The Nazis Were Socialists, Not Right Wingers

An unusual viewpoint expressed in a Youtube video making the rather remarkable assertion that the Nazis were socialists.

If you can’t be troubled to watch it – it is only 5 minutes or so but boy are they long minutes – here is a quick resumé of the gist of the argument.   Fascism and Nazism both came out of socialism, and simply reconciled the idea of socialism to that of nationalism.  Nazism was similar in many ways to communism, which is defined as being the extreme left.  In particular you had a cult of the personality of the leader, collectivist solutions to problems including welfare systems and a large degree of state intervention and were very authoritarian.

By contrast, modern conservatives are in favour of personal liberty, freedom of expression and a small state.  So the Nazis more closely resemble communists and modern liberals than they people we currently call right wingers.  So therefore the Nazis are in fact socialists and left wing.

Well I sort of see their point.  It certainly is true that it would be grossly unfair to compare a contemporary Tea Partier with a Nazi.  They do indeed have a completely different philosophy.  But that doesn’t mean that the same political adjectives can’t apply to both.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that the Nazis can be shifted from the end of the spectrum that they would have placed themselves and where everybody else places them to the other end.

Right wing and left wing are rather amorphous terms that don’t really lend themselves to tight definitions.  But we know them when we see them.  Right wingers have a stronger sense of authority and personal responsibility than left wingers do.  Sure, most right wingers are in favour of individual liberties and democracy.  But so are most liberals and socialists too, even though they have a stronger sense of communal solidarity than right wingers do.

As a socialist, I can’t say that because I don’t like much that Stalin did he wasn’t actually a socialist but was in fact a conservative.  Bad as the Soviet Union was it was definitely a version of socialism and was part of the Left.

The Nazis are clearly not remotely socialist and have no affinity whatever with the left.  I know that Nazi is short for National Socialist, but what of that?  Christian Scientists are neither Christians nor scientists.  At no stage did anybody mistake the Nazis for socialists and they did not espouse any socialist policy.  It is true that they pump primed the German economy to get it going again, which is a policy that has been used by quite a few left wing governments over the years.  It is something that works well in the right circumstances.  Quite a lot of quite right wing governments have done much the same thing.  Indeed the commentators on the video point out that the New Deal in the United States was the same sort of thing.  It’s just one of those things that governments do.

I think that it would make a lot more sense to just live with the fact that left wing and right wing are just very broad brush descriptions of political behaviour.  They don’t really mean that much.  The fact that the Nazis have managed to get a spectacularly bad reputation whilst also being right wing is just one of those things.  The important thing to remember is that they weren’t bad because they were right wing.

Of course if you take the view that the evil of the Nazis is not a consequence of their position on the political spectrum, you have to grant the same grace to the communists.  This means that you can’t beat the mainstream left with the charge of trying to create a new Soviet Union.

Which I think is why the partisans behind this video take the position they take.  If you can shift the Nazis over to the left you can equate things like social health care and progressive taxation with death camps and leadership cults.  It is very convenient.  Unfortunately it simply isn’t true.  This would be bad enough if this were simple party politics, but we are talking here about one of the major tragedies of world history.  If you really want to make yourself look stupid there are plenty of other opportunities out there.

 

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2 Responses to The Nazis Were Socialists, Not Right Wingers

  1. The full name of the Nazi Party was the National Socialist German Workers Party and when it was founded at the beginning of the twentieth century it was a socialist party. One of the fascinating things is how it mutated into a radical right wing party.

    • I must admit I have never studied the early history of the Nazi party at all. I had the impression that it was intended as a reaction against socialism from day one – but that was third or fourth hand impression. I will have to look into this.

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