Hitler and Socialism: Orwell's View
- From: David Friedman <ddfr@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2011 09:48:09 -0700
Some time back, there was a lively argument here over what was or wasn't
socialism. One dispute, there and in similar arguments I've seen
elsewhere online, is over whether the Nazis were or were not socialists.
One side points out the name of the party, the other objects that the
Nazis had no interest in, or were hostile to, various of the ideals
associated with socialism.
I've been rereading the four volume collection of Orwell's letters and
essays, and came across one that's relevant, a review of a book by Franz
Borkenau on totalitarianism. It's available online at:
Some relevant quotes:
" Until the signing of the Russo-German Pact, the assumption made on
both sides was that the Nazi régime was in no way revolutionary.
National Socialism was simply capitalism with the lid off, Hitler was a
dummy with Thyssen pulling the strings -- that was the official theory,
proved in many a pamphlet by Mr John Strachey and tacitly accepted by
The Times. Blimps and Left Book Club members alike swallowed it whole,
both of them having, so to speak, a vested interest in ignoring the real
facts. Quite naturally the propertied classes wanted to believe that
Hitler would protect them against Bolshevism, and equally naturally the
Socialists hated having to admit that the man who had slaughtered their
comrades was a Socialist himself. Hence, on both sides, the frantic
efforts to explain away the more and more striking resemblance between
the German and Russian régimes."
" From the first the aim of the Nazis was to turn Germany into a
war-machine, and to subordinate everything else to that purpose. But a
country, and especially a poor country, which is waging or preparing for
"total" war must be in some sense socialistic. When the State has taken
complete control of industry, then the so-called capitalist is reduced
to the status of a manager, and when consumption goods are so scarce and
so strictly rationed that you cannot spend a big income even if you earn
one, then the essential structure of Socialism already exists, plus the
comfortless equality of war-Communism. Simply in the interest of
efficiency the Nazis found themselves expropriating, nationalizing,
destroying the very people they had set out to save."
There are at least two points here relevant to past arguments. One is
the similarity of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Presumably some of the
socialists here would agree with that, but argue that they were both
similar in being not socialist. The other is the meaning of "socialism."
I think the quotes make it clear that Orwell, who considered himself and
was considered a socialist, saw "the essential structure of socialism"
as existing in Nazi Germany and consisting of the state controlling
industry. It wasn't, of course, the sort of socialism he wanted, but it
was a form of socialism.
Author of _Future Imperfect: Technology and Freedom in an Uncertain World_
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