‘Communism is not Socialism. Marxism is not Socialism. The Marxists have stolen the term and confused its meaning… We chose to call ourselves the National Socialists. We are not internationalists. Our socialism is national.’
– Adolf Hitler
Was Hitler a socialist? On the face of it, the answer is obvious: a resounding yes.
From the start of his political career in 1919 to his suicide in 1945, all the signs were there.
You can point to the fact that the first political party Hitler tried to join was the German Socialist Party.
You can point to the fact that Hitler co-founded and led the National Socialist German Workers Party. Not the National Capitalists. Not the National Conservatives. The National Socialists.
You can point to the fact that Hitler never tired of condemning capitalism, as Brendan Simms has documented in his masterful work Hitler: Only the World Was Enough. ‘International stock exchange enslavement’, ‘profiteering’, ‘plutocracy’, ‘interest slavery’, ‘big capital’, ‘exploitative capitalism’, ‘money-grubbing capitalism’ were just a few of the epithets Hitler used to describe the system he sought to overthrow. As for the system he sought to replace capitalism with, he declared: ‘The German National Socialist state, which pursued this goal from the beginning, will work tirelessly for the realization of a programme that will ultimately lead to a complete elimination of class differences and to the creation of a true socialist community.’
Indeed, you can point to the Nazi Party’s founding manifesto, which spoke of the ‘division of profits’, the ‘breaking of rent slavery’, abolishing ‘unearned’ incomes, the ‘expansion on a large scale of old age welfare’, overturning laws that served the ‘materialistic world-order’, adopting the principle that ‘common utility precedes individual utility’, and enacting ‘a struggle without consideration against those whose activity is injurious to the general interest’. Tellingly, the latter group included ‘usurers’ alongside ‘criminals’.
You can also point to the fact that the same manifesto declared: ‘We demand the nationalization of all businesses which have been up to the present formed into companies (trusts)’. Granted, in its first five years in power, the Nazi Party actually sold off many national industries. But Hitler did this to raise money for the government. And he sold the industries to his Nazi mates. The goal of the exercise was state control.
As Hitler explained, this nationalisation strategy reflected a general Nazi principle regarding private property:
To put it quite clearly: we have an economic programme. Point number 13 in that programme demands the nationalisation of all public companies, in other words socialisation, or what is known here as socialism… The basic principle of my Party’s economic programme should be made perfectly clear and that is the principle of authority… The good of the community takes priority over that of the individual. But the State should retain control; every owner should feel himself to be an agent of the State; it is his duty not to misuse his possessions to the detriment of the State or the interests of his fellow countrymen. That is the overriding point. The Third Reich will always retain the right to control property owners.
Hitler’s aim, he told his friend Otto Wagener, was to ‘convert the German Volk to socialism without simply killing off the old individualists’. In a similar vein, Hitler sought to convert the German Volk to socialism without killing off inequality. A social hierarchy within the framework of collectivism was in everyone’s interests, Hitler believed. And note: no other socialist regime in history has entirely dispensed with private property or hierarchies.
Most tellingly of all, you can point to the connection between Hitler’s socialism and his antisemitism. Hitler was an antisemite because he was a socialist. ‘Since we are socialists’, he explained, ‘we must necessarily also be antisemites because we want to fight against the very opposite: materialism and mammonism’. He added: ‘How can you not be an antisemite, being a socialist?’ Invoking well-worn stereotypes, Hitler referred to the Jews as ‘this capitalistic people’. He saw capitalism as an international conspiracy conducted by so-called ‘rootless’ Jews spread throughout the world. In Germany as elsewhere, he insisted, these ‘Jewish-capitalist hyenas’ aimed at nothing less that the ‘financial domination of the entire economy’. In contrast, Hitler insisted, ‘socialism in the right sense will only be possible in nations and races that are Aryan’. He surmised:
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.
You can also point to Hitler’s belief that Germany’s war against the UK was fundamentally a battle against capitalism – albeit his parodic version of capitalism with its antisemitic twist. The war, he declared, was between ‘plutocratic-capitalist Britain’ and the German ‘welfare state’. Germany was fighting against the ‘capitalist war mongers of England and her satellites’ – ‘democratic warmongers and their Jewish-capitalist backers’. The Nazis even had the nerve to link their own agenda with ‘anti-colonialism’ and with the Arab struggle against both Britain and the Jews in British-ruled Palestine.
Relatedly, you can point to the most misunderstood aspect of Hitler’s socialism. Everyone knows that Hitler hated communism – or ‘Bolshevism’, as he tended to call it. But few people know why Hitler hated communism. Hitler believed that communism was yet another Jewish-capitalist conspiracy. He spoke of the ‘intention of Jewish big capital to destroy Russia completely in order to maximize profits’. In Hitler’s view, communism, just like capitalism, was a system in which an exploitative Jewish ‘clique’ conquered a nation’s people by pitting them against each other – class against class. ‘Bolshevism is really just the general form of capitalism’, he opined.
In a passage in Mein Kampf Hitler elaborated on this bizarre theme, suggesting that Bolshevism is a precondition of capitalist exploitation. He warned that Germany was under threat from ‘Bolshevik storm troops in the service of Jewish international finance’. He warned of ‘Marxist fighting forces, commanded by international and Jewish stock exchange capital’. He explained:
Jewish finance demands not only the absolute economic destruction of Germany but its complete political enslavement. The internationalisation of our German economic system, that is to say, the transference of our productive forces to the control of Jewish international finance, can be completely carried out only in a state that has been politically Bolshevised.
Hitler claimed – it bears repeating – that only National Socialism could effect ‘a complete elimination of class differences and the creation of a true socialist community.’
Hitler’s barmy equation of communism and capitalism was echoed in the propaganda pumped out by the Nazi regime. One election poster in the early 1930s declared that ‘Marxism is the guardian angel of capitalism’. Another, promoting the 1940 film The Eternal Jew, portrayed a ghoulish Jewish figure with coins in one hand, a whip in the other, and a hammer-and-sickle tablet tucked under his arm. As for the film itself, it castigates Jews for shunning ‘useful work’; ‘these Jews don’t want to work but barter’; ‘they welcome trade eagerly because it suits their character and natural inclination’. Jewish children are shown ‘haggling’, because, the narrator explains:
These young people don’t have the idealism that ours do. With them, the egoism of the individual is not in the service of higher goals… For the Jew there’s one thing of value: money.
Later in the film, the narrator links so-called Jewish capitalism to communism, asserting that, ‘in the guise of selfless humanitarians’, the Jews ‘promised the masses castles in the sky, inciting them against civic order’. He continues, not-so-subtly merging capitalism with communism:
Unrestrained personal freedom and self-indulgence for the individual. Rejection of all ideals and higher values. Submission to the basest life of material pleasures. Criticism of all that is sacred. Revolt against everything. Incitement of the young to class warfare and terrorism. It’s no accident that this doctrine of destruction of nations sprang from the Jewish mind of Karl Marx.
Then, to emphasise the connection, the narrator adds: ‘The founder and organiser of the German Social Democratic Party was the Jew Ferdinand LaSalle-Wolfson’. Finally, the narrator surmises that, ‘despite business competition’, the Jews had ‘a common goal: exploiting the Germans’.
The implication is clear: the Nazis were not ‘far right’. The idea that they were far right is arguably the most ludicrous claim in history. They were so far left they thought even communists were capitalists. The Nazis were Very Far Left.
That’s why Hitler persecuted communists. And democratic socialists. And trade unionists, whom, he claimed, were seeking to ‘smash the economic basis of the free and independent national states, in order to destroy their national industry and their national trade as part of the enslavement of free peoples in the service of a supranational world finance Jewry.’ None but National Socialists were far left enough for Hitler.
Viewed in this light, Hitler’s animosity towards communism, and vice versa, can be seen as a kind of local rivalry on the far left of the political spectrum – the kind of rivalry that socialists specialise in. In any socialist society, a privileged elite sets the agenda for everyone else. That's why there's always so much competition between socialist factions. Whether it's Blairites and Corbynites or Communists and National Socialists, the rivalry within socialism is always fierce, even if all socialists ultimately believe in using the government to reshape society supposedly in the collective interest. Hitler told Otto Wagener: ‘What Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism failed to accomplish, we shall be in a position to achieve.’ He told Hermann Rauschning: ‘I have learned a great deal from Marxism, as I do not hesitate to admit.’ He added: “I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun. The whole of National Socialism is based on it.’ (Again, notice the blending of capitalism with communism: ‘peddlers and pen pushers’.)
What Hitler had put into practice was a particularly hideous version of socialism in which antisemitism was supposedly the missing ingredient in Marxism. ‘If the National Socialist movement should fail to understand the fundamental importance of this essential principle [race]’, Hitler intoned, ‘it would really do nothing more than compete with Marxism on its own ground’. He bowdlerised the language of Marxists, lacing it with racism: ‘We demand the fulfilment of the just claims of the productive classes by the state on the basis of race solidarity’. He aped the famous Marxist slogan: ‘Not proletarians of all countries unite, but antisemites of all countries unite!’ Indeed, prior to invading Russia in 1941, the Nazis went as far as agreeing a non-aggression pact with Stalin’s Marxist Russian government, without which the second world war would never have happened. In his Second Book Hitler mused that Russia might soon achieve an ‘internal change’ and become an ideological ally of the Nazis. ‘It could not be excluded that Russia’, a country which was ‘today in reality Jewish-capitalist’, would end up ‘national-anti-capitalist’. In such an event, he later predicted, Russia would abandon its internationalism and embrace ‘panslavism’.
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 the 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.
As I said, if you don't learn the right lessons from history, you can't learn the right lessons from history.