Were Nazis "On The Left"? Bedfellows, Buzzwords, and Acting "Big"

(These comments are expanded from my post yesterday on Moscow’s Vision 2020 community forum, regarding the insistence of some on the Right that the Nazi Party were “leftists”).

When I was a kid, the worst thing that could be said about you was that you were “acting big,” a charge so vague that it was, ironically, fraught with significance, since it could be assigned by any older kid for anything deemed unbecoming a younger kid. You may not have known what you did to deserve “she’s just acting big,” but when it was spoken of you, it was enough to prompt a thorough review of the day’s actions, interactions, and actionable offenses. And by the time I became one of the older kids, the name-calling and invective had evolved; by Junior High, being thought of as “acting conceited” was the dreaded result of bringing personalized pencils to school, organizing one’s locker, or siding with a teacher in a classroom debate. I was, to almost no one’s surprise, a prime offender — a smart-mouthed, bell-bottomed, shag-haired font of conceit and “big” acting.

By college, my friends and I laughed at the thought that America in the 1950s was a place where virtually any divergent political view could nail even the mildest as a Communist, and we were sobered by the ugliness of the ’60s and ’70s, when we knew people whose interracial friendships or marriages earned them the vile ugliness of “N—er lover,” which, actually, I had had thrown against me in school. By adulthood, I came to understand that name calling made as little sense in politics as it did on the playground, but resulted in something far more dangerous than simple hurt feelings. I also realized that in politics, hurling labels at your opponent was a shortcut and a distraction, a way to “participate” in the debate without the tiresome study of actual issues and positions.

I see this today in the Tea Party and, to a much lesser extent, among liberals frustrated by the inexplicable rise to prominence of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. But it’s the Right who’ve reached for and grabbed the gold ring of political name calling — Hitler! Nazi! — and who’ve stormed the gates not with sober analysis but with shrill pejorative and wild invective. And while it may sound like so much name calling on my part, I’m at a loss as to how else I can describe the utter stupidity of equating the Democratic Party and the politics of Barack Obama with Nazism.

Facts do matter, here and elsewhere, and no reputable student of political science, history, or economics would call the Nazis “leftists.” That Beck, many of the Tea Party non-party, and a crop of young Right-wing pundits do is tragic, but demonstrates my point. Obama’s policies may not be prudent to some; they may be dead wrong, too conservative or too liberal or too complex or too fluff-filled. But they, and he, are not like the Nazis, although I think he might be, to some, just a tad conceited. I think it’s undeniable that many on the Right don’t like seeing a Black man in the Oval Office, and traits of his that on an Anglo man would be admired are now, like so many personalized glitter pencils, evidence of his “acting big.” Can we really deny that racism is a factor in much of the anti-Obama name calling?

It wasn’t the smartest kids in school who were bent on screaming “you’re conceited!” to everyone they didn’t like, and it’s not the sharpest tools in anyone’s political shed today who hurl “Nazi! Hitler!” at everyone they disagree with. But sometimes those who’d rather not be troubled with study and analysis are stirred out of their stupor and leap into action when they hear certain buzzwords. I sincerely hope that in continuing, however absurdly, to insist that the Nazis were “on the left,” these folks are not mistakenly conflating the Third Reich’s “social Darwinism” and “socialism” with, say, Darwin-as-anti-Biblical-creationist and “socialism” as any attempt to establish a genuine social safety net for the poor, however limited. Words and labels are often dead wrong when applied out of context — especially the ones that are today incendiary.

After all, “Darwinism” and “evolution” are, to the Right, ugly liberal ideas that tear at the fabric of our putative national faith. Ditto for the “socialism” of idealistic, maybe even scruffy, college kids who flirt with the Socialist Workers’ Party and dream of living on communes, co-ops, and collectives, and who grew up, in the Tea Party’s current way of thinking, to be full-blown Marxists.

But that’s not how the Nazis used those terms. Far from it. “Social Darwinism” explained eugenics and the virulent racism and anti-Semitism of Hitler; the “socialism” of the Third Reich was an original hybrid of collectivism and conservatism of the kind not seen on mutualist worker communes in Vermont, but in the devastated economies of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Only the sloppiest of scholarship would suggest that the Nazis’ goals and the results thereof were in any way “from the Left.”

I’ve seen some conservatives make the mistake of borrowing words from the Nazis’ own 25-point political ideology and latching on to the ones that sound “liberal,” simply to vilify their political opponents. Posters of a Hitler-mustachioed Barack Obama can only possibly make sense among a group of people dedicated to the lowest common denominator of political namecalling — equating someone with Nazis. The pundits on the far Right know damned well that the policies of the Democratic Party, even at their most liberal, are politically antithetical to the fascism of the Third Reich, but they depend on the appalling and tragic ignorance of those they whip into a frenzy. It’s not often that people who are foaming at the mouth with hate know or care about truth, and that, I find, seems to serve well the goals and methods of today’s Tea Partyers.

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