Thursday, January 10, 2013


We demand that the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens.
Plank 7 of Nazi Party platform

Although it has been nearly 75 years now, the holocaust and the events of World War 2 are still seared into the consciousness of most people.  Every few years, Hollywood puts out another film about the subject, to help people to never forget.  As the few remaining concentration camp survivors die, the memory will start to fade, though.  And the voices of denial will grow in strength.  Its one thing to claim it all never happened alone, but when someone comes and shows you the tattoo on their arm, things get a bit more real.
"Nazi" is one of those words people throw around, with "fascist," usually without any real understanding of their meanings.  When the cops pull someone over, people cry fascist.  When a Republican mentions cutting spending, they cry Nazi.  Its a catch-all insult for people in authority that you don't like, really.  Sometimes people think it through a bit more and use it interchangeably for tyrant or dictator; as if everyone who abuses authority is a fascist.
The general consensus in popular culture and academia that fascists were all right wingers, that when you take the right wing of politics too far, it becomes fascism; the continuum is usually expressed this way:
And if you ask most people, that's what they'll say: fascists, Nazis, were right wingers.  They say that conservatives are too close to that, practically one foot in the jack boot, as it were.  Leftists are fond of using that term to describe people on the right that they don't like, too.
But is it true, is fascism really right wing gone too far?  Are right wingers leaning toward fascism?  Well the problem with this answer is that fascism doesn't come in only one brand; to make matters worse people are mixing their categories when they talk about the subject.
There was no single type of fascism and there still isn't to this day.  People use Nazi and fascist as if they are synonyms, but they are not.  Nazis were a type of fascist, fascism covers a larger range of systems than simple National Socialism.
Even during World War 2 there were three brands of fascism active: Nazis, Falangists, and Italian Fascists.  Each one had its distinctives and variations; Falangists for example tried to wed shreds of Roman Catholic Christianity with fascist concepts.  All had some basic concepts held in common, however.
For a more detailed examination of the history of Fascism, read my essay on the topic, but in brief, fascism holds certain specific policy and ideology positions:
  • Nationalism; the supremacy of the given nation of culture that it arises in.  Other cultures and peoples are inferior to the chosen one.
  • Totalitarianism; the obedience and even veneration of a single strong leader.  This one person has the vision, will, and right ideas to lead the world to a better future and must be obeyed without question.
  • Single Party State; the dominant party can have no rivals.  Only one party is allowed power because they are the ones with the correct ideas and the will to implement them.
  • Dictatorship; there is no vote or citizen power, only orders from the all-powerful government. 
  • Authoritarian Democracy; the government claims to represent various sections of society equally.
  • Social Darwinism; wherein superior groups and cultural movements eclipse and replace weaker, inferior ones.  Corrupt or inferior social groups and movements are destroyed to make way for the superior.
  • Militarism; the military as an expression of strength and state will is venerated and given asolute power, and is a major portion of the economy.
  • The New Man; an idea that through proper policy, breeding, and cultural darwinism, a better humanity will result.  This is usually tied to evolution, with the idea of some humans being more evolved than others.
  • The Will to Power; from Friedrich Nietzsche who explained that life is meaningless and only those with the strongest will who will enforce their ideas on reality are fit to lead.
  • The Third Position; fascists rejected capitalism and communism both as failed and weak, claiming they had a third way blending parts of both with a new system.
  • Socialism; fascists to various degrees socialized portions of the economy, and all businesses were under the absolute control of an unquestioned central state.
As you can see, the "third position" concept is the best way of understanding fascism.  It was neither left nor right in its entirety; in truth, it wedded both in various ways such as nationalism and militarism mixed with socialist economic and social policies.

For example, when Nazis took over Austria, it was practically a leftist's dream.  Kitty Werthmann lived through this and explains:
We looked to our neighbor on the north, Germany , where Hitler had been in power since 1933. We had been told that they didn't have unemployment or crime, and they had a high standard of living. Nothing was ever said about persecution of any group - Jewish or otherwise. We were led to believe that everyone was happy. We wanted the same way of life in Austria.
We were promised that a vote for Hitler would mean the end of unemployment and help for the family. Hitler also said that businesses would be assisted, and farmers would get their farms back.
Three or four weeks later, everyone was employed. The government made sure that a lot of work was created through the Public Work Service.
The new government opened up big field kitchens and everyone was fed. After the election, German officials were appointed, and like a miracle, we suddenly had law and order. Three or four weeks later, everyone was employed. The government made sure that a lot of work was created through the Public Work Service.
Hitler decided we should have equal rights for women. Before this, it was a custom that married Austrian women did not work outside the home, an able-bodied husband would be looked down on if he couldn't support his family. Many women in the teaching profession were elated that they could retain the jobs they previously had been required to give up for marriage.
There was socialized medicine, guaranteed work and housing, equality between genders, state-controlled schools free of religious influences, free child care, free clothing for the poor, price controls, free college education, and so on.
The Nazis took over what was stocked in stores, how farms were run, what businesses produced and how.  Parents were increasingly separated from their children's' education and even lives in the name of clearing up misconceptions, weaknesses, and traditions deemed corrupt or wrong by the state.
Fascism followed this pattern in Italy and Spain as well.  Using funds seized from those deemed enemies of the state or unworthy for life, the state then provided what they ruled the people should have, in common.  While organized unions were crushed, new ones (usually called things like "national syndicates") were formed that were controlled by the state.
In other words, socialism through tyranny.  In no possible definition is this remotely related to anything right wing in politics, religion, or economics; it is flat out left wing in every aspect.  There's a reason the Nazi Party was called the National Socialist Party.  They were socialist, absolutely.
At the same time, however, fascist states were wedded very closely to massive corporate interests such as IG Farben and Mondragon Corporation.  These companies played along well with the dictatorships, and through cronyism produced policies that both advanced the fascist cause and their own wealth and power.  Corporations could only do what the state allowed them to, but the corporations produced the wealth and goods the state needed so that the relationship was more symbiotic than master and servant.
At any time a corporation could be destroyed by the state, but the most powerful ones were too useful and too well connected with the state to fear this.  So they used this leverage to demolish weaker, smaller businesses (usually through onerous regulation and rules) to prevent competition and strengthen their economic position.
In other words, while socialism was technically the economic system, in fact it was more a partnership of big business and government which greatly benefited the mega corporation and caused suffering for the ordinary worker.  This is a violation of everything the left stands for - but is also a violation of everything conservatives stand for as well.
Instead of a free market, this cronyism creates a market controlled by the central government in cooperation with massively powerful businesses.  Competition is destroyed, innovation crushed, and the biggest, most powerful businesses are almost totally free to do whatever they wish.  In the name of economic growth and progress toward the new man, these businesses had almost total freedom because the regulations they worked with the government to create were not burdensome to them - and sometimes didn't even apply.
Also, the concept of "cultural nationalization" was a rejection of conservatism and "progressivism" as being both corrupt and weak.  The past was venerated for its cultural significance, to generate a shared sense of national identity.  At the same time, the push was on for the future, to create the new man and a golden, glorious promise of fascist ideals applied to the world.  Progressivism was rejected as weak and destructive to cultural nationalization.  Conservatism was considered weak and destructive to the idea of moving forward to a better future.
Similarly, religion was rejected and yet venerated.  Falangism clung to Catholic identity, but rejected its power or influence on the nation.  It was a nationalist and traditionalist impulse, not religious one.  Nazi Germany clung to certain religious symbolism such as the words "God is with us" on Waffen SS belt buckles, but a rejection of religion and especially Judeo-Christian ethics as weak and counter to the fascist future.  They liked the trappings and ideas of religion a a cultural identity, but rejected it a having any significance in life or ideology.
Meanwhile, certain aspects of fascism lean to the right.  A strong sense of patriotism and national identity, opposition to uncontrolled immigration, and a love and admiration for the military are all generally associated with the right wing of politics.  Fascists loved their culture and nation, and so do conservatives.  Fascists love the military and respect them for their service and code of honor, so do conservatives.  Fascists love the flag and the trappings of patriotism, so do conservatives.  None of this is remotely left wing.
Complicating matters are the racial theories of the Nazis, which took the concept of the New Man to extremes even other fascists were uncomfortable with.  Aryans, they argued, were the most evolved of humans (Falangists considered pure Spanish to be, Fascistos from Italy said Italians, naturally), and hence should be encouraged to breed and grow in numbers.  The Nazis captured tens of thousands of children deemed Aryans in the Lebensborn program, and instituted a breeding program of youths as well.
Meanwhile, the Nazis argued that the weaker races should be eliminated because they corrupt Aryan culture, use up resources Aryans needed, and were going to be supplanted anyway so why leave them alive?  Hence, the death camps and final solution.  Epileptics and the retarded were also liquidated along with the insane for the same reason.  Their goal was a pure race of more evolved man.  No political system supports this concept now (although Sanger's eugenic theories were quite popular amont "progressives" in the early 20th century).
So calling Fascists "right wingers" is simply absurd.  Many of their policies violently rejected right wing ideology, and they had contempt for conservatism.  At the same time, while they were economically left leaning, they weren't exactly leftists, either.  They don't fit comfortably on the naive and simplistic continuum pictured above.  It was really a 3rd way.
That said, they were more left than right in most of their systems and ideas. And many quotes and events today by left leaning folks (like the legislator who said conservatives should have no rights) sound an awful lot like what the fascists argued for.  That Crony "Capitalism" people rightly decry isn't capitalism at any level; its fascism.  And the group that's been most willing to work with this system for several decades now is the left.  Remember, ENRON was propped up and bailed out by the Clinton administration repeatedly - and it was the Bush administration that refused to help them any longer.
In short, calling Nazis or fascists in general "right wing extremists" is more than misguided, it is idiotically ignorant.  And that's what frustrates me so much when a hardcore socialist like Brevik is called a right-wing radical because of his nationalist ideas.  Right wingers don't believe in food stamps and universal employment by the state.
This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.


pdwalker said...

Are you familiar with this view of the political axis? (From Dr. Jerry Pournelle))

Christopher Taylor said...

Yeah, that's a bit more accurate, at least more detailed layout of politics. It leaves out some aspects, but its a lot better than the overly simplistic one I showed.