Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Nazism is based on Populism not on the left and right

    By Christopher Sams Ba (hons) PGC
There are many arguments and discussions about where Nazism sat on the political spectrum and the age old belief that Fascism and Nazism were the final expression of the Right is being challenged by historians who point to the Socialist policies and the deep involvement in the state as an expression of the left akin to Stalin’s regime in Russia. Indeed the article by Dr John Ray (here) that I was sent tries to link the two in quite a general way but his arguments can be quite flawed.

Nazism was reactionary rather than a thought out ideology and this was its’ great strength and its’ undoing. It reacted to Versailles, it reacted to the 1929 crash, it reacted to economic growth and it reacted to the calls of total war albeit two years too late. It reacted with whatever means were available to it and it reacted against Communism and the conventional political system controlled by moderate Conservatives, the very people that were perceived to have lost Germany the Great War.
Dr Ray uses this quote from Engels to illustrate that Hitler drew on ideals from the left concerning the rise of the German Empire and the all conquering Teutonic hand:
True, it is a fixed idea with the French that the Rhine is their property, but to this arrogant demand the only reply worthy of the German nation is Arndt’s: “Give back Alsace and Lorraine” For I am of the opinion, perhaps in contrast to many whose standpoint I share in other respects, that the re-conquest of the German speaking left bank of the Rhine is a matter of national honour, and that the Germanisation of a disloyal Holland and of Belgium is a political necessity for us. Shall we let the German Nationality be completely suppressed in these countries while the Slavs are rising ever more powerfully in the East?

It does indeed sound like a Nazi style ideal and is argued to show that Hitler had sympathies with the left. This is of course nonsensical as the author fails to remember that Engels was a German, and the German national pride over the territories of Alsace and Lorraine demanded their return. Germany was a late player on the international scene and as such had not been really involved in the great land grabs for Africa or the Pacific territories and only managed to grab the parts Britain hadn’t been to interested in or in the case of the Caroline islands, bought them from Spain in the aftermath of the American Spanish war. Alsace-Lorraine had been a heavily disputed area of land for generations with both German and French nations laying heavy claims onto it. It is not an alien concept for Engels, as a proud German and Hitler, a German Nationalist politician of Austrian decent, to agree that these territories should be returned to the Vaterland and that fresh territorial gains in Holland and Belgium should be sought. I am sure that you could not label Kaiser Wilhelm II nor any of the officers of the German General staff like Von Moltke a Communist either, yet territorial gains from weaker European nations and the gaining of a Germanic Empire in continental Europe was clearly one of their aims.
 The idea of the rising power of Russia was also not an alien ideal across the whole of Europe. In the wake of the Napoleonic wars many Western nations became concerned by the Russian military might, especially Great Britain who saw her as the next great competitor to her power. The advance of the Czar’s armies and the ease with which he dealt with Napoleon’s grand armies concerned British political thinkers for a whole century. The worry that the Russians could march through the German states or annexe the Balkans and finally gain a warm water port dominated military thought and planning and culminated in the Crimean war. Although an impasse was reached there was always a watchful eye on the Eastern borders of Europe lest the Russian Bear mobilise its armies. Being aware of this does not tie one to any ism in particular; it was just an on going fact within Political and military thought throughout the Nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Dr Ray’s article then moves to focus on Anti-Semitism as a root of all Nazi ideals and again quotes Marx:

Let us consider the actual, worldly Jew – not the Sabbath Jew, as Bauer does, but the everyday Jew. Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew. What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly god? Money. Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Jewry, would be self-emancipation of our time… we recognize in Jewry, therefore a general present-time-orientated anti social element, an element which through historical development – to which in this harmful respect the Jews have zealously contributed – has been brought to its present high level, at which it must necessarily dissolve itself. In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Jewry.
Anti-Semitism was also not a wholly Nazi ideal, true it is what it will be remembered for and the Holocaust against all Untermenschen is a blight on Mankind’s collective history as well as Germany’s but it was a pan European ideal. Countries like Latvia, Lithuania even western nations like France and Holland showed support and willingness within elements of the population to rid themselves of “The hated Jew.” The advancing German military found to the Einsatzgruppen’s joy, that towns had murdered the Jewish populations as they reached the city limits or were willing participants in the hunting down and denouncements. Throughout the nineteenth century Anti-Semitism had been very vivid. Ghettos, labels, curtailing of political and individual freedoms – all hall marks of a later displayed by Nazi planners and the Totenkopfverbunde SS. Despite the centuries of the pan-European anti-Semitism it reached fertile ears within Germany from many political backgrounds in the post World War One era because of the perceived betrayal of the Jews. Joseph Chamberlain had stated that British policy was to create Zion for the Jews in Palestine should they win the war and it was perceived that the German Jews stopped giving their support to Germany as a way to bring about British victory. Also, with the collapse of the German economy and industry it appeared that German Jews had done quite well out of the war and ultimately prospered at everyone else’s misery thus reigniting an age old hatred.

Marx and Hitler would have indeed seen eye to eye over the prominence of the Jewish international banks controlled by families like the Rothschild’s and as an anti-capitalist in a time where Industrialist and international capitalists were causing misery to millions of workers across Europe it would have appeared symptomatic of a wider problem. For Hitler and the Nazis it was about the International threat of Jewry and their ultimate plan of world domination and self preservation. The Nazis argued that a German Jew was firstly a Jew and their loyalty was not to the state, which they believed the Jews had betrayed during World War One and this was also crudely coupled to the idea of a Jewish conspiracy and the label of “Profiteers”.
To truly understand the ideas of Nazism you must first look at the ground into which the seed was sewn. Germany had completely collapsed at the end of the First World War, the economy lay in ruins, the people were starving in the grip of the Allied blockade and the German armed forces, who were still very much a capable force in the field and had not suffered the ignominious defeats they would in the Second World War, were forced to surrender with embarrassingly harsh terms meted out at Versailles. The German people did not feel that Germany alone was to blame for starting of war. There were reactionary politics everywhere as working class people blamed the old Conservative elites for dragging Germany into this depression and darkness. The Kaiser abdicated and former nobles lost lands and titles as it was all brought down. Into this mess a fledging workers party was formed – the National socialist workers party, and eventually it was noticed by the German Military Intelligence which was trying to avert overt Communist and Socialist groups. A young Corporal who held the Iron Cross for bravery, Adolf Hitler, was assigned to monitor them. Hitler, like many German servicemen was disillusioned by the state of modern Germany and the betrayal of the fighting forces by the politicians and industrialists. Change was needed to the political and social spectrums. Germany, unlike a pre-war Britain which had, under the Liberal Governments, brought in social reform and the basis of Welfare where as Germany had lagged behind and this had attracted a lot of will for change which was desperately needed. Socialist policies, which were no different to the British Labour party in this period, were exceptionally popular amongst Germans and indeed the working classes across Europe who had to deal with the mess and death caused by Empire building Conservatives, Industrialists and Monarchists and the Liberals who had been the opposition had failed to stop this.
Hitler did not see the Nazis as either Right or Left though and stated in Mein Kampf that:

Today our left-wing politicians in particular are constantly insisting that their craven-hearted and obsequious foreign policy necessarily result from the disarmament of Germany, where as the truth is that this is the policy of traitors […] But the politicians of the Right deserve exactly the same reproach. It was through their miserable cowardice that those ruffians of Jews who came into power in 1918 were able to rob the nation of its arms.
He went on to say that the party was not indeed exclusive to any one faction or class and instead drew from all of them;
From the camp of Bourgeois tradition it takes National resolve, and from the materialism of the Marxist dogma, living, creative socialism.
Hitler redefined socialism so that it was about the social collective, in this case Germany and the German Volk and that the Nazis were basically about making the German equal to every other German citizen and what was best for German citizens. He is quoted, on more than one occasion as saying;
Every hour, of every day you must think of Germany and the German Volk.
Volk is a difficult word to define, loosely it translates as People but it means more than that, it is like the nationality and almost German race as a collective, hence Volkswagen – the car for the people, affordably produced and sold to the people, or the Volksjager fighter jet, built by the people for the people’s benefit and flown by the people rather than by the Luftwaffe.
 Undoubtedly, there were many socialist and left wing ideas used by the Nazis whilst in power. Massive state sponsored mobilisation of workers, the Org-Todt, social programs for workers. There were also right-wing moves as well, such as the abolition of Trade unions, the overtly nationalistic fervour, the Volkisch racial supremacy and belief in uniting all of the German peoples under the one German flag as well as maintaining personal property and big business. There were no collective farms or factories run by Soviets or advised by Commissars in Germany as there were in Russia, it was not until defeat was near that the State took an active role in monitoring and directing production. Big Companies, such as Krupps, Messerschmitt and Porsche were not nationalised, rather they were allowed to carry on business as before which ultimately caused problems during the war as Messerschmitt wasted many resources developing a Four-engine bomber when the project was officially cancelled by the RLM and Feldmarschall Milch. Indeed the Nazi party itself was split between Conservatives under Goring and Himmler and Socialists like Goebbels and the  Strassers who wanted to bring down the capitalist systems and urged strikes.
The National Socialist party had evolved over time as well. In 1918 they were a group of malcontent social reactionaries who wanted change but also a return to the 1914 spirit of Imperial-Military Germany. By 1926 Hitler had to call the Bamberg conference to pull all the groups together and to come up with a final plan of what the party stood for. He argued that the party was based on the Leader and their will and not on a party program. Twenty-five points were agreed and formed the basis of the party’s policy:

1.       One Germany for all Germans.

2.       Equal rights for all German people

3.       All land and territory to be returned for lebensraum

4.       Only a member of the German Race can be a citizen (So Jew/Gypsies etc. are ruled out as citizens.

5.       If you aren’t a citizen, you are a guest in this country and live under legislation for foreigners.

6.       Citizens are the only ones who can determine law and vote.

7.       The State must be changed to allow every citizen a livelihood and if that is not possible then the guests must be asked to leave to make way for the German people.

8.       Immigration into Germany is to be stopped. All those who have arrived since 1914 are to leave immediately.

9.       All citizens have equal rights and obligations.

10.   Every citizen is to work both spiritually and physically

11.   Abolition of unearned incomes and the breaking of debt slavery.

12.   Confiscation of War profits for the state.

13.   Nationalisation of associated businesses

14.   Division of profits of all heavy industry

15.   Expansion of old age welfare.

16.   Healthy Middle class must be encouraged to grow.

17.   Land reform with private lands passing to the public and abolition of taxes on land.

18.   Struggle against those whose activity is injurious to the General interest such as profiteers.

19.   Creation of a Common German Law

20.   State to reconstruct the education program and to give fairer access to the poorer elements for gifted children to university.

21.   Forming a National health, ending child labour, encourage national sports and PE

22.   Abolition of Mercenary troops and form a national army.

23.   Legal opposition to the lies printed in the press and that all members of the press are Citizens.

24.   Religious freedom for all citizens.

25.   A powerful central Reich parliament to bring these reforms into being.
As you can see there are as many right wing policies to do with race and nation mixed with Socialist ideals and changes to make Germany fairer and more open with favour for the working lower and middle classes but there are no real Marxist ideals here. Indeed, as I have already illustrated, nationalisation and the return of war profits did not happen. Modern Political thinkers would describe much of the Nazis welfare and social reform as “Progressive” rather than Socialist as the Nazis wanted those who had come off worst in society, namely the working and middle classes, to be compensated and those who were responsible, the Upper classes, to pay.
Wehrmacht troops parading in Czechoslavkia after absorbtion

As time went by the NSDAP became less radical, even sacrificing its radical street fighters, the SA so as to be taken more seriously by voters. Conservatives like Von Ribbentrop were attracted to this group of radicals who wanted to Modernise Germany but still keep the old ideals of the Pre-war Second Reich.
The key value of Nazism was fighting. When you read Nazi slogans and political papers they are always waging war upon something. War on poverty, war on economic depression, Guns before butter etc. The other factor was evolution and the mightiest vanquishing the weak. This moulded themselves into the Nazi approach to policy and Government. If an existing party or department did not work then create one that would. If the approach to the problem was not working then try something else. The other idea was that Competition was the key to forcing through the best results from departments; this is why there were Nazi sections of state competing with existing ones. For example the Ribbentrop Bureau headed by Joachim Von Ribbentrop versus the German Foreign office headed by Von Neurath. Then there was Military intelligence (Abwehr) headed by Admiral Canarais versus the SS-SD section under Schellenberg and then another proposed by Ribbentrop through the Foreign office! The idea that they would compete to provide better results to problems and court the Fuhrer’s favour only succeeded in wasting time and resources. Hitler was also willing to follow Stalin’s path and drag the state to where he wanted it. The Four Year plan, designed to modernise Germany and sort out the economic mess caused by reparations and the 1929 crash. Seeing the Soviet Five year plan as a blue print to modernise and Communise Russia as a blue print and as a threat, the Nazi Government took immediate steps and dictated where the state MUST be by 1940. Public works, removal of non-citizens to free up space for Germans and the massive industrialisation and mobilisation of Military production including ship building schemes in violation of the London treaty, aircraft manufacture against the Treaty of Versailles which saw a force of some three thousand aircraft built and combat ready by the summer of 1940 and the creation of armoured spear heads. There were also defensive programs like the Siegfried line built employing many workers, both skilled and unskilled by the state within the confines of the Org-Todt. At no point were the companies nationalised only directed and given a completely free hand and whatever resources they needed to achieve the goals. Like everything else Nazi, it was a mish-mash of lots of ideas to reach a goal rather than one political dogma.

This mixing of ideas is probably what gave it such a broad scope of acceptance by Germans from all walks of life. There was something for everyone and the party played to the popular whims and gave the people what they want. My Grandfather, a wide-eyed school boy on an exchange program to pre-war Germany was over awed by how clean the streets were, with no graffiti, no homeless people, no litter and everyone going to work. Of course he wouldn't have seen the undesirables being rounded up and taken to Dachau. Many Germans, before the Gestapo really grew in powers, were happy with the Government that solved their ills and was just the right mix of progressive socialism and older values of Conservativism.
Nazism is a strange example of a Political force with no real spot on the spectrum. Its’ policies, although full of xenophobic and racially Nationalistic bent on waging war also convoluted with progressive left wing policies that were meant to benefit the working classes. Hitler’s party was about solving problems, both perceived and actual, through action and whatever means were necessary. Hitler was not an intellectual, Mein Kampf is not a politically ground breaking manuscript like Mills or Marx, rather a collection of ideas and an attempt to cobble together a train of thought for what the author thought would solve Germany’s problems with his understanding and reactions to Geography, eugenics, race, religion, politics and military matters. Nazism died out for a reason and that was not because of the Soviet flag fluttering from the mast on the Reichstag. It died because as a system it was too chaotic and reactionary for its own good and although it achieved goals in modernising Germany and her economy it has been postulated that had the Nazi regime conquered all of its enemies be they martial or political it would have imploded with no purpose.