Often, Hitler is called a Right-Winger. Individuals that claim that Hitler was on the Right of the Left-Right Political Spectrum make this claim on the basis that they believe Fascism was a Rightwing ideology. Furthermore, they deny that Hitler was a Socialist. For a myriad of reasons, they are ignoring the truth about Hitler. He was a Leftist, but not in the European sense of the word. Hitler and for that matter, Fascism, fell squarely in the American Left of the Left-Right Political Spectrum.
Hitler was a Leftwing Socialist.
Let’s get into why…
What is Fascism?
There is a great deal of confusion regarding Fascism. Fascism is an authoritarian, nationalist, and economically syndicalist political posture. At its linguistic root, Fascism derives from the Italian word fascio, which means “a bundle,” typically made for the sake of strength, as in the following: a few small sticks are weak and easily broken, but when bundled together they become unbreakable. The word became synonymous with “League,” as in a league to form strength. Thus, Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF), the first viable Fascist party, led by Benito Mussolini in Italy, literally translates to the National “League” (Fasciso) Party. To depict this concept, the PNF used a Bundle of sticks tied tightly which formed the handle of an axe. Symbolism: when bound together, “the people” become a weapon.
Figure 1: Bundle-Axe Logo of the Italian Fascists
Thus, Fascism is a political philosophy that emphasizes state consolidation (bundling) for the sake of strength, typically led by a charismatic and all powerful leader (dictator).
Economically, Fascism embraces Syndicalism. Syndicalism is a socialist economic platform whereby corporations are co-opted by the state and organized within “syndicates” of national strategic needs (thus, the name). They have varying levels of autonomy. For example, a truly socialist state would not allow any form of fully independent trade or business. By contrast, syndicalism may ignore certain business categories provided they follow the rules and do not conflict with the state (e.g., a mom-and-pop grocery store, a restaurant, etc). However, industries deemed strategically or nationally vital, such as construction firms or automobile manufacturers would now find themselves owned in part by the state. Trade unions would similarly find themselves incorporated into the syndicates of national importance.
In this regard, syndicalism and democratic-socialism share almost identical economic concepts and philosophies. One need not be a fascist to be a syndicalist. Norway’s North Sea Oil nationalization and management is a good example of modern syndicalism. In all cases of a syndicalist economy, economic activities are ostensibly for the benefit of the masses, in order to improve the lives of “the people” and the vitality of the state.
For example, consider the impressive mass construction programs of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. This was the product of syndicalism. Major construction firms and trade unions were collectivized into a syndicate (infrastructure construction). With the cooperation of the State, the collectivized group of industries and unions built the Autobahn. The companies enjoyed some level of operational autonomy, but the continued existence of the companies as a whole were in the hands of Nazi party leadership.
Thus, the origins of the term Nazi.
The actual name of the Nazis Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), or National Socialist German Workers’ Party, was in fact a party predicated on a form of socialism. The difference being that orthodox socialists believe that the strategic goals of the economy should be open to a continuing vote or democratic process; Marxists and communists believe that the vote should remain in a concentrated, enlightened few. By contrast, Fascists believe that the Party, by virtue of its Nationalist constructs, already represents the needs of the people, but invites Labor and Corporate leaders to advise them as representatives of “the people.”
The other side of the socialist coin is the welfare state. All socialists agree that the profits of production are intrinsically originating from “the people” and therefore, “the people” deserve some proportion of those profits. The general argument runs as follows: the people, through their taxes and labor, built the conditions upon which businesses have succeeded; businesses therefore have an obligation to return some (or all) portions of profit to the people that made business success possible. In other words, if you are a business owner, you did not build that success in a vacuum or strictly of your own accord. The business owner required an infrastructure and regulatory environment that enabled him/her to exploit advantages. As such, the people deserve the fruits of the business owner’s labor and magnanimity.
Enter social benefits.
Because Fascists genuinely believe that they are serving the needs of the people, the profits of production are provided back to the people in either the form of additional investments in the state (e.g., infrastructure improvement) or welfare benefits. In Nazi Germany, the National Socialist People’s Welfare (NSV in German), was formed. It provided universal health care, long term subsidized maternity leave, rewards to parents who had additional children, rent controls, price controls, and a national wage to all (to alleviate the conditions of the poor). This was achieved through a combination of exponentially higher taxes (especially on Capital Gains and Corporate Profits) and profit redistribution from the state ownership of strategic industries.
Consequently, Hitler was a socialist but not a Marxist. He allowed private ownership (unlike Marxism), but private ownership is conditional. That condition is the needs of the state, which always came first.
One of the major misconceptions of modern Socialists are the reasons that the Nazis attacked, imprisoned, and killed Socialist and Communist leaders. The Nazis killed socialists that were not National Socialists… Nazis. They were not at war with Socialism as an economic model. They simply wanted Socialists to either join them or go away.
Authoritarianism is the other major factor of Fascism. In order for the state to achieve its objectives, Fascists believe that all forms of potential dissent must be limited or eliminated. Consequently, discourse that questions the totality of the state’s presumptions, whether in written or spoken form, is ultimately subject to censorship or outright forbidden.
Books, newspapers, and group assemblies become controlled or eliminated. Religious events are watched for language that encourages subversion, and certain subversive religions are prohibited. Thus, a concerted effort to suppress Freedom of Expression was necessary and predicated on the protection of the German masses. Harmful language (“harmful” interpreted by the Party) was banned. Language that was considered incendiary was banned from print… and so on, and so forth…
Competition with the Fascist party is also prohibited. Communists, Marxists, and competing Socialists (e.g., SPD) were targeted for political reasons. The Nazis sought the elimination of potential rivals for the hearts of the people. Communists having received their support from the Stalinist Soviet Union were a double threat.
Evangelicals (Confessional Christians) were the first group to be outright eliminated and killed. Then traditional Catholics and Lutherans were either co-opted or imprisoned. As each threat was eliminated, it became easier to isolate the next group that potentially subverted the power of the state.
Mussolini and Franco took similar measures, albeit with some variation in the ethnic or religious composition of the groups.
Once Fascists suppress nonviolent means of combating their control, they target the physical means to revolt. All authoritarian systems, whether they be Marxist or Fascist, uniformly agree that the population should be stripped of the means of insurrection. In Nazi Germany, for instance, handgun ownership was restricted to all except a limited number of party officials. Gun ownership rights for Jews was completely revoked through by November 1938 (Verordnung gegen den Waffenbesitz der Juden).
Correspondingly, post-Spanish Civil War Franco and Mussolini took similar measures.
Eventually, the German population would awaken to a Nation within which they had no right to speak their mind… no right to challenge assumptions in the press… no right to keep the fruits of their labor (profits)… and no ability to fight back. The Nazis had machine guns, and the rest of the population had only single shot, bolt action rifles and waterfowl shotguns.
What Fascism is not…
Having explored Fascism’s political ideology, there are some things that need to be covered which are not necessarily Fascist. Specifically, Fascism is not Christian in orientation, Free Market Capitalist in any form, Liberal in regard to personal rights, specifically socially conservative, nor Ethno-Nationalist. The last may come as a shock.
Racial or ethnic bigotry is not a requirement of Fascism.
Ethno-Nationalism was a Nazi trait, but not a universally Fascist trait. Franco and Mussolini were not ethno-nationalists. In fact, Mussolini believed that racial purity was impossible in Europe. That is not to say that Mussolini was not a racist, he was. But he never subscribed to the Aryan superiority theories (for obvious reasons).
Meanwhile, Franco seems to have rejected all forms of ethno-nationalism. For Franco the challenge was the Iberian Peninsula’s cultural history of miscegenation. Darker skinned Spaniards on the coasts clearly exhibited the racial characteristics of a people who were once the dominion of African Moors. As such, Franco sought not to isolate any more communities that he needed for his quasi-monarchist, Fascist post-Civil War unification goals.
Social Conservatism was not a generally Fascist trait, either. There is often an assumption that Fascists were social conservatives because the Nazis targeted homosexuals and they promoted traditional roles for women in the household. However, the targeting of homosexuals appears to have been the exception rather than the rule, and it was not predicated on religious grounds.
The targeting of homosexual males seems to have been an extension of a general belief in the effeminacy of homosexual males, and thus emblematic of the overall reduction of “manliness” in German society post-World War I. Homosexuality was not seen through the traditional Christian reasoning for a ban on homosexual activity. In other words, it was not the Book of Leviticus that guided Nazi policies toward homosexuality; it was “tough guy” stuff. Correspondingly, lesbians were generally ignored, unless there was a political reason to target a specific lesbian.
Mussolini’s Italian Fascists seemed to ignore homosexuality almost outright, unless they wanted some charge to stick against someone. Franco’s Catholic proclivities certainly banned homosexuality and it remained a criminal act that was worthy of correction.
But let’s put this into perspective: homosexuality was illegal in the United States and other parts of Europe as well. True, the Americans did not kill homosexuals as did the Nazis, but the treatment of homosexuals in places as progressive as New York were on par with the actions of Franco and Mussolini, to include arrest, imprisonment, and psychological correction.
Meanwhile, the other side of the coin appears to be the Nazi Government’s promotion of traditional gender roles. Again, this is revisionist history at its best. Women in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany all shared similar expectations of marriage and “wifely duties,” such as making babies and cooking for her husband. It must be remembered that Nazi Germany did exist in the 1930s, not the 1990s.
That stated, the Nazis had a rather interesting and liberating view toward sex. The League of German Girls (Hitler’s Girl Scouts) were encouraged to choose male partners based on their attractive, Aryan features and physicality… then start having sex as early as 12. Women who could not conceive with their current male partner were encouraged to seek extramarital “assistance,” preferably with Aryan partners. Husbands were expected to assist in their selection. If that did not work, multiple partners were encouraged by the Nazis until the female accepted the right sperm.
That sexual openness is very different than the one man-one woman Christian conservative view on the sanctity of marriage.
Christianity was also a hotly debated topic within Fascism. Mussolini, was an atheist, but he knew that he needed the support of the Catholic Church in order to control his highly Catholic country. Thus, Mussolini gave the Church of Rome an ultimatum with which it had little choice – comply or die. As for the individual Italian, Mussolini’s approach toward their Christianity can be summarized as: your spirit belongs to God, but your body belongs to me.
By contrast, Franco was a devout Catholic as was the monarch he served. He abhorred his fellow Fascists’ attempts to subvert Papal authority. Christianity, especially Catholicism, seemed to find a more balanced hands off approach within the confines of Spanish Fascism.
But the real stand outs were the Nazis.
They seem to embrace God, but more as a tool of inspiring the willing to subordinate to the Party. As I already covered, the Nazis co-opted and coerced those Churches which it allowed to remain. The co-option of Christ is antithetical to Christianity. German Evangelicals pointed that out to the Nazis in 1934 when they released the Theological Declaration of Barmen, denouncing Hitler’s usurpation of Christ. This earned them the honor of becoming the first group to experience mass extermination.
Hitler’s anti-Christian views were widely recorded by contemporaries such as Joseph Goebbels and Albert Speer. He felt that Christianity was farcical. He ridiculed the concept of a Jew that rose from the dead. Many Nazis shared Hitler’s views, bemoaning Christianity as an extension of Judaism and re-embraced paganism as a truly European religion. This opened the door to Wiccan-like theist worship. Goebbels may have been a pagan
Hitler’s interest in mysticism and the occult is well documented. Of course, the occult is considered an abomination by Christians. Thus, most scholars generally assume that Hitler was a quasi-deist, if anything.
Hitler seemed to recognize the importance of some higher power as a function of the German cultural psyche, but he sought to supplant that belief in God with himself. He encouraged Himmler to use God as a disciplinary tool in the SS. At the same time, he appears to give Goebbels a great deal of latitude with the use of pagan symbolism for political purposes. To add further confusion, Hitler embraced atheism on occasion. This is especially true of his directives to party leaders as it pertained to their adherence and dissemination of the nihilist works of Nietzsche.
Regardless, the Nazis were anything but a Christian group. If anything, the only truly deified entity in their view was a universal belief and confidence in Adolph Hitler. Jesus played a secondary role, if at all.
Finally, as it pertains to Capitalism, all Fascists are absolutely opposed to the economic concept in any form of its manifestation. The Nazis were especially antagonistic toward Capitalism. Hitler went so far as to deride Capitalism as “making money out of nothing.” Franco’s CEDA (Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas) relied (and failed) on autarky. Mussolini, once a devout orthodox socialist turned Syndicalist, despised Capitalism.
Capitalism is a threat to Fascism on three primary grounds: (1) it provides the economic means to individuals, such as business leaders, to influence and purchase the means of countering a Fascist leader’s absolutism; (2) it is the most equalizing and liberating of all economic models, thus challenging certain assumptions of Fascists, especially ethno-nationalists; (3) it is not nationalistic but individualistic, following self-interest over subordination to the state.
The economic means argument is fairly self-explanatory. The best example is Karl Marx’s analysis of the American Revolution. Marx accurately noted that the American Revolution was one in which the “Bourgeoisie” – or Middle Class – overthrew their British elites. Why? Because they could.
Marx, as well as most political-economists trained in Socialist theory, this includes Fascists, believe that the Bourgeoisie are the most likely to revolt because they have the means and education to do so. The poorest do not revolt because they lack the means, will, or knowledge to overthrow their masters. The wealthiest have no reason to revolt. The Middle Class are dangerous.
In addition, Capitalism is intrinsically neither racist nor nationalistic. True Capitalism is based on the need to maximize profit. If you are worthless, you have no use, regardless of your age, race, ethnicity, or gender. A competitive economic environment does not allow for principles independent of profitability. Thus, state goals that are predicated on ethno-nationalism, social justice, or anything that is not profit oriented are incompatible with Capitalism.
A profit maximizing company in a Capitalist environment would not hire a Black person with subpar skills to make a social justice point. Correspondingly, a profit maximizing company would not reject a talented Jew. Only government actions can force either outcome, frustrating both an individual like Barack Obama (social justice) and Adolph Hitler (entho-nationalist) equally.
Fascism, consequently, is a political ideology that requires a strong central government, whereby the individual subordinates the self to the needs of the state. In return, the state cares for “the people.” One underlying characteristic of Fascism is that a strong, central government, most often led by a enigmatic party “boss,” (e.g., Mussolini “Il Duce,” Hitler “Der Fuhrer,” and Franco “El Caudillo”) creates a cult of personality that inspires individual subordination. In all cases, Fascism begins within a Democratic process (i.e., voted into power) and then they use either the political-legal process to exclude competing parties (e.g., Nazis, PNF) or war (CEDA). Either way, democracy is ultimately replaced by a totalitarian regime, an extremely strong central government, and a socialist economic system.
A chart below gives a better visual of this summary.
|Characteristics of All Fascists
||Fascists May/May Not
||Definitely NOT Fascist
|· Strong Central Government
· Charismatic Leader
· Syndicalist Economic Policies (unorthodox Socialism)
· Welfare State
· High/Punitive Taxes
· Emphasis on Science/de-emphasis on Spirituality
· Social Conservative
· Local Autonomy
· Christian/Religious Freedom
· Free Markets/Capitalism
· Freedom of Expression
· Freedom of Personal Conscience
The American Political Right & Left
After covering what a Fascist is and is not, it is important to understand what the American Right and Left are. The American Political Right can generally fall into one of four categories: (1) Neo-Conservatives; (2) Social Conservatives; (3) Paleo-Conservatives; (4) Libertarians.
The Neo-Conservatives (Neo-Cons) with their emphasis on interventionism both economically and globally, tend to be the furthest to the Left economically in the American Right and the most likely to embrace authoritarianism. Consequently, they embrace macroeconomic intervention, such as interest rate manipulation, and domestic security intervention, such as the PATRIOT ACT. Correspondingly, the furthest Right are Libertarians who are strict Constitutionalists. They believe that Government has almost no role in personal affairs – economically or socially. In between can be found Christian Conservatives and Paleo-Conservatives. Social Conservatives embrace a role for Government in the governance of morality, but not economics. By contrast, Paleo-Conservatives embrace a role for Government in some economic matters, but not morality, especially as it pertains to social justice.
Despite differences in social norms and the role of Government in the enforcement of particular values, all four generally believe in some level of Free Markets.
By contrast, the American Political Left, while having a number of independent constituencies, such as Labor, Social Justice Advocates (e.g., LGBT rights, Minority Empowerment), and Economic “Equality” Advocates, do not have the same factions that exist in the American Right. Rather, they are generally united in the following ideals: (1) Government has a role in managing the economy and (2) Government has a role in managing social norms and outcomes. In essence, more Government is a good thing.
As such, the American Political Right seeks to “Conserve” Constitutionalism, which advocates far less Government, and in those rare instances within which Government is necessary, it seeks to empower the lowest level or most local form of Government possible. This is the concept upon which the 10th Amendment and “state’s rights” are predicated.
The American Political Left sees the Constitution as a living document that can change with the times, and they believe to get to the kind of change that achieves the most societal good. As such a stronger Central Government is necessary. The do not wish to “Conserve” the Constitution in its current form; they seek to change it to place greater power at the top.
American Right = Conserve the limitations of Government as imposed by the Constitution; Conserve the Constitution.
American Left = Change the limitations of Government as imposed by the Constitution; Change the Constitution.
This is an important distinction to understand when weighing the political positioning of Fascism. Unlike Europe, which grew from authoritarian forms of Government (Monarchies) toward a split between functional Democracies (Great Britain, France) or Totalitarian States (Nazi Germany, Marxist Russia), the United States never had authoritarian rule as its origin point. From day one, the United States was a republic. The amount of Democratic interaction within that limited Government posture was the primary argument of the political growth of the United States.
In other words, the idea that the Government should have any role in the affairs of its citizenry is a Leftist political posture not an inherently Right political posture.
Conclusion: So Why Are Fascists Called Right-Wingers?
Short answer, I do not know. Most likely it has to do with Europe’s traditions of Monarchism and Mercantilism, both of which place the power of rule and economics in the hands of a strong Central Government. The United States never experienced these ruling philosophies in its post-colonial construct. The key difference between Monarchists, Marxists, and Fascists appears to be “who” gets to be the monarch. In the case of traditional Monarchism, the hereditary Queen or King gets to rule. In the case of Marxism and Fascism, “the people” get to rule, albeit through a small cadre of elites that come from within one party (Communist Party, Nazi Party). In the case of someone like Franco, he attempted to bridge the two, Fascism and Monarchism. In the case of Hitler, he made himself king, not unlike Stalin.
Either way, the United States Constitution and its political constructs are designed to limit government as much as possible. If the Government breaks the rules, the Constitution is designed to give the citizenry the means by which to take back their Government through the First and Second Amendments. Conservatives wish to conserve those Constitutional restrictions on Government; Leftists wish to limit those means with additional restrictions.
Thus, when someone calls Republicans Fascists or when they call Fascists Right-Wingers, they are not accurate. Fascists are not Free Market Capitalists like Libertarians or Republicans. They believe in a stronger role for the Government in economic matters, like Democrats. Fascists deprive the means of the masses to speak their mind. The Democrats have recently embraced a number of laws designed to curtail Free Speech and Media, not the Republicans who are constantly fighting for the right to say what is on one’s mind (even when it is unpopular).
Fascists are terrified of an armed populace, thus they have historically embraced Gun Control.
Gun Control is definitively not a Right Wing position in the American Political Spectrum.
Government Controlled Economies are not Right Wing economic positions in the American Political Spectrum.
A broadened social welfare state is not a Right Wing position in the American Political Spectrum.
A weak Central Government is not a Fascist political posture.
A strong Central Government is a shared value of both Democrats and Fascists.
It seems that all of the evidence points to the following conclusion: Fascism is a variant of the American Political Left’s ideological constructs and the “greatest” Fascist of them all was Adolph Hitler.