Causes for the rise of East Germany’s far-right movement

American media reduces rise of far-right as reaction to communism, but there’s more to it than that

Christian Patterson
2019-11-11
Underground Mall

Erfurt Stadtbahn

AfD, the far-right party of Germany, recently won an election in Thuringia. I’m using this opportunity to show that mainstream American news oversimplifies the causes of the right-wing turn of eastern Germany. They want to make it all about a reaction to their communist history. But this explanation doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, given the fact that there’s a global rise in the far-right, in many countries that were never communist.

Katrin Bennhold and Melissa Eddy wrote the article Election in Germany Helps Far Right Tighten Its Grip in the East:

“The far-right Alternative for Germany party on Sunday celebrated a strong showing in the former Communist East, more than doubling its support in a state election held two weeks after an attack on a synagogue that some tied to the party’s use of hateful language. “

The article continues:


“‘The people of Thuringia have voted for a Turnaround 2.0,’ an elated Mr. Höcke said on Sunday night, using his party’s main campaign slogan. It is a play on the term Germans use to refer to the fall of Communism and German reunification, and it taps into Eastern resentments three decades later. “

This part is alarming, because the implication is that the first turn around is from communism, and the second turn is towards what exactly? Presumably, fascism or something like it, right?

Erfurt Stadtbahn

But the article suggests the right-wing turn is a reaction to communism. In a way, that’s true, because it’s a tangible, recently historical, anti-fascistic element of their society that they can “rebel” against.

It’s the narrative right-wing East Germans want to have because it’s simple, and singularly justifies their movement. If the German far-right is simply reacting to the agreed-upon boogeyman, East Germany, then how can the western press say they’re wrong?

In his book Fascism and Dictatorship, Nicos Poulantzas offers an in-depth analysis of fascism and its origins. He argues that fascism begins as a petit-bourgeois, or middle class, reaction to crises of capitalism. This radical middle class is motivated to maintain the status-quo, they have false beliefs about their potential for class mobility, and they have a desire to consolidate power. All of this is masked in an anti-capitalism that selectively focuses on several corrupt, evil, demonic etc capitalists, rather than a material and all-encompassing critique of capitalism.

I think Poulantzas’ analysis of fascism offers a more useful and dynamic way of understanding the East German far-right prominence. If you reduce fascism, or right-wing ideologies that teeter on fascism, to a reaction to communism, it ignores the fact that fascism can, and often does, arise not as a reaction to communism.

Erfurt Stadtbahn

By focusing on fascism as a right-wing, marginally anti-capitalist, pro-status quo middle class movement, it allows for different culture permutations. It offers a more universal explanation for a phenomenon that is indeed happening all over the world.

For example, if you looked at the rise of the far-right in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary, it would be easy to portray it merely as a delayed reaction to communism. But when you broaden your horizons, and look at the number of emergent far-right movements globally, you realize it can’t be reduced to a reaction against communism.

Instead, we notice some broader global trends, namely: neoliberalism, globalization (and not the right-wing globalist boogeyman, but a globalized capitalist economy), and consequently, growing inequality. This is in conflict with the benefits of capitalism we’re taught from a young age, namely: social mobility, constant growth (that presumably leads to economic flourishing), cultural preservation, etc.

When all of these things combine, especially when the capitalist class and their nation-states have consolidated so much power, communism seems impossible to much of the working class. “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” The only direction where mass radicalization is easily accessible is rightward. It’s much easier to become far-right, because mainstream capitalist narratives feed into far-right thought much more than far-left thought.

If we are to do something about the rising far-right in Germany, and globally, we have to broaden our understanding of the causes of this far-right rising. However, this won’t happen, or at least under our current paradigm it won’t. By broadening our understanding of the causes of fascism, it would indict structures within the capitalist society, and the capitalist elite will refuse to indict those structures.

Erfurt Stadtbahn

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