The German politician Malte Kaufmann from the right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) wants to classify anti-fascist groups as terrorist networks and have them banned. He cites the rising numbers of left-wing extremist crimes in Germany as justification. The claim turns out to be mostly true.
The reason for Kaufmann’s claim was an article by Focus Online, according to which death lists with AfD politicians, their addresses and instructions for explosive devices were published in left-wing extremist forums. On 1 October 2021, the member of the German parliament tweeted: “#Left-wing extremism continues to grow and grow stronger in Germany. Therefore: classify #Antifa as a terror network and ban it!”
Definition of extremism and left-wing extremism
According to German extremism researcher Armin Pfahl-Traugber in “Linksextremismus in Deutschland (2014)” (Left-wing extremism in Germany) the term “extremism” goes back to the Latin word “extremus”, i.e., “the extreme”, and thus represents the extreme opposition of a standpoint. At the same time, this means that extremism does not stand alone, but always in relation to something else. In the political context, extremism is defined as political aspirations that strictly reject the existing social and state order. For this understanding, it is less the justification and the goals of the actors that play a role, but rather the fundamental rejection of the political conditions.
The term “left-wing extremism” is understood by extremism researcher Pfahl-Traughber as a collective term for all political views that reject the norms and rules of a modern democratic constitutional state and demand a social order characterised by social equality. The ideologies, organisations and strategies of the actors can differ according to this understanding, but what they have in common is the prominent position of equality, the aspirations against the norms of the democratic constitutional state and the primary focus on the means used and less on the interest goals of the actors. Common fields of action of left-wing extremism are: “anti-nuclear”, “anti-fascism”, “anti-tribalisation”, “anti-globalisation”, “anti-imperialism”, “anti-capitalism”, “anti-militarism”, “anti-repression” and “anti-Zionism”.
Danger from left-wing extremism
The German Federal Ministry of the Interior sees the greatest danger to public security within the left-wing extremist spectrum among the violence-oriented left-wing extremists, most of whom belong to the autonomous scene. For autonomists, the use of violence – also against persons – is a legitimate means to achieve their goals. They justify violence as allegedly necessary against the “structural violence” of a “system of coercion, exploitation and oppression”.
According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the focus of the violence is primarily on the police and right-wing extremists identified as such, but also on business enterprises especially from the real estate industry.
From 4,898 to 10,971 cases: the total number of criminal and violent offences committed by left-wing extremists has increased by almost 124 per cent since 2005. However, not continuously: In 2018, the number of cases was significantly lower than in previous years.
Although it is recognisable that the total amount of the criminal and violent acts increased, some types of left-wing extremism decreased. These are mainly those that are specifically aimed at injuring individuals – such as bodily harm, attempted murder, deprivation of liberty or blackmail.
So, while the total number has risen, the number of crimes directly against the lives of fellow human beings has fallen or stagnated. This is also confirmed by the number of left-wing extremist persons surveyed by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. While the number of extremists is rising, the number of those prepared to use violence is much lower and remains almost constant: In 2020, out of 34,300 known left-wing extremists, only 9,600 were classified as ready to use violence.
These numbers have to be looked at in the context of right-wing extremism.
A right-wing extremist orientation shows itself above all in xenophobia, discrimination and racism. In an interview with ZDF, political scientist Jakob Feustel explains right-wing extremists like this: “All together they serve the German victim myth, fantasise about a conspiracy against the people and want to escalate the circumstances to the point of overthrow”.
A left-wing extremist orientation shows itself, apart from criticising the state, also in the fight against exclusion of individuals or groups. Left-wing extremists want to overcome capitalism and oppose any form of exclusion, the scientist explains. “So, while some want to get rid of people and let them strive, the others oppose that very thing.” It can therefore be assumed that left-wing extremism is increasing due to a rise in right-wing extremism. This is also confirmed by the figures of the Federal Ministry of the Interior.
It is obvious that the number of right-wing extremist crimes has been significantly higher than that of left-wing extremist crimes for a long time. Furthermore, an even greater difference can be assumed. There are two main reasons for this: In contrast to other politically motivated crime phenomena, the offence area of “mass militancy” has increased significantly due to the increasing number of protests and demonstrations. According to the Federal Agency for Civic Education, this mainly includes left-motivated crimes, as these are mostly directed against police officers, who in most cases report assaults at demonstrations.
In contrast right-wing extremist violence is predominantly directed against migrants, some of whom have had negative experiences with the police in their countries of origin and are probably less likely to report it due to language barriers. So, although significantly more cases of left-wing motivated violence are reported, the total number of right-wing extremist crimes is significantly higher. According to the Federal Agency for Civic Education, this must be considered when interpreting the case figures.
After all, Malte Kaufmann’s claim can be considered largely true. However, his statement should be put into context. Kaufmann belongs to a party that has been classified by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a right-wing extremist inspection case and is also likely to become a suspect case.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Leonie Kupferschmidt & Veronika Veile, Stuttgart Media University, Germany
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