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June, 2001. (A much expanded version of this article giving more detail about the Leftist nature of Nazism is available here)

HITLER AND SOCIALISM



J.J. Ray (M.A.;Ph.D.)

University of New South Wales, Australia


Although Hitler himself claimed to be a socialist, this claim seems normally to be totally ignored. Evidence in support of the view that he was in fact a vociferous socialist is reviewed. The essence of his popularity with Germans appears to have been his combination of two very seductive policy themes: socialism and nationalism. He thus stole the emotional clothes of both the Left and the Right. The implications for present-day German and Russian politics are briefly explored.


The Demand for Explanation

Now that more than 50 years have passed since the military defeat of Hitler's Germany, one might have thought that Hitler's name would be all but forgotten. This is far from the case, however. Even in the popular press, references to him are incessant and the trickle of TV documentaries on the Germany of his era would seem to be unceasing. Hitler even featured on the cover of a 1995 Time magazine.

This finds its counterpart in the academic literature too. Scholarly works on Hitler's deeds continue to emerge (e.g. Feuchtwanger, 1995) and in a recent survey of the history of Western civilization, Lipson (1993) named Hitlerism and the nuclear bomb as the two great evils of the 20th century. Stalin's tyranny lasted longer, Pol Pot killed a higher proportion of his country's population and Hitler was not the first Fascist but the name of Hitler nonetheless hangs over the entire 20th century as something inescapably and inexplicably malign. It seems doubtful that even living in the 21st century will erase from the minds of thinking people the still largely unfulfilled need to understand how and why Hitler became so influential and wrought so much evil.

The fact that so many young Germans (particular from the old Communist East) today still salute his name and perpetuate much of his politics is also an amazement and a deep concern to many and what can only be called the resurgence of Nazism among many young Germans at the close of the 20th century would seem to generate a continuing and pressing need to understand the Hitler phenomenon.

So what was it that made Hitler so influential? What was it that made him (as pre-war histories such as Roberts, 1938, attest) the most popular man in the Germany of his day? Why does he still have many admirers now in the Germany on which he inflicted such disasters? What was (is?) his appeal? And why, of all things, are the young products of an East German Communist upbringing still so susceptible to his message?

There have been many proposed explanations of Hitler's influence and deeds but nearly all of the social scientific explanations very rapidly come up with the word "insanity" or one of its synonyms (e.g. Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford, 1950). Attributing mental illness or mental disturbance to Hitler seems to be the only way we can deal with his malign legacy.

But is this plausible? Do madmen achieve popular acclaim among their own people? Do madmen inspire their countrymen to epics of self sacrifice? Do madmen leave a mark on history unlike any other? Until Hitler came along, the answers to all these questions would surely have been "no".

So is there an alternative explanation? Is there something other than mental illness that can explain Hitler's success? If there is we surely owe it to ourselves and to our children to find out. If by dismissing Hitlerism as madness we miss what really went on in Hitler's rise to power we surely run dreadful risks of allowing some sort of Nazi revival. The often extreme expressions of nationalism to be heard from Russia today surely warn us that a Fascist upsurge in a major European State is no mere bogeyman. What we fail to understand we may be unable to prevent. All possible explanations for the Nazi phenomenon do surely therefore demand our attention. It is the purpose of the present paper, therefore, to explain the rise and power of Hitler's Nazism in a way that does not take the seductive route of invoking insanity.

National Socialism Rightist?

The word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation of the name of Hitler's political party -- the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei. In English this translates to "The National Socialist German Worker's Party". So Hitler was a socialist and a champion of the workers -- or at least he identified himself as such and campaigned as such. The almost universal claim that Hitler's National Socialism was Right-wing has always therefore been a little strange.

How can any type of socialism be Rightist?

I will argue that this claim must in fact be one of old-time Communism's most successful "big lies" and that the perhaps surprising fact of the matter is that Hitler's National Socialism was Right-wing only in relation to Communism. I will submit the radically simple thesis that Hitler's appeal to Germans was much as the name of his political party would suggest -- a heady brew of rather extreme Leftism (socialism) combined with equally extreme nationalism -- with Hitler's obsession with the Jews being a relatively minor aspect of Nazism's popular appeal, as Dietrich (1988) shows.

So let us look at some of the basic facts that history (See, for example, Roberts, 1938; Heiden, 1939; Shirer, 1964; Bullock, 1964; Taylor, 1963; Hagan, 1966; Feuchtwanger, 1995) tells us about Hitler's politics in the lead-up to World War II.

Hitler's Election Pledges

Although one gets perhaps the most basic hint that Hitler really was a socialist from the name of the political party he led, party names are not always very informative (e.g. "The People's Democratic Republic of ...." will generally be a brutal tyranny with scant regard for either the people or democracy) so more evidence than can be found in a mere name is needed. So some of the promises made in Hitler's various election campaigns are also therefore instructive: The limitation of income to a thousand Marks per head, the nationalization of trusts (business conglomerates) and department stores, agrarian reform, the confiscation of war profits, the elimination of "unearned income" and employment for all were all promised at one stage or another by Hitler or his henchmen. How Right-wing does all that sound?

It is of course true that, as he came closer to power, Hitler did reject the outright nationalization of industry as too Marxist. As long as the State could enforce its policies on industry, Hitler considered it wisest to leave the nominal ownership and day to day running of industry in the hands of those who had already shown themselves as capable of running and controlling it. This policy is broadly similar to the once much acclaimed Swedish model of socialism in more recent times so it is amusing that it has often been this policy which has underpinned the common claim that Hitler was Rightist. What is Leftist in Sweden was apparently Rightist in Hitler! There are of course many differences between postwar Sweden and Hitler's Germany but the point remains that Hitler's perfectly reasonable skepticism about the virtues of nationalizing all industry is far from sufficient to disqualify him as a Leftist.

It is also true that both Hitler and Mussolini received financial and other support from big businessmen and other "establishment" figures but this is simply a reflection of how radicalized Germany and Italy were at that time. Hitler and Mussolini were correctly perceived as a less hostile alternative (a sort of vaccine) to the Communists.

And what was that about election campaigns? Yes, Hitler did start out as a half-hearted revolutionary (the Munich Putsch) but after his resultant incarceration was able enough and flexible enough to turn to basically democratic methods of gaining power. He was thenceforth the major force in his party insisting on legality for its actions and did eventually gain power via the ballot box rather than by way of violent revolution. It is true that the last election (as distinct from referenda) he faced (on May 3rd, 1933) gave him a plurality (44% of the popular vote) rather than a majority but that is normal in any electoral contest where there are more than two candidates. Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher never gained a majority of the popular vote either. After the May 1933 elections, Hitler was joined in a coalition government by Hugenburg's Nationalist party (who had won 8% of the vote) to give a better majority (52%) than many modern democratic governments enjoy. On March 24th, 1933 the Reichstag passed an Enabling Act giving full power to Hitler for four years (later extended by referendum). The Centre Party voted with the Nazi-led coalition government. Thus Hitler's accession to absolute power was quite democratically achieved. Even Hitler's subsequent banning of the Communist party and his control of the media at election time have precedents in democratic politics.

Even the torturous backroom negotiations that led to Hitler's initial appointment as Chancellor (Prime Minister) by President Hindenburg on January 30th, 1933 hardly delegitimize that appointment or make it less democratic. Shirer (1964) and others describe this appointment as being the outcome of a "shabby political deal" but that would seem disingenuous. The fact is that Hitler was the leader of the largest party in the Reichstag and torturous backroom negotiations about alliances and deals generally are surely well-known to most practitioners of democratic politics. One might in fact say that success at such backroom negotiations is almost a prerequisite for power in a democratic system -- particularly, perhaps, under the normal European electoral system of proportional representation. It might in fact not be too cynical to venture the comment that "shabby political deals" have been rife in democracy at least since the time of Thucydides. Some practitioners of them might even claim that they are what allows democracy to work at all.

The fact that Hitler appealed to the German voter as basically a rather extreme social democrat is also shown by the fact that the German Social Democrats (orthodox democratic Leftists who controlled the unions as well as a large Reichstag deputation) at all times refused appeals from the German Communist party for co-operation against the Nazis. They evidently felt more affinity with Hitler than with the Communists. Hitler's eventual setting up of a one-party State and his adoption of a "four year plan", however, showed who had most affinity with the Communists. Hitler was more extreme than the Social Democrats foresaw.

The only heartfelt belief that Hitler himself ever had would appear to have been his antisemitism but his primary public appeal was nonetheless always directed to "the masses" and their interests and his methods were only less Bolshevik than those of the Bolsheviks themselves.

Hitler's Post-election Manoeuvres

It is true that Hitler proceeded to entrench himself in power in all sorts of ways once he came to rule but reluctance to relinquish power once it is gained is not uncharacteristic of the far Left in a democracy. In the early '70's, for instance, Australia had a government of a very Leftist character (the Whitlam government) that tried to continue governing against all constitutional precedent when refused money by Parliament. Because Australia is a monarchy with important powers vested in the vice-regal office, however, the government could be and was dismissed and a constitutional crisis thus avoided. It may also be noted that the Whitlam government presided over a considerable upsurge of Australian nationalism. It was literally a national socialist government. Unlike Hitler, however, it was very anti-militaristic (particularly in the light of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam fiasco) and did not persecute its political opponents. Australia has, after all, inherited from its largely British forebears very strong traditions of civil liberty.

Among other far-Left democratic governments that have been known to cling to power with dubious public support the government of Malta by Mintoff and Mifsud-Bonnici springs to mind. On a broader scale, the use of gerrymanders by democratic governments of all sorts also tends to entrench power. Democratically-elected governments are not always great respecters of democracy. The post-war Liberal Democratic (conservative) government of Japan never had a majority of the popular vote and ruled for over 30 years only by virtue of a gerrymander. Yet it has generally been regarded as democratic. None of this is said with any intention of excusing Hitler or drawing exact parallels with him. The aim is rather to show roughly in what sort of company he belongs as far as his attitude to democracy is concerned. In other words, like many democratic politicians he was a reluctant democrat (surely more reluctant than most) but his coming to power by democratic means still cannot be ignored. It meant that he had to be fairly popular and this affected the sort of person he could be and the policies he could advocate. As sincerity in a politician is hard to feign successfully, for maximum effectiveness (and Hitler was a very effective leader) he more or less had to be the sort of person who had a genuine feeling for his own people and who thus would not want to make war on large sections of them (unlike Stalin, Pol Pot and Li Peng of Tien Anmen Square fame). This meant that the great hostility which seems to be characteristic of the extreme Leftist had to have another outlet. Hitler was simply being an ordinary European of his times in finding the outlet he did: The Jews.

Hitler's Socialist Deeds

When in power Hitler also implemented a quite socialist programme. Like F.D. Roosevelt, he provided employment by a much expanded programme of public works (including roadworks) and his Kraft durch Freude ("power through joy") movement was notable for such benefits as providing workers with subsidized holidays at a standard that only the rich could formerly afford. And while Hitler did not nationalize all industry, there was extensive compulsory reorganization of it and tight party control over it. It might be noted that even in the post-war Communist bloc there was never total nationalization of industry. In fact, in Poland, most agriculture always remained in private hands.

The Conservatives and Hitler

And what about the conservatives of Hitler's day? Both in Germany and Britain he despised them and they despised him. Far from being an ally of Hitler or in any way sympathetic to him, Hitler's most unrelenting foe was the arch-Conservative British politician, Winston Churchill and it was a British Conservative Prime Minister (Neville Chamberlain) who eventually declared war on Hitler's Germany. Hitler found a willing ally in the Communist Stalin as long as he wanted it but at no point could he wring even neutrality out of Churchill. Not that Churchill was a saint. In 1939 Churchill exulted over the Finns "tearing the guts out of the Red Army" but, despite that, he later allied himself with Stalin. Like Mussolini, he was something of a pragmatist and saw Hitler as the biggest threat. Churchill therefore, despite his opposition to all socialist dictators, retreated eventually to the old wisdom that, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". His basic loathing for both Hitler's and Stalin's forms of socialism is, however very much a matter of record.

Parenthetically, it should perhaps be noted that the lessons of history are seldom simple. The fact that the British Prime Minister who actually declared war on Hitler was a (mildly) anti-Semitic English jingoist -- Neville Chamberlain -- is something of an irony. Churchill was soon called upon to replace Chamberlain at least in part because Churchill's opposition to Hitler was seen as more heartfelt and consistent.

In keeping with the fundamental opposition between Churchill's English conservatism (Rightism) and any form of socialism, it might also be noted that German monarchists were among Hitler's victims on "the night of the long knives".

Nor is Hitler's going to war uncharacteristic of a social democrat (democratic Leftist). Who got the U.S.A. involved in Vietnam? J.F. Kennedy and L.B. Johnson. And who got the troops out? Richard Nixon. I am not, of course, comparing the Vietnam involvement with Hitler's Blitzkrieg. Kennedy and Johnson were, after all, only mildly Leftist whereas Hitler was extremely Leftist. All I am pointing out is that there is nothing in social democratic politics that automatically precludes military adventurism.

Nationalism

Perhaps the only thing that does at first sight support the characterization of Hitler as a Rightist is his nationalism. There generally does seem to be an association between political Conservatism and nationalism/patriotism (Ray & Furnham, 1984). This presumably flows from the fact that Leftists generally seem attached to their well-known doctrine that, in some unfathomable way, "all men are equal". They seem to need this philosophically dubious doctrine to give some intellectual justification for socialist (levelling) policies. If all men are equal, however, then it surely follows that all groups of men/women are equal too. Leftism and nationalism have therefore some philosophical inconsistency and a consistent Leftist usually has to deny nationalism. Thus only the conservatives are normally left to offer any reasoned defence of nationalism. Since nationalism is just another form of group loyalty, however, and group loyalty seems to be a major and virtually universal wellspring of human motivation (Brown, 1986; Ardrey, 1961), this normally leaves conservatives in sole charge of some very powerful emotional ammunition.

Hitler's Magic Mix

Shoeck (1966) has however shown at some length that envy is also a very basic, powerful and pervasive human emotion and levelling policies such socialism will always therefore have great appeal too --regardless of any spurious intellectual gloss that may or may not be put on them (such as the gloss provided by the "all men are equal" doctrine). Hitler was one of those who felt no need for such a gloss. The raw emotional appeal of socialism was enough for him. This also meant that he also felt no pressure to deny nationalism. He could be as nationalist as he liked. And he did like! He in fact used nationalism to justify socialism. Germans deserved to be looked after, not because of their innate equality but because of their glorious Germanness. This was extremely clever and hard to resist. As noted above, nationalism is a heady and universally appealing brew. Thus Hitler's socialism had a double dose (socialism plus nationalism) of emotional appeal that enabled him, despite his extremity, to come to power by way of a popular vote whereas Communism normally has to rely on bloody revolution and forcible seizure of power. Hitler's brand of socialism was, then, a cleverer one than most: It had something for everybody. He stole the clothes of both the Left and the Right. With the Nazis you could be both a socialist and a nationalist. Hitler was thus simply the most effective figure in showing that socialism and nationalism, far from being intrinsically opposed, could be very successfully integrated into an electorally appealing whole. With the additional aid of Goebbels' brilliant showmanship, the Nazis simply had it all when it came to popular appeals to the emotions. So Nazism was emotional rather than insane.

In summary, Hitler saw from the outset (Bullock, 1964) that a combination of Leftist and Rightist appeals could be emotionally successful among the masses, no matter what he personally believed. If the basic message of the Left was "We will look after you" and the message of the Right is "We are the greatest", then Hitler saw no reason why he could not offer both nostrums for sale. He did not trouble either himself or the masses with details of how such offers could be delivered.

Stalin as a National Socialist

Hitler's strategy for popularity was not lost on Stalin. Quite soon after Hitler invaded Russia, Stalin reopened the Russian Orthodox churches and restored the old ranks and orders of the Russian Imperial army to the Red Army so that it became simply the Russian Army and stressed nationalist themes (e.g. defence of "Mother Russia") in his internal propaganda. As one result of this, to this day Russians refer to the Second World War as "the great patriotic war". Stalin may have started out as an international socialist but he ended up a national socialist. So Hitler was a Rightist only in the sense that Stalin was. If Stalin was Right-wing, however, black might as well be white.

It has already been mentioned that in Australia too, socialism and nationalism have been found to be quite compatible.

Ho Chi Minh as a National Socialist

Stalin showed that National Socialism could be used effectively against another National Socialist but it took Ho Chi Minh's regime and its Southern extension to demonstrate that National Socialism could even defeat the Great Republic (the United States). That Ho Chi Minh was a socialist is hardly now disputable and it is also clear that he had Vietnamese nationalism working for him in his fight against the American interventionists. Their foreignness made this easy to do. Note that the Viet Cong were formally known as the National Liberation Front. Their primary ostensible appeal was in fact national, though their socialism was of course never seriously in doubt. So the nationalism of Ho Chi Minh's regime gave it widespread support or at least co-operation in the South as well as in the North. Ho thus stole the emotional clothes of the conservatives as effectively as Hitler did and the magic mix of nationalism and socialism was once again shown to be capable of generating enormous military effectiveness against apparently forbidding odds. So the simple explanation that works to explain Hitler's amazing challenge to the world also works to explain the equaly amazing defeat of the world's mightiest military power by an relatively insignificant Third World nation. A National Socialist regime has such a strong emotional appeal that it galvanizes its subject population to Herculean efforts in a way that few other (if any) regimes can. It sounds about as crazy as you get to claim that it was Nazism that defeated the U.S. in Vietnam but this once again shows how Nazism has been misunderstood and consequently underrated.

Is Racism Rightist?

If nationalism is no proof of Rightism, what about racism? Racism and nationalism seem distinguishable so does not Hitler's racism make him Rightist? Hardly. The post-war exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union and the tales of persecution that they brought with them are surely proof enough of that. There is an association between conservatism and racism in modern-day America but Sniderman, Brody & Kuklinski (1984) have shown that this is confined to the well-educated. Among Americans with only a basic education, the association is not to be found. Similarly, general population surveys in Australia and England find no association between the two variables (Ray & Furnham, 1984; Ray, 1984). Any association between racism and Rightism is, then, clearly contingent on circumstances and is not therefore of definitional significance.

Finally, it is clear that anti-Semitism was not a defining feature of Fascism. It was more a defining feature of Northern European culture. Both Mussolini in Italy and Mosley in Britain were Fascist leaders but neither was initially anti-Semitic. It is true that Mussolini was eventually pushed into largely unenforced antisemitic decrees by Hitler and it is true that Mosley was eventually pushed into doubts about Jews because of attacks on his meetings by Jewish Communists (Skidelsky, 1975 Ch. 20) but in the early 1930s Mosley actually expelled from his party Fascist speakers who made anti-Semitic remarks and one of the few places in Europe during the second world war where Jews were largely protected from persecution was in fact Fascist Italy (Herzer, 1989; Steinberg, 1990). Many Jews to this day owe their lives to Fascist Italians.

Distinguishing Hitler from Stalin

Hitler was, however, more Rightist than Stalin in the sense that, as a popular leader, he did not need to resort to extreme forms of oppressive control over his people (Unger, 1965). German primary and secondary industry did not need to be nationalized because they largely did Hitler's bidding willingly. State control was indeed exercised over German industry but it was done without formally altering its ownership and without substantially alienating or killing its professional managers.

The contempt that Hitler had for Stalin and for "Bolshevism" generally should also not mislead us in assessing the similarity between Nazism and Communism. Leftist sects are very prone to rivalry, dissension, schism and hatred of one-another. One has only to think of the Bolsheviks versus the Mensheviks, Stalin versus Trotsky, China versus the Soviet Union, China "teaching Vietnam a lesson", the Vietnamese suppression of the Khmer Rouge etc. Similarity does not preclude rivalry and in the end it was mainly competition for power that set Hitler and Stalin on a collision course.

Under Stalin's wartime innovations, the difference between Nazism and Communism became largely a difference of emphasis. Both Nazism and Communism were nationalistic and socialist but with Communism, socialism was the ideological focus and justification for State power whereas with Nazism, nationalism was the ideological focus and justification for State power.

There always remained, however, one essential difference between Nazi and Communist ideology: Their responses to social class. Stalin preached class war and glorified class consciousness whereas Hitler wanted to abolish social classes and root out class-consciousness. Both leaders, as socialists, saw class inequality as a problem but their solutions to it differed radically. The great Nazi slogan Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Fuehrer ("One State, one people, one leader") summed this up. Hitler wanted unity among Germans, not class antagonisms. He wanted loyalty to himself and to Germany as a whole, not loyalty to any class. Stalin wanted to unite the workers. Hitler wanted to unite ALL Germans. Stalin openly voiced his hatred of a large part of his own population; Hitler professed to love all Germans regardless of class (except for the Jews, of course). This was indeed a fundamental difference and substantially accounts both for Hitler's unwavering contempt for Bolshevism and his popularity among all classes of Germans.

The Holocaust

But what about Hitler's policies towards the Jews? How do we explain those? Towards the beginning of this paper, I quoted Dietrich's conclusion that Hitler's antisemitism was only a minor part of his popular appeal to Germans. One reason for this view is the important but seldom stressed fact that there was nothing at all odd or unusual about a dislike of Jews almost anywhere in the world of the 1930s. Hitler was to a considerable degree simply voicing the conventional wisdom of his times and he was far from alone in doing so. The plain fact is that it was not just the Nazis who brought about the holocaust. To its shame, the whole world did. That part of the world under Hitler's control in general willingly assisted in rounding up Jews while the rest of the world refused to take Jewish refugees who tried to escape -- just as the world would later refuse many Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees and will in due course refuse to take other would-be refugees from other places. Racial affect is now recognized as universal in psychology textbooks (Brown, 1986) and Anti Semitism is, sad to say, an old and widely popular European tradition. There seems to be considerable truth in the view that the Nazis just applied German thoroughness to it. It is true that Hitler can be seen as obsessed with the Jews rather than being merely antisemitic but this too could be seen as more Austrian than personal. So Hitler's anti Jewish policies (as far as they ever became popularly known) were actually among his least controversial policies. The support for them needs no great explanation beyond a reference to the general attitudes of the times. As far as the average German knew, Hitler was just running (yawn) a Pogrom. The Russians did it all the time, didn't they? It was Hitler's nationalist and socialist policies that were really interesting.

Fascism & Mussolini

Hitler was not however original in being both a socialist and a nationalist. The Italian nationalist leader, Mussolini, came to power much before Hitler but was in fact even more Leftist than Hitler. Although generally regarded as the founder of Fascism, in his early years Mussolini was one of Italy's leading Marxist theoreticians. He was even an intimate of Lenin. He first received his well-known appellation of Il Duce ("the leader") while he was still a member of Italy's "Socialist" (Marxist) party and, although he had long been involved in democratic politics, he gained power by essentially revolutionary means (the march on Rome). Even after he had gained power, railing against "plutocrats" remained one of his favourite rhetorical ploys. He was, however, an instinctive Italian patriot and very early on added a nationalistic appeal to his message, thus being the first major figure to add the attraction of nationalism to the attraction of socialism. He was the first socialist to learn the lesson that Hitler and Stalin after him used to such "good" effect. It is true that, like Hitler, Mussolini allowed a continuation of capitalism in his country (though the addition of strict party controls over it in both Italy and Germany should be noted) but Mussolini justified this on Marxist grounds! He was, in fact, it could be argued, more of an orthodox Marxist than was Lenin. As with the Russian Mensheviks, it seemed clear to Mussolini that, on Marxist theory, a society had to go through a capitalist stage before the higher forms of socialism and communism could be aspired to. He believed that capitalism was needed to develop a country industrially and, as Italy was very underdeveloped in that regard, capitalism had to be tolerated. What some see as Rightism, therefore, was in fact to Mussolini orthodox Marxism. Mussolini held this view from the early years of this century and he therefore greeted with some glee the economic catastrophe that befell Russia when the Bolsheviks took over. He regarded the economic failure of Bolshevism as evidence for the correctness of orthodox Marxism.

Nor was Mussolini a socialist in name only. He also put socialist policies into action. Thanks to him, Fascist Italy had in the thirties what was arguably the most comprehensive welfare State in the world at that time (Gregor, 1979).

It could be said, in fact, that Italian Fascism was noticeably closer to Communism than Nazism was. This is not only because of the influence of Marxism on Mussolini's ideology but because Mussolini's nationalism was sentimental and nostalgic rather than the intellectual and ideological nationalism of Hitler. Thus it is primarily the degree of ideological focus on nationalism that distinguishes the three forms of authoritarian socialism: Nazism, Fascism and Communism.

That Nazism and Fascism are commonly called Right-wing when in fact they were Right-wing only in relation to Bolshevik "Communism" does, then, tell us much about the dominant perspective of intellectuals in most of the 20th century.

As an historical summary, then, Nazism and Fascism had great appeal simply because they stole the emotional clothes of both the Left and the Right.

Nazism in Germany Today

Although there are neo-Nazi movements throughout the world today, the phenomenon would appear to be of greatest concern in the former East Germany. There we find that apparently large numbers of young racist thugs are actively attacking immigrants in the name of "Germany for the Germans" and the Swastika is once more an insignia of terror for minorities. Yet are not these same young East Germans the product of a diligent Communist education? Surely they should have been the least likely to become Fascists? Why have they in fact become Hitler's most obvious heirs?

The facts pointed out in this paper make the phenomenon no mystery at all, however. A Communist education is an extreme socialist education and Nazism was extreme socialism too. All you need to do is to add the nationalist element and you have Nazism. And nationalist feeling seems to be virtually innate anyway so, rather than actively "add" it, all you have to do is permit it -- and modern Germany is a very permissive state.

In fact, even the old East German State was quite nationalist. In its always precarious struggle for legitimacy, it did much to present itself as the spiritual heir of old Prussia (which it largely was in a territorial sense). So socialist East Germany was also nationalist, though not aggressively so. It was low-key Nazi! So it turns out that the deeds of the young East German thugs we are considering are indeed traceable to their education. German National Socialism has the same outcome in the 1980s and 90s as in did in the 30s and 40s.

Fascism in Contemporary Russia

Russia in the immediate post-Soviet era was kept on a largely democratic course by the erratic ex-Soviet apparatchik Boris Yeltsin, but what can we expect of the post-Yeltsin Russia with its powerful Fascist bloc under Zhirinovsky, its powerful Communist bloc under Zyuganov and the popularity of nationalism generally there? Will a socialist background combined with strong nationalist traditions again produce a Nazi-type regime? Will there be a Russian Hitler? Russia's nationalist traditions were, as we have seen, encouraged to a degree even under Communism (by Stalin and his successors) so it seems not unlikely. It just needs nationalism to become an ideological focus in lieu of socialism, and we will have Communism reborn as Fascism. And since socialism as an ideological focus does seem to be in extremis in the post-Soviet world, we might well expect a people accustomed to a strong ideological focus in their politics to be looking for a replacement focus. Only a small step would be required to make the transition to Fascism.

And just as Hitler could harp on the past glories of the zweite Reich (the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) and refuse to accept the internal collapse of the Kaiserreich (the German empire of World War I) so Zhirinovsky, Lebed and their ilk can stress the scientific glories and territorial reach of the former Soviet empire and refuse to accept that its collapse was due to internal causes. There is little doubt that a Russian Goebbels could find a workable basis for overweening Russian national pride and that such pride could be used as an antidote to present woes -- just as similar pride was once used in Weimar Germany.

Zhirinovsky and Lebed seem generally today to be seen in the West as clowns, but Hitler was once seen that way too.



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Skidelsky, R. (1975) Oswald Mosley London: Macmillan.
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Taylor, A.J.P. (1963) The origins of the second world war. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Toland, J. (1976) Adolf Hitler Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday.
Unger, A.L. (1965) Party and state in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. Political Quarterly 36, 441-459.
Zillmer, E.A., Archer, R.P. & Castino, R. (1989) Rorschach records of Nazi war criminals: A reanalysis using current scoring and interpretation practices. J. Personality Assessment 53, 85-99.


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