Publication Inequality / Social Struggles - Social Theory Hegemonialism

On the current relevance of Imperialism. Policy Paper 5/2011 by Markus Hawel.



Policy Papers


Marcus Hawel,


November 2011

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In Germany as a whole and even on the Left, there is probably no other international conflict that has been publicly discussed in such controversial and emotionally charged ways than the Israel-Palestine, or more broadly, the Middle East conflict. For this reason, this theme has acquired a special place in the educational work of the Rosa-Luxemburg- Foundation within the country as well as abroad. Given how opinions diverge within the Foundation and amongst its associates, we do not consider it our task to present a closed and uniform position, but rather to provide a forum for debate that meets the demands of an emancipatory political education. Moreover, in order to satisfy the requirements of analytical rigour, the RLS is currently involved in a process of systematising its engagement with the topic of the Middle East conflict. A members’ workshop in July 2010 formed the prelude to that. The workshop resulted in six papers that will appear in a loose sequence as viewpoints of the RLS. More detailed information on the thematic engagement of the RLS with the Middle East conflict can also be found here: naher-osten

Since the middle of the 1990s, there has been a fundamental dispute among individual currents of the Left in Germany with regard to the current relevance and explanatory valence of the theory of imperialism. At times more intensively and at times less so, the fight is taken out into the open by traditional anti-imperialists and the so called anti-Germans. This unresolved dispute has an impact on every political or academic analysis of international relations on the German Left. Particularly with respect to the Middle East conflict, sentiments are extremely divided. Therefore, it seems imperative to look into the question of the virulence of imperialism. This article attempts to do so in a consideration of the necessity of external-political sovereignty of nation states and the related question of the mechanisms of war and peace.

Imperial interpretation versus the culturalisation of the political

Understanding how the dispute between anti-imperialists and anti-Germans came about requires a brief reconstruction of the catalytic events since 1989/90 that triggered a process of rethinking among anti-Germans.
At the time of German reunification in 1990, anti-Germans still took to the streets against a feared strengthening of nationalism and imperialist megalomania with the slogan «Germany, shut your mouth». Only a year later, when the Gulf war began and the peace movement in Germany interpreted this war in anti-imperialist terms, accordingly using the slogan «no blood for oil», the writer Hans-Magnus Enzensberger caused a stir when he termed Saddam Hussein the «reincarnation of Hitler» and sharply criticised the peace movement for its pacifism. Enzensberger was supposedly taking an anti-fascist position and sought to justify the war in this way. Wolf Biermann also became a bellicist, legitimising the war as the protection of Israel, and holding Germany in particular responsible, because German firms had supplied poisonous gas to Iraq, their scud missiles plunging Israelis into fear. At that point, the bellicism of both of these intellectuals was still quite an exception, yet it successfully introduced a bellicist-antifascist rhetoric of legitimation endorsed by the likes of Joschka Fischer and the anti-Germans. Nonetheless, in these years the anti-Germans still distributed flyers that read: «Bomber Harris, do it again», and Fischer fulminated that the German state in alliance with NATO was being led into an imperialist war by misplaced humanitarian arguments.

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