Monday, June 08, 2015
A new denial that Hitler was a socialist
Tim Stanley is an historian so his denial that Hitler was a socialist is not the sheer ignorance that one usually encounters. The clue to his skepticism lies however early in his article. He says of Hitler: "He may well have been anticapitalist, but that does not necessarily mean that his concept of socialism sits within the Marxist tradition".
That sentence is very curious indeed. How could Hitler be anticapitalist and NOT be socialist? "Anticapitalist" and "socialist" are pretty near synonyms. (Yes. I know about Bismarck. That's another story and a fascinating one but I have written on that elsewhere -- e.g. here). But by the time we get to the end of the sentence we see what is going on. Stanley's Leftist background is showing. Like many academic Leftists, socialism is to Stanley synonymous with Marxism.
So Leftist leaders like Tony Blair are not socialists? Blair is certainly no Marxist but he was one of the most electorally successful leaders the British Labour party has had. So Stanley is saying only that Hitler is not a Marxist. But who would disagree with that? Hitler hated Bolshevism.
But some of the great hates in life stem from sibling rivalry and anybody who has spent much time talking to Leftists will know how much sibling rivalry there is among them. It is very common on the Left -- witness the icepick in the head that Trotsky got courtesy of Stalin. Very few of the old Bolsheviks lived for long after the revolution, in fact.
And Lenin was just as bad as Stalin. In a 1920 pamphlet you find a contempt for some of his fellow Leftists that is probably greater than anything he ever wrote about the Tsar. It is in describing his fellow revolutionaries (Kautsky and others) that Lenin spoke swingeingly of "the full depth of their stupidity, pedantry, baseness and betrayal of working-class interests". But Leftism is founded on hate so such hate for fellow Leftists is no surprise.
So Stanley starts out on a very false footing.
Stanley's other objections to the view of Hitler as a socialist boil down to saying that Hitler was hypocritical. He said one thing to intimates and different things in public. But surely that just makes him a politician? He was one. He fought many elections. To judge any political figure by what they do in private is rather hilarious in fact. Fidel Castro surely has earned his stripes as a socialist but he lives the privileged and luxurious of the Hispanic grandee that he is. Tito was similar. Remember him?
I myself make no judgment about what Hitler really believed. As far as one can tell, it was a bit of a hodge-podge, though his antisemitism was probably heartfelt. Even his antisemitism was Leftist in his days, however. The founder of Germany's mainstream Leftist party, August Bebel, famously noted that "Antisemitismus ist der Sozialismus des blöden Mannes" -- generally translated as "Antisemitism is the socialism of fools". Antisemitism was in other words very common among pre-war socialists. And Lenin himself alluded 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." He wanted class-war and saw antisemitism among his fellow Leftists as a distraction from that.
So what is of interest is surely not what Hitler believed in his heart of hearts but rather what he preached to the German public. What was his appeal? How did he campaign? What did he promise in his rise to power?
And there is no doubt about that. Perhaps the most amazing parallel between Hitler and the postwar Left is that for much of the 30s Hitler was actually something of a peacenik. I am putting up below a picture of a Nazi propaganda poster of the 1930s that you won't believe unless you are aware of how readily all Leftists preach one thing and do another. It reads "Mit Hitler gegen den Ruestungswahnsinn der Welt".
And what does that mean? It means "With Hitler against the armaments madness of the world". "Ruestung" could more precisely be translated as "military preparations" but "armaments" is a bit more idiomatic in English.
And how about the poster below? It would be from the March 5, 1933 election when Hitler had become Chancellor but Marshall Hindenburg was still President:
Translated, the poster reads: "The Marshall and the corporal fight alongside us for peace and equal rights"
Can you get a more Leftist slogan than that? "Peace and equal rights"? Modern-day Leftists sometimes try to dismiss Hitler's socialism as something from his early days that he later outgrew. But when this poster was promulgated he was already Reichskanzler (Prime Minister) so it was far from early days.
We can all have our own views about what Hitler actually believed but he campaigned and gained power as a democratic Leftist. The March 5, 1933 election was the last really democratic election prewar Germany had and, in it, Hitler's appeal was Leftist.
There are more such election posters here
Stanley also makes the undoubtedly correct point that Hitler was a nationalist. Since "Nazi" is a German abbreviation of "National Socialist" that is no news. But can you be both a nationalist and a socialist? Hitler showed that you can be. But he was not original in that. Napoleon was too. And who was it who said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country"? It was Pericles actually, but Democrat hero JFK recycled it -- JR
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).