Was Hitler a Socialist? II


(Following on from PART ONE)

For Hitler, racism and nationalism were equivalent: ‘To us state and race are one’, he asserted. In other words, antisemitism was the link between the ‘National’ and the ‘Socialism’ parts of National Socialism. To Hitler, racist nationalism was racist socialism, and vice versa. Alas, this proved to be a powerful electoral combination. In the early 1930s, a majority of Germans favoured socialism of one kind or another. By melding socialism with nationalism, Hitler was able to tap into an even wider pool of support, including the right as well as the left. He appealed to both camps: ‘National Socialism derives from each of the two camps the pure idea that characterizes it; national resolution from bourgeois tradition; vital, creative socialism from the teaching of Marxism.’

Hitler never wavered in his racist socialism. In 1944, in the depths of the war, when the military tide had long turned against the Nazis, he was still screeching that Germany is a ‘socialist people’s state’ engaged in a struggle against the ‘Bolshevik-plutocratic world conspirators and their Jewish wire pullers’. Even in death, he wouldn’t let it rest. His last will and testament, composed before he shot himself in a bunker in besieged Berlin in 1945, left little doubt as to the beliefs that had led him there. He railed against ‘international money and finance conspirators’ who had treated the ‘peoples of Europe’ like ‘blocks of shares’. And he prophesised that ‘The sacrifice of our soldiers and my connection with them into death’ would in the end ‘provide the seed for the achievement of a true People’s Community’.

You can point all this out. And you can point out that the Nazis weren’t the first and they won’t be the last socialists to commit genocide against a chosen group of capitalist scapegoats. Marxists killed 100 million people in the twentieth century, by various methods of mass murder that were just as murderous as gas chambers. Socialism is socialism, whether socialists attack what they believe to be a capitalist race or a capitalist class. In 1939 when the war was looming, Hitler meant every word of his deranged anti-capitalist pronouncement: ‘If the world of international financial Jewry, both in and outside of Europe, should succeed in plunging the nations into another world war, the result will not be the bolshevization of the world and thus a victory for Judaism. The result will be the extermination of the Jewish race in Europe.’ In word and in deed, the National Socialists were socialists.

You can point all this out until you’re blue in the face. Alas, today’s socialists will likely respond with a volley of outrage. Hitler couldn’t have been a socialist, they will bark, because a nationalist can’t be a socialist. Hitler, they will say, was a nationalist who merely called himself a socialist; his alliance with the nationalist right, so it goes, was only feature of his worldview that counted. I think the socialists are protesting too much! How can an ideology become more right wing when blended with Marxism? How can the addition of anti-capitalism to right wing nationalism create a ‘far right’ ideology that is even more right wing than that of the nationalists? No such thing is conceptually possible.

And no such thing fits with the facts of Hitler’s rule. Yes, after his failed revolution of 1923 he sought electoral success by courting patriotic conservatives as well as patriotic communists. But the Nazis also denounced conservatives, using standard Marxist rhetoric: conservatives were ‘reactionary’; riddled with ‘class snobbery’; an obstacle to a ‘People’s Community’. Moreover, after Hitler had acquired power in 1933, the Nazi regime became increasingly violent towards conservatives, to the point where, as Simms puts it, there was a ‘systematic campaign’ against them. For their part, many German conservatives soon saw Hitler for the socialist maniac that he was. The businessman Alfred Hugenberg summed up the mood when he announced, just a single day after he had helped Hitler acquire the Chancellorship, ‘I’ve just committed the greatest stupidity of my life; I have allied myself with the greatest demagogue in world history’. Conservatives were prominent among the brave Germans who campaigned against Hitler’s regime. Granted, there were also plenty of socialists, communists and Christians who campaigned against Hitler. All were persecuted for their defiance. And all had one thing in common. All were to the right of the Very Far Left.

In the end, anyone who thinks that a far left regime can’t also be nationalistic hasn’t been paying attention to history. The most extreme socialist regimes of the twentieth century were all extremely nationalistic. China. Vietnam. Cuba. Albania. Romania. Cambodia. North Korea. And, yes, National Socialist Germany. Even Russia – supposedly the hub of an international communist movement – went the way Hitler predicted, with Stalin cultivating Russian nationalist fervour to fuel his Marxist objectives, both political and military.

When you think about it, extreme nationalism is a natural consequence of extreme socialism. Socialists are enemies of trade and capital – both of which are global forces. When socialists demonise capitalism, they demonise people who are open to the world, people who are open to cultivating cooperative relationships with outsiders. In the eyes of socialists, capitalists bring the dreaded outside world in; capitalists violate the sanctum of a socialist society. In the process, capitalists become outsiders and insiders, which makes them perfect scapegoats. Viewed in this light, ‘international’ communism is not so much a genuinely international movement as an effort to convert outsiders into total insiders; to make everyone wholly ‘one of us’. And when this conversion fails, as it must, the shutters come down: the extreme nationalism of socialism comes to the fore.

That’s why the most extreme socialist states become fortresses, their inhabitants’ grim faces pressed aggressively against the outside world. Often, indeed, the hostile nationalism of extreme socialism manifests itself in military aggression. People who are too insular to embrace capitalism become impoverished, whereupon they are apt to conclude that plunder is an appropriate vehicle for their fear and hatred. Whether as insurgents or invaders, the socialist regimes in Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba and China attacked their neighbours with no less fervour than the National Socialists. And, as for Albania and Romania, neither would have become a socialist state if it were not for Russia’s military prize, the USSR.

In turn, extremely nationalistic socialism is often conjoined with racism, because race is an all-too-common means by which people label each other as outsiders. Extreme socialism has often fuelled, and been fuelled by, racism. In North Korea, the still-incumbent communist regime has encouraged its citizens to see themselves as the ‘cleanest race’. In Cambodia, the communist movement known as the Khmer Rouge committed a racially-motivated genocide that killed more people as a proportion of the population than any genocide in history. (We might also add: the racist genocide in Rwanda had socialist undertones.) And in the USSR, the Communist Party repeatedly engaged in ethnic cleansing against its perceived ideological enemies – including Jews. It’s true: in the USSR the Jews were, once again, accused of ‘rootless cosmopolitanism’ and subjected to killings and systematic persecution. The Nazis weren’t the only racist socialists in history, and they weren’t the only antisemitic socialists in history.

If you don’t learn the right lessons from history, you can’t learn the right lessons from history. As I write, Britain is a divided country, still bitterly arguing over the 2016 referendum in which the electorate voted to Leave the EU. The bitterness is largely being generated by a minority of Remainers who are refusing to accept the result. Remoaners – as they have aptly been dubbed – are accusing Leavers of resurrecting the kind of extreme nationalism that wrought so much havoc in the twentieth century. But the accusation is preposterous. Brexit was inspired by a moderate not an extreme form of nationalism. A civic not a racist form of nationalism; Britons of all races voted for Brexit. A capitalistic not a socialistic form of nationalism; Leavers favoured a global trade policy for the UK, as opposed to the protectionism of the EU. A democratic not an authoritarian kind of nationalism; Leavers demanded the right to be able to vote for their political leaders. A patriotic not a hostile form of nationalism; Leavers didn’t express hatred for other countries, so much as love for their own. A neighbourly not an expansionist form of nationalism; Leavers believed that the EU should respect national borders, not dissolve them. Brexit was inspired by the kind of benign nationalism that defeated Nazi Germany, not the kind of extreme nationalism that characterised Nazi Germany (or any other far left nation).

The real downside of Brexit is that it is distracting the UK from a potential disaster. Socialism is riding a tide of popularity in the UK, with Britain’s Labour Party operating under its most extreme leadership ever – actual Marxists – while legions of young people are embracing socialism, having been disenfranchised by the ongoing housing crisis, and radicalised by their teachers and university lecturers. The air is thick with the nastiness of socialism, including the nastiest form of socialism. Labour has been plagued by accusations of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, to the extent that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is now investigating whether the Party has ‘unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish’. Meanwhile, another form of racism – or perhaps a broadened form of anti-Jewish racism – has become so prevalent on the left, few socialists even notice it is there, never mind challenge it. Throughout the West, many socialists now speak openly of ‘white privilege’. Capitalism, so it goes, is an international conspiracy via which rich white people oppress other races. Once again, hate-filled socialists are trying to build a broad coalition by defining their capitalist scapegoats in racial terms.

As I said, if you don’t learn the right lessons from history, you can’t learn the right lessons from history.

Ben Irvine was founding editor of the Journal of Modern Wisdom, which features essays from leading public thinkers seeking to put wisdom back on the agenda, and Cycle Lifestyle, a free magazine which promotes the health and happiness benefits of cycling. As part of this project, Ben is running the London Cycle Map Campaign, which is lobbying for a single, Tube-style map and network of cycle routes in the British capital. Ben is an Affiliate of the Well-being Institute at Cambridge University, an Honorary Fellow in the Philosophy Department at the University of Durham, and a regular guest blogger for The Creativity Post. His first book, Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling, was published by Leaping Hare in September 2012. Ben’s website can be found here.


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