Russophobia a cover for anti-communism in Germany
Under the cover of the Russophobia unleashed by the war in Ukraine, many in Germany and elsewhere are pushing an anti-communist agenda, as they seek to link the government of Vladimir Putin with the old Soviet Union, even though the two states are diametric opposites. Politicians from the conservative Christian Democratic Union are demanding the removal and destruction of a monument to Ernst Thälmann, the pre-war leader of the Communist Party of Germany. He was murdered by the Nazis in 1944. | Michael Sohn / AP

BERLIN—Almost every day, I have the job of taking scores of tourists to some of the most important historical landmarks in the German capital city of Berlin. For many, this is their first glimpse of a city that was the focal point for so many of the 20th century’s most important struggles.

At the famed Reichstag building, where Germany’s current parliament meets, I make sure to reference the fact that the fire that destroyed this building in 1933 was the pretext used by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party to consolidate their dictatorship.

I tell people that because the accused culprits were communists, the fire conveniently allowed Hitler to push for emergency dictatorial powers through a law called the Enabling Act.

Burning of the Reichstag building in Berlin, February 1933. Hitler and the Nazis likely set the blaze themselves, but they used the burning of Germany’s parliament as the excuse to declare a dictatorship. Communists were blamed for the fire. Few tourists visiting Berlin these days know this history. | National Archives, Washington, D.C.

This led to the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) having its parliamentary members arrested, which marked the beginning of the end of German bourgeois democracy. Fascism was only possible because the Nazis were able to use the law to crush the resistance of the communist movement, which was marked as their chief enemy.

Most often, many people in my tour groups are shocked by my revelation. They were never taught this piece of history when discussing the Nazis in school. They know, of course, about the concentration camps and the horrors inflicted by the fascist regime on the Jewish people and many others. For many, though, even the notion that communists were on the very opposite side of the Nazi regime comes as a surprise.

Fast forward 77 years since the Soviet Union lost around 80,000 troops in the span of just over two weeks to liberate Berlin in 1945, and you could be forgiven for thinking that much of Berlin also has never known this history, or at minimum has convenient amnesia.

Though the Cold War is long over, the Berlin Wall is gone, and the old socialist East German state has been dead for decades, anti-communist discourse has reached new heights in Germany as of late. The reason? The war in Ukraine, of course!

This is indeed an odd one of sorts, given that Vladimir Putin’s reactionary, neo-czarist government is in many ways the antithesis of the socialist Soviet Union.

Putin has made it clear that he detests the notion of socialism as an impossible utopia, and holds communist leader Vladimir Lenin to account for caring too much about the rights to national self-determination of Ukrainians and others who had been oppressed by the Russian Empire.

This vital point aside, the psychological dimension of associating modern-day Russia with the “evil” Soviet Union has obvious appeal. So what if Russia today is a capitalist power with a clearly national chauvinist orientation at odds with communists?

What matters is that people in the West have been schooled to remember Russia—whether Red Russia or White Russia—as having always been the bad guy. Therefore, for propaganda purposes, it doesn’t matter what the real content of the Russian state is. It makes for effective demonization, and for those looking to escalate tensions, that’s what’s important.

Police officers remove the flag of Ukraine from a historical tank at the Soviet War Memorial on June 17 Street in Berlin. | Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP

There are several disgraceful ways this is currently manifesting in Berlin. The most recent seems to have been two massive Ukrainian flags that appeared overnight at one of the city’s three Soviet war memorials that commemorate the dead who fought to the bitter end to liberate Europe from fascism. These flags covered the first T-34 tanks that entered the city during the Battle of Berlin.

Clearly, this act was meant to show support for the Ukrainian masses resisting Russian occupation. There is nothing necessarily controversial about trying to make that point.

However, the implication of doing it at this location seems to be that the Soviet war memorial—where 2,500 Red Army soldiers of all different nationalities, including Ukrainians, are at rest—represents in effect what Russia is today.

The two could not be more different. Aside from the disparities in ideology, the USSR was a union of 15 republics, not simply Russia.

We cannot—and should never—forget the massive sacrifice of those in Ukraine who suffered heavy losses during the Nazi invasion of their territory. The fact that many Ukrainians chose to fight alongside the occupiers should not mask the fact that Ukrainian Red Army soldiers heroically defended not only their own republic but aided in the charge to Berlin.

Conflating an anti-fascist memorial where thousands of courageous soldiers are buried with the illegal and heinous war waged by the modern Russian state is absurd. It’s also dangerous in terms of historical revisionism.

Another bizarre way this neo-McCarthyism of a German variant is manifesting is with calls by the Pankow regional district of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to have a monument to KPD leader Ernst Thälmann demolished.

Thälmann was not only the leader of the KPD, the main party Hitler was obsessed with smashing, but he was also a victim of the Nazi regime, murdered at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in 1944.

The monument was inaugurated during the final years of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1986. Since then, it has regularly been defaced, only to be cleaned up periodically by activists, including last year by members of the German Communist Party (DKP).

Again, the war in Ukraine is apparently the rationale for the twisted reasoning behind the demand that the monument be melted down. David Paul from the CDU has explained that it’s because Thälmann was an “anti-democrat” and that “it is also about the fact that we are now at war in Europe, led by a man who uses democracy as a fig leaf.”

The mental gymnastics here are astounding. Thälmann fought for the widest possible democracy, one in which working people held political power and would have control over facets of their lives unthinkable in capitalist society.

Perhaps Paul should instead recall the merits of Thälmann as an anti-fascist, or that he also fought for the unity of nations—something Putin clearly isn’t concerned about. Of course, Paul either wouldn’t know or be wouldn’t interested in this, or the fact that in his beloved bourgeois democracy, the threat of a degeneration into fascism is always present.

There are other wonderful remembrances of the years of the GDR in Berlin that have managed to survive the annexation of the country to the Federal Republic in 1990. Karl-Marx-Allee may be the most important of these, as it is a historically protected landmark.

One of the city’s most impressive mosaics sits on the side of the Cafe Moskau. It doesn’t only show Russians. It is supposed to represent the different ethnic groups—hundreds of them—that made up the Soviet Union. The fact that Moscow is in the name simply denotes that this is where the union’s capital was.

Nowadays, if one decides to walk or cycle down the famous avenue at night, you will notice that not all of the lights on the former cafe (now used mainly as a nightclub and conference venue) are switched on. In an act of extreme pettiness, the lights that read “Moskau,” or “MOCKBA” in Russian, remain off. The building’s interior is lit up with a Ukrainian flag.

It is justified to feel outrage at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But for this anger at war to lead to irrational hatred or boycotting of everything Russian, even the name of the country’s capital, is the high point of pointless virtue-signaling derangement.

What do the inhabitants of Moscow, now suffering the brunt of the West’s economic sanctions, have to do with the war being waged by their country’s leadership? Have many of them not also taken to the streets in protest? Do these Muscovites not deserve to be held in our memories when we think of the city? Do they not deserve for the lights that bear their beautiful city’s name to remain switched on?

Anti-communism’s resurgence here during these troubling days is, at least on the surface, confusing. Again, though, one can navigate the psychology of it all to see why it makes sense for some to employ anti-communist rhetoric under these circumstances.

Of course, even without the war on Ukraine, anti-communism and anti-socialist views remain the orthodoxy of the modern German state.

Last week, the Berlin Administrative Court decided that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution may continue to name the socialist newspaper Junge Welt (Young World) in its reports as being hostile to the constitutional order. Apparently, the newspaper is seen to engage in propagating a “one-party” system.

This characterization would confuse the many who read the paper and who know that there are a range of left-wing organizations that have their views reflected in its pages, including those of Die Linke, which has parliamentary representation and governs in the ruling coalition in Berlin.

Those who hold government roles with their Social Democratic and Green Party partners in the country’s capital could hardly be accused of trying to establish a one-party state.

Junge Welt was the most widely-read newspaper during the years of the GDR and was the official organ of the Free German Youth (FDJ). However, it is now independently published and has no party or organizational association. Still, it was regarded by the Federal Ministry of the Interior in the years 1998 to 2020 as being a “communist-oriented newspaper.”

That’s precisely the thing about anti-communism and red-baiting. It is often sufficient for one to be just moderately socialist or a tad bit left-leaning to be on the receiving end of the vilest insults or accusations.

After all, once people begin turning a bit to the left and challenge the status quo, where will they end up? Of course, according to the politically and ideologically inept, the answer is simple—as a Russian chauvinist and an apologist for Putin.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Marcel Cartier
Marcel Cartier

Marcel Cartier is a critically acclaimed hip-hop artist, journalist, and the author of two books on the Kurdish liberation movement, including 2019’s Serkeftin: A Narrative of the Rojava Revolution, which was one of the first full accounts in English of the civil and political structures set up in northern Syria after 2012.