The Violent German Left Comes of Age

“Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.” [1] — French Premier Georges Clemenceau

Sometimes it appears that the Left and Progressives have erected such a high-walled idealized dream world that they are surprised and shocked when the real world unexpectedly intrudes. Minds protected by an ideological fortress rarely glimpse the real world. That is why the Left was surprised to find out from Khrushchev in 1956 that Stalin was at least as vicious a tyrant as any of the former czars of Russia. That is why they were surprised to learn that people would risk their lives at sea fleeing Vietnamese or Cuban Communism. That is why they were surprised when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979. Certainly, that is why they were surprised when the Berlin Wall fell.

This gradual remedial education of the Left and introduction of the Left to the notion that Western capitalism or capitalism under the supervision of democratic institutions is not so bad is theme in the article “The Passion of Joschka Fischer” by Paul Berman. The New Republic piece uses the political life of Fischer, the German foreign minister, as a metaphor for two-decade long transition of the Left.

Berman is a self-identified Progressive and his treatment of Fischer is somewhat laudatory and apologetic. If you did not know Berman was a Progressive, one could tell as much by his language. No American Conservative would describe police as what “we Americans used to call `the pigs.”’ Nonetheless, Berman does manage to convey accurately the trauma and anxiety of the Left in confronting a Post-Cold War world.

In 1973, Fischer was barely more than a political street thug and now, as foreign minister, he is the highest-ranking government official who is also a Green Party member. In January 2001, Stern magazine published old photographs showing Joschka Fischer apparently assaulting a police officer. The publication caused a sensation in Germany and triggered Berman to consider the metamorphosis of the violent Left to the more responsible European political mainstream.

It seems long ago now, but the early 1970s was the era of kidnappings and murders by the Baader and Meinhof Red Army Fraction. The Cold War was not so cold and the European Left believed the real threat to peace and freedom was the United States. They believed that the United States was the political heir of the Nazis. The threat was Fascism, and to the German Left, fighting America and capitalism was fighting Fascism.

Reality intervened especially after the Left began to align itself with radical Palestinians. The Red Army Fraction facilitated radical Palestinians in their murder of Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. In 1976, German and Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Air France airliner and forced it to fly to Entebbe Airport in dictator Idi Amin’s Uganda. Were it not for the timely intervention of Israeli commandos, Jewish passengers who had been singled out from the rest of the passengers, might have been executed. The violent Left in Germany began with the charter to oppose Nazism and Fascism and found themselves killing Jewish civilians. The sharpness of that irony helped cut even through the closed-minded certainty of the Left.

Although a youthful Joschka Fischer was willing to engage in some modest political violence, he seems to have been only peripherally associated with the more violent elements of the Left. A mature polished politician, he is now in the political mainstream, at least as the mainstream is defined in Germany.

To the surprise of the pacifist Green Party (pacifist, that is, only with respect to American military action), Fischer supported NATO’s intervention in Bosnia. Imagine the chagrin of the Green Party discovering that someone who is willing to strike a police officer is not really a “pacifist.” It is doubly ironic, that Fischer has now come full circle and has finally found a way to help fight Fascists after all. Except that he did it as an American rather than Russian ally.

This quotation was originally and incorrectly attributed to Winston Churchill.

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