The first marchers reached Siegessäule two hours after leaving Alexanderplatz, six kilometres away. At the same time, the last of the demonstrators were just starting to march. The crowds did not disperse until well into the evening, after a six-hour street concert.
You could march with refugee activists chanting anti-nationalist slogans and then jog ten minutes ahead and find Maoists blasting “the Internationale” from the curb, and still not come any closer to finding the front or back of the demonstration.
This was nearly 250,000 people shutting down the centre of Berlin, protesting against the return of fascism. In Germany, such opposition is important.
Last year, a far right party – the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – won seats in the federal parliament for the first time since the end of World War Two. This year, a growing Nazi street movement (with close ties to the AfD) has grabbed international headlines with violent anti-immigrant demonstrations.
Progressive forces are conscious of the threat. There have been several actions in recent months to respond, including a free concert with several prominent German musicians in Chemnitz attended by 60,000.
For the Berlin “Großdemo”, NGOs, activist groups and political organisations formed a broad coalition under the slogan “Unteilbar” – indivisible. Through this alliance, they united thousands by calling for a “society of solidarity, not exclusion and racism,” and against attacks on “humanity and human rights, religious freedom, and the rule of law”.
The group included all of Germany’s major political parties, except Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union. But the Berlin demonstration was not about promoting mainstream party politics – nor was it limited to the question of the AfD’s electoral success.
It was a reaction against the rightwards drift of society. Every conceivable left wing cause was drawn in. It felt like every progressive organisation in Germany was represented on the march.
The refugee movement was there, including the group Seebrücke, which campaigns for the rescue of refugees from the Mediterranean. The European Union is leaving hundreds to drown in the Mediterranean.
Environmental activists marched, a week after 50,000 protested in Hambach Forest, near Cologne. Only 10 percent of the forest is left, and mining companies have every intention of destroying more.
Workers were also centrally involved. Ryanair flight staff, on strike across Europe at the time of the march, gave speeches calling for international solidarity. Their union, ver.di, was among several with a significant presence, including Germany’s largest, IG Metall.
Movements for greater investment in social services and education were represented. And there were contingents against sexism, against unaffordable rents and against increased police powers. From Grandmas Against the Right, to Women Against Bolsonaro, all these struggles were recognised as being parts of one fight for a better world. For some, that meant socialist revolution, for others a stronger welfare state. But all could agree on the need to challenge the far right.
The threat from the right can be seen across the globe: Gavin McInnes’ “Proud Boys” attacking people on the streets of New York City; hardcore white supremacist groups in Australia infiltrating mainstream parties; the increasing electoral successes of European far right parties. Without a serious left wing alternative, reactionary politics will continue to advance even further towards the mainstream.
After the demonstration, a long time German socialist remarked that they’d expected only 50,000 to attend the march. The final count indicates the incredible potential for mass resistance to the advance of the right.