Logo: Strike a Light by Rob Howard under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
by Natascha Strobl and Julian Bruns
On April 14th, activists of the Identitäre Bewegung Österreich (Identitarian Movement Austria) entered the stage during a performance of Elfriede Jelinek’s play “Die Schutzbefohlenen” (The Wards) in the main hall of the University of Vienna. Some of the 30 persons showed a banner soaked in artificial blood that said: “Ihr Heuchler!” (You hypocrites!). Actors - among them refugees and children - were shocked. It was the intervention of some antifascist audience members that ended the disruption. This media-attracting act ranks among several incidents caused by New Right actors which have received increasing attention in the German and Austrian public. From the early 2000s on, the New Right established new specialized forms of media and institutions – and increasingly took to the streets. The Identitarians are the spearhead of this new strategic development. At first glance, this might look like a contradiction since the very definition of New Right is the one of a movement which has shifted from action to intellectual debate. But this is only one side of the story.
Since 2012, when Identitarians entered the political scene, action-oriented forms of claims making emerged. They have successfully brought New Right ideology to the streets and have thus opened new spaces for the whole spectrum. Ever since, we have witnessed huge demonstrations: first, the Montagsmahnwachen (Vigils for Peace), then demonstrations by the Hooligans gegen Salafisten (Hooligans against salafists - Hogesa) and, finally, Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West - Pegida). While all of them have their own unique history, they share the fact that key players of the New Right played major roles in the back- and foreground. Finally, with the emergence of Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany - AfD) the New Right managed to turn their ideology into a political party program.
So what’s going on in New Right circles of Austria and Germany? This article portrays a new generation of New Right actors by putting the focus of interest on three main levels of action: intellectual work, street action and party politics. Arguing that the New Right has been taking their ideology both to the streets and into several parliaments since 2012, we aim to show its specific strategies, main institutes and players.
Definition – what is the New Right?
The unique trait of the New Right is its inclusion of conservative as well as right-wing extremist elements. In fact, it transcends the (fictitious) border between conservatism and right-wing extremism and proves that right-wing extremist ideas float freely between these poles. It is a distinctively bourgeois and elitist spectrum. The New Right can be described as a modernized form of right-wing extremism. It strives for cultural and political hegemony which shall be obtained by strategic means called metapolitics: The New Right rejects political parties and favors the intellectual level to fight a cultural war which aims to reverse the socio-political changes of 1968. Opinion leaders in culture, media and politics spread ideas and shape discourses.
Ideologically, there is not much difference between the Old Right and the New Right. Strategic innovations are more important. Their language became softer; racist ideas have been put into new words with concepts such as ethnopluralism. In this concept, cultures are homogeneous and static entities. Adherents of ethnopluralism argue that every culture is a combination of ethnic and cultural elements and has its own soil, where it “naturally” belongs. When a culture is mixed with another one, conflicts would arise which would eventually lead to violence and war. To avoid conflicts, ethnopluralists in fact demand worldwide apartheid. There is no room for counter cultures, class struggles and other contradictions.
Taking a closer look at self-declared ethnopluralists like the Identitarians, it becomes clear that they still see a strong hierarchy between cultures, i.e. “European“ culture is superior to “Muslim“ culture. Thus, ethnopluralism functions as racism without races but with cultures instead. This is a strategic choice as a consequence of the holocaust and other crimes of Nazi Germany. Open racism and antisemitism were discredited as well and could no longer be maintained. Instead the so called Conservative Revolution and their antidemocratic and elitist ideas work as the role model for the New Right. They can freely distance themselves from National-Socialism, even invoking a history of resistance (e.g. by claiming the mutinous Wehrmacht officer Stauffenberg as role model), and at the same time hold on to an anti-pluralist, nationalist and racist worldview.
A new generation of the New Right
Between 2000 and 2013 the New Right has made huge developments. New magazines and Internet platforms emerged, a new generation has taken over. Main figures such as Götz Kubitschek (“Institut für Staatspolitik”, “Sezession”, “Ein Prozent”)1 have coined new ideas as for example “Vorbürgerkrieg“2 (pre-civil war). Kubitschek and others like Karlheinz Weißmann (earlier IfS, now “Junge Freiheit”) worked out a new strategy: Their ideas should make their way onto the streets. They found inspiration on the Left and copied leftist forms of action. This new generation of the New Right looked to the next generation to carry out their ideas in practice. After some experimental actions under the name of Konservativ-Subversive Aktion (Conservative Subversive Action - KSA), the idea of an activist branch took its first form in France. Inspired by the Italian neo-fascist youth organization Casa Pound, French activists of Génération Identitaire (a youth organization of the party Bloc Identitaire) occupied the building site of a mosque in Poitiers in southern France, where Karl Martell had fought off an Moorish army in 732. This ignited the foundation of several offshoots all across Europe. Strong national Identitarian organizations were formed in Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy.
In 2014, the New Right took several opportunities to spread its ideas on the streets of Germany. The Montagsmahnwachen were partly organized by Jürgen Elsässer, editor of the New Right magazine Compact. Elsässer gave speeches among other main speakers, radio host Ken Jebsen and pop musician Xavier Naidoo. All of them spoke in front of thousands of people about their racist and/or nationalist ideas. In May 2014, the Identitarians held their first demonstration ever, which took place in Vienna. In October 2014, one of the biggest right-wing demonstrations in years was held by HoGeSa. Even though the demonstration quickly escalated into violence against minorities, political enemies and the police, players of the New Right like Elsässer, Akif Pirincçi (author) and Tatjana Festerling (then AfD Hamburg, now Pegida) showed their approval. The Identitarians marched side by side with hooligans and Nazi skinheads to popularize their anti-Muslim racism. In the same month a group of friends started the Pegida-demonstrations in Dresden. Pegida mobilized up to 20,000 people for their rallies against Islam, feminism and the “multicultural society“. Important players like Kubitschek, Elsässer and Martin Sellner (Identiarians Vienna) created a hateful climate against refugees in Germany. Meanwhile Austrian and German Identitarians blocked border crossings to stop refugees. Kubitschek used Pegida to propagate his ideas of “civil disobedience“. Refugee shelters were blocked, occupied and torched.
Active on three levels
When we consider the present situation, we see a highly diversified New Right. In the case of Austria and Germany, we do not speak of two separated groups but one transnationally organized spectrum. The actors focus on one or more levels of action:
Intellectual work. This is still the very core of the New Right. Many blogs, magazines and books provide the intellectual groundwork. Ideas and articles are discussed in many networking events, from summer universities to conferences. Magazines like Sezession, Blaue Narzisse or Compact are full service providers: they publish daily updates on their blogs, a (bi)monthly magazine and frequently host events.
Street action. In the past 3 ½ years the Identitarians took New Right ideology to the streets. Some journalists and scientists make the mistake of labeling them simply as “neo-Nazi“-rallies. In our opinion this misses the point. The Identitarians do not use neo-Nazi methods, instead they look to leftist and NGO methods. This sets them apart from known right-wing extremist street action. This fact requires a different set of tools for analysis and also for antifascist counter-protests. Apart from the Identitarians the Pegida-rallies are still meeting every Monday in Dresden. One of its main actors is Götz Kubitschek, founder of the magazine Sezession, the publishing house Antaios and think tank Institut für Staatspolitik. With the formation of Ein Prozent by Kubitschek, the lawyer Karl Albrecht Schachtschneider, Hans-Thomas Tillschneider (AfD), Jürgen Elsässer (founder and editor of Compact) and Philip Stein (co-speaker of the right-wing student fraternities) a new organization came into play. Ein Prozent functions as a New Right NGO. They document street action, collect donations and provide public relation work.
Party politics. The AfD opened up new opportunities for the leaders of the New Right. The newspaper Junge Freiheit for example took the stance of fully supporting AfD and declaring the party as the sole future for the New Right. This lead to many debates within the spectrum since others, like Sezession, preferred intellectual work, or later, street action. The status quo is that many within the New Right see the AfD as an opportunity, especially Björn Höcke, the popular leader of AfD in Thuringia. Höcke, Elsässer and Kubitschek maintain a close personal relationship. In Austria the Freedom Party (FPÖ) is very strong and thus an independent New Right spectrum never fully diversified like in Germany. The Austrian Identitarians proved to be one of the most successful Identitarian groups in Europe, holding close ties to the key figures of the New Right as well as the FPÖ and AfD. In counties like Burgenland the youth organization of the FPÖ and the Identitarians are almost identical.
The New Right has gained momentum and formed alliances. Their main goal is still a cultural revolution in favour of the right. In 2011 Kubitschek said that he believed the New Right needs to win an intellectual civil war that is going on in Germany. Four years later the New Right does not limit itself to mere words, but has taken its ideology to the streets. The Identitarians breached into leftist territory by adapting leftist forms of struggle for themselves. Pegida has provided the biggest stage for the main players of the New Right. With the emergence of the AfD the paradox of a New Right party formed. It is a new stage for the main actors of the New Right and time will tell if party logic and “intellectual civil war“ can match. The balancing act of both cultivating their elitist and antidemocratic ideology at the same time as organizing mass protests and trying to win parliamentary elections will be a crucial test in proving whether all three levels of action can be maintained.
- "Institut für Staatspolitik" (Institute for State Governance) is a New Right think tank; "Sezession" is the monthly magazine of IfS and one of the most important organs of the German New Right; "Ein Prozent für unser Land“ (One percent for our country) is a nationalist NGO. ↩
- Kubitschek coined the term to describe a state of underlying conflicts where societal break lines can be found anywhere. Nonetheless, the conflict is not obvious. Fault lines can be seen by those who are willing to. In contrast to other forms of war, there is no declaration of war. The “pre-civil war“ just becomes more obvious day by day. Kubitschek sees the reason for this conflict in the multicultural character of the German society. The danger is embodied by young male migrants who Kubitschek describes as aggressive and violent. The German “folk“ would have to fight back against ethnic minorities tu sustain their hegemony. C.F: Götz Kubitschek: Vorbürgerkrieg. In: Sezession #20, 2007, p 56. ↩