Right-wing Extremism in Germany
By Michael Hausin, Rostock
[This article originally published in: Materialdienst 11/99 is translated abridged from the German on the World Wide Web, www.ekd.de.]
On one side right-wing extremism is prominent in periodicals (usually because of right-wing acts of violence or unexpected election victories of right-wing parties). On the other side a great conceptual confusion prevails.
I. Definitions and statistics
There are no obligatory definitions of the terms "extremism", "radicalism", "new right", "conservative revolution", "neo-nazism" and "neo-fascism". Rather these terms are used synonymously. The two political scientists Uwe Backes and Eckehard Jesse as distinguished researchers of extremism and totalitarianism attempt rational definitions and a fruitful discussion on democracy and extremism.
Backes and Jesse see the extremism term as a counter-pole to the democratic constitutional state. Right-wing extremism is defined as an "anti-individualist resistance movement against liberal and democratic forces and their product, the democratic constitutional state negating the basic democratic axiom of fundamental human equality." [The ambivalent term "radicalism" should be avoided as semantically burdened. The democratic and emancipatory movements of the 18th and 19th centuries were self-confidently radical in their thinking, going to the root in their struggle for rights of freedom. The extremism term can be useful since it has fewer misunderstood associations in the history of ideas.] Historical national socialism integrates wide parts of right-wing extremism. Neo-national socialism is comprised of right-wing extremist variants that "identify with supportive principles of national socialism" [Backes/ Jesse 1993], typical racial anti-semitism. Thus right-wing extremism represents the overarching concept for the anti-democratic right-wing that includes three variants:
a) right-wing extremists in the narrow sense who trivialize the NS and deny the genocide of the Jews while nevertheless not directly adopting the NS system;
b) neo-national socialists, so-called "neo-nazis" who consciously ally with the NSDAP and the NS regime and seek to introduce this system;
c) right-wing terrorism analogous to the RAF that wants to bomb the "Fourth Reich" into existence. Its political models of the future are oriented in clearly defined and institutionally anchored inequalities, rankings and hierarchies based on domination, performance, and national, ethnic and racial membership [cf. Backes/ Jesse 1993].
The democratic right, usually described as right-wing conservatives, should be distinguished from right-wing extremism. No party of this kind exists in Germany with any appreciable significance. Its representatives are found in different parties... Right-wing conservatism accepts fundamental democratic principles and procedures without exception. However it emphasizes the homogeneous or ethnically founded nation, the sovereignty of the nation in its foreign relations and defends a rigid criminal law- and foreigner policy.
For 1998, the German agency for internal security identified 53,600 right-wing extremists in Germany [1997: 48,400] of whom 8200 were regarded as violent. In both categories, this represented an increase of 11 or 8% compared to 1997. Happily right-wing extremist crimes and acts of violence declined. The majority of right-wing extremists live in the new states. Half of right-wing extremist acts of violence were committed there. After the prohibitions of numerous organizations at the beginning of the nineties, right-wing extremists have increasingly made way for loose networks. The number of Internet pages with right-wing extremist content doubled in 1998 to over 200.
II. Dimensions of the Discussion
The discussion of the theme right-wing extremism occurs in three dimensions:
1. 1. Right-wing extremist parties are analyzed in the scope of party research. Their election victories intensify media and scholarly interest and promote numerous publications. Altogether 3.3% of the second votes in the 1998 Bundestag election were for the three parties DVU, REP and NPD rated by the German agency for internal security as right-wing extremist... The exegesis of the diverse party programs only helps restrictedly to trace their anti-democratic goals...
There were no election rallies or public appearances of party spokespersons for the DVU. This "phantom party" is only conspicuous through bulk mailings and omnipresent posters. Its successes are realized without a personal presence.
Despite the trifling election victories of right-wing extremist parties in the last Bundestag or Europe elections, a right-wing potential of around 10% is calculated in a study of the Free University of Berlin. If right-wing extremists succeed in finding charismatic leaders for their parties, this voter potential could be mobilized as occurred recently in Austria.
2.The complex of the "new right" and the ideas of the so-called "conservative revolution", a right-wing intellectual phenomenon of the 20s, can be analyzed under aspects of democratic theory and the history of ideas. The "new right" describes a theoretical discourse, the attempt to design a consistent standardized right-wing system of thought.
Whether the intellectual circles of the "New Right" are anti-democratic is controversial since personal relations to neo-conservatism always exist in their circles. Beside their anti-egalitarian attitude, their radical rejection of Christianity is interesting in the "New Right". The "New Right" sees the cause for the cultural-political downfall of modern Europe in the Jewish-Christian faith. Therefore it sets the goal of dissolving Christianity and replacing it with other religious traditions [cf. Niewiadomski 1995]. The Jewish-Christian religion is "accused in a drastic way of the destruction of human cultures". Their own monotheism and universalism led to the destruction of the indigenous religions. The subordination of politics under ethical postulates shattered the autonomy of politics. Therefore Christianity should be abolished in favor of a new heathen world-view. Only a reflection on the pre-Christian "native religions" allows a return to acknowledgment of perennial biological-anthropological determinants. Thus the Christian values of mercy, compassion and the equality of all people make way for the biological principle of the rule of the strong. "Christianity as an inheritance of Judaism (with the idea of the equality of all persons before God), liberalism as an inheritance of Christianity (with the idea of the equality of all persons before the law) and socialism (with the demand of the social equality of persons) are militantly rejected."
3. A right-wing sub- and youth culture particularly in the new states is found as a novel phenomenon of the 90s. The media largely accept these "life-style fascists" without "political visions" [Schwarz 1999]. In several East German communes, right-wing extremists have gained the "cultural hegemony" among youth [Schwarz 1999: "Because neo-nazis do not thrash brave citizens, they come to an arrangement with them"]. Above all the actually apolitical skinhead scene developed into the preferred recruiting source of the neo-nazis since the end of the 80s. Their actions and appearances (effective in public opinion) give right-wing extremism its typically hideous face. The fascination of right-wing extremist thinking among young persons is often an "aesthetic phenomenon" [Nuchtern 1998] expressed in clothing symbols and musical style. Right-wing extremism grows among young persons where devaluation is experienced and lack of perspectives occurs and extreme right-wing groups feel valuable.