On Nazis and Socialists

I commonly run into the argument that the Nazis were clearly left wing, because “Socialism is right there in their name.”  It’s getting old, because it ignores literally everything else about them.  Bottom Line: yes, they were socialists, but no, they were not leftists.

Part of the problem is that there’s no good accepted narrow definition of socialism–it ranges from Marxist-style Communism to Soviet-style command economies to Scandinavian-style public welfare states. A few months ago the American Economics Association’s Journal of Economic Perspectives published a paper trying answer the question of whether modern China is socialist, and it was fascinating because first they had to establish a working definition of socialism. Even today, there’s serious ongoing debate about that in academic economics circles.

But in the broad sense, Nazis were socialist, in that the government controlled the economy towards its own goals–the Reich ran the factories and mines and basically the entire supply chain and directed how resources and products would be used at the macro level.

That said, the Nazis explicitly rejected what we’ve come to think of as the “left-right” spectrum in favor of what political theorists call a “third way,” which married leftist-style government control of the economy to right-wing-style government control of social lives in a militaristic fascism focused on directing all social and economic aspects of the country towards the needs of the Fatherland. Nationalism (right) + Socialism (left) = National Socialism. Funny how that works. Thus, it’s a great straw man, because BOTH sides can legitimately point to aspects of Nazism and say “See?! They were the other side!” When the reality is they were neither.

Note: neo-Nazis, on the other hand, generally ignore the economic aspects of National Socialism in favor of the eugenicist racism, conservative nativism, and militaristic nationalism, and ARE legitimately classified as right-wing extremists.

The more you know.

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