Is socialism more liberal or more conservative

Left-wing extremism

Hans-Gerd Jaschke

To person

born 1952; Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences for Administration and Justice.

address: University of Applied Sciences for Administration and Justice Berlin, Alt-Friedrichsfelde 60, 10315 Berlin.

Publications including: Fundamentalism in Germany. God-fighters and political extremists threaten society, Hamburg 1998.

Socialism remained divided after the end of the Second World War. In the GDR, the unity of the SPD and KPD was established through the forced unification to form the SED. In West Germany, the Social Democrats and the KPD went their separate ways.

KPD poster (& copy public domain)
The development of political extremism in post-war Germany is closely linked to the new, changed constellation of conservatism, liberalism and socialism. After the end of the war in 1945, it was the victorious western powers who helped the constitutional and parliamentary political system in West Germany to achieve a breakthrough. The liberal ideas prevailed in large parts of the Basic Law and the state constitutions and in the liberal economic system, but lost their independent party-political fascination, persuasiveness and integrative power, because many found their way into the popular party structures of the CDU / CSU and SPD.

Freedom of the individual, parliamentarism, the rule of law, market economy structures and a reluctant state - that soon became part of the Union's program. With the popular party turn of the SPD in its Godesberg program in 1959, these ideas also found their way into German social democracy, albeit with different priorities, such as the development of social democracy. Only the idea and practice of a liberal society took hold until much later. The conflict between the student movement, which was popular with young people, influenced by the middle class, but followed socialist ideas, at the end of the sixties, and the authoritarian, authoritarian and structurally conservative generation of parents, paved the way for social liberalization. Later, the Greens and the new social movements started with the idea of ​​civil rights and presented their own programs to strengthen civil rights. As a liberal party, the FDP remained a modest existence under ten percent. After all, it was and is involved as a majority funder in numerous coalition governments in the federal and state levels and is therefore quite influential. Since the student movement in 1968 at the latest, liberal political views have been expanded to include liberal lifestyle practices. Since then, plural forms of life have been part of everyday life in the Federal Republic.

Post-war conservatism remained denominational. Traditionalist values ​​around family, church and fatherland persisted and anti-communism became the central bracket for integration. But he made his peace with parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and the desire for reconciliation with the former war opponents. Until the social-liberal coalition in 1969, it became a supporter of the state and tended to be structurally conservative; the dominant tendency around the union parties had little in common with the old conservatism of the 19th century and the revolutionary trend of the Weimar Republic. The stirrup holder role of the conservatives for the NSDAP in the years 1930 to 1933 was, however, pushed out of the collective memory of conservatism for a long time. The occasional take up of right-wing extremist positions before elections, for example in foreigner and asylum policy, is more tactical in terms of integrating the right-wing extremist voter potential than firmly established political convictions. The economic upswing and the successful conception of the social market economy strengthened the company's position as a state-supporting force.

The Christian Democrats pushed the not at all conservative ideology of technical progress and assumed that it was synonymous with social prosperity. Erhard's diction of "prosperity for everyone" and the educational reform of the sixties and seventies, which the Union also supported after initial resistance, broke with the conceited, class and elitist ideas of older German conservatism. Critical potentials of conservatism in power were no longer directed against democracy and liberalism, as in the Weimar Republic. What remained, however, was a decided anti-communism, the cultural criticism of libertarian tendencies in the everyday world and the complaint about the loss of traditional values ​​such as a sense of duty, diligence or law and order.

Implacable conservatives migrated from the CDU and CSU to Christian fundamentalist circles, to German national splinter groups on the right, and later to life-saving movements in the early days of the Greens. Small groups such as the Republicans and, for a time, the Hamburg Schill Party became party-political basins for dissatisfied Union supporters. The conservatism of the 19th century and the Weimar Republic hardly existed anymore. However, their masterminds such as Carl Schmitt, Ernst Jünger, Arnold Gehlen and others were later rediscovered in the circles of the "New Right" who attempt an intellectual attack on the liberal foundations of democracy from the right (Gessenharter 2002).

SED poster. (& copy public domain)
Socialism remained divided after the end of the Second World War. In the GDR, the unity of the SPD and KPD was established through the forced unification to form the SED, which then very soon became part of the Soviet communist sphere of influence. In West Germany, the Social Democrats and the KPD went their separate ways. The political polarization of the world from the Berlin blockade in 1948 to the fall of the Soviet empire around 1990 into a Soviet-communist and a Western zone of influence under the leadership of the USA has had a lasting impact on the West German variants of socialism and communism. The SPD developed into a moderate party of the center-left that cooperated closely with the trade unions; its participation in government from 1966 onwards strengthened the tendency towards pragmatism. A few years earlier, at the Godesberg party conference in 1959, it had made its peace with the economic order of the Federal Republic and no longer defined itself as a party of the working class, but as a people's party.

The KPD went the opposite way: its functionaries in the first post-war years were morally legitimized by the resistance against National Socialism, but their strictly anti-capitalist, revolutionary ideology and the demand for the elimination of the Adenauer regime led the party to the sidelines and ultimately to the ban the Federal Constitutional Court in 1956. The remaining West German communists were left with the martyr role and the opaque role as the "fifth column of Moscow" in West Germany.

Within and outside of the core currents of conservatism and socialism, tendencies developed which produced right and left varieties of extremism. The dominant political theories of the 19th and 20th centuries, liberalism, conservatism and socialism, have changed dramatically in the post-war period. They became active supporters of the constitution and the liberal economic and social order, came closer to one another, fought for the political center and: the majority currents of socialism and conservatism separated from their radical fringes in the history of the Federal Republic. This left a lot of space for the extremist split-offs, but diverse mechanisms of exclusion and the prosperous economic development over decades made them unattractive for voters and politically active people. Influences in social sub-areas such as universities and trade unions on the one hand, associations of expellees and modernization losers on the other have remained and remain. Of course, the edges of conservatism and socialism are porous, permeable, gray areas and fuzzy blending are part of the development.


Gessenharter, Wolfgang: Intellectual currents and thought leaders in the German New Radical Right. In: Thomas Grumke / Bernd Wagner (eds.): Handbuch Rechtsradikalismus, Opladen 2002, pp. 189-202.
From: Hans-Gerd Jaschke: Politischer Extremismus, Wiesbaden 2006, VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. The volume from the series "Elements of Politics", ed. v. Hans-Georg Ehrhart, Bernhard Frevel, Klaus Schubert and Suzanne S. Schüttemeyer has also been published as a licensed edition by the Federal Agency for Civic Education and can be ordered here.