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I LOOK with shock and sadness at the pictures of far-right hooligans rioting under the huge bust of Karl Marx in the German city of Chemnitz, having charged through the streets shouting fascist slogans and hunting down people who look foreign in a ghastly echo from history.
All this in response to the stabbing of a Cuban-German – who apparently loathed fascists – by a refugee from Iraq.
It was a squabble between people of various nationalities, weaponised by the far right as they play on the sense of alienation, impoverishment and hopelessness felt not just in Chemnitz but many cities and towns in the former GDR. And all this nearly 30 years after they were — to paraphrase all the cliches of our age — liberated from a brutal and oppressive Stasi regime and joined with their brothers and sisters in a free, united Germany.
So what went wrong?
Karl-Marx-Stadt, as it was known in GDR times, reverted to its original name of Chemnitz and it certainly became easier to get what you wanted out of your mouth as far as freedom of expression goes. And that, of course, was a good thing, a central plank of the campaign by the reformers I met who were active in the ruling party, the SED, during my four tours of the GDR between 1986 and 1989.
But for many — indeed, the majority — once the GDR collapsed it became a lot more difficult to get what you wanted INTO your mouth. That’s what the same reformers were fearful of and their worst fears came true.
It was a story repeated across the whole of East Germany. Factories were deemed “uneconomic” and closed, social enterprises were shut down and cultural centres turned into used car showrooms. People were left jobless, hopeless and sometimes homeless too. An economic disaster.
I visited Karl-Marx-Stadt several times in the mid to late 1980s as part of tours connected to the annual GDR Political Song Festival, in which I was invited to take part several times. It was a thriving industrial city, dubbed “The Saxon Manchester,” and I have returned many times since and seen at first hand the decline as its industrial heritage was ripped apart by the heartless privatisations and closures of the Treuhandanstalt — the privatisation agency which operated post German reunification — and their Western advisers.
Thousands have left in search of a better life, while those who remain are angry. And, as so often these days, their anger is turned not on the capitalist bastards who ruined their lives but on scapegoats — refugees, people even worse off than they are.
Nazis rioting in memory of a man who hated them. How ironic. Solidarity with all those standing up to racism and those fighting for the decent, humanitarian and anti-capitalist politics which are the only answer to the tragedy of Chemnitz. Capitalism has failed those people far more than socialism ever did.
Had a lovely week of gigs at Bannerman’s in Edinburgh as part of the PBH Free Fringe, then charged over to Limerick to do limericks and more at their annual Bring Your Limericks to Limerick Festival. What a lovely, friendly place.
I made my way to the world-famous Treaty Stone and, standing next to it, recited the limerick I wrote for the great Irish socialist leader James Connolly:
“The Catholics think that they’re right
So the Protestants all want a fight.
It’s divide and rule
An imperialist tool
The whole working class should unite.”
If only it were that easy. The Tory Brexiteers’ calls for the Good Friday agreement to be ignored and a post-Brexit Irish border established are contemptible and Labour’s Kate Hoey should be deselected by her local party.
Next Saturday it’s the Wigan Diggers’ Festival, one of the great events of the socialist calendar. My band Barnstormer 1649 are launching our new album there, alongside the fantastic Merry Hell, The Blockheads and many more.
Hope to see you there.
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