The Nazis were leftists. This statement is blasphemy to the academic-media complex, since everyone knows the Nazis were degenerate right-wingers fueled by toxic capitalism and racism. But evidence Adolf Hitler’s gang were men of the left, while debatable, is compelling.
The dispute on Nazi origins resurfaced through the confluence of brawling alt-right and antifa fringe movements and recent alternative histories by Dinesh D’Souza and others. The vitriol and lack of candor it produces from supposedly fact-driven academics and media is disturbing, if unsurprising. They stifle dissent on touchy subjects to maintain their narrative and enforce cultural hegemony.
However uncomfortable to opinion shapers, alternative views of the Third Reich exist and were written by the finest minds of their time. Opinions from the period perhaps carry more weight because they are unburdened by the aftermath of the uniquely heinous Nazi crimes.
“The Road to Serfdom,” by F. A. Hayek, is one such tract. Published in 1944, it remains a classic for young people on the political right discovering their intellectual roots. A sort of academic “1984,” it warns of socialism’s tendency toward planned states and totalitarianism.
One aspect of the book can shock the conscience. Hayek describes Nazism as a “genuine socialist movement” and thus left-wing by modern American standards. Indeed, the Austrian-born Hayek wrote the book from his essay, “Nazi-Socialism,” which countered prevailing opinion at the London School of Economics, where he taught. British elites regarded Nazism as a virulent capitalist reaction against enlightened socialism—a view that persists today.
The shock comes from academic and cultural orthodoxy on National Socialism. From the moment they enter the political fray, young right-wingers are told, “You own the Nazis.” At best, the left concedes it owns communism. This comforts a little, because even if far higher in body count, communism supposedly rebukes the scourge of racism. But it’s all a lie.
Socialists Occur in All Parties
This debate incurs the instant problem of ideological labels. They are malleable and messy, and partisans constantly distort them. They also change over time. President Trump’s particular political brand muddies the scene further, in rhetoric if less in policy.
“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.
These Definitions Put Nazis Firmly on the Left
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.
As Hayek stated in 1933, the year the Nazis took power: “[I]t is more than probable that the real meaning of the German revolution is that the long dreaded expansion of communism into the heart of Europe has taken place but is not recognized because the fundamental similarity of methods and ideas is hidden by the difference in phraseology and the privileged groups.”
Nazism and socialism competed with the Enlightenment-based individualism of John Locke, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, and others who profoundly influenced the American founding and define the modern American right at its best. These thinkers fit easily with Hayek’s Austrian School of Economics, which opposed both the imperialist German Historical School and the Marxists.
Hayek knew what he was talking about. He was a 20th-century intellectual giant. His collected works include 19 books; he won the Nobel Prize in economics and Presidential Medal of Freedom, and held the honor of Maggie Thatcher’s “favorite intellectual guru.”
But Hayek is only one man. The intelligentsia fiercely attacked him as reactionary throughout his life. Perhaps he was wrong.
Hayek’s Definitely Not the Only One
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.
In some areas, the Nazis followed their charter faithfully. They treated children as property of the state from the earliest age and indoctrinated them at government schools and clubs. The individual had limited rights outside the volk. German lives were for the betterment of the people and state. One’s group identity determined his rights and social hierarchy.
No checks on state power existed. The cross played no role compared to the swastika. Hitler’s musings on the church, while at times ambiguous, were mostly negative. “Once I have settled my other problems,” he occasionally declared, “I’ll have my reckoning with the church. I’ll have it reeling on the ropes.”
When told of Schutzstaffel (SS) Chief Heinrich Himmler’s flirtation with the occult, Hitler fumed: “What nonsense! Here we have at last reached an age that has left all mysticism behind it, and now he wants to start that all over again. We might just as well have stayed with the church. At least it had tradition. To think that I may some day be turned into an SS saint! Can you imagine it? I would turn over in my grave…”
These attitudes shouldn’t be surprising given that the socialist thinkers who provided the theoretical basis for Nazism abhorred English “commercialism” and “comfort.” As Hayek described, “From 1914 onward there arose from the ranks of Marxist socialism one teacher after another who led, not the conservatives and reactionaries, but the hardworking laborer and idealist youth into the National Socialist fold.” These “teachers” included professor Werner Sombart, professor Johan Plenge, socialist politician Paul Lensch, and intellectuals Oswald Spengler and Arthur Moeller van den Bruck.
Also, Adolf Hitler Loved Karl Marx
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.
Nazi and Communist Hatred of Each Other Was Brotherly
Despite this, there’s a persistent claim that Nazis and communists hated each other, and mention that the Nazis persecuted socialists and oppressed trade unions. These things are true, but prove little. The camps’ hatred stemmed from familiarity. It was internecine, the nastiest kind.
The Nazis and communists were not only in a struggle for street-war supremacy, but also recruits. These recruits were easily turned, because both sides were fighting for the same men. Hayek recalls
the relative ease with which a young communist could be converted into a Nazi or vice versa was generally known in Germany, best of all to the propagandists of the two parties. Many a University teacher during the 1930s has seen English or American students return from the Continent uncertain whether they were communists or Nazis and certain they hated Western liberal civilization. . . . To both, the real enemy, the man with whom they had nothing in common and whom they could not hope to convince is the liberal of the old type.
One way Nazi propagandists exploited this ideological match was the communist red. They used the color on purpose. As Hitler states in “Mein Kampf,” “We chose red for out posters [and flag] after particular and careful deliberation . . . so as to arouse [potential communist recruits’] attention and tempt them to come to our meetings.” And Stalinist Russia didn’t exactly promote trade unions.
Nazi leadership and recruiters weren’t the only ones to see similarities between themselves and communists. George Orwell remarked, “Internally, Germany has a good deal in common with a socialist state.” Max Eastman, an old friend of Vladimir Lenin, described Stalin’s brand of communism as “super fascist.”
After several years on the continent, British writer F.A. Voight concluded, “Marxism has led to Fascism and National Socialism because in all essentials it is Fascism and National Socialism.” Peter Drucker, author of the acclaimed book, “The End of Economic Man,” stated, “The complete collapse of the belief in the attainability of freedom and equality through Marxism has forced Russia to travel the same road toward a totalitarian, purely negative, non-economic society of unfreedom and inequality which Germany has been following.”
Today’s Antifa and Alt-Right Are Similar
We see parallels today. Antifa and the alt-right are both collectivist groups vying for supremacy among “their” people. Although there likely won’t be much personnel crossover, in policy their differences shrink.
The term “alt-right” denotes distinctness from the American right. Richard Spencer, the coiner of that term, speaks like a left-wing progressive, advocating a white utopia supplied through government: “No individual has a right outside of a collective community.” Another alt-right figure, Jason Kessler, is a Barack Obama voter and “Occupy” participant.
Critics argue the Nazis didn’t fulfill all their socialist goals after 1933. Some industrialists supported Hitler’s rise. Others, who saw no other choice, eventually acquiesced. They were early adopters of the Washington adage, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Also, the Nazi Party’s foremost left—the SA brownshirts led by Hitler rival Ernst Rohm—were eliminated in the Blood Purge of June 30, 1934. But none of this changes Nazi attitudes toward these interlopers.
We can find clues to Hitler’s practical stance on economic questions from the writings of his confidant, Otto Wagener. In texts only translated in the 1980s, Wagener explains that Hitler saw the Russian experiment as right in spirit and wrong in execution. Removing production from the industrial class had spewed unnecessary blood. Industrialists could be controlled and used without slowing the economy or impeding social progress. His task was to convert socialists without killing the entrepreneur and managerial classes.
Other Reasons Hitler Didn’t Pursue Socialism Even More
Other practical reasons exist. Hitler needed the industrialists. He undoubtedly had world domination in mind by the time he took power, which would require utmost industrial might. He also had a failing economy to revive, and removing production ownership would have likely been disastrous.
Hitler was also disdainful of bureaucrats, the occupation of his hated father. Perhaps most importantly, state control of economics just wasn’t that important to him. Rearming, purifying the volk, indoctrinating children, teaching schoolboys to throw grenades, and building infrastructure to someday invade neighbors were Hitler’s priorities. Nazism was a “middle class” socialism that tolerated private enterprise as long as it paid homage and stayed in its lane.
This lack of overt hostility didn’t mean the Nazis welcomed the bourgeoisie or the industrialists. Hitler described the bourgeoisie as “worthless for any noble human endeavor, capable of any error of judgment, failure of nerve and moral corruption.” In 1931, as the Nazis gained power in elections, Goebbels wrote an editorial warning about these newcomer “Septemberlings,” the bourgeoisie intellectuals who believed they could wrest the party what from they considered the “demagogue” old guard.
Distrust of these outsiders also continued through the Nazi reign. At the beginning of Nazi control, some party members entered businesses, declared themselves in charge, and gave themselves large salaries and other perks (a practice quickly stopped). As armaments minister, Speer had an up-close view of German industry and party tension.
Early in the war, Hitler had assured him he could run his department without regard to party membership, as it was “well known” the industrial technical class did not affiliate with the party. When he defended industry as not “knowingly lying to us, stealing from us, or otherwise trying to damage our war economy,” an icy reception from party members followed.
When All Else Fails, Cry Racism
Despite the thoroughly collectivist Nazi ideology, one aspect settles the left-right debate for American leftists: racism. Leftists adamantly believe the right swims in racism. They discover racial dog whistles and grievances in everything from hotel toiletries to eclipses. Now, the Nazis were undoubtedly racists. But in context of socialist movements of their day, racism was the norm; there were no exceptions.
As shown by George Watson, author of “The Lost Literature of Socialism,” racism and socialism also swum together. Marx may have extolled the workers of the world to unite, but that didn’t mean he thought all races could join. This view was codified in Friedrich Engels’ essay, “The Hungarian Struggle,” published in the January-February 1849 issue of Marx’s journal, Neue Rheinische Zeitung.
According to Watson, “The Marxist theory of history required and demanded genocide for reasons implicit in its claim that feudalism was already giving place to capitalism, which must in its turn be superseded by socialism. Entire races would be left behind after a workers’ revolution, feudal remnants in a socialist age; and since they could not advance two steps at a time, they would have to be killed.” According to Engels, they were “racial trash.” Marx himself, sounding every bit the Hitler mentor in 1853, wrote, “The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way.”
Racism Is Endemic in Socialism’s Roots
This racial view was mainstream socialist thinking through the Second World War. It manifested in eugenics, a left-wing idea popular on both sides of the Atlantic, with proponents such as Planned Parenthood founder Margret Sanger. It ended finally in the Holocaust, which was eugenics writ large in the most evil way. Watson states, “The idea of ethnic cleansing was orthodox socialism for a century and more.”
English socialist intellectual Beatrice Webb lamented that British visitors in Ukraine had been allowed to view a passing cattle car full of starving subversives. “The English,” she said, “are always so sentimental” about such matters. This makes sense when one views socialism as defending the rights of one group—the citizens of basically homogeneous countries.
According to Watson, “It is notable that no German socialist in the 1930s or earlier ever sought to deny Hitler’s right to call himself a socialist on grounds of racial policy. In an age when the socialist tradition of genocide was familiar, that would have sounded merely absurd.” In America and England as well, the left’s ascendency during the first progressive movement was full of racists, including Woodrow Wilson, Sanger, and writers H.G. Wells and Jack London.
We see more recent examples of left racism and ethnic cleansing in unusual places. Leftist hero Che Guevara wrote, in his 1952 memoir, “The Negro is indolent and lazy and spends his money on frivolities, whereas the European is forward-looking, organized and intelligent.” Except for “quiet manner,” find the difference between Hitler and avowed Marxist Pol Pot upon the latter’s 1998 death in The New York Times’ obituary:
Pol Pot conducted a rule of terror that led to the deaths of nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s seven million people, by the most widely accepted estimates, through execution, torture, starvation and disease.
His smiling face and quiet manner belied his brutality. He and his inner circle of revolutionaries adopted a Communism based on Maoism and Stalinism, then carried it to extremes: They and their Khmer Rouge movement tore apart Cambodia in an attempt to ‘purify’ the country’s agrarian society and turn people into revolutionary worker-peasants.
Nor was anti-Semitism a right-wing malady. Stalin was anti-Semitic, as was Marx, despite his Jewish heritage. Anti-Semitism is still quite alive on the left, with figures like Linda Sarsour, Louis Farrakhan, and Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom.
Rabid Nationalism Is Also a Socialist Hallmark
Related to the racist claim is that Nazis’ nationalism excludes them from the left. But arguably the most nationalist countries today are Cuba, China, North Korea, and Venezuela. All are militarized, and nobody considers them right-wing. Even Stalin ruled as a nationalist.
A newer claim from the professoriate says because Churchill ran on nationalizing programs in 1945 when Labour’s Clement Atlee beat him, the Nazis weren’t actually leftists. This completely misunderstands wartime Britain. By 1945, Britain had been mobilized for six years.
As author Bruce Caldwell states, “The common sacrifices that the war necessitated bred a feeling that all should share more equally in the reconstruction to come. Universal medical provision was itself virtually a fact of life during the first years of the war, certainly for anyone injured by aerial bombing or whose work was tied to the war effort—and whose work was not in way or another?”
This sentiment spurred Downing Street to undertake a report on the post-war Britain’s welfare state. The so-called Beveridge Report included proposals for family allowance, comprehensive social insurance, universal health care, and requirement for full employment. It debuted in 1942 and sold 500,000 copies! Even Churchill wasn’t going to stem that tide. In fact, no one disturbed the consensus until Thatcher burst on the scene in the mid-1970s.
Not Liking the Truth Doesn’t Make It False
The debate on Nazi origins has surfaced mainly because right-leaning authors like D’Souza have forced the issue. Historians’ reaction has been swift. For obvious reasons, the left hates this debate. The “Nazi” slur is as old as the Nazis themselves. People who see themselves morally superior based in part on racial attitudes don’t like examining the odious racial history of their intellectual forebears.
But the left’s umbrage doesn’t mean they’re right, and neither does their ability to pile on dissenters through cultural and media hegemony. In fact, it might mean the opposite. In 1981, 364 preeminent British economists wrote in disgust at Thatcher’s economic proposals. It read in part, “There is no basis in economic theory or supporting evidence for the Government’s belief(s) . . . [P]resent politics will deepen the depression, erode the industrial base of our economy and threaten its social and political stability.”
In the long run, to paraphrase the famous economist John Maynard Keynes, all these academics died, and no one remembers them. The more vehemently the left, particularly academics, argue their dissociation with the Nazis, the more it becomes clear they protest “too much.” Indeed, the failure here is as much one of academic prejudice as any willful wish to avoid truth.
Anyone interested in this question shouldn’t take my word. But neither should he or she listen uncritically to leftist historians with a vested interest in their views. Interested readers should draw their own conclusions from current scholars and those of the time not so burdened by the place Nazis occupy in the American psyche. If you are on the right, you may realize you’ve been carrying an excruciating intellectual cross that isn’t yours.