Don’t ever call Hitler a socialist

By branding political extremists “socialists” or “conservatives” we allow them the entry into the mainstream that they crave.

Hitler wasn’t a socialist. I’ve never spoken to him about it, obviously, but I think I’m on safe ground here.

In the past week, a debate began chugging along merrily following the suspension of Rachel Frosh from the Tory party candidates’ list. Frosh’s crime was to retweet the kind invitation “Dear Socialists, embrace your inner Nazism”, followed by a link to Adolf channelling his inner Keir Hardie: “We are Socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system,” the wannabe dictator said in 1927. Cue lots of excited blogging about how Hitler has spent the past 80 years giving the right a bad name, when he was just a poor man’s Nye Bevan.

“There is an accepted mainstream view that the origins of Nazism lie in socialism, or that they have common roots,” Frosh wrote in a piece for one right-wing website. Her definition of the “accepted mainstream” turned out to be something about Hayek written on Wikipedia.

“I believe Nazisim [sic] and Fascism to have far more in common with socialism than conservatism,” wrote the blogger Iain Dale. “The clue is the phrase ‘National Socialism’.” On which basis, the German Democratic Republic was presumably a flourishing democracy.

According to the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, “Almost everyone in those days accepted that Fascism had emerged from the revolutionary left.” Which is true, so long as you ignore what happened to Hitler’s old comrades during the Night of the Long Knives.

Anyone who has studied Hitler’s rise to power knows he was no socialist. He was an opportunist, even a political schizophrenic. Which served him well, because in a Weimar Republic struggling – and failing catastrophically – to come to terms with military humiliation, a crisis of national identity and an economic implosion, ideology was a moveable feast. Indeed, it was so moveable, it opened the door to Hitler’s rise to power. “Who cares what he thinks?” Germany said to herself. “He’ll do for now.”

Pin the ideology on the Führer is a fun game. Actually, it’s quite a tasteless game. But we can all play it. “The government will not protect the economic interests of the German people by the circuitous method of an economic bureaucracy to be organised by the state, but by the utmost furtherance of private initiative and by the recognition of the rights of property,” Hitler told the Reichstag in 1933. Not exactly the words of a man about to break into a rendition of “The Red Flag”.

But does it matter? Yes, it does, actually. Hitler wasn’t a socialist, nor was he a conservative. He was a political mutation. And to try to place him anywhere on the conventional political spectrum is not just to abuse history but to play a dangerous game with the future.

Hitler has gone but his progeny are very much alive. In Hungary, they are calling for a register of Jews to be drawn up. One, a mass murderer, is languishing in a Norwegian jail. A few are pushing their leaflets through the front doors on east London housing estates.

There is one thing political extremists crave more than anything else and that is entry to the mainstream – and by branding such people “socialists” or “conservatives” we unlatch the door and pull back the bolt.

Hitler was Hitler, a grotesque one-off. Or he will be, if we avoid bestowing unnecessary respectability on those who dream of following him.

 

Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler addresses members of the Hitler Youth Movement at Nuremberg. Photograph: Getty Images

This article first appeared in the 04 March 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The fall of Pistorius

Photo: Getty
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A year on from the Brexit vote it’s striking how little we know about where it will lead

So many questions, so few answers.

One year one. Anyone who hoped we’d know what Brexit might look like or even, heaven, forbid, that we’d be inhabiting a post-EU UK by now, must be thoroughly disappointed. Even those with more modest expectations are feeling slightly uncomfortable. Because, a year on, we don’t know that much more about what Brexit means  than we did on 23 June last year (well, we know it means Brexit, I suppose).  

We do know some things. First, that divorce talks are preceding trade talks, as the EU insisted – and David Davies denied – all along. Second what the European Union wants in the initial negotiations is crystal clear and indeed on their website, if you’re interested.

Third, the government, for the moment, remains committed to the kind of hard Brexit it has laid out since the Conservative Party conference. Nothing that has been said or done since the election indicates a softening of that position.

That’s it. That’s essentially all we have to show for the last year. This isn’t to say that stuff hasn’t been done. Both the European Commission and the British civil service have been beavering away on the Brexit issue. Papers have been written, careful, detailed analysis carried out. In fact Brexit has dominated the work of Whitehall since the fateful vote.

But for all this work, it’s striking how little we know about where this process will lead. The government’s commitment to a hard Brexit might not survive. Whether it does so or not will depend on what happens with the things we don’t know. The known unknowns, to coin (well, quote) a phrase.

First, we don’t know how long the prime minister will remain in post. This is obviously important, not least given Theresa May herself has seemingly singlehandedly been defining the kind of Brexit Britain should seek. Yet there is more to it than that. A leadership election would take time, and eat up yet more of the two years stipulated by the EU for the Article 50 process. It would also open the rift within the Conservative party over Brexit. Always a good spectator sport. Never a recipe for effective government.

Second, we don’t know how parliament will behave. Much has been made of the "soft Brexit majority" in the Palace of Westminster. But remember last June? When the significant majority of pro-remain MPs were expected to kick up a fight over Brexit? The same MPs who nodded the triggering of article 50 through with hardly a glance? We just do not know yet how MPs will behave.

And their behaviour will be shaped by both inter and intra-party dynamics. Both the large parties are internally divided over Brexit. The Labour leadership seems happy to leave the single market. Many Labour MPs, in contrast, are fundamentally, and publicly, opposed to the idea. Whether loyalty (not least given the prospect of another election) triumphs over opinions on the EU remains to be seen.

As it does for the Tories. I imagine the phrase "do you really want to risk a Corbyn government" will soon trip off the tongue of every government whip. Whether this threat will prove effective is anyone’s guess. Tory Remainers certainly seemed to rein in their criticism of the prime minister following the "chocolate trousers" affair. Maybe this was simply a case of keeping their powder dry until the legislation needed to make Brexit work hits parliament in the autumn. We’re about to find out. And it will matter much more now the Tories have lost their majority.  Indeed, I think this, more than anything else, is why the prime minister called the election in the first place.

One crucial determinant of how MPs behave will be what public opinion does. Regular polling by YouGov since the referendum has, until recently, shown virtually no movement in attitudes towards Brexit. Around 52 per cent think it was a good idea, and around 48 per cent a bad one. Sound familiar? There has in recent weeks been what could best be described as a slight wobble. What we don’t know is what will happen in the weeks to come. Should the polls show a swing away from Brexit, might politicians swing with it, increasing the pressure on the PM to modify and soften her stance?

Turning from Westminster to Whitehall, will a government with no majority adopt a different style to a government with a small one? This matters, particularly when it comes to business. The May Government before the election was notable for the way it put politics above economics, focusing on the need to ‘take back control’ even if this meant the potential for real economic damage. A number of business leaders report getting short shrift when they visited ministers to voice their concerns.

But can a weak government be so dismissive? We know what most businesses want – certainly the kinds of business that get to knock on ministerial doors. They want single market and customs union membership. They want, in other words, a soft Brexit. Chancellor Philip Hammond, it would seem, has been listening to them from the start. Will his colleagues now start to do so too?

And if government policy does start to shift, this in turn will open up a whole host of new unknowns. Most importantly, might the EU be open to some sort of deal whereby we limit free movement but get some kind of single market membership? That discussion has simply not happened, because of the way in which Theresa May closed it off by stipulating a hard Brexit.

Most EU observers think a compromise is unlikely in the extreme. Yet while the EU won’t be more generous to a non-member state than to a member state, there is no reason a non-member state should buy into all of core EU principles entirely, so there might be some room for compromise. Again, we don’t know. And we won’t unless we decide to ask.

So many questions, so few answers. That is the story of Brexit to date. One year on, and those answers are about to get clearer.

Anand Menon is the director of The UK in a Changing Europe. Read their report: EU referendum: one year on to find out more.

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