They cannot escape history. Whatever similarities there may be with radical-right groups in other countries, it is the post-war extreme right in Germany that is uniquely shadowed by the figure of Adolf Hitler.
Last year’s book by Toralf Staud, “Moderne Nazis” (in German), gives a thorough and vivid description of the Nationaldeutsche Partei Deutschlands and its variously associated but independent local “Kameradschaften.” We are indeed fortunate to have this measured and scholarly account. One of its many virtues is its excellent bibliography of the scholarly and journalistic literature. If I have a criticism, it is its failure to provide photographs. As was true of its Nazi predecessors in the Hitler period, this post-war extremist milieu must be seen to be appreciated– if not in person than at least in pictures. (Both YouTube and Flickr have pictorial materials, a small part of which I have presented on this blog earlier).
How large is this grouping in the Germany of today ? The German parliamentary system has a five-percent threshold that prevents splinter parties from entering the legislatures. As a result, the NPD has never been able to elect a representative to the national parliament. But in the late sixties and earlier seventies it was able to seat representatives in several Länder (states) of the then-West Germany. Today the NPD has representatives in only two Länder, Saxony and Mecklenburg – East Pomerania, both of which were in the former East Germany. The party garners between five and ten percent of the votes in those states, but can receive in excess of twenty percent in some small cities and towns. In the west, the NPD today is a hopelessly small splinter grouping.
As Staud shows in detail, the weight of the extreme right can only imperfectly be assessed by the voting strength of the NPD. The extreme right is somewhat heterogeneous, and some of its formations seem to be at odds with one another. On the one hand, for example, is the staid, traditional conservatism of German nationalism (harking back, in some respects, to the German-National Peoples Party [DNVP] of the pre-Nazi era), but on the other hand there are the very rowdy, unruly, brawling skinheads and right-rock enthusiasts. It is this latter scene, in particular, that seems to have given the extreme right wing, with the NPD at its center, a great new dynamism.
All sections of the extreme right have, more or less as articles of faith, these similarities:
1) First and foremost, a fierce xenophobia, especially a hostility to Germans of non-German origins, in particular those who came from Turkey.
2) A greater or lesser admiration of the Third Reich, or least a rejection of all views that saw Hitler as evil. Sometimes this takes the form of no more than nostalgia for the Wehrmacht, the trade in Nazi-era paraphernalia, etc. The new movie “The Unknown Soldier” (see review by A. O. Scott) documents the attempts of the extreme right to prevent the showing of an exhibition concerning the Wehrmacht in the Nazi era.
2) A rejection of the “system,” i.e. of the constitutional order of the German Federal Republic. There is much talk of “revolution” and the need to re-make the world. This has not always been true of the NPD. When it was founded, shortly after the War, it seemed content enough to work within the established order. In this earlier period it was able to elect representatives to western state legislatures, which it is unable to do now in its revolutionary incarnation.
3) Anti-Semitism. It came as a surprise to me that this theme is little stressed and seems to have low salience. It is simply taken for granted that Jews are to be hated, but little energy seems to be expended in this pursuit.
4) Opposition to Israel. The NPD and its fellow-travelers regularly embrace the anti-Israel stance of Arabs and left-wing Germans. This does not seem to cause discomfort in a movement that regularly denounces both the Muslims of Germany and the German left-wing.
5) Opposition to the West, particularly the United States. Sometimes this is expressed in terms of up-to-date international politics, but always also in terms of history, of the still-resented Allied victory in WWII.
Now, with Adolf Hitler as the unspoken but constant subtext to this movement, certainly so in the eyes of its many German detractors, we must observe some crucial differences from the Nazi movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
A. Unlike the NSDAP (Nazis) of the late Weimar republic, the NPD has no sizable popular base. In west Germany it seems to have no base at all, and in the eastern states, overall, it has a following of less than five percent of the population. At present, at least, it does not constitute a threat to German democracy.
B. Again unlike the NSDAP, which ultimately came to power only through deals with respectable parties, the NPD has been almost completely ostracized by other political formations. As long as this ostracism holds, it is difficult to see the NDP insinuate itself into any position of power anywhere in Germany.
C. Neither the NDP nor any other grouping on the extreme right has a charismatic figure who would command loyalty or admiration or respect within his own movement, let alone in the general public. In short, and alas for these new Nazis, there is no living Adolf Hitler now that they need one so badly.
D. The choreography of these two movements is radically different. The old NSDAP based itself on military traditions. It built a para-military grouping around itself, with uniforms, banners, badges, insignia, and a bold crimson flag that its Führer had personally designed. The extreme right of today, originally using traditional folk music and folkish cultural elements, is today dominated by the cultural styles of skinheads and rock enthusiasts. There are no uniforms. There are no storm troops. There are no para-military barracks.
What these differences imply for the future of the movement is hard to say. What is clear, though, is that the NSDAP has not found any sort of afterlife for its most significant features.