After the events in Charlottesville where some people proudly marched with their swastikas and one of them killed a woman named Heather Heyer, people took a new interest in nazis. Who are those people? Didn’t we beat them 70 years ago?
One of the most common mistakes I see is people judging by the name of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and the fact that they were big on state authority, and deliberately trying to place them to the left of the political spectrum, since the right is good and holy and could never produce such monsters.
That is not true, and while National Socialism took ideas from both sides of the spectrum, you cannot really say they are leftists.
The first problem comes from the tendency to apply rigid modern-day definitions to 1930s Germany without taking into account what was the political climate of the time in central Europe. Especially when there were contemporary parties in Germany that you could easily label as socialists, such as SPD and KPD, and a political tradition of what socialism was. The SPD’s approach was that it would help bring the end of capitalism and enable a classless society. The Nazi party or NSDAP, on the other hand, drew inspiration from conservative responses to unconstrained capitalism, which were developed in German universities, advocating closer cooperation between the state and the economy to put a leash on the free-market capitalism that was viewed as a foreign ideology invading Germany. At the same time, it added their flair of race politics, in that it claimed that racial or cultural homogeny would snuff out petty socioeconomic issues IF the right state came to being in order to mediate that. Those ideas were not uniquely NSDAP’s, other parties advocated the same approach.
Another issue with positioning nazis to the left right, comes from the fact that intellectualism was shunned by the Nazis, thus not leaving room for their political philosophy to mature beyond an incoherent set of vaguely defined ideas and this is why their “socialism” gets more cloudy.
The Nazi party’s own version of “socialism,” Volksgemeinschaft, is a racially based German community meditated by the state. Hitler, in a much publicized 1920 speech called “Why We Are Antisemites,” laid out his idea and it was a “socialism” far from the Marxist politicians’ of his time.
Thus we can see the two great differences between races: Aryanism means ethical perception of work and that which we today so often hear – socialism, community spirit, common good before own good. Jewry means egoistic attitude to work and thereby mammonism and materialism, the opposite of socialism. … Socialism as the final concept of duty, the ethical duty of work, not just for oneself but also for one’s fellow man’s sake, and above all the principle: Common good before own good, a struggle against all parasitism and especially against easy and unearned income. And we were aware that in this fight we can rely on no one but our own people. We are convinced that socialism in the right sense will only be possible in nations and races that are Aryan, and there in the first place we hope for our own people and are convinced that socialism is inseparable from nationalism.”
Hitler’s socialism was a utopia where class differences between Aryans were nonexistent without the need of class warfare.
Many people also take at face value the proclamations on NSDAP’s platform without taking into account whether those actually came to being and the particulars of the time. They see their points about a welfare state and, given that today such politics are considered leftist in nature, find there the confirmation they need. The problem with this is that the welfare state preceded Hitler by decades. Otto von Bismarck instituted the social safety net of national health insurance, pensions, and other social insurance schemes, in order to stop the rise of left political tendencies, but also because of the long-standing concept of Junkers’ Noblesse oblige. So all NSDAP did was advertise better service for an already existing system and you really can’t place Otto von Bismarck at the left of the political spectrum, now can you?
Of course, given the “socialist” name tag, people with this kind of ideas were drawn to the Nazi party. And since they had prominent positions in the party in the early days, most people today use those people as evidence that Nazis were leftist. The Strasser brothers and Ernst Rohm, the leaser of SA, were among them.
The first and successful attempt by Hitler to stop those “left” tendencies happened in the Bamberg Conference as soon as 1926, where he consolidated his power and reinforced his grip on the NSDAP.
Strasserism, as the movement within the party came to be known, was hostile to Jews, not from a racial standpoint but as an anticapitalistic one. They hated the Jews for controlling the finance capitalism and believed that productive capitalism was to be free from the taint of the Jewish people.
Otto Strasser, however, was kicked out from NSDAP in 1930 and lived in exile. A fate better than his brother Gregor Strasser’s, who was killed during Hitler’s power move against dissidents known as Nacht der langen Messer, The Night of the Long Knives.
A victim of those purges was Rohm. His ideas which the Nazi party rich, benefactors found appalling, and the fact that he was the leader of an army of over three million men made him a threat to Hitler.
Those “leftist Nazis” were killed both because they were a threat to Hitler’s control over the NSDAP, but also because they were obstacles to the cooperation of the Nazis with Germany’s Military–industrial complex.
All in all, although the NSDAP had some “left” tendencies, they are not to be confused with Marxism. Their view was always through the prism of race: a far right position. What they had in mind was destined to be enjoyed by few, and their message never had the all-inclusiveness and internationalism of socialism. Moreso, they cooperated closely with Germany’s big business owners; an anathema to any legitimate socialist.
Positioning the Nazis in a left-right spectrum by today’s standards is such a futile task that those who undertake it have the smear of the political opponents in mind. Even Hitlers own words are not to be trusted, as he would say anything to appeal to the masses; he was masterful at inciting emotional responses from his audiences. You can take a look at their actions and the main ideology that drove them, and it was nothing more than race superiority of the Germans: a far right position.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia