They always get this wrong,
September 26, 2000 10:05 AM   Subscribe

They always get this wrong, and it's really annoying. Shouldn't a paramilitary group headed by a marxist be considered "left-wing"? Somehow the definition of "right-wing" seems to include everything the media finds distasteful. Over and over again, I see Hitler referred to as "right-wing" when he was very much leftist. The word NAZI is an acronym for the German Socialist party.
posted by mildew (15 comments total)
The left-right spectrum really isn't enough room to fit all the different political ideas on.

Yes, "NAZI" stood for National Socialism, but in fact their principles (and actions) were more fascist than socialist. Fascists are usually regarded as extreme right wing, thus neo-Nazis are regarded as right wingers. Considering the similarities between Nazism and white separatist groups, and the similarities between those groups and conservative religious separatist groups, you can see where the connection comes in.

True, though, I have a hard time seeing how one fits Marxism into the "right wing" category. Perhaps the leader's politics and that of the group don't align perfectly...?

In any case, right and left just aren't enough to accurately describe anything more complicated than the Republicans-vs-Democrats tussle, and even then I don't think it's terribly useful.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:11 AM on September 26, 2000

The head of the right-wing paramilitary in the piece you linked to wasn't the same person as the Marxist guerrilla.

Nazi is an abbreviation of National Socialist, not German Socialist.

It's true that in its early years Nazi ideology had certain left-ish elements (antipathy to big business and so on). Nearly all of this had been dumped by the time of the Night of the Long Knives, though, and saying that Hitler was 'very much a leftist' is about as wrong as you can get.

Apart from that, well done.
posted by Mocata at 10:19 AM on September 26, 2000

Yeah: the piece isn't well written -- in fact, it has the air of Babelfish about it -- but that's no excuse for not working out that the "and" meant that the two titles applied to different people.
posted by holgate at 12:30 PM on September 26, 2000

Yes, this is one of the more spectacular misreadings of a straightforward sentence. The key word in the first sentence of that article is 'rank'. Two people (one a Marxist, one a right-winger) rank. One person (the supposed Marxist right-winger) 'ranks'.

And as for Hitler being a left-winger, I can see I'll have to trade all of my political science degrees for one from Alice in Wonderland University, where black is white and left is right.

Just because the Nazis used the word 'socialist' didn't make them so. There are also plenty of 'democracies' and 'republics' around that are neither. Welcome to the wonderful world of rhetoric and propaganda. You'll find that some political parties are really good at it.
posted by rory at 12:30 PM on September 26, 2000

Look, most Americans don't even know what "socialism" means, without going into Hitler's appropriation of the term.
posted by holgate at 1:43 PM on September 26, 2000

Nazi isn't an acronym. It's short for Nationalsozialistische deutsche Arbeiter-Partei (National Socialist German Workers' Party).
posted by gleemax at 2:18 PM on September 26, 2000

While we're quibbling about misused nomenclature:

There are also plenty of 'democracies' and 'republics' around that are neither.

A republic isn't by definition a democracy with universal suffrage, either. It just means that it is not ruled by a heriditary monarch. It's leadership is elected by those entitled to vote. In some republics that number is very small (ie. an oligarchy). Most republics today are not ruled by monarchs.

The roman republic was ruled by a oligarchy of patricians. The US originally only permitted property owning white males to vote.
posted by lagado at 2:54 PM on September 26, 2000

Hitler was not a leftist. One of the basic axioms of socialism is its belief in the equality of its people regardless of race or sex. Nazism was based on a social darwinist philosophy which stressed the importance of fitness to rule by genetic superiority.

Marxism denounces nationalism as a capitalist doctrine. The practice may be different but the rhetoric is always different from fascist rhetoric.

It is true that Mussolini's fascism originally started out as a splinter group from the Italian Socialist Party. Mussolini was the son of an anarchist, was the editor of the Socialist Party newspaper Avanti and was a avowed marxist right up until his split with the party, (ironically because he was in favor of Italy going to war with Germany in World War 1, the socialist where antinationalists). He took with him a lot of disillusioned socialists to form the Fascist party.

posted by lagado at 3:11 PM on September 26, 2000

While we're quibbling about quibbling about misused nomenclature: I know that not all republics are democracies. And the definition of 'republic' is a slippery one. That's why I included both terms, and separately.
posted by rory at 5:42 PM on September 26, 2000

masters, ladies, all: what the hell is a leftist, and what the hell is a rightist? neither the media or the enlightened participants (above) have communicated this except in one way: left is favored, right is not.
posted by greyscale at 6:23 PM on September 26, 2000

greyscale got it right. I think there is a bad habit of dismissing any evil caused by someone who hold leftist beliefs as never having been genuine in their leftist beliefs. Fascists represented by a bundle of sticks, indicates a collective. The Unabomber acting alone suggests a conservative bent. Right and left are worse than clumsy, they are misleading. We need a 3 dimensional example that allows extreme left and right to meet up in some chaotic zone and that doesn't allow us to believe any bent is free from being corrupted. If you don't think Hitler was leftist, do you agree that Stalin was? Can we agree that Stalin killed more people and commited even greater evil. There were certainly socialist elements to the Nazi regime right up until the end. The fact that the Nazi were not pure in their rule does not automatically make them rightwing, it probably puts them at the extreme end of some third option.
posted by thirteen at 7:05 PM on September 26, 2000

Hitler used both "left" and "right" political ideas to form a consensus among the Germans. He was a Machivellian politician who believed in the philosophy of Nietzsche. Might makes right. Peace promotes the weak. The strong can and should exploit the weak.
posted by PaperCut at 9:08 PM on September 26, 2000

If you don't think Hitler was leftist, do you agree that Stalin was?


Can we agree that Stalin killed more people and commited even greater evil.


Stalin may have killed more people (if we're talking about civilians), but I won't agree that assessing evil is simply a matter of counting bodies. How on earth can we talk about 'more' or 'less' evil when we're talking about men who caused the deaths of millions of people? They were both evil.

Look, 'right-wing' and 'left-wing' are just words; they mean whatever people agree them to mean. They are loose labels for a wide range of political beliefs, with a lot of variation within each camp. It would take way too long to describe here all the shades of belief on either side, and it would be further complicated by the fact that this is the Internet, and different cultures and countries have different ideas about what qualifies as left or right-wing, progressive or radical or conservative or reactionary.

There are, however, some 'core members' of left wing and right wing. Marxists: left-wing. Fascists and Nazis: right-wing. That is because a century of popular consensus has attached those terms to those groups. You can't just say it isn't so and expect anyone to take you seriously.

The transition from left to right is a spectrum, and at both ends of the spectrum you find extremists. And extremists tend to look alike. One repressive regime that kills millions tends to look like another that kills millions - surprise!

And using terms like 'conservative' doesn't, I'm afraid, get you out of the quagmire, because that is also defined by consensus. You can be a conservative who wants to maintain free-trade, small government, and other things Westerners associate with the term today. But in a country like China, you can be a conservative who wants to maintain Maoism. That's the trouble with words: they mean what people mean them to mean. And people are different the world over, and they change from day to day.

That's why these are deep issues that some of us have spent years studying. And that's why I, for one, get annoyed when I see a one-paragraph post on MetaFilter saying 'Hitler was very much a leftist' as if it's a simple scientific fact. It simply isn't.

posted by rory at 12:10 AM on September 27, 2000

Personally, I'm not a leftist or a rightist. I'm an uppist, and I'm against all downists.
posted by daveadams at 7:51 AM on September 27, 2000

What's this, the National Prozac Party?
posted by fable at 8:35 PM on September 27, 2000

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