Tweet Follow @RPJblog
By Jason Michael
FEW PEOPLE KNOW THE NAME Anton Drexler these days. Drexler is little more than a footnote to modern European history. Born in Munich in 1884 and found unfit to serve in the German army in World War I, Anton Drexler – a common-or-garden anti-Semite and German nationalist – went on to establish the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (the German Workers’ Party) and chair it until it was dissolved in February 1920. Like Paul von Hindenburg, President of the Weimar Republic, Anton Drexler failed to truly grasp the awful potential of the man who would replace him, who would in time replace the President and assume all the powers of the presidency and the chancellorship into himself – Adolf Hitler. In 1920, Hitler replaced his mentor Drexler as chair of the DAP, wound down the party, and built atop its foundations the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, better known to us as the NSDAP or the Nazi Party. The rest, as they say, is history.
It is difficult to watch the antics of the British Conservative Party and not see the parallels with the final years of the Weimar Republic. Let us not imagine Drexler a good character. He was far from a hero of German and European history, but without Hitler he was doomed to obscurity; the chairman of an ossifying far-right political sect incapable of winning elections. His nationalist and antisemitic politics were fettered to the fringes of mainstream politics, and the chances of them escaping this shadowy existence – without Hitler – were bleak. Without what happened next, Drexler would be even less of a footnote than he is now. Yet, given what happened next and what is today happening in British politics, he has his parallels in the drama unfolding on Downing Street.
Over the past week I have been rereading Saul Friedländer’s account of the rise of German national socialism in Nazi Germany and the Jews 1933-1945. With a blue highlighter pen I have put a small mark in the margin next to every event that has been repeated by the British government over the past half-decade, and the result is interesting. Every page of the first two chapters has at least two blue marks. Here is just one example from a Berlin woman’s letter to President Hindenburg, dated 23 February 1933 (page 5):
But now it has gone so far that in our country pamphlets saying, ‘Jews, get out!’ are being distributed on the streets, and there are open calls for pogroms and acts of violence against Jews.
Only because we know what happened in the twelve years after 1933 do we treat this record as exceptional, as the beginning of something massive and monstrous; as the early days of the Holocaust. But when Frieda Friedmann wrote this letter, she had no idea of the scale of the calamity ahead. What she is telling Hindenburg is no different to what is right now happening in England. British politicians – even members and former members of the Cabinet – are stirring up racial and religious tensions between the majority white English population and Muslims and other minorities. Boris Johnson, who may well be the next Prime Minister, described Muslim women as “letterboxes,” knowing perfectly well how this would feed into and embolden the Islamophobic street politics of the National Front and the English Defence League with their fearmongering about the “Islamification of Britain.” He is well aware of the steep rise in anti-Muslim hate crime in the UK, but he doesn’t care – he knows this rhetoric will win him support.
There are plenty of open calls for violence against Muslims. “Punish a Muslim Day” was not a one-off, it was merely a call to action from the far-right that, thanks to the internet, came to more people’s attention. Theresa May and Boris Johnson know about these calls for pogroms and acts of violence. In fact, they are no longer threats. Muslims all over the United Kingdom are regular targets of violent attacks and routinely subjected to Islamophobic hate speech. And rather than receiving help from the British government they have been accosted by Home Office vans in London telling those in the UK illegally to “Go home or face arrest.” In every detail, this is an exact rerun of the situation surrounding Ms. Friedmann in Berlin in 1933. The only difference is what happened next. What happens next in Britain hasn’t happened yet. We are as in the dark concerning the next ten to twelve years as were the Jews of Germany in the days and months before Hitler came to power.
Theresa May and Boris Johnson have shown not the slightest qualm in their use of racist and Islamophobic rhetoric and slogans. Nigel Farage’s rancid poster depicting “hoards” of Turkish people and Syrian refugees (Muslims) “flooding” into Britain was nothing more than a visualisation of the racist and xenophobic politics already in action at the highest level of British politics. May and Johnson have realised the value in this vile politicking. Not that they are not real racists – they are, but, seeing the trove of votes on the far-right, they have realised the value of bringing their hate and bile out into the open. There’s no fear of their Westminster opponents standing up to resist them, Labour has already come into the open with its “controls on immigration.” But Johnson, supposing he is the next Prime Minister, is safe – there’s more to him than his dislike of brown people, he’s not monomaniacal – he’s not an ideological racist. Mr Johnson is only in it for the office. He wants to be Prime Minister. With him in Number 10 there won’t be mass graves – and this is exactly what makes him the Anton Drexler of British politics.
Johnson is hoping his common-or-garden variety – foppish and affable – Islamophobia will secure him the support he needs to get into Number 10, and maybe it will. But his stay won’t be long. He can’t deliver on those mass graves – and that is what the far-right’s demanding. Polls are showing that if he is the next Prime Minister voters will return from the Brexit Party and UKIP to the Conservative fold, but they won’t be coming without expectation. In Johnson they see a man after their own heart, a Muslim-hater. But he’s not like them, not entirely, and they will soon realise this. And when he fails to deliver, they will, and with renewed strength and determination, go after someone who will. Like the far-right in 1930s Germany, they will look for a man of the people; someone strong, from the street, with an air of the soldier about him. Perhaps someone who’s been to prison for his far-right convictions. But, alas, thankfully we don’t have anyone like that here.
Tommy Robinson is in prison and this is why