Our political vocabulary is confused to a point of being meaningless.
Hence the answer to the question of whether fascism is left-wing or right-wing really depends on who’s asking.
A person who perceives himself to be on the right tends to brand as left-wing anyone he doesn’t like, while those he likes are fellow right-wingers.
And those on the left do exactly the same thing in reverse.
In other words, such definitions have a strong element of subjectivity to them, to a point of becoming nebulous. Thus, depending on circumstances, one group may describe another as either left or right – this even though the latter might never have changed its policies or philosophies one iota.
Take Hitler’s National Socialist Workers’ Party. Until 22 June, 1941, it was universally recognised that the word ‘Socialist’ in the party’s nomenclature meant something concrete.
And so it did: the Nazis’ economic programme (Four-Year Plan) was indistinguishable from FDR’s New Deal and barely distinguishable from Stalin’s Five-Year Plan.
Thus the conservatives regarded Hitler as a socialist, while socialists and communists saw him as a socialist heretic, but a socialist nonetheless.
On 23 August, 1939, Hitler reinforced his socialist credentials by signing a pact with Stalin, who was undeniably left-wing.
However, when Hitler attacked Stalin on 22 June, 1941, he became a right-winger overnight. The underlying syllogism was irresistibly simple.
Thesis: Stalin is left-wing. Antithesis: Hitler is at war with Stalin. Synthesis: Ergo, Hitler is right-wing.
Hitler had offered no change in philosophy or rhetoric to justify such a re-branding. What had changed was the left-wingers’ attitude.
I’d suggest that, given such weather-vane inconsistency, it’s best to look at what the Nazis and other fascists said about themselves. This taxonomic method isn’t fool-proof either, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
So, in no particular order:
“The whole of National Socialism is based on Marx.” Adolf Hitler
“I have learned a great deal from Marx, as I do not hesitate to admit.” Adolf Hitler
“We are Socialists, enemies, mortal enemies of the present capitalist economic system with its exploitation of the economically weak, with its injustice in wages, with its immoral evaluation of individuals according to wealth and money instead of responsibility and achievement, and we are determined under all circumstances to abolish this system! And with my inclination to practical action it seems obvious to me that we have to put a better, more just, more moral system in its place, one which, as it were, has arms and legs and better arms and legs than the present one!” Georg Strasser
“The Capitalist system with its exploitation of those who are economically weak, with its robbery of the workers’ labour power, with its unethical way of appraising human beings by the number of things and the amount of money they possess, instead of by their internal value and their achievements, must be replaced by a new and just economic system, in a word by German Socialism.” Georg Strasser
“We are against the political bourgeoisie, and for genuine nationalism! We are against Marxism, but for true socialism! We are for the first German national state of a socialist nature! We are for the National Socialist German Workers’ Party!” Josef Goebbels
“Lenin was the greatest man, second only to Hitler, and… the difference between communism and the Hitler faith was very slight.” Josef Goebbels
“Socialism as the final concept of duty, the ethical duty of work, not just for oneself but also for one’s fellow man’s sake, and above all the principle: Common good before own good, a struggle against all parasitism and especially against easy and unearned income…” Adolf Hitler
“We want to start by implementing socialism in our nation among our Volk! It is not until the individual nations are socialist that they can address themselves to international socialism.” Adolf Hitler
“We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions.” Adolf Hitler, echoing Georg Strasser
“If you love our country you are national, and if you love our people you are a socialist.” Oswald Mosley
“Tomorrow, Fascists and communists, both persecuted by the police, may arrive at an agreement, sinking their differences until the time comes to share the spoils. I realise that though there are no political affinities between us, there are plenty of intellectual affinities. Like them, we believe in the necessity for a centralised and unitary state, imposing an iron discipline on everyone, but with the difference that they reach this conclusion through the idea of class, we through the idea of the nation.” Benito Mussolini
“The outbreak of a socialist revolution in one country will cause the others to imitate it or so to strengthen the proletariat as to prevent its national bourgeoisie from attempting any armed intervention.” Benito Mussolini, echoing Lenin
So why are fascists routinely described as right-wing? I’m afraid there’s another false syllogism at work here.
Thesis: socialism is nice. Antithesis: fascism isn’t nice. Synthesis: Fascism is right-wing.
Start with a wrong thesis, and this is the mess you get. For socialism isn’t nice in either its national or international incarnation.
Both Nazism and communism are logical developments of socialism, they are the harbours towards which socialism sails. Or are they the reefs?