Is National Socialism the Same as Leftist Socialism?
This article was adapted from an answer by Paul White on Quora.
There are two sides, both of which have a fundamental failure to understand the reality the nature of socialism of National Socialism. On the one hand you have conservatives who argue that there is literally no difference between the two, and on the other hand you have leftists who argue that there is absolutely nothing socialist about it and is just capitalism because “they killed socialists.” I will respond to both claims, and then explain the actual socialism of National Socialism.
Firstly, against the conservative argument of “government intervention in the economy + authoritarian state = being the exact same governmental and economic system,” there is not much to say than just “no.” Some important differences that make them not the same economic system is the belief in private property of the National Socialist against the worker ownership of the means of production of Marxist socialism and the belief in class cooperation of the National Socialist against the belief in class warfare of Marxist socialism.
Secondly, against the leftist argument, there are many faulty elements. First, they argue that the National Socialists “killed socialists”, so they couldn’t be socialists. Indeed, National Socialists killed Marxist socialists. Marxists do not have a monopoly on socialism, nor did Marx even come up with it, he came up with communism. Further, if killing Marxists means that you can’t be socialist, then there was never any socialism anywhere ever. Once Marxists took over Russia, China, and all the other places they took over, they killed rival Marxists, with Stalin famously killing approximately 1 million in the Great Purge which was primarily directed at dissidents within the Communist Party itself. That is probably more Marxist socialists killed by other Marxist socialists than killed by National Socialists, especially since Hitler believed in rehabilitation rather than killing for the Marxists among the masses.
They also argue that it could not be really socialist since Hitler allied with certain among the capitalist class. This is also faulty logic, especially considering the Wall Street backing of the Bolsheviks1, and this ignores the innumerable capitalists outside of Wall Street who backed the Bolsheviks, such as the Jewish banker from Sweden, Olof Aschberg.
So does that mean that the Bolsheviks weren’t actually socialists but were actually capitalists? That would certainly be a first among many Marxists who make such arguments against National Socialist Germany to admit.
A third argument I hear them make sometimes is that National Socialism isn’t socialism because they killed the socialists within their party during the Night of the Long Knives. This is sort of related to the first point, however a bit different, though no less faulty. While the more leftist elements of the NSDAP were purged during the Night of the Long Knives, they were not the only ones purged as many conservatives and powerful dissidents across the political spectrum were also purged. Further, whether or not there was an actual threat of a coup lead by Rohm and the SA, Hitler genuinely believed there was one, especially as there were growing tensions between the two. The dispute was also less motivated by pure ideology, but primarily by tactics. Rohm wanted a violent “continual revolution” until the whole society was completely revolutionarily National Socialist. Hitler believed that as they had achieved power, they could implement their agenda, although more slowly, through peaceful means. And again, if internal party purges of your more leftist elements makes you not socialist, then neither would the Soviet Union be socialist considering the violent end of the Left Opposition.
So now that I have explained what the “socialism” of National Socialism is not what actually is it? Well, no need to speculate. The theoretician behind it, Adolf Hitler, explained it numerous times in speeches, interviews, and through various other means, here are a few quotes on the matter:
“Socialism as the final concept of duty, the ethical duty of work, not just for oneself but also for one’s fellow man’s sake, and above all the principle: Common good before own good, a struggle against all parasitism and especially against easy and unearned income. And we were aware that in this fight we can rely on no one but our own people. We are convinced that socialism in the right sense will only be possible in nations and races that are Aryan, and there in the first place we hope for our own people and are convinced that socialism is inseparable from nationalism.”
“At the founding of this Movement we formed the decision that we would give expression to this idea of ours of the identity of the two conceptions: despite all warnings, on the basis of what we had come to believe, on the basis of the sincerity of our will, we christened it “National Socialist.’ We said to ourselves that to be ‘national’ means above everything to act with a boundless and all-embracing love for the people and, if necessary, even to die for it. And similarly to be ‘social’ means so to build up the state and the community of the people that every individual acts in the interest of the community of the people and must be to such an extent convinced of the goodness, of the honorable straightforwardness of this community of the people as to be ready to die for it.”
“Socialism is the science of dealing with the common weal. Communism is not Socialism. Marxism is not Socialism. The Marxians have stolen the term and confused its meaning. I shall take Socialism away from the Socialists. Socialism is an ancient Aryan, Germanic institution. Our German ancestors held certain lands in common. They cultivated the idea of the common weal. Marxism has no right to disguise itself as socialism. Socialism, unlike Marxism, does not repudiate private property. Unlike Marxism, it involves no negation of personality, and unlike Marxism, it is patriotic. We might have called ourselves the Liberal Party. We chose to call ourselves the National Socialists. We are not internationalists. Our socialism is national. We demand the fulfilment of the just claims of the productive classes by the state on the basis of race solidarity. To us state and race are one.”
“‘Socialist’ I define from the word ‘social; meaning in the main ‘social equity’. A Socialist is one who serves the common good without giving up his individuality or personality or the product of his personal efficiency. Our adopted term ‘Socialist’ has nothing to do with Marxian Socialism. Marxism is anti-property; true socialism is not. Marxism places no value on the individual, or individual effort, of efficiency; true Socialism values the individual and encourages him in individual efficiency, at the same time holding that his interests as an individual must be in consonance with those of the community. All great inventions, discoveries, achievements were first the product of an individual brain. It is charged against me that I am against property, that I am an atheist. Both charges are false.”
Essentially the “socialism” of National Socialism is a system that believes in social welfare, communitarianism, with the interests of capital and labor both subjected to the power of the state to avoid class conflict and promote class collaboration. This is to create a totally united and cohesive society so that the whole nation can act as one body, a “corpus” if you will (which is the etymology of “corporatism,” it is not a system of just subjecting the state to corporate interests). It is socialist in that it is prosocial, seeking to create a united bloc, in which no class and no part of the society is alienated from another. It was the aim of the National Socialists to unite the German people regardless of class, religion, or region, the primary dividers of German society, and so the “socialism” of National Socialism was the means that was used to fight class prejudice and care to the interests of each class so that they do not get alienated.