Photo by Chris Lewis
Oh god, here we go again: the "revolutionary" May 1 demo, ripping through the streets of Kreuzberg and Neukölln. "Same procedure as last year," as the Germans like to say. Among the thousands of far left-wingers, anarchists, malcontents, drunks and tourists, some unpleasant young men in black North Face jackets and ski masks will bravely tear off car mirrors or set a recycling bin on fire, throw beer bottles at police and defiantly raise their middle fingers at the Mammon of Kapital that enslaves every living being on this planet. How bold and hopeful and cool and radical!
No! There is nothing revolutionary about this demo and everyone knows it. The thing about the Revolutionary May 1 Demo is that it doesn't work. It's never worked since its inception in 1987. A revolution that starts punctually at the same time on the same day every year and ends a few hours later is about as revolutionary as the World Cup Final, but way more predictable and way less entertaining. Humanity had some real revolutions last century: Russia 1917, Cuba 1953, East Germany 1989 come to mind. This is nothing like them.
The first two were violent, lots of people died and the results weren't all that hot. The Soviet Union didn't end all that well, did it? And Cuba is the GDR with nice weather and soulful music. Fun for tourists, but nobody living in Cuba actually wants that anymore, do they? The 1989 revolution in East Germany was successful. Most people in East Germany were really, really unhappy with communism and consciously chose capitalism. And did it peacefully.
The May 1 "revolutionaries" of current day Berlin don't have the tiniest fraction of popular support among the population. The working classes of Germany have no time for their hyperventilating radicalism. For them, May Day is for peaceful marches and union picnics.
And besides, the Autonomen (those fuckwits in ski-masks) might like to play around with violence, but they lack the balls and the theoretical underpinnings to go the whole nine yards of true revolution in the style of Russia or Cuba.
Fake revolutionary spectacles of this sort inspire about the same amount of social change as a football match. A lot of posturing, little content. Spouting hate at the police and "the system"? So pointlessly 20th century, when hate was all too often the currency of politics. Instead, the left should take heed from Günter Grass, Germany greatest post-war writer, who died this month. In From the Diary of a Snail, Grass – a staunch Social Democrat (back when that label truly meant something) – made the case for gradual, creeping evolution. He was extremely wary of the radical left's burning promise of revolutionary change.
Screaming for revolution in the streets and mindlessly tearing off car mirrors (without even making sure they're expensive cars), feels perhaps mysteriously sublimating for those doing it. It pumps you full of adrenaline and makes you feel powerful. It's the fast food of politics: quick and tasty but empty of sustenance. Real change is more like slow food. Sure it takes demonstrations, but it more than anything it takes patience, cooperation, campaigning and time.
The self-delusion of the organisers of the Revolutionary May Day Demo is astounding. In this charming text titled "Berlin, Athen, Kobanê – die letzte Schlacht gewinnen wir!", an Antifa blogger makes the claim that demonstrators on the streets of Berlin are fighting the same fight as the Kurdish fighters defending Kobanê against ISIS. Yes, you heard right, there's no difference between the reactionary capitalist powers increasing our rents in Berlin and the reactionary Islamist forces terrorising the Middle East. And of course no difference at all between the Kurdish resistance risking their lives on the bloody battlefield of Syria and... them! The arrogance is unfathomable.
Let's be realistic: Just like last year, the enemy – the politicians, the bankers, the real estate agents, the rich – will sleep soundly on the night of May 1. Their wealth and power will be untouched.
If you really want to do something against gentrification and the housing problem in Berlin (the theme of this year's demo), support the Mietenvolksentscheid. This well-organised, democratic campaign which is raising signatures for a referendum on a thought-out affordable housing policy stands a real chance of making a difference in the city. It's slow, tedious and takes a hell of a lot of work. We're not going to topple capitalism overnight with halfwit statements and gasmasks!
Read John Riceburg's pro May Day blog here.