Washington Post - February 5, 2020

Did you know that “Nazi” is short for “National Socialist”? That means that Hitler and his henchmen were all socialists. Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist, too. That means Bernie Sanders and his supporters are the same as Nazis … doesn’t it?

Anyone who has been on political Twitter in the past decade has seen a version of this syllogism. Conservatives, seeking to escape the “fascist” and “Nazi” labels tossed at them by leftist critics since the 1960s, have turned the tables. Books such as Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” have noted that many leading fascists, such as Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, started out as socialists, just as many early 20th-century “progressives” embraced eugenic ideas ultimately linked to Nazi racist genocide. This connection has become a silver bullet for voices on the right like Dinesh D’Souza and Candace Owens: Not only is the reviled left, embodied in 2020 by figures like Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren, a dangerous descendant of the Nazis, but anyone who opposes it can’t possibly have ties to the Nazis’ odious ideas.

There is only one problem: This argument is untrue. Although the Nazis did pursue a level of government intervention in the economy that would shock doctrinaire free marketeers, their “socialism” was at best a secondary element in their appeal. Indeed, most supporters of Nazism embraced the party precisely because they saw it as an enemy of and an alternative to the political left. A closer look at the connection between Nazism and socialism can help us better understand both ideologies in their historical contexts and their significance for contemporary politics.

The Nazi regime had little to do with socialism, despite it being prominently included in the name of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The NSDAP, from Hitler on down, struggled with the political implications of having socialism in the party name. Some early Nazi leaders, such as Gregor and Otto Strasser, appealed to working-class resentments, hoping to wean German workers away from their attachment to existing socialist and communist parties. The NSDAP’s 1920 party program, the 25 points, included passages denouncing banks, department stores and “interest slavery,” which suggested a quasi-Marxist rejection of free markets. But these were also typical criticisms in the anti-Semitic playbook, which provided a clue that the party’s overriding ideological goal wasn’t a fundamental challenge to private property.

Instead of controlling the means of production or redistributing wealth to build a utopian society, the Nazis focused on safeguarding a social and racial hierarchy. They promised solidarity for members of the Volksgemeinschaft (“racial community”) even as they denied rights to those outside the charmed circle.

Additionally, while the Nazis tried to appeal to voters across the spectrum, the party’s founders and initial base were small-business men and artisans, not the industrial proletariat of Marxist lore. Their first notable electoral successes were in small towns and Protestant rural areas in present-day Thuringia and Saxony, among voters suspicious of cosmopolitan, secular cities who associated both “socialism” and “capitalism” with Jews and foreigners. ...
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