When it comes to beating the left, any way is the right way
Events in Thuringia highlight a lack of principles among the traditional right, now as in the past
- Photo: Martin Heinlein
Berlin is not Weimar and the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) is not the Nazi Party (NSDAP), but after Thuringia’s minister-president was elected with AfD votes, it is all but impossible not to see the historical parallels.
The Weimar Republic perished due to a lack of democrats. It was not torn apart by conflict between the extreme right and the extreme left, a pet hypothesis that is trotted out time and again, even today, to confirm the theory of totalitarianism. Back then, the traditional right was unwilling to accept the outcome of the November Revolution and sought ways to take down the unpopular republic. These ranged from deployment of the Freikorps, which repressed the revolutionary zeal with bloodshed and murdered the revolution’s leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, to the Kapp Putsch, the summary removal of left-wing governments in the federal states of Thuringia and Saxony and an alliance with the emerging NSDAP: the conservative right clearly felt that any means justified the ends when it came to neutralising threats to its absolute control over property, capital and political power.
A deal with the fascists had been on the cards since fascism’s progression in Italy in 1922, and the rise of the NSDAP – especially when the Weimar Republic was in crisis – offered a kind of ‘insurance policy’ should the social pressure from the left become too great. For a long time, a partnership with the NSDAP was not the traditional right’s preferred approach to taking down democracy. However, when traditional and aristocratic cabinets proved incapable of resolving the crisis of the early 1930s in the way the ruling bloc desired and it seemed that the first dampers were going to be put on the NSDAP’s ascent, a decision was quickly made to dare to partner with the Nazis in the wider political arena. The traditional right had learned one lesson from the failed Kapp Putsch of 1920: if a dictatorship were to be established successfully and the workers’ movement crushed, mass support would be required – and at the right of the political spectrum, it was the NSDAP that had enjoyed the most mass support since the early 1930s.
From today’s perspective, it is hard to fathom the hubris and complacency fuelling the belief that these new allies would be easy to contain and keep in check, even though they already commanded broad support and had at their bidding a horde of paramilitary thugs sufficient to fight a civil war. The Nazis had never made a secret of the methods they planned to use to abolish democracy, impose their anti-Semitic and ethnonationalistic politics and, above all, smash the left. Their conservative allies had no problem with this. However, they failed to consider that they would not be spared in the Nazis’ push for total dominance.
Learning from disaster?
Left-wing analysts of fascism described this alliance as a Bonapartist solution on the part of the ruling class, alluding to Marx’s work The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. In concrete terms, it meant that the centre-right handed over political power to the fascists in order to maintain its economic position. Right-wing conservatives’ desire to crush the workers’ movement and eradicate the associated threat to the unrestricted availability of capital and labour was instrumental in driving them to join forces with the Nazis.
And traditional conservatives paid a heavy price for the machinations of their right wing – partly in personal terms, but primarily in ideological terms. Even today, this political group cannot escape the fact that it bears at least some of the responsibility for transferring power to the Hitler regime. One conclusion that it reached after 1945 was that it must unconditionally oppose totalitarianism. Although it claimed that its stance targeted both left-wing and right-wing ‘extremists’ (deeming these equivalent), in practice, it was always the left that was regarded as the primary enemy.
Nevertheless, conservatism did learn some fundamental lessons from its own failure. The most important of these was reconciling itself with the republic and democracy; the traditional right’s acceptance of these eventually became the key factor setting it apart from the far right. Even the events in Thuringia do not cast any doubts on this fundamental position. Neither the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) nor the Free Democratic Party (FDP) sought to bring a partly fascist party to power. Rather, they wanted to use the AfD as a tool to prevent the formation of a left-wing government that they viewed as undesirable.
Opposition to communism is clearly in the ideological DNA of certain conservatives.
But it is in precisely this connection that it is worth looking back at history. The traditional right’s naivety in its dealings with the NSDAP beggars belief to this day. When the decision was made to form the Hitler cabinet, conservative politician and former Chancellor of the Reich Franz von Papen reportedly said: “In two months, we’ll have pushed Hitler so far into the corner that he’ll squeal!” However, the strategy of ‘containing’ the Nazis by ensuring that conservatives occupied a majority of cabinet positions was doomed to fail. In just a few months, democracy had been abolished, the Nazis’ opponents had been bullied and killed and the journey down the road to war and murder politics had begun.
Of course, Höcke’s AfD is not the NSDAP, and no attempts were made to form a Höcke cabinet in Thuringia. What is striking, however, given the historical background, is the nonchalance with which the FDP and the CDU are making use of Höcke’s ethnonationalistic AfD. Their validation and legitimisation of a pre-fascist AfD in Thuringia clearly point to a failure to learn from history.
It seems that in some sections of the CDU and the FDP, the aversion to even a moderate left-wing government is so great that it trumps the reluctance to validate the ethnonationalistic right. And once Höcke’s AfD has been granted legitimacy, there is no obstacle to collaborating with it. FDP and CDU strategists obviously did not care that their manoeuvring would strengthen precisely that section of the AfD that stands for system opposition and opens the door to authoritarianism. Just like in the last days of the Weimar Republic, the assumption here is clearly that the far right can be controlled and does not pose a real threat.
“The main thing is that the socialists are out”
The situation today is of course fundamentally different from the dying days of the Weimar Republic. Fascism is not on our doorstep, democracy has a solid footing and support base, and the interests of the most powerful representatives of capital are best served by austerity, neoliberal policies and global integration. Yet this model has undeniably developed cracks and the AfD is an expression of the current crisis.
So what can the machinations that took place in Thuringia tell us about what we can expect in the event of an actual crisis in Germany? Apparently, that some sections of the traditional elite will prefer an authoritarian solution to any kind of left-wing alternative. Opposition to communism is clearly in the ideological DNA of these conservatives. “The main thing is that the socialists are out,” commented Hans-Georg Maaßen, former head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, to the media on the day Thuringia’s minister-president was elected, succinctly expressing his people’s political priorities.
It was political dilettantes who handed over the republic to the Nazis in 1933, and it is political dilettantes who are tearing down the barriers to an alliance with the far-right in a bid to further their struggle for power within their own parties and triumph in their political games. We can only imagine how these people would act if, as in the last days of the Weimar Republic, a fundamental crisis were to erupt and the far right were ready to seize power.
is an advisor on right-wing extremism and anti-fascism to the Left Party (Linkspartei) group in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament.
represents the Linkspartei in the Bundestag and is head of parliamentary business for the group.
First published in: https://wirkommen.akweb.de/2020/02/gegen-links-sind-alle-mittel-recht