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Thursday, 13 March 2014
My mate Daniel Hannan MEP on the Nazi's
LEFTISTS BECOME INCANDESCENT WHEN REMINDED OF
THE SOCIALIST ROOTS IN NAZISM
On 16 June 1941, as Hitler readied his forces for Operation Barbarossa,
Josef Goebbels looked forward to the new order that the Nazis would impose on a
conquered Russia. There would be no come-back, he wrote, for capitalists nor
priests nor Tsars. Rather, in the place of debased, Jewish Bolshevism, the
Wehrmacht would deliver “der echte Sozialismus”: real socialism.
Goebbels never doubted that he was a socialist. He understood Nazism to
be a better and more plausible form of socialism than that propagated by Lenin.
Instead of spreading itself across different nations, it would operate within
the unit of the Volk.
So total is the cultural victory of the modern Left that the merely to
recount this fact is jarring. But few at the time would have found it especially
contentious. As George Watson put it in The Lost Literature of Socialism:
It is now clear beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler and his
associates believed they were socialists, and that others, including democratic
socialists, thought so too.
The clue is in the name. Subsequent generations of Leftists have tried
to explain away the awkward nomenclature of the National Socialist German
Workers’ Party as either a cynical PR stunt or an embarrassing coincidence. In
fact, the name meant what it said.
Hitler told Hermann Rauschning, a Prussian who briefly worked for the
Nazis before rejecting them and fleeing the country, that he had admired much
of the thinking of the revolutionaries he had known as a young man; but he felt
that they had been talkers, not doers. “I have put into practice what these
peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun,” he boasted, adding that “the
whole of National Socialism” was “based on Marx”.
Marx’s error, Hitler believed, had been to foster class war instead of
national unity – to set workers against industrialists instead of conscripting
both groups into a corporatist order. His aim, he told his economic adviser,
Otto Wagener, was to “convert the German Volk to socialism without simply
killing off the old individualists” – by which he meant the bankers and factory
owners who could, he thought, serve socialism better by generating revenue for
the state. “What Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism failed to accomplish,” he told
Wagener, “we shall be in a position to achieve.”
Leftist readers may by now be seething. Whenever
I touch on this subject, it elicits an almost berserk reaction from
people who think of themselves as progressives and see anti-fascism as part of
their ideology. Well, chaps, maybe now you know how we conservatives feel when
you loosely associate Nazism with “the Right”.
To be absolutely clear, I don’t believe that modern Leftists have
subliminal Nazi leanings, or that their loathing of Hitler is in any way
feigned. That’s not my argument. What I want to do, by holding up the mirror,
is to take on the equally false idea that there is an ideological continuum
between free-marketers and fascists.
The idea that Nazism is a more extreme form of conservatism has
insinuated its way into popular culture. You hear it, not only when spotty
students yell “fascist” at Tories, but when pundits talk of revolutionary
anti-capitalist parties, such as the BNP and Golden Dawn, as “far Right”.
What is it based on, this connection? Little beyond a jejune sense that
Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists are
nasty. When written down like that, the notion sounds idiotic, but think of the
groups around the world that the BBC, for example, calls “Right-wing”: the
Taliban, who want communal ownership of goods; the Iranian revolutionaries, who
abolished the monarchy, seized industries and destroyed the middle class;
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who pined for Stalinism. The “Nazis-were-far-Right”
shtick is a symptom of the wider notion that “Right-wing” is a synonym for
One of my constituents once complained to the Beeb about a report on the
repression of Mexico's indigenous peoples, in which the government was labelled
Right-wing. The governing party, he pointed out, was a member of the Socialist
International and, again, the give-away was in its name: Institutional
Revolutionary Party. The BBC’s response was priceless. Yes, it accepted that
the party was socialist, “but what our correspondent was trying to get across
was that it is authoritarian”.
In fact, authoritarianism was the common feature of socialists of both
National and Leninist varieties, who rushed to stick each other in prison camps
or before firing squads. Each faction loathed the other as heretical, but both
scorned free-market individualists as beyond redemption. Their battle was all
the fiercer, as Hayek pointed out in 1944, because it was a battle between
Authoritarianism – or, to give it a less loaded name, the belief that
state compulsion is justified in pursuit of a higher goal, such as scientific
progress or greater equality – was traditionally a characteristic of the social
democrats as much as of the revolutionaries.
Jonah Goldberg has chronicled the phenomenon at length in his magnum
opus, Liberal Fascism. Lots of people take offence at his title,
evidently without reading the book since, in the first few pages, Jonah reveals
that the phrase is not his own. He is quoting that impeccable progressive H.G.
Wells who, in 1932, told the Young Liberals that they must become “liberal
fascists” and “enlightened Nazis”.
In those days, most prominent Leftists intellectuals, including Wells,
Jack London, Havelock Ellis and the Webbs, tended to favour eugenics, convinced
that only religious hang-ups were holding back the development of a healthier
species. The unapologetic way in which they spelt out the consequences have, like
Hitler’s actual words, been largely edited from our discourse. Here, for
example, is George Bernard Shaw in 1933:
Extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be
carried out humanely and apologetically as well as thoroughly… If we desire a
certain type of civilisation and culture we must exterminate the sort of people
who do not fit into it.
Eugenics, of course, topples easily into racism. Engels himself wrote of
the “racial trash” – the groups who would necessarily be supplanted as scientific
socialism came into its own. Season this outlook with a sprinkling of
anti-capitalism and you often got Leftist anti-Semitism – something else we
have edited from our memory, but which once went without saying. “How, as a
socialist, can you not be an anti-Semite?” Hitler had asked his party members
Are contemporary Leftist critics of Israel secretly anti-Semitic? No,
not in the vast majority of cases. Are modern socialists inwardly yearning to
put global warming sceptics in prison camps? Nope. Do Keynesians want the whole
apparatus of corporatism, expressed by Mussolini as “everything in the state,
nothing outside the state”? Again, no. There are idiots who discredit every
cause, of course, but most people on the Left are sincere in their stated
commitment to human rights, personal dignity and pluralism.
My beef with many (not all) Leftists is a simpler one. By refusing to
return the compliment, by assuming a moral superiority, they make political
dialogue almost impossible. Using the soubriquet “Right-wing” to mean
“something undesirable” is a small but important example.
Next time you hear Leftists use the word fascist as a general insult,
gently point out the difference between what they like to imagine the NSDAP
stood for and what it actually proclaimed.