Socialism and Fascism

In my recent article on Tony Kushner, I suggested that his socialist views were somehow akin to fascism. Predictably enough, the knee-jerk reaction to this statement was the reassertion of an old historical fallacy: the notion that socialism and fascism are somehow opposed to each other, that they have been historical rivals, that there is nothing but difference between the two -- and that I must have been ignorant of this historical fact. I did not, however, make this comparison glibly. Taken in full historical context, with full consideration of philosophic principle, socialism and fascism are essentially the same.

To know what socialism and fascism are, let us begin by examining some historical examples of each. Fascist states have included Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Tojo's Japan, Franco's Spain, Pinochet's Chile, and possibly Peron's Argentina. If we were to focus on each of these concretes, we would observe numerous differences. For instance, Hitler's Fascism was racist. Mussolini's was not. Mussolini's fascism involved belligerent nationalism. Franco's did not. What unites each of these concretes into a group of similars can be seen in a common definition of fascism: "A governmental system with strong centralized power, permitting no opposition or criticism, controlling all affairs of the nation (industrial, commercial, etc.)" (American College Dictionary, New York: Random House, 1957).

Socialist states have included the USSR(1), Communist China, socialist Sweden, socialist England, Cuba, North Korea, and a handful of lesser regimes in Eastern Europe, East Africa, and Southeast Asia. Once again, there is a prima facie difficulty in determining what factor these various states held in common. After all, some socialist regimes (like Sweden's and England's) were elected democratically. Others, like the USSR's and the PRC's, were the result of popular violent revolutions. Still others were the product of either military coup (Cuba, Ethiopia, Vietnam) or foreign invasion (the Eastern Bloc). The trait common to all of these is provided, once again by the definition of socialism: "a theory or system of social organization which advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means or production, capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole" (American College Dictionary).

Now that we have these two concepts (socialism and fascism) squarely on the table, we can spell out their differences and similarities. It is obvious that there are numerous differences between socialism and fascism, the most obvious of which concerns their view of private property. Socialism abolishes the institution entirely; fascism does not. For instance, in the Soviet Union, citizens had to wait years for their names to come up on a list to receive a car from the government. At the same time, everyone is familiar with the existence of wealthy property owners like Oskar Schindler who lived under the Nazi regime. This difference in ideology did in fact manifest itself in actual historical practice. The communists and Social Democrats were, in fact, the main opponents of the rise of Nazi power in Weimar Germany; Nazi Germany and Socialist Russia were at each other's throats in World War II.

True enough: We can put socialism and fascism on a table and stare at them all we like, and all we may see will be differences. What is required to go beyond this is to widen our context of knowledge. For instance, let's say we draw two geometrical figures on the chalkboard: a scalene and an isosceles. If we focus merely on these two concretes, without widening our context, we will see nothing but difference. The two triangles have different angles, different side lengths, different locations, different sizes. Now imagine that we introduce a foil: We draw a square on the board. The difference between the first two triangles is still there, but is made insignificant by the even greater difference between the triangles, on the one hand, and the square on the other. This process of differentiation allows us to see the triangles as similar. If we are able to isolate an essential characteristic of the group (a difference bewteen the triangles and squares which explains all or most of the other differences between them), we can then integrate this group of similars into a single mental unit, uniting it by a common definition, i.e., forming a concept.(2)

We can treat social systems in the same way in which we treat geometical figures. As we observed before, there are probably innumerable differences between socialism and fascism. But what happens if we introduce a foil here, as well? Let's imagine that we introduce a third type of social system. Rather than having society control all property, and rather than having dictatorship in one form or another, we introduce a system in which individuals are free to follow the dictates of their own mind. Rather than having a system in which the choice is between the abridgment of political freedom or the abridgment of economic freedom, we introduce one in which no one's freedom is to be abridged. In short, we introduce capitalism : the social system in which all property is privately owned, and the government's function is restricted to the protection of individual rights.

Once we remember the possibility of the existence of such a system, the differences between socialism and fascism become trivial, superficial and, above all, non-essential. Differentiation of socialism and fascism from capitalism permits the recognition of their similarity. They do differ from each other, but only in the way in which the scalene and the isosceles differ from each other: in degree, but not in kind. Socialism and fascism are each forms of statism, forms of government in which the government is given complete or extensive control over the lives of its citizens.

This theoretical consideration has massive consequences in the practical realm: The differences we noted before turn out not to be as important as we once might have thought.

It is true that fascist systems permitted property ownership, while socialist ones did not. However, fascist "property rights" were only nominal: A businessman (such as Oskar Schindler) would retain legal title to his goods, but he would not retain any control over them. Because he was not politically free, the government could order him to use his property as it desired (such as by using it to produce war implements) -- even if it was _his_ property that was being used. Just as there can be no split between mind and body, there can be no split between political freedom and economic freedom. Man cannot exist without a mind and a body, and he cannot be free if someone else controls either.

It is true that the Nazis and socialists were rivals for power in Weimar Germany. On account of their similar political ideologies, however, this rivalry collapsed in the face of the defeat of their common enemy: capitalism. Forgive me for "quoting Ayn Rand", but the following is a matter of historical fact: the German election of 1933, the Communist Party was ordered by its leaders to vote for the Nazis -- with the explanation that they could later fight the Nazis for power, but first they had to help destroy their common enemy: capitalism and its parliamentary form of government ("'Extremism,' or The Art of Smearing", September 1964, in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, pg. 180).

Dr. Leonard Peikoff reaffirms this point in his book, The Ominous Parallels:

The communists, too, wanted to use Hitler. Time after time their deputies voted with the Nazis in the Reichstag; they voted against legislation designed to cope with emergencies, against measures designed to curb violence, against attempts to maintain in office any kind of stable government. The Communists even agreed to cooperate with Nazi thugs. In November 1932, for instance, the two mortal enemies could be observed standing comfortably, shoulder to shoulder, on the streets of Berlin, collecting money to support a violent strike by the city's transportation workers.

When Hitler's fortunes seemed to be faltering for a time in 1932, a stream of anxious Nazis poured into the ranks of the Communists; the Germans watching said that a Nazi is like beefsteak: brown on the outside, red on the inside. Soon, however, the traffic was in the opposite direction. "[T]here is more that binds us to Bolshevism than separates us from it," said Hitler to Rauschning. "There is, above all, genuine revolutionary feeling, which is alive everywhere in Russia except where there are Jewish Marxists. I have always made allowance for this circumstance, and given orders that former Communists are to be admitted to the party at once. The petit bourgeois Social-Democrat and the trade-union boss will never make a National Socialist, but the Communist always will" (Quoting from Rauschning's The Voice of Destruction, pg. 131) (Peikoff, 221).

Peikoff continues:

In the final months the Communists viewed the growing Nazi strength with equanimity. The triumph of Nazism, they said, has been ordained by the dialectic process; such triumph will lead to the destruction of the republican form of government, which is a necessary stage in the achievement of communism. Afterward, they said, the Nazis will quickly fade and the party of Lenin can take over (222).

As for the Social Democrats, Dr. Peikoff notes that

The Social Democrats, meanwhile, were being "tamed" in another way by Chancellor Franz von Papen. In July 1932, using only a token armed force, he ousted them illegally from the government of Prussia. The party leaders understood that this coup, if uncontested, would mean the loss of their last bastion of strength. But they observed the swelling ranks of the Nazis and Communists; the Prussian police and the German army brimming with nationalist militants; the millions of unemployed workers, which made the prospects for a general strike bleak -- and they decided to capitulate without a fight, lest they provoke a bloody civil war they had no heart to wage and little chance to win....There were not many Social Democrats who rose up in fury over 'the rape of Prussia.' The party had long since lost most of those who take ideas or causes seriously. there was not much youtful ardor to summon to the side of social democracy. "Republik, das ist nicht viel, Sozialismus is unser Ziel" ("A republic, that is not much, socialism is our goal") -- such were the signs carried in parades by young workers of the period (222).

The reason for which the Social Democrats were so passive was not a mere inability to practice their principles consistently. It was, instead, a matter of the logical import of their principles. As Dr. Peikoff notes: "The republicans in every political party and group were in the same position: more and more, the contradictions involved in their views were leaving these men lifeless, and even speechless. They could hardly praise freedom very eloquently, not while they themselves, like everyone else, were insisting on further statist measures to cope with the economic crisis" (222-223).

To the extent that any of these political groups did clash in Weimar Germany, the clashes were not over matters of principle. They were of the variety of conflict seen most often in inner city America, where rival gangs fight over turf, over such trivial difference as the color of clothing worn by the other gang. In the end, whoever happens to win is a pointless consideration. The result is the same: blood in the streets.

As for the conflict between the Nazis and the USSR, one need only recall the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1937, in which the two powers agreed to divide up Eastern Europe together. Hitler and Stalin apparently had no problem in principle with working together to exterminate freedom in peaceful nations.

In case anyone still doubts the fact that there was no difference in princple between the fascists and the socialists, consider the following revealing quotations from various infamous Nazis and other fascists:

We ask that the government undertake the obligation above all of providing citizens with adequate opportunities for employment and earning a living.

The activities of the individual must not be allowed to clash with the interests of the community, but must take place within its confines and for the good of all. Therefore, we end to the power of the financial interests.

We demand profit sharing in big business.

We demand a broad extension of care for the aged.

We demand...the greatest possible consideration of small business in the purchases of the national, state and municipal governments.

In order to make possible to every capable and industrious [citizen] the attainment of higher education and thus the achievement of a post of leadership, the government must provide an all-around enlargement of our entire system of public education...We demand the education at government expense of gifted children of poor parents...

The government must undertake the improvement of public health -- by the greatest possible support for all clubs concerned with the physical education of youth.

[We] combat the...materialistic spirit withn and without us, and are convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only proceed from within on the foundation of The Common Good Before the Individual Good .

(Nazi party platform adopted at Munich, February 24, 1920;Der Nationalsozialismus Dokumente 1933-1945, edited by Walther Hofer, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Bucherei, 1957, pp. 29-31).

It is thus necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his nation; that the position of the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the nation as a whole...that above all the unity of a nation's spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual....This state of mind, which subordinates the interests of the ego to the conservation of the community, is really the first premise for every truly human culture....The basic attitude form which such activity arises, we call -- to distinguish it from egoism and selfishness -- idealism. By this we understand only the individual's capacity to make sacrifices for the community, for his fellow men.

(Adolf Hitler speaking at Bueckeburg, Oct. 7, 1933; The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1922-39, ed. N.H. Baynes (2 vols., Oxford, 1942), I, 871-72; translation Professor George Reisman.)

[Fascism stresses] the necessity, for which the older doctrines make little allowance, of sacrifice, even up to the total immolation of individuals, in behalf of society...For Liberalism, the individual is the end and society the means; nor is it conceivable that the individual, considered in the dignity of an ulitmate finality, be lowered to mere instrumentality. For Fascism, society is the end, individuals the means, and its whole life consists in using individuals as instruments for its social ends.

(Alfredo Rocco, "The Political Doctrine of Fascism" (address delivered at Perugia, Aug. 30, 1925); reprinted in Readings on Fascism and National Socialism, pp. 34-35.)

[T]he higher interests involved in the life of the whole...must set the limits an lay down the duties of the interests of the individual.

(Adolf Hitler at Bueckeburg, op cit pg. 872.)

Unless the political implications of this ethical doctrine of collectivism are not apparent to everyone, the Nazis make them strikingly clear. The Nazis were opposed to authentic private property, and as a result, to capitalism:

"Private property" as conceived under liberalistic economic order was a reversal of the true concept of property. This "private proprerty" represented the right of the individual to manage and to speculate with inherited or acquired property as he pleased, without regard to the general interests...German socialism had to overcome this "private", that is, unrestrained and irresponsible view of property. All property is common property. The owner is bound by the people and the Reich to the responsible management of his goods. His legal position is only justified when he satisfies this responsibility to the community.

(Ernst Huber, Nazi party spokesman; National Socialism, prepared by Raymond E. Murphy, et al; quoting Huber, Verfassungsrecht des grossdeutschen Reiches (Hamburg, 1939))

To be a socialist is to submit the I to the thou; socialism is sacrificing the individual to the whole.

(Nazi head of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels; In Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom (New York: Farrar, 1941), pg. 233.)


I have learned a great deal from Marxism, as I do not hesitate to admit. The difference between them and myself is that I have really put into practice what these peddlers and penpushers have timidly begun...I had only to develop logically what Social Democracy repeatedly failed in because of its attempt to realize its evolution within the framework of democracy. National Socialism is what Marxism might have been if it could have broken its absurd and artificial ties with the democratic order.

(Hitler to Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction, pg. 186).

I hope by now that it should be obvious that the philosophical difference between the fascists and the socialists was minor, if existent at all. Each of these schools reject the efficacy of reason, affirm the principle of altruism, and uphold some form of collectivism. The inevitable result of these views is the destruction of freedom, which is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany and in Soviet Russia.

This leads me to reiterate a point I made in my original article on Tony Kushner. Kushner may believe that he can argue for gay rights, he may reject the conclusions of fascism, he may have even openly condemn Nazism in his many works on the holocaust. This, however, is what makes his overall position so utterly contradictory -- and saddening. In my article, I listed each of his positions in epistemology and ethics. These positions were precisely the same as those held by the Nazis. He cannot escape his premises, and their logical conclusions -- no matter how much he wishes to reject the holocaust and affirm gay rights.

(1) That the Soviet Union was actually a socialist state is surprisingly another point of contention. Modern socialists typically charge that the USSR was not socialist, but Stalinist, and that the attrocities associated with that regime were entirely attributable to Stalin's adulteration of communist doctrine. The fallacies in this view are multifaceted, but I cannot write another essay explaining this as well. For the moment, I will merely argue that the USSR (and Communist China, as well) were in fact the living embodiments of socialist ideas. There is not a plank in Marx's Manifesto which was not implemented in the Soviet Union, save for Marx's arbitrary prescription that the state should "wither away". That such was not the case in the USSR was not a mere failure to practice socialist principles, but a consequence of the fact that socialist principles were inconsistent in theory. It is not possible to argue that each individual should sacrifice for the whole of society, and yet expect each individual to know what "society's good" consists of, without having a dictator to tell them.

(2) The way in which I have explained the process of concept-formation is consistent with Ayn Rand's solution to the problem of universals in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

Revised: 2. November, 1997 a.D.

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