Nazism, Marxism: two peas, one pod, all Left.
“Conservative” and especially “liberal” have changed over time and have different meanings in the United States and Europe. Hayek himself, who had a more European view of conservatism, was wary of labels. He spurned both “conservative” and “libertarian,” and dedicated his most famous book “to the socialists of all parties.”
For precision, I refrain from using “conservative” or “liberal” unless through quotation and use “left” and “right” as generally accepted in modern America. The right consists of free-market capitalists, who think the individual is the primary political unit, believes in property rights, and are generally distrustful of government by unaccountable agencies and government solutions to social problems. They view family and civil institutions, such as church, as needed checks on state power.
These people don’t think government should force a business to provide employee birth control or think law should coerce bakers to make cakes against their conscience. They think the solution to bad speech is more speech, and the solution to gun violence is more guns. These people talk about freedom—the method of individual decisions. (The counterexample might be gay marriage but that is a positive right—“give me something”—instead of a negative right—“leave me alone.”)
The left believes the opposite. They distrust the excesses and inequality capitalism produces. They give primacy to group rights and identity. They believe factors like race, ethnicity, and sex compose the primary political unit. They don’t believe in strong property rights.
They believe it is the government’s responsibility to solve social problems. They call for public intervention to “equalize” disparities and render our social fabric more inclusive (as they define it). They believe the free market has failed to solve issues like campaign finance, income inequality, minimum wage, access to health care, and righting past injustices. These people talk about “democracy”—the method of collective decisions.
By these definitions, the Nazis were firmly on the left. National Socialism was a collectivist authoritarian movement run by “social justice warriors.” This brand of “justice” benefited only some based on immutable characteristics, which perfectly aligns with the modern brand. The Nazi ideal embraced identity politics based on the primacy of the people, or volk, and invoked state-based solutions for every possible problem. It was nation-based socialism—the nation being especially important to those who bled in the Great War.
But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it—or the above author’s, or even Hayek’s. You can get the skinny straight from the original horse’s mouth.
Yet the evidence the Nazis were leftists goes well beyond the views of this one scholar. Philosophically, Nazi doctrine fit well with the other strains of socialism ripping through Europe at the time. Hitler’s first “National Workers’ Party” meeting while he was still an Army corporal featured the speech “How and by What Means is Capitalism to be Eliminated?”
The Nazi charter published a year later and coauthored by Hitler is socialist in almost every aspect. It calls for “equality of rights for the German people”; the subjugation of the individual to the state; breaking of “rent slavery”; “confiscation of war profits”; the nationalization of industry; profit-sharing in heavy industry; large-scale social security; the “communalization of the great warehouses and their being leased at low costs to small firms”; the “free expropriation of land for the purpose of public utility”; the abolition of “materialistic” Roman Law; nationalizing education; nationalizing the army; state regulation of the press; and strong central power in the Reich. It was also racist and anti-immigrant.
Gee, the more things change, the more they really DO stay the same.
It wasn’t only theoretical. Hitler repeatedly praised Marx privately, stating he had “learned a great deal from Marxism.” The trouble with the Weimar Republic, he said, was that its politicians “had never even read Marx.” He also stated his differences with communists were that they were intellectual types passing out pamphlets, whereas “I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun.”
It wasn’t just privately that Hitler’s fealty for Marx surfaced. In “Mein Kampf,” he states that without his racial insights National Socialism “would really do nothing more than compete with Marxism on its own ground.” Nor did Hitler eschew this sentiment once reaching power. As late as 1941, with the war in bloom, he stated “basically National Socialism and Marxism are the same” in a speech published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Nazi propaganda minister and resident intellectual Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary that the Nazis would install “real socialism” after Russia’s defeat in the East. And Hitler favorite Albert Speer, the Nazi armaments minister whose memoir became an international bestseller, wrote that Hitler viewed Joseph Stalin as a kindred spirit, ensuring his prisoner of war son received good treatment, and even talked of keeping Stalin in power in a puppet government after Germany’s eventual triumph. His views on Great Britain’s Winston Churchill and the United States’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt were decidedly less kind.
If, as has been said, the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing us he didn’t exist, then it could equally be said that the greatest trick ever pulled by the devils of the Left was convincing the world that Naziism was somehow a Right-wing phenomenon. Although the pitiful handful of present-day Hitler wannabes might argue otherwise—I don’t know, I don’t care—it ain’t, and it never was.