Were the Nazis Socialists?

National Socialism … does the noun identify the Nazis, or indeed Fascists, as Socialists? If you spend way too much time on Twitter like me, you will know that the stakes are deadly high on this question. Left-wingers react badly to this statement because it tarnishes them with the Nazi brush. By contrast, right-wingers, particularly those who are free-marketeers and reject State interventionism, relish the thought that Nazis and Communists share common ground. Its a neat characterization of the sociology of totalitarianism which distances them from xenophobic and toxic politics, but which also allows them to score points against lefties. It was famously asserted in von Hayeks outstanding book The Road to Serfdom.
But what is the truth of the matter?

A lot hinges on the question: what is a socialist? In a narrow, technical sense (or a broad, linguistic one), a socialist is someone who wants everyone in society, if not the world, to be political and social equals. Socialism is simply the process of making everyone the same. Granted, it is an aspirational state. Every socialist movement will have their elites and full socialization will never occur. But as far as it can be achieved, everyone should have the same education, health access, political voice, job prospects, family life, etc …

In a sense then, Nazis and Communists are alike. But this definition of socialist also includes utopians like Thomas More or Imperialists like Napoleon (who favoured universal education). It’s too broad to be useful.

In common day parlance, socialism refers to a less militant form of Communism. The adherents of socialism call for people of all nations, regardless of race or religion, to regard society as a co-operative endeavour. Socialism is less radical than Communism. For example, they are not outright anti-commerce like Communists, but believe in subordinating commercial interests to the greater good. Their methods differ fundamentally to that of Communists, their politics less so, but they are a horse of a different colour.

National Socialists, on the other hand, portray the world as a clash of cultures, with culture often synonymous with race or ethnicity. Commerce, and indeed all corporate interests, are subordinate to the State, and the State is in turn synonymous with the Volk. Any notion of socialism transcending peoples of all nations is non-existent in Nazi ideology.

In answer to the question, Nazis do not aim at socialism but at socialization within a nationalistic framework. They seek to make all members of the Volk the same but that is generally not the way we understand socialism. Are Nazis Socialists? I would say no.

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