggle must follow.

Rise up against your oppressors, against the racist and criminal Zionist rulers!

For peace, fraternity, justice, for dignity, arise!

[1] Translators’ note: the Fes Initiative’s eight-point document is provided in the appendix.

[2] Editors’ note: History has unfortunately proven Serfaty - and the PLO majority which he was echoing - wrong on this particular claim. By abandoning the strategy that focussed on the liberation of the entirety of Palestine, the PLO opened the way for the Oslo accords, the institutionalisation of the Palestinian bourgeoisie within the structures of the Palestinian Authority, and the bantustanisation of its territory and people (see Farsakh 2005). Since this historic defeat, the Palestinian revolution has rejected this approach and returned to an approach which struggles for the liberation of the whole of historic Palestine, including in the lands colonised in 1948, and all of its people.

“For Israel and communism”?

Making sense of Germany’s Antideutsche

Leandros Fisher

As the Israeli state’s dispossession of the Palestinian people becomes more difficult to obscure by the day, the Left in one country is conspicuous in its absence from the global solidarity movement with the oppressed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. With some exceptions, the German Left largely avoids taking a stance on the conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people. In some cases, it has even joined the national pro-Israel chorus, stretching all the way to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. This attitude encompasses a diverse set of actors, from the leadership of Germany’s left reformist party, Die Linke (“The Left”), to squats such as the celebrated Rote Flora in Hamburg. This hostile attitude towards Palestinian liberation is often attributed to guilt for the Shoah and the corresponding semantic identification of Israel, Zionism, and Judaism in public discourse. A complementary explanation identifies the Antideutsche (the “anti-Germans”) as a factor in shaping the Left’s current approach to Israel. These started out as an ultra-left critique of Germany as a nation, following a wave of nationalist jingoism triggered by reunification. However, rather than criticising nationalism, today’s Antideutsche engage in an Ersatz nationalism around one particular state. Elements of this include flying the Israeli flag and wearing IDF shirts, hatred of Muslims as natural-born antisemites, not to mention a disturbing celebration of Israeli violence against Palestinians framed as “anti-fascism”.


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


There is truth in both explanations. Notwithstanding its frequent degeneration into national narcissism – for only those who can truly feel guilty about the Judeocide can be “real Germans” – the guilt is real and understandable. The accusation of antisemitism is indeed one of the most destructive weapons that can be levelled against any leftist in Germany.[1] This stems from both the unparalleled nature of crimes against European Jewry, and the German Left’s historical failure to prevent them. However, it also derives from the consciously selective policies of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (“confronting the past”) of post-war Germanelites. Reducing Nazi crimes to those against the Jews not only helped to obscure other crimes, such as the Porajamos, the genocide of Sinti and Roma communities. It also absolves the German state from any historical responsibility towards other victims of Nazi terror to this day. When, for example, in the context of German-imposed austerity, Greek politicians began raising the issue of German war debt – which Greece was coerced into “forgiving” in the late 1940s by its Western allies – politicians and tabloids decried this as a populist stunt aimed at guilt-tripping the honest German taxpayer. If Germans pledge unconditional support to the self-proclaimed “Jewish state”, then Vergangenheitsbewältigung [“overcoming the past”]is complete, so goes the implicit reasoning.

On the other hand, those who would still describe themselves as Antideutsche are shrinking politically, confined to a fringe subculture that adopts left-wing aesthetics but has politically moved markedly to the right. The Antideutsch label has become so toxic, even for many whose stances on Palestine would incur that adjective. Treating the Antideutsche, however, as a legitimate component of left pluralism for many years, has led to the mainstreaming of racist postulates within the wider Left. The Antideutsche are usually framed as the other extreme of an outdated “Marxist-Leninist” anti-imperialism, whose stances on Israel-Palestine are potentially open to anti-Semitic interpretations. The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s fellowship programme, for example, applied such an approach for years. While tolerating Antideutsch associations within the ranks of its fellows, it aimed at formulating what it called a “master narrative” centred on language. Left-wing Germans are thus given the task to understand the legitimate grievances of both Zionism and the Palestinians and to become exponents of a balanced approach towards the conflict, away from both Antideutsch and “anti-imperialist” extremes.[2] This symmetrical discourse centred on German projections and Befindlichkeiten (“sensitivities”) predictably obscures the conflict’s defining asymmetries, not to mention the German political establishment’s active role in sustaining them through extensive political, economic, and military backing of Israel. By treating them as a necessary but over-the-top corrective to an alleged antisemitism of past German anti-imperialism,[3] the mere existence of the Antideutsche has slowly but steadily shifted the entire Left’s discourse on Palestine to the right.

Yet the combination of German guilt and the Antideutsche do not by themselves explain the Left’s current Sonderweg. For two decades, support for Palestinian liberation was something uncontroversial among the German radical Left in the majority of its manifestations, and even within the SPD and the Greens.[4] Reunification brought back the “German question” with a vengeance: how could one now positively relate to Germany? Seen from this perspective, the exponential rise of the political class’s identification with Israel – which by default precludes any substantial criticism of its treatment of Palestinians – can be understood as part of the general ideology underpinning a more assertive German role in world affairs since 1990. All major political forces in Germany subscribe to this ideology. This is either because Germany must assume its perceived share  of “responsibility” in global leadership (the centrist argument), because of humanitarian-interventionist concerns (the Greens), or due to national-sovereigntist reasons (the AfD). This ideology necessarily also radiates to those forces like Die Linke, which although critical of it, ultimately wish to eventually enter a coalition government with the SPD and the Greens. Like obedience to NATO and the EU’s single currency regime, support for Israel forms part of the preconditions for joining the legitimate political game.[5] However, and like in other European countries, this support for Israel is also intimately entangled with the rise of anti-Muslim racism as a mode of projecting society’s vices – including antisemitism (equated with anti-Zionism) – into a Muslim Other.[6]

In this case, the ideological entrenchment of a pro-Israel consensus and its manifestations on the Left are also reflective of the German Left’s overall diminishing influence in a political terrain characterised by the stagnation of the labour movement on the one hand, and the corresponding hegemony of so-called “culture wars” over the public sphere on the other. However, the hypothesis that the side-lining of the Left’s socioeconomic agenda makes a pro-Israel orientation within it a foregone conclusion – as joining a coalition government forms the ultimate political horizon – is one that requires some scrutiny. For despite the radical Left’s decline, manifested by Die Linke’s increasing electoral irrelevance, Germany has witnessed massive mobilisations against the far right and in support of refugees in recent years, as well as its own reckoning around racial justice following the murder of George Floyd – both developments that indirectly challenge the social pro-Israel consensus as well as its exponents within the Left.

This intervention is not about Germany’s complex relationship to its Nazi past. It rather deals with how the German Left has historically understood antisemitism and how this has influenced its position vis-à-vis the issue of Palestine and beyond. Indeed, the Left’s positions in this regard exist in constant dialogue with hegemonic discourses, in a dialectical process of cross-fertilisation involving moments of co-option, convergence, but also rupture. However, the Left must be understood here as a relatively autonomous field structured by its own norms and values.

Specifically, when it comes to explaining the emergence of the Antideutsch phenomenon – rightfully perceived as a key, if not the key subjective factor for many German leftists’ current understanding of antisemitism – two schools of thought can be (schematically) discerned. Using mostly discourse analysis, one views the current as an initially legitimate response gone wrong to perceived antisemitic and nationalist phenomena within the German New Left.[7] Utilizing a more historical approach, another school situates the Antideutsche as a by-product of political defeat, ideological degeneration, and a shift of former left-wingers to the (far) right.[8] The Antideutsche are viewed primarily here as renegades, whose excesses are sometimes nothing but dialectical opposites to pro-Palestinian-cum-antisemitic excesses within the 1968 Left.[9] While the latter approach is considerably more solid than the former, due to its placement of the Antideutsch phenomenon in a specific historical context, it has the disadvantage of often veering towards a moralistic condemnation of the Antideutsche as “not part of the left”, implicitly leaving the defeat of 1989 and the sui generis German historical context as the only potential explanations for the emergence and subsequent resilience of the Antideutsche.

This article similarly views the post-war German Left’s perceptions of antisemitism from the standpoint of German history, as well as of the real-existing conflict between Zionist settler colonialism on the one hand and the resistance this colonialism has engendered among the Palestinians on the other. To put it otherwise, it does not treat the conflict as an irrelevant projection screen to which the German Left has nothing practical to contribute, like so many allegedly balanced but ultimately self-serving accounts of the issue do.[10] The article contends that the current hostile attitude of large parts of the German Left towards Palestinian liberation owes much to a distorted understanding of antisemitism that results to, but also stretches beyond a conflation of Jews with Israel and Zionism.

I argue that the main explanatory framework for this distorted understanding is not to be found in either the specificities of the German historical context, guilt over real or alleged antisemitic excesses of the German New Left, or the bitter experience of the 1989 defeat. Neither is it to be found in distorted readings of either Adorno’s critical theory or value-critical Marxism. Important as these variables are, they are not of determining significance. The existence of the Antideutsch phenomenon and the perceptions of antisemitism it has inspired owes much more to the (West) German Left’s sociological makeup and its general isolation from the working class after 1945.

In this context, the radical Left historically committed two mistakes. Either it dissolved the question of Nazi antisemitism entirely into a general critique of racism and colonialism; or it resorted to readings of Marxism that reduced antisemitism to its pseudo-socialist pretensions. Both one-sided explanations failed to account for the enduring dual character of antisemitism as both false anti-capitalist consciousness, as well as a phenomenon whose manifestations under capitalism are intimately linked to lineages of biologistic racism, which would be inconceivable without the formative experience of colonialism.[11]

Today, three key factors account for the enduring relevance of Antideutsch ideas within left-wing debates. First, the institutionalisation of the radical Left in the form of Die Linke, which has transformed the question of “left-wing antisemitism” into an object of public discourse, (i.e., a weapon against the Left in toto), against the backdrop of the German labour movement’s stagnation and Die Linke’s declining electoral fortunes.  Second, the mainstreaming in hegemonic discourse of individualised explanations of racism, providing Antideutsch accounts of antisemitism as an inescapable pathological disease a lease of life. Third, the triumph of allegedly progressive liberal-idealist, or “post-national” justifications for the projection of German power, in which support for Israel features as a key legitimizing cornerstone. These factors do not represent the reasons for the Antideutsche’s emergence, and they are increasingly challenged by the growing visibility of uncomfortable narratives, such as those of Palestinian Germans and non- or anti-Zionist Jews. They do, however, account for the discrepancy between the Antideutsche as a dwindling subcultural fringe phenomenon on the one hand, and their outsized influence on the wider Left on the other.

This article chronologically follows the evolution of the German Left’s perceptions of antisemitism, which eventually led to the emergence of the Antideutsch current, from the post-war Left’s emergence after 1945 to the appearance of Die Linke in the mid-2000s. Particular attention is paid to the dominant character of Maoism within the German New Left, its decline, the significance of Moishe Postone’s theorization of German fascism, as well as the role of the German autonomist movement. 

From the ruins, a new Left emerges

To say that the question of antisemitism figured prominently in the history of the German labour movement would be a gross understatement. The early labour movement and the party it brought forth, the SPD, were confronted with a resurgence of völkisch antisemitism in the Kaiserreich as well as with the resulting strategic dilemmas this resurgence brought forth. While it has become fashionable in German mainstream discourse to paint early Social Democrats and pre-1933 Communists as naïve at best, complicit at worst in the social entrenchment of the antisemitism that enabled the rise of the Nazis, the reality could not be further from the truth. The Left’s central mistake was to underestimate antisemitism as a pre-modern residual bound to disappear, an assumption in line with pre-1914 Social Democracy’s broader evolutionary belief in the inevitability of socialism, as well as the KPD’s pre-1933 underestimation of Nazism as simply another form of reactionary right-wing dictatorship.[12] The German labour movement fought antisemitism at decisive moments, recognizing it as an inherently reactionary ideology and an enemy of the workers.

Nazism, however, destroyed the entire German Left, understood here as the parties of the major labour movement, the SPD, and the KPD, as well as the various “in-between” dissident groups like the Communist Party Opposition (KPO) and the Socialist Workers’ Party (SAP) advocating a united front to stop Hitler. The Nazis did not merely destroy the labour movement by banning it and killing its leaders. They did so by co-opting its lifeworld and redirecting its sense of collective identity into a völkisch outlook. True, there was resistance, but there was no mass uprising. Plundering Europe’s resources to keep German workers from rising like in 1918 was a top priority for the Nazis. For good or for bad, liberation from fascism in Germany came on the back of the Allied armies, not from within.[13] In the critical timeframe between the collapse of the Nazi regime and the arrival of Allied armies, workers did indeed form anti-fascist committees, returning to their previous communist and social democratic allegiances. The links between big business and the horrors of Nazism were so obvious, that even a reconstituted Christian Democracy could proclaim “transcending capitalism” as its goal in its 1947 Ahlen manifesto.

Nevertheless, this hopeful period was short-lived. In the East, Stalinism became another form of compulsion, and the crushing of the 1953 workers’ uprising by Russian tanks made the German Democratic Republic’s claims of being a “workers’ and peasants’ state” appear ludicrous. In the West, de-Nazification ended in 1951 and anticommunism reigned supreme again. The KPD became increasingly isolated and was eventually outlawed in 1956. The Bonn Republic was a CDU party-state. The oppositional SPD still adhered to Marxism, but this was a losing battle. The economic miracle accompanying the expansion of a generous welfare state, made the idea of class struggle look increasingly outdated. Eventually, the SPD abandoned Marxism in its 1959 Bad Godesberg manifesto to become a broad “people’s” rather than class party.

What constituted the radical Left during this period – a movement dedicated to a fundamental critique of capitalism – was confined to an intellectual and overwhelmingly middle-class milieu at the intersections of the SPD’s left wing and the student movement, primarily the SDS: the Socialist German Student Federation. The SDS was expelled from its mother-party in the early 1960s after the latter’s abandonment of Marxism, thus evolving into the main vehicle of extra-parliamentary social opposition to the Bonn Republic. The Left rallied around a series of demands: acceptance of (but not ideological identification with) the GDR; pacifism and opposition to NATO and German rearmament; the fight against prevailing Nazi-era structures, such as the student fraternities in universities; as well as the general fight against historical amnesia. Theoretically, the Left drew heavily on writings of the Frankfurt School, such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s  Dialectic of the Enlightenment.[14] That the political resignation of Critical Theory was a major influence should come as no surprise. The elevation of critique to the highest form of subversion appealed to those enduring the suffocating climate of the Adenauer years, as did its elaborate critique of consumer society, the culture industry, as well as the correlation of antisemitism and fascist rule. For the Frankfurt School, Nazi antisemitism represented the violent return of the suppressed irrationality of a totally administered society. It did not, however, provide any explanation for the Shoah, beyond its characterisation as the epitome of civilizational collapse. For Adorno – now back at Frankfurt’s Institute for Social Research, teaching a new generation of radicals –Marxism could only recognise the Shoah “at the price of its self-mutilation”.[15] The experience of Nazi antisemitism functioned as a guiding moral principle for a New Left, which refrained from any systematic attempt at understanding its root causes.

Regarding Israel, the positions of this Left did not differ from those of its counterparts in the rest of Europe. First, Israel was viewed exclusively as the result of the Shoah, a safe haven for the now nationally re-constituted Jews. In this reading, Zionism was but a legitimate response to the horrors inflicted upon the Jews, especially given the evident failure of historical alternatives, such as communism or Bundism. Accepting it as a minimum converged with a general process of atonement for Nazi crimes. Working in Israel, for example, was part of the programme of the Protestant Church’s Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (Aktion Sühnezeichen), an organisation otherwise dedicated to sending young Germans to volunteer in countries directly victimised by Nazi rule. A mixture of ignorance, falsehoods, and colonialist racism rendered the indigenous Palestinian Arabs invisible to left-wing discourse. Second, establishing official relations with Israel was a progressive cause, as the Federal Republic withheld recognition for fear of Arab recognition of the GDR. Third, the mythology of Labor Zionism – notably thekibbutzim – appealed to those seeking an alternative between capitalism and state socialism. There was hardly any challenge to this position from the left. After all, the Soviet Union had, for its own short-term geopolitical purposes, supported the UN Partition Plan and armed the Zionist militias, effectively destroying the communist movement in Palestine.[16] That it did so by referring to a vaguely defined right to self-determination for Jews and Arabs – a policy that the GDR would also adopt – did little to untangle the conflation of Jews with Zionism within the Left’s perception.

These myths have been thoroughly deconstructed, both as regards to the circumstances of Israel’s founding,[17] as well as to the idea of Zionism’s socialist origins.[18] As for the absence of official relations, this obscured the wide-ranging military and intelligence cooperation between Bonn and Tel Aviv. The Luxemburg Agreement, where West Germany joined the international community in exchange for vital economic aid and infrastructure to Israel was pushed by Adenauer with the support of the SPD, already enjoying close relations with Ben Gurion’s Mapai party and the Histadrut Zionist trade union federation. Furthermore, Israel’s aggressive posture in the 1956 Suez War stood in contrast to American restraint and factual acceptance of the bipolar world order. The latter was anathema to German conservatives, who sought to delegitimise the GDR and overturn the new territorial status quo of German partition.  Far from viewing it with suspicion, German elites began seeing Israel as an asset in an anti-Soviet crusade.[19]

However, it can be argued that the German Left took a false position for the right reasons. It supported Israel not as a colonial settler state, but as a small benevolent and quasi-socialist endeavour, which antisemitic German elites would not recognise for anti-communist reasons. The one challenge to this thinking originated in the growing importance of anti-colonialism. Parts of SPD engaged in active solidarity with the Algerian National Liberation Front from the mid-1950s onwards.[20] The Algerian War pointed to contradictions of the Left’s stance on Israel; while France was Israel’s biggest backer at the time, Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser supported the FLN. This contradiction was not unique to the German Left. It was also shared by eminent personalities in France, notably Jean-Paul Sartre.[21] However, it pointed to a slow process that would unravel more forcefully following the 1967 War.

Image and reality of German anti-imperialism

In 1965, Bonn and Tel Aviv established official relations. This was preceded by a series of Cold War-related events, including leaked revelations of US supplies of weapons to Israel via West Germany, as well as an official visit by the GDR’s leader, Walter Ulbricht, to Cairo. As such, the Left’s demand for diplomatic relations became obsolete. The 1967 war, however, was the event that accelerated the Left’s disengagement from Israel. Two reasons were conducive to this process. First, the same detested and Nazi-infested establishment was now enchanted by the Israeli victory, seemingly the triumph of a European militarist nationalist collective over Soviet-backed Third World armies. To criticise Israeli expansionism now was primarily to condemn the hypocrisy of West German elites. Trying to balance sympathies for both Israel and Arab anti-colonialism, for example, Ulrike Meinhof[22] would attempt to square the circle by attacking the German establishment’s cynical philosemitism. Second, the influence of Maoism and the Vietnam War were making themselves felt on German campuses. China was already a prominent backer of the PLO, routinely denouncing Soviet moves towards “peaceful coexistence”, which, in the case of Israel, did not challenge the 1948 status quo. Opposing Israel primarily meant opposing an American asset in the Middle East.

Developments in the Middle East caught the SDS by surprise. The organisation’s theory review, the Neue Kritik, hosted a debate on its pages following the 1967 war. At its conference in September that year, the SDS experienced a three-way split on the issue. Many of the older cadre socialised in the SPD took a position, which was critical albeit supportive of Israel.[23] On the other hand, many younger members influenced by Maoism took a position of uncritical support to radical Arab nationalism. A Trotskyist minority expressed a stance of critical support for the Arab side. The debate was shelved to the relief of many members who felt this was a complex and awkward issue. However, the pro-Arab tilt of the SDS at large would accelerate, especially as the PLO and a new Arab Left centred on it would become more visible following the defeat of Nasserism.

In the following decade, the German radical Left would support the Palestinians in one way or another. Examples include the marxisant Young Socialists within the SPD (Jusos), the pro-Soviet German Communist Party (DKP), and the myriad Maoist K-Gruppen, all the way to theAutonomia-inspired anti-authoritarian “Spontis”.[24] Differences were mainly programmatic, reflecting allegiances to specific organisations on the ground. The K-Gruppen, for instance, leaned heavily towards the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; the Jusos developed a relationship with Fatah within the framework of the Socialist International; the DKP adopted the positions of the non-Zionist Israeli Communist Party; whereas Trotskyists had relations to the Israeli anti-Zionist group Matzpen, as well as Palestinian students from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.[25] 

Today, the Left’s conversion to radical anti-imperialism forms a constituent part of the German establishment’s narrative of discrediting the subversive elements of 1968. As in other countries, this narrative relies on separating the “positive” elements of the era – sexual liberation, the revolt against conservative elites, individual autonomy – from the “negative” ones – anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, and an anti-Zionism easily degenerating into “antisemitism”. The Left’s intentions – so the narrative – were noble, but it took a wrong turn as it ditched the pedagogical teachings of the Frankfurt School for an anti-intellectualism of the Little Red Book, which paved the way for violence, bureaucratic authoritarianism, and ultimately antisemitism. Blockbusters likeThe Baader Meinhof Complex reinforce this image in their portrayal of hedonistic German radicals training in Palestinian guerrilla camps and driven by an almost nihilistic need for violence. All this begs the question if there was an antisemitic element within the German New Left, as detractors claim, and if so, to what extent.

Like any other form of racism, antisemitism is a social phenomenon – there is no rule stating that those belonging to the radical Left are immune to it. The dominant positive conflation of Jews with Zionism was not always easy to untangle in the West German context and some degree of guilt deflection and projection was potentially involved, expressed for instance in the elevation of “anti-Zionism” to a form of political identity. Then there was, of course, the cooperation between West German urban guerrillas like the Red Army Faction (RAF) and the more “anti-authoritarian” Revolutionary Cells (RZ) - notorious for their hijacking in Entebbe and the separation of Jewish from non-Jewish hostages (Israelis, according to one hostage)[26] – with Palestinian counterparts.

Predominantly focusing on left-wing terrorism however, the hegemonic narrative on the German 1968 elevates the era’s widespread anti-imperialism and support for Palestinian liberation to concrete ideological expressions of a latent antisemitism, crypto-nationalism, or both.[27] Actual anti-Semitic incidents like the bombing of a Jewish community centre by a West Berlin radical group in 1969 are often provided as evidence. Nonetheless, what such narratives fail to mention, is that the majority of the radical Left – which was several times larger than the RAF and the RZ combined and included Palestine solidarity committees – condemned this and other similar incidents.[28]. Ultimately, the arguments of “renegades” like Gerd Koenen[29] rest on the accusation that the radical Left made common cause with organisations that wanted to kill Jews for the sake of it, an intention cleverly masked behind formulas such as “secular democratic state”. In other words, the case for an allegedly widespread “antisemitic anti-Zionism” rests on the racist assumption of dubious Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, following in the footsteps of Nazis, simply for refusing to accept a colonial fait accompli on their homeland. Although easily debunked,[30] such claims of Nazi lineages of Arab nationalism and Islamism have been popularised by none other than former Maoists with no knowledge of Arabic,[31] lending legitimacy to contemporary racist discourses.

Another problem with this reading is the Eurocentric reduction of the German Left’s position on Palestine to a purely psychological dimension. In fact, as Quinn Slobodian[32] shows, foreign students – including Palestinians – were active agents in shaping the German Left’s anticolonial and anti-imperialist outlook on a number of questions. Palestinian struggles in West Germany were not reducible to soliciting solidarity for their struggle against Israel. Large parts of Left joined civil society organisations in defending Palestinian workers from collective punishment and mass deportations, following the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich, for example.[33]

Nonetheless, the German Left’s thinking regarding the connections between antisemitism, fascism, and Zionism remained severely under-theorised, for both subjective and objective reasons. Contrary to Britain or France – one thinks of Daniel Bensaïd, Alain Krivine, or Tony Cliff – there  were hardly any prominent anti-Zionist Jews, within the German radical Left, who could explain Zionism’s appeal as a tragic consequence of the horrors of the 20th century rather than primarily as an imperialist plot directed by Washington. Remaining Jewish communities in West Germany were miniscule, composed largely of Eastern European refugees generally hostile to the Left’s agenda, for both socioeconomic and ideological reasons.

On the other hand, the dominant anti-American framing drowned out more sophisticated analyses of Israel as a colonial settler-state, such as the ones pioneered by Maxime Rodinson or Matzpen. Like in the GDR,[34] “Zionism” was attacked as simply an expansionist ideology, not as a misguided response to real-existing antisemitism. The all-determining context of the Cold War in West Germany meant that Israel’s alliance with US imperialism was the key question at stake, while the Palestinian struggle was not rarely simplistically framed as merely one of state-centred territorial national liberation, with the far more complex mechanisms of settler colonial oppression – themselves justified with the experience of European antisemitism – left largely ignored.    

The Left’s stance was so overwhelmingly contingent on a state- rather than class-centred worldview pitting nationalist movements and “objectively progressive” regimes against Western imperialism, that it was bound to unravel the moment this anti-imperialism was thrown into crisis. Nixon’s visit to China, revelations on the horrors of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, but also the bloodbath mounted against the Iranian Left following the Khomeinist counter-revolution, all resulted in a collapse of the anti-imperialist paradigm by the early 1980s.  The blindspots in this regard, however, were compounded by an even greater weakness.

The SDS’s self-dissolution in 1970 resulted from a concerted turn to class politics, which the pessimism of Adorno or the utopianism of Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm could not address. This turn was influenced by outside events – popular demonstrations against the “Emergency Laws” in the late 1960s, wildcat strikes in 1969 and a radical movement of young apprentices (Lehrlingsbewegung), as well as the 1968 general strike in France and Italy’s “hot autumn” of 1969. Such movements were less successful within the more prosperous West German capitalism. One the one hand, the new social-liberal coalition under Willy Brandt was able to co-opt many of the student movement’s demands for a democratisation of society. On the other hand, the most militant strikes, such as the 1973 strike at Ford’s Cologne plant, were led byGastarbeiter. Both the state and the trade union bureaucracy confronted these strikes with an iron fist, often deporting rebellious migrant workers under the premises of a racist migration policy.

This structural weakness of working class militancy was fertile ground for a campus-centred Maoism, which became hegemonic among the West German radical Left. This is not to say that the working class played no part in the emergence of West German Maoism; the Hamburg-based Kommunistischer Bund (KB), for instance, largely sprang up from the young apprentices’ movement.[35] But the ebbing for militant workers’ struggles from the early 1970s onwards contributed to the increasingly subcultural character of the K-Gruppen, in many ways resembling that of the Antideutsche two decades later. The K-Gruppen – notably the KPD/ML, the KBW, the KPD/AO, and the KB – had memberships numbering thousands, incidentally providing the first political socialization experience for future SPD and Green ministers, and top trade union functionaries.[36] But the discrepancy between their dominance of German universities on the one hand, and their isolation from the broader labour movement on the other, translated into their overt investment in sectarian squabbles. Each K-Gruppe laid claim to the “correct line” in light of increasingly confusing developments in China – the death of Mao, the “three worlds theory”, the downfall of the “gang of four”, and – most importantly – China’s increasing tilt towards he US and its hostility to the Soviet Union.

Dogmatic adherence to Maoist teachings and a corresponding lack of theoretical sophistication[37] enabled the prevalence of an anti-intellectual agitprop posture among the K-Gruppen. Part of this was the importation of Stalinist tropes on fascism as “the open, terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital”.[38] Another part was the dissolution of anti-fascism into a generalised opposition to capitalism and imperialism, exemplified by the slogan of that era, “USA-SA-SS”. Though framed less vulgarly, similar takes on fascism were echoed by the DKP and Stamokap-wing[39] within the SPD Left. Their theorems of GDR and Soviet origin reduced fascism to an instrument of big capital and counterpoised a cross-class “popular front” as an answer.

However lacking in sophistication and depth, these approaches must nevertheless be understood as responses to the state’s Cold War doctrine of “totalitarianism theory”. By equating Nazism with Stalinism, this doctrine served to obscure the Federal Republic’s continuities with the Hitler era. Nevertheless, Maoist-Stalinist “anti-fascism” was by default unable to explain the specificities of both Nazi antisemitism and the Shoah. Combined with the radical Left’s pessimistic outlook about the German working class, the KB in particular would develop this understanding of fascism further with its thesis of the “fascisation of state and society”. This theory argued that capitalism’s mounting contradictions in Germany would not result in a revolution, but rather in the return of fascism.[40] This was important, insofar as the main ideologues of the early Antideutsch current would mostly originate from the KB.

Pershings, punks, and historians quarrelling: the road to 1989

The Antideutsche emerged from the convergence of chronically distinct yet intimately connected dynamics. The events of the “German Autumn” of 1977 accelerated the radical Left’s decline. Faced with kidnappings and hijackings by the RAF and sympathetic Palestinians, the German state responded with an unprecedented wave of repression targeting the entire radical Left and culminating in the deaths of the RAF’s founding generation in prison. The ferocity of state repression was shocking, laying bare the radical Left’s isolation from wider society. Spontis and K-Gruppen members flocked en masse to the newly formed Green Party. Despite emerging in the context of radical anti-nuclear protests, the party was decidedly oriented towards parliamentary respectability from the start, encompassing many rural conservative milieus as well. Other “new social movements” of that time like feminism were joined in the early 1980s by a movement against the stationing of US Pershing nuclear missiles. This large-scale movement was not only backed by the Greens and the SPD’s left wing, but also by an assortment of public intellectuals, and institutions like churches. In contrast to the anti-Vietnam War movement, however, the prevailing pacifist moralism provided few openings for what remained of the revolutionary Left.

The most radical movement to emerge in the late 1970s built on preceding struggles within the sphere of social reproduction, such as those against housing speculation spearheaded by the anti-authoritarian Spontis. Inspired by the punk wave, a new movement emerged, which like the Spontis drew on Italian operaismo but was generationally younger. The Autonomen made their presence felt around 1980-81, establishing squats in Hamburg and West Berlin as protest against unaffordable rents. Other struggles included anti-nuclear and anti-NATO protests. The autonomists were much of a movement as they were a scene. In the squats and on the barricades, they nurtured close relations with the “Antiimps”, sympathisers of the RAF’s “second” and “third generation”. Their differences were of a primarily tactical nature. While both saw themselves as revolutionary currents, the Antiimps clung on to the RAF’s concept of underground struggle, whereas the autonomists had a more social-revolutionary outlook.

Another important shift of that era revolved around the growing mediatisation of the Shoah, a process originating in the United States in the context of the re-negotiation of Jewish-American identity.[41] A product of this process, the miniseries Holocaust, aired in West Germany in 1979. Its impact challenged dominant assumptions of the Judeocide’s perpetrators as exclusively composed of an inner Nazi core.The radical Left had led the most decisive struggle against the endurance of Nazi-era structures and mentalities. Now, as primetime viewers found themselves identifying with the persecuted Jewish characters of the series, the wall of denial around the Shoah characteristic of mainstream society was collapsing.

This processwould culminate in the mid-1980s during the “Historians’ Quarrel”. Mainly pitting historian Ernst Nolte – who interpreted the Holocaust as a pre-emptive strike against Bolshevik “class genocide” – against Jürgen Habermas – who correctly accused Nolte of historical revisionism – the debate focused on the question of the Shoah’s singularity.[42] The exchange was heated, as the Kohl government embarked on a neoconservative project of whitewashing German nationalism, and was understood as being tacitly supportive of Nolte’s theses. Proclaiming the impossibility of any contextualisation of the Judeocide, however, the postulate of the victorious Habermas would be gradually elevated into a national discourse in the years to come.

The Historikerstreit was the precursor to a series of discourses on the German past, played out in the 1990s, such as discussions on Daniel Goldhagen’sHitler’s Willing Executioners,[43] debates around the construction of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and others. Their cumulative effect was to gradually replace the “old German catechism”[44] of externalising responsibility to a few bad apples, with a new redemptive one centring the Shoah as the Republic’s “moral foundation”. This solidified Germany’s special responsibility for “Israel’s security”, predictably expressed in the equivalence between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. This new attitude was also contingent on the triumph of liberal-idealist framings over the realist approaches that characterised German foreign policy before 1990.[45] The former Sponti Joschka Fischer gave an apt example of this during the Kosovo War in 1999. When faced with turmoil within his Green Party for leading Germany into its first war since 1945 during the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, he famously responded by saying he didn’t only learn “never again war” but also “never again Auschwitz” and “never again fascism”.

Postone’s theory of Nazi antisemitism as “foreshortened anti-capitalism”

Radical Left reactions to Holocaust in Germany were the subject of Moishe Postone’s 1980 easyAntisemitism and National Socialism.[46] The essay retroactively became one of the Antideutsch movement’s foundational documents. In it, Postone castigated the German Left’s inability to conceptualise the specificity of Nazi antisemitism, framing the Left’s excessive anti-Zionism as guilt deflection rather than genuine concern for the Palestinians. Furthermore, Postone attempted to fill class-struggle-oriented Marxism’s perceived deficits in explaining Nazi antisemitism, by defining it as a form of “foreshortened anti-capitalism”. This was reflective of the commodity’s inherent tension between concrete use value on the one hand, and abstract exchange value on the other. For Postone, National Socialism essentially constituted a movement of the “concrete” against the quasi-mystified abstract rule of capital. For reasons of historical contingency, the “abstract” is equated with the Jews and their presence in the sphere of circulation. Auschwitz thus represented the culmination of the destruction of abstract value. Postone’s analysis was responding to serious deficits within the hegemonic Marxist traditions of West Germany regarding the nature of the Judeocide. By effectively reducing it to merely an extreme form of right-wing dictatorship by big capital, Stalinist readings of German fascism were downplaying its pseudo-revolutionary articulation in the context of a mass movement of the petty bourgeoisie.[47] By counterpoising the concrete to the abstract, Postone was alluding to Nazi propaganda’s distinction between good “productive”, and “hoarding”, i.e. financial, or “Jewish” capital.

On a narrow theoretical sense, Postone’s interpretation of the meaning of abstraction in Marx as denoting something incomprehensible, rather than a condensation of social relations not visible in money’s physical form, has been criticised as arbitrary.[48] Politically, Postone’s theory of the Nazis as foreshortened anti-capitalism was not entirely original. Even if assassinated before the Shoah was set in motion, Trotsky’s awareness of the imminent danger facing the Jews stemmed from his analysis of fascism as a specific form of counter-revolution masked as revolution, carried mainly by a petit bourgeoisie destroyed by crisis.

However, unlike Trotsky, Postone was emptying National Socialism of any concrete class content, as well as any mention of its relation to the other two relevant social forces: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Following Postone’s logic, if National Socialism’s anti-Semitic impetus stemmed from alienation in a world dominated by abstract value, then its base should have consisted of the class most alienated under capitalism, the proletariat.[49] That all this did not concern Postone, should come as no surprise given his stature as an exponent of a “value-critical” Marxism, a current that emphasises the specificity of labour under capitalism while rejecting its capacity for revolutionary change.[50][51] Finally, while the 1968 Left did negate the Shoah’s specificities, viewing it exclusively through the prism of capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism, the biologistic racism constituting its framework was indeed rooted in 19th century colonialism. Research in recent years has emphasised lineages between the Herero Genocide committed by the German Empire in Namibia between 1904 and 1908 and the Shoah, rendering a complete extrapolation of the latter from the histories of colonialism, both European and German, untenable.[52]

Postone’s framing of antisemitism as “foreshortened anti-capitalism,” responded to the Left’s difficulties in explaining the Shoah’s economic irrationality, especially following its incremental salience in public life. In doing so, his theory signalled both a break and continuity with the post-war German Left’s key tenets. It was a clear break from the economistic takes on National Socialism prevalent within West German Maoism and Stalinism. It was continuity, in the sense that here again was an interpretation of Marxism that ascribed no role to the real-existing working class. Such a strategy of “critical critique” would speak to the radical Left’s largely middle-class composition and its isolation from workers, when the Antideutsch current entered the stage in the late 1980s. It would increasingly fulfil the function of an apologia of neoliberalism, when capitalism’s contradictions began accelerating, even in prosperous Germany – first slowly in the late 1970s, then more rapidly from the 1990s onwards. Today, the influence of Antisemitism and National Socialism is visible in Antideutsch discourses. A caucus within Die Linke’s youth wing named “Shalom”, for example, defines itself as a working group against “antisemitism, anti-Zionism, anti-Americanism, and regressive anti-capitalism”.[53] Besides smearing Palestine solidarity as antisemitic, the Antideutsch reject any kind of opposition to finance capitalism, such as the Blockupy protests against the European Central Bank during the height of the Eurozone crisis, as “structurally antisemitic”. Labelling any movement from within the capitalist process as “regressive” would become an Antideutsch trademark.

The coming of a “Fourth Reich”? The Antideutsch current is born

Nevertheless, the Antideutsche as a current owe their existence to a sequence of events taking place during the subsequent decade. First, as the Intifada raged on in the late 1980s, the KB publicly withdrew its participation from a coalition of solidarity involving organisations of the radical Left ranging from the DKP to the Autonomen, citing the non-mentioning of Israel’s “right to exist” in the call. The debate between German revisionism and its discontents was being echoed within the Left, albeit in a distorted way. For the KB, denying Israel’s self-ascribed right to exist was tantamount to ignoring the historical context of its foundation, and by extension a concession to German revisionism. However, such arguments were not about supporting the Zionist viewpoint per se. One author of an intervention criticising antisemitic tendencies for example, spoke of the “internationalist duty” of supporting the Palestinian struggle.[54] It was far cry from the Antideutsche, who during the second Intifada would proclaim “tanks in Ramallah” to be the “true Antifa”. These debates originated in an overall process of critique against real-existing nationalist phenomena within the Left. Circumstantial evidence includes a Maoist K-Gruppe advocating a reunited Germany against Soviet “social imperialism”, nationalist tendencies within the early Greens, as well as imagery within the 1980s peace movement of Germans as the victims of a “nuclear Holocaust”.  

However, the cataclysmic events of reunification were the spark that would trigger the eventual unravelling of the radical Left. With the SPD and the Greens passively accepting Helmut Kohl’s assertiveness in pushing for rapid reunification, what remained of the radical Left – whether orthodox communist, autonomist, Maoist remnants like the KB, or radical Greens – converged around a coalition fittingly named “Radical Left”. The RL notably organised a large demonstration in Frankfurt under the motto Nie wieder Deutschland! (“Never again Germany!”) on 12 May 1990, as well as a congress three days later in Cologne.

Nevertheless, different perceptions of the reunification process emerged among these strange bedfellows. While one wing understood it in primarily economic terms – the wholesale privatisation of industry and the transformation of the East into a low-wage zone – another wing adopted a far more sinister perception of reunification. KB member and author Jürgen Elsässer[55] had expressed this sentiment in an essay called “Why the Left must be anti-German”.[56] It reasoned that reunified Germany, now in control of full sovereignty in foreign affairs, was on its way to becoming a Fourth Reich. It was thus necessary to support anybody opposing this process. The Antideutsch current was born, now constituted around the critical theory-oriented Bahamas magazine launched by a minority in the KB espousing the Antideutsch perspective on reunification. It is not hard here to discern, not only the pessimism of the KB’s “fascisation” thesis in this quasi-Maoist dictum of the “primary contradiction” between “Germany” and anyone “against Germany”, but also a radical makeover of the essentially liberalSonderweg thesis.

Other crucial events would ensue. The RL collapsed following disagreements around the 1991 Gulf War. Revelations had surfaced of West German firms supplying components to Iraq’s chemical weapons programme. It did not matter that this programme was actually directed against Iran, with blessings by the entire West. When Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles against Israel, some in the RL saw this as proof of the antisemitic continuities of Germany’s emerging sovereignty in global affairs. They thus wondered if this wrong war was not actually being waged for objectively good reasons. The war also witnessed the emergence of a large-scale protest movement composed of newly politicised pupils. However, this movement collapsed overnight. It wasn’t just that leftists-cum-liberals like the publicist Hans-Magnus Enzensberger were equating Saddam’s Iraq to Nazi Germany in mainstream outlets like Der Spiegel.[57]  Ostensibly left-wing commentators began likening the pupils to the Hitler Youth[58]. Nazi comparisons and the accusation of antisemitism were now being used to stifle opposition to imperialism in post-Historikerstreit Germany.

As reunification carried on, more disillusionment followed. East German workers were for economic reasons the most enthusiastic supporters of rapid reunification. The democratic-socialist gradualists of the newly formed Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), around which GDR’s declassed professionals coalesced, were quickly sidelined. When Kohl’s promises of an economic miracle failed to materialise, the government responded by scapegoating migrants in a concerted campaign, which eventually pushed the SPD to consent to a drastic rollback of asylum rights. This campaign provided legitimacy to pogroms against asylum seekers, often carried out by working class youth. Scenes like in Rostock-Lichtenhagen in the summer of 1992, where neo-Nazis attacked refugees as onlookers cheered on, functioned to discredit the “popular front”-based anti-fascist paradigm, the doctrine of both the GDR and a sizeable part of the West German Left. Fascism, it seemed, could only be confronted by the direct action of a vanguard, if the majority was now part of the fascist rabble. Quickly spreading to the old Länder, the Nazi onslaught swelled the ranks of an autonomist Antifa overnight, a process effectively obscuring the radical Left’s collapse around the same time.[59]

Antideutsche and Autonomen: A love-hate relationship

As the prophecies of a Fourth Reich remained unfulfilled as the 1990s moved on, the Antideutsch current was thrown into an existential crisis and was thus in search of a new purpose. Here, the autonomist scene offered itself as an object of activity. An enduring characteristic of the Antideutsche is to compensate for inferior numbers with provocations, overwhelmingly against the rest of the Left. Thus being “against Germany” signaled not just a rejection of nationalism but of any class-oriented Marxist analysis pointing to contradictions within German society. Now, the Antideutsche were ridiculing the autonomists’ alleged rigid political correctness and sexual puritanism in the midst of a sexual abuse scandal splitting one of Berlin’s largest Antifa groups in the late 1990s, placing themselves on the side of the accused.[60]

The incident was typical of a pattern whereby Antideutsch provocations would serve making the miniscule current relevant for the autonomist scene, paving the way for an interaction that seemed bizarre at first. The Antideutsche devoted more time to obscure renditions of critical theory or value-critical Marxism, whereas the autonomists disdained theory in favour of direct action. There were, however, undeniable similarities. Both currents did not think much of the working class. That class was reactionary because of Germans’ natural propensity to mass murder (the Antideutsche), or irrelevant because it ceased to exist, at least in the way “traditional Marxism” had envisioned it (the Autonomen). Both were furthermore engaged in an ultra-left critique of German nationalism, albeit in different ways. The Antideutsche sought inspiration in the imagery of the 1940s anti-Hitler coalition, exemplified by the morbid slogan “Do it again, bomber Harris!”.[61]

The autonomists, on the other hand, were going through their own process of ideological transformation. Already in 1991, the Revolutionary Cells – perceived to have wide-ranging sympathies among the Autonomen – had published a renunciation of anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism, following the summary execution of a group member in Damascus by the group around Carlos the Jackal.[62] In their document, the RZ also described their selection of hostages in Entebbe as antisemitic. The document furthermore signalled a break with armed struggles for national sovereignty, citing the authoritarian character of many post-colonial states, and counterpoising to them the goal of social liberation. This thinking converged effortlessly with the growing appeal of post-structuralism within progressive academia throughout the 1990s. When the last vestiges of Keynesianism were being dismantled in the early 2000s, post-operaist anti-statism and hostility to trade unions, complemented Antideutsch takes on the welfare state as the incarnation of the Volksgemeinschaft.

However, the relative convergence of the Antideutsche and the Autonomen must additionally be viewed within the context of the deeper crisis of the autonomist Antifa of the early 1990s. The SPD-Green coalition under Gerhard Schröder elected in 1998, embarked on a programme of socially modernising German capitalism. In contrast to the previous Kohl government, whose attitude to neo-Nazi violence oscillated between indifference, appeasement, and outright instrumentalisation, the Schröder government defined right-wing extremism as a problem of the highest order. This awareness was already present within the establishment since the early 1990s pogroms, driven by fears that far-right violence was tarnishing Germany’s image abroad. Now, the government was institutionalising a version of anti-fascism, manifested in community-based initiatives against the Right, as well as so-called Exit-programmes for those wishing to abandon the Nazi scene.

Nevertheless, in promoting the latter, the government was embracing an outlook whereby perpetrators were being “transformed into [victims] of a harmful addiction or internal disease induced, in all probability, by a crisis in masculinity within the white working class”.[63] Such a perspective was in full agreement with a “progressive neoliberalism”,[64] seeking to individualise racism and fascism by releasing both from any connection to social or political structures. The sanctification of former Nazis as recovering victims of something akin to an addiction served to marginalise actual victims, thereby perpetuating the racist state structures that a few years later, would hinder an effective inquiry into the murders committed against migrants by the “National Socialist Underground” neo-Nazi terror group.[65] The reduction of fascism to a pathological question of “political extremism”, on the other hand, predictably facilitated calls by conservative politicians to focus equally on “left-wing extremism”, and – following 9/11 -“Islamic extremism” . 

For the Antideutsche, this mainstreaming of anti-fascism had a contradictory effect. It appeared as if the idea of neo-Nazism and antisemitism as pathologies unrelated to dynamics of class oppression was finally going mainstream. Indeed the idea that anything could be antisemitic, and one must constantly police him/herself for any signs of Jew-hatred would be instrumental for Antideutsch ideas to spread from more radical Autonomen circles into the mainstream youth organizations of the SPD and the Greens. However, the Antideutsche were self-proclaimed enemies of “Germany” and the mainstream in general. A self-professed radicalism and group dynamics meant that new political antagonisms had to be constructed. It was 9/11, the Second Intifada, and the Iraq War, which completely shifted the Antideutsch focus from opposition to German nationalism to a vehement identification with Israel, but also US imperialism as a form of contemporary anti-fascism. A typical example was a Bahamas cover in 2003 unironically titled “Bush – The Man of Peace”, which proclaimed:

The BAHAMAS [sic] congratulates the governments of the United States of America and Great Britain and their allies […] for their swift victory over the Iraqi Baath regime. The editorial board acknowledges with relief that this first anti-fascist battle of the new century has taken a much lower toll than was feared on the Allies as well as on Iraqi civilians, especially given the particular evilness and inhumanity of the Saddam regime.[66]

For the Bahamas and other Antideutsche, Palestinian suicide bombings were evidence of a regressive culture of killing Jews for the sake of it. Paraphrasing Goldhagen, it was an “eliminatory antisemitism” in the Middle East. The peace movement was now the main enemy at home, for it was appeasing “Islamofascism” and was regressively anti-American. The fact that Germany was officially opposed to the Iraq War was proof that theSonderweg was alive and kicking.[67] The war on Iraq was supported as a necessary defence of bourgeois society’s individual liberties against collectivist cultures prone to totalitarianism.

Here again were echoes of West German Maoism. By adopting the idea that one has to line up with Western imperialism for the greater good, the Antideutsche were reminiscent of some Maoist K-Gruppen that called for strengthening NATO as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. The “apotheosis of humanitarian barbarism”[68] expressed by renegades beyond Germany such as Christopher Hitchens and the French “New Philosophers”, found its German expression in the Antideutsche, albeit in much less sophisticated form. Furthermore, accusing “the Left” of antisemitism became for the Antideutsche a way of compensating one’s own increasing political irrelevance, especially at a time when elements of a left renewal were appearing in the form of the alter-globalisation movement and discontent with both the SPD’s embrace of neoliberalism and the Greens’ abandonment of pacifism. Allies were thus sought in hegemonic discourses always eager to cast the Left as anti-Semitic. Eventually, and like Hitchens and the New Philosophers, many Antideutsche stretched their fight against the Left to its logical conclusion, freeing themselves from any association with it.

The deepening crisis of the autonomist Antifa, the autonomist disposal of anti-imperialism, the mainstreaming of a classless antifascism by the red-green coalition, as well as the ultraradical self-perceptions of both the Autonomen and the Antideutsche led to some of the former adopting the overt pro-imperialism and pro-Zionism of the latter. However, most Autonomen still regard neo-Nazi violence against migrants and non-white Germans as a real issue, whereas the Antideutsche today openly flirt with right-wing populism.[69][70] What many Autonomen did adopt, however, were Antideutsch ideas on antisemitism, such as those expressed in Postone’s essay. Theorisations of antisemitism became increasingly abstract, unrelated to actual Jews, and located within linguistic structures. Papers on “structural antisemitism” – rehashed Zionist tropes of Israel as “the Jew among the nations” – were churned out en masse, discovering linguistic homologies between antisemitism and “traditional Marxist” anti-imperialism. Micro-sociological dynamics also mattered.

For Markus  and Sebastian Haunss,[71] the pre-existing autonomist propensity for “monocasual explanations patterns” is key to understanding this overnight conversion. Whereas 1980s street-fighting autonomists had erected a mural on Hamburg’s Hafenstrasse calling for a boycott of Israel, their (far fewer) counterparts in the early 2000s were imploring Scandinavian comrades to refrain from using slogans such as “global Intifada” during protests at an EU summit in Copenhagen, for example.[72] In a moralistic anti-fascism emptied of any class content, one’s sole duty now was to be one of the “good guys”. If the Antideutsche said that Palestinians were today’s Nazis, that might sound exaggerated, but then again, who would risk being associated with any “bad guys”? More sophisticated autonomists simply refrained from talking about Palestinians, other than to explain that there were not any “emancipatory actors” to support among them.[73] The distancing of autonomism’s majority from the Antideutsche, however, was half-hearted at best, owing to the subcultural fluidity between two currents, which in many ways reflected the relationship between 1980s Autonomen and Antiimps. The Jungle World weekly newspaper expresses this condition up to this day. Formed in the mid-1990s as an Antideutsch-inspired split from an orthodox-communist daily, the paper evolved into Germany’s eminent left-libertarian outlet, covering everything from the Zapatistas to Judith Butler. It has, however, a long history of publishing Islamophobic rants, next to unconditional support for the Zionist state.[74]

Besides their subcultural affiliations with the Autonomen, another factor that goes some way in explaining the longevity of Antideutsch ideas within the contemporary German Left is the additional character of the Antideutsch movement as one of cultural critique since its inception. A prominent actor here was the publicist Günther Jacob, a former member of the KABD and KBW and co-initiator of an artistic movement in 1989 against the prevailing nationalist climate. The driving impetus for these cultural Antideutsche was disgust with what they perceived as a parochial pop nationalism creeping into the German mainstream. They correspondingly sought to confront this by exposing their readership in various music fanzines to cultural influences from abroad. However, as Hanloser notes, this “decent” subversive attitude was not without its contradictions. In discussing US hip hop, for example, Jacob criticised black separatist and antisemitic tendencies therein, describing them as elements that reunified Germans in their new national identity could probably identify with.[75] Using an abstract affirmation of “communism”, evidenced in the Antideutsch slogan Für Israel und den Kommunismus (“For Israel and communism”), as well as projecting the chauvinism of German nationalism into any kind of identity affirmation – whether coming from the oppressed or not – would thus become a hallmark of Antideutsch criticism. In the run-up to the Iraq War, such thinking enabled the construction of an opposition between the war’s alleged objectively progressive character on the one hand, and a regressive identitarianism that united Third-Worldism with German nationalists and antisemites. In discussing this cultural dimension, Hanloser is correct to identify the bourgeois antifascism of Thomas Mann as an intellectual ancestor to the Antideutsche. In contrast to Bertolt Brecht, who stressed the existence of class contradictions within German society, Mann in his US exile would flip-flop from his earlier writings, riddled withvölkisch and antisemitic undertones, to an uncritical supporter of the indiscriminate bombardment of German cities by the Allies and an exponent of the collective guilt thesis.[76]

Enter Die Linke: The debate goes mainstream

What was essentially a debate within a politically marginalised spectrum increasingly became more known in the 2000s. A significant development in this regard was the formation of Die Linke, the merger of the PDS and a trade union split from the SPD. Thus, for the first time since the banning of the KPD in West Germany in 1956, a parliamentary force left of social democracy with a following in the East and West entered the fray. Besides bringing together two essentially reformist actors, Die Linke signalled the political institutionalization of radical left currents, from Trotskyists to autonomists. Debates around Israel and Palestine that were confined within a radical milieu became politically more relevant, as the new party sought to chart its course. Hailing from the PDS’s libertarian current, for example, the former party chair, Katja Kipping could use Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire to criticise those within her party who thought the state and imperialism were still relevant, while castigating “anti-emancipatory” movements like Hezbollah and Hamas that work against peace and challenge the historical necessity of “Israel’s right to exist”.[77] Autonomist “anti-nationalism” converged with selective readings of Rosa Luxemburg, specifically her critique of nationalism, as a libertarian antidote to the “authoritarian Lenin” and his allegedly uncritical support of anti-imperialist nationalism – If imperialism did not exist, then all nationalisms were equally bad, so the reasoning. In the process of Die Linke’s parliamentary institutionalisation, Antideutsch caucuses would willingly play the role of foot soldiers for the party’s office-seeking wing. If accepting the Israel-centred German Staatsräson was precondition for joining government, then accusing the party’s left wing of “Israel-centred antisemitism” or sympathies for “regressive Islamists” was highly convenient. Like in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn,[78] scandals on “left antisemitism” would paralyse Die Linke for months, eliciting futile apologies by more radical members to avoid a potentially devastating split.[79]

Surely enough, the mainstream of Die Linke is committed to Palestinian statehood as a minimum (even if silently), while Antideutsch ideas cannot be said to be dominant. Their influence, however, is not so much a result of their strength but rather of the enormous ideological concessions of the rest of Left towards them. The historically dominant conflation of Jews, Israel, and Zionism since the 1950s, combined with sympathies of the obviously oppressed Palestinians, meant that the majority of the German Left – and this includes also large sections of the SPD and the Greens – became particularly passionate advocates of the two-state paradigm, which frames the conflict as an issue of “peace” and land, rather than justice and equality.[80] That this paradigm is still strong owes much to the inherent psychological need to balance feelings of guilt towards Israel as the substitute for Jews on the one hand, with the evident need for justice for Palestinians on the other. This is why German civil society organisations were particularly invested under the auspices of the “peace process” in 1990s Israel-Palestine. When Palestinians rejected Israeli demands of total capitulation, such as Ehud Barak’s “generous offer” in 2000, the majority of the German Left was ideologically disarmed vis-à-vis racist postulates of Palestinian “eliminatory antisemitism”. It did not adopt the Antideutsch viewpoint but did not show any active solidarity with Palestinians either.

That Antideutsch ideas are still prevalent also owes also to the fact that a generation of German leftists came of age under the influence of the debates on “left-wing antisemitism” initiated by this current. What emerged during the long period of retreat after 1990 was a Left that mystified antisemitism as something inherently distinct from – and even worse than – racism, even if it did not share the Antideutsche’s increasingly racist and pro-imperialist views. Racism was in turn understood purely in biologistic terms of one’s skin colour. Here, the Left was inadvertently echoing establishment academia, whose banishment of racism to a distant Nazi past and mainstreaming of the inherently exclusionary Fremdenfeindlichkeit (“hostility to foreigners”) as the word for actual racism has only recently become the subject of a concerted challenge.[81] For this Left socialised under the impact of the Antideutsche, but also under the growing popularisation of the Shoah in public discourse, antisemitism became simply an empty signifier denoting everything from Palestine solidarity to a “foreshortened” critique of finance capitalism.

Such a shift blended seamlessly with both the onslaught of post-structuralism after 1990. It not only reflected the radical Left’s decline after 1989, but also the long march of its post-operaist fragments through the institutions of German parliamentarism in the form of Die Linke, academia, or publishing. It was thus possible in 2018 for Missy Magazine, a queer feminist outlet with radical pretensions, to unironically run a piece on how antisemitism lurks behind every criticism of Israel.[82] Much like the case of pre-Brexit glorification of the EU’s “cosmopolitanism” as an antidote to “Little England”, this projective image of Israel is framed here as opposition to a German parochialism, notwithstanding the fact the divergence from the global left-wing consensus on Palestine makes this type of German left look increasingly parochial from the outside.

Epilogue: The end of the Antideutsche?

The Antideutsche can rightly be regarded as another episode in a long history of German petit bourgeois radicalism – familiar since the 1848 revolution – which in the light of defeat shifted from challenging to affirming the status quo. That so many key founders of the current were Maoists is not surprising. Whatever their opposing political directions – castigating imperialism or celebrating it – both Maoists and Antideutsche have conducted their struggles almost exclusively in a field of ideas cut off from the organised labour movement, with the primary aim of showing why they were right and other leftists got it wrong.[83] This isolation from the working class was not entirely the post-war German Left’s own fault but can be traced back to the particular circumstances this Left found itself in after 1945. These did not only include the trauma of Nazism, but the condition of a highly affluent consumerist society at the frontlines of the Cold War and the spectre of lacklustre “real-existing socialism” next door, as well as a working class segregated from its more militant Gastarbeiter components and hegemonised by the right-wing components of Social Democracy.

The cynical philosemitic attitude of the West German establishment, manifested in its definition of Israel and Zionism as representatives of Jews victimised by the Nazis, was not just intended to rehabilitate Germany in the eyes of the US-led “international community” but to also obscure the Federal Republic’s numerous personal and structural continuities with the Third Reich, as well as to accuse the New Left of antisemitism due to its support for the Palestinian struggle. The New Left’s key demand for a more comprehensive rather than superficial reckoning with the past was being materialised precisely at the time when it was collapsing. It was thus understandable that “antisemitism” – as an issue separated from the wider dynamics of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, and racism – would function as the code enabling the accommodation of so many former radicals to the status quo, while allowing them to retain progressive and even radical pretences. This – and not the long-lasting effects of German guilt – is the actual historical meaning of the Antideutsch current and its influence over the rest of the German Left.

However, Germany is not a static society. The superstructure on which the Antideutsche emerged and thrived has witnessed enormous transformations during the last two decades. The “long summer of migration” of 2015 and the widespread solidarity between locals and mainly Muslim refugees, solidified Germany’s status as a “post-migrant society”,[84] with a growing plurality of non-white and migrant narratives expressing a newfound assertiveness. The arrival and mainstreaming of the Black Lives Matter movement in Germany has made it increasingly difficult to gloss over the connections between racist police brutality in the US and Germany on the one hand, and the plight of the Palestinians on the other. Equally important, an increasingly vocal dissident Jewish current in Germany is actively challenging the false conflation of Zionism with Judaism. The Habermasian post-Historikerstreit consensus of a fundamental incomparability of the Shoah with other historical injustices like colonialism is also under strain, as the backlash following the attacks on the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe in 2020 demonstrated.[85]

Do these developments mean that the contradictions between the Left’s universalist aspirations and its parochialism on the question of Palestine are dissolving? The answer is far from simple. As an organised current, the Antideutsche are hardly relevant today. One could argue, however, that the “edgy” debates initiated by the Antideutsche – specifically the idea that the Left has an antisemitism problem – have been appropriated by hegemonic public discourse in a Gramscian-style passive revolution, in line with the overall progressive-neoliberal revamping of German capitalism, of which events like the Historikerstreit and the transformation of the Greens from a protest into an elite party represent significant milestones among others. After all, far from becoming Antideutsche, the majority of renegade Maoists, but many other leftists as well,[86] mutated into Third Way social democrats and humanitarian-interventionist Greens. 

The new mainstream awareness of structural racism does also not mean that the German Left is automatically rediscovering its previous solidarity with the Palestinians. Like in other Western countries, the radical impulses of Black Lives Matter and other movements are constantly the object of co-option from above. In the case of Germany four observations can be made in this regard. First, there are concerted attempts to exclude Palestinians from the variety of increasingly visible groups affected by racism.[87] This had led many to speak of a specific “anti-Palestinian” racism in Germany, as the existence of Palestinians as victims of Zionism is perceived to disrupt of script of a redemptive positive German identity in which support for Israel figures prominently as its foundational cornerstone. Furthermore, like in Britain in the midst of Labour’s manufactured scandal on antisemitism, Zionism is constructed by mainstream discourses as integral to all forms of Jewish identity. Thus, under the prism of “lived experience”, any criticism of Zionism can be labelled antisemitic if the person criticised may wish to do so.

Moreover, if class has nothing to do with racism, then all what’s left is an implicit hierarchy of victimhood, which leads to the question of where white progressive Germans fit it. Being “against every antisemitism” (gegen jeden Antisemitismus) – that is, not just neo-Nazi but “Islamic” and “left-wing antisemitism” too – has evolved into a racist dog-whistle that secures white Germans a more comfortable spot in this hierarchy, as the scourge of antisemitism can be safely externalised to Palestinian or Muslim Others, and to those in solidarity with them. That all three elements can claim some kind of radical patina in Germany, more than they can in Britain, France, or the United States, is testament to the long half-life of the Antideutsche and their autonomist fellow-travellers.

Finally, the exponential increase of repression against supporters of Palestinian liberation in Germany cannot be viewed in isolation from the current condition of economic malaise, prolonged crisis, and the rise of the far right. The banning of pro-Palestinian demonstrations has as much to do with the German state’s cynical philosemitism, as it has to do with a war being waged against a significant part of the German working class, which has a so-called “immigrant background”. The externalisation of antisemitism to Palestinians and Arabs in general today merges seamlessly with calls for “mass deportations” due to this alleged “imported antisemitism”, signalling the mainstreaming of the far right’s agenda. Any Antideutsch-influenced Left is by definition incapable of providing, not just a defence of racialised groups in society, but of the working class in general.

What can ultimately break this impasse is not so much an intensification of education among the Left. Crucial as this might be, it should not be forgotten that the accusation of antisemitism against the Left is merely part of using the Left’s own weapons to crush it.[88] That is, Israel or antisemitism are just convenient alibis from the standpoint of capitalist interests and their political elites. More important in the long run will be a militant labour movement firmly opposed to imperialism, as well as all forms of militarism, colonialism, and racism.


I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their highly constructive feedback and suggestions. I would also like to express my gratitude to Dirk Moses for his insightful comments on my draft.


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[1] Zuckermann 2010

[2] The author was a fellow of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation between 2011 and 2014. During that time, the Foundation’s department for political education had a special focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict, centred on providing fellows with an overview of different narratives around the conflict through workshops. An edited volume, Der Nahostkonflikt: Befindlichkeiten der deutschen Linken (edited by Marcus Hawel and Moritz Blanke, Berlin, 2010) is emblematic of this approach. While the attitude towards the Antideutsche is highly critical, there is an acceptance of the narrative that German 1968 Left had an antisemitism problem in discussing Israel and Palestine. Ultimately, the Foundation’s approach never went beyond seeing the Palestine conflict as primarily one of competing narratives.

[3] E.g., Novak 2013.

[4] Fischer 2016.

[5] Fischer 2019.

[6] Badiou, Hazan, and Segre 2013.

[7] Peter Nowak’s (2013) Kleine Geschichte der Antisemitismusdebatte in der deutschen Linken, as well as Peter Ullrich’s (2013)Deutsche, Linke und der Nahostkonflikt: Politik im Antisemitismus- und Erinnerungsdiskurs can be seen as representative of this approach.

[8] The two most representative works in this respect are the volume ‘Sie warn die Antideutschesten der deutschen Linken‘. Zu Geschichte, Kritik und Zukunft antideutscher Politik, edited by Gerhard Hanloser (2004), as well as Hanloser’s more recent monograph,Die andere Querfront (2019).The volume Antifa heißt Luftangriff, edited by Susanne Witt-Stahl and Michael Sommer (2014) represents a critique of the Antideutsche’s pro-imperialist and classless “antifascism”, and one that also applies a historical contextualization in the analysis. A third critical approach to the Antideutsche is Robert Kurz’s (2003)Die antideutsche Ideologie: Vom Antifaschismus zum Krisenimperialismus, written from the theoretical standpoint of Kurz’s value criticism, a strand of thought partially coopted by the Antideutsch current.

[9] E.g., Hanloser 2004.

[10] The idea that the German Left should not talk about Palestine because doing so is “divisive”, because it cannot do solve the dispute, or because the conflict is just a projection screen for various biographical psychopathologies (i.e., Nazi grandparents), is a very widespread one within the broader Left. There is little need to point out the racism of such a posture, given that thousands of German leftists today have a so-called “migrant background”, not to mention the fact that German support is of vital importance to the maintenance of Israel’s system of systematic discrimination and expulsion of Palestinians.

[11] On the character of antisemitism vis-à-vis other forms of racism in the US context, see Benjamin Balthaser’s thoughtful essay “The death and life of the Jewish Century” (2019), on the resurgence of antisemitism in the Trump era. Rejecting liberal views of antisemitism as a personal pathology, Balthaser draws a distinction between the structural character of the racism affecting Afro-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and other groups in the United States on the one hand, and the institutional character of antisemitism as the foundational ideology of American institutions like Ivy League universities, the Republican Party, and many churches on the other. Balthaser furthermore contends that the West offered “communal membership” to the Jews after World War II in exchange for their political loyalty during the Cold War. As such, Jews as a relatively privileged ethnic group in the US cannot be considered on the same boat with those suffering structural forms of oppression; nonetheless, their whiteness is at best precarious and contingent on their political preferences. A similar conclusion can be drawn for contemporary Germany. While Jewish Germans do not endure the structural discrimination of Germans of African, Turkish, or Arab descent, their membership in the Mehrheitsgesellschaft (“majority society”) is contingent upon their identification with Israel, which has evolved into a key component of post-war German national identity.

[12] For a useful historical overview of the German Left’s attitude to antisemitism before 1945 see the works of historian Mario Kessler, specifically Arbeiterbewegung und Antisemitismus (1993) and his recentSozialisten gegen Antisemitismus: Zur Judenfeindschaft und ihrer Bekämpfung (1844-1939) (2022).

[13] The indiscriminate Allied bombardment of working class neighbourhoods near industrial zones was certainly an additional decisive factor that prevented the German working class from rising against Hitler during the war.

[14] Adorno and Horkheimer 1988 [1944].

[15] Traverso 2000, p.88.

[16] Budeiri 2010.

[17] E.g. Pappe 2006.

[18] Sternhell 1998.

[19] See Scheffler 1988.

[20] See Scheffler 1995.

[21] Said 2000.

[22] Meinhof 1968.

[23] Volkhard Mosler, former member of the SDS federal steering committee in 1967, interview conducted with author, 2014.

[24] A collection of Palestine-related statements by various organisations on the German Left can be found in the book by Ernst Vogt (1976) Israel.Kritik von links. Dokumentation einer Entwicklung. The Jusos notably broke off relations with the youth wing of the Israeli Labor Party following a resolution during their 1973 congress that called for a Palestinian right of return (see Vogt 1976, 186pp). Relations were only fully reestablished amidst the Second Intifada in 2002.

[25] The relatively weaker Trotskyist currents maintained relations with the Israeli Revolutionary Committee Abroad (ISRACA), an offshoot of Matzpen, which in turn had contacts with the DFLP. The DFLP was the only Palestinian faction willing to engage with Israeli anti-Zionist left-wingers and discuss the question of binationalism in a future de-Zionised Palestine, unlike the PFLP which adhered more strongly to its foundational Arab nationalism. In 1976, a delegation of students in Germany that included Arabs (including the Syrian author Rafik Schami) and Israeli anti-Zionists attended a workshop in Cyprus organised by the German Protestant Church’s student association ESG: The Arabs in the delegation were instrumental in convincing other Arabs already on the island to allow the Israelis to participate in a spontaneous demonstration against the Syrian invasion of Lebanon (Alexander Flores, delegation participant, personal communication).

[26]‘Setting the Record Straight: Entebbe Was Not Auschwitz’, Haaretz, 8 July 2011.

[27] Hanloser’s (2019) Die andere Querfront provides numerous examples of a left-wing criticism of an uncritical support of Palestinian nationalism within the German Left.

[28] Slobodian 2013, p. 209.

[29] cf. Koenen 2004, p. 181.

[30] See Achcar 2009.

[31] E.g. Küntzel 2019.

[32] Slobodian 2012.

[33] Slobodian 2013.

[34] See Timm 1997.

[35] See Michael Steffen’s (2002) monograph on the KB.

[36] For a comprehensive overview of the K-Gruppen see Andreas Kühn’s (2005) Stalins Enkel, Mao’s Söhne (“Stalin’s Grandchildren, Mao’s Sons”).

[37] The notable exception being the KB.

[38] Dimitrov 1935.

[39] This refers to the powerful tendency within the Jusos, which adopted Soviet-inspired theories of “state monopoly capitalism” – the idea of the capitalist state as beholden to the interests of few monopolies – while advocating for a popular front alliance with the DKP.

[40] Steffen 2002.

[41] Novick 1999.

[42] The debate has been extensively documented in Augstein et al (1987).

[43] Goldhagen 1996.

[44] Moses 2021.

[45] See Kundnani 2015. The realist justification of German foreign policy arguably reached its apex with Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, whose premises of using the country’s economic clout to pragmatically advance national interests were adopted by successors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl. Faint echoes could be discerned in Gerhard Schröder’s refusal to join the war on Iraq in 2003 and Liberal foreign minister Guido Westerwelle’s refusal to drag Germany into the war on Libya in 2011. The far more hawkish “idealists” are mainly to be found within the Green Party. Realists have usually sought a degree of independence from Washington, while idealists like current Green foreign minister Annalena Baerbock are stringent Atlanticists.

[46] Postone 1980.

[47] Callinicos 2001.

[48] Sommer 2014.

[49] Haenisch 2013, p.22.

[50] Like critical theory, value-critical Marxism would go on to serve as theoretical framework for various Antideutsch outlets. This has not remained uncontested, however; the Israeli exponent of critical theory Marxism, Moshe Zuckermann is one of the most outspoken and prolific critics of the Antideutsche in the German-speaking world, while Robert Kurz (2003) has done the same from the standpoint of reclaiming value-critical Marxism from perceived Antideutsch distortions.

[51] Hanloser (2019, pp. 115-117) hints at the contradictions in the Antideutsche’s reception of Postone. While his subjectivist account of capital as automatically bringing forth its own transcendence through technological advancement, and the corresponding negation of class struggle, certainly appealed to the middle-class Antideutsch milieu, the rather historically optimistic tone stood in contrast to the pessimism of critical theory to which many Antideutsche subscribed to. Ultimately, the rather undertheorised Antisemitism and National Socialism had a much bigger impact than Postone’s more sophisticated work, as did his political role as a critic of the German New Left.

[52] Langbehn and Salama 2011.

[53] Bundesarbeitskreis Shalom, website.

[54] Kommunistischer Bund 1988, p.42.

[55] Following a brief return to the anti-imperialist Left in the early 2000s, Elsässer would move to the far right in the following years. He is known today as a prolific conspiracy theorist, Strasserist, anti-immigrant activist, Islamophobe, and AfD supporter. Although this conversion appears bizarre, there are some elements of continuity with his earlier political activity. In light of the German government’s active role in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, the early Antideutsche were fervent supporters of Slobodan Milosevic. Even during his days in the radical Left, Elsässer would popularise the idea of Serb nationalism as a European bulwark against jihadism.

[56] Elsässer 1990.

[57] Enzensberger 1991.

[58] Wolfgang Pohrt, considered another intellectual ancestor of the Antideutsche, referring to Jürgen Habermas’s accusation of “left fascism” against the 1968 Left, wrote in the radical left magazine Konkret:

“The term left fascism sounds like an understatement, since one can spare the adjective ‘left’, and the rule is: The further to the left one was standing, the more of a committed Nazi he is [sic]. All political organisations have remained the same and have merely changed their signs. One doesn’t require imagination anymore to picture the Antiimps or the Autonomen as Hitler Youth stormtroopers or Aktion Werwolf squads [the teenage army set up by the Nazis during the last days of the war to sabotage the invading Allies]”, quoted in Hanloser 2019, p. 64, translation by the author.  

[59] Koltan 2004, p.91.

[60] Mohr and Haunss 2004, p.74.

[61] Referring to Sir Arthur Harris, head of the RAF Bomber Command during World War II.

[62] Revolutionäre Zellen 1991.

[63] Fekete 2014, p. 92.

[64] Fraser 2019.

[65] A quite telling example is the story of former neo-Nazi Jörg Fischer, a well-publicised Aussteiger (“exiter”), who later converted to Judaism and now runs a Zionist and Islamophobic website.“Vom Neonazi zum Israel-Erklärer”, Deutschlandfunk, 21 January 2011, available at:https://www.deutschlandfunkkultur.de/vom-neonazi-zum-israel-erklaerer-100.html.

[66] Quoted in Hanloser 2019, p. 52, translation LF.

[67]Antideutsch discourses were now slowly seeping into the left-liberal mainstream. The Jusos’ chair had claimed that the movement against the Iraq War was characterised by “anti-American and anti-Semitic argumentation patterns”, because of the US being associated therein with “money” and “power politics”. Jungle World 2003.

[68] Seymour 2007.

[69] See for instance “Lieber rechts als gar kein Israel“, Tageszeitung, 16 July 2018, available at:https://taz.de/Streit-unter-Leipzigs-Antideutschen/!5517963/. Antideutsche had organised a discussion in the alternative Conne Island youth centre in Leipzig in 2018 with a speaker who described the AfD as “the only remaining voice of reasons in the German Bundestag” and “the parliamentary arm of a materialist critique of ideology” (translation by author). 

[70] Indeed, and in the backdrop of today’s “culture wars”, one of the main dividing lines between esoteric Antideutsche á la Bahamas and less ideologically rigid Autonomen nowadays concerns attitudes towards movements like #metoo or other forms of “political correctness”, to which the former are firmly hostile.

[71] Mohr and Haunss 2004, pp. 78-9.

[72] Avanti 2002, cited in Fischer 2016, p.183, footnote.

[73] Non-participant observation at a panel discussion on “The 1968 Left and the Middle East” with Moshe Machover, Khalil Toama, and Thomas Seibert during the “1968 Congress”, Berlin, 2008.

[74] One such rant in 2011 claimed that “Islamophobia” was not a valid term, for what is actually antisemitic hatred in the form of envy at the successes of “jihadist collectivism”, see Scheit 2011.

[75] Quoted in Hanloser 2019, p. 25.

[76] Hanloser 2019, pp. 28-29.

[77] Kipping 2010.

[78] See Lerman and Miller 2019.

[79] See Fischer 2016.

[80] Honig-Parnass 2011.

[81] Cf. Tsianos 2014, p. 63-8.

[82] Hindesmith and Lohaus 2018.

[83]Admittedly, Maoists were not the only current suffering from this pathology, as the example of post-war Trotskyism’s highly fragmented nature testifies.  

[84] Foroutan 2019.

[85] Mbembe’s keynote speech at the Ruhrtriennale festival was cancelled following an intervention by the Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life and the fight against antisemitism, Felix Klein, who accused Mbembe of relativizing the Holocaust and denying “Israel’s right to exist”, due to the latter’s comparisons between the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and South African apartheid. Despite a climate of manufactured hysteria against Mbembe, the case highlighted the stifling climate of censorship inspired by the Bundestag’s 2019 anti-BDS resolution, while provoking interest on the lineages between colonialism and the Shoah, something which would have been unthinkable in the past. See Zonszein 2020.

[86] Current chancellor Olaf Scholz and former chancellor Gerhard Schröder were Stamokap-Jusos.

[87]The Amadeo Antonio Foundation, a liberal NGO, has been notorious in silencing and smearing Palestinian and dissident Jewish voices as “antisemitic”, promoting instead a sanitised version of anti-racism similar to that advanced by SOS Racisme in France. 

[88] The two well-known other examples are to equate opposition to the European Union with a regressive return to the nation-state, or to claim that opposition to NATO expansion is synonymous with support for Putin’s authoritarian regime.