Mathew D. Rose – Germany: No Country for Angry Old White Men

An analysis of the rise of the far-right AfD in Germany

Mathew D. Rose is an Investigative Journalist specialised in Organised Political Crime in Germany and an editor of BRAVE NEW EUROPE


The “political barbarians” are on the move again. In Germany the far-right AfD has advanced into second place ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats in the national polls. And once again the liberal authoritarian parties and mainstream media are using the AfD to distract from their current lack of leadership, responsibility for their brutal neo-liberal policies of the last decades, and their inexorably declining popularity: if you don’t vote for us the neo-nazis will take over the nation. As was to be expected, this argument is losing its potency. Besides, the situation is much more complex than this propagated good versus evil depiction so essential to today’s politics.

AfD supporters were up to now neither old nor poor. They were especially strong in the age group 25 to 59 years old, with an average income or above, in the majority men, workers. They had many less unemployed voters than the Social Democrats and about the same as the Christian Democrats (CDU). This appears to be changing rapidly.

One element that is most likely responsible for this upswing of support for the AfD are the angry old white men. They decided the previous Bundestag election in 2021. These traditional conservative voters were so angry about the policies of Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats being too liberal that they swung the election by voting for the centre-right Social Democrats (SPD). One may rightfully ask where is the political logic in this? This too can be ascribed to conservatism. Traditionally voters who were disappointed by the Christian Democrats would vote for the Social Democrats and vice versa. As I always point out, German elections are not decided by the citizens voting for a party, but those against one. Of course the SPD has been just as disappointing for the angry old white men as the CDU as neo-liberal policies remain neo-liberal policies, whatever party initiates them.

It was clear for the CDU and its unfortunate leader, Friedrich Merz (one of the most unpopular politicians in Germany), that these voters would return – as always – to the fold. To help the process along, Merz publicly made some racist and far-right remarks. But these expectations have not been fulfilled. It appears that many angry white old men have chosen instead to support the AfD. This could well explain why the CDU is hardly rising in the polls and the AfD has doubled its support. Five million additional citizens claim they are planning to vote for the AfD, whose 2021 Bundestag election results markedly fell. Many of these new AfD supporters are however not solely the four million voters that abandoned the CDU in the previous Bundestag election. There is much more to this.

In further polls it appears that the AfD will win upcoming state elections in four if not all five of the former states of the communist East Germany (GDR), literally their heartland. There they are polling between 24 and 29 percent. The AfD is not that weak in West German states, lying between six and fifteen percent and are much stronger than the Liberals (FDP) in all West German states and even ahead of the Greens in a few.

Like other former East-Block nations East German citizens had a completely different socialisation than Germans in the West. In many aspects they are more conservative. Add to this a fundamental distrust of the political class, which with the exception of the leftist Links party, all participated in the plundering of former East Germany, much to the detriment of what are now older citizens. Most may have stabilised their existence, but have a healthy wariness of Germany’s political elite coming for more, increasing inequality as it continues its neo-liberal transfer of wealth from the lower and middle classes to the rich, forcing many into precariousness.

And come they have. Many Germans resent having to pay for the war in Ukraine. The increase in heating and electricity costs this winter were enormous, but pensioners (the former East German states have the highest percentage) received a paltry 300 euro one off payment for exploding energy bills from the government. Many families had to join together to finance the heating of retired grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles. On the other hand a windfall tax for energy companies was rejected by the current coalition of Social Democrats, Greens, and Liberals.

The Greens, similar to their FDP coalition partners, have no regard for social justice. All their plans for combatting climate change set the same financial onus on all individuals, rich or poor. Wealthy Germans can afford to continue heating their villas as before despite higher prices. Many Germans with limited incomes had to radically reduce. The market is supposed to regulate CO2. It does, but only for the less well off. Since it is the wealthy who produce most carbon emissions, and they have no need to decrease these, Germany’s limited progress on the climate front is at the cost of the economically weak. There was a general uprising when the current ruling coalition recently attempted to force citizens to convert rapidly to heat pumps with no concept of how those with lower incomes were supposed to finance this. East Germans have an extraordinary sense of fairness and are having none of this. This has galvanised the AfD, not only in Eastern Germany and has seen the coalition scrambling to clean up the mess.

Contrary to other East European nations, many East Germans do not have a vitriolic hate of the Russians. They see Ukraine as a useless war that Germany is supporting, pushing many of them into financial straits, while they also observe how Germany is supporting Ukrainian refugees. Again, their sense of fairness does not accept this. Nor are they so stupid that they are reconciled to their governments unwillingness to investigate the attack of their national infrastructure, the Nordstream pipeline. The AfD is the only party that is demanding a negotiated peace in Ukraine and railing against refugees, which was what brought them onto the political scene in the first place.

The economy has also become an issue as Germany has entered a recession and is having great difficulties getting inflation under control. This has hit the less well off and lower middle class hard. Any ambitions of joining the housing ladder has dissipated due to the high interest rates and insecurity concerning the cost of the new heating laws for homeowners. Many Germans are coming to the conclusion that the parties of the traffic light coalition (SPD, Greens, and Liberals) are neither willing nor competent to address their problems. Instead they are preparing the nation for another round of austerity. Nor do the other two parties, Christian Democrats and leftist Links, seem to care about their plight.

Germany’s traditional parties governing with their “There is no alternative” platitude and moral posturing are not seen as leaders or solvers of problems, but the source of these. The liberal authoritarian political elite’s respect for democracy was best summed up by the Green Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock explaining her war against Russia: “I don’t care what my German voters think. We are with Ukraine. And this means that with every step I take I have to make it clear that this will continue as long as Ukraine needs me.“ The shrill metropolitan elite may lap this up, most Germans don’t.

In addition to the social and political aspects of the AfD surge, there is also a cultural element. Germany has changed radically in the past 20 years. It is no longer the Germany that so many older Germans grew up in. This is probably the fate of every generation as it moves on in life. Take for example older German males. Your identity was your car. The bigger and more expensive, the more respect you received and felt you deserved. Now they find themselves in a society where many see large cars and their owners as something negative. Racism was always en vogue in Germany. Now there are laws against it. Identity politics has swept away any pretence of social unity and solidarity within German society. Even the national football side appeared to be more concerned about LGBQT rights than winning the World Championship. The only place where German society still enjoys a sense of consensus is in air planes to holiday destinations – no nonsensical talk of climate change there.

Is this current drift to the AfD part of a general political movement to the right in Europe or simply part of an electoral tradition of voting against the political establishment? We are sure to see some astounding results in the EU parliamentary elections next year, which in Germany, where no one has any idea what the EU parliament does or who the candidates are, is a protest event. A Bundestag election is something different.

There is currently no real chance that the AfD will enter a national government as there is no party, maybe with the exception of the FDP, that is prepared to join them in a coalition, so their current surge is not really a threat to German politics, just upsetting the usual propaganda festivals dressed up as German politics. In the East German states this might be different. A toleration pact could well be the first step.

Ironically, the only person that might be able to stop the AfD is hated more by the German political elite than the AfD: Sarah Wagenknecht. After a long career in the Links party, during which she often adopted contentious and radical left positions, she is leaving the party. She appears to be considering creating a new party and was one of the organisers of the largest anti-war rally in Germany. An East German herself, she represents the views of many of those who are now going over to the AfD, but from a left perspective. Contrary to the AfD she is not neo-liberal, instead proposing a programme to reintroduce a much stronger role for the state in the economy and reducing inequality. Of course she has been branded a Nazi by the German political elite and mainstream media. On the other hand, she would probably draw many new AfD supporters over to her party.

The German political class and mainstream media wring their hands and warn of the threat posed by the AfD to democracy. It ignores that democracy in Germany has been hollowed out by their servile policies for corporate interests, enabling the increase in inequality in Germany, hypocrisy, lies, and demonising dissent as fascist or Putin-serving. Self-criticism or change of policies is not to be expected. Throughout Europe authoritarian liberalism is exhausted, offering no solutions to today’s challenges. Thus many Europeans are turning to the far right under the motto “Anything is better than this”.

There is just one problem, as we have seen after the election of the far right in Italy, EU nations have lost their sovereignty. Besides a little racist identity politics of their own or even stronger neo-liberal policies, there is little room for changes that the EU will not block. Thus Germany’s angry old white men will be stuck with constantly changing the political party they vote for with the imagined satisfaction of having shown the political elite a thing or two. Real change there will be none.

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1 Comment

  1. The AfD is apparently the only threat to the German Establishment. Wagenknecht is delegated to keep this democratic part of German politics in check. The Left has no answer to mainstream politics, other than to help the divide and rule methods of the mainstream. Well, the show goes on regardless. Geopolitics rules where the majority are fools. At least the peoples in the ex-Soviet states in the EU are more aware, due to their experience of communist tyranny. If the Left were really for the people, they should attack the scams which shift huge amounts of money supply to the transnational corps and load huge debts on the nation states, while taxing and taking people’s savings and assets. The scams; climate change, Covid and QE generally. However, there is no end of struggle whatever happens.

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