The new anti-capitalism from the right

_ Dr. Dr. Rainer Zitelmann. Mises Institute. Berlin, 26 July 2022.*

Most people associate criticism of capitalism primarily with left-wing sentiment. But there is also increasing anti-capitalism from the right.

As is well known, the AfD has electoral successes above all in East Germany, where anti-capitalism – as confirmed by numerous surveys – is much more widespread than in West Germany. There it deliberately focuses on the topic of “social patriotism” and thus wins over many voters who used to vote for the LEFT party. Right-wing anti-capitalism finds a theoretical foundation in authors such as Benedikt Kaiser or Götz Kubitschek.

One can build on a long historical tradition of right-wing anti-capitalism in Germany – from the so-called “Conservative Revolution” to National Socialism.

The critique of capitalism of the anti-capitalist right and their economic policy ideas differ only gradually from those of the left. In the programmatic publication “Solidarity Patriotism. The social question from the right” Kaiser, the best-known mastermind of this direction, repeatedly approvingly quotes left-wing authors – from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to Sahra Wagenknecht.

In his criticism of social conditions, he relies on the books of the French left-wing economist Thomas Piketty or on the work of Christoph Butterwege, a political scientist who ran for the LEFT party for the office of Federal President in 2017. And in his writings there are also quotations from the works of Erich Fromm and Theodor Adorno, which are typical for left-wing literature.

Enemy images, on the other hand, are “market radicals”, “neoliberals”, “libertarians” – for example Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedmann or Friedrich August von Hayek.

Are leftists and big business in cahoots?

The central thesis of the right-wing anti-capitalists: left-wing multicultural ideologues and big business are in cahoots. The real beneficiaries of mass immigration are the capitalists, who get a large reservoir of cheap labour with it. The left-wing ideologues who called for “open borders” were in fact pursuing a policy in the interest of capital.

“It is not ‘the left’,” Kaiser writes in his booklet “A look to the left”, “which forces mass migration, even if it appreciates it out of ideological impulses and acclaims it in the media. This development is primarily being promoted by the formerly so-called ‘big capital’ in the form of industrial and entrepreneurial associations.”

Incidentally, Sahra Wagenknecht argues similarly in her writings: uncontrolled mass immigration weakens the welfare state and is actually in the interests of capital, which only those of her criticized “lifestyle leftists” did not want to recognize.

However, questions remain: why mass immigration should be in the interest of “big business” remains inexplicable.

Yes, “capital” wants qualified specialists to immigrate to Germany, and that is not only in the interest of companies, but of society as a whole, because it is not clear how realistically the demographic problems can be dealt with in any other way.

But this immigration of qualified workers, which is repeatedly demanded, hardly takes place in Germany: there are countless bureaucratic hurdles for skilled workers, while immigration into the social systems is comparatively much easier: you only have to say the word “asylum” at the border. That is why there has been a mass immigration into the social systems for years, which of course is neither in the interest of “capital” nor of employees – and is also rejected by the majority of people in Germany, as all surveys show.

The massive immigration into the social systems even makes the necessary immigration of skilled workers more difficult, because the resulting problems reduce the acceptance of immigration among the population.

This example shows that the thesis that the goals of left-wing multicultural ideologues and capitalism are identical is misguided, because no differentiation is made between the types of immigration. There is no doubt that managers of large corporations are often willingly adapting to the left-green spirit of the times, but that is a sign of opportunism and not proof that they are the actual drivers of the left-wing trend.

At best, lip service to private property

Just as left-wing anti-capitalists – such as Sahra Wagenknecht – boldly profess the “social market economy”, the right-wing anti-capitalists also say that they are against capitalism, but not against the market economy.

However, this commitment to the market economy cannot be taken seriously, since its central elements, such as private property, are rejected.

Admittedly, both left and right-wing anti-capitalists formally profess private property today, but according to the “primacy of politics” the state should set very narrow limits on the power of disposal and make strict specifications.

Kaiser approvingly quotes Axel Honneth, a theorist of the “Frankfurt School”, who believes that one must question “why the mere ownership of the means of production should justify a claim to the capital gains achieved with them at all”. And Kaiser criticizes “that large parts of the conservative spectrum are also fixated on the apotheosis of private property (in the means of production) as one of the most valuable principles…”.

According to these new right-wing anti-capitalists, parts of the economy are to be nationalized. Götz Kubitschek, one of the pioneers of the anti-capitalist right, demands “that the state has to ensure basic services in the areas of transport, banking, communication, education, health, energy, living space, culture and security as a state, not just as a regulatory framework for private service providers who are primarily concerned with the fillet pieces”. The task is therefore “to nationalize while at the same time streamlining the bureaucracy” – although he does not seem to realize that more state interferes in the economy inevitably proliferates more bureaucracy.

Kaiser believes that consideration should be given to nationalizing all sectors of the economy vital to the country’s development, such as heavy industry, chemicals and transportation. Electricity plants, waterworks and so on should not be operated privately either.

On the other hand, it is generously conceded that the light and consumer goods industry could remain a “field of activity for the cooperative and private capitalist initiative”.

Marx, Engels and Lenin, to whom the right-wing anti-capitalists often refer, would have branded the ideology of the right-wing anti-capitalists as a petty-bourgeois, reactionary criticism of capitalism, since they want to reverse social development.

According to these new right-wing anti-capitalists, all large companies and “corporations” are suspect, “consumer communities, cooperatively organized village inns that issue a natural dividend in the form of a joint festival, as well as farms that supply their small investors with food free of charge (share yield)” are idealized. East Germany should be the experimental field for such anti-capitalist dreams. After all, Kaiser argues, surveys show that 75 percent of East Germans see a socialist system as a good idea but one that was misexecuted.

Another idea by these new right-wing anti-capitalists: following Otto Strasser, the leader of the “left-wing national socialists”, Kaiser puts the idea of “inheritance” (Germ. “Erblehen”) up for debate, which could take the place of private property. The state would therefore remain the sole owner of land and means of production, leaving management to the individual “depending on their ability and appreciation as inheritance”.

The authors of this scene expressly refer to theorists of the “Conservative Revolution” of the Weimar Republic, such as Ferdinand Fried, who propagated a concept of self-sufficiency – even if they concede that pure self-sufficiency is not possible today.

Socio-political ideas are similar to those of the left

Otherwise, socio-political daily demands of the right-wing anticapitalists are congruent with those of the left or the left wing of the SPD. Both parties are calling for so-called citizen insurance, and the right-wingers are also calling for everyone to be included in the social security system, the abolition of contribution assessment limits and an extension to all types of income, in order to place a much greater burden on higher earners. The rich are to be burdened more in every respect, for example, by increasing income taxes on top earners and reintroducing the wealth tax, which has not been levied in Germany since 1996. Differences to the corresponding demands of the  Left, SPD and Greens are hardly recognizable.

The terminology is also identical, as when Kaiser criticizes:

“But what counts under capitalist auspices is not social value, but self-exploiting value – especially in times of the triumph of the top income without work.”

The image of a “cherished and controlled social market economy” or the “controlled social market economy of the 21st century” (Kaiser) actually has very little to do with a market economy. The hope of the anti-capitalist right is to bring national and social elements together in a movement, both sharing a hatred of “the rich”. Kaiser approvingly quotes the demand of the former US Secretary of Labour and critic of capitalism Robert B. Reich:

“We must create a unified movement that brings together the right and the left to fight the rich elite.”

These forces initially saw their short-term task as pushing back the economically liberal elements in the AfD or pushing them out of the party in order to make room for the line of “social patriotism” propagated by Björn Höcke and others. One should not underestimate the right-wing anti-capitalists, because they have almost completely achieved this goal.

And that the synthesis of national and social motives has a high mobilizing power is not only proven by corresponding movements in France (such as the Rassemblement National from the right or the left-national Mélenchon movement), but we also know from German history how explosive the mixture of nationalism and socialism can become.

This is not to say that the new right-wing anti-capitalists are national socialists in the traditional sense, but their movement certainly combines the ideologies of nationalism and socialism.

* Translated with kind permission by the author from the original publication on the Mises Institute.

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