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New Left Review I/206, July-August 1994


Stefan Berger

Nationalism and the Left in Germany

A new/old spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of nationalism. Everyone underestimated its force and potential before 1989, and in the post-Cold War world, almost everyone is struggling to come to terms with it. There is a long history of the Left, in Germany in particular, being accused of a lack of understanding of that powerful ethos. In the 1870s, Bismarck attacked the Social-Democrats as ‘fellows without a fatherland’ (vaterlandslose Gesellen). The prominent role that the spd played in the International before 1914 continued to make German nationalists suspect it of treachery and unreliability. The party continued to be treated as the ‘enemy within’. After the First World War the Socialists were once again accused of stabbing the heroic German army in the back—thus depriving it of its well-deserved victory. The Communists and Socialists were the first victims of the ‘national revolution’ of the Nazis. In the Cold War, after 1947, the spd found itself accused of acting as Moscow’s fifth column. And the Neue Ostpolitik of the Brandt governments after 1969 was denounced by its conservative opponents as a national sell-out. The latest of these attacks on the spd’s (and the Greens’) unreliability in national affairs came with the reunification of the country in 1990.

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