Searching for Streets of Sugar

Under the pavement, the beach!

Routes Sucrées is a radical magazine which will now contribute regularly to New Compass. To celebrate this event, we bring you a brief interview with Leia, one of the founders of Routes Sucrées, about the magazine, radical organizing, and the German left.

When did you start Routes Sucrées? And what were your main reasons for starting to publish this magazine?

Well, we started publishing Straßen aus Zucker, which is the original edition of the magazine, some 5 years ago. First, it appeared in German, then we started publishing an issue in English—as Routes Sucrées—and now we seek to publish editions in other languages too. A Spanish issue—Calles de Azucar—is already out. We bring out 2 issues a year, which are distributed freely in substantial numbers.

2009 was a year of commemoration in Germany, to celebrate the 20 year anniversary for the fall of the Berlin Wall. This period witnessed a great resurgence in German nationalism. We wanted to produce a magazine that was critical of nationalism and the nation-state. And we wanted to actively reach out to a young audience. Our primary audience is older high school students and younger university students that have some interest in political issues, and are exposed to leftist ideas, but that are still in the process of forming those ideas.

We hope to bring theory to those students. We are highly critical of the “subcultural left,” which is more about appearances and symbols than real ideas. We believe it is important to do theory; we hope to inspire people to join the left because you know what you want and you know that revolutionary change is necessary. That being said: we are still a youth magazine and we also try to have a good time. For example, we do fundraising concerts and parties that have become really big in Berlin.

Actually, we didn’t start out with big plans. The magazine was supposed to come out only once, but since it was huge success and we got good feedback, we decided to keep going. We realized that there is a need for the kind of articles we write.

When we write, we strive to make our articles accessible, we try not to use academic language and we avoid using unnecessary difficult words. We had noticed how the Left we come from is heavily theory-oriented, there is a lot of jargon and a lot of specialized terms you need prior knowledge to understand. At the same time, however, we don’t want to oversimplify. There are many publications for young people who really take them to be dumb. No, we wanted to produce a magazine that is clearly written by people who like Marx, but don’t have to put that into every sentence. So far, that approach has been a success.

We have published some ten issues, each of them focuses on a different topic. The first issue was a critique of nationalism and the nation-state. We have also had one on feminism and gender, and one focusing on a critique of religion, the most recent one was on education and the school system. Our next issue will be on reactionary movements in the widest sense, such as, for example, rightwing populism, masculinism, and Islamism.

Routes Sucrées is part of a larger network. Can you say something about your group, how you are organized, and what networks you are active in?

We are an editorial collective of about 15 people. A lot of us are affiliated with the Berlin-based TOP (Theorie. Organization. Praxis.)—an anticapitalist, antinational group that came out of the post-antifa movement—but there are also other individuals that have joined our collective. TOP is a stable group that has been around for almost 10 years. When people join, they become active members and are required to join one of our working groups.

TOP is part of the Ums Ganze-alliance, which was originally formed to protest the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, back in June 2007. Now it consists of more than ten groups in Germany and Austria. They all come from this post-antifa scene, by people who have been socialized and politicized through antifa politics.

Umz Ganze is a network of groups that favors an antinational politics. This means that we are not only critical of nationalism, but critical of the nation-state as such: we oppose it on principled grounds, as a form of hierarchy and domination.

Our alliance meets regularly, and organizes joint campaigns. Recently, we helped organize the Blockupy protests against the opening of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Ums Ganze is also connected with other radical groups in Europe, such as the Beyond Europe alliance that took part in these Blockupy protests. This internationalization—particularly in times of crisis—is crucial.

You mention the “post-antifa.” I don’t think this is a term used in other countries, and it is probably not clear to many people outside of Germany. What would you say are the defining characteristics of the post-antifa? And what are your own experiences with antifa activism?

“Post-antifa” refers to the period around the turn of the millennium, when the antifa movement took a distinct turn toward more theory and more sophisticated anticapitalist analyses, and, sometimes, an explicit anti-German position.

This has to do with the specific German situation. After the reunification, there was a dramatic rise in nationalism and Neonazism: there were pogroms against refugees and migrants in Hoyerswerda and Rostock, and elsewhere. At that time, we needed—and we did have—a strong antifascist movement to counter Neonazi violence and rightwing mobilizations. We needed to organize for self-protection and to protect others, and to chase Nazis off the streets.

Right-wing extremism is still present and visible, especially in some parts of Germany, and in many places we still need antifa groups in the traditional sense. But the situation is now very different from what it was in the early 1990s.

Around 2000 something changed. This was when the German state eventually came to realize that all these Nazi groups created an image problem for the state. Gerhard Schröder and his Social Democratic government called for “a state antifa summer”: basically, for anti-Nazism and for broad protests and mobilizations against the extreme right. For us, this was a new situation. A lot of money was given to anti-Nazi initiatives, to local projects, and a lot of antifa activists found work. But many were critical of the new situation too, because they did not simply wanted to be the more radical arm of liberal politics. I think this shift was also linked to a recognition that the theoretical tools that the antifa movement had at hand weren’t sophisticated enough. Many antifa groups started to analyze society from a more Marxist point of view—an unorthodox Marxist perspective, to be sure, which we, in German, call the “Neue Marx Lektüre.” They deepened their analyses of both the state and capital and linked them to forms of domination. As a consequence, many of the more traditional antifa structures fell apart and and a new phase started. This has sometimes been termed post-antifa because we still retain many of the networks and much of the style and militancy: the antifa has always been very good at black bloc politics.

Having said that, while we retained the knowledge and experience of street militancy, we also retained some of the negative traits from this antifa activism. The antifa movement was highly masculinist, and for a long time dominated by men. This, fortunately, has now been challenged. For a long time, there have been discussions and criticisms, particularly raised by feminists, about sexism and the masculinist tendencies within the movement, but it is only recently that we have succeeded in redressing some of these flaws. Ums Ganze has taken a clear feminist turn in the last few years and so has TOP.

There were other problems too. The antifa networks always had strong links to the Autonomen scene. The Autonomen were organized everywhere in small affinity groups, but there was little transparency, and while it was well-coordinated, it was based on very loose networks. I believe this was a big mistake. Similarly, the anarchist scene and the alterglobalization movement that I was involved in was mostly structured around events and mobilizations. This meant that most of our groups and networks fell apart when the event was over, or when people went beyond a certain age, and weren’t able or interested in being part of a subculture anymore. Actually, the first thing I ever read from Bookchin was his criticism of lifestyle anarchism, which I found really good at the time.

The antifa movement, however, had networks and structures that went beyond the Autonomen scene, and Ums Ganze emerged out of this tradition.

Please tell us something more about the magazine and your group. How are you organized? What do you see as your primary purpose?

The magazine has a twofold purpose. One the one hand, we want to produce a magazine with articles that people like to read. On the other hand, we have a radical democratic approach to writing articles. To me, this is what makes this project the most exciting one I have ever been in, and I have been involved in politics for 20 years.

We have a large age-span in our group. Many members are in their early twenties, so they are close to our readers’ age-group, while others, like me, are older. In my experience, such age gaps can create problems of hierarchy, notably hierarchies of knowledge and experience. We try to deal with these aspects very openly and we try to share knowledge within the editorial board. To facilitate this, we have a system of co-authorship, to make sure that every article is written by two people; ideally, someone who has a lot of experience in writing articles and someone who is less experienced.

When we prepare a new issue, we always go away together on a joint seminar: we read together for two or three days and prepare each other for the next issue. This seminar is very important to us, because we are not all experts on every upcoming topic. Then, in the next step, we come up with ideas for articles and everyone writes their ideas on a given subject. So basically, for every article we have had a collective discussion process, with long lists of notes and comments. Then author teams are formed, which in the end, don’t just write their own opinion, but the opinions of the whole editorial collective. This process feels very empowering for all members of the group. First, we brainstorm questions and ideas, and second, the writing and the editorial process. For me, this is a very good model for political organizing and specifically for producing texts. It’s great fun, too.

Please tell us something about your outreach. Do you feel that your work has an impact?

We have continuously grown. The last printrun of the German edition was 150 000 copies, and all the magazines are handed out for free. We send them to radical infoshops, to political festivals, we go to demonstrations to pass them out. We also have lots of people that order batches and pass magazines out at their schools and universities, and among their friends. We even have some cooperation with other media. We put the magazine into Jungle World, which is a radical weekly newspaper, but also into TAZ—Die Tagezeitung—which is a left-liberal daily newspaper. Occasionally it has also been part of other publications. This helps us reach readers that may not enter a radical bookstore.

We are not picky about who we pass it out to. The texts are really written so that they give fairly basic information and opinion on political perspectives. As I said before, we try to make it simple, but not too simplistic. Although most of our readers probably are in their early twenties, we also have lots of older reader—even I still enjoy reading our own articles.

The feedback we get is really heartwarming. People comment on our articles and write letters to the editors about specific political questions. We try to answer them all and we also put these on our websites. Sometimes when people write to order magazines they give us their stories of how the magazine got them to thinking about something for the very first time, or how it helped them in debates with conservative teachers or parents. Of course, in the 90s we didn’t have the internet, and today it is much easier to get exposed to radical ideas, but I still am surprised at how often these stories remind me of how it was when I grew up in suburbia. This feedback—and the sense that what we write and publish really has an impact—is really what keeps me going. On top of that, it is, for me personally, very rewarding to have a direct impact on the editorial collective and to have the opportunity to pass on knowledge in a non-hierarchical way.


Check out Strassen aus Zucker here, and find past issues in English here.