Fascism and Nazism were not left-wing “socialist” ideologies

There are people in the higher echelons of Bolsonaro's government that say that Fascism and Nazism were left-wing political movements. What theoretical basis do they use to say this? Well, some incredibly crazy ones. One of them is that, supposedly, what defines “left-wing” is the perversion of something good. For example: they say that nationalism is something good, but it was perverted by Nazism; therefore, Nazism is left-wing. It's come to the point that I heard friends (who follow the ex-astrologer, geocentrist and flat-earther Olavo de Carvalho, Bolsonaro's ideological guru) saying that the first leftists were Adam and Eve. I am not kidding. In the last few years, many right-wingers — be them neoliberal, anarcho-capitalists, conservative, etc — started saying that both Italian Fascism and German Nazism were left-wing ideologies because, according to them, both were collectivists, authoritarian, socialists, anti-capitalists, anti-religious, and anti-conservative. In this essay I will deal with each one of these points in order to show they are all wrong.

“Death to Marxism” written in a banner during a Nazi rally. Hitler is in the upper left corner of the picture

But before doing that, I need to make something very clear: having one or another similar characteristic between two political regimes does not make them equal one another, just as similar characteristics between two different individuals doesn't make them the same person. Besides that, it's worth noticing that the concept of left and right we have today is derived from the position of the members in the National Assembly during the French Revolution, at the end of 18th century. Therefore, we commit anachronism when we say things like: “Spartacus was a leftist because he led a slave revolt, while Crassus was a right-winger because he led the Roman legions that suppressed the revolt” or “Adam and Eve were the first leftists” (the latter affirmation, besides being anachronistic also shows magical-thinking).


Let's first discuss the accusation of collectivism. If we define collectivism as a political regime where the State is organized in such a way as to take into account the interests of the collective before the interests of individuals, then Fascism and Nazism were NOT collectivist. I say this because even though the populist discourse was present in both regimes, the major beneficiaries of Italian Fascism and German Nazism were industrialists, businessmen and members of higher echelons of government. Now, if we define collectivism as a political regime in which decisions are taken in a collective and egalitarian manner, Fascism and Nazism certainly WERE NOT collectivist regimes, for obvious reasons. In other words: it doesn't matter defining collectivism as a “political regime in which the State is organized in a way that the interests of the collective are taken into account before the individual” or “a political regime in which decisions are taken collectively and in egalitarian fashion”, both Fascism and Nazism were not collectivist.

It's worth remembering that authoritarianism by itself doesn't make a political regime right or left. Can someone come up and say that 21st century Saudi Arabia is a left-wing regime because it is authoritarian? Of course not. Saudi Arabia is a theocratic absolute monarchy guided by extreme religious conservatism. In a similar fashion, no serious person will claim that Stalin's regime was right-wing because he was authoritarian. Saying a political regime was or is authoritarian doesn't define jack. We can't just pick up a bunch of negative characteristics and make them equal something. That is why when someone claims that Fascism and Nazism were left-wing ideologies he sounds like a complete idiot. It's ridiculous. The sad part is that we see people with college degrees falling for this narrative. Even I fell for similar falsehoods in the past.

Fascism and Nazism were not socialist. Socialism is a type of political and economic organization based on the collective or State ownership of the means of production. At most one can argue that Fascism and Nazism were mixed economies — something every contemporary market economy is — with a great deal of State dirigism, but that kept the means of production in private hands. Industries had owners that profited or not, just like any other capitalist country.

Fascism and Nazism were not anti-capitalist. Although the economy in fascist Italy wasn't based on liberal-capitalism and free-market, it was closer to any contemporary capitalist economy than to a socialist economy like the former Soviet Union or present-day Cuba. Italian fascists implemented rules that private businesses had to follow, including labor laws, but private property of the means of production wasn't abolished or socialized. One of the most memorable characteristics of Fascism as a “third way” between liberal-capitalism and Marxist socialism was the rejection of class-struggle in favor of a violent hierarchical society, centered around the fascist State. The working class had to submit to a much tighter State control than the business class: the fascists criminalized labor strikes and protests, besides nationalizing all unions in order to control workers.

The Nazis also did not abolish the private means of production in Germany. The simple fact that there was a higher degree of dirigism in Italy and Germany didn't make those countries anti-capitalist. If that were the case, all nations throughout History would have to be classified as anti-capitalist, even today. Besides the minorities persecuted by those regimes, those that had ways could start businesses and profit. Even Hitler insisted in the sacredness of private property of the means of production, affirming on several occasions that Marxists and socialists (other than his “national-socialists”) were wrong when they defended the socialization of property. The anti-capitalist speech that existed in Italy and Germany had one target, and that was the international financial capitalist system, not industrial capitalism. In the case of the German propaganda, the international financial elite was associated with Jews, which helped the spread antisemitism and hatred.

Fascism and Nazism were not anti-religious movements. Yes, there were those inside Nazism that wanted to modify the Christian religion by taking out “Jewish elements”. Although this grotesque attitude was espoused by some, we can't consider it “anti-religious”, but an attempt to control religion. Not surprisingly, people who defended these policies weren't successful inside the Nazi regime. For the most part, German protestants and Catholics didn't suffer under the Nazi regime because of their faith, to the point that many of those who were persecuted by the Nazis disguised themselves as Christians so they wouldn't be killed. The persecution of Jews didn't have a religious basis, but ethnic and racial. Italian fascists, in their turn, were ahead of the government when the Lateran Treatise was signed, which gave the Vatican autonomy to act as an independent State — the Vatican was even financially compensated by the fascists for having lost the papal states in Italy.

Fascism and Nazism were not anti-conservative. After the fascists exercised a tremendous pressure, Mussolini became the prime minister, chosen by the king of Italy. The fascist State kept the monarchy and Italian institutions intact. Catholicism, the religion espoused by most Italians, was recognized in 1929 as the official religion of the Italian State. The need for civil marriages was overturned — only the religious Catholic ceremony became necessary. In other words: the fascists had an enormous respect for the traditional Italian institutions. No political, economic or social innovation proposed by the fascists had the traditional institutions as a target.

In its turn, the Nazi party had what was considered a “left-wing”. This wing was also nationalistic, racist and antisemitic. The only major difference was that this wing thought that Hitler's rise to power would be incomplete without the removal of the financial elites and the implementation of a regime that benefited the German working class. Needless to say, the so-called left-wing of the Nazi party was purged on the infamous “Night of the Long Knives”, in 1934. During this event, many members who Hitler didn't like were arrested and killed. After that night, the regime established itself with the vast support of the German economic elite.

And that's it.

There are also those who prefer to say that there's only a continuum that goes from societies with less State presence and societies with more State presence, ignoring all other characteristics. To them, societies with more State presence are always classified as “socialist” or “collectivist” (leftist), while those that have less State presence are classified as classic-liberal, libertarian (right). That is why some neoliberals put Fascism, Nazism, social-democracy, socialism and communism in the same bag: collectivism would be “left-wing” by definition. All of these regimes would be collectivist and State-worshipers, while small State regimes would promote individual freedom and prosperity. Anyone that repeats this kind of nonsense commits the grave mistake of only using the size of the State as parameter. This mistake happens because they start from a failed theoretical presupposition which states that it is possible to separate economic power from political power in the history of the world. But this separation is impossible, they are always together.

There has never existed an absolute dichotomy between the State and the market. It is precisely the State that guarantees the existence (or not) of a free market. Just observe the favelas and slums of Rio de Janeiro and see what occurs without the presence of the State: there is no free and self regulated market, but control by violent groups (factions, militias) that act as if they were the State, but without any of the legal guarantees citizens have in a modern democratic State. The idea that a big or interventionist State can be defined as “left-wing”, regardless of any other characteristic it might have, shows how important it is to remember definitions. The terms right and left were consecrated in the political discourse in the last two centuries for a simple reason: one denotes permanence and prudence, the other change.

During the French Revolution, the historical event that originated the political terms “right” and “left”, the right of the National Assembly was composed of people who defended the maintenance of certain privileges that were still around even after the fall of the Old Regime, while the left wanted the abolition of those remaining privileges — and both didn't mind using the power of the State to conquer their objectives. Another way to put it is this: right and left never had anything to do with the size of the State, but with political objectives. That doesn't mean that since then the right started to defend less State intervention while the left defended more: this is false. If we take the French Revolution as our starting point, the right was conservative and defended the maintenance of privileges via the power of the State, while the left wanted to abolish those privileges also using the power of the State. Therefore, the size of the State or how much it intervenes has nothing to do with being left or right. It never had.

In conclusion, if anyone wants to know if Fascism and Nazism were left-wing movements, all they need to do is to study the relationship those movements had with the left at the time (a tip: they violently opposed the left, while they were lauded and embraced by traditionalists and businessmen). It would also be interesting to see the relationship between neofascist movements and contemporary leftist parties and movements (another tip: they hate each other).


After finishing this essay, I remembered that I forgot to include another common accusation right-wingers use to associate — I can't really understand why — Nazism with left-wing regimes: disarmament. There exists a false idea that the Nazi regime disarmed the German population. If we exclude the persecuted minorities, the Germans actually ended up having more gun rights during the Nazi regime, with laws passed in 1938.

To say that the prohibition of gun ownership by minorities in Nazi Germany qualifies the regime as anti-gun while the majority of the population started having more gun rights is complete idiocy. Besides that, the argument that persecuted minorities could have fought back if they were armed is nonsense, the same way it is nonsense to say that American citizens today will be able to fight against the American armed forces: one side has tank divisions, air force, training, and an entire war apparatus, while the other side has unorganized civilians and a few ex-combatants with some firearms.

By Fernando Olszewski

(This post was first published in Portuguese on April 3rd, 2019, @ Exilado Metafísico)

. "The Birth of Fascist Ideology: from cultural rebellion to political revolution". Zeev Sternhell, Mario Sznajder, Maia Asheri.
. Fascism and the Corporate State (Wiley Online Library)
. "Germany: economic and labour conditions under fascism". Jürgen Kuczynski.
. 'No room for the alien, no use for the wastrel' (The Gardian)
. Adolf Hitler was not a socialist (Vox)
. The German churches and the Nazi State (Holocaust Encyclopedia)
. The ‘Catholic’ girl hidden from Nazis who learned she was a Jew (New York Post)
. German pastor sent names of 'non-Aryan Christians' to Nazis (The Irish Times)
. Lateran Treaty (Wikipedia)
. Benito Mussolini (History.com)
. How the Catholic Church Got in Bed with Mussolini (The Daily Beast)
. Night of the Long Knives (Wikipedia)
. The Hitler gun control lie (Salon)
. Was Hitler Really a Fan of Gun Control? (Mother Jones)
. Gun-rights advocates cite Nazi laws in their defense of the Second Amendment. Is the comparison fair? (Tablet Magazine)