History revisited: socialism can always do better?

The first Sunday Politics (BBC1) of 2014 aired today, January 12.

Near the end of the programme, the two leftist regulars — from the New Statesman and The Guardian — proffered that Germany’s economy is doing ‘so well’ because their ‘broken’ markets are bringing a more just and fairer result to poorer people.

The third panellist, from the Financial Times, disagreed on their interpretation. So do I. It is incomprehensible that a broken economic system can bring about better results. In the short term, perhaps, by happy accident. Yet, that is unsustainable in the long term.

It seems that, since we were at school, we have heard that socialism — and, indeed, communism — can be improved. Surely, someone someday will find a way to that elusive utopia, we are told.

The following excerpts come from the archives of The Independent — Sunday, November 22, 1998. They are from an article by George Watson, who summarised his book The Lost Literature of Socialism (Lutterworth).

This is some of what Watson had to say about Adolf Hitler, which might raise eyebrows. There is much more at the link (emphases mine below):

In April 1945, when Adolf Hitler died by his own hand in the rubble of Berlin, nobody was much interested in what he had once believed. That was to be expected. War is no time for reflection, and what Hitler had done was so shattering, and so widely known through images of naked bodies piled high in mass graves, that little or no attention could readily be paid to National Socialism as an idea …

Half a century on, there is much to be said …

It is now clear beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler and his associates believed they were socialists, and that others, including democratic socialists, thought so too. The title of National Socialism was not hypocritical. The evidence before 1945 was more private than public, which is perhaps significant in itself. In public Hitler was always anti-Marxist, and in an age in which the Soviet Union was the only socialist state on earth, and with anti-Bolshevism a large part of his popular appeal, he may have been understandably reluctant to speak openly of his sources. His megalomania, in any case, would have prevented him from calling himself anyone’s disciple. That led to an odd and paradoxical alliance between modern historians and the mind of a dead dictator. Many recent analysts have fastidiously refused to study the mind of Hitler; and they accept, as unquestioningly as many Nazis did in the 1930s, the slogan “Crusade against Marxism” as a summary of his views. An age in which fascism has become a term of abuse is unlikely to analyse it profoundly.

His private conversations, however, though they do not overturn his reputation as an anti-Communist, qualify it heavily. Hermann Rauschning, for example, a Danzig Nazi who knew Hitler before and after his accession to power in 1933, tells how in private Hitler acknowledged his profound debt to the Marxian tradition. “I have learned a great deal from Marxism” he once remarked, “as I do not hesitate to admit” … The trouble with Weimar Republic politicians, he told Otto Wagener at much the same time, was that “they had never even read Marx” … His differences with the communists, he explained, were less ideological than tactical. German communists he had known before he took power, he told Rauschning, thought politics meant talking and writing. They were mere pamphleteers, whereas “I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun”, adding revealingly that “the whole of National Socialism” was based on Marx

… On reflection, it makes consistent sense … It was a theory of history and not, like liberalism or social democracy, a mere agenda of legislative proposals. And it was a theory of human, not just of German, history, a heady vision that claimed to understand the whole past and future of mankind. Hitler’s discovery was that socialism could be national as well as international. There could be a national socialism. That is how he reportedly talked to his fellow Nazi Otto Wagener in the early 1930s. The socialism of the future would lie in “the community of the volk”, not in internationalism, he claimed, and his task was to “convert the German volk to socialism without simply killing off the old individualists”, meaning the entrepreneurial and managerial classes left from the age of liberalism. They should be used, not destroyed. The state could control, after all, without owning, guided by a single party, the economy could be planned and directed without dispossessing the propertied classes.

That realisation was crucial. To dispossess, after all, as the Russian civil war had recently shown, could only mean Germans fighting Germans, and Hitler believed there was a quicker and more efficient route. There could be socialism without civil war ...

For half a century, none the less, Hitler has been portrayed, if not as a conservative – the word is many shades too pale – at least as an extreme instance of the political right. It is doubtful if he or his friends would have recognised the description. His own thoughts gave no prominence to left and right, and he is unlikely to have seen much point in any linear theory of politics. Since he had solved for all time the enigma of history, as he imagined, National Socialism was unique. The elements might be at once diverse and familiar, but the mix was his.

Hitler’s mind, it has often been noticed, was in many ways backward-looking: not medievalising, on the whole, like Victorian socialists such as Ruskin and William Morris, but fascinated by a far remoter past of heroic virtue. It is now widely forgotten that much the same could be said of Marx and Engels.

The Marxist theory of history required and demanded genocide for reasons implicit in its claim that feudalism was already giving place to capitalism, which must in its turn be superseded by socialism. Entire races would be left behind after a workers’ revolution, feudal remnants in a socialist age; and since they could not advance two steps at a time, they would have to be killed. They were racial trash, as Engels called them, and fit only for the dung-heap of history.

there is plenty of evidence in the writings of HG Wells, Jack London, Havelock Ellis, the Webbs and others to the effect that socialist commentators did not flinch from drastic measures. The idea of ethnic cleansing was orthodox socialism for a century and more.

The claim that Hitler cannot really have been a socialist because he advocated and practised genocide suggests a monumental failure, then, in the historical memory. Only socialists in that age advocated or practised genocide, at least in Europe, and from the first years of his political career Hitler was proudly aware of the fact. Addressing his own party, the NSDAP, in Munich in August 1920, he pledged his faith in socialist-racialism: “If we are socialists, then we must definitely be anti-semites – and the opposite, in that case, is Materialism and Mammonism, which we seek to oppose.” There was loud applause. Hitler went on: “How, as a socialist, can you not be an anti-semite?” The point was widely understood, and it is notable that no German socialist in the 1930s or earlier ever sought to deny Hitler’s right to call himself a socialist on grounds of racial policy. In an age when the socialist tradition of genocide was familiar, that would have sounded merely absurd. The tradition, what is more, was unique. In the European century that began in the 1840s from Engels’s article of 1849 down to the death of Hitler, everyone who advocated genocide called himself a socialist, and no exception has been found.

The first reactions to National Socialism outside Germany are now largely forgotten. They were highly confused, for the rise of fascism had caught the European left by surprise. There was nothing in Marxist scripture to predict it and must have seemed entirely natural to feel baffled. Where had it all come from? Harold Nicolson, a democratic socialist, and after 1935 a Member of the House of Commons, conscientiously studied a pile of pamphlets in his hotel room in Rome in January 1932 and decided judiciously that fascism (Italian-style) was a kind of militarised socialism

By the outbreak of civil war in Spain, in 1936, sides had been taken, and by then most western intellectuals were certain that Stalin was left and Hitler was right. That sudden shift of view has not been explained, and perhaps cannot be explained, except on grounds of argumentative convenience. Single binary oppositions – cops-and-robbers or cowboys-and-indians – are always satisfying ...

By the outbreak of world war in 1939 the idea that Hitler was any sort of socialist was almost wholly dead. One may salute here an odd but eminent exception. Writing as a committed socialist just after the fall of France in 1940, in The Lion and the Unicorn, Orwell saw the disaster as a “physical debunking of capitalism”, it showed once and for all that “a planned economy is stronger than a planless one” … “Internally, Germany has a good deal in common with a socialist state.” These words were written just before Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union …

At its height, Hitler’s appeal transcended party division. Shortly before they fell out in the summer of 1933, Hitler uttered sentiments in front of Otto Wagener, which were published after his death in 1971 as a biography by an unrepentant Nazi. Wagener’s Hitler: Memoirs of a Confidant, composed in a British prisoner-of-war camp, did not appear until 1978 in the original German, and arrived in English, without much acclaim, as recently as 1985. Hitler’s remembered talk offers a vision of a future that draws together many of the strands that once made utopian socialism irresistibly appealing to an age bred out of economic depression and cataclysmic wars; it mingles, as Victorian socialism had done before it, an intense economic radicalism with a romantic enthusiasm for a vanished age before capitalism had degraded heroism into sordid greed and threatened the traditional institutions of the family and the tribe.

The Jew, Hitler told Wagener, was not a socialist, and the Jesus they crucified was the true creator of socialist redemption. As for communists, he opposed them because they created mere herds, Soviet-style, without individual life, and his own ideal was “the socialism of nations” rather than the international socialism of Marx and Lenin.

These are highly socialist sentiments, and if Wagener reports his master faithfully they leave no doubt about the conclusion: that Hitler was an unorthodox Marxist who knew his sources and knew just how unorthodox the way in which he handled them was. He was a dissident socialist. His programme was at once nostalgic and radical. It proposed to accomplish something that Christians had failed to act on and that communists before him had attempted and bungled. What Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism failed to accomplish,” he told Wagener, “we shall be in a position to achieve.”

That was the National Socialist vision. It was seductive, at once traditional and new. Like all socialist views it was ultimately moral, and its economic and racial policies were seen as founded on universal moral laws. By the time such conversations saw the light of print, regrettably, the world had put such matters far behind it, and it was less than ever ready to listen to the sayings of a crank or a clown …

The article concludes at the link.

Today, the left-wing of the Church claims, as did Hitler, that Jesus was a socialist and that the Bible is a defence of socialism. It is unclear how they draw that conclusion other than by selective reading. As my explanation of His feeding of the 5,000 shows, most of those people were unbelievers out for a free meal. Christ discerned that and, after meeting with them the next day, left them to their own devices (John 6).

A few of today’s Sunday Politics guests, in addition to two of the panellists, were preoccupied with a target for new housing starts — coincidentally, one of the planks of Hitler’s party platform.

Elsewhere, the Greens, Labour and the Lib Dems talk about a ‘fairer, more just society’. Some of them speak of it as a ‘struggle’ and a ‘fight’. Hmm. Where have we heard that before?

This isn’t saying that these people are consciously emulating a grotesque figure of fairly recent history. However, it is a statement that broken markets, the yearning for equality, the radical leftist meme from the late 1960s that some must die in order for the revolution to succeed, says only one thing: it will end in tears.

We owe it to our families (especially children), friends and neighbours to explain the gross reality of socialism, communism and the unattainable utopia.

3 comments for “History revisited: socialism can always do better?

  1. john in cheshire
    January 13, 2014 at 10:54 am

    CM, well put. Over the years, I have made comment on a few blogs to the effect that WW2 was a war of international socialism against national socialism. I even wrote to Mr Gove urging him to ensure that the true nature of socialism is taught in schools. I can’t see that happening because of the overwhelming number of socialist teachers, though it still needs to be done. Also, I’d suggest that all socialist/communists states adopt a cult of personality around the leader; further, I’d suggest this is because when Jesus is denied, what is left is not a void but rather a compulsion to worship idols and images of the socialist god.

    • January 13, 2014 at 11:00 am

      With you there, John.

    • January 14, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Yes, Nature abhors a vacuum.

      Pleased to read that you wrote Gove and agree about the teachers.

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