BIRDS OF A FEATHER
The Morning Call notices that birds of a feather have always flocked together
Yesterday was the 82nd Anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the deal that precipitated World War II (nine days later) and cemented the relationship between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Soviet Russia. Given the pact and all that followed, September 23rd is a date that should live in infamy. It doesn’t, of course, because it’s a date that makes the Left incredibly uncomfortable. Acknowledging the pact means acknowledging the bond between Hitler and Stalin. And that, in turn, could lead to an acknowledgment the contemporary Left fears more than almost any other: the acknowledgment that Hitler was, indeed, what we might call “a man of the Left.”
Too many of our historically illiterate politicians, journalists, and, yes, academics, believe that “the Left” was created by Karl Marx, with a smidge of help from Friedrich Engels. Therefore, anyone whose beliefs do not manifest as Marxist is, by definition, not of the Left.
There are two problems with this characterization of the historical Left. First, it’s shamefully ignorant. And second, in the cases of Mussolini and Hitler, it doesn’t matter anyway because their economics – fascist economics – is at least as Marxian as Lenin’s or Stalin’s.
The intellectual father of the Left was Jean Jacques Rousseau, with his belief in the perfectibility of man, his disdain for private property, and his totalitarian social contract. The tactical father of the Left was Maximilien Robespierre, who legitimized the wholesale slaughter of political opponents in the name of the “revolution.”
The cold, hard fact is that Hitler’s National-Socialist German Workers’ Party was just one more in a long line of attempts by leftist ideologues to fashion a workable model out of Marx’s mishmash of economic and social nonsense. In truth, part of Hitler’s genius was that recognize that the traditional leftist models being offered to Germans by the Comintern had been rendered out of date by the nationalism that had swept across Europe in the nineteenth century.
Lenin had not understood this, which explains why his modifications of Marxism were already dated when he wrote them. He appears to have been waiting on the appearance of Engels’s mythical “new man” when Hanna Arendt’s “structureless mass of furious individuals” emerged in his place. So it happened that Hitler and Stalin each introduced a new version of leftist ideology. Hitler not only saw ideological similarities between himself and Stalin, but he found the similarities flattering. In fact, time and again, he spoke of Stalin’s greatness.
When Hitler became chancellor in 1933, it soon became apparent to anyone paying attention that the type of government he had in mind for Germany was remarkably similar to the Stalinist government of Russia. One of the first to comment on this publicly was the British journalist F. A. Voigt, who was his nation’s most influential observer of the turmoil on the continent at the time. In 1938, he made the case in his book titled Unto Caesar:
We have referred to Marxism and National Socialism as secular religions. They are not opposites, but are fundamentally akin, in a religious as well as in a secular sense. Both are messianic and socialist. Both reject the Christian knowledge that all are under sin and both see in good and evil principles of class or race. Both are despotic in their methods and their mentality. Both have enthroned that modern Caesar, the collective man, the implacable enemy of the individual soul. Both would render unto this Caesar the things which are God’s. Both would make man master of his own destiny, and establish the Kingdom of Heaven in this world. Neither will hear of any Kingdom that is not of this world. …
Several years later, the highly respected academic, Gene Edward Veith, summed it all up as follows in his classic, Modern Fascism:
Communism and fascism were rival brands of socialism. Whereas Marxist socialism is predicated on an international class struggle, fascist national socialism promoted a socialism centered in national unity. Both communists and fascists opposed the bourgeoisie. Both attacked the conservatives. Both were mass movements, which had special appeal for the intelligentsia, students, and artists, as well as workers. Both favored strong, centralized governments and rejected a free economy and the ideals of individual liberty … There are important differences and bitter ideological enmity between Marxism and fascism; but their opposition to each other should not disguise their kinship as revolutionary socialist ideologies. Nor should figures of speech such as right wing or left wing, or artificial constructs such as reactionary and radical obscure a way of thinking that permeated a whole range of political and social positions … Economically, they favored government monopolies and a controlled economy. Culturally, they favored authoritarian control of the people.
Just three years ago, Bradley Birzer, the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in History at Hillsdale College put it this way:
In 1939, the same year the Germans and the Russians mutually consented to rape Poland, T.S. Eliot rather famously (or, I suppose for some, infamously) declared: “If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God), you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.” Eliot, of course, could not have been more correct. In 1936, you had three choices: National Socialism, international socialism, or dignity….
That the National Socialists embraced socialism is factually accurate. Though they did not nationalize to the extent the Leninists wanted, they did nationalize very vital industry in Germany, even if by outright intimidation rather than through the law. In his personal diaries, Joseph Goebbels wrote in late 1925: “It would be better for us to end our existence under Bolshevism than to endure slavery under capitalism.” Only a few months later, he continued, “I think it is terrible that we and the Communists are bashing in each other’s heads.” Whatever the state of the rivalry between the two camps, Goebbels claimed, the two forces should ally and conquer. He even reached out to a communist in a personal letter: “We are not really enemies,” he offered.
Hitler admired Stalin, and the two willingly carved up Poland in 1939. One SS division named itself after Florian Geyer, a Marxist hero promoted by Frederick Engels in The Peasant War in Germany. Hitler actively recruited communists into the National Socialist movement, believing they were far more malleable than Christians.
The Italian fascists had even closer ties to the Marxists, with Mussolini having begun his career as a Marxist publicist and writer. A few Italian fascists even held positions in the Comintern. The only serious divide between the Italian fascists (or those who would become fascists) and Italian communists in the 1910s was their support, or not, of Italy’s participation in World War I.
What’s our point? Only that Communists and Nazis have always been, in Birzer’s parlance, “kissing cousins.” They are not opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. They are two sides of the same socialist coin.
We forget this at our own risk. And if ever there was a time NOT to forget it, it’s now – or at least it was yesterday.