Some recent bleatings from some of the more ignorant RWNJs have attempted to associate socialism with Nazism1, as have some people who should know better, such as Peter van Onselen. He tweeted some time ago that “Nazism is national socialism which is considered a branch of socialism’. By whom it is considered so, he does not say, but he did admit that he was “not a scholar of Nazi Germany”2. Peter van Onselen’s profound ignorance has been clearly demonstrated in an essay by Fitzpatrick and Moses, to which I would refer the reader3.
The most recent is the bizarre Concetta Fierravanti-Wells who has said:
“Change of [ASIO] language to umbrella terms well received. I hope it will help educate those who ignore their history that national socialism is ‘left wing’ with its antecedents in communism.”
This refers to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) using a blanket term to refer to extremist terrorism, rather than right-wing terrorism because Fierravanti-Wells feared it might offend conservatives4.
The head of the ASIO, Mike Burgess, warned in early 2020 the ‘“extreme right-wing” in Australia, describing small cells meeting to salute Nazi flags, train in combat and spread hate, which came into focus with the Christchurch massacre4,5. In reality, Fierravanti-Wells wasn’t so much concerned with upsetting conservatives, but having the government associated with an organisation (ASIO) pointing the finger at right wing extremists, whose votes the Liberal Party wants to harvest once the honeymoon between those right-wing extremists and One Notion is over.
Socialism is often defined by its contrasts with capitalism. The latter can be defined simply (this is an essay, not a treatise) with five items:
- The bulk of the means of production is privately owned and controlled.
- People legally own their labour power. (Here capitalism differs from slavery and feudalism, under which systems some individuals are entitled to control, whether completely or partially, the labour power of others).
- Markets are the main mechanism allocating inputs and outputs of production and determining how societies’ productive surplus is used, including whether and how it is consumed or invested.
- There is a class division between capitalists and workers, involving specific relations (e.g., whether of bargaining, conflict, or subordination) between those classes, and shaping the labour market, the firm, and the broader political process.
- Production is primarily oriented to capital accumulation (i.e., economic production is primarily oriented to profit rather than to the satisfaction of human needs).6
Socialism, on the other hand is defined by the following, although some are still debated:
- The bulk of the means of production is under social, democratic control.
- People control their labour power, but many do not affirm the kind of absolute, libertarian property rights in labour power that would, for example, prevent taxation or other forms of mandatory contribution to cater for the basic needs of others.
- There is a recent extensive literature on ‘market socialism’, in which it is proposed that a socialist economy can operate within a framework with extensive markets.
- There is no class division.
- Most socialists consider that profit-maximisation is a troubling phenomenon.6
It is also important to note that socialism is not equivalent to, but is in conflict with, statism. While socialism involves expansion of social power—power based on the capacity to mobilize voluntary cooperation and collective action—as distinct from state power—power based on the control of rule-making and rule enforcement over a territory—as well of economic power—power based on the control of material resources. If a state controls the economy but is not in turn democratically controlled by the individuals engaged in economic life, this is some form of statism, not socialism.6
Any analysis of the electoral platforms, internal party dynamics and political actions of the Nazis between 1921 and 1945 makes this clear how wrong this right-wing mantra ‘Nazis are socialists’ is. After his First World War service, Hitler was employed as a police spy. Initially he was told to infiltrate a small group called the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, (DAP; German Workers’ Party), but he was attracted to the group’s nationalistic and anti-Semitic ideology.3,7
Under Hitler, the renamed Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, (NSDAP; National German Socialist Workers’ Party), or Nazi Party, looked to the middle classes and farmers rather than the working class for a political base. Hitler realigned the party to ensure that it was an authoritarian, pro-business party. The “socialism” in the name National Socialism was a strategically chosen misnomer designed to attract working class votes where possible, but they refused to take the bait; the vast majority voted for the Communist or Social Democratic parties.3
For their part, businesses welcomed the Nazis’ promises to suppress socialism. In early 1933, Hitler declared that democracy and business were incompatible and that workers needed to be turned against socialism. He promised bold action to protect businesses and property from communism. Industrialists such as I.G. Farben, Hoesch, Krupp, Siemens, Allianz and other mining and manufacturing companies and groups contributed more than two million Reichsmarks to the Nazi election fund. Business leadership happily jettisoned democracy to rid Germany of socialism and to smash organised labour.3
This cosying up to big business in return for cash and the smashing of organised labour all sound very familiar. Calling socialists Nazis is simply another instance of RWNJs accusing others of the crimes of which they are guilty.