Hamburger with big fires

The 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht is not until November, but thousands of black-clad thugs have already been running through the streets of Hamburg, setting fires, and looting and destroying shops.

When Angela Merkel selected Hamburg as the site of the 2017 G20 summit, the German chancellor hoped to showcase her birthplace as a beacon of free speech and democracy. She took pains to meet with protest groups before the summit, hoping to head off any extremist activity and ensure that the voices of dissent were heard.

But by the time world leaders departed on Saturday, this city was reeling from days of violent clashes that left more than 400 police officers injured, around 400 protesters in jail, and caused untold damage to businesses and homes. And with little accomplished at the G20 meeting itself, many people here are now questioning the value of these summits.

400:400 is not the best police injury to arrest ratio I’ve seen, particularly considering the carnage that was Hamburg.

“If people did this in Egypt they would be shot,” said Ibrahim Ali, a 29-year-old Egyptian who came to Hamburg in 2011.

“The state provides everything: housing, unemployment benefits and education. Yet those people are not happy. I don’t get it.”

Ali was one of three refugees serving beer, falafel and humus to protesters leaving the Sternschanze quarter, as rioters came under pressure from police special units.

“They are crazy. I can’t believe my eyes,” said Mohammad Halabi, 32, a Syrian who arrived in Germany as a refugee some 18 months ago.

“They have such a beautiful country and they’re destroying it.”

Serving beer, falafel and humus to protesters? Love your civic spirit, refugees, but next time maybe do not feed the beast. But yes, most people “don’t get it”, because most people are decent and normal, and not violent extremist thugs.

I’m and always have been suspicious of the term “anti-fascist”. I am as against fascism as the next person (perhaps more so, since my country of birth, Poland, was thoroughly devastated and depopulated by the Nazis, who were planning “the final solution” to the Slavic problem once they have finished with the Jews), but I generally call myself a democrat or a liberal (in the classical, European sense of the world), or – warily – a right-winger. Warily, because the same people who are “anti-fascist” like to call “fascism” the far-right, as if, if you go a bit further with the free market, individualism and freedom you end up in the Nazi Germany.

People who explicitly define themselves as anti-fascists are usually simply fascists of another stripe. They might dislike fascism (as properly understood from history) but they dislike anything and anyone who is not them and call it fascism, too. If every time you read “anti-fascist” you mentally substitute “communist” you will be pretty close to the mark – and this is not a case of me calling anyone I don’t like a communist, either.

Historically, it has been communists who have been the most proprietorial about the “anti-fascist” label. And the 1930s were thus the heyday of anti-fascism. Alas, it was the German anti-fascist who effectively conspired, actively and passively, with the real fascists of the Nazi party to bring down the Weimar democracy. This, following the ideological diktat from the Anti-Fascist Central in Moscow that the communists’ biggest rival on the left and also the main opposition to the Nazi Party, the Social Democrats, were really the “social fascists”, and therefore as much, if not more, of an enemy as the NSDAP. If someone cannot distinguish between fascism, conservatism, liberalism, centrism and democratic socialism, it tells you nothing about the political system itself and everything about them. This is as true today as it was all those decades ago. During all that time “anti-fascism” proved to be a useful flag of convenience for the communists to marshal and rally Western progressives around. In the cause of fighting fascism, true, but also anyone else that the Kremlin had chosen to tar with the fascist brush, which generally was anyone who opposed the Soviet communism, whether they were conservatives or anti-totalitarian leftists.

The Soviet communism is no more, but the violent and anti-democratic far-left is still around, and more emboldened than it has been in a long while, both by the global financial crisis, which they mistook for the death throes of the hated capitalism, and by the rise of populism throughout the West – Trump, Brexit, etc. – which they gleefully consider to be fascism, or at least even more of fascism than the mainstream politics, particularly those of the centre-right, which they called “fascist” before. Aligned with “antifa” are the usual motley groups of anarchists, obviously oblivious to what happens when anarchists get in bed with communists (any good history of the Russian Revolution as well as Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” should be a compulsory reading amongst the black flag wavers).

Antifa are no heroes, and they are no one’s friend and ally, only their own. However much you might dislike Donald Trump et al, the “anti-fascists” are the enemies of the free and democratic society as much as the real fascists (who are nearly non-existent) are, and should never be dignified with the description of “protesters”.