Tuesday, September 26, 2017

No, Dinesh, the Nazis Weren't Socialist

As white supremacists have taken on ever more prominent roles in the Republican party over the last couple years, conservative commentators have had an increasingly difficult time distancing themselves from accusations of racism and even Nazism. Whereas they once distanced themselves from a candidate who was caught doing Nazi cosplay, today they barely show concern over an outright racist like Steve King. Instead they've resorted to increasingly ridiculous arguments that it's liberals who are the real racists. One particularly popular variant on social media, which recently got turned into a book by faux-academic and ex-con Dinesh D'souza, is that Nazis were actually socialists, and therefore anyone who supports leftwing policies like universal healthcare is really a Nazi too.

"Nazi," the argument goes, is short for the National Socialist German Worker's Party. Sounds pretty left wing, right? QED. Nevermind that Hitler's actual polices weren't remotely socialist, or that he had commissars summarily executed during Operation Barbarossa.

Sadly, most of the people who try to argue against this point aren't much better informed, and will usually just assert, "That's stupid and wrong. Nazis were right wing" and leave it at that. But because Nazism was such an incoherent pseudophilosophy, the actual answer is much more complex.

While the party had "socialist" in the name, the "national" part is the key word. Just as "virtual reality" isn't reality and a "tofu burger" isn't a hamburger, the modifier "national" changes the meaning of "socialist" completely. Traditional socialism claims that resources and the means of production should be controlled by the people, where "people" is understood to be the workers. But despite the inclusion of "Worker" in the full title of the party, the Nazis limited their concept of the people (the volk) to those of German blood. Jews, Roma, foreign nationals -- they didn't count. They were either intended to be excluded from the commonweal, or enslaved. "National Socialist" thus meant that the nation would be controlled by ethnic Germans for the good of ethnic Germans.

Now, this is how National Socialism was understood in the first years of the party, before Hitler became its driving force. Once Hitler took over, he introduced a further concept, the Fuehrerprinzip, the idea that there's no need for consulting the volk, because the Leader becomes the embodiment of the General Will. Through some never-explained magic, the Leader isn't really a person acting on his own whims and desires, but is an almost divine incarnation of the volk.

And Hitler's idea of how to run the country wasn't remotely socialist. He did demand strong state control over industry, but he did so by colluding with business owners, not by nationalizing factories or mines -- quite the opposite, in fact; industries already under state control were privatized. The Fuehrerprinzip was applied to industry, with factory owners operating as mini-Fuehrers who would look out for the well-being of their workers in the same way Hitler looked out for the well-being of all Germans.

That being said, the early Nazi movement wasn't monolithic. Hitlerism was the strain that gained control of the party, but there were other factions, including a genuinely socialist wing. (At least socialist as far as the volk were concerned; everyone else was still left hanging.) This wing of the party was led by Gregor Strasser and Ernst Roehm, and centered on the SA (the Stormtroopers or Brown Shirts). Prior to Hitler taking power, the Nazis relied on the SA for street fighting and other bits of political violence, and as such Hitler couldn't purge them from the party. However, once Hitler became Chancellor and he had control of the military and police, he no longer needed Roehm or Strasser. In June of 1934, Hitler ordered their murder, along with the murder of hundreds of other SA leaders in what became known as the Night of Long Knives. (Note: This isn't to say that Roehm and Strasser were good guys. They were just as antisemitic as any other Nazis, though they couched it in terms of evil Jewish bankers controlling the world and keeping the working man down.)

So the next time you here a right winger saying the Nazis were socialists, don't just say, "No they weren't," point out that Hitler murdered all the actual socialists in the party.