It is now clear beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler and his associates believed they were socialists, and that others, including democratic socialists, thought so too.
Monday, August 12, 2019
FLASHBACK: Leftists Become Incandescent When Reminded of the Socialist Roots in Nazism
By Daniel Hannan | Real Clear Politics | March 13, 2014
It is now clear beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler and his associates believed they were socialists, and that others, including democratic socialists, thought so too.
On 16 June 1941, as Hitler readied his forces for Operation Barbarossa, Josef Goebbels looked forward to the new order that the Nazis would impose on a conquered Russia. There would be no come-back, he wrote, for capitalists nor priests nor Tsars. Rather, in the place of debased, Jewish Bolshevism, the Wehrmacht would deliver "der echte Sozialismus": real socialism.
Goebbels never doubted that he was a socialist. He understood Nazism to be a better and more plausible form of socialism than that propagated by Lenin. Instead of spreading itself across different nations, it would operate within the unit of the Volk.
So total is the cultural victory of the modern Left that merely to recount this fact is jarring. But few at the time would have found it especially contentious. As George Watson put it in The Lost Literature of Socialism:
It is now clear beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler and his associates believed they were socialists, and that others, including democratic socialists, thought so too.
The clue is in the name. Subsequent generations of Leftists have tried to explain away the awkward nomenclature of the National Socialist German Workers' Party as either a cynical PR stunt or an embarrassing coincidence. In fact, the name meant what it said.
Hitler told Hermann Rauschning, a Prussian who briefly worked for the Nazis before rejecting them and fleeing the country, that he had admired much of the thinking of the revolutionaries he had known as a young man; but he felt that they had been talkers, not doers. "I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun," he boasted, adding that "the whole of National Socialism" was "based on Marx".
Marx's error, Hitler believed, had been to foster class war instead of national unity - to set workers against industrialists instead of conscripting both groups into a corporatist order. His aim, he told his economic adviser, Otto Wagener, was to "convert the German Volk to socialism without simply killing off the old individualists" - by which he meant the bankers and factory owners who could, he thought, serve socialism better by generating revenue for the state. "What Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism failed to accomplish," he told Wagener, "we shall be in a position to achieve."
Leftist readers may by now be seething. Whenever I touch on this subject, it elicits an almost berserk reaction from people who think of themselves as progressives and see anti-fascism as part of their ideology. Well, chaps, maybe now you know how we conservatives feel when you loosely associate Nazism with "the Right".
To be absolutely clear, I don't believe that modern Leftists have subliminal Nazi leanings, or that their loathing of Hitler is in any way feigned. That's not my argument. What I want to do, by holding up the mirror, is to take on the equally false idea that there is an ideological continuum between free-marketers and fascists.
The idea that Nazism is a more extreme form of conservatism has insinuated its way into popular culture. You hear it, not only when spotty students yell "fascist" at Tories, but when pundits talk of revolutionary anti-capitalist parties, such as the BNP and Golden Dawn, as "far Right".
What is it based on, this connection? Little beyond a jejune sense that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists are nasty. When written down like that, the notion sounds idiotic, but think of the groups around the world that the BBC, for example, calls "Right-wing": the Taliban, who want communal ownership of goods; the Iranian revolutionaries, who abolished the monarchy, seized industries and destroyed the middle class; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who pined for Stalinism. The "Nazis-were-far-Right" shtick is a symptom of the wider notion that "Right-wing" is a synonym for "baddie".
One of my constituents once complained to the Beeb about a report on the repression of Mexico's indigenous peoples, in which the government was labelled Right-wing. The governing party, he pointed out, was a member of the Socialist International and, again, the give-away was in its name: Institutional Revolutionary Party. The BBC's response was priceless. Yes, it accepted that the party was socialist, "but what our correspondent was trying to get across was that it is authoritarian".
In fact, authoritarianism was the common feature of socialists of both National and Leninist varieties, who rushed to stick each other in prison camps or before firing squads. Each faction loathed the other as heretical, but both scorned free-market individualists as beyond redemption. Their battle was all the fiercer, as Hayek pointed out in 1944, because it was a battle between brothers.
Authoritarianism - or, to give it a less loaded name, the belief that state compulsion is justified in pursuit of a higher goal, such as scientific progress or greater equality - was traditionally a characteristic of the social democrats as much as of the revolutionaries.
Jonah Goldberg has chronicled the phenomenon at length in his magnum opus, Liberal Fascism. Lots of people take offence at his title, evidently without reading the book since, in the first few pages, Jonah reveals that the phrase is not his own. He is quoting that impeccable progressive H.G. Wells who, in 1932, told the Young Liberals that they must become "liberal fascists" and "enlightened Nazis".
In those days, most prominent Leftists intellectuals, including Wells, Jack London, Havelock Ellis and the Webbs, tended to favour eugenics, convinced that only religious hang-ups were holding back the development of a healthier species. The unapologetic way in which they spelt out the consequences have, like Hitler's actual words, been largely edited from our discourse. Here, for example, is George Bernard Shaw in 1933:
Extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely and apologetically as well as thoroughly... If we desire a certain type of civilisation and culture we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it.
Eugenics, of course, topples easily into racism. Engels himself wrote of the "racial trash" - the groups who would necessarily be supplanted as scientific socialism came into its own. Season this outlook with a sprinkling of anti-capitalism and you often got Leftist anti-Semitism - something else we have edited from our memory, but which once went without saying. "How, as a socialist, can you not be an anti-Semite?" Hitler had asked his party members in 1920.
Are contemporary Leftist critics of Israel secretly anti-Semitic? No, not in the vast majority of cases. Are modern socialists inwardly yearning to put global warming sceptics in prison camps? Nope. Do Keynesians want the whole apparatus of corporatism, expressed by Mussolini as "everything in the state, nothing outside the state"? Again, no. There are idiots who discredit every cause, of course, but most people on the Left are sincere in their stated commitment to human rights, personal dignity and pluralism.
My beef with many (not all) Leftists is a simpler one. By refusing to return the compliment, by assuming a moral superiority, they make political dialogue almost impossible. Using the soubriquet "Right-wing" to mean "something undesirable" is a small but important example.
Next time you hear Leftists use the word fascist as a general insult, gently point out the difference between what they like to imagine the NSDAP stood for and what it actually proclaimed.
Hitler and the socialist dream
By George Watson | Independent | 22 November 1998
He declared that 'national socialism was based on Marx' Socialists have always disowned him. But a new book insists that he was, at heart, a left-winger
In April 1945, when Adolf Hitler died by his own hand in the rubble of Berlin, nobody was much interested in what he had once believed. That was to be expected. War is no time for reflection, and what Hitler had done was so shattering, and so widely known through images of naked bodies piled high in mass graves, that little or no attention could readily be paid to National Socialism as an idea. It was hard to think of it as an idea at all. Hitler, who had once looked a crank or a clown, was exposed as the leader of a gang of thugs, and the world was content to know no more than that.
Half a century on, there is much to be said. Even thuggery can have its reasons, and the materials that have newly appeared, though they may not transform judgement, undoubtedly enrich and deepen it. Confidants of Hitler. such as the late Albert Speer, have published their reminiscences; his wartime table-talk is a book; early revelations like Hermann Rauschning's Hitler Speaks of 1939 have been validated by painstaking research, and the notes of dead Nazis like Otto Wagener have been edited, along with a full text of Goebbels's diary.
It is now clear beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler and his associates believed they were socialists, and that others, including democratic socialists, thought so too. The title of National Socialism was not hypocritical. The evidence before 1945 was more private than public, which is perhaps significant in itself. In public Hitler was always anti-Marxist, and in an age in which the Soviet Union was the only socialist state on earth, and with anti-Bolshevism a large part of his popular appeal, he may have been understandably reluctant to speak openly of his sources. His megalomania, in any case, would have prevented him from calling himself anyone's disciple.
That led to an odd and paradoxical alliance between modern historians and the mind of a dead dictator. Many recent analysts have fastidiously refused to study the mind of Hitler; and they accept, as unquestioningly as many Nazis did in the 1930s, the slogan "Crusade against Marxism" as a summary of his views. An age in which fascism has become a term of abuse is unlikely to analyse it profoundly.
His private conversations, however, though they do not overturn his reputation as an anti-Communist, qualify it heavily. Hermann Rauschning, for example, a Danzig Nazi who knew Hitler before and after his accession to power in 1933, tells how in private Hitler acknowledged his profound debt to the Marxian tradition. "I have learned a great deal from Marxism" he once remarked, "as I do not hesitate to admit". He was proud of a knowledge of Marxist texts acquired in his student days before the First World War and later in a Bavarian prison, in 1924, after the failure of the Munich putsch.
The trouble with Weimar Republic politicians, he told Otto Wagener at much the same time, was that "they had never even read Marx", implying that no one who had failed to read so important an author could even begin to understand the modern world; in consequence, he went on, they imagined that the October revolution in 1917 had been "a private Russian affair", whereas in fact it had changed the whole course of human history! His differences with the communists, he explained, were less ideological than tactical.
German communists he had known before he took power, he told Rauschning, thought politics meant talking and writing. They were mere pamphleteers, whereas "I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun", adding revealingly that "the whole of National Socialism" was based on Marx.
That is a devastating remark and it is blunter than anything in his speeches or in Mein Kampf.; though even in the autobiography he observes that his own doctrine was fundamentally distinguished from the Marxist by reason that it recognised the significance of race - implying, perhaps, that it might otherwise easily look like a derivative. Without race, he went on, National Socialism "would really do nothing more than compete with Marxism on its own ground". Marxism was internationalist. The proletariat, as the famous slogan goes, has no fatherland. Hitler had a fatherland, and it was everything to him.
Yet privately, and perhaps even publicly, he conceded that National Socialism was based on Marx. On reflection, it makes consistent sense. The basis of a dogma is not the dogma, much as the foundation of a building is not the building, and in numerous ways National Socialism was based on Marxism. It was a theory of history and not, like liberalism or social democracy, a mere agenda of legislative proposals.
And it was a theory of human, not just of German, history, a heady vision that claimed to understand the whole past and future of mankind. Hitler's discovery was that socialism could be national as well as international. There could be a national socialism.
That is how he reportedly talked to his fellow Nazi Otto Wagener in the early 1930s. The socialism of the future would lie in "the community of the volk", not in internationalism, he claimed, and his task was to "convert the German volk to socialism without simply killing off the old individualists", meaning the entrepreneurial and managerial classes left from the age of liberalism. They should be used, not destroyed. The state could control, after all, without owning, guided by a single party, the economy could be planned and directed without dispossessing the propertied classes.
That realisation was crucial. To dispossess, after all, as the Russian civil war had recently shown, could only mean Germans fighting Germans, and Hitler believed there was a quicker and more efficient route. There could be socialism without civil war.
Now that the age of individualism had ended, he told Wagener, the task was to "find and travel the road from individualism to socialism without revolution". Marx and Lenin had seen the right goal, but chosen the wrong route - a long and needlessly painful route - and, in destroying the bourgeois and the kulak, Lenin had turned Russia into a grey mass of undifferentiated humanity, a vast anonymous horde of the dispossessed; they had "averaged downwards"; whereas the National Socialist state would raise living standards higher than capitalism had ever known. It is plain that Hitler and his associates meant their claim to socialism to be taken seriously; they took it seriously themselves.
For half a century, none the less, Hitler has been portrayed, if not as a conservative - the word is many shades too pale - at least as an extreme instance of the political right. It is doubtful if he or his friends would have recognised the description. His own thoughts gave no prominence to left and right, and he is unlikely to have seen much point in any linear theory of politics. Since he had solved for all time the enigma of history, as he imagined, National Socialism was unique. The elements might be at once diverse and familiar, but the mix was his.
Hitler's mind, it has often been noticed, was in many ways backward-looking: not medievalising, on the whole, like Victorian socialists such as Ruskin and William Morris, but fascinated by a far remoter past of heroic virtue. It is now widely forgotten that much the same could be said of Marx and Engels.
It is the issue of race, above all, that for half a century has prevented National Socialism from being seen as socialist. The proletariat may have no fatherland, as Lenin said. But there were still, in Marx's view, races that would have to be exterminated. That is a view he published in January-February 1849 in an article by Engels called "The Hungarian Struggle" in Marx's journal the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, and the point was recalled by socialists down to the rise of Hitler.
It is now becoming possible to believe that Auschwitz was socialist-inspired. The Marxist theory of history required and demanded genocide for reasons implicit in its claim that feudalism was already giving place to capitalism, which must in its turn be superseded by socialism. Entire races would be left behind after a workers' revolution, feudal remnants in a socialist age; and since they could not advance two steps at a time, they would have to be killed. They were racial trash, as Engels called them, and fit only for the dung-heap of history.
That brutal view, which a generation later was to be fortified by the new pseudo-science of eugenics, was by the last years of the century a familiar part of the socialist tradition, though it is understandable that since the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945 socialists have been eager to forget it. But there is plenty of evidence in the writings of HG Wells, Jack London, Havelock Ellis, the Webbs and others to the effect that socialist commentators did not flinch from drastic measures. The idea of ethnic cleansing was orthodox socialism for a century and more.
So the socialist intelligentsia of the western world entered the First World War publicly committed to racial purity and white domination and no less committed to violence. Socialism offered them a blank cheque, and its licence to kill included genocide. In 1933, in a preface to On the Rocks, for example, Bernard Shaw publicly welcomed the exterminatory principle which the Soviet Union had already adopted. Socialists could now take pride in a state that had at last found the courage to act, though some still felt that such action should be kept a secret.
In 1932 Beatrice Webb remarked at a tea-party what "very bad stage management" it had been to allow a party of British visitors to the Ukraine to see cattle-trucks full of starving "enemies of the state" at a local station. "Ridiculous to let you see them", said Webb, already an eminent admirer of the Soviet system. "The English are always so sentimental" adding, with assurance: "You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs." A few years later, in 1935, a Social Democratic government in Sweden began a eugenic programme for the compulsory sterilisation of gypsies, the backward and the unfit, and continued it until after the war.
The claim that Hitler cannot really have been a socialist because he advocated and practised genocide suggests a monumental failure, then, in the historical memory. Only socialists in that age advocated or practised genocide, at least in Europe, and from the first years of his political career Hitler was proudly aware of the fact. Addressing his own party, the NSDAP, in Munich in August 1920, he pledged his faith in socialist-racialism: "If we are socialists, then we must definitely be anti-semites - and the opposite, in that case, is Materialism and Mammonism, which we seek to oppose."
There was loud applause. Hitler went on: "How, as a socialist, can you not be an anti-semite?" The point was widely understood, and it is notable that no German socialist in the 1930s or earlier ever sought to deny Hitler's right to call himself a socialist on grounds of racial policy. In an age when the socialist tradition of genocide was familiar, that would have sounded merely absurd. The tradition, what is more, was unique. In the European century that began in the 1840s from Engels's article of 1849 down to the death of Hitler, everyone who advocated genocide called himself a socialist, and no exception has been found.
The first reactions to National Socialism outside Germany are now largely forgotten. They were highly confused, for the rise of fascism had caught the European left by surprise. There was nothing in Marxist scripture to predict it and must have seemed entirely natural to feel baffled.
Where had it all come from? Harold Nicolson, a democratic socialist, and after 1935 a Member of the House of Commons, conscientiously studied a pile of pamphlets in his hotel room in Rome in January 1932 and decided judiciously that fascism (Italian-style) was a kind of militarised socialism; though it destroyed liberty, he concluded in his diary, "it is certainly a socialist experiment in that it destroys individuality".
The Moscow view that fascism was the last phase of capitalism, though already proposed, was not yet widely heard. Richard remarked in a 1934 BBC talk that many students in Nazi Germany believed they were "digging the foundations of a new German socialism".
By the outbreak of civil war in Spain, in 1936, sides had been taken, and by then most western intellectuals were certain that Stalin was left and Hitler was right. That sudden shift of view has not been explained, and perhaps cannot be explained, except on grounds of argumentative convenience. Single binary oppositions - cops-and-robbers or cowboys-and-indians - are always satisfying. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was seen by hardly anybody as an attempt to restore the unity of socialism. A wit at the British Foreign Office is said to have remarked that all the "Isms" were now "Wasms", and the general view was that nothing more than a cynical marriage of convenience had taken place.
By the outbreak of world war in 1939 the idea that Hitler was any sort of socialist was almost wholly dead. One may salute here an odd but eminent exception. Writing as a committed socialist just after the fall of France in 1940, in The Lion and the Unicorn, Orwell saw the disaster as a "physical debunking of capitalism", it showed once and for all that "a planned economy is stronger than a planless one", though he was in no doubt that Hitler's victory was a tragedy for France and for mankind.
The planned economy had long stood at the head of socialist demands; and National Socialism, Orwell argued, had taken from socialism "just such features as will make it efficient for war purposes". Hitler had already come close to socialising Germany. "Internally, Germany has a good deal in common with a socialist state." These words were written just before Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union. Orwell believed that Hitler would go down in history as "the man who made the City of London laugh on the wrong side of its face" by forcing financiers to see that planning works and that an economic free-for-all does not.
At its height, Hitler's appeal transcended party division. Shortly before they fell out in the summer of 1933, Hitler uttered sentiments in front of Otto Wagener, which were published after his death in 1971 as a biography by an unrepentant Nazi. Wagener's Hitler: Memoirs of a Confidant, composed in a British prisoner-of-war camp, did not appear until 1978 in the original German, and arrived in English, without much acclaim, as recently as 1985.
Hitler's remembered talk offers a vision of a future that draws together many of the strands that once made utopian socialism irresistibly appealing to an age bred out of economic depression and cataclysmic wars; it mingles, as Victorian socialism had done before it, an intense economic radicalism with a romantic enthusiasm for a vanished age before capitalism had degraded heroism into sordid greed and threatened the traditional institutions of the family and the tribe.
Socialism, Hitler told Wagener shortly after he seized power, was not a recent invention of the human spirit, and when he read the New Testament he was often reminded of socialism in the words of Jesus. The trouble was that the long ages of Christianity had failed to act on the Master's teachings. Mary and Mary Magdalen, Hitler went on in a surprising flight of imagination, had found an empty tomb, and it would be the task of National Socialism to give body at long last to the sayings of a great teacher: "We are the first to exhume these teachings."
The Jew, Hitler told Wagener, was not a socialist, and the Jesus they crucified was the true creator of socialist redemption. As for communists, he opposed them because they created mere herds, Soviet-style, without individual life, and his own ideal was "the socialism of nations" rather than the international socialism of Marx and Lenin. The one and only problem of the age, he told Wagener, was to liberate labour and replace the rule of capital over labour with the rule of labour over capital.
These are highly socialist sentiments, and if Wagener reports his master faithfully they leave no doubt about the conclusion: that Hitler was an unorthodox Marxist who knew his sources and knew just how unorthodox the way in which he handled them was. He was a dissident socialist.
His programme was at once nostalgic and radical. It proposed to accomplish something that Christians had failed to act on and that communists before him had attempted and bungled. "What Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism failed to accomplish," he told Wagener, "we shall be in a position to achieve."
That was the National Socialist vision. It was seductive, at once traditional and new. Like all so- cialist views it was ultimately moral, and its economic and racial policies were seen as founded on universal moral laws. By the time such conversations saw the light of print, regrettably, the world had put such matters far behind it, and it was less than ever ready to listen to the sayings of a crank or a clown.
That is a pity. The crank, after all, had once offered a vision of the future that had made a Victorian doctrine of history look exciting to millions. Now that socialism is a discarded idea, such excitement is no doubt hard to recapture. To relive it again, in imagination, one might look at an entry in Goebbels's diaries. On 16 June 1941, five days before Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, Goebbels exulted, in the privacy of his diary, in the victory over Bolshevism that he believed would quickly follow.
There would be no restoration of the tsars, he remarked to himself, after Russia had been conquered. But Jewish Bolshevism would be uprooted in Russia and "real socialism" planted in its place - "Der echte Sozialismus". Goebbels was a liar, to be sure, but no one can explain why he would lie to his diaries. And to the end of his days he believed that socialism was what National Socialism was about.
The Nazis Were Leftists, Deal With It
The Nazis were leftists. This statement is blasphemy to the academic-media complex. Everyone knows the Nazis were degenerate right-wingers fueled by toxic capitalism and racism. But evidence Hitler’s gang were men of the left while debatable is compelling. The dispute on Nazi origins has surfaced through the confluence of brawling alt-right and antifa fringe movements and recent alternative histories by Dinesh D’Souza and others. The vitriol and lack of candor this debate produces by supposedly fact-driven academics and media is disturbing if unsurprising. They stifle dissent on touchy subjects to maintain narrative and enforce cultural hegemony.
However uncomfortable to opinion shapers, alternative views of the Third Reich exist and were written by the finest minds of their time. Opinions of the period perhaps carry more weight because they are unburdened by the aftermath of the uniquely heinous Nazi crimes. ‘The Road to Serfdom’ by FA Hayek is one such tract; published in 1944 it remains a classic for young people on the political right discovering their intellectual roots. A sort of academic ‘1984,’ it warns of socialism’s tendency toward planned states and totalitarianism.
But one aspect of the book can shock the conscience. Hayek describes Nazism as a “genuine socialist movement” and thus left wing by modern American standards. Indeed, the Austrian-born Hayek wrote the book from his essay ‘Nazi-Socialism’ that countered prevailing opinion at the London School of Economics where he taught. British elites regarded Nazism as a virulent capitalist reaction against enlightened socialism — a view that persists today.
The shock comes from academic and cultural orthodoxy on National Socialism. From the moment they enter the political fray, young right-wingers are told ‘you own the Nazis.’ At best, the left concedes it owns communism. This comforts little because even if far higher in body count, communism supposedly rebukes the scourge of racism. But it’s all a lie.
The instant problem this debate incurs is from ideological labels themselves. They are malleable and messy and partisans constantly distort them. They change over time. Trump’s particular political brand muddies the scene further, in rhetoric if less in policy. “Conservative” and especially “liberal” have changed over time and have different meanings in the US and Europe. Hayek himself, who had a more European view of conservatism, was wary of labels. He spurned both “conservative” and “libertarian” and dedicated his most famous book “to the socialists of all parties.”
Currently Accepted Political Definitions Place the Nazis firmly on the Left
For precision, I refrain from using “conservative” or “liberal” unless through quotation and use ‘left’ and ‘right’ as generally accepted in modern America. The right consists of free-market capitalists, who think the individual is the primary political unit, believes in property rights, and is generally distrustful of the administrative state and government solutions to social problems. They view family and civil institutions such as church as needed checks on state power. These people don’t think government should force a business to provide employee birth control or think law should coerce bakers to make cakes against their conscience. They think the solution to bad speech is more speech; the solution to gun violence is more guns. These people talk about freedom — the method individual decisions. (The counterexample might be gay marriage but that is a positive right (give me something) instead of a negative right (leave me alone)).
The left believes the opposite. These people are distrustful of the excesses and inequality capitalism produces. They give primacy to group rights and identity. They believe factors like race, ethnicity, and gender compose the primary political unit. They don’t believe in strong property rights. They believe it is the government’s responsibility to solve social problems. They call for public intervention to “equalize” disparities and render our social fabric more inclusive (as they define it). They believe the free market has failed to solve issues like campaign finance, income inequality, minimum wage, access to healthcare, and righting past injustices. These people talk about “democracy” — the method of collective decisions.
By these definitions, the Nazis were firmly on the left. National Socialism was a collectivist authoritarian movement run by “social justice warriors.” That this brand of “justice” benefited only some based on immutable characteristics perfectly aligns with the modern brand. The Nazi ideal embraced identity politics based on the primacy of the people or “volk” and invoked state-based solutions for every possible problem. It was nation-based socialism — the nation being especially important to those who bled in the Great War.
As Hayek stated in 1933, the year the Nazis took power:
[I]t is more than probable that the real meaning of the German revolution is that the long dreaded expansion of communism into the heart of Europe has taken place but is not recognized because the fundamental similarity of methods and ideas is hidden by the difference in phraseology and the privileged groups.
FA Hayek, intellectual giant
Nazism and socialism competed with the Enlightenment-based individualism of Locke, Smith, Montesquieu, and others who profoundly influenced the American founding and define the modern American right at its best. These thinkers fit easily with Hayek’s Austrian School of Economics, which opposed both the imperialist German Historical School and the Marxists. Hayek knew what he was talking about. He was a 20th Century intellectual giant. His collected works include nineteen books; he won the Nobel Prize in economics and Presidential Medal of Freedom, and he held the honor of Maggie Thatcher’s “favorite intellectual guru.” But Hayek is only one man. The intelligentsia fiercely attacked him as reactionary throughout his life. Perhaps he was wrong.
Hayek was not alone in his views of National Socialism
The evidence the Nazis were leftists goes well beyond the views of one scholar. Philosophically, Nazi doctrine fit well with the other strains of socialism ripping through the Europe at the time. Hitler’s first “National Workers’ Party” meeting while still an Army corporal featured the speech “How and by What Means is Capitalism to be Eliminated?”
The Nazi charter published a year later and coauthored by Hitler is socialist in almost every aspect. It calls for “equality of rights for the German people.” The subjugation of the individual to the state; breaking of “rent slavery,”; “confiscation of war profits,”; the nationalization of industry; profit sharing in heavy industry; large scale social security; the “communalization of the great warehouses and their being leased at low costs to small firms”; the ‘free expropriation of land for the purpose of public utility”; the abolition of “materialistic” Roman Law; the nationalization of education; the nationalization of the army; the elevating of national health by protecting the mother and child; state regulation of the press; and strong central power in the Reich. It was also racist and anti-immigrant.
In some areas the Nazis followed their charter faithfully. They treated children as property of the state from the earliest age and indoctrinated them at government schools and clubs. The individual had limited rights outside the volk. German lives were for the betterment of the people and state. One’s group identity determined rights and hierarchy in society.
No checks on state power existed. The cross played no role compared to the swastika. Hitler’s musings on the church while at times ambiguous was mostly negative. “Once I have settled my other problems,” he occasionally declared, “I’ll have my reckoning with the church. I’ll have it reeling on the ropes.” When told of SS Chief Heinrich Himmler’s flirtation with the occult Hitler fumed:
What nonsense! Here we have at last reached an age that has left all mysticism behind it, and now he wants to start that all over again. We might just as well have stayed with the church. At least it had tradition. To think that I may some day be turned into an SS saint! Can you imagine it? I would turn over in my grave . . .
These attitudes shouldn’t be surprising given the socialist thinkers that provided the theoretical basis for Nazism abhorred English “commercialism” and “comfort.” As Hayek described, “From 1914 onward there arose from the ranks of Marxist socialism one teacher after another who led, not the conservatives and reactionaries, but the hardworking laborer and idealist youth into the National Socialist fold.” These “teachers” included Professor Werner Sombart, Professor Johan Plenge, socialist politician Paul Lensch, and intellectuals Oswald Spengler and Arthur Moeller van den Bruck.
It wasn’t only theoretical. Hitler repeatedly praised Marx privately stating he had “learned a great deal from Marxism.” The trouble with the Weimar Republic was that its politicians “had never even read Marx.” He also stated his differences with communists were that they were intellectual types passing out pamphlets, whereas “I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun.”
But it wasn’t just privately that Hitler’s fealty for Marx surfaced. In Mein Kampf he states without his racial insights National Socialism “would really do nothing more than compete with Marxism on its own ground.” Nor did Hitler eschew this sentiment once reaching power. As late as 1941 with the war in bloom he stated “basically National Socialism and Marxism are the same” in a speech published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Hitler and his favorite, Albert Speer
Nazi propaganda minister and resident intellectual Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary the Nazis would install “real socialism” after Russia’s defeat in the East. And Hitler favorite Albert Speer, the Nazi armaments minister whose memoir became an international bestseller, wrote Hitler viewed Stalin as a kindred spirit, ensuring his POW son received good treatment, and even talked of keeping Stalin in power in a puppet government after Germany’s eventual triumph. His views on Churchill and Roosevelt were decidedly less kind.
Nazi-Communist Hatred was Internecine, the Nastiest Kind
Despite this, one persistent claim for the Nazi-communist ideological divide was they hated each other; the Nazis persecuted socialists and oppressed trade unions. These things are true but prove little. The camps’ hatred stemmed from familiarity. It was internecine, the nastiest kind.
The Nazis and communists were not only in a struggle for street-war supremacy but also recruits. And these recruits were easily turned because both sides were fighting for the same men. Hayek recalls:
The relative ease with which a young communist could be converted into a Nazi or vice versa was generally known in Germany, best of all to the propagandists of the two parties. Many a University teacher during the 1930s has seen English or American students return from the Continent uncertain whether they were communists or Nazis and certain they hated Western liberal civilization. . . . To both, the real enemy, the man with whom they had nothing in common and whom they could not hope to convince is the liberal of the old type.
One way Nazi propagandists exploited ideological match was the communist red. They used the color on purpose. As Hitler states in Mein Kampf, “We chose red for our posters [and flag] after particular and careful deliberation . . . so as to arouse [potential communist recruits’] attention and tempt them to come to our meetings.” And Stalinist Russia didn’t exactly promote trade unions.
The Nazi leadership and recruiters weren’t the only ones to see similarities between themselves and communists. George Orwell remarked, “Internally, Germany has a good deal in common with a socialist state.” Max Eastman an old friend of Vladimir Lenin described Stalin’s brand of communism as “super fascist.” British writer F.A. Voight after several years on the continent concluded “Marxism has led to Fascism and National Socialism because in all essentials it is Fascism and National Socialism.” Peter Drucker author of the acclaimed book “The End of Economic Man” stated, “The complete collapse of the belief in the attainability of freedom and equality through Marxism has forced Russia to travel the same road toward a totalitarian, purely negative, non-economic society of unfreedom and inequality which Germany has been following.”
Today’s Antifa and Alt-Right share similar ideologies
We see parallels today. Antifa and the alt-right are both collectivist groups vying for supremacy of “their” people. Although there likely won’t be much personnel crossover, in policy their differences shrink. The term ‘alt-right’ denotes distinctness from the American right. Richard Spencer the coiner of that term speaks like a left-wing progressive advocating a white utopia supplied through government. “No individual has a right outside of a collective community.” Jason Kessler another alt-right figure is a former Obama voter and “Occupy” participant.
Critics argue in practice the Nazis didn’t fulfill all their socialist goals after 1933. Some industrialists supported Hitler’s rise, others seeing no other choice eventually acquiesced, early adopters of the Washington adage ‘if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu.’ It is also true party’s foremost left — the SA Brown Shirts led by Hitler rival Ernst Rohm — were eliminated in the Blood Purge of June 30, 1934. But none of this changes Nazi attitudes toward these interlopers.
We can find clues to Hitler’s practical stance on economic questions from the writings of confidant Otto Wagener. Wagener explains in texts only translated in the 1980s, Hitler saw the Russian experiment as right in spirit and wrong in execution. Removing production from the industrial class had spewed unnecessary blood. Industrialists could be controlled and used without slowing the economy or impeding social progress. His task was to convert socialists without killing off the entrepreneur and managerial classes.
Hitler’s Dream of World Domination Curtailed Socialism’s Worst Aspects
Other practical reasons exist. Hitler needed the industrialists. He undoubtedly foresaw world domination by the time he took power. That would require utmost industrial might. He also had a failing economy to revive and removing production ownership would have likely been disastrous. Hitler was also disdainful of bureaucrats, the occupation of his hated father. Perhaps most important state-control of economics just wasn’t that important to him. Rearming, purifying the volk, indoctrinating children, teaching schoolboys to throw grenades, and building infrastructure to someday invade neighbors were priorities. Nazism was a “middle class” socialism that tolerated private enterprise as long as it paid homage and stayed in its lane.
This lack of overt hostility however didn’t mean the Nazis welcomed the bourgeoisie or the industrialists. Hitler described the bourgeoisie as “worthless for any noble human endeavor, capable of any error of judgment, failure of nerve and moral corruption.” In 1931 as the Nazis gained power in elections, Goebbels wrote an editorial warning about these newcomer so-called “Septemberlings,’ the bourgeoisie intellectuals who believed they could wrest the party what from they considered the “demagogue” old guard.
Distrust of these outsiders continued through the Nazi reign. At the beginning of Nazi control some party members entered businesses, declared themselves in charge, and gave themselves large salaries and other perks (a practice quickly stopped). As armaments minister, Speer had an up-close view of German industry and party tension. Early in the war Hitler assured him he could run his department without regard to party membership as it was “well known” the industrial technical class did not affiliate with the party. When he defended industry as not “knowingly lying to us, stealing from us, or otherwise trying to damage our war economy” an icy reception from party members followed.
When all else fails the Left always screams racism!
Despite the thoroughly collectivist Nazi ideology one aspect settles the left-right debate for American leftists: racism. The leftist brain is hardwired to believe the right swims in racism. They discover racial dog whistles and grievances in everything from hotel toiletries to eclipses. The Nazis were undoubtedly racists. But in context of socialist movements of their day racism was the norm; there were no exceptions.
As shown by George Watson, author of ‘The Lost Literature of Socialism,’ racism and socialism swum together. Marx may have extolled the workers of the world to unite but that didn’t mean all races could join. This view codified in Friedrich Engels’ essay ‘The Hungarian Struggle’ published in the January-February 1849 issue of Marx’s journal Neue Rheinische Zeitung. According to Watson, “The Marxist theory of history required and demanded genocide for reasons implicit in its claim that feudalism was already giving place to capitalism, which must in its turn be superseded by socialism. Entire races would be left behind after a workers’ revolution, feudal remnants in a socialist age; and since they could not advance two steps at a time, they would have to be killed.” According to Engels they were “racial trash.” And Marx himself, sounding every bit the Hitler mentor in 1853 wrote, “The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way.”
Socialism and Racism have always held hands
This racial view was mainstream socialist thinking through the Second World War. It manifested in eugenics, a left-wing idea popular on both sides of the Atlantic with proponents such as Planned Parenthood founder Margret Sanger. It ended finally in the Holocaust — eugenics writ large in the most evil way. Watson states, “The idea of ethnic cleansing was orthodox socialism for a century and more.” English socialist intellectual Beatrice Webb lamented British visitors in Ukraine had been allowed to view a passing cattle car full of starving subversives, “the English” she said “are always so sentimental” about such matters.
This makes sense when one views socialism as defending the rights of one group — the citizens of basically homogeneous countries. According to Watson, “It is notable that no German socialist in the 1930s or earlier ever sought to deny Hitler’s right to call himself a socialist on grounds of racial policy. In an age when the socialist tradition of genocide was familiar, that would have sounded merely absurd.” In America and England too, the left’s ascendancy during the first progressive movement was full of racists including Woodrow Wilson, Sanger, and writers HG Wells and Jack London.
Che Guevara Leftist Hero and Racist
We see more recent examples of left racism and ethnic cleansing in unusual places. Leftist hero Che Guevara wrote in his 1952 memoir, “The Negro is indolent and lazy and spends his money on frivolities, whereas the European is forward-looking, organized and intelligent.” Except for “quiet manner,” find the difference between Hitler and avowed Marxist Pol Pot upon the latter’s 1998 death in the ‘New York Times’ obituary:
Pol Pot conducted a rule of terror that led to the deaths of nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s seven million people, by the most widely accepted estimates, through execution, torture, starvation and disease.
His smiling face and quiet manner belied his brutality. He and his inner circle of revolutionaries adopted a Communism based on Maoism and Stalinism, then carried it to extremes: They and their Khmer Rouge movement tore apart Cambodia in an attempt to ‘’purify’’ the country’s agrarian society and turn people into revolutionary worker-peasants.
Pol Pot, a different kind of Nazi
Nor was anti-Semitism a right-wing malady. Stalin was anti-Semitic as was Marx despite his Jewish heritage. Anti-Semitism is still alive on the left with figures like Linda Sarsour, Louis Farrakhan, and Jeremy Corbynin the UK.
Related to the racist claim is that Nazis’ nationalism excludes them from the left. But arguably the most nationalist countries today are Cuba, China, North Korea, and Venezuela. All are militarized and nobody considers them right wing. Even Stalin ruled as a nationalist.
A newer claim by the professoriate is because Winston Churchill ran on nationalizing programs in 1945 when he was defeated by Labour’s Clement Atlee this somehow shows the Nazis weren’t leftists. This misunderstands wartime Britain. By 1945 Britain had been mobilized for six years. As author Bruce Caldwell states “The common sacrifices that the war necessitated bred a feeling that all should share more equally in the reconstruction to come. Universal medical provision was itself virtually a fact of life during the first years of the war, certainly for anyone injured by aerial bombing or whose work was tied to the war effort — and whose work was not in way or another?”
This sentiment spurred Downing Street to undertake a report on post-war Britain’s welfare state. The so-called Beveridge Report included proposals for family allowance, comprehensive social insurance, universal health care, and requirement for full employment. It debuted in 1942 and sold 500,000 copies! Even Churchill wasn’t going to stem that tide. In fact, no one disturbed the consensus until Maggie Thatcher burst the scene in the mid-1970s.
Not Liking the Truth Doesn’t Mean it’s not True
The debate on Nazi origins has surfaced mainly because right-leaning authors like Dinesh D’Souza forced the issue. The reaction by academic historians has been swift. For obvious reasons the left hates this debate. The ‘Nazi’ slur is as old as the Nazis themselves. People who see themselves morally superior based in part on racial attitudes don’t like examining the odious history of their intellectual forebears.
But the left’s umbrage doesn’t mean they’re right and neither does their ability to pile on dissenters through cultural and media hegemony. In fact, it might mean the opposite. In 1981, 364 preeminent British economists wrote in disgust at Maggie Thatcher’s economic proposals. It read in part, “There is no basis in economic theory or supporting evidence for the Government’s belief(s) . . . [P]resent politics will deepen the depression, erode the industrial base of our economy and threaten its social and political stability.” In the long run, to paraphrase the famous economist John Maynard Keynes, all these academics died and no one remembers them. The Iron Lady, conversely, is the for the ages.
The more vehemently the left, particularly academics, argue their dissociation with the Nazis the more they protest “too much.” Indeed, the failure here is as much one of academic prejudice as any willful wish to avoid truth.
Anyone interested in this question shouldn’t take my word. But neither should they listen uncritically to leftist historians with a vested interest in their own views. Interested readers should draw their own conclusions from current scholars but also those of the time not so burdened by the weight of history and the place Nazis occupy in the American psyche. If you are on the right, you may realize you’ve been carrying an intellectual cross (the worst of them) that isn’t yours.
This article originally appeared in The Federalist on September 11, 2018
Paul H. Jossey is a lawyer in Alexandria, Virginia. Please follow him on Twitter, @paulhjossey