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
Show Hide image

The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.