In just one month’s time, Germany’s newest, most powerful, and highly successful Neo-Nazi party – the deceptively labelled AfD (Alternative for Germany) – will be eleven years old. Seemingly unstoppable, Germany’s neo-fascist party has gone from strength to strength in election after election. Something wicked this way comes.

It gets worse: most observers believe the AfD’s upward trend will continue in 2024, with European elections set for Sunday June 9, as well as upcoming state elections in the East-German states of Saxony and Thuringia on September 1, and in Brandenburg on September 22 – if the AfD is not banned by then.

Geographically, the former East Germany remains the heartland of the AfD with voter support in the region of 35% – compared to between 12% and 20% in the western parts of Germany. 

The AfD’s demographic problem is that 67 million people live in the western parts of Germany where the AfD is weak, while just 16 million live in the former East Germany. In other words, without winning in the west, the AfD remains just a regional party. 

Virtually all election polls and public polls in 2023 and early 2024 see the AfD heading toward a historic high in popularity.

Simultaneously, a radicalization of the AfD is taking place. In other words, while the AfD goes from success to success, it also goes from extreme right to more extreme right. Even the recent “Wannsee 2.0” scandal that broke in January 2024 did not dent its popularity. The original Wannsee conference was the location where the Nazis made their plans to exterminate Europe’s Jews.

There appears to be a genuine normalization of the AfD, despite its move into right-wing extremism. As is also happening in the United States, Hungary, and other countries around the world (e.g. India). It is the mainstreaming of fascism

This will have stark consequences for the future of Germany’s party system. 2024 is set to be the year in which the right-wing extremist AfD will become a force in Germany’s political landscape, undermining from inside the democratic system it hates. 

In 2013, the AfD formed itself from three rather diverse ideological currents, all of them to the right of Germany’s traditional conservatives (the CDU): the reactionary wing of the CDU/CSU; the neoliberal wing (formerly FDP); and the outright Neo-Nazi völkische (read: racist-Aryan and white supremacy) wing:

  1. The Reactionary Wing – declining:

A nationalistic, chauvinistic, and deeply reactionary wing. Its Führer back then was Alexander Gauland. Today, it is Beatrix von Storch. Storch is old Nazi stock. Storch’s maternal grandfather is Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk. When the monarchist became a Nazi, he was promptly ornamented with the Golden Nazi Party Badge. Beatrix Storch once advocated shooting of refugees at the German border. Her grandfather was Hitler’s finance minister until the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Today, this part of the AfD is in terminal decline.

  1. The Neoliberal Wing – eliminated:

At the beginning there was (and no longer is) the neoliberal wing. It was once centered around economy-oriented figures such as Bernd Lucke. Today, this wing of the AfD has been almost completely terminated. But neoliberal ideology has not disappeared.

  1. The Neo-Nazi Wing – the centre of power and rising:

Then there is the völkisch (read: Neo-Nazi) wing that only came together “after” the AfD was formed. Its most prominent and most powerful Führer is Björn Höcke. In the beginning, the Neo-Nazi-Aryan wing was marginal – both in terms of quantity and quality. Over time, however, it developed into a very strong current inside the party – eventually dominating the AfD. Today, this wing runs the show.

Ever since the AfD’s party congress in 2022 in Riesa, there is no longer any doubt that the völkisch-Neo-Nazi wing has taken over the leadership in the AfD. Without this wing’s and Björn Höcke’s approval, nobody inside the AfD gets anywhere. 

Apart the AfD’s Neo-Nazi wing, only a fragmented remaining part of the reactionary wing continues to exist, but it too must subordinate itself to the über-authoritarian Neo-Nazi wing. Any AfD official who fails to spit out racist buzzwords and adjacent conspiracy fantasies in speeches, like for example that of a Great Replacement and the idée fixe of “national identity” (read: race-based Herrenrasse, now called, Bio-Deutsche) has next to no chance of getting anywhere inside the AfD

Interestingly, the rapid radicalization of the AfD towards Neo-Nazism does not harm the party – on the contrary, it gives it muscle. Today, the AfD is more right-wing extremist than ever before. At the same time, the AfD is also stronger than ever before.

In 2022, the AfD somewhat replicated Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives – albeit with no killings that we know of. The cleansing of the party came in the East-Germany city of Riesa. This party congress eliminated the neoliberals and severely weakened its reactionary wing. At the same time, it strengthened the radical right-wing. The success at the party convention aided a sharp increase in the self-confidence of the party’s Neo-Nazi wing. Most AfD members noticed the swing of the AfD towards right-wing extremism and either caved in – e.g. the Nazi-Schlampe (Nazi-bitch) Alice Weidel – or happily joined it. 

Unsurprisingly, the wing’s Führer – Björn Höcke – praised the party’s ideological consolidation. The AfD’s European candidate Maximilian Krah – who hallucinates about immigration as the “colonization” of Germany and about “oriental land-grabs” – spoke of a post-Riesa AfD. It is a kind of fascistization of the AfD – the process of making a political party fascist to get to proto-fascism.

Meanwhile and in terms of public polling, the AfD’s 10.3%, achieved during the last federal election in 2021 (down from 12.6% in 2017), has moved towards 23.6% (January 2024). This is a very strong leap which shows that the strategy of the right-wing is working out rather splendidly. 

At the same time, the high public polling figures for the AfD are not unconnected to the unpopularity of Germany’s current progressive “traffic-light” government. The current disapproval has been aided through the sustained media (read: tabloid) barrage.

It all adds up to a seemingly unstoppable normalization from which the AfD was able to benefit so handsomely. In 2024, the AfD is playing off of several trends. Despite debates about the legality and illegality of the AfD and police investigations into the AfD, the party is increasingly perceived as a “normal party”.

According to a recent public poll, a whopping 27% consider the AfD to be a “normal party”. The mainstreaming of fascism is goose-stepping forward. In 2016, it was 17%. This is further supported by the fact that the AfD appears – at least to the outside world – as being disciplined. It has eliminated the neoliberal wing and undermined its reactionary wing and can therefore successfully pretend to be a unified force. 

However, there are still some remaining power struggles between different factions inside the AfD. Beyond that, there is also the issue of the AfD’s rather non-charismatic mini-Führer Björn Höcke and the many malignant narcissists waiting in the wings to become the new Führer. Temporarily suppressing these new potential dictators allows the AfD to present itself as a unified party. Unifying the party is further abetted by the AfD’s anti-migration and nationalistic stance – the most common unifier.

Most recently, the AfD has also been supported by Germany’s traditional conservatives, the CDU.

The CDU is fighting a USA-style culture war. In other words, the CDU is taking up AfD causes even though it does not help the conservative party at all. The party has been stagnating in recent polling because they have no agenda which shows a clear way toward future prosperity for their voters. 

Still, the CDU is powerful and either unknowingly or cynically knowingly seeding its political ground for Germany’s right-wing extremists. The fruits of this seeding will be harvested by the AfD, because nationalism and racism remain its core business. 

In the ideological positioning of the AfD, and for tactical purposes, right now – at least officially – the party claims to be somewhat against billionaires and predatory capitalism. Nevertheless, its staunchly neoliberal ideology makes sure that the party is dead against any tax increases. Surprisingly, perhaps also for them, the party’s economic policies have recently been rebuked most sharply by the DIW think tank of Germany’s business owners, factory directors, companies and corporations – in short, Germany’s capitalism. Worse, analysis by the DIW (German Institute for Economic Research) shows that AfD voters will be those who will suffer the most from the party’s neoliberal economic policies.

In any case, the AfD is not about class warfare, it is about the Volksgemeinschaft. For that goal, the AfD needs to camouflage its true intentions. The party has been successful by focusing on national identity, race, and migration. 

For its Volksgemeinschaft, the AfD will have to unite very different electoral groups. The AfD needs to attract three key groups:

  1. Workers: Workers fighting against socio-economic devaluation as the cold intimacies of neoliberalism push ever more unskilled workers into the precariat;
  2. Petit bourgeois: Germany’s petty bourgeoisie who, above all, do not want to pay taxes, reject state interference in their business, are not friends of environmentalism and other progressive policies; and finally,
  3. The Elite: Germany’s radical right-wing extremist mini elites – non-oligarch rich folks. 

As far as the voter groups are concerned, the core clientele of the AfD remains inside Germany’s petit bourgeois middle-class, or what is left of them in the eastern states. They are neither elite nor are they lower class. They are mostly skilled workers and people with mid-range formal education. 

After the “Wirtschaftswunder” of the 1950s – the “economic miracle” – they were transformed into the petty bourgeoisie and then exposed to losing their social standing under the plague of neoliberalism. This is the group of the self-employed, the skilled craftsmen, those with a one-person or small business. 

These groups have begun to identify themselves with non-charismatic and simple-minded AfD micro-Führer Tino Chrupalla. Of course, even before the 1920s there were always right-wing skilled and unskilled workers for whom simple solutions – racism, anti-feminism, anti-environmentalism, hatred of progressives, and simple nationalism – outshone everything else.

Most AfD voters today seem to fall into the ideological trap of being dominated by something that Gramsci once described as a “diffuse sense of everyday life” – a rather chaotic collection of disparate views and interests that do not clearly fit into any neatly tailored party program.

For workers holding right-wing ideological tendencies, the fear of losing out is big – whether that is real or constructed. On the other side of the coin is the fading belief of being able to win under neoliberal capitalism. In short, they see themselves as losers, or at least as potential losers. This is no longer linked to class consciousness. Instead, it is linked to petit bourgeois aspirations with individualistic solutions to economic problems. The AfD will never admit that the real problem is the super-rich. For the AfD, it is the foreigner and the unassimilated. The AfD thrives on nationalism and racism. 

This, unfortunately, emotionally overwhelms the class struggle, especially since everyone these days has basic consumer goods (toys) – cell phone, computer, fridge, washing machine, car, etc.

The AfD lullaby for the poor is: “you can’t do anything against the rich anyway” because they have all the resources. Redistribution policies by progressives have failed. 

The AfD is for those who have no faith in the feasibility of progressive redistribution policies and are ready to put their faith in a strong authoritarian who can bring those recalcitrant rich folks to heel. 

The comprehensive destruction of any alternative to neoliberal capitalism is – paradoxically – one of the core ideologies of the AfD. In other words, the “Alternative” for Germany is no alternative at all because their ultimate goal is to eventually ally themselves with the super-rich who, in their “boss” way of thinking, like the idea of an autocratic leader keeping their workforce quiet and in line. Linked to that is the fostering of the fear of losing out. This hopelessness can be attributed to the  successful subversion and subsequent failure of progressive politics, but also to the corporate mass-media that has – over decades – assured us all that a pro-business atmosphere must prevail and that capitalism is not the problem, socialism is.

More importantly, it cemented the idée fixe that there is no alternative to capitalism. In other words, “Alternative” for Germany is not an alternative to capitalism but an alternative to open-mindedness, and it wants to convert the populace into a racist mob, i.e. the old and new Nazi Volksgemeinschaft. As a consequence, it has increasingly become possible to speak of a general shift to the right in Germany. In the past few years there has been a radicalization but also a normalization of the extreme right. 

Perhaps optimistically, it is not entirely clear whether more people today carry right-wing attitudes than, for example, a decade ago. The most recent so-called Mitte-Study by the FES (Friedrich Ebert Foundation) comes exactly to this conclusion

Meanwhile, forms of (mostly online) public discourse in Germany have become more unconstrained. Aided by online platforms, there is a marked rise of hate speech. If one compares recent statements by politicians with those of, for example, eight years ago, there is a clear shift to the right in the language German politicians use.

Germany’s conservatives – the CDU – play a particularly unsavory role in this. For example, the CDU calls its “official” policy towards the AfD a “none-engagement policy”, the Brandmauer (fire wall). Yet in the East-German town of Pirna, an ex-CDU and now AfD-supported candidate won the local mayoral election.

In any case, many observers underestimated how quickly the AfD has become normalized. Grimly, not many people had expected, until recently, that the conservative CDU would fold so quickly and support the AfD. Even more problematic is that the post-Merkel-CDU (moderate) and the present-day Merz-CDU (staunchly conservative) is wavering and flip-flopping. In reality, the CDU has been reiterating AfD topics. Not long ago, CDU-boss Friedrich Merz suspected Ukrainian refugees of being “social welfare tourists”. This is the xenophobic language of the AfD. He also described Middle-Eastern youths as “little pashas”. This too is the language of the AfD. Things don’t get any better when Merz refers to the CDU as “the alternative with substance”.

It needs to be pointed out that the CDU’s flip-flopping about the AfD will mainly benefit the AfD. Publicly, the CDU facilitates the impression that the AfD is covering important topics. Perhaps the real background of the whole thing is also a crisis of ideological hegemony. 

Germany’s established parties, democratic institutions, and their political convictions seem to be losing their binding force. 

This is evident, for example, in the position of German conservatism. Germany’s CDU always had the – self-appointed – task of capturing Germany’s right-wing. Those days are over. Today, the AfD covers voters who are to the right of the CDU. This creates a problem for the CDU. There is now a real a potential for a split in the CDU. This applies even more to the CDU in Germany’s eastern states. 

Of course such a split of the CDU will benefit the AfD. A breakup of the CDU would be the most serious implosion imaginable for Germany’s party system. Although a split is currently unlikely, it can no longer be excluded. 

In conclusion, 2024 is not 1933. Even though the AfD is set to win some significant elections, particularly in three East-German states, it is unlikely that the Neo-Nazi AfD will be in the federal government in Germany this year or in 2025 when the next federal election is due. There are three reasons for this:

  1. No Business Support: 

Unlike in the 1930s – and this is the biggest problem for the AfD – Germany’s business leaders, its elite, the rich, its businesses, companies, and corporations – do not support the AfD. The opposite is the case. Business strongly rejects the AfD. This is largely because of the AfD’s über-nationalistic and anti-EU stance. German capitalism depends on the European Union as its biggest market. Losing this – as Brexit has shown very instructively – would hit German capital extremely hard. This time around, German capital is not behind the new Neo-Nazis and its parliamentary cohort.

  1. No State Support:

Secondly, the AfD cannot – unlike during the 1930s – rely on an authoritarian state with anti-democratic civil servants that hate, reject, and seek to abolish the democratic state. Today, Germany’s institutions are democratic institutions through-and-through. Unlike during the 1930s, Germany’s court system has no Roland Freisler, or only a few. In other words, the German state, its judiciary, its police, its army, and its public administration, will not support the AfD.

  1. No Movement:

Thirdly, the AfD does not yet have an SA. There are no visible troops of brown shirts beating, torturing, and killing political opponents at will. Put simply, the AfD has no die Strasse frei, die Fahne hoch… groups roaming the streets. Unlike Hitler and Mussolini, the AfD has no para-military fighting force and no death squad lurking in the shadows, like the right-wing forces in the USA and perhaps Italy.

In order to ascertain what will happen in Germany in 2024, it is useful to look at the 2023 election in the bell-weather state of Hessen. In 2023, the conservative representatives of German capital – the CDU – became a mid-30% party. As the strongest party in Hessen, it can run the show. This is set to be replicated at Germany’s federal level in 2025. Germany’s social-democratic party (the SPD) and environmentalist Green party will probably both be plus-or-minus-15% parties. 

Germany’s neoliberal FDP and its most progressive party – the Linke – will struggle to enter any parliament because they will most likely drop to below Germany’s 5% hurdle that allows a party to enter parliament. What remains is the AfD. Polls indicate that the AfD will hover at around 15% to 20%. 

Beyond the projected success of the AfD in the European parliament elections in June, the elections in Saxony and Thuringia on 1 September, and the Brandenburg election on 22 September, one of the more interesting questions will come to the fore in 2025, the year of the next federal election.

The key question then will be: with whom will Germany’s conservative CDU – as strongest political party – enter into a coalition government? If what happened in the bell-weather state of Hessen is replicated, the CDU has two options: it can govern with the social-democratic SPD or with the environmentalist Greens. 

The horror scenario would be that it could, at least potentially, also govern with the AfD. This would be a deadly carbon-copy of Hitler’s first cabinet from 1933 when German conservatives switched sides, running away from conservatism to support Hitler’s Nazis. 

For the quite logical and therefore optimistic reasons outlined above, this is unlikely to happen. In other words, history will not repeat itself. We all know what came after Hitler rose to power in 1933. Germans know and the world knows. Catastrophe on a much larger scale this time around can be avoided.

Thomas Klikauer is the author of Alternative Für Deutschland – The AfD: Germany’s New Nazis Or Another Populist Party?

Danny Antonelli grew up in the USA, now lives in Hamburg, Germany and writes radio plays, stories and is a professional lyricist and librettist.

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