Adolf Hitler’s Debt to Karl Marx

marx hitler IIMay 5 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, author of Das Kapital and the spiritual leader of Communism, a totalitarian ideology that killed more than 100 million people in the 20th century alone. We should expect the European Union oligarchs to show a bit more respect for the innocent victims of Communism. And yet, Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission attended the celebration marking the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth in Trier and openly declared that he was ‘celebrating the father of Communism’. The media also reports that the EU President defended Marx by arguing that he is not “responsible” for mistakes and atrocities committed in his name after his death. He delivered ‘an impassioned speech praising the legacy of the German philosopher’.[1]

The celebration of Marx by the European Commission President is particularly appalling for the European countries which suffered for decades under Communist dictatorships. And yet, Marx is not just the ‘father of Communism’. He is also the ‘mother’ of Nazi-Fascism, another ideology that claimed millions of lives in that continent. Indeed, all the intellectual frontrunners of Nazi-Fascism were radical Marxists at some stage of their lives. Like Marx, the early fascists condemned economic freedom and individual liberty. Above all, they agreed with Marx that capitalism should be eliminated because it supposedly favour only the ‘unproductive classes’ of industrialists at the expense of the working class.

Marxist Roots of Nazi Fascism

The Fascist movement was introduced in Italy after the World War I by Benito Mussolini. Raised by a Marxist mother, at the age of 29 Mussolini managed to become ‘one of the most effective and widely read socialist journalists in Europe’.[2] In 1912, he was elected the head of the Italian Socialist Party at the Congress of Reggio Emilia, opposing ‘bourgeois’ parliaments and proposing that Italy should be thoroughly Marxist. ‘Marx’, wrote Mussolini, ‘is the father and teacher … He is the magnificent philosopher of working-class violence’.[3] Of his own political aspiration, Mussolini remarked: ‘I wish to prepare my country and accustom it to war for the day of the greatest bloodbath of all, when the two basic hostile classes will clash in the supreme trial’.[4]

According to French historian François Furet, ‘Communism and Fascism grew up on the same soil, the soil of Italian socialism’. As Furet also explains, ‘Mussolini was a member of the revolutionary wing of the Socialist movement prior to supporting Italy’s entry into the Great War; then, immediately afterward, he found himself in violent conflict with the Bolshevik-leaning leaders of his former party’.[5] On the eve of that war, Mussolini predicted: ‘With the unleashing of a mighty clash of peoples, the bourgeoisie is playing its last card and calls forth on the world scene that which Karl Marx called the sixth great power: the socialist revolution’.[6]

However, the coming of that war coupled with his determination to bring Italy into it resulted in Mussolini losing his official position within the Italian Socialist Party.[7]  As a result, on March 23, 1919, he was forced to create the Fascist Movement which promised, among other things, the partial seizure of all finance capital; the control over the national economy by corporative economic councils; the confiscation of church lands; and agrarian reform.[8]  And yet, Lenin’s economic failures in the Soviet Union had turned Mussolini away from direct expropriation of industry. Still, Mussolini’s greatest aspiration was to establish a socialist utopia that should dictate how private business would be allowed to operate.[9] According to the British historian, Paul Johnson,

Mussolini now wanted to use and exploit capitalism rather than destroy it. But his was to be a radical revolution nonetheless, rooted in the pre-war ‘vanguard élite’ Marxism and syndicalism (workers’ rule) which was to remain to his death the most important single element in his politics.[10]

In true Marxist fashion Mussolini pledged ‘to make history, not to endure it’.[11] Lenin, another of Marx’s most successful disciples, once described his Bolshevik party as a highly disciplined and centralised movement. Similarly, Mussolini aspired to establish a ‘vanguard minority’ formed by highly-trained revolutionary leaders. Through the adoption of symbolic invocations the fascist leaders were expected to raise the consciousness of the Italian proletariat.[12] Above all, Mussolini entirely agreed with Lenin that violence was a valid means to achieve ultimate power and complete dominance.[13]

In 1920s another socialist movement followed in the wake of the Italian Fascists. The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (National-Sozialistische Deutsche Abeiterpartei — NSDAP) was created as a mass movement to bring together the ideals of nationalism and socialism. It added to their nationalistic type of socialism the specific element of racism, anti-Semitism in particular. Co-written in 1920 by Adolf Hitler and Anton Drexler the NSDAP 25 Points Manifesto constituted the ‘unalterable and eternal objectives of National Socialism’. Besides anti-Semitic remarks, the manifesto of the national-socialists included government expropriation of land without compensation; nationalisation of basic sectors of the national industry; the abolition of market-based lending; and the confiscation of all income unearned by work.[14] That being so, in a famous speech on Labour’s Day on 1st May 1927, Hitler declared:

We are socialists. We are enemies of today’s capitalistic 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.[15]

The attempted combination of socialist and nationalist policies was not alien to German political culture. The welfare state in its modern form actually originated in 19th –century Germany and precisely from this sort of combination.[16] The country’s statesman and militaristic Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, pioneered what is now recognised as the modern welfare state through a series of compulsory insurance schemes enacted in the 1880s, including work accidents, health, disability, and old age. Bismarck called these measures “State Socialism”, thus declaring in 1882: ‘Many of the measures which we have adopted to the great blessing of the country as Socialistic, and the State will have to accustom itself to a little more Socialism yet’.[17] He wanted the German workers to feel more grateful to the state authorities, and therefore to him. It was the collapse of this statist model created by Bismarck in the 1930s that ushered the most oppressive of all forms of welfare state: National Socialism.[18] As German historian and political scientist Götz Aly points out,

The National Socialist German Workers’ Party was propagating two age-old dreams of the German people: national and class unity. That was the key to the Nazi popularity, from which they derived the power they needed to pursue their criminal aims. The idea of the Volkstaat – a state of and for the people – was what we would call a welfare state for Germans with the proper racial pedigree. In one of his central pronouncements, Hitler promised “the creation of a socially just state,” a model society that would “continue to eradicate all social barriers.[19]

The intellectual frontrunners of Nazism were the German socialists who believed that capitalism lowered the birth rate of the working class, ‘the best of the nation’. From the time the Nazis achieved power state ownership had increased exponentially in both the war and non-war sectors of the national economy.Such economic policies dramatically expanded the control of the state over prices, labour, materials, dividends and foreign trade. These policies restricted both competition and private ownership, in an attempt to redirect all segments of the economy toward a policy of ‘general welfare’.[20]

So it is not a surprise that the unionised workers’ movement were strongly supportive of Hitler and the Nazi regime as a whole. On 1st May 1933, Labor’s Day, thousands of such workers packed Berlin’s Tempelhof district at the behest of their union bosses to provide a ‘gigantic demonstration’ of support for Hither and the Nazi leadership. Those unionised workers were directly addressed by Hitler, ‘who spoke of the country’s rebirth and of taming capitalist exploitation in order to make way for the creation of a new social and economic order’.[21] As Richard Pipes points out:

The Nazis appealed to the socialist traditions of German labor, declaring the worker ‘a pillar of the community’, and the ‘bourgeois’ — along with the traditional aristocracy — a doomed class. Hitler, who told associates that he was a ‘socialist’, had the party adopt the red flag and, on coming to power, declared May 1 a national holiday: Nazi Party members were ordered to address one another as ‘comrades’ (Genossen). His conception of the party was, like Lenin’s, that of a militant organization, a Kampfbund, or ‘Combat League’ … His ultimate aim was a society in which traditional classes would be abolished, and status earned by personal heroism. In typically radical fashion, he envisaged man re-creating himself: ‘Man is becoming god … Man is god in the making’.[22]

Similar to their Communist counterparts, the Nazis extolled the alleged virtues of the working class and aspired to create ‘a new society and a new man’. They also believed that the chasm between the classes would be bridged via the replacement of liberal ‘individualism’ with a national system of socialist values and ‘spirit of camaraderie’. National Socialism was strongly based on the supremacy of the community over the individual, so that the individual should be entirely subordinated to the organic interests of the community, an idea which was encapsulated in the famous Nazi motto: ‘Common welfare before individual interest’. Hitler himself expressed such a view in a 1939 speech: ‘The liberty of the individual ends where it starts to harm the interests of the collective’, Hitler stated. In this case the abstract ‘liberty’ of the Volk always take precedence over the liberty of the individual.[23] ‘It is thus necessary,’ declared the Führer in a public speech on 7 October 1933,

that the individual should come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his nation; that the position of the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the nation as a whole … that above all the unity of a nation’s spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual … [W]e understand only the individual’s capacity to make sacrifices for the community, for his fellow man’.[24]  

In his youth, Hitler studied how the Marxist-oriented Social Democrats manipulated the crowds in his native Austria. From that observation he developed his own method of crowd psychology. Hitler, of course, was a gifted orator who could ‘whip the masses up to a frenzy of faith and enthusiasm’.[25] And yet, in both public and private conversations Hitler was fully able to acknowledge his great debt to Marxist ideology.[26] In a November 1941 speech Hitler even declared: ‘Basically, National-Socialism and Marxism are the same’.[27] On another occasion, Hitler commented:

I have learned a great deal from Marxism as I do not hesitate to admit … The difference between [Marxists] and myself is that I have really put into practice what these peddlers and pen-pushers have timidly begun. The whole of National Socialism is based on it. Look at the workers’ sports clubs, the industrial cells, the mass demonstrations, the propaganda leaflets written specially for the comprehension of the masses: all these new methods of political struggle are essentially Marxist in origin. All I had to do is take over these methods and adapt them to our purpose.[28]

As can be seen, there are important commonalities between National Socialism and Marxism. It is therefore deeply fallacious to argue that Nazism is the polar opposite of Communism, or that the Nazis were some sort of ‘reactionary capitalist counterrevolutionaries’.[29] In truth, the Nazis were revolutionary socialists who received no support from the German industrialists, even from of those who later benefited from the country’s rearmament. The Krupp family, for instance, financially opposed Hitler at the 1932 German presidential election.

Because of ideological similarities the German Communists were happily prepared to faithfully collaborate with the Nazis against the Weimar Republic. The Nazis were greatly assisted by the Communists when the latter refused to make common cause with the Social Democrats.[30] Working under strict orders from Moscow, the Communists regarded the Social Democrats as their major political opponents, and not the Nazis. Such a position weakened any resistance against the Nazi movement and ultimately paved the way for the Nazi takeover from which the Communists themselves became one its first victims. In the clash between Social Democrats, Communists and Nazis, writes Richard Pipes:

Moscow consistently favored the Nazis over the Social Democrats, whom it called ‘social Fascists’ and continued to regard as its principal enemy. In line with this reasoning, it forbade the German Communists to collaborate with the Social Democrats. In the critical November 1932 elections to the Reichstag (Parliament), the Social Democrats won over 7 million votes and the Communists 6 million: their combined votes exceeded the Nazi vote by 1.5 million. In terms of parliamentary seats, they gained between them 221, against the Nazi 196. Had they joined forces, the two left-wing parties would have defeated Hitler at the polls and prevented him from assuming the chancellorship. It thus was the tacit alliance between the Communists and the National Socialists that destroyed democracy in Germany and brought Hitler to power.[31]

Instead of joining forces with the Social Democrats, the Communists actually voted together with the Nazis as a parliamentary block in the Reichstag (German Parliament).[32] Such a mutual support was illustrated in  more dramatic terms on 12 September 1932, when Ernst Göring, now elected as President of the Reichstag, helped orchestrate a successful vote of no confidence in the von Papen government by which a Nazi-Communist coalition voted together to dismiss the cabinet.[33]As Paul Johnson points out,

The only notice the Communists usually took of the Nazis was to fight them in the streets, which was exactly what Hitler wanted. There was something false and ritualistic about these encounters … In the Reichtstag, they combined to turn debates into riots. Sometimes collaboration went further … Blinded by their absurd political analysis, the Communists actually wanted a Hitler government, believing it would be a farcical affair, the prelude to their own seizure of power.[34]

Although Hitler condemned the incarnation of Marxism in Soviet Russia, he had no problem to describe his party as socialist in nature. What Hitler despised in Marxism was not its economic doctrine, but rather the idea that ‘working men have no country’. Indeed, the great divide between Nazism and Communism is not so much over economic particulars, but over the specific kind of socialism to be adopted. Whereas Communism embraces the idea of International Socialism, the Nazis dreamed of a National Socialism which despises everything deemed ‘supranational’. For example, in a 1935 article published in the daily Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, described his party as ‘a party of revolutionary socialists’.[35] The only incompatible difference between the Nazis and the Communists, Goebels argued, was the supposed internationalism of the latter as compared to the fierce nationalism of the former.[36] Even so, Goebbels wanted to work with the Soviets against, as he saw it, ‘Jewish power in the West’.[37] Such a statement may on first glimpse seem rather extraordinary but, as Friedrich Hayek recounts:

The connection between socialism and nationalism in Germany was close from the beginning. It is significant that the most important ancestors of National-Socialism — Fitche, Rodbertus, and Lassalle — are at the same time acknowledged fathers of socialism … From 1914 onwards there arose from the ranks of Marxist socialism one teacher after another who led, not the conservatives and reactionaries, but the hardworking labourer and idealist youth into the national-socialist fold. It was only thereafter that the tide of nationalist socialism attained major importance and rapidly grew into the Hitlerian doctrine. The war hysteria of 1914, which, just because of the German defeat, was never fully cured, is the beginning of the modern development which produced National-Socialism, and it was largely with the assistance of old socialists that it rose during this period.[38]

The Nazis wished to forge a socialist unity among the German Volk. The word Volk meant ‘people’ but in the more specific sense of an ethnic or racial community. For the Nazis, Volk was defined not just by means of cultural characteristics but primarily as a result of biological traits. The German Volk was basically a synonymous for the so-called Aryan race.[39] According to Hitler, Germany should become a nation of ‘one race’ where all class distinctions would be eliminated.[40] Hence, the German people should not be blamed for their current troubles, since all these troubles could be corrected in a classless society in which the strong leader, who had emerged from themselves, was able to gain power at the head of a national revolution.[41]

Curiously, Soviet Russia actually collaborated with Nazi Germany against Poland through the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, which was signed in August 1939.[42] So much so that Stalin even returned to Nazi Germany the German Communists who sought refuge in the Soviet Union.[43] The Nazi regime found in its Soviet counterpart ‘a ready model for the one-party state’.[44] Back in those days, all over the world, ‘Communist Parties reversed their anti-Nazi policy, preaching peace with Germany at any price, and actively sabotaging the war-effort when it came: at the height of the Nazi invasion of France, Maurice Thorez, head of the French CP, broadcast from Moscow begging the French troops not to resist’.[45]

One of the the factors exploited by Hitler in the elections of 1932–33 was the general fear amongst the German people of a communist takeover. One of the reasons as to why Hitler aimed first to eliminate the ‘Left’, before he went after the ‘Right’, was the Nazi appeal to the same social base as Communism, as well as the use of similar language and the same categories as their Communist counterparts.[46] Back in those days it seemed as if German society was politically splitting apart as support not just for the Nazis but also for the Communists increased.[47] By January 1932, more than six millions Germans were unemployed.[48] And when a workman was unemployed at that time, then there was only one thing left, said Johannes Zahn, then a young economist, ‘either he became a Communist or he became an SA man [i.e., a Nazi Storm Trooper].’[49]


Marxist Roots of Modern Anti-Semitism

Whereas Hitler saw ‘race’ as the primary instrument of social struggle, Marx saw class as the key to such a struggle. And yet, Marx wasn’t entirely averse to the idea of a ‘master race’. On the contrary, as Marx himself pointed out: ‘The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way … They must perish in the revolutionary holocaust’.[50] Marx supported English imperialism in India simply because he thought the Indians were racially inferior to their colonizers. Although ethnically Jewish, Marx often resorted to racist phrases such as ‘dirty Jew’ and ‘Jewish Nigger’ in order to describe his political adversaries.[51] Of the German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle, Marx commented:

It is not perfectly clear to me that, as the shape of his head and the growth of his hair indicates, he is descended from the Negroes who joined in Moses’ flight from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on the father’s side was crossed with a nigger). This union of Jew and German on a Negro base was bound to produce an extraordinary hybrid.[52]

In On the Jewish Question Marx endorsed the anti-Semitic leader of the Hegelian Left, Bruno Bauer, who demanded that the Jews should immediately abandon Judaism. In his essays Marx attacked free enterprise for apparently ‘Judaizing’ the whole of Europe, and, in effect, ‘dissolving earlier forms of solidarity and turning the Christians of Europe into this own caricature of Jews’.[53] For Marx, the ‘money-Jew’ was ‘the universal anti-social element of the present time’. ‘To ‘make the Jew impossible’, Marx contended, it was necessary to abolish the ‘very possibility’ of the kind of money activities which allegedly produced Judaism.[54]

Marx believed that Judaism would have to disappear before capitalism could be finally eradicated. For the Communist utopia to become a reality, Marx thought, it is necessary to eliminate ‘the Jewish attitude to money’. ‘In emancipating itself from hucksterism and money, and thus from real and practical Judaism, our age would emancipate itself’, Marx proclaimed.[55] Such a theme is repeated over and over throughout Marx’s writings; and so much so that it is perfectly possible to demonstrate that modern anti-Semitism is actually a derivative of Marxist ideology. According to Paul Johnson:

Anti-Semitism seems to have made its headway at a time when the determinist type of social philosopher was using Darwin’s principle of Natural Selection to evolve ‘laws’ to explain the colossal changes brought about by industrialism, the rise of the megalopolis and the alienation of huge, rootless proletarians. Christianity was content with a solitary hate-figure to explain evil: Satan. But modern secular faiths needed human devils, and whole categories of them. The enemy, to be plausible, had to be an entire class or race. Marx’s invention of the ‘bourgeoisie’ was the most comprehensive of these hate-theories and it has continued to provide a foundation for all paranoid revolutionary movements, whether fascist-nationalist or Communist-internationalist. Modern theoretical anti-Semitism was a derivative of Marxism, involving a selection (for reasons of national, political or economic convenience) of a particular section of the bourgeoisie as the subject of attack.[56]

It was rather natural for Marx to call his political adversaries ‘vermin’ and ‘reactionaries’, who deserved to be punished for retarding the ‘march of history’.[57] Marx asserted that dialectical materialism could be used to describe not only the evolution of economic systems (each with its own social contradictions produced by ongoing class conflict), but also the evolution of the different human races.[58] A rigid doctrinaire, Marx made no secret of his intolerant attitude towards anyone who dared to disagree from him. ‘Criticism’, wrote Marx, ‘is not a scalpel but a weapon. Its object is the enemy it wishes not to refute but to destroy’.[59]


Marxist Roots of Modern Genocide

The goal of Marxism is not to promote human rights but to criticise the putative structures of socio-economic domination. In such a context, in Principles of Communism Engels described the idea of human rights as a ‘fraudulent mask’ to legitimise socio-economic exploitation. Indeed, all the most cherished values of democratic societies, including personal freedom and the rule of law, were denounced as nothing but ideological tools for legitimising an exploitive socio-economic system.[60] Along with Engels, Marx advocated that that the idea of individual rights and freedoms are ideological constructs that make people more selfish. What Marx had in mind was explained by a well-known Marxist theorist of the last century, George Lukacs:

The ‘freedom’ of the men who are alive now is the freedom of the individuals isolated by the fact of property which both reifies and is itself reified. It is a freedom vis-à-vis the other (no less isolated) individuals. A freedom of the egoist, of the man who cuts himself off from others.[61]

Coming from such a premise the idea of human rights can be approached as a class-conditioned category. These rights are not fixed but evolve according to the progressive stages of class warfare. In On the Jewish Question, Marx boldly stated: ‘The so-called rights of man are simply the rights of egoistic man, of man separated from other men and from the community’. These rights are not God-given or unalienable, but founded upon the ‘separation of men from men; it is the right of such separation’.[62] Thus Marx stated that they rest ‘not on association of Man with Man, but on the separation of Man from Man’.[63] ‘If power is taken on the basis of rights’, he wrote in The German Ideology:

… then right, law, etc, are merely the symptoms of other relations upon which state power rests. The material life of individuals … their mode of production and form of interest which eventually determine each other … this is the real basis of the State … The individuals who rule in these conditions, besides having to constitute their power in the form of the State, have to give their will … a universal expression as the will of the State, as law.[64]

Can Marxists therefore believe in the universality of human rights? After all, Marx himself argued that the ‘narrow horizon of bourgeois right’ should be entirely eliminated. He fiercely denied that any right could have a practical meaning apart from its own historical context. In other words, a given right exists in so far as the dominant class decides to create it, to accept it, and then to allow it to exist.[65] As noted by François Furet,

What … Marx criticized about the bourgeoisie was the very idea of the rights of man as a … foundation of society’. Marx regarded such rights as ‘a mere cover for the individualism governing capitalist economy. The problem was that capitalism and modern liberty were both subject to the same rule, that of freedom or plurality … and he impugned it in the name of “humanity’s lost unity”.[66]

Instead of supporting the universality of human rights, Marxism declares the abolition of objective morality.[67] Marx despised any objective standard of ethical or moral behaviour.[68] In The German Ideology Marx actually mocked the whole idea of objective morality, as an ‘unscientific’ obstacle to the advancement of revolutionary socialism. Rather, he elevated socialism as the only ‘basic good’ that, accordingly, would have ‘to eliminate the conditions of morality and circumstances of justice’.[69] This amounts, in practice, to an attack on non-relativist ethics that ‘undermines the sense of personal responsibility, and of duty towards a settled and objective moral code, which was at the centre of nineteenth-century European civilization’.[70] That being so, ‘Marx, and subsequent Marxists have singled out morality as ideological and relative to class interests and particular modes of production’.[71] According to Marx, writes legal philosopher Michael Freeman,

… all that ‘basic laws’ would do is furnish principles for the regulation of conflicting claims and thus serve to promote class compromise and delay revolutionary change. Upon the attainment of communism the concept of human rights would be redundant because the conditions of social life would no longer have need of such principles of constraint. It is also clear (particularly in the writings of Trotsky) that in the struggle to attain communism concepts like human rights could be easily pushed aside — and were.[72]

In this sense, the undercurrent of violence manifested by Communist regimes represent a mere projection of the Marxist foundations of moral relativism and lawlessness. As noted by law professor Martin Krygier, the very notion that law should be used to restrain government power is utterly ‘alien to Marx’s thought about what law did or could do, alien to his ideals, and alien to the activities of communists in power’.[73] As Krygier also explains, the disdain of such Communist regimes for the rule of law ‘is no mere accident but is theoretically driven. The writings of Marx had nothing good to say about the rule of law; it generated no confidence that law might be part of a good society; it was imbued with values which made no space for those that the rule of law is designed to protect’.[74]

In countries governed by Marxist principles the normative context has invariably resulted in the absolutisation of power. Communist regimes do not answer to a higher law or principle apart from the idea of ‘advancing socialism’. Such regimes are controlled by a small elite of Marxist political rulers who ultimately decide who shall live and who shall die for ‘belonging to an enemy class’ or for being ‘socially undesirable’.[75]  These mass killings are justified by the Marxist dogma that a new world is coming into being so that everything that assists its difficult birth is morally allowable.[76] Marx himself contended that ‘the present generation resembles the Jews whom Moses led through the wilderness. It must not only conquer a new world, it must also perish in order to make room for the people who are fit for a new world’.[77]Seen from this perspective, ‘existing humanity was debris, the refuse of a doomed world, and killing it off was a matter of no consequence’.[78] In Russia and elsewhere Marxists were therefore prepared to sacrifice millions of human lives for the Marxist ideal of a ‘new man’. To realise such utopian goals, everything is valid including the physical elimination of ‘the sorry specimens that populate the corrupt world’.[79]

In Nazi Germany, the first targets of mass extermination were the crippled and the retarded, and then the Jews. In the Soviet Union, by contrast, the primary victims were the so-called ‘enemies of the people’, a broad and completely abstract category of people who included not just the alleged opponents of the regime but entire social groups and ethnicities, ‘if they seemed (for equally ill-defined reasons) to threaten the Soviet state’.[80] These ‘enemies’ should be arrested and executed for what they were and not for what they had done.[81] The Soviet propaganda described them as ‘half-animals’ and something ‘lower than two-legged cattle’. Just as Nazi propaganda associated the Jews with images of vermin, parasites, or infectious disease, the Soviet regime referred to those it wished to dstroy as vermin, pollution, and as ‘poisonous weeds needing to be uprooted’.[82] As Stéphane Courtois points out:

In Communism there exists a socio-political eugenics, a form of social Darwinism. … As master of the knowledge of the evolution of social species, Lenin decided who should disappear by virtue of having been condemned to the dustbin of history. From the moment that a decision had been made on a ‘scientific’ basis … that the bourgeoisie represented a stage of humanity that had been surpassed, its liquidation as a class and the liquidation of the individuals who actually or supposedly belonged to it could be justified.[83]

A good example of such dehumanisation followed by genocide was the treatment of the kulaks in the Soviet Union. Kulak was a term used to cover both better-off peasants and any peasant who dared to resist forced collectivisation. Those peasants would have their belongings entirely confiscated and be deported to either hard labour camps or, along with their families, be sent into Siberian exile. The destruction of kulaks during the collectivisation campaigns in the former Soviet Union is analogous to the Nazi genocidal politics against ethnic groups deemed to be sub-human and racially inferior.[84] Similar to Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Lenin’s Soviet Union created entire categories of ‘parasites’ to be ultimately destroyed. These enemies were conveniently dehumanised in order to be mercilessly destroyed on a massive scale.  In a speech dated August 1918, Lenin stated:

‘The kulaks are the most beastly, the coarsest, the most savage exploiters … These bloodsuckers have waxed rich during the war on the people’s want … These spiders have grown fat at the expense of peasants … These leeches have drunk the blood of toilers … Merciless war against these kulaks! Death to them!’[85]

According to Vladimir Tismaneanu, a Romanian and American political scientist and sociology professor at the University of Maryland,

The persecution and extermination of the Jews was as much a consequence of ideological tenets, held sacred by the Nazi zealots, as the destruction of the ‘kulaks’ during the Stalinist collectivization campaigns. Millions of human lives were destroyed as a result of the conviction that the sorry state of mankind could be corrected if only the ideologically designated ‘vermin’ were eliminated. This ideological drive to purify humanity was rooted in the scientistic cult of technology and the firm belief that History (always capitalized) had endowed the revolutionary elites … with the mission to get rid of the ‘superfluous’ populations …[86]

It was the Soviet Union, not Nazi Germany, the first European country to establish concentration camps in the ‘old continent’.[87] As early as October 1923, there were 315 of them spread all over the Soviet Union. From 1929 to 1951 at least one Russian adult male in five had passed through these concentration camps. Over that period no less than 15 million Russian people were brought into forced labour, with more than 1.5 million dying in prison. Six million people were deported on grounds of family ties and indeed ethnic identity.[88] Hitler knew about those Soviet camps and he learned from them in order to create his own concentration camps in Nazi Germany. As Kaminski pointed out:

The leaders of Soviet communism were the inventors and creators of … the establishments called ‘concentration camps’ … [They] also created a specific method of legal reasoning, a network of concepts that implicitly incorporated a gigantic system of concentration camps, which Stalin merely organized technically and developed. Compared with the concentration camps of Trotsky and Lenin, the Stalinist ones represented merely a gigantic form of implementation … And, of course, the Nazis found in the former as well as the latter ready-made models, which they merely had to develop. The German counterparts promptly seized upon these models.[89]

One of the most disturbing characteristics of Marxist regimes is not the amount of victims arrested, tortured and killed, but rather the principle on which such atrocities can be justified. Once power is achieved, the repressive apparatus can be used to hunt people down, to destroy their lives not for what such people have done but because of their social ‘category’. As Johnson puts it, once the idea of personal guilt is abolished, then a government can more easily eliminate entire categories of individuals on grounds of occupation or parentage. There is actually no limit to the extent to which this deadly principle might be applied. Indeed, entire groups can be classified as “enemies” and then condemned to imprisonment or slaughter. There is no real difference between destroying a social class and destroying a race. The modern practice of genocide had been born.[90]

Marx did not reject terrorism if it suited his ideological goals. Despite the history of the French Revolution during its ‘Terror’ stage, Marx gave its method unqualified endorsement. There was, according to Marx, ‘only one means to curtail, simplify and localize the bloody agony of the old society and the bloody birth-pangs of the new, only one means — the revolutionary terror’.[91] Thus he warned the Prussian government, in 1849: ‘We are ruthless and ask no quarter from you. When our turn comes we shall not disguise our terrorism.’[92] When Marx heard about the unsuccessful attempt by a radical anarchist to assassinate German Emperor Wilhelm I, in 1878, a fellow communist recorded his outburst of anger and indignation, ‘heaping curses on this terrorist who had failed to carry out his act of terror’.[93] As Paul Johnson points out:

That Marx, once established in power, would have been capable of great violence and cruelty seems certain. But of course he was never in a position to carry out large-scale revolution, violent or otherwise, and his pent-up rage therefore passed into his books, which always have a tone of intransigence and extremism. Many passages give the impression that they have actually been written in a state of fury. In due course Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung practiced, on an enormous scale, the violence which Marx felt in his heart and which his works exude.[94]

Final Considerations

History shows beyond doubt that the class genocide carried out by Marxist regimes has been aided and abetted by a political philosophy that encourages, inadvertently if not explicitly, policies that turned out to be profoundly genocidal. The problem is not so much that Marxism pays no attention to policies that turn out to be inevitably genocidal, but rather that Marxist ideology has prepared the mindset and paved the way for the implementation of government-sanctioned assassination in a massive scale. In the 20th century alone, Marxist regimes and revolutionary movements killed more than 100 million people.

In addition, the notion that Nazism and Communism are polar opposites on the political spectrum hides the fact that they are actually kindred spirits. There is a remarkable convergence of ideas between these two ideologies. Such a convergence was made evident even before the Nazis and the Communists turned into allies during World War II.[95]

Marxism, in both its original and more orthodox guises, inspired both the Bolsheviks and the Nazis to establish their concentration camps in order to exterminate their political opponents or other ‘undesirable’ individuals. Such an ideological drive in both Communism and Nazism is patently genocidal but it is nonetheless a derivative of the Marxist contempt for the rule of law and, above all, for basic human rights and freedoms.[96] In both public and private conversations, Hitler himself was quite willing to concede his great debt to Marxism, claiming even to have ‘learned a great deal from Marxism’. Above all, Hitler wasn’t so wrong when he candidly confessed: ‘Basically, National-Socialism and Marxism are the same’.[97]. This is probably the only instance where I can say that I actually agree with him.

Dr Augusto Zimmermann LLB, LLM, PhD is Professor of Law at Sheridan College in Perth, Western Australia, and Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney campus. He is also President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA), and a former Commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia (2012-2017).

[1] John Stone, ‘EU President Juncker Defends Karl Marx’s Legacy’, The Independent, May 5, 2018, at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/karl-marx-jean-claude-juncker-defends-legacy-a8337176.html

[2] Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties (New York/NY: HarperPerennial, 2001), p 57.

[3] Benito Mussolini, Opera Omnia, 36 vols, Florence 1951-63, Vol.II, pp 32 and 126, quoted in Johnson, above note 1, p 57.

[4] Ibid, p 57.

[5] François Furet, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century (Chicago/IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999), p 22.

[6] Johnson, above note 2, p 37.

[7] Johnson, above note 2, p 96.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Thomas Sowell, ‘Socialist or Fascist’, The American Spectator, June 12, 2012, at <www.spectator.org/archives/2012/06/12/socialist-or-fascist>

[10] Johnson, above note 2 p 96.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid, p 57.

[13] Ibid, p 58.

[14] For a comprehensive analysis of the Nazi platform, see Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change (New York/NY: Three Rivers Press, 2009) pp 410–13.

[15] Adolf Hitler, Public Speech, Munich, 1st May 1927. Quoted from John Toland, Adolf Hitler (New York/NY: Doubleday & Co., 1976), p 306.

[16] Tom G. Palmer, ‘Bismarck’s Legacy’, in Tom G. Palmer (ed.), After the Welfare State (Ottawa/IL, Jameson Books, 2012), p 34.

[17] Ibid., p 35.

[18] Tom Palmer comments: ‘The National Socialist welfare state, which instituted such an embracing system of patronage, dependence, and loyalty among the German population, was financed … by means of stripping the Jews of their wealth (from their money, businesses, and homes down to their dental fillings, children’s toys, and even their hair), confiscating the assets of enemies of the state, and looting the rest of Europe through requisitions and deliberate inflation of the currencies of occupied countries . It was also a pyramid scheme that required an ever-greater base of people paying into it to channel the loot upwards. Like all pyramid schemes, the Third Reich was doomed to fail’. – T G Palmer, ‘Bismarck’s Legacy’, in Palmer, above n.16, p 36.

[19] Götz Aly, Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State (New York/NY: Henry, Holt & Co., 2006), p 6.HiHhh asdaf asdf

[20] Walter J Rinderle and Bernard Norling, The Nazi Impact on a German Village (Lexington/KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1993), p 148.

[21] R. C. van Caenegem, An Historical Introduction to Western Constitutional Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p 287.

[22] Richard Pipes, Russia under the Bolshevik Regime (New York/NY: Vintage Books, 1995), p 260.

[23] Adolf Hitler, Speech in Celebration of Workers’ Day, 1st May 1934. Quoted from Richard Weikart, Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (New York/NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), p 113.

[24] Adolf Hitler, Speech of 7th October 1933. Quoted from Leonard Peikoff, Ominous Parallel: The End of Freedom in America (New York/NY: Stein and Day Publishers, 1982), p.3.

[25] Caenegem, above n. 21, p 282.

[26] George Watson, The Lost Literature of Socialism (2nd ed., Cambridge/UK: Lutterworth Press, 1998. Watson’s book details Hitler’s praise of Marx and Stalin.

[27] Adolf Hitler, Public Speech, Munich, November 1941. Cited in The Bulletin of International News, Royal Institute of International Affairs, XVIII, No 5, 1941, p 269.

[28] Hermann Raushning, Hitler Speaks (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1939), p 134.

[29] Karl Dietrich Bracher, The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure and Effects of National Socialism )New York/NY: Praeger Publishing, 1970), p 10. In fact, as noted Jonah Goldberg: ‘In Germany the aristocracy and business elite were generally repulsed by Hitler and the Nazis. But when Hitler demonstrated that he wasn’t going away, these same elites decided it would be wise to put down some insurance money on the upstarts. This may be reprehensible, but these decisions weren’t driven by anything like an ideological alliance between capitalism and Nazism. Corporations in Germany, like their counterparts today, tended to be opportunistic, not ideological … The Nazis rose to power exploiting anti-capitalist rhetoric they indisputably believed. Even if Hitler was the nihilist cipher many portray him as, it is impossible to deny the sincerity of the Nazi rank and file who saw themselves as mounting a revolutionary assault on the forces of capitalism. Moreover, Nazism also emphasized many of the themes of later New Lefts in other places and times: the primacy of race, the rejection of rationalism, an emphasis on the organic and holistic — including environmentalism, health food, and exercise — and, most of all, the need to “transcend” notions of class’. – Goldberg, above n. 14, pp 58–9.

[30] Richard Pipes, Communism: A History of the Intellectual and Political Movement (London/UK: Phoenix Press, London, 2003), p 75.

[31] Ibid, p 96.

[32] Goldberg, above n.14, p 77.

[33] Laurence Rees, The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler: Leading Millions into the Abyss (Croydon/UK: Ebury Press, 2013), p 95.

[34] Johnson, above note 2, p 282.

[35] Max H. Kele, Nazis and Workers: National Socialist Appeals to German Labor 1919–1933 (Chapel Hill/NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1972), p 93.

[36] Ibid, p 92.

[37] Rees, above n.33, p.66.

[38] Friderich A Hayek, The Road to Serfdom [1944] (London: Routledge, 2008), p 173.

[39] ibid, p 5.

[40] Hitler speech of 12 April 1922. Quoted from Rees, above n.32, p.30.

[41] Rees, above n.33, p.31.

[42] Caenegem, above note 21, p 279.

[43] Pipes, above n.22, p 76.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Johnson, above n.2, p 361.

[46] Goldberg, above n.14, p 70.

[47] Rees, above n.33, p 80. Rees then gives the account of Fritz Arlt, an 18-year old student in the 1930s. Influenced by an older brother, Fritz initially flirted with Communism but eventually decided to embrace National Socialism once he felt that the ‘solidarity’ of International Socialism across national boundaries wasn’t possible because of the individual countries effectively pursuing their own national self-interests.

[48] Ibid., p.79.

[49] Ibid., p.80.

[50] Karl Marx, ‘Forced Emigration’, New York Tribune, March 22, 1853. Available at Marxist Internet Archives, at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1853/03/04.htm

[51] Johnson, above n.2, p 62.

[52] Marx and Engels, Vol XXX, p 259 cited in Johnson, above note 1, p 62.

[53] Palmer, above n.16, p 38.

[54] Johnson, above n.2, pp 57–8.

[55] T. B. Bottomore, Karl Marx: Early Writings (New York/NY: McGraw-Hill, 1963), pp 34–7.

[56] Johnson, above n.2, p 117.

[57] Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity?, Regnery, Washington/DC, 2007, p 220.

[58] Richard Overy, The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, Allen Lane, London, 2004, p 266.

[59]  Pipes, above n.30, p 10

[60] J. M. Kelly, A Short History of Western Legal Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) p 330.

[61] Georg Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness (Cambridge/MA: MIT Press, 1971), p 315.

[62] Bottomore, above n. 55, pp 24–6.

[63] Karl Marx, On the Jewish Question – Volume 3 (New York/NY: International Publishers) pp 162–4.

[64] Kark Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, available at


[65] E. A. Harriman, ‘Review of Enemy Property in America’ (1924) 1 The American Journal of International Law 202.

[66] Furet, above n.5, pp 10–11.

[67] M.D.A. Freeman, Lloyd’s Introduction to Jurisprudence (8th ed., London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2008), p 1151. Objective morality is, for instance, what one finds in Christian jurisprudence and the Western legal tradition of God-given inalienable rights of the individual.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid., p 1152.

[70] Johnson, above note 1, p 11.

[71] Freeman, above n.67, p 1150.

[72] Ibid, p 1153.

[73] Martin Krygier, ‘Introduction’ in Martin Krygier (ed), Marxism and Communism: Posthumous Reflections on Politics, Society, and Law (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994), p 14.

[74] Martin Krygier, ‘Marxism, Communism, and Rule of Law’ in Krygier, above n. 73, p 117.

[75] Thus stated the editorial of the Soviet newspaper, in 1918: ‘We reject the old system of morality and ‘humanity’ invented by the bourgeoisie … Our morality has no precedent, and our humanity is absolute because it rests on a new ideal … To us, everything is permitted, for we are the first to raise the sword not to oppress races and reduce them to slavery, but to liberate humanity from its shaklers … Blood? Let blood flow like water! Let blood stain forever the black pirate’s flag flown by the bourgeoisie, and let our flag be blood-red forever! For only through the death of the old world can we liberate ourselves from the return of those jackals!’ – Nicolas Werth, ‘A State Against its People: Violence, Repression and Terror in the Soviet Union’ in Stephane Courtois et al, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge/MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), p 102

[76] Ibid.

[77] Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France 1848–1850 (New York/NY: International Publishers, 1964), p 114.

[78] Pipes, above n.30, p 68.

[79] Ibid, p 68.

[80] Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History (New York/NY: Anchor Books, 2003). ‘At different times Stalin conducted mass arrests of Poles, Chechens, Tartars, and — on the eve of his death — Jews’, p xxxvi.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid, p xxxvi.

[83] Stephane Courtois, ‘Conclusion: Why?’ in Courtois, above n.75, p 752.

[84] Raymond Aron, Democracy and Totalitarianism (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968), p 168.

[85] Vladimir Lenin, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenii, Vol 37, pp 39–41. Quoted from Pipes, above n.30, p 162.

[86] Vladimir Tismaneanu, ‘Communism and the Human Condition: Reflections on the Black Book of Communism’ (2001) 2(2) Human Rights Review 130.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Werth, above n.75, p 73.

[89] A. J. Kaminski, Konzentrationslager, pp 82–3. Quoted from Pipes, The Russian Revolution (New York/NY: Vintage Books, 1997), p 836.

[90] Johnson, above n.2, p 71.

[91] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Historisch-Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Quoted from cited in Johnson, above n.2, p 66.

[92] Ibid., p 71.

[93] Johnson, above n.2, p 71.

[94] Ibid., p 72.

[95] Hayek, above n.38, p 174.

[96] Tismaneanu, above n.86, p 130.

[97] Adolf Hitler, Public Speech, Munich, November 1941. See: The Bulletin of International News, Royal Institute of International Affairs, XVIII, No. 5t, p 269.

7 thoughts on “Adolf Hitler’s Debt to Karl Marx

  • Jacob Jonker says:

    The English are on record to have been the first to institute concentration camps, in the second boer war.

    • en passant says:

      Correct about the Boer War camps, but in name only as they were intended to ‘concentrate’ the families of the Boers so they could give neither comfort nor support to their fighting relatives. They were not intended for either the punishment or eradication of those interned (though a disproportionate died as a result of the large numbers of people used to open spaces being confined in spartan conditions and close proximity. Perhaps we could go further back to American Indian Reservations, Tasmanian aborigines, or forward to American-Japanese in WW2 and ‘enemy alien’ internments in Australia in WW1 & WW2.

      In the context of the article, the author makes it clear that Russia invented the ‘Death Camps’ that were later refined by the Nazis to a higher degree of ‘efficiency’. They next generation of Commandants still awaits the call to eradicate ‘climate change deniers’ as the Oz musicologist based in Graz University proposed.

      • Jacob Jonker says:

        Of course, and the author included “in Europe”. Nevertheless, for reasons of space, I assume, he didn’t elaborate, but a concentration camps is that. So it was really about death camps, which is fair enough. As to fascism, the article, biased me, as with some others, appears to be an exercise in deflection. As if we cannot conceive of this so-called capitalism, which I would designate nascent global kleptocracy, amongst others descriptions, giving us in any way anything that looks like fascism or communism, or even, if it ever got to the other extreme in self-contained nation-states, nazism. To me, what goes under the guise of capitalism is already a form of fascism and communism combined. No need to argue over it, just wait and see. I’ve seen it for years, the people who are doing well don’t see it, obviously, and the people who are still reasonably comfortable would rather not see it.
        Narrative, propaganda, think-tank output, etc., shills, paid trolls, computer-generated internet content masquerading as public opinion, anything goes. It’s all a game for the people on top. When they are hard done by, when the game is over and others are getting serious, then the squealing starts. It’s quite predictable, actually, once you have got to know the types.

  • en passant says:

    An excellent summary that accurately. Back in 1992 I decided it was time to understand the basic political philosophies, so I bought (and read) Andrew Heywood’s book: “Political Ideologies”. This had become necessary because I heard a pundit put forward an explanation at odds with what I thought was the political position of party. He was the pundit, so I thought I must have been ‘wrong-thinking’ for many years. It turned out I was right and the TV pundit was wrong.

    The latest example, of course, is the ANTIFA thugs who are in fact FASCISTS (with a Socialist-Communist leaning)

    • en passant says:

      The first sentence should read “An excellent summary that accurately portrays the convergence of these two totalitarian ideologies.”

  • David Barnes says:

    Number of victims. Not amount. Pedantic I know but an all too common error these days, particularly amount the young. Like they say ” like” every other word. Infuriating..like a fingernail on the blackboard. There, I’ve said it.

  • David Barnes says:

    Among . Still learning to type.

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