One truly insidious aspect of the post-truth or post-fact world is that, as journalist Ali Velshi puts it, it is an incredible ‘time suck‘. Instead of meaningful debate, time is wasted having to establish even the most basic facts.
The fact that Nazism was a fascist ideology rooted in ultra-nationalism and white supremacy is well-established and uncontroversial among historians. And yet, the claim, largely pushed in alt-right circles, that the Nazis were in fact left-wing socialists has been persistent enough to prompt fact-checking site Snopes to cover the claim. It is a topic that has also excited Twitter.
The root of the claim is simply that the Nazi Party were formally called National Socialists. This, in itself, obviously does not carry the argument. North Korea is formally called a democratic republic. In practice it is neither.
So why did Hitler use the term socialist? In 1923 George Viereck interviewed him and asked that very question. Initially considered not newsworthy, the major papers did not publish it. A decade later, with Hitler set to seize power, an edited version of the interview was republished in Liberty magazine on 9 July 1932.
You can read the whole interview here: Hitler interview
Below is the relevant excerpt. Clearly Hitler is trying to redefine the word socialist. At the very least it is highly misleading to claim the Nazis were socialists without acknowledging that they had an unorthodox definition and also that the regime was openly hostile to what we would ordinarily call socialism.
It is interesting also that Hitler considered the Liberal Party as a possible title. If he had gone down that path, it would obviously have been a perverted and unorthodox version and it would be misleading to associate either classical or modern liberals with Nazism.
“Why,” I asked Hitler, “do you call yourself a National Socialist, since your party programme is the very antithesis of that commonly accredited to socialism?”
“Socialism,” he retorted, putting down his cup of tea, pugnaciously, “is the science of dealing with the common weal. Communism is not Socialism. Marxism is not Socialism. The Marxians have stolen the term and confused its meaning. I shall take Socialism away from the Socialists.
“Socialism is an ancient Aryan, Germanic institution. Our German ancestors held certain lands in common. They cultivated the idea of the common weal. Marxism has no right to disguise itself as socialism. Socialism, unlike Marxism, does not repudiate private property. Unlike Marxism, it involves no negation of personality, and unlike Marxism, it is patriotic.
“We might have called ourselves the Liberal Party. We chose to call ourselves the National Socialists. We are not internationalists. Our socialism is national. We demand the fulfilment of the just claims of the productive classes by the state on the basis of race solidarity. To us state and race are one.”
The interview is in The Penguin Book of Interviews (London: Viking, 1993), pp.292-296.