Fascist Networks with Worker/Immigrant Action
Germany: The “Neukölln Complex”
Apparatus Complicit with Fascists
April 2016 demonstration on the anniversary of the death of Burak Bektaş.
The following article is translated from Permanente Revolution No. 5 (Spring 2021), the newspaper of the Internationalistische Gruppe, German section of the League for the Fourth International.
The “Neukölln Complex” ominously reveals the entanglement of the state apparatus of political, judicial and police with Nazi fascists. This phenomenon, of which there are an untold number of examples nationally, can be seen in this district of Berlin as only one facet of a comprehensive network, of systematic cooperation of the state with fascist and fascistic forces.
Neukölln is a district under siege, both by the coronavirus and by the bourgeois state, which in Berlin is administered by the “red-red-green” coalition of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Left Party (Die Linke) and Greens,1 especially by its racist crusade against alleged immigrant “clans” and against shisha bars (hookah lounges). And this state repression has always had its fascist outriders, although officially classified only as “right-wing extremists.”
Since 2010, Neukölln has repeatedly been a focal point of fascist activities and murders, including the assassination of Burak Bektaş in April 2012, presumed to be the work of a fascist, and the murder of Luke Holland by fascist Rolf Zielezinski in September 2015. In addition, since 2016, coinciding with the rise of Alternative for Germany (AfD), there has been an ongoing series of fascist arson attacks, assaults on immigrants, death threats against journalists, trade unionists, leftists, anti-fascists and women, as well as attacks on their centers.
As of February 2020, 72 crimes, including 23 cases of arson, were officially attributed to the “right-wing extremist camp” since 2016. A few months later, Tagesspiegel (7 July 2020) reported: “Since September 2019, investigative authorities registered a total of 130 right-wing crimes in Neukölln, according to Senate [city government] administration data.” That would be three crimes per week. However, the left-wing research group Acoabo (“Antifaschistische Computeraktion Berlin”) has listed 242 violent acts and other cases of aggression in the district from January 2016 to June 2020, as well as 293 incidents of pasting up or scrawling Nazi propaganda. Yet the “hard core” of the Neukölln Nazi scene is said to consist of only 15 people.
Despite multiple indications and clues pointing to a few prime suspects, it took police and prosecutors more than a decade to bring charges in December 2020 against two notoriously fascist gangsters in the series of arson attacks. Since the indictment was not accompanied by any new revelations about their crimes, it looked very much like a hasty attempt to “close” this politically tangled case. By the end of January, both were again at large.
“Breakdowns” in the Investigation of Fascist Violence
From the beginning, there were endless “breakdowns” in the investigation of the perpetrators and various revelations indicating direct cooperation of police and prosecutors with the fascists. While in the murder of Luke Holland, law enforcement authorities could not deny that Zielezinski was the perpetrator, due to the obvious facts of the case which took place on the open street with a shotgun, in front of too many witnesses, his equally obvious racist and fascist mind-set was simply ignored by the court when assessing the motive for the crime and in not pursuing further investigations into his fascist connections. According to the judge, the possibility that this was a racist crime could not be established, although Zielezinski had made homophobic and racist comments about gays and non-German speakers in his former local pub immediately before his crime, and Luke Holland spoke English. Phil Holland, Luke’s father, exclaimed at an April 2017 memorial meeting: “We are dismayed how the judge in Luke’s case, could claim Zielezinski was not a Nazi. He had so many illegal weapons, Nazi memorabilia, Adolf Hitler busts in his apartment, equipment to make ammunition, and yet the judge claims he was not a Nazi. That is a complete whitewash!”2
Officially, therefore, this was not a fascist, political murder, and the authorities were thus not compelled to investigate Zielezinski's fascist environment and dig up his criminal connections. We see here the paradigm of the “lone-wolf perpetrator” which the state systematically puts forward. The fascist networks are carefully protected with the lone perpetrator theory. Zielezinski was granted mitigating circumstances due to alcoholism and got off with a prison sentence of 11 years and 7 months. His milieu was not investigated.
During the trial proceedings on the murder of Luke Holland, it emerged that in the course of the investigation into the case of Burak Bektaş, a statement was made by an apparently anonymous witness at the end of 2013 that a possible perpetrator was Rolf Z., who in 2006 had already shown the witness his gun and asked for ammunition. “In addition, Z. had [the witness] drive him to the vicinity of the crime scene in order to meet his brother there ‘to shoot up’ the area. This information had already been given to the police by the whistleblower in 2006.”3
Although there were clear indications of right-wing extremist backgrounds in the two murder cases, no further investigations were carried out in this direction. Similarly with the arson series. “There is probably no other case about which so much is known and yet there is not a single investigative result,” commented Karin Wüst of the Basta group in the Tagesspiegel (21 December 2019). It is “simply incomprehensible why so many mishaps would accumulate, unless there are connections between LKA (state criminal investigation department) officials and right-wing extremists,” she added.
The Basta group has been protesting every Thursday since May 2019, together with victims and supporters of those targeted in right-wing attacks, in front of the State Attorney’s Office in Berlin against obvious Nazi connections in the LKA, and calling for the rightist terror attacks to be investigated. Right-wing police officers there make no secret of their racist and pro-fascist sentiments: “Raising the right arm for the Hitler salute, after all, hurts no one, and besides, crime comes almost exclusively from refugees,” said one of the police officers at the LKA offices.
The unsolved cases continue to multiply. When Heinz Ostermann, owner of the bookstore Leporello, joined the initiative of Neuköllner Buchläden gegen Rechtspopulismus und Rassismus (Neukölln Bookstores Against Right-Wing Populism and Racism) in 2016, he immediately became a victim of fascist attacks, in 2016, 2017 and 2018. First, stones were thrown at his bookstore and then there were two arson attacks on his car, the last right in front of his apartment.
The arson attack on Ostermann’s car in February 2018 took place on the same night as the arson attack on the car of Ferat Kocak, a leading member of Die Linke in Neukölln. There are no results in the investigation, and the investigation regarding the stone throwing was closed at the beginning of 2019, along with the investigation regarding many others who had been targeted. Why this is so is obvious: there was and is no interest in getting investigative results.
Special Commissions, Special Investigators: Letting Off Steam
In fact, the Neukölln complex reaches deep into the political apparatus of the capitalist state, even among the reformist “bourgeois workers parties” who support the state. SPD Interior Senator Andreas Geisel opposed the establishment of a parliamentary investigative committee which was called for by parts of Die Linke. Instead, Geisel continued to rely on the police Special Commission (Soko) “Focus”, which he created under pressure at the beginning of 2019. This was essentially composed of LKA officers, including the State Security Department LKA-5 (political police, state-level equivalent of the American FBI), whose head has himself recently come under suspicion of being close to the Nazis. In any case, the Soko was only intended to let off steam.
So what did this special commission accomplish? After complaints by plaintiffs over the lack of investigative results, it was claimed that the Soko had deciphered encrypted “enemies lists” with the names of over 500 people. These were stored on the computers of Sebastian T., the former NPD4 chairman of the Neukölln district, who had been jailed several times, including for grievous bodily harm, and who had long been under suspicion; and Tilo P., a former member of the AfD leadership known since 2003 for involvement in violent Nazi attacks. It is suspected that names on the enemies lists had been known for a long time but the individuals targeted were not informed. In November 2019, the Berlin prosecutor’s office filed charges in 14 cases against Sebastian T. and Tilo P., but not for arson and death threats. Now, due to the decision of the bourgeois justice system, the two are walking free again.
Another example is the Berlin state parliamentary deputy Anne Helm from Die Linke, who was on this enemies list, whose mailbox was blown up at the end of 2013 in an attempted break-in, and whose personal mail had been intercepted. The police only investigated for property damage, without results. Or the fascist arson attack in February 2018 against Kocak, also a member of parliament for Die Linke, whose car was completely destroyed. Although Sebastian T. and Tilo P. were investigated in this case, there were no results here either. The Soko Focus also stated in its report that there were nine other crimes that could be attributed to the series of right-wing attacks. Almost all of those targeted were either repeated victims of attacks or were anti-fascist activists. These obvious connections were simply ignored in the original investigation.
Compare this with what happened with a series of arson attacks between 2009 and 2011 against luxury cars, behind which in several instances there was an apolitical frustrated 27-year-old unemployed man. After his confession, the then Berlin state interior minister Ehrhart Körting (SPD) justified targeting prosecution of leftists as perpetrators. The State Security Department, which was responsible for politically motivated acts, was given responsibility for investigating arson against expensive vehicles because the Senate did not want to be accused of being “blind in the left eye.” In 2009, a left-wing 21-year-old woman spent five months in pre-trial detention as a result of this hunt for leftists, which cost the Berlin Senate several million euros a month for special police nighttime operations. She had to fight through three long trials before her innocence was established in 2011.
One reason for the lack of results in the attacks over the last few years came to light in the summer of 2020. In June, it became known that a police chief inspector had passed on details of the investigation to an AfD chat group. Then in August it came out that the previous head of the State Security crimes department, Matthias Fenner, was said to have signaled to Tilo P. himself that there was nothing to fear from his side. “The prosecution is on our side. He is an AfD voter,” Tilo P. boasted as early as March 2017 (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 6 August 2020). This statement was uncovered by the lawyer of one of the victims; it was ignored by both the police and various prosecutors. Not coincidentally, Fenner was the driving force behind the mass arrest of 100 demonstrators who peacefully blocked a reactionary anti-abortion march in Berlin in September 2019.
When the first results of this Soko were released in a report in the spring of 2020, SPD Interior Senator Geisel immediately declared it a classified matter. The report was presented to the members of the Interior Committee on short notice and only behind the closed doors of a high security room, without minutes being taken. Die Linke, which has been part of the Berlin city-state government since 2016, called for a parliamentary investigation committee (PUA). But the Greens, as the third component of the ruling coalition, called for a special investigator instead of a PUA, ostensibly because a PUA would work sluggishly. A special investigator, as in the Amri case,5 would put things in order, i.e., sweep the state’s dirt under the rug and drag out the investigation endlessly.
So it happened that after Fokus’s final report, in order to further muddy the waters, Geisel appointed two more “independent” special investigators. One of them, Herbert Diemer, was the lead prosecutor in the case of Beate Zschäpe, the last surviving member of the NSU, or at least that part of it that has been officially uncovered.6 That trial and the endless investigations in several German states that accompanied it were prime examples of how to uncover nothing important about the networks of the fascist underground and their connections to the police and intelligence services.
It was therefore hardly surprising that Geisel’s special investigators presented an interim report in February 2021 that basically exonerated the police. What matters to the Greens, as well as to Geisel and his SPD, is to prevent the unvarnished truth from coming to light – the state should retain control over what is and is not published. The special investigators only pointed out the obvious: that a large part of the population of Neukölln has no trust in the police. Die Linke is offering to restore this trust with its endless demands for toothless parliamentary committees of inquiry.
“In Neukölln, the Population Is Losing Confidence in the Rule of Law”
What is motivating the rulers was summed up in the words of the spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office, Martin Steltner: “In Neukölln, the population is losing confidence in the rule of law. All the more so when the police were finally able to solve some crimes, but then most were not punished after all” (Tagesspiegel, 19 February 2020). Concern about trust in the state and its institutions was also the driving force behind the transfer of two prosecutors suspected of sympathizing with the Nazis. Attorney General Margarete Koppers justified the transfer: “There must not be even the slightest doubt that we do not prosecute criminal offenses from the right-wing extremist milieu, that we do not do so with sufficient intensity, or do so only sluggishly” (Die Welt, August 19, 2020). As if to mock her own words, both prosecutors then received a clean bill of health from her, and were merely transferred to another post.
The bourgeoisie and its executive organs are worried that the legitimacy of their rule is increasingly slipping away. Meanwhile, for those targeted, leftists, women, trade unionists, journalists and all potential victims of the fascists, it is a matter of life and death: “Our problem is that we don’t know whether we can trust the police officers on our doorstep or not,” said Ferat Kocak from personal experience after he and his family became targets of the fascist arson attacks, and as an activist in the campaign to clarify the series of attacks (Tagesspiegel, 17 February 2020). Trust in the police, or not? We Marxists have long given the answer to this question. The state and its organs are the repressive apparatus of the bourgeoisie. They protect the fascists in order to keep them ready for the moment when their services become urgently necessary for the ruling class.
At the same time, Die Linke (Left Party), as a government party of the “red-red-green” popular front that administers Berlin today, is involved in the racist repression of immigrants, in the destruction of left-wing housing programs while bolstering the profits of speculators and cartels, and in general in the systematic and massive expansion of the state repressive apparatus. The sorry state of the Left Party is linked to the fact that, due to its governmental responsibility, it makes common cause with the perpetrators and opposes the struggle for truly independent working-class action. And this miserable condition extends to the smaller left groupings in and around Die Linke. Characteristic of this is the Revolutionäre Internationalistische Organisation (RIO), internationally linked to the misnamed Trotskyist Fraction.
So after years of turning a blind eye to the fascist contamination of the Berlin police, the SPD resorts to an investigation by an in-house special commission; the Greens want a special investigator (and get one); Die Linke calls for a parliamentary investigative committee, to no avail. For its part, RIO wants an independent commission of inquiry. Last summer, when the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the U.S. also sparked protests in Germany, RIO wrote: “There needs to be a consistent investigation of all cases and deaths” resulting from police use of force and also of fascist violence “by independent commissions of inquiry” (Klasse gegen Klasse, 13 June 2020). Now it has expanded the demand: “We need independent commissions of inquiry, elected by migrant organizations and trade unions” (Klasse gegen Klasse, 2 March).
The title of the latter article is “Series of Attacks in Neukölln: Police Will Not Help Us.” In the summer, RIO opined that “the state is not an honest broker” (“Right-Wing Terror in Neukölln,” Klasse gegen Klasse, 6 July 2020). In the fall, it wrote: “Neo-Nazi structures in the NRW police. Not an #Isolated case. No Trust in the State” (Klasse gegen Klasse, 16 September 2020). All of these formulations, in one way or another, rest on the mistaken notion that the bourgeois state is some kind of third force, one that admittedly “can’t be trusted,” that “won’t help,” and that won’t mediate “honestly,” but that should be pressured. And this is exactly what these pseudo-Trotskyists did when they wrote after the [February 2020] mass murder in Hanau: “The government must be forced to take certain measures: disarm the fascists and their associations, dissolve the Office for the Protection of the Constitution...” (Klasse gegen Klasse, 26 February 2020).
These are fatal reformist illusions in the capitalist state, hallmarks of the politics of class collaboration. While they look to the state to disarm the fascist gangs, the state is much more likely to disarm the workers organizations, as Salvador Allende’s Chilean Popular Front did in 1973, paving the way for the victory of the Pinochet coup. The idea that the police, military, secret services and judiciary would allow trade unionists, leftists, migrants and targeted people access in order to “disclose all files” is pure idiocy, as is the demand for the dissolution of the political police, or the police itself, within the framework of capitalism. Moreover, the “democratic” bourgeois “constitutional state” is ultimately a much greater danger to the working people and the oppressed than the so far relatively small fascist gangs, whose danger rests precisely on their connections with the state.
No, it is not about isolated cases, nor only about “structures” within the state apparatus: it is about the state itself. As much as RIO may stress the “independent” character of its dream commission, and that it should be based on “mobilization”, its purpose is to exert pressure on the state “from the outside”, instead of taking to the streets against the capitalist state and its organs of oppression. And when such idealized commissions of inquiry “reveal” the fact – big surprise! –that the state power is riddled with fascist and fascistic elements and their accomplices, what then? Our task as revolutionaries is not to lure the masses into the dead end of an impossible “denazification” or even “democratization” of the bourgeois state, but to lead them to hard class struggle on the road to revolution. The Internationalist Group says: The police cannot be reformed. Police officers are not “workers in uniform” but the armed organ of the ruling class. Police out of the DGB (German Union Federation)!
The call for “independent committees of inquiry” is a trademark of the “Trotskyist Faction,” which they repeat all over the world. Currently they are calling for an “independent investigation into the right-wing violence” of January 6, when a racist mob attacked the U.S. Capitol. This investigation “must be democratically led, by independent lawyers, anti-fascist organizations and labor groups. They must have access to what the state knows...” (Left Voice, 13 February). How they intend to bring about this nonsense goes unmentioned. Such slogans, like their favorite demand for a “constituent assembly” everywhere and always, constitute a “democratic” stagist program. Today they justify themselves by claiming that the masses are too immature for the final struggle. But such “truth commissions” can only be realized at the moment when an overthrow is possible, and then they serve only to distract from the struggle for revolution.
For Worker/Immigrant Defense on the Road to Revolution
All these demands to investigate what has already been proven – that the state apparatus is shot through with Nazis – are an appeal to the state to undertake a purge of the state apparatus of fascists. In the early 1930s, the Social Democrats cried, “Staat, greif zu!” (State, act fast). Leon Trotsky polemicized against this slogan several times. In his article, “Bourgeois Democracy and the Struggle Against Fascism” (January 1936), the Bolshevik revolutionary stressed that the bourgeois politicians “never would eradicate fascism, or even totally isolate it, because it serves the state in keeping its real enemy, the proletariat, at bay; at most the state will keep it in check. Therefore, the demand for the state to dissolve and disarm the fascist gangs (the German Social Democrats cried, ‘State, act fast,’) and voting for similar measures is thoroughly reactionary.” RIO, take heed!
Instead of looking to the state, Trotsky repeatedly stressed the need for a united defense by the working class against the fascist thugs. In 1930, after the Nazis’ first electoral success, he wrote that Communists should “call for the defense of those material and moral positions which the working class has managed to win in the German state,” i.e., “workers political organizations, trade unions, newspapers, printing plants, clubs, libraries,” and “in every factory, in every working-class neighborhood and district” (“The Turn of the Comintern and the Situation in Germany”). Today, in besieged Neukölln, this means fighting for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, and for joint worker/immigrant defense to mobilize working-class power against the fascists and their official protectors.
The bourgeoisie has shown itself unwilling to even apply the cosmetics for the democratic masquerade of its increasingly undisguised dictatorship. Part of it thinks that an all-too intimate close-up look at the ugly grimace of their dictatorship might be too scary; another part has long been working to return to the days when any masquerade was dispensed with. As we have repeatedly pointed out, the rulers are aware, and not only in Germany, that they need a beefed-up state with bonapartist features to prepare for the foreseeable unrest of working people and the oppressed in decaying capitalism, whose descent into barbarism has become increasingly evident in the spotlight of the coronavirus pandemic.
What we can observe in Neukölln is the pervasive networking of fascists and the bourgeois state apparatus. At the federal level, we see many examples – Nazis and “preppers”7 with death lists in the KSK (special forces commandos) and other federal military units; NSU connections with the police in the state of Hesse; Hitler images and swastika symbols in Nordrhein-Westfallen police chat groups; fascist infiltration of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution – of what in Neukölln is shown to be pervasive at the local level. The Berlin police have always been stuffed with Nazis, it was a hotbed of fascist Republikaner in the mid-’80s. Police officers regularly cover up for Nazis as they do their dirty work, LKA investigators block investigations, Verfassungsschutz officers leak internal information to suspects, office staff download personal data to pass on to Nazi perpetrators.
It is not only about “right-wing extremist structures” in the police, which obviously exist, but about the fact that the whole repressive apparatus (police, military, secret services, state attorneys) – the core of the bourgeois state – is in a protection racket with fascists. One can also see in Neukölln the cooperation of the AfD – and not only of its völkisch (German nationalist) and fascist “Flugel” (wing)8 – with Nazis of the NPD, from the very top in the Criminal Investigation Department down to the precinct level and on the street. This is all the more important because both the bourgeois media and politicians and the reformist left label the AfD with the trivializing label of “right-wing populists” (in juxtaposition to “left-wing populists” like Wagenknecht’s Aufstehen (rise up) movement?).9 Rather, the fact that there is a division of labor between the fascistic AfD and outright fascists is confirmed here in the district.
One also sees how anti-communist and xenophobic terror are linked. Everything indicates that it is the same fascists who carry out arson attacks against left-wing politicians and smash shop windows of Arab cafes. Both are incited by the police through raids against shisha bars and bans on leftist demos. Nazi hounding of Jews continues, and is compounded with constant aggression against immigrants and people of Middle Eastern and African descent. The German nationalist hysteria spreads simultaneously with – and as a consequence of – the decay of rotting capitalism based on the nation-state. The imperialist alliance of the European Union cannot overcome this, as the fiasco of the struggle against COVID proves. Only the struggle for a Socialist United States of Europe offers a way out.
The capitalist class and its state keep the fascists on standby to unleash them as a spearhead for racist divisions among the oppressed and the working class, and to crush burgeoning resistance to their economic and social austerity plans, their imperialist wars to divide up world markets, and over spheres of exploitation within the country. At the same time, the popular-front policies of the reformists, who look to the bourgeois state for their salvation, serve to divert the masses from class struggle. As Trotsky noted in the 1938 Transitional Program, “‘People’s Fronts’ on the one hand – fascism on the other: these are the last political resources of imperialism in the struggle against the proletarian revolution.”
Pressuring the bourgeois state for protection against the Nazis disarms the working class; appeals to the state for a ban on the Nazis further strengthen the oppressive state apparatus – harsher laws and bans will be put into use primarily to persecute leftists, immigrants and the entire working class. The Internationalistische Gruppe fights instead for worker/immigrant mobilizations. The struggle against the fascists requires a revolutionary, multi-ethnic workers party to lead the fight for socialist revolution, which alone is capable of eliminating the brown plague once and for all. ■
- 1. The SPD is the traditional social-democratic party in Germany, which for decades joined in administering the imperialist West German state; Die Linke, or Left Party, includes remnants of the former Stalinist ruling party of East Germany, a bureaucratically deformed workers state, who with the capitalist reunification of Germany transformed themselves into “left” social democrats; the Greens are a bourgeois party. Together the three parties have a majority in the Berlin state parliament and constitute the Senate, the executive body which governs Germany’s capital city.
- 2. From: https://berlin-gegen-nazis.de/Veranstaltung/gedenken-an-luke-holland/
- 3. From: https://rechtsaussen.berlin/2020/09/luke-holland-wird-in-neukoelln-ermordet/
- 4. The National Democratic Party, the largest neo-Nazi fascist outfit. An effort to ban the NPD in 2003 failed on the grounds the Verfassungsschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s FBI) had so many agents and informers in the party, including at high levels, who had written much of the incriminating material and practically controlled the party in some states (notably Nordrhein-Westfallen).
- 5. The case of Anis Amri, the Islamist truck driver who killed eleven people in the Berlin Christmas market in December 2016. The Berlin state attorney’s office had had engaged in cover-ups to justify the fact that it had stopped tapping his phone four months before the murderous attack.
- 6. NSU affair: The National Socialist Union, a Nazi terror network, was implicated in at least nine murders of immigrants, the murder of a policewoman, bombings in Cologne in 2001 and 2004, and more than a dozen bank robberies. After it was uncovered in late 2011, a scandal broke out when it was revealed that the NSU was infiltrated by German (and possibly U.S.) intelligence agencies, which had undercover agents present during some of the murders. It is suspected that not all of the network was rolled up.
- 7. Fascistic right-wingers who are preparing for “Day X” when, in the midst of apocalyptic social collapse, they aim to wipe out all those on their enemies lists, i.e., leftists, immigrants, etc.
- 8. The openly Nazi wing of the AfD, headed by Björn Höcke in the eastern German state of Thüringen.
- 9. In
2018, Left Party Bundestag deputy Sara Wagenknecht
cofounded the Aufstehen movement, modeled on Jean-Luc
Mélenchon's La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), on a
nationalist program of “left” populism to compete for
voters with the AfD. The latter, however, is not simply
“right-wing populist” but a fascistic party with close
ties to Nazi fascists, as this article details at the