Right or left: why do some claim hitler is a leftist?

Symbol image with arrows in three directions

A conservative British MEP causes an uproar in the EU Parliament because he claims that National Socialism is basically a left-wing ideology. Outrage everywhere. But also consent. How does he come to such a statement and how is this to be classified? I try to give answers to this question in the following blog post.

The eclat in the EU Parliament was not the first on the subject. In right-wing discussion forums on Facebook, for example, this argument that Nazis are leftists is frequently used. This is nonsense in this abbreviation and in the context of meaning of being right and left in 2018. But it uses historical truths, but arbitrarily puts them into a different context of meaning. This provokes some and catches on with others. You can also call it disinformation.

National Socialists and leftist revolutionaries of the 20s and 30s

This is how the left-wing taz becomes popular with right-wingers. Of all people who think right-wing nationalist or right-wing extremist, people who otherwise like to cite BILD and Junge Freiheit as evidence, use a link to the taz from 2003 when they want to "prove" that National Socialism is a left-wing ideology. There Joachim Fest writes: "In the Italy of the twenties and thirties, the conventional class distinctions still existed, while Hitler, not unlike the socialists of all shades, was pushing for social equalization."A little further in the text he names the common ground of Trotskyists, Communists, Socialists and National Socialists of the 20s and 30s of the last century: They wanted to fundamentally change the existing system. And he also formulates the biggest difference of the National Socialists to the leftist groups: "…only that from now on one was allowed to be national, not a "traitor to the fatherland" of the Comintern." Jakob Augstein refers to Fest in a Spiegel column in December 2015 and is outraged: "The socialists were among the first to go to Hitler’s concentration camps. And then you expect them to be taken hostage with the Nazis in a "socialist" way?"

Both are historically correct. The Nazis wanted to abolish the Weimar Republic just as much as the Trotskyists and Communists did. This is not true of the Social Democrats. They had come to terms with the democracy of the Weimar Republic. And the left – including the social democrats – were among the first to be put into concentration camps and killed by the Nazis.

Also in December 2015, Jan Fleischauer, also in Der Spiegel, looks at the new German states when the AfD was already enjoying success there and concludes, "Around 20 percent of the people there vote for the Left Party, which promises a leveling of social otherness. According to the polls, another 16 percent are in favor of the AfD, which is campaigning against too much foreignness in the street scene. (…) The central promise is homogeneity, that is the word around which everything revolves here. One promises social homogeneity, the other cultural homogeneity. Against too much inequality are both."But can this be described as uniformly left-wing?? Probably hardly.

Left and right – revolutionaries and preservationists

The terms left and right originate from the French National Assembly at the end of the 18th century. Century. On the left of the speaker sat the revolutionaries who wanted to radically change the system. On the right sat the preservers (of monarchist structures). I think we can agree that most people can do little with this context of meaning of right and left in 2018, respectively., that it is simply not true in the year 2018. All parties in the German Bundestag want above all changes in the system. Now the AfD can be accused of wanting to change the system, i.e. transform democracy. But is that already left? The AfD itself would refuse to be called leftist.

This is not what the Tory MEP meant when he claimed in the EU Parliament that, after all, National Socialists were national socialists. At this point he refers to the same root word: socialist. Well: A term alone does not generate content. Noun is not necessarily omen. After all, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was no more democratic than the Democratic Republic of Congo is today. Chocolate bars are not healthy either, just because the advertising industry wants to make us believe it.

But Kamall is not stupid. The play on words provokes and reaches simpler minds. In fact, he refers to something else, namely the economic policy component.

Economy and society of the 20s and 30s

For this, a brief look at the economic-social realities of the 1920s: the monarchy had just been abolished, the aristocracy was still powerful. It was accompanied by the upper middle class, which had come to wealth and power through the industrial revolution. The upper middle classes and the aristocracy had the say. They determined. The simple workers had to take the crumbs that the rich and powerful threw at them. The trade union movement was in its infancy. The social insurance, introduced by the initiative of Otto von Bismarck and against the emerging socialism and communism in the 80s of the 19th century, had by far not the scope of benefits as we know it today.

We are thus moving in a time of great social inequality and a largely rightsless workforce, far removed from what we understand today by social market economy and welfare state. There were different social models that promised an improvement of living conditions, the Weimar Republic was only one of them, a young, not yet consolidated democracy that still had to prove itself, while unemployment and hardship were present everywhere. Communism (with various manifestations as socialism, Trotskyism, etc.) was the mainstay of the National Socialists.) was a different model of society and government, National Socialism a third, and the monarchy, i.e. the old regime that had just been abolished, a fourth. What the democrats, the socialist and communist currents and the National Socialists had in common was that they were against the monarchy. Moreover, there were great differences in the conception of what the respective regimes should look like.

The economic policy orientation of the National Socialists

In terms of economic policy, one cannot claim that Hitler was a communist or a socialist, as we know from the socialism and communism of the former Eastern bloc and other states. There was large-scale expropriation. Most property belonged to the state, which also made decisions about who had to produce what, when, and in what quantities. On the other hand, Hitler can’t be called a market-radical capitalist either, he directed and controlled too much state activity for that.

Nationalization of property did not take place under the Nazi regime. Expropriation was done for completely different reasons and for a different purpose: Jews and opponents of the system were robbed of their property, which was then given to party friends. Whether the recipients already belonged to the aristocracy and the upper middle class or rose to the upper middle class through the increase in property and power was relatively unimportant. Both happened in abundance.

Hitler and his regime ordered massive state investments and pushed for a Gleichschaltung of society. This can be called left-wing, but it does not have to be. For a long time, Hitler’s economic policy was considered Keynesian, but this is now doubted by economic historians. In 2007, Jorg Lichter wrote in the Handelsblatt: "New work proves: Not civilian job creation, but rearmament was the focus of Nazi policy from the very beginning. The elimination of unemployment was only a by-product of the preparation for war."

It can thus be said: the ideological ground on which the economic policy decisions of the National Socialists were based was neither particularly right-wing (radical market) nor left-wing (people’s property), but focused on another, from Hitler’s point of view, higher goal: the creation of a great German empire with the German as superman. He was obsessed with this.

Socio-political orientation of the National Socialists and left-wing groups

While the socialists, communists, Trotskyists and social democrats, i.e. the left milieus, sang the International and wanted to fraternize the workers of all countries, the National Socialists marched for the nation. They defined all those who were not nationalistic as traitors to the fatherland who deserved to die (i.e. all those who were left-wing). The nobility and the upper middle classes, on the other hand, were not opponents, but – if nationalistically minded – allies.

Not only that: the Nazis made use of monarchist traditions to enforce their ideology. They defined as German and valuable only those persons who descended exclusively from German blood and introduced Aryan passports. Jewish was – although Jewish is a religion, not a designation of origin and the people were also Germans – defined as non-German. In this way, the Nazis killed two birds with one stone: they presented the people with a culprit for the high unemployment and poverty in the form of people of Jewish descent, and they opened up fantastic opportunities to get hold of the assets, wealth and power of part of the upper middle classes, by means of which they furthered their war plans and significantly reduced the number of job seekers at the level of the workers by simply murdering people.

More power and money for workers – in very different ways

People like Kamall mean the economic policy and the equalization of a people, when they want to make leftists out of Nazis. But we have seen, this is not really true. Then you would have to call Otto von Bismarck a leftist, because he introduced the social security. In fact, he did this mainly to reassure the people and keep them from running to the left and overthrowing the empire.

The Nazis and the leftists of their time were fierce competitors. They promoted the same goal: more work and money for ordinary people, but with completely different models. That is why the communists, socialists and social democrats were among the first to be killed by the Nazis. They wanted to eliminate the competition.

People like Kamall provoke intentionally. You deliberately tear the concepts of right and left out of their historical context and throw them disinformingly into today’s world. Yet the terms left and right have undergone several changes in meaning since the 1920s and 1930s.

Word Meaning Left and Right – Origins and Change

As mentioned, the origin of the term right and left comes from the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly. This was linked to a stance pro or contra change of the system.

The origins of socialism and communism have a strong economic component. They wanted to give the workers more power, rights and ownership of the means of production. So left is something like more state, more regulation, more redistribution, right is more market, more inequality, less regulation.

The other important component of left ideologies is the idea of equality of all people regardless of their origin or religion (religion was rather rejected as a fraud of the people anyway). It is not for nothing that the Internationale was the song of the workers’ movement worldwide and that it says: Workers of all countries unite. Right-wing ideologies, on the other hand, emphasize the difference of people and the national. They value their own origin, religion, ethnicity, nation as stronger, better and more valuable than foreign nations, religions and peoples.

In 2018 we live in a different world than 90 years ago. Democracy is widely accepted as a form of government. Only very few people in Germany reject it and want to establish a different regime. Regime opponents can be found in all extremist movements, but even there not all want to abolish democracy, some only want major changes within democratic structures. This was different in the 20’s of the last century.

The same applies to capitalism as a fundamental form of economy. Not even the Left in the Bundestag or globalization critics want to go back to a nationalized planned economy. The conflicts being fought today are more about limiting the excesses of capitalism, (re)containing it and civilizing it. And vice versa, the FDP does not want to completely abolish the welfare state, i.e. the socialist elements in our social market economy, but to reduce them and give entrepreneurs more freedom to make decisions. The social market economy, as advocated by the founders of the Federal Republic of Germany after the 2. The model that was introduced after World War II is one that attempts to unite the market and the state, the individual and the community of solidarity on the basis of democratic principles.

Word meaning Nazi, right-wing, right-wing nationalist, right-wing extremist 2018

When we speak of Nazis, neo-Nazis, right-wingers, right-wing nationalists and right-wing extremists in everyday language today, we almost always mean the socio-political level. While our Basic Law stipulates that all people are equal in dignity and equal in right regardless of their religion, ethnicity, origin or gender, right-wing groups reject this to varying degrees. Emphasizing race, religion, nation, and implying that one’s own is better than others. And these racist ideas based on the ideology of the National Socialists are not a privilege of the AfD or NPD. Thilo Sarrazin is proof of this, who perhaps only remains with the SPD out of spite, which does not manage to exclude him. But there are also racist, nationalist and anti-Semitic groups and attitudes in the migrant milieus.

So the attribution of being right and being left today does not focus on the competition of monarchy and democracy. There is an economic-political connotation when it comes to criticism of globalization or basic income, but today this is usually described not as right-wing and left-wing, but as capitalist and anti-capitalist.

The attribution right and left today focuses almost exclusively on the nationalist and racist worldview and the rejection of ethnic and religious diversity in a global society.

If one looks up the meaning of the term Nazi in dictionaries today, this is exactly what is reflected. Both the digital dictionary of the German language and Openthesaurus suggest the same synonyms for Nazi, namely: fascist, national socialist, right-wing extremist, right-wing radical, brown (ugs.), brown shirt (ugs.), fascist (ugs.), right-wingers (ugs.). For the etymology of the term Nazi I have written a separate blog post.


So if in the future someone claims again that National Socialists are actually socialists, i.e. left-wing, then you can justifiably argue: The word socialism is in both of them, but that alone is worth nothing. Although both milieus at the time wanted a radical change in the prevailing conditions in the Weimar Republic. Their ideas about what should be different, however, were very different, as history then later showed.

In contrast to National Socialists, Socialists accepted people as equal in value, while the Nazis emphasized race and the German as particularly valuable and summarily defined people of Jewish origin as non-German, in order to get their money or to be able to make money. Reduce unemployment in a murderous way.

In 2018, when we talk about Nazis, neo-Nazis, right-wingers, right-wing nationalists or right-wing extremists, we mean the people who reject other people just because they have a different skin color, origin or religion. There are not only German Nazis. It also exists in Greece, Turkey, the USA and elsewhere. Nazis are people who consider their race and nation to be better than others, want to isolate themselves and preferably only want pure-blood sex, at least if it is to produce offspring.

Addendum: This audio clip by Freunde der Zeit with journalist Christian Fuchs deals with the network of the new right wing.

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