With the passing of time, historians generally looks at past wars in the cold light of day and analyse the economic and political drivers, dispel the propaganda and call out the wrongs on all sides. This is especially the case with Marxist historians, who seek to debunk patriotic narratives to portray war as the murderous, deceitful and unjust manifestation of the greed of the privileged class to extend their wealth and power at the expense of the common people (and in many instances I’m inclined to agree with them.)
The Second World War is different though. Even now, over 70 years since it ended, that war holds a unique place in our historic consciousness. The memories of the horrors perpetrated by our enemies – the most uniquely evil in history – or the declared principles we fought for, are not allowed to pass with time. They must be reinforced. Each new generation must be educated in the lessons from that particular war. We must never forget … in case any nation makes the same mistakes again.
And of course it is true that our enemies perpetrated horrific evils, that we fought for freedom and that we must salute the sacrifices made by so many to achieve victory. I could raise awkward facts such as our alliance with a dictator and regime even more murderous than those we were fighting, the expulsions and retributions against ethnic Germans immediately after the war or that we entered the war to preserve the balance of power in Europe, rather than to put an end to genocide, but that is not the point of this article.
The reason why the Second World War is so important is because we are still living in a political landscape shaped by it. Our political system and ideals are still defined in opposition to those of the enemies we defeated then.
The Second World War is most important in the narrative of the left. For the left, it was wasn’t like any other war between nations, rulers or religions. It was an extension of the streetfights between political gangs after World War One. It was a struggle for the survival of international socialism, in the form of the Soviet Union, against the political Antichrist in the form of their nationalist socialist rivals – and international socialism emerged victorious. In the process tens of millions of lives were sacrificed.
Whereas communism is at the extreme left of the political spectrum, fascism and Nazism are normally placed at the extreme right – the polar opposite. Every student of politics is taught this. If you carry the politics conservatism, individual freedom and a small state too far, you end up with genocidal Nazi tyranny. But is this really true? Let’s take a closer look.
Today the word ‘fascist’ has a broad and ill-defined meaning in common parlance, as a pejorative for someone or something perceived to be authoritarian, reactionary conservative, or as a label leftists throw out to smear anyone who questions their agenda. It is often used interchangeably with ‘Nazi’.
Correctly the word ‘fascist’ should only be used to refer to the movement founded by Benito Mussolini in Italy in 1914 and those political organisations consciously modelling themselves on it, such as (former Labour MP) Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists in the interwar years and some of the precursors to the National Front and the BNP. Prior to founding the Fascists, Mussolini was a prominent socialist newspaper editor and trade union activist. He split from the international socialists because he supported the First World War, believing nationalism could be used to bring about socialism.
National Socialism (normally shortened to ‘Nazism’, which conveniently avoids identifying it as socialism) in Germany was another synthesis of socialism and nationalism, but with a vicious racial ideology. The industrialised genocide of the Second World War was perpetrated by Hitler’s National Socialists, rather than Mussolini’s Fascists.
I’m currently reading ‘Liberal Fascism’ by Jonah Goldberg and thoroughly recommend it. It’s somewhat embarrassing nowadays to draw attention to the commentators at the time, including many on the left, who expressed admiration for fascism and National Socialism, along with Soviet communism, seeing them not as polar opposites, but linked projects to perfect mankind. Many were enthused by the state intervention during World War One as a model to continue military mobilisation during peacetime as means of driving social change. (It’s even more embarrassing to unearth photos, such as those of one-time leader of the SNP Arthur Donaldson posing in his kilt with members of the Hitler Youth.)
The schism between international socialism and National Socialism can be viewed as one of a number of bitter ideological schisms in early 20th century socialism, like those between revolutionary and gradualist socialism or Stalin’s ‘Socialism in one Country’ and Trotsky’s pursuit of international revolution. These are all forms of socialism. The similarities between the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini (normally portrayed as right wing) and those of Stalin, Mao and any number of subsequent communist dictators (left wing) are striking: authoritarianism, an all-powerful state, controlled media, political repression, violent street thugs and secret police, deportations of opponents to labour camps, subjugation of the individual to collectivist ideology … the list goes on. This is where socialist hatred and social engineering leads and these are the consequences for those who don’t or won’t fit in with their vision of a perfect society. Fascism and National Socialism belong firmly on the left.
It was Stalin who labelled all his opponents ‘fascists’ and that tradition continues today on the left. This is as much a rewriting of political reality and an evasion of responsibility as trying to blame National Socialism on conservatives.
The left has to keep the power and associations of the slurs ‘fascist’ and ‘Nazi’ alive in the public mind so they can falsely demonise their opponents and play on people’s fears. We need to expose them with the historical truth. Rather than ‘Nazi’, we should say ‘National Socialist’. After all, the clue is in the name.
[Editorial Note: this is the first article in the series ‘Grasping the Nettle’. The following articles in that series will be published in the coming days.]