Recently, I was having an exchange on the subject of Hitler’s political disposition with one of my liberal friends on Facebook. As is usually the case, when arguing with lefties, instead of an exchange of ideas, I was pointed to this article as evidence that she was right.
The article is titled: “Adolph Hitler Was Not a Socialist.” and is written by Jane Coaston, who writes for the notoriously far left-wing online website Vox that masquerades as a “news” website. I was obviously skeptical.
As I read the article, it appeared to be a well-written article that, in my opinion, simply missed the mark. Coaston did a good job setting up the piece in her summarization of Hitler and his rise to power, however, her explanation of the quotes she used to make her overall point was predictably left-leaning,
Coaston’s beautifully worded, but quasi-factual, article aimed at proving that Hitler was not a socialist. Her article utilizes quotes, taken out of context, from before and after he rose to power with little time-line continuity. The article was obviously written with the intent to prove her ideological view of Hitler, not to let the facts bear the truth. I will set the record straight.
So, Was Hitler a socialist?
The first thing you have to know about Hitler is, he was, above all else, a maniacal despot seeking power. His political theories changed multiple times before he found one that would usher him into power. Each and every time Hitler’s political theories changed, it was a direct response to another leader of a competing party in an attempt to out-maneuver that opponent. Taking a single quote from early Hitler, mid-Hitler, or late-Hitler to form a static view of him will grossly mischaracterize him.
Coaston: Calling Nazis Socialist is Laughable.
“From January 30, 1933, to May 2, 1945, Germany was under the control of the National Socialist German Workers Party (in German, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei — Nazi for short). Founded in 1920, the Nazi Party steadily gained power within German electoral politics, leading to then-President Paul von Hindenberg appointing Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany in 1933.
But one of their core assumptions — “Nazis were socialists” — has become one of the biggest memes within a swath of the American Right. And it is woefully, almost hilariously incorrect.
Nazism arose in a very specific — and very German — political environment. To begin with, Germany had a long history of socialist and Marxist political organizing even before the First World War, which launched in 1914. (So no, Rep. Brooks, the Nazi Party was not the “socialist” party of Germany — that would have been the Social Democratic Party, or perhaps the Communist Party of Germany.)”
The literal name of the Nazi party was “National Socialist German Workers’ Party,” but, what’s in a name, right? Later in the piece, Coaston makes the distinction between socialism then and socialism now: “Whatever interest Hitler had in socialism was not based on an understanding of socialism that we might have today”
Referring to groups as “right-wing” or “left-wing,” while trying to draw a parallel to our understanding of these words today is, at best, misleading. Right-wing back in the early years, after the Versailles Treaty, simply meant that you were NOT for the puppet government or NOT for the Communist Party.
So, to be clear, any person who opposed the puppet government set up by the Treaty of Versailles, the Weimar Republic, was considered “right wing.” The Weimar Republic government wasn’t widely accepted by Germans, many saw the government officials as traitors, which gave rise to thirty political parties.
In order to determine if Hitler was a Socialist, or not, we must focus only on his actions and ideas and not on the labels of the parties at the time. Both “socialist” and “right-wing” labels are blurred by our understanding of those words in this time.
Whatever interest Hitler had in socialism was not based on an understanding of socialism that we might have today — a movement that would supplant capitalism in which the working class would seize power over the state and the means of production.
He repeatedly pushed back efforts by economically left-leaning elements of the party to enact socialist reforms, saying in a 1926 conference in Bamberg (organized by Nazi Party leaders over the very question of the party’s ideological underpinnings) that any effort to take the homes and estates of German princes would move the party toward communism and that he would never do anything to assist “communist-inspired movements.”
He prohibited the formation of Nazi trade unions, and by 1929 he outright rejected any efforts by Nazis who argued in favor of socialistic ideas or projects in their entirety.
Above, Coaston jumps all over the place with references to interpreted quotes from 1926, 1929 and leaves out the most important date that pertains to her main point about Hitler dissolving Trade Unions in 1933.
What you need to know to put this in context is that: Hitler hated the communists, not for ideological reasons, but for political reasons. The Communist Party was the greatest impediment to the rise of the Nazi Party.
In the Bamberg Conference, Hitler did not renounce socialism, his exact words were: “I will not allow the party to go in the direction of undiluted socialist principles.” The operative word being “undiluted.”
I’m not sure what she is inferring when she mentions Hitler’s opposition to the expropriation of the citizen’s private property. Is she saying that because Hitler was opposed to the nationalization of people’s homes and estates, that he could not possibly be socialist? That would imply that socialists DO want to seize the private property of the citizens, right? Many modern socialists would disagree with this assertion.
Regardless, Hitler’s opposition to expropriation of people’s private property was not a political ideology, it was a direct blow to Stasser, who ran the Northern branch of the party. Hitler knew that Strasser, who was his biggest competition for power, favored communism over socialism. So, in a two-hour speech, Hitler took him out by stating that he would never push the party along the road of communism and that he could not tolerate anything that would help “communist-inspired movements”.
As for the worker’s unions, Hitler did, as Coaston states above, indeed prohibit the formation of Nazi trade unions after he came to power in 1933. This is because the Nazi Party lacked support amongst the workers in these unions that were formed by the previous government. These members tended to vote for the Communist Party or the Social Democratic Party, which were competing parties with the Nazi Party, aka the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
He then replaced the old trade unions with three union organizations, with leaders who were loyal to him.
- The Labour Front (DAF) – This was a Nazi organization that replaced trade unions, which were banned. It set wages and dictated working conditions.
- Strength through Joy (KdF) – The purpose of the KdF was to support the Führer and thank him and to keep everyone happy after abolishing the trade unions.
- The beauty of Labour – The job of this organization was to help Germans see that work was good and that everyone who could work should. It also encouraged factory owners to improve conditions for workers.
After the creation of these organizations, there was no need for the traditional trade unions that could possibly organize against the Nazi party. Each of these new organizations imposed direct government interventions and controls on employment, capital, and industrial production. This type of control over the economy can ONLY be described as Socialism, at the very least “Democratic Socialism.”
Again, Hitler was a maniacal despot seeking power. Almost everything Hitler did was done in an attempt to gain power and to defeat his political foes. His political philosophy was second to that in every demonstrable way.
She continues …
Joseph Goebbels, who would eventually become Reich Minister of Propaganda once the Nazi Party seized control of Germany, wrote in his diary about Hitler’s rejection of socialism at that 1926 meeting, “I feel as if someone had knocked me on the head … my heart aches so much. … A horrible night! Surely one of the greatest disappointments of my life.”Rather, Hitler viewed socialism as a political organizing mechanism for the German people more broadly: a way of creating a “people’s community” — the volksgemeinschaft — that would bring everyday Germans (and businesspeople) together not based on their class but on their race and ethnicity.
Thus, he would use the unifying aspects of “National Socialism” to get everyday Germans on board with the Nazi program while simultaneously negotiating with powerful businesses and the Junkers, industrialists and nobility, who would ultimately help Hitler gain total power over the German state.
I’m not sure if Coaston is trying to purposely mislead the readers, or if she failed to grasp the context of the meeting in Bamberg Conference. I’ll try to explain in as few words as I can. The purpose of the Bamberg conference was to get the northern and southern chapters of the party to unite. The party meeting was not called to make a decision on socialism, but as a way to unify the north and the south.
Hitler, who was not a leader for either group at the time, was an up and coming star in the party that both sides were courting. He was of two minds on the direction that he would take. However, he knew which ever side he landed on would be his for the taking.
The North believed that socialism had to be achieved FIRST to establish nationalism. The South believed that the WORKER had to be won over to the nationalism idea directly. Both sides were, at the very least, socialist in their political ideology.
What Hitler wanted most was power. What Goebbels wanted most was to unite Hitler with the Strasser faction of the North. But Hitler’s Bamberg speech was a tactical maneuver where Hitler sidelined the Strasser faction. Goebbels’ quotes of woe above were not because Hitler had “rejected” socialism, it was because he failed to unite the two people that he idolized within the party, Strasser, and Hitler.
Goebbels eventually joined Hitler opposing the communistic leaning branch of the party. Both still believed in governmental controls on the industry through socialistic design. Later in 1929, after the crash of Wall Street, Hitler seemingly moved right to embrace conservative industrialist, but this was because the Nazi party was broke and needed capital. Not as Coaston would have you to believe, for political-ideological reasons. Remember, it was all about power for Hitler, at any cost.
What Coaston Does Next is Beyond Deceptive …
Coaston skips forward her argument for Hitler not being a socialist to a debate that featured Hitler vs Strasser, on May 21st and 22nd 1930. She supports her argument with cherry-picked paragraphs, taken out of context, that could possibly lead someone to believe that Hitler was less-socialist than I am implying.
The First Misleading Quote That She Uses as Proof …
“Your socialism is Marxism pure and simple. You see, the great mass of workers only wants bread and circuses. Ideas are not accessible to them and we cannot hope to win them over. We attach ourselves to the fringe, the race of lords, which did not grow through a miserabilist doctrine and knows by the virtue of its own character that it is called to rule, and rule without weakness over the masses of beings.”
Here’s How That Quote Began:
Mister Hitler rejected this opinion very quickly: “Unlike people such as the wealthy Count Reventlow, I am socialist. I started as a simple worker, and today still, I do not allow my chauffeur to receive another meal than me.”
The Next Misleading Quote That She Uses:
“Our great heads of industry are not concerned with the accumulation of wealth and the good life, rather they are concerned with responsibility and power. They have acquired this right by natural selection: they are members of the higher race. But you would surround them with a council of incompetents, who have no notion of anything. No economic leader can accept that.”
This Quote Begins With Hitler Saying:
“Hitler: “What you call socialism is a purely Marxist vision. The system that you erect is academic work, it doesn’t correspond to the reality of life. In this sense, there is no capitalist system.”
The Context that Coaston purposely fails to mention is that this debate was between a socialist, Hitler, and a Marxist, Strasser. The entire debate is an argument that Hitler wants governmental controls on private industry, and Strasser wants total control. He closes this particular argument with:
National Socialism would mean little if it was limited to Germany alone and did not seal the domination of the world by the white race for 1000 or 2000 years.
Coaston’s Summation of the Out of Context Quotes:
Both Otto Strasser and his brother Gregor paid the price for challenging Hitler and advocating for socialism within the Nazi party. Gregor was murdered during the Night of Long Knives in 1934, a mass purge of the left wing of the Nazi Party in which between 85 and 200 people were killed as part of an effort, in Hitler’s words, to prevent a “socialist revolution.” Otto Strasser fled Germany, ultimately seeking refuge in Canada.
Nazism wasn’t a socialist project. Nazism was a rejection of the basic tenets of socialism entirely, in favor of a state built on race and racial classifications.
When Hitler says to prevent “a socialist revolution,” he was referring to the “Socialist Party,” more specifically the SA aka “Brown Shirts” that helped him come to power by intimidation and violence. (Think Antifa)
The SA (Sturmabteilung) was Hitler’s private army. On 2 January 1931 Schleicher changed the Defense Ministry’s rules to allow National Socialists to serve in military depots and arsenals, (the SA) though not as officers, combat troops or sailors. Before 1931, members of the military had been strictly forbidden to join any political parties.
So, Hitler’s paranoia wasn’t because he was afraid of a “socialist revolution,” as Coaston would have you believe. He was worried that Kurt von Schleicher, a former chancellor of Germany, had infiltrated the SA, his private army that was loyal to him alone and was planning a coup to take power from him.
Again, it’s always about the power with Hitler, not political ideology. The night of long knives was a consolidation of power where Hitler wiped out the SA and eventually had them brought into the SS, his uber-loyal army.
In all, Coaston quotes 5 different paragraphs from the famous debate between Strausser and Hitler in an attempt to prove that Hitler was anti-socialist. There are seventy-six paragraphs in the text on this two-day debate, she chose five to use as proof. Each paragraph has been carefully edited to prove her point, not the truth. She conveniently left this one out, I’ll let this quote stand on its own.
Hitler: “You hide your ineptitude under pious discourse. In reality, you pretend to give to each member of the party the right to decide the idea, and even to decide if the Führer is faithful to the idea or not. But democracy has no place in our ranks. With us, the Führer and the idea are one, and each member of the party must do what the Führer, who is the embodiment of the idea and the only one who knows the ultimate goal, commands.”
In closing, there are many excuses the left will use to deflect the fact that Hitler was indeed socialist. None hold water. The most common practice is word-parsing and conflating the names of the parties and asserting that the “right-wing” helped Hitler come to power.
What they leave out of this word salad is that there were 18 socialist parties vying for power, all were considered “right-wing” for their opposition to the puppet government. Right-wing and socialist have very different meanings than they do now. Ultimately, what we must look at to determine if Hitler was a socialist, are his actions and compare those actions to what we know to be socialism.
The facts are clear. In the end, Hitler consolidated power, in a dictatorial fashion, by merging the offices of chancellor and president. Nothing democratic there.
Upon the death of Hindenburg in 1934, Hitler proceeded to purge the Brown Shirts (his storm troopers), the head of which, Ernst Roem, had begun voicing opposition to the Nazi Party’s terror tactics. Nothing Democratic there.
Some will claim that Hitler could not be a socialist because of the genocide he advocated for and eventually created. Which is an absurd assertion since dictatorial socialists and communists are responsible for nearly every genocide throughout history.
Socialism is understood to be an economic system based on government ownership of the means of production and positively requires a totalitarian dictatorship. The basis of the claim that Nazi Germany was capitalist was the fact that most industries in Nazi Germany appeared to be left in private hands.
When in fact, Ludwig von Mises, a Liberal Austrian School economist, historian, and sociologist, identified that private ownership of the means of production existed in name only under the Nazis and that the actual substance of ownership of the means of production resided in the German government.
The German government decided:
- What products would be produced
- What quantity would be produced
- Which methods would be used to produce the products
- By whom would the products be produced
- and finally where the products were to be distributed.
Mises Continues …
As Mises showed, to cope with such unintended effects of its price controls, the government must either abolish the price controls or add further measures, namely, precisely the control over what is produced, in what quantity, by what methods, and to whom it is distributed, which I referred to earlier. The combination of price controls with this further set of controls constitutes the de facto socialization of the economic system. For it means that the government then exercises all of the substantive powers of ownership.
And finally, as with all socialistic governments that devolve into a dictatorship, Hitler disarmed his people. I’m sorry Ms. Coaston, Hitler was not only a socialist; he is quite possibly the father of “Democratic Socialism.”
So What is a Socialist?
Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterized by social ownership of the means of production and workers’ self-management, as well as the political theories and movements associated with them. Social ownership can be public, collective or cooperative ownership, or citizen ownership of equity
What is a “Democratic Socialist”
Democratic socialism is a political philosophy that advocates political democracy alongside social ownership of the means of production, with an emphasis on self-management and democratic management of economic institutions within a market or some form of a decentralized planned socialist economy.
See the difference? One is a governing system that has always failed, and the other is a “philosophy” about a governing system that is doomed to fail. In making the argument that Hitler was not a socialist, Coaston purposely misled her readers or has very little understanding of the subject.