A few weeks ago I posted a piece examining some of the reasons for the Alternative for Germany party rising in the polls and the elite response to the party. I received a fair amount of feedback in comments for not focusing enough on the dangers of the AfD positions and public statements from its members. It can be difficult to cover everything in a 3,000-word post, so here is a follow-up to that previous piece. Here I will cover some of AfD officials’ controversial statements and actions, further examine the makeup of their support in Germany, and take a look at where the party lands on the stages of fascism.
Those are not hard to find as they are routinely covered in the media. Here’s just a short sampling:
- AfD Chairman Tino Chrupalla in a debate with the leader of the Free Democratic Party, Christian Dürr, said the following (from Ukrainska Pravda): “Among other things, Tino Chrupalla made statements suggesting that Ukraine “will emerge from this war as a loser, just like Russia! Again there is only one winner, and that winner’s name is USA,” as well as complaints that Germany can no longer buy Russian gas profitable for it and buys “dirty shale gas from America.” To the indignation of his opponent, who was shocked by his indifference to the death of Ukrainians, Chrupalla said that people also died in Iraq and Afghanistan, so with that logic they cannot buy energy resources from the United States either.”
- Last month, Florian Jäger, the chairman for the AfD in the district Fürstenfeldbruck, was convicted and fined for a 2021 Facebook post comparing the government’s COVID19 policies to the Nazi’s anti-Jewish pogroms. The post: “According to a well-known pattern, a scapegoat is currently being sought for the catastrophic political failure of the governing body, and Söder has found him. It’s the ‘unvaccinated.’”
- AfD chairman Björn Höcke allegedly used a motto of the SA, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party, at a speech in May 2021.He is accused of ending his talk with the phrase “Everything for Germany,” which was often used by the SA.
- In 2020, the AfD suspended a spokesman after he suggested in an email exchange that the term “fascist” was used too freely.
- In 2018 then-party leader Alexander Gauland said the following: “We have a glorious history — and that, dear friends, lasted longer than those damn 12 years,” he said in reference to the Nazi era. “Yes, we accept our responsibility for those 12 years,” Gauland said, adding, “Hitler and the Nazis are just bird shit in more than 1,000 years of successful German history.”
- The previous year, Gauland said Germany should be proud of its world war soldiers: “If the French are rightly proud of their emperor and the Britons of Nelson and Churchill, we have the right to be proud of the achievements of the German soldiers in two world wars. “If I look around Europe, no other people has dealt as clearly with their past wrongs as the Germans.”
- In a 2017 speech, Hocke said “these stupid politics of coming to grips with the past cripple us.” He also criticized Berlin’s Holocaust memorial, calling it a “monument of shame.”
[Maximilian] Krah, who has been sitting in the European Parliament for the AfD since 2019, maintains close contacts with the neo-Nazi ideologue Götz Kubitschek and is an avowed follower of Hitler’s crown jurist Carl Schmitt. In his own legal work, he represents Holocaust deniers, such as the dissident bishop Richard Williamson, and other right-wing extremists.
Krah is very well connected to the fascist scene in Europe. For example, he has employed French anti-Semite Guillaume Pradoura in his office since 2019, after he was expelled from Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National for an anti-Semitic cartoon. Krah defended the cartoon, saying, “The picture is not nice, but I can’t see any wrongdoing in it.”
The other AfD top candidates are cut from the same cloth as Krah. In second place is Peter Bystron, a member of the Bundestag (federal parliament) who also gathers fascists and criminal elements around him in his office. In early 2021, Bystron’s associate Dagmar S. was investigated for involvement in a Europe-wide far-right arms trafficking ring. In 2018, Bystron himself had taken part in shooting exercises with the white-nationalist Suidlanders during an official parliamentary trip to South Africa and provocatively described the far-right Afrikaner paramilitary group as “a civil society organisation.”
Alexander Jungbluth (fifth position), a member of the right-wing extremist student fraternity the Raczeks, agitated against “kebab shops” and “Shisha bars” in Germany at a meeting of the AfD a few days before the party conference. To the approving growls of his far-right audience, he called for “a German culture in Germany, a French culture in France, an Italian culture in Italy.”
Readers are welcome to add any statements or connections not included here. I’m not sure it changes the fact that the AfD’s increasing popularity (currently second at 21 percent in the polls) has to do with the unresponsiveness of the political class in Germany. With foreign and domestic policy leading to the erosion of working class German living standards, it is unsurprising that some voters are turning to a party despised by that same political class.
Who Are the AfD Supporters?
The fact that inflation and immigration policies are helping AfD climb in the polls is backed by a recent poll by Instituts für Demoskopie Allensbach commissioned by the FAZ. It finds zero evidence for a right-ward shift in German public opinion over the last few years. According to the results, about two percent of the German population has neo-Nazi beliefs, and 12 percent have what the institute labels far-right and authoritarian views.
People with neo-Nazi beliefs constitute about 13 percent of AfD’s support while another 43 percent is from those with authoritarian views. That means there is 44 percent of AfD backers who are neither. Why are they now for the AfD?
A reminder of the main pillars of the AfD’s platform:
- Anti-EU and anti-euro.
- Fiercely ethnonationalist. AfD wants to drastically reduce immigration to Germany. The party is especially against Muslims in Germany. (According to the AP, roughly 19 million people, or 23 percent of Germany’s population today, either immigrated to the country since 1950 or are the children of immigrants, and there are roughly 5.5 million Muslims in Germany with many recruited as “guest workers” to West Germany more than 60 years ago.)
- On foreign policy, they want to expel US troops from Germany and restore economic ties with Russia and maintain strong trade with China. They do not believe Germans’ interests are served by serving US foreign policy interests. Are not opposed to stronger German military and use of force abroad but want it on German terms as opposed to under the US/NATO umbrella.
87 percent of AfD supporters are concerned about the number of refugees arriving in Germany compared to 56 percent overall, and 90 percent are very concerned about inflation compared to 78 percent overall. Adam Tooze summarizes:
For about half the AfD’s potential electorate, their vote is a matter of conviction. But for on top of that for a large part of the AfD’s electorate their preference is a way of signaling – presumably to what they take to be the mainstream – that they are dissatisfied with the status quo and do not believe that their voices will otherwise be heard. When asked why they might consider voting for the AfD at the next election – as 22 percent of those in survey said they would do – 78 percent said that it would be a sign that they were unhappy with “current policies” with 71 mentioning migration policy, in particular…
Overall, the conclusion of the surveys seems quite clear. There has not been a general shift to the right. In addition to a base of far-right wing support, which makes up 15 percent of the population, the AfD is attracting a protest vote that takes it to slightly more than 20 percent support. This is driven by dissatisfaction with migration policy and a general fear of societal crisis.
This polling supports the conclusions of Manès Weisskircher who researches social movements, political parties, democracy, and the far right at the Institute of Political Science, TU Dresden. He argues that AfD’s support, which is strongest in East Germany, can be primarily traced to three factors:
- The neoliberal ‘great transformation,’ which has massively changed the eastern German economy and continues to lead to emigration and anxiety over personal economic prospects.
- An ongoing sense of marginalization among East Germans who feel they have never been fully integrated since reunification and resent liberal immigration policies in this context.
- Deep dissatisfaction with the functioning of the political system and doubt in political participation.
With this in mind, the solution for the German political class to stop the AfD’s rise is straightforward: respond to voters’ concerns and provide economic benefits so that they would be less inclined to support a party like the AfD. But that is not what is happening.
German politicians have insisted voters simply don’t understand (i.e., the voters are stupid). The AfD has been surveilled by domestic intelligence and pilloried in the media. And now there are discussions to ban the party. Predictably, AfD only rises in the polls in response.
No one statement better exemplifies the position of the German elite than foreign minister Annalena Baerbock’s declaration that she will support Ukraine no matter what German voters think. And the other major German political parties are united in support for Ukraine and continue to support a foreign policy at odds with the economic interests of the majority of Germans.
This leads to a series of questions: Who has created the situation in Germany that has provided fertile ground for the AfD to move beyond its base of neo-Nazis and authoritarian supporters? Is the most effective way to counter its rise to continue to ignore voters’ concerns and surveill the AfD, attack it the media, and potentially ban the party? Or would it be to actually enact policies that would address voters’ economic anxieties?
We’ve seen this show before. A 2021 study published in the Journal of Economic History showed that voting data from a thousand districts and a hundred cities for four elections between 1930 and 1933 showed that areas more affected by austerity had more support for the Nazi Party.
The Fascism Question
When examining the question of AfD and fascism, it’s useful to refer back to Lambert’s 2019 post on Robert O. Paxton’s “The Five Stages of Fascism.” Paxton writes that “Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline.”
It could be said that the AfD has fascist ambitions (with its hyperfocus on “preserving German as the predominant culture), but they do not yet have authority. The party would also have to obtain authority while sticking to its positions, which is easier said than done. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy shared many similarities with AfD prior to obtaining power. In the runup to the Italian election last year and ever since, they have capitulated on the issues of the EU in order to appease Brussels, NATO in order to appease the US, and immigration in order to appease big business in Italy.
Paxton also writes the following:
We must distinguish the different stages of fascism in time. It has long been standard to point to the difference between movements and regimes. I believe we can usefully distinguish more stages than that, if we look clearly at the very different sociopolitical processes involved in each stage. I propose to isolate five of them: (1) the initial creation of fascist movements; (2) their rooting as parties in a political system; (3) the acquisition of power; (4) the exercise of power; and, finally, in the longer term, (5) radicalization or entropy. …
The second stage—rooting, in which a fascist movement becomes a party capable of acting decisively on the political scene—happens relatively rarely. At this stage, comparison becomes rewarding: one can contrast successes with failures. Success depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies seems to condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner.
So the AfD is in the process of reaching stage two – to take root in the political system. One could certainly argue that the German state is in decline, unable or unwilling to alter course. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines and Germany’s head-in-the-sand response and general subservience to the US empire is a source of humiliation, as is the decline in living standards many Germans are being forced to accept.
More from Paxton:
The right questions to ask of today’s neo- or protofascisms are those appropriate for the second and third stages of the fascist cycle. Are they becoming rooted as parties that represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the political scene? Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage apparently insoluble by existing authorities? Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?
So far, the traditional elites in Germany remain opposed to the AfD. Germany’s business groups, at least for now, are unified in their opposition to the AfD whose immigration stance goes against big businesses’ desire for cheap labor.
All of Germany’s main political parties are opposed to the AfD and even discussing an outright ban of the party. For now at least, Germany’s main opposition leader, Friedrich Merz who leads the Christian Democrats, has ruled out cooperation of any kind with AfD. Merz, a former corporate lawyer who has sat on numerous company boards including BlackRock Germany, had been heavily criticized for previous comments after AfD election wins in Eastern Germany local elections. He said at the time that they were democratic elections that “we have to accept, and then of course ways have to be sought in local parliaments to organize the town, the countryside or the county together.”
Unless the AfD changes its core positions on immigration and foreign policy, it’s hard to see how it would gain support of the German (and US/NATO) elite.
On the other hand, it’s equally unlikely that German elites can regain control of the plot.The problem for Germany is that its foreign policy and vassalage to the US is inextricably linked to its domestic economic woes. It is so wholly captured by Washington that none of the major political parties even agitate for a more thorough investigation into the Nord Stream destruction. None of them call for a reexamination of the country’s policy towards Russia (and now China too) and whether following the US/NATO lead is truly in the interest of Germans.
Until Germany is able to thoroughly raise these questions, it’s hard to envision a soft landing for its political system and society at large. And that only increases the possibility of, as Paxton writes, “rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge.”