Where did all the “extremists,” who seek to dominate the current social protests by using social demagogy, suddenly come from? In the German media circus – where ignorance is a competitive advantage – the extremist threat to the democratic “center” of society is always seen as coming from the fringes, or, to put it more precisely, from an imaginary outside. As if extremist aliens were hijacking our good bourgeois democracy. All this rampant delusion couldn’t possibly come from the seemingly rational capitalist mainstream, could it?
The concept of extremism, as it is commonly used in public discourse, is in fact hollow; it refers not only to the political and ideological “distance” between the moderate center and the militant “fringes” of the political spectrum. By listing outward characteristics and extreme methods, it is also an expression of the political majority conditions that prevail at the moment. The center is the political place where the majority of people are, while the “extremes” of the “lunatic fringe” are thought to be the small, lunatic minorities. Thus, the commonly used term extremism refers only to the fringes of the political spectrum. This spectrum, however, is subject to change, and for years it has been marching sharply to the right, in interaction with ever new waves of crisis.
But every actor in the bourgeois political establishment wants to be part of the center. The AfD is no exception. Starting with the Sarrazin debate and continuing with the euro crisis, the refugee crisis, and the AfD’s march through the country, culminating in the Corona mania of the lateral thinkers, the political spectrum has begun to shift. If only because other parties and political forces are reacting to the successes of the right – mostly by trying to copy or adapt parts of the ideological “recipe for success” of the New Right, which is what Ms. Wagenknecht is trying to do. Views of what is considered “normal” and part of the “center” consequently changed during the rise of the New Right. What was once considered agitation and “brown” becomes normal. This calculation is also part of the strategy of the New Right, which seeks to achieve its hegemony of discourse precisely by deliberately breaking taboos and trampling on the most basic norms of civilization.
Ideology and Extremism of The CenterT “Extremism” finds supporters in the center of society, thus rendering the bourgeois concept of extremism – which is located in the environment of the ideology of totalitarianism – completely meaningless and therefore “extremely” useless. In the eastern part of the FRG, the AfD has long been the strongest of the parties. So can it really be called “extremist”? And yet, a modified concept of extremism is indispensable for understanding the rise of the New Right in the crisis. But it has to be understood precisely as a crisis-related “extremism of the center,” as an ideological reaction primarily of the middle classes, of the bourgeoisie, to the crisis-related dislocations.
Ideology is not to be understood here as a mere fantasy or figment of the imagination, but rather as a distorted perception of social reality that seeks to justify and legitimize it despite its contradictions and distortions. Ideology, therefore, always refers to the contradictions of the society in which it emerges. Consequently, a critique of ideology is also a critique of society. Ideology is fabricated precisely in the center, in the culture industry and in the media business, and it always carries an ideologically distorted moment of truth; it fabricates half-truths in order to make people resign themselves to a self-destructive mode of economy that is devastating society, climate systems and the environment, a devastation that is becoming more and more obvious.
In response to waves of crisis, right-wing crisis ideology thus pushes the legitimation patterns and narratives prevailing in the “center” to their ideological extreme in a kind of conformist rebellion. The concept of centrist extremism can thus only shed light on the foundations of right-wing crisis ideology – which is rooted precisely in the existing and seemingly “everyday” – if it is taken seriously and not merely used as a purely formal conceptual shell to which forces at the fringes of the political spectrum are assigned in a totalitarian-theoretical manner.
On the one hand, the New Right thus draws on views, values and ideological frameworks that prevail in the mainstream of the societies in which it is successful. This middle-class ideology, whose form has been decisively shaped by the neoliberal hegemony of the last three decades, is being sharpened and taken to an ideological extreme in response to the dynamics of the crisis. It is thus not “external” forces opposed to the bourgeois center that are now questioning many civilizational norms. The center, unsettled by the crisis, is incubating ideologies of human inequality entirely on its own. Thus, it is not the desire to change the world that fuels centrist extremism, but the reactionary reflex to cling to crisis-ridden late capitalist society.
Therefore, it is necessary to show the continuities between the center and the right-wing populist ideology. It is not a matter form, but of concrete ideological content. It is only by examining the concrete content of new-right ideology – as well as its rooting in the mainstream of late-bourgeois societies – that the aforementioned concept of centrist extremism becomes fully comprehensible. And this ideological continuity also explains why the New Right was able to achieve such rapid electoral success. It is precisely because there is no need for an ideological break. It is the same, well-worn ideological path on which the paranoid and fearful citizen drifts to the extreme.
Competitive Pressure and Location NationalismT Which ideological concepts, then, that have become hegemonic in the “center,” especially in the era of neoliberalism, are being sharpened and taken to extremes by the New Right? First and foremost is the idea of competition, which under neoliberalism has taken hold in almost all areas of society. And of course, right-wing populism and right-wing extremism in all their varieties have always enthusiastically embraced the principle of competition, modifying and sharpening it in many different ways. Right-wing ideologies give this basic principle of the capitalist economy, market competition, a “higher,” timeless meaning by imagining competition as an eternal basic principle of human coexistence: The ideological spectrum here ranges from Social Darwinist ideas to culturalism, racism, economic chauvinism, and the Manichean delusion of German National Socialism, which hallucinated an eternal competition and struggle for survival between Aryans and Jews.
The hatred of “do-gooders” and of moral action is an expression of this crisis-induced barbarization of capitalist competitive pressure, which is characteristic of fascism. The extent to which the hegemony of the New Right has already advanced in this respect is made clear by the right-wing friendly Querfront protagonists of the rapidly eroding left. Christian Baron, for example, denigrated in Freitag (40/2022) as “moral” any criticism of Wagenknecht’s longstanding promotion of the AfD in the financial and refugee crises. This not only confused radical criticism of the activities of the brown fringe of the “Left Party” with morality, but also reproduced the usual resentment of the New Right, which pushes the crisis-induced barbarization of the principle of competition through hatred of the basic principles of civilization.
However, a corresponding drift to the extremism of the center also takes place at the identitary level, in national identity. The era of neo-liberal globalization produced a special form of nationalism and a modification of national identity in the middle class of the “export world champion” Germany, which was very strongly influenced by economic thinking. This locational nationalism, which drew its chauvinism from successful competition on world market, was accompanied by a change in nationalist patterns of exclusion. Culturalism, racism and xenophobia were often economically mediated.
In these economically based resentments, the cultural or racial hierarchization of nations and minorities is derived precisely from their economic position in the world economy or in the national economy concerned. Economic success is said to indicate superior genes or culture, in Germany especially the right attitude towards work, while impoverishment and marginalization are inversely attributed to genetic or cultural deficiencies. These sentiments already found their public breakthrough during the Sarrazin debate, and they became public consensus during the euro crisis, when Schäuble harassed Greece with ever new “austerity packages.”
Moreover, right-wing crisis ideology falsely imagines that the victims of the crisis are its perpetrators. The Hartz IV recipients, according to Sarrazin, are responsible for their misery due to their deficient genetic make-up; the lazy Southern European, according to Schäuble, are to blame for the euro crisis; the refugees, according to Wagenknecht, abuse the “right to hospitality.” This personification of the causes of the crisis in corresponding scapegoats also shows quite concretely that the crisis is a historical process that takes place in stages and promotes the ideological “driving to the extreme” of the existing ideology: The Agenda 2010, which brought about the misery of Hartz IV, which Sarrazin then wanted to attribute to genetic defects, the European debt crisis, the mass migration movements from the periphery, which is collapsing in civil wars, to the centers – these are concrete phases of a crisis process of the capitalist world system that takes place in stages.
National Response to the “Social Question”T The social demagogy of the New Right, which is currently especially successful in the former GDR and which made the AfD the strongest party, is based precisely on giving a national answer to the “social question” in the familiar patterns of thought formed in the brutalization of neoliberalism: “social peace” is to be achieved at the expense of all those who do not belong to the national collective. The right-wing narratives of foreigners who only want our money, of conspiracies to cut off our natural gas, are accompanied by complaints of rising prices and social erosion. This national-socialism that is developing and that has reached the “left” thus seeks to externalize, to project outward, the internal contradictions of capital that are coming to a head as a result of the crisis. These are the same reflexes that appeared, for example, in the euro crisis, when the Greeks, Italians, Spaniards or Portuguese were declared to be the cause of the debt crisis, a crisis that would not have existed without the extreme trade surpluses of the burnt-out republic of Germany.
This process of extremist “brutalization” of the center can thus be traced quite concretely: Since the beginning of the 21st century at the latest, an ideological “rearmament” has taken hold in the Federal Republic, in which the familiar line of thought is not abandoned but taken to the extreme. In the systemic crisis, the logic of the capitalist system is not questioned by the vast majority of the population, but driven into the barbaric. For right-wing populism, therefore, a public that has been conditioned by neoliberalism for decades is a guarantee of electoral success in times of crisis. All it has to do is to continue to stir existing fears, to fuel existing resentments, and to further push ideological armament by means of “courageous taboo-breaking” (similar centrist extremism brought someone like Donald Trump to the White House in the US).
The maxim of the right-wing populist “extremism of the center” is fully effective. What emerges from the frightened – and the fear is only too justified – center of society in response to the misunderstood crisis is poured into politics: Close the borders! Foreigners out! Forced labor for useless deadbeats! Germany first!
And after all, it’s quite easy to become a Nazi. In almost all European states right-wing populism can triumph precisely because it is so easy to understand – no fundamental break with the dominant ideology is required. And it is easy because, as a conformist rebellion, it does not seek alternatives but remains on the surface of appearances. The well-trodden ideological lines of thought do not have to be abandoned; they lead almost naturally into the barbarism that is emerging.
o Be Radical Is to Go to The Root of The MatterT What is needed, however, is not a parroting of the rising resentments that feed on the decaying forms of capitalist ideology, as practiced, for example, by the “Left Party” of a Wagenknecht, but a clear break with the logic of the system in order to initiate a broad social discourse that seeks to initiate a transformative movement. Clinging to categories and concepts such as state, people, nation, market, money, and capital, whose real social equivalents are disintegrating due to the crisis, can only lead to disaster. The radical break with the dominant capitalist discourse of the crisis, which is rapidly running amok, is a bare necessity in the face of the crisis.
To be radical means to tackle a problem fundamentally, to penetrate to the root (radix) of the problem. That is why radicalism is not a preliminary stage of extremism, as is repeatedly suggested in the hollow, late-bourgeois discourse on extremism. Radicalism is the opposite of extremism. While the latter remains on the surface of phenomena, pushing the ideology that prevails in the center to the extreme, radicalism strives for depth, in order to penetrate to the core, to the essence of phenomena. Thus, the struggle against the New Right, if it is to be consistent and ultimately successful, would also have to be accompanied by radical reflection in order to produce an adequate practice.
A radical anti-fascism would therefore have to fight against the re-emergence of fascism not only as an external phenomenon, but also as a terrorist form of capitalist rule during the crisis. The crisis ideology of the New Right, which is rooted in the neoliberal center, is an expression of very concrete contradictions that escalate because of the crisis: the social as well as the ecological crisis of capital, which has reached the limits of its development and threatens to drag humanity into the abyss, into barbarism. The New Right, on the other hand, is the political subject that concretely carries out this objectively threatening crash in the systemic crisis. This is especially true of the climate crisis, to which the New Right responds with trivialization and denial on the one hand, and with a drift toward eco-fascism on the other.
A radical anti-fascism that understands fascism as a potentially mass-murderous crisis form of capitalist rule would thus seek to understand and conduct the struggle against the fascist danger as part of an inevitable transformative struggle for a post-capitalist future. Broad anti-fascist alliance building, as it was already successfully practiced in the 90s, would have to go hand in hand with the open thematization of the systemic crisis and the role of the New Right as the executor of the barbaric and destructive potentials unleashed in the process.
Thus, in the current phase of the unfolding world crisis of capital, the anti-fascist struggle has the central role of keeping open the possibility of an emancipatory course of transformation – in the struggle against the extreme right. Actually, emancipatory forces would have to be the exact opposite of the right-wing friendly social demagogy of Sahra Wagenknecht’s “Left Party.”
The break with capitalism, which is sinking into a permanent crisis – and which carries fascism with it like a storm cloud carries rain – is necessary because it is objectively imminent. Either the transformation of the system will take place in forms of fascist barbarism, or we can fight for an emancipatory transformation. The social reality shaped by the frothing fascist crisis ideology is the yardstick of radical anti-fascist practice, which must go to the root of the very real capitalist systemic crisis. And this would not be mere voluntarism, but insight into the necessity of a transformative anti-fascism.