A huge topic in world news right now is the “return of Germany’s far right”. This all relates to Germany’s recent election where a party called Alternative for Germany (AfD—D because in German the name Germany translates to Deutschland), became the third most powerful party in the country snapping up around 12.6 percent of the vote (that’s about 6 million votes). The AfD is, as mentioned, a far right party. But what does this mean? I hate to do it but I think the best way to start is with the shock factor. Germany has not had a far right party in power since the 1950s. The last well-known far right power was the Nazi party. We all know how that turned out. The election of the AfD party therefore signifies a return of extremism in a country that fucked shit up (understatement of the year?) the last time such sentiments were allowed to take root—I am talking about World War Two and the Holocaust in case that wasn’t clear. Now you know why this topic is important, I will begin to explain things better. PLEASEEEE do not stop reading now and assume the AfD is “the Nazi party returned”. My headline says this because it echoes the headlines of other articles written about this topic. The AfD has been linked to the Nazi party for many reasons but it is not the Nazi party making a comeback. Catchy headlines come at a price, ya know? You may flee to greener pastures now, heh.
First, what is the “the far right”?
Friends. I do not wish to bore you. Skip this part if you know what the phrase, the far right, is in reference to.
Let’s start at the beginning. What the hell does “the far right” even mean? There is something known as the political spectrum and it is basically a way of classifying where political parties and ideas belong in the larger scheme of things. The three main parts of the spectrum are the left wing, the centre and the right wing.
Extremists lie on either side of the spectrum and become less intense as they get closer to the centre. Political parties and politicians in the centre are those with the most power in countries like Australia because they get majority support. The Australian Labor Party and The Liberal Party Of Australia are both parties of the centre, to be specific Labor is centre-left and Liberal is centre-right. A far right party is a party that, just as described, belongs on the far right side of the political spectrum. Those on the far right are associated with extreme notions of fascism and nationalism and are known to be xenophobic (fear and disdain outsiders i.e. immigrants) and conservative. Hitler’s Nationalist Socialist Democratic Party (NSDAP a.k.a The Nazi Party) is a common example used to illustrate the type of parties and persons who reside in the far right wing. Modern examples (who perhaps aren’t as extreme…but IDK you decide) include Donald Trump, Pauline Hanson and France’s, Marine Le Pen.
Conversely the far left side of the spectrum is associated with communism, socialism and extreme concepts related to equality and liberation. Popular examples are Stalin and the Communist Party Of The Soviet Union and Mao and the Communist Party Of China. A modern example is Kim Jong-un and the Workers’ Party Of Korea.
Being on the far right of the political spectrum Germany’s AfD party touts policies that are super conservative (no immigration, screw the EU), reactionary (let’s make Germany great again) and dare I say fascist (our country is the best and minority groups suck). This is of great concern since the Nazi party grew from these very same roots.
To learn more about the political spectrum scroll to the bottom of this article and look for the subheading, More About The Political Spectrum.
So who are the AfD party ?
Formed in 2013 the AfD was created in reaction to Germany’s involvement in the European Union, notably the handing out of tax-funded bailouts to countries like Greece (why should we Germans suffer for Greece’s mistakes?! Let them clean up their own mess). However, word on the street is that the party’s main support base comes from its opposition to immigration. Germany has let in about 1 million Middle-Eastern refugees over the last few years and not everyone is happy about it. In the lead up to the elections the AfD ran anti-Muslim ad campaigns with slogans like: Bikinis over Burqas.
Sounding like a familiar story now? Far right populist parties have been coming out of the woodwork across the world in response to global issues like immigration and financial strain. Broadly we can see the AfD as just another example of what is happening in other countries, including our very own Australia. Last year Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party won four seats in the Senate, one seat being held by the controversial Hanson herself. Prior to the win it had been almost 20 years since Hanson had been in parliament. Also, let’s not forget Trump won his election with promises to build a wall between the US and Mexico and ban Muslims from entering the America.
Along with its anti-EU and anti-immigration policies, the AfD has also been ruffling feathers with rhetoric that espouses a desire to restore law and order and national pride. Many believe this echoes Nazi sentiments, Hitler promised similar things back in the day. Furthermore leading AfD candidate Alexander Gauland, a 76 year old former lawyer and newspaper publisher, has publicly stated that Germany should be proud of WWII military achievements. Another AfD leader, Bjoern Hoecke, called for a “U Turn” in how the Nazi era is remembered.
Ok got it. So the media is losing its shit because?
A four-year-old political party suddenly becoming the third largest party in any country would make news. Throw in the fact the party is far right wing and in Germany, well there is a recipe for a media explosion. A right wing power has not had power in Germany since the 1950s. The country has fought hard to distance itself from the stain of its past. Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany and the country has strict laws banning Nazi symbols and hate speech. It’s not uncommon to see the swastika in modern times. The swastika was featured prominently at the recent white rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. But you won’t see it used in Germany in this context.
It is therefore disconcerting to see the rise of a far right power in a country that has tried so hard to suppress fascist sentiments. And of course, in a country where history has proven such sentiments can lead to widespread violence and devastation. Basically everyone feels like the Germans should know better. If the Germans are turning a hard right then what’s next?! Of course this is silly since we should all look in our own backyards first before pointing the finger. It’s a bit ludicrous for an Aussie to point the finger at Germany and yet ignore extreme right parties that are taking root in our own soil. And yet, given all the attention given to WWII and the constant vilification of the Nazis in blockbuster Hollywood films (superhero films are notorious for this), it’s hard for us not to have this reaction. We can clearly understand the damage a right-wing party in Germany can cause. We’ve seen it happen. It can sometimes be hard to fully comprehend anything akin to Nazism could happen in our own country. It’s that whole “it could never happen to me” mentality.
How much power does the AfD have? Well they are the third largest party in Germany, and we know 6 million Germans voted for them. But they still aren’t big enough to lead the opposition and centrist German powers, including Germany’s re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel, have vowed not to form a coalition with the AfD with many organisations like the European Jewish Congress publicly urging these parties to stay true to their word.
The AfD’s mere presence has changed the power structure of the German parliament since Merkel and her party have less votes to play with and thus must make better friends with other groups in parliament. This means it will be harder to pass laws and take action without compromise—something that slows progress (like it literally takes longer to get things done because everyone needs to agree) and can cause the watering down of legislature so it’s more palatable. Germany might see a decrease in the amount of refugees it accepts in the future. Of course, only time will tell.
More about the political spectrum
Still a little confused about the political spectrum? Here’s an easy explainer. Please note, I think this is a great way to grasp the concept of the right and left wing but the below is a huge simplification of what can be complicated issues. That being said sometimes we only need the basics, so here goes.
THE RIGHT WING
The far right is associated with capitalism, conservatism, fascism and authoritarianism. Class systems are a way of life and private enterprise is championed. Think of dictators with iron-grip control and countries where there are huge gaps between the rich and poor.
Authority, hierarchy, duty, nationalism, xenophobia and privatisation.
Extreme examples are Hitler and the Nazi Party and Mussolini and The National Fascist Party. Less extreme (arguably) examples are Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party and Marine La Pen and the National Front party in France.
Gun ho military admirals, Donald Trump (lol), conservative middle aged white men afraid of change or anything “different”, the mega-rich owners of large corporations who don’t give two effs about the little guys.
“Imperialist scum”, “cold-hearted corporate bastard”, “fascist f*ck”, “you misogynistic, chauvinist scum!”, “bigot”, “white trash”.
THE LEFT WING
The far left is associated with communism and socialism. The government owns everything, no cultural or economic class systems should exist. We are all united by our humanity and should not encourage systems that allow the rich to reign over the poor. Think of communist countries where the government owns everything and society is meant to be classless (it never works FYI).
Equality, brotherhood, progress, civil rights, internationalism, human rights.
An extreme example would be Stalinist Russia and North Korea. Less extreme? The Socialist Alliance in Australia.
Environmentalists, 1970s hippies and activists, angry uni students who hand out anti-establishment brochures and protest wars, hairy feminists.
“Bleeding heart leftie”, “Commie bastard”, “leftist scum”, “snowflake”, “hippy”.
Moderate. Uses ideas from both the left and the right. It’s all about balance here. Using the best of both sides of the spectrum and creating laws that cater to the majority.
Balance, majority parties, centre powers, democracy, stability, the polls.
Most major political parties in countries like Australia are parties of the centre. The Australian Labor Party and The Liberal Party Of Australia are both centre parties, albeit centre-left and centre-right respectively.
“Cowards”, “pussyfooters”, “bureaucrats” “slaves to the polls”, “career politicians”, “private school boys”, “boys club”.
The soccer/football field analogy
Think of the spectrum as a soccer/football field. There are members of The Left and The Right team. Extreme members of each team stay near their own goal posts and do not even consider going toward, let alone crossing, the centreline. Others play in the centre and their entire job revolves are around crossing the line and scoring goals. Therefore as you move from goal posts toward the centreline on either side, players get less extreme in their rigidity and are more likely to cross the field and mingle nicely. Things get aggressive when players from the opposite side get close to the other teams goal post, do they not? It is the same with the political spectrum. Those on the far left or right are extremists and they do not get along. As you move closer to the centre you find politicians and ideas that are more moderate. Those in the middle might identify with the right or left but make it clear they are centre-right or centre-left (midfielders) or they might adopt a new label, and join a new team simple know as The Centre. In countries like Australia, it is the politicians in the centre who are more likely to be in power and make laws (score goals).
The sweet vs savoury analogy
Not a sports fan?
Think of sweet vs savoury foods. Some people have a sweet tooth, others prefer a salty French fry. People on either end of the spectrum are considered extremists. So a savoury lover WHO NEVER EATS SWEETS, and a cake lover who loathes the very sight of a salty rasher of bacon are extreme. We don’t like extremists because they are uncompromising and usually hypocrites (those savoury lovers will start adding sugar to bacon so you can eat more of it…..TRUST NO ONE). The centre is a place that is more moderate. People who like both sweets and savoury to varying degrees (you might be a sweets person who tolerates savoury or like both equally depending on your mood) or who at least understand that while they might not like sweets, other people do and if they want people to eat their food they need to cater to the majority. Think of people on the far left and far right as staunch sweet or savoury supporters and those in the middle as the group who understand the best food contains a combination of both.
Main Picture: Alice Weidel, a key leader of Alternative for Germany via Wikimedia Commons.