From John Ray's shorter notes

17 October, 2002

Nazis versus "Reds" in 1930s Germany

When I point out how far to the Left most of Hitler's policies were, a strong reaction I get from many who know something of history is to say that Hitler cannot have been a Leftist because of the great hatred that existed at the time between the Nazis and the "Reds". One such challenger has been Jiri -- to whom I am greatly indebted for a lively and erudite correspondence about the politics of the interwar years. One of Jiri's observations seems to me a very good one indeed:

I am surprised that you have not seized on Hitler's anti-semitism as a proof that he was a socialist. So widespread had been anti-semitism among the Leftists in Europe that Lenin himself denounced it as "the socialism of the stupid man"

(It was actually August Bebel, founder of the German Social Democrats, who said that: “Antisemitismus ist der Sozialismus des blöden Mannes”. Lenin did allude to the same phenomenon in saying that "It is not the Jews who are the enemies of the working people" but "the capitalists of all countries.")

My reply to Jiri and others was of course that there is no hatred like fraternal hatred and that hatreds between different Leftist groupings have existed from the French revolution onwards. Have we forgotten that on 9 Thermidor 1794 Leftist leader Robespierre and his allies, along with seventy members of the Paris Commune, went to the guillotine? It was the largest mass execution ever to have taken place in Paris. That does not make any of the rival groups less Leftist however. And the ice-pick in the head that Trotsky got courtesy of Stalin shows vividly that even among the Bolsheviks themselves there were great rivalries and hatreds. Did that make any of them less Bolshevik, less Marxist, less Communist? No doubt the protagonists concerned would argue that it did but from anyone else's point of view they were all Leftists at least.

Nonetheless there still seems to persist in some minds the view that two groups as antagonistic as the Nazis and the Communists just cannot have been ideological blood-brothers. Let me therefore try this little quiz: Who was it who at one stage dismissed Hitler as a "barbarian, a criminal and a pederast"? Was it Stalin? Was it some other Communist? Was it Winston Churchill? Was it some other conservative? Was it one of the Social Democrats? No. It was none other than Benito Mussolini, the Fascist leader who later became Hitler's ally in World War II. And if any two leaders were ideological blood-brothers those two were. So I am afraid that antagonism between Hitler and others proves nothing. If anything, the antagonism between Hitler and other socialists is proof of what a typical socialist Hitler was.

A European perspective

Hmmm.... I am having a lot of trouble convincing Jiri that Hitler was a Leftist. I have just received a long email from him once again pointing out the many nationalist elements in Hitler's appeal and pointing out how widely he diverged from the various Marxist movements of Europe. My reply to him is of course that Hitler was BOTH a nationalist AND a socialist -- as the full name of his political party (The National Socialist German Worker's Party) implies. I have expanded my argument on how it is that Leftism and nationalism are far from incompatible in my article on Mussolini

And I might add that, although many modern-day US Democrats often seem to be anti-American, the situation is rather different in Australia and Britain. Both the major Leftist parties there (the Australian Labor Party and the British Labour Party) are perfectly patriotic parties which express pride in their national traditions and achievements. Nobody seems to have convinced them that you cannot be both Leftist and nationalist. That is of course not remotely to claim that either of the parties concerned is a Nazi party. What Hitler advocated and practiced was clearly more extremely nationalist than any major Anglo-Saxon political party would advocate today.

I think, however, that the real stumbling block for Jiri is that he has a very European perspective on what constitutes Leftism whereas I have a very Anglo-Saxon one. To Jiri you have to be some sort of Marxist to be a Leftist and Hitler was very clearly opposed to any form of Marxism so cannot have been a Leftist. I write for the Anglosphere, however, and in my experience the vast majority of the Left (i.e. the US Democrats, The Australian Labor Party, the British Labour Party) have always rejected Marxism so it seems crystal clear to me that you can be a Leftist without accepting Marxist doctrines. So Hitler's contempt for Marxism, far from convincing me that he was a non-Leftist, actually convinces me that he was a perfectly conventional Leftist! The Nazi Party was what would in many parts of the world be called a "Labor" party (not a Communist party).

And the moderate Leftists of Germany in Hitler's own day saw that too. The Sozialistische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) who, like the US Democrats, the Australian Labor Party and the British Labour Party, had always been the principal political representatives of the Labor unions, on several important occasions voted WITH the Nazis in the Reichstag (German Parliament).

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