Putting the Socialism Back in "National Socialism"
(Note that I have sometimes left the German word Volk untranslated. Regular readers of Trans-Int will know that the word is commonly rendered in English as “people” or “nation”. As in the following extracts, however, it frequently bears the specific connotation of a “people” or “nation” in the ethnic, as opposed to the strictly political, sense. Thus, for example, while a literal translation of each of the components of the composite term “Volksstaat” might give “nation state”, such a rendering would be misleading. “Ethnic-national state” would be more accurate. For simplicity’s sake, I have chosen to say "'Volk'-state". -JR)
"Greatest Possible National Community"
Whoever has read Götz Aly’s new book – Hitlers Volksstaat. Raub, Rassekrieg und nationaler Sozialismus [Hitler’s “Volk”-State: Plunder, Racial War and National Socialism] – can no longer claim that National Socialism was a “right-wing” project. Aly cites Eichmann: “My political sympathies were on the Left, with the ‘socialist’ being at least as important as the ‘nationalist’.” His book provides an impressive demonstration that Eichmann’s statement is not a curiosity, but rather typical. The specificity of National Socialism consisted precisely in the conjugation of Race/Nation and socialism. In Hitler’s words, it was a matter of “constructing a social ‘Volk’-State”.
National Socialism in fact served as a major factor of social integration. Here again is a citation from Hitler: “Among the German people [deutsche Volk], the greatest possible national community [höchste Volksgemeinschaft] and education for everyone. But towards the exterior: absolute domination is the standpoint!”
This “national community” [Volksgemeinschaft] was defined by opposition: notably, by the opposition to the imagined principal enemy, “the Jews”. Götz Aly on the early years of the NSDAP: “The complementary fears of war-profiteers and revolutionaries were easily projected upon a common phantom for the purposes of propaganda. It was the “Jewish plutocrat”, who in his thirst for profit played into the hands of the equally greedy “Jewish Bolshevik”. Whereas the one supposedly destroyed the middle class and drove the rural and proletarian underclasses into the bondage of big money, the other was made responsible for the commune...”. Building on such propaganda, the authors of later anti-Semitic state policies could always justify their measures as ‘self-defense’. The final chapter of Mein Kampf is titled “The Right to Self-Defense [Notwehr].” “The longer the war went on, the more consistently it was represented in German propaganda as ‘Aryan resistance’ against the attacks of ‘World Jewry’...” (p. 31).
After 1945, Hitler’s followers scattered. In the end, hardly anyone was left. Everyone had had good reasons. Aly writes: “most of those who became National Socialists did so on account of one of the points in the wishy-washy [verwaschenen] Party Program” (p. 355). There were lots of points, hence lots of reasons to be a Nazi. No one found them all good. Therefore everyone was also a little bit against it.
Even if the “wishy-washy” party program of National Socialism was drawn from many, and often contradictory, sources, with the passage of time a dominant interpretation gained currency. According to the latter, National Socialism had been a “right-wing” project. National Socialism equals Fascism, Fascism equals the final stage of capitalism. After 1968, this interpretation, whose origins go all the way back to the 1930s and which was continuously propagated by the GDR, became the dominant interpretation also in West Germany.
From this point on, if you called yourself “left-wing”, you were spared any responsibility. You were on the side of the good guys and therefore did not need to pose any agonizing questions. The others were at fault: the capitalists, the reactionaries, the Fascists. Whoever was on “the Left”, shared his genealogy with the persecuted, the victims. Thereby he had the right to blame others and to call them to accounts. Whoever was on the Right was suspect. Whoever was on the Left, on the contrary, could sit in judgment and condemn.
It is the merit of Götz Aly’s book to have convincingly slammed shut this way of “overcoming the past”. Starting now, those on the Left must also start to reflect upon the origins of their thought.