Der Verfassungsschutz nennt ihn einen Rechtsextremisten. Jetzt hat die AfD Andreas Kalbitz die Mitgliedschaft aberkannt. Einen Richtungswechsel sieht die politische Konkurrenz darin nicht.
For the radical right in Europe, Alternative for Germany is an increasingly unusual case
In a recent paper published in JCMS, I argue that unlike other German far-right parties, the “Alternative for Germany party” (AfD) managed to avoid being associated with Nazism. The strong presence of establishment figures that previously were (or could have been) members of centre-right parties acted as what Elisabeth Ivarsflaten has once called a “reputational shield“. Without such a shield, a party will be branded “fringe” or extremist, and many voters will be reluctant to support it. Also, such parties will find it difficult to recruit competent and presentable would-be politicians – an argument that David Art makes and illustrates in his fabulous study of radical right party activists.
In the JCMS paper, I also look at the trajectory of the Alternative for Germany. The AfD started out as a socially conservative/market radical “professors’ party”, then, within just two years, developed into a (mostly) bog-standard Western European radical right party. What sets the “Alternative” apart from similar parties in Western Europe, however, is its desperate flirt with traditional German right-wing extremism.
Back to the future?
The Front National (now the Rassemblement) recently expelled its founder and long-time leader Jean-Marie Le Pen because the old man would not stop talking about the Holocaust. The Sweden Democrats gave up the uniforms, then had a real purge of the old guard. Other parties like the PVV never had any connection to the old inter-war Extreme Right. And this looked like the way forward for the last couple of decades or so.In the AfD, regional leader Björn Höcke can publicly trot out racist tropes, attack the culture of remembrance and use rhetoric and ideas straight from the 1930s playbook without getting as much as a slap on the wrist. Regional leader Andreas Kalbitz was a member of various right-wing extremist groups and the former “Republican” party. Kalbitz also attended a Greek Neo-Nazi rally in Athens and a festival for Fascists and Neo-Nazis in Belgium. Not a problem. National leader Alexander Gauland, who infamously called the rule of the Nazis “a spot of bird shit” in an otherwise glorious history, thinks that Höcke is “right in the middle” of the party, and that Kalbitz is a “good man”.
80 per cent of Germans are suspicious of the AfD
In the JCMS paper, I suggest that this trajectory, which is fueled by electoral successes in the East and intra-party outbidding for the most outrageous positions, could not just bring legal problems (the offices for the protection of the constitution seem to be set to heighten their scrutiny of the AfD) but also undermine its electoral appeal in the medium term. Lo and behold: in a (very rare) instance of not being completely out of touch with reality, I may have gauged the public mood just right. Today’s Politbarometer poll asked citizens how far right-wing extremist ideas have spread within the AfD. A cool 41 per cent said “far”, and further 39 per cent said “very far”. For comparison, 15 per cent thought these ideas have spread “not very far”, and just two (two!) per cent said that right-wing extremism within the party did not exist. In other words: 80 per cent see Alternative for Germany as a right-wing extremist party.
This dovetails neatly with slightly older polls which show that notwithstanding its national electoral support of 10 to 15 per cent, the AfD is by far the least popular party in Germany. About 80 per cent of voters would never consider voting for them. So far, the main result of the AfD’s ongoing radicalisation is not a collapse of its support, but rather a segmentation of the German party system. If you want to see the future of Germany, look to Flanders (minus the excellent fatty food, the quirky beers, and, well minus Belgium).
- The AfD polled about 28 per cent in Saxony, their best result yet. Saxony is truly the AfD’s heartland.
- The AfD did also well in Brandenburg. In both states, they are led and dominated by members of the “Flügel”, the most radical faction within an increasingly radical party. When the eastern states voted five years ago, it was not even clear that they were radical populists. Now, the links to right-wing extremist organisations and policies are becoming clearer and clearer
- Recall-question based models of voter flows are the work of the devil. But the estimates published by the big pollsters suggest that like in 2016, the AfD managed to mobilise a very large number of former no-voters ans hence benefitted from the massive increase in turnout. So that’s democracy at work, I guess.
- Even in their heartland, the AfD topped out below 30 per cent. I have zero hard evidence / strong theory for that, empirically, that seems to be about the maximum that these parties can achieve in Western Europe.
- Accordingly, they should not get more than a quarter of the total attention. So here is the other, totally underreported story of this election: for the Greens, the German East used to be a wasteland. But now they are in double digit territory and might well end up in government in both states.
- The SPD, on the other hand, made it barely beyond the threshold in Saxony. For once, I’m lost for words.
- The Left, formerly the eastern party, has also lost big in both states. And yet, if one counts the left parties as a bloc, there seems to be a left majority in Brandenburg that may form a coalition.
- In terms of electoral behaviour, the overall story is one of fragmentation and volatility. And for once, the East is the avant-garde: this is where Germany as a whole is headed.
- And yet in both states, the parties that have dominated them for the last three decades, the SPD in Brandenburg and the CDU in Saxony, came out top. Their support is much reduced and this might be their respective last hurrah, but still.
Today, German public radio interviewed Klaus-Peter Schöppner, a well-known pollster, who claimed that the party could benefit “from throwing out the extrepmists”. This is exactly the spin the AfD is trying to put on the whole affair. They claim that they are getting rid of a problematic, bumbling character who would take his few and equally deranged supporters with him.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Other leading members of the vökisch wing had sidelined Poggenburg more than a year ago over his gaffes and petty affairs. And these guys show no inclination whatsoever to leave the party. On the contrary, they will continue to shape the AfD in their image.
Björn Höcke, the most prominent of them, was re-elected as leader in Thuringia less than two months ago and is the party’s frontrunner for the state election in October 2019. Andreas Kalbitz became Gauland’s successor as state party leader in Brandenburg. Last week, he was confirmed as the frontrunner for the state election in September 2019. Jens Maier, the former judge who tried to silence our colleague Steffen Kaillitz, is a sitting MP. Hans-Thomas Tillschneider is a state MP in Saxony and will likely be re-elected come September. And the list goes on.
They cultivate links to the Pegida movement and to the Identitarians. They attend seminars run by New Right pseudo-intellectuals and dream of a “meta-political” transformation of German society. They were a driving force behind the AfDs’s metamorphosis to a Radical Right party, and it is unlikely that they will stop at that.