The fight against the „authoritarian revolt“ of the New Right has a central role to play in the full-blown systemic crisis. A German perspective.
Tomasz Konicz, 31.12.2023
Where do all the rightwing populists and right-wing extremists that are increasingly dominating Germany’s and Europe’s political landscape come from? Contrary to popular belief, they do not come from outer space, they are not a foreign body seeping into liberal-democratic societies, but their inevitable product of the crisis of late stage capitalism. Nor is it the political „fringes“ that are somehow taking over the political mainstream. Fascism is the fear-sweat that turns into hate, which the middle class secretes in the crisis. In this respect, the situation is certainly comparable to the systemic crisis of the 1930s, although the current crisis process – which has an ecological dimension as well as an economic one – goes far deeper than the economic slump on the eve of the transfer of power to the Nazis.
The rise of these pre-fascist movements seems to have gone much more smoothly than in the 1930s, which points to the higher degree of internalization of the contradictory capitalist system imperatives. The emerging fascism is not rebelling against the systemic constraints that are intensifying as a result of the crisis; rather, it is taking the logic of the system to ideological and practical extremes. That is the secret of its success. This extremism of the center drives national identity to nationalist and chauvinist extremes, it produces racist and anti-Semitic extreme forms of „liberal“ competitive thinking and tends to shift the devastating consequences of the crisis onto the victims of the crisis.
Hardly anything would be more disastrous than to fall into the usual reification when assessing pre-fascism, i.e. to set the current state of the movement in absolute terms without context and to ignore its social dynamics as well as the contradictions driving it (for example, to claim that the AfD is not a fascist party in view of the differences to historical fascism). This reactionary movement of pushing existing liberal ideology to the extreme, which, in interaction with surges of crisis, makes the barbaric core of capitalist socialization manifest, must be understood precisely as a movement. And this is clear not only from its rhetoric, but also from the AfD’s personnel, which was founded as a „professors‘ party“ by economists such as Bernd Lucke and managers such as Hans Olaf Henkel, for whom Schäuble’s austerity sadism in the euro crisis did not go far enough. Now – after the right-wing populist phase under Petry – far-right forces are dominant in many parts of this party.
Authoritarian revolt in the 21st century
At first glance, it also seems difficult to understand these pre-fascist movements as an authoritarian revolt. Since the Sarrazin debate, the actors of the New Right have struck the pose of the rebel who only speaks „courageous truths“ while tearing down the minimum standards of civilization that were painstakingly established in the post-war period. However, despite all the rhetoric, it is precisely the authoritarian core of fascist movements that is crucial to their success. With the „material constraints“ of the crisis-ridden valorization of capital tightening ever more tightly around the necks of most wage earners, they are actually left with only two options: rebellion against the madness of the crisis od capitalism, or increased irrational identification and subjugation.
It is a fundamental psychological mechanism that promotes identification with the given authorities in times of crisis. The formation of the conscience, the Freudian superego, takes place in early childhood precisely through identification with external (usually parental) authority, which is internalized by the child: The parental prohibitions, which set limits to the child’s pleasure principle, arouse aggression, which, however, is sublimated and contributes to the erection of the superego. „The aggression of conscience preserves the aggression of authority“, as Freud put it. In the early childhood formation of conscience, the aggressive attitude towards an external authority is internalized through a process of identification with this very authority.
However, a similar process also underlies the irrational, authoritarian crisis reaction that enables right-wing extremism of the center. Similar to the infant, the bearer of right-wing extremist ideology, characterized by an authoritarian character structure, internalizes the intensifying demands and requirements of capital exploitation. The irrationality of fascism thus mirrors the irrationality of capitalist socialization, which is coming to light in the crisis. In the intensifying systemic constraints, the authoritarian fixations from the family environment – which have never been overcome – continue to have an effect. As the intensity of the crisis increases, the identification of the authoritarian character with the existing system also intensifies, as Erich Fromm noted in the famous anthology „Authority and Family“ as early as 1936: „The more … the contradictions within society grow and the more insoluble they become, the more catastrophes such as war and unemployment overshadow the life of the individual as unavoidable forces of fate, the stronger and more generalized becomes the sadomasochistic drive structure and thus the authoritarian character structure, the more devotion to fate becomes the supreme virtue and pleasure.“
This sadomasochism results from the immense demands for renunciation that are imposed on the compliant, authoritarian characters by the crisis dynamics. Here, too, ever greater aggression accumulates, looking for an outlet. The greater the denial of drive, the greater the need for drive discharge; masochism demands sadistic satisfaction. This sadomasochistic fixation could be seen in disgusting clarity in the shouty crisis policy during the euro crisis, which explicitly justified the cruelties inflicted by Berlin on the southern European periphery by claiming that similar things had been endured and survived in this country during the course of Agenda 2010. The submissive endurance of failure and pain entitles people to inflict pain themselves – this is actually the sadomasochistic, pathological core of all social Darwinist right-wing slogans of „strength“, „assertiveness“ and „toughness“.
This fascist mechanism of authoritarian aggression fueled by bouts of crisis was also openly evident in Germany in 2023, underpinning the right-wing campaign against the increase in the citizen’s income. While Germany’s economy remained in stagflation (high inflation and stagnation) in 2023, which led to calls for austerity measures, the unemployed were once again used as scapegoats to stylize victims of the crisis. As if in fast motion, this campaign saw the usual shift from subjugation to authoritarian aggression, which also accompanied the genesis of the New Right in Germany in the form of Hartz IV and the Sarrazin debate. In the period of fascization, fascism – still within the framework of late neoliberal discourses – casts its shadow. Not only with regard to the economically „unusable“ in the centers, where forced labor is once again being discussed, but above all in the defense against refugee movements from the periphery, which had long since turned the Mediterranean into a mass grave.
Anti-fascism in the systemic crisis
There is no bottom, no logical end to this sequence of crisis surge, demands for renunciation („Tighten your belt!“) and authoritarian aggression („Take the fags away from the unemployed!“) as it is a process fueled by the crisis of capital. The more the crisis of capital affects the everyday life of the population, the more intense this aggressive over-identification with the system, which is in the process of collapse, becomes – and the more difficult it is to formulate radical criticism and discuss social alternatives at all in the face of this ideological hardening in the „center“. The more openly the systemic crisis comes to light, the less alternative the fascizing system seems to have. The inability of the capitalist functional elites to confront the ecological and social crisis of capital is coming to light at a time when only fascist alternatives are being propagated for Germany.
Public discourse is tilting to the right, so to speak. The debate in capitalist democracies mainly revolves around „economic issues“, i.e. the optimization of capital’s exploitation process. This Orwellian discourse, in which the objects of the fetishistic dynamics of capital perfect their own exploitation, is particularly efficient, much more effective than the ukase of authoritarian systems. This is why – at least in the centers of the world system – bourgeois democracy is the optimal form of subjectless capitalist rule. However, this discourse, which is based on the broad internalization of capitalist system imperatives, can only be maintained as long as there is a reasonably stable, broad middle class, i.e. a sufficient degree of „capitalist normality“. If the balance between constraints and gratifications is upset by the crisis, then the mainstream threatens to tip towards authoritarianism and fascism. The all too justified fear of the capitalist crisis process then stifles any debate about system transformation and alternatives, seeking refuge in hate campaigns against refugees or the unemployed.
As capitalism is incapable of overcoming its socio-ecological crisis process, a tipping point will inevitably be reached at some point, where the fascization of capitalist societies threatens to turn into fascism as the crisis form of capitalist rule (ultimately in the form of civil war and state collapse). This is why the anti-fascist struggle is of central importance in the systemic crisis (this was already the case in the systemic crisis of the 1930s, which led to the greatest slaughter in human history, the Second World War and the Holocaust, which was waged along anti-fascist front lines by a very broad coalition ranging from the USA to the Soviet Union).
The primary task is to prevent late capitalist societies from tipping over into their fascist crisis form through broad anti-fascist alliance politics. Cooperation with all non-fascist forces in broad alliances, an offensive approach against agitation and right-wing hegemony in the public sphere were already successful at times in the 1990s. However, the fascization of Germany is already so far advanced that this offensive anti-fascist alliance struggle could only be successful if the AfD were banned. In a way, it is already too late to fend off the right-wing danger through mere mobilizations and campaigns. The ambivalent emergency measure of state repression, which would also exert pressure on the right-wing networks in the „deep state“ of the Federal Republic, is effective against pre-fascist movements, at least in the short term.
For progressive forces, however, the real task within anti-fascist alliances is to bring a radical crisis awareness to them. This is the only way to actually defeat the New Right. It is important to state the obvious: capitalism is not in a position to solve the social and ecological crisis that it is causing. An open-ended transformation of the system is inevitable, and a struggle for transformation will be waged – especially against the fascist threat. Conscious reflection on the systemic crisis in a struggling anti-fascist movement, which is already laying the foundations for a progressive transformation of the system, is the best antidote to the conspiratorial crisis talk of the New Right.
The ideology of pre-fascism, which stems from centrist extremism and is in fact a feral form of neoliberalism, can therefore only be overcome in an offensive confrontation with the reality of the crisis. One of the great lies of fascism, which has long fabricated structurally anti-Semitic crisis narratives, is that it simply wants to exclude the crisis – in an exaggeration of the usual market-liberal competitive behavior. This false logic ranges from the slogan „Borders tight!“ of right-wing campaigns that want to seal off Europe against refugee movements, to the establishment of right-wing defense villages in the East German provinces, to individual encapsulation by preppers. These widespread right-wing crisis reactions also indicate that behind the right-wing call for authoritarian order, only the rackets are lurking.
Authoritarian formation and social disintegration merge, as this time – in contrast to the fascism of the 1930s – there is no new accumulation regime on the horizon, like the Fordism of the 1950s. There is only the threat of socio-ecological collapse and the rising panic that is fueling the feverish fantasies of far-right defense villages and prepper bunkers. The New Right will not „create order“, it is in fact the executor of the social disintegration that has already been promoted by neoliberalism, in other words it is the „continuation of competition by other means“ (Robert Kurz).
The crisis as a fetishistic dynamic, in which the internal and external contradictions of the capital relation devastate the world, cannot be excluded by cutting off or excluding the victims of the crisis – neither in its economic nor in its ecological dimension. The ridiculousness of this reactionary reflex is actually evident. The capitalist systemic crisis can only be countered by spreading a radical awareness of the crisis through a consciously fought-for transformation of the system into a post-capitalist society. It is the only chance to prevent a fall into barbarism. This is the simple truth that everyone actually suspects.
And this is the crux of the matter with regard to an anti-fascist alliance practice that reflects the crisis process and propagates a radical, transformational crisis consciousness: even if progressive forces were to fall on deaf ears with their transformational rhetoric in broad anti-fascist alliances, this would be of secondary importance as long as fascist transfers of power can be prevented. The fetishistic crisis dynamic will continue to unfold – regardless of the level of consciousness of the population.
The crisis process will force late capitalist societies into a transformation into a different, post-capitalist formation, so that radical crisis consciousness could prevail as long as the fascist option can be prevented. The social fallout of the crisis of capital is ambivalent: on the one hand, it materializes in authoritarian aggression and panic, which give a boost to pre-fascism, but at the same time the crisis can contribute to the formation and spread of an emancipatory consciousness within the framework of anti-fascist struggles.
This is why anti-fascism has top priority in the current systemic crisis, which will inevitably turn into a systemic transformation. First of all, it is enough to prevent the fascist crisis option in order to keep open non-fascist, and therefore emancipatory, paths of transformation.
This is a translation of a Text from my new E-book: “Faschismus im 21. Jahrhundert. Skizzen der drohenden Barbarei”.