Politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez say that their goal of “democratic socialism” is very different from the socialism of Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela, as well as the socialism of the former Soviet Union.
And they doubtlessly would get very upset if anyone equated their ideology with the “national socialism” of Hitler’s Germany.
Such angst would be understandable. There are profound differences among the various versions of socialism. At the risk of understatement, a politician who wants to take my money is much better than one who wants to take my life.
From the perspective of economic policy, though, there’s a common link. All strains of socialism reject free enterprise. They want to replace capitalism with some sort of regime based on government planning and coercion.
This observation gets some people rather upset.
In a column for the Washington Post, Ronald Granieri of the Foreign Policy Research Institute expresses dismay that some people are pointing out that Hitler’s National Socialist Workers’ Party was, well, socialist.
Did you know that “Nazi” is short for “National Socialist”? That means that Hitler and his henchmen were all socialists. …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. …The Nazi regime had little to do with socialism, despite it being prominently included in the name of the National SocialistGerman Workers’ Party. …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 …linking socialism and Nazism to critique leftist ideas became a political weapon in the post-World War II period, perhaps unsurprisingly given that the Cold War followed directly on the heels of World War II. Scholars as diverse as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Hannah Arendt used the larger concept of “totalitarianism” to fuse the two. …National Socialism preserved private property, while also putting the entire resources of society at the service of an expansionist and racist national vision, which included the conquest and murderous subjugation of other peoples. It makes no sense to think that the sole, or even the primary, negative aspect of this regime was the fact that it used state power to allocate financial resources.
Mr. Granieri makes some very good points. I’m not a historian, but I assume he’s correct in stating that Nazis hated capitalism in large part because it was associated with Jews.
And he’s definitely correct in stating that there are much more important reasons to despise Nazis other than their version of socialism—private ownership, but government control, often referred to as fascism.
But none of that changes that fact that all forms of socialism involve hostility to capitalism. Especially among the most repugnant forms of socialism.
Indeed, Nazism and communism are like different sides of the same coin. Joshua Hofford, in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, examines the commonalities and differences between the two ideologies.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels are the fathers of both…the swastika and the hammer-and-sickle. …The platform for Soviet socialism was nearly identical to that of National Socialism under the Nazi Party. Though the application of Soviet socialism was Marxian in nature—committed to international socialist revolution and the elimination of class enemies—and National Socialism under the Nazi Party was instituted to the elimination of racial enemies, both were dedicated to the remaking of mankind… Endemic to both Soviet and Nazi socialism, the destruction of class and racial enemies was a literal, not figurative, stage of revolution. …both versions of socialism were dedicated to constructing a new social reality by any means necessary… In addition to belonging to the shared brotherhood of worldwide socialism, clearly, both communism and Nazism were equally totalitarian. …The Nazis rejected the call to international revolution and the class warfare of their Soviet Marxist kin, however, this made them no less socialist. All substantial power and ownership of German business under the Third Reich, while managed and owned by individuals, was in the hands of the state. Price controls, salary caps, and production quotas were set by the nation and left owners to navigate a glut of bureaucracy.
In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Juliana Pilon shares a historical tidbit to illustrate the disdain for capitalism that characterized Nazis and communists.
Known officially as the Treaty of Non-Aggression Between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Hitler-Stalin pact…stunned the world. …As German negotiator Karl Schnurre had observed…, “there is one common element in the ideologies of Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union: opposition to the capitalist democracies. Neither we nor Italy have anything in common with the capitalist West. Therefore it seems to us rather unnatural that a socialist state would stand on the side of the Western democracies.” …capitalist democracy was their common enemy.
And Michael Rieger, writing for FEE, notes that there are genuine differences among different strains of socialism, though all involve a powerful state.
The Nazis didn’t call their ideology “national socialism” because they thought it sounded good. They were fervently opposed to capitalism. The Nazi Party’s chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, even once remarked that he’d sooner live under Bolshevism than capitalism. …why…would the Nazis call themselves “socialists”? In part, it’s because the term “socialism” has been constantly evolving and changing since its inception. …Marxist-Leninists came to more narrowly define “socialism” to mean the intermediary period between capitalism and communism where the state owned the means of production and centrally managed the economy. In establishing national socialism, the Nazis sought to redefine socialism yet again. National socialism began as a fusion of socialist ideas of a technocratically-managed economy with Völkisch nationalism, a deeply anti-Semitic form of German nationalism. …The Nazis also distinguished themselves from Marxists in their support for private property, although this came with some caveats. The Nazi government did not own the means of production in Germany, but they certainly controlled them. They set up control boards, cartels, and state-sponsored monopolies and konzerns, which they then carefully planned and regulated. …democratic socialists don’t believe in total government ownership of the means of production, nor do they wish to technocratically manage the economy as the Nazis did. …The wide variance between utopian socialism, communism, national socialism, and democratic socialism makes it remarkably easy for members of each ideology to wag their fingers at the others and say, “That wasn’t real socialism.” …all self-described socialists have shared the belief that top-down answers to society’s problems are superior to the bottom-up answers created by the free market.
To add to the above excerpts, here are two passages from Paul Johnson’s Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties.
- Page 133: “Hitler took over a small proletarian group called the German Workers’ Party…and reorganized its economic aims into a radical twenty-five point programme: …abolition of unearned incomes, state to take over trusts and share profits of industry, land for national needs to be expropriated without compensation. he also added the words ‘National Socialist’ to its title. …the radical and socialist element in his programme always remained strong.”
- Page 293: “He regarded himself as a socialist, and the essence of his socialism was that every individual or group in the state should unhesitatingly work for national policy. So it did not matter who owned the actual factory so long as those managing it did what they were told. …’Our socialism reaches much deeper. …Why should we need to socialize the banks and the factories? We are socializing the people.”
I’ll close by re-sharing my humble contribution to this discussion, which is a triangle to replace the traditional right-vs-left line.
My triangle acknowledges that there are differences between communists and Nazis (as well as between populists and democratic socialists, and between Republicans and Democrats).
But it makes the key point that there are ever-greater losses of economic liberty as one descends from libertarianism.
And the closer you get to the bottom of the triangle, the greater the likelihood that you lose political liberty as well.
P.P.S. I also think we can learn something from this tweet by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.