On December 23, Twitter fell into a long debate about the political economy of Nazism. It began with a tweet by Allie Beth Stuckey, a conservative commentator. She maintained that the Nazis were socialists, and this is what the Greatest Generation (whatever that means), in essence, "fought against." Those on the left argued that Nazis were in no way socialists and indeed sent communists and socialists to the death camps with Jews. Dinesh D'Souza, another conservative commentator, jumped into the debate by adding that there was nothing rightwing in the Nazi 25-Point Program: "state control of banks, of education, of churches, of industry."
Got some angry peeps, I see. 1) The idea that FDR’s New Deal saved us from the GD is debatable at best. https://t.co/X6kYWF3HV8
2) Yes, the Nazis were socialists. The Greatest Gen fought against totalitarianism in many forms, including this one.
— Allie Beth Stuckey (@conservmillen) December 23, 2019
Torsten Kathke, a historian at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University, made nonsense of D'Souza's assertion by pointing out that banks aren't even mentioned at all in the 25 points (department stores are, as many were owned by Jews), and that the Nazi program for Churches and education were not secular but basically racist.
Now, if you read the program, you will find that for the four things @DineshDSouza mentions – banks, education, churches, industry – one can make the argument that "state control" is the goal only for the topics of education and, to a degree, industry.
— Torsten Kathke (@torstenkathke) December 24, 2019
(When the right says socialist state control they usually mean the elimination of religious morality from from society, but this was not at all the case with Nazism.)
The end of the debate was nothing but a mess because socialism is poorly understood by the right as a whole and also by large sections of the left.
Hitler's Germany was indeed a socialist society, and one that, in essence, was not that different from what is called the Swedish Model, a form of social democracy admired by Bernie Sanders. Both Germany and Sweden expanded the welfare state (pension programs, higher incomes of the working classes, and universal healthcare) on the basis of a shared community. The difference between Nazi socialism and the Swedish Model is not that one was racial (Germany) and the other wasn't. No, both were profoundly racial in character. In fact, the founding concept of the Swedish Model was called folkhemmet ("the people's home). Nazism could not have described its own socialism much better. The difference, then, is in how Germany and Sweden paid for their respective systems. With Hitler, it was raw robbery and slavery. To get an idea of how this criminal socialism (also called fascism), worked, listen to this brief presentation by the young London-based German-born historian David Motadel.
Begin at 25:35.
The emergence of welfare states after the Second World War is the subject of this panel, which occurred at the London School of Economics in 2018. In the UK, this emergence was detailed by the Beveridge Report in 1942; and in the US, by the New Deal, which began in 1933. In Sweden, the pension program of 1937 formed the base for its welfare model. In Germany, however, it was Nazism, which, as David Motadel points out, was the second of three waves of state welfare projects. (The first was led by Otto von Bismarck in the early 1880s; the third was the post-war social market project promoted by the ordoliberals.) Motadel explains that many of the policies of the second German welfare program, Nazism, were indeed socialist and were not discontinued after the war.
What welfare projects in the US, the UK, Sweden, Germany, Japan, and so on had in common was a real fear of communism, a fear of unions, the fear of the reds. It was clear even by the 1880s that capitalism could not divide wealth fairly. The more the power of the market grew, the greater became the distance between the poor and the rich. This situation led to the rise of labor movements, many of which were radical (the abolition of capital). After the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the global depression initiated by the stock market crash of 1929, advanced capitalist states faced an existential threat. Capitalism in its 19th century form (laissez-faire) was not going to survive the crisis. Under great democratic pressure, these states had to make one of two choices to avoid a full-blown red revolution: either social democracy or socialism. Both demanded a massive expansion of the state's role in wealth distribution. The US and the UK (for example) picked social democracy; Germany and Italy (for example) picked socialism in the form of fascism.
But both social democracy and socialism were expressed, in the West, racially or ethnically. This goes with the New Deal, the Beveridge plan, the Swedish Model, and, of course, Nazism. Welfare programs were first and foremost for a group that defined a nation's identity. This understanding is with us even today. In the UK, it has taken the political form of Brexit, which is predominately a racial response to the image of immigrants benefiting from welfare benefits that should only be allotted to white Brits. And if we go back to the US's booming post-war period (1947 to 1971), we find a massive march in 1963 that concerned how black Americans had been handed a "bad check" by the New Deal.
One can better understand the racial dimension of Western socialism with the assistance of a theoretical system elaborated by the Japanese philosopher and literary critic Kojin Karatani in his 2014 book The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes. Karatani describes modern societies as organized around three social forms, each with its unique history and essence. There is the historical development of the state, the market, and the nation; and the essence of each being equality (as before the law), liberty (the right to buy and sell), and fraternity (the community). Karatani believes that Marxists privileged the economic (the meat of the matter) and relegated the state and the nation to the superstructure (purely ideological). This, he reasons, was a mistake because fundamental to all of the domains is a form of exchange: that of commodities for the capitalism, distributive for the state, reciprocal for the nation. If one grasps Karatani's system, it becomes clear that the nation is the domain from which racialized (and finally fascistic) socialism (the community) emerges.
Though I agree with the basic structure of Karatani's system, I replace the forms of exchange with structures of feeling, a concept I borrow from the mid-century British literary critic Raymond Williams, who borrowed the idea from a 1934 book called Patterns of Culture by the American anthropologist Ruth Benedict. I do not see capitalism so much as a mode of exchange but as a mode of feeling within a given cultural context. This feeling is historically determined and, as such, generates virtual compossibles compatible with the structure of its reality. With the market-oriented mode, one feels the value of prices, or the color of cash, the ring of a register, the oracular pronouncements of the Fed Chair. All of these and more are structured into a total or absolute feeling that is distinct from that of the state and nation.
With the nation, we find its essence to be a feeling of community that's defined by, to use Karatani's words, "fear of the stranger." Racism is the feeling appropriate to nationalism. A type of socialism that is dominated by national feelings will result in fascism.
The way out of national socialisms, all of which failed (the Reagan era crushed the New Deal commitment to unions; Thatcher massively privatized state obligations; fascism went up in flames), is cosmopolitan socialism. Its point of the departure is the urban condition and its radical element is disembedding (in the Karl Polanyi sense) not only capital but also labor within the economic. Karl Marx, however, also imagined a cosmopolitan socialism; indeed, he was certain that local forms of socialism were doomed, and the only one with a chance had to be "spontaneously" international. But his 19th century vision of spontaneous global socialism could not avoid being linked to (or be a consequence of) the formation of global capitalism. This condemned Marxian cosmopolitanism to a Hegelain realization of a post-capitalist workers world. Here, only the spirit of labor is internationalized.
Socialist cosmopolitanism (SC) confronts neoliberal cosmopolitanism, which is contentless (for reference, read Voltaire's 18th century description of the London Stock Exchange). There are no citizens with SC, only inhabitants, only bare existence. Statelessness is the SC ideal. As with Williams "structure feeling," it has as its inspiration the ideas of an American anthropologist (or sociobiologist), Sarah Hrdy. Its structure of feeling, therefore, is the human as a highly social animal (the human bare existence). From this point, it sees the function of culture as the enhancement of our kind of sociality and anything else as a corruption of that function.
Finally, with SC, the human is universal not because of a supernatural law, but because we are a new species. This was the content of a short essay, "Human Equality Is a Contingent Fact of History," which the 20th century evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote in South Africa in 1984:
...Equality is not given a priori; it is neither an ethical principle (though equal treatment may be) nor a statement about norms of social action. It just worked out that way. A hundred different and plausible scenarios for human history would have yielded other results (and moral dilemmas of enormous magnitude). They didn't happen.SC does not have citizens or strangers.
The history of Western views on race is a tale of denial—a long series of progressive retreats from initial claims for strict separation and ranking by intrinsic worth toward an admission of the trivial differences revealed by this contingent history.