Left- and right-wing ideologies seem to change over time.

From what I've read so far, the Nazi regime was considered a right-wing party at that time by the people who voted it.

But currently, right-wing activists reject it based on economic grounds. They claim there was no free market, competition etc. But is this really an argument? Because a free market can exist in both leftist and rightist systems. However, I think it tends to degenerate in their extremes. Specifically, a far-left regime will end up granting to much control to the goverment (communism), while a far-right regime should theoretically end up in grating all the power to the wealthiest person(s), so the result is the same. Unlike communism, I'm not aware of the existence of any far-right governments in the present day.

Leaving aside economics, which seem common to both wings, could the Nazis be labeled as right-wing because of their social views (e.g. "The strong has the natural right to rule the weak")?

  • 1
    Related Q&A on History.SE: history.stackexchange.com/a/1104/332
    – user4012
    Dec 10, 2012 at 16:10
  • There are many difficulties when speaking about left and right. See also: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/7/…
    – Trilarion
    Jan 31, 2018 at 13:14
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    Hitler rose to power precisely because the conservatives rather saw him in power than the socialists. Obviously it's more nuanced than that but that pretty much explains why Nazism is considered a right wing ideology. Oct 23, 2019 at 20:40
  • "the result is the same. Unlike communism, I'm not aware of the existence of any far-right governments in the present day." The result is not the same. You just cited the observational evidence to back it.
    – pygosceles
    Jan 23, 2020 at 22:30
  • From where are you getting your ideas about communism? After all, Marx said next thing to nothing about it. Dec 29, 2020 at 14:49

6 Answers 6


I think this question illustrates that a simple division of politics in left and right is an oversimplification. One may find that people use left to describe either pacifist, anarchist idealists, whereas other people would classify the Soviet Union as left; the two are very different. Likewise, people may describe Ron Pauls ultra-libertarian ideas as right-wing, but also nazism as far-right; the two are again very different. So phrases like left and right are simply insufficient to describe political positions.

The diversity in answers to this question, as well as the controversy of my answer there (presently +13 -6) also illustrates that the meaning of the phrases left and right are subjective. Personally, I would describe any military dictatorship as far right, but that would be the in the fascism sense of the word, not in the ultra-libertarian sense.

As to more explicitly answer your question: could the nazis be labeled as right-wing because of their social views? — in my opinion, yes. In fact, that is what my controversial answer boils down to — in that answer, I characterise the left-right scale as horizontal vs. vertical power structures. In that interpretation, the strong rule the weak would certainly fall to the far right.

Side-note: One definition of fascism I have seen jocularly defines fascism as any political idea one violently disagrees with ;). Maybe in the US right the word socialism has supplanted this meaning ;)

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    I like your answer, but I think you're wrong any military dictatorship is "far right". Fidel Castro is a dictator but he has done a lot of socialist programs like available medicine for all. Chavez too. Some dictators favor the wealthy and elite, some use their power to spread the wealth. All dictatorship means is power concentrated into one person, but that person can still order more liberal programs or more business friendly, profit first conservative programs.
    – userLTK
    Mar 21, 2017 at 6:40
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    @userLTK Describing Chavez as business friendly might be misleading. He surely spent money on social benefits but it was mostly borrowed spending, not lasting very long.
    – Trilarion
    Oct 10, 2017 at 9:41
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    @Trilarion I didn't actually describe Chavez that way. I lumped him in with Castro as a social programs dictator.
    – userLTK
    Oct 10, 2017 at 9:52
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    @userLTK Okay. But you said that dictators could order more liberal programs or more business friendly, profit first conservative programs and I don't see any example for this. I doubt it happens often. Castro and Chavez aren't examples of this, but I see that you meant two different things there.
    – Trilarion
    Oct 10, 2017 at 10:23
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    @Evargalo Yes, I agree. That might be a good example.
    – Trilarion
    Feb 15, 2018 at 14:59

The Nazi party was called Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers' Party). As you can note, if you remove "German", you could apply this label to any number of current left-wing parties, and it would fit nicely. No right-wing party I know calls itself "Socialist" or "Workers'", though some do call themselves "National". Nazis themselves insisted they are the right (as in, "correct") socialist party - as opposed to the wrong socialist party, the Bolsheviks.

Name, however, does not define the ideology. Actions do. Let us consider the main traits of the Nazi regime:

  • Extreme nationalism. This can be and were, in history, component both of right and left parties.
  • Totalitarian control over the information and enforcement of specific ideology, leaving no space for dissent. This is a trait of many left-wing regimes, such as communist ones, but not exclusively.
  • Strict governmental control over the economy, while leaving the means of production formally private. This places them at the left - while many left ideologies want to remove private ownership completely, others are content with mere control and not outright ownership. Publicly Nazis were opposed to capitalism, associated it with Jews and vigorously attacked it. Private ownership was greatly restricted and some property - like land - while formally owned, could not be sold or used contrary to the wishes of the state. Overall, this is associated with left-wing ideology.
  • Women rights - Nazis ideas about women's place were "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" (children, kitchen, church) which places them at the far right. Other minority rights were similarly non-existent with them.
  • Religious matters - Nazis were relatively tolerant to religions that not interfered with their goals, while vigorously persecuting ones that opposed them. Both left and right did that, so here we do not have definite difference.
  • Relationship between the individual and the state - the Nazis were very collectivist (where the collective is the nation), which places them on the left.

I would say that economically Nazis were on the left, though not as far left as, say, communists, while socially they were on the very far right.

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    @AffableGeek He hated everybody who could interfere with his complete control over the nation, and religions - unless they submit to the state - tend to be nasty competitors, see medieval wars between Vatican and secular rulers, or more modern events in Arab countries right now. He however had his own pocket churches - National-Catolicism, German Christians, etc. Just as Soviet powers while being opposed to religion had pocket church officials - to ensure even ones who slipped away slipped away not too far.
    – StasM
    Dec 13, 2012 at 6:46
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    Only the left wing is collectivist? Let's just ignore Anarchists on the left, that collectivism is the basis for nationalism, Franco, every single Monarchy ever, ...
    – user45891
    Oct 26, 2015 at 19:07
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    @user45891 And, therein, you have demonstrated how useless it is to apply the left/right paradigm from one place and time to another place and/or time. Even in the context of the same place and time, its usefulness is quite limited.
    – reirab
    Jan 12, 2016 at 21:03
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    "...the Nazis were very collectivist (where the collective is the nation), which places them on the left..." Not also on the right? Very strange categorizations all over the answer. Mainly showing how difficult it actually is to differentiate between left and right.
    – Trilarion
    Oct 10, 2017 at 9:46
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    Economically the Nazis excluded or disadvantaged people based on their race (or political affiliation). They, for the most part, kept the economical elite in place and nourished it. So you cannot claim they were on the left economically.
    – jjack
    Dec 26, 2017 at 20:38

It was certainly a right-wing regime. German politics at the time had the following rough divisions:

A far left wing, personified by the KPD and USPD, which wanted a radical redistribution of wealth from rich profiteers to people at all levels; a social reorganization, doing away with noble, military, landowning, and industrial elite rulers; and an end to class distinctions and to military adventures that benefited those elites.

A center-left, mostly the SPD (mainstream socialists), which the USPD broke away from during World War One because the SPD wanted to support the war effort. The SPD wanted a more democratic and less autocratic progression to socialism, with a welfare state.

A center, which included the Zentrum (the Catholic Center Party, with mostly Catholic voters, advancing Catholic concerns) and the DDP (the German Democratic Party, an economically liberal ['liberal' in the economic sense, not in the American left-wing sense] party which received more Jewish votes than other parties did), and which tended more to social inclusion than the far right, but didn't want to completely do away with all class distinction or profit-making as the far left.

A center-right, best personified by the DVP, which accepted "traditional" social roles and capitalist profit-making and class distinctions of one kind or another, but which also was too "internationalist" (that is, they cooperated with France and America in renegotiating reparations payments) and not militaristic enough for the far right.

And a far right, personified by the DNVP and the Nazis, which absolutely rejected initiatives of international amity with the former Allies of World War One; which wanted a remilitarized Germany; which did away with many vestiges of class such as the nobility, and which asserted military primacy over the landowning and big bourgeois industrial classes, but which also allowed all the profiteering a fat-cat could want, as long as Hitler had no vendetta and the war effort wasn't hindered (the Nazis' original 25-point program, see http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/1708-ps.asp, contained points against war profiteering, but this was of course never enacted, in the case for instance of officials such as Goering, who enriched himself beyond belief); which hated trade unions; which wanted a return to "traditional" social roles (a curtailment of liberation of women or gay people); which was virulently nationalist and almost completely bigoted (though the DNVP did have Jewish founder members such as Fritz Arnold); which was reactionary against the Communist and Socialist revolts that sprang up across Germany especially in 1918-23; and which intended (in the Nazis) war to reclaim Germany's lost land in the east.

Briefly: on the left, an end to profiteers amassing huge wealth; to Germany's old military, landowning, industrial, and noble hierarchy; and to military imperialism. On the right, complete acceptance of profiteering (provided the war effort wasn't hindered); continuation of old hierarchies except the royalty and nobility, with the military at the top; nationalism that always sought a group to exclude, whether by ethnicity, national origin, or religion; and an almost insane devotion to military rearmament and conquest, and explicit embrace of imperialist, aggressive warmaking. Those were (and still are) right-wing traits, and those were the traits of the Nazis. They had very few initiatives that could be described as "socialist" except their nationalization of industries and materiel crucial to the war effort (and in that context, America and Britain did the same thing; see http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/13/business/worldbusiness/13iht-nationalize.4.16915416.html?_r=0).

People on the American right have lately claimed that the word "socialist" in "National Socialist" means that the Nazis couldn't have been right-wing, but this is nonsense, as Hitler busted unions, sided with big bourgeois management, cut welfare payments (as Professor Richard Evans writes about in "The Third Reich in Power"), etc., and hardly enacted any socialist policies at all (unless someone thinks building roads makes a country "socialist").

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    To people who say but socialist is in the name: North Korea is in actuality named the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and I imagine we can all agree that most of their citizens enjoy none of the freedoms of either democracies nor republics. Jul 13, 2017 at 15:31
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    Well said; and hanging one's whole idea of the Nazis as "left-wing" on one word the Nazis used for lip service (in a time when the Socialist vote was huge in Germany, so one had to give lip service to it) demonstrates how paper-thin the argument is. If it had any substance, people would be able to name many socialist and anti-capitalist planks the Nazis actually enacted in their policy.
    – andrew
    Jul 14, 2017 at 18:50
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    +1 This is the best answer, because it deals with the political landscape of the late 1920's - beginning of 1930's Germany, and not with 21st century vocabular than hardly fits. I would add that when the Nazi gained power, they eliminated their opponents in a rightwards movement: first the communist, then the socialists, then the Catholic Party, etc.
    – Evargalo
    Feb 15, 2018 at 15:05

I think that Nazi regime was unique in world history in that it unlike any other regime before and after had two faces: it externally pretended to be a left-center force, a left-centrist socialist pro-workers, progressive, industrialist, anti-monarchist, anti-religious, pro-women rights, pro-animal rights, anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist party. But in reality it turned out that Nazism was actually far more right than any monarchists, Russian "black-hundreds" and conservatives were before. It was hiding its ultra-right face for a while to achieve popular support.

This duality led to many mistakes by individuals and politicians who made deals with Nazi party and Nazi Germany. German Cristians thought they are dealing with a centrist patriotic party when voting for enabling act. Vatican thought Hitler is quite like Mussolini: a moderately conservative centrist. Stalin thought he was dealing with a left-center party of small bourgeoisie. Ethnic minorities also thought Nazis are pro-national self-determination and cultural autonomy.

Many Jews saw that Nazis for a first time in 2000 years allowed Jews to have their own police, ambulance service, postal service, orphanages, and even telephone stations. They did not knew the orphanages and hospitals were designed to quickly separate those unable to work. Nobody could imagine Nazis will kill people in new shining uniforms they just designed for Jewish police (no other regime gives a forage cap with a badge to a condemned enemy).

Many Russians and Ukrainians believed Germans will build a moderate form of Socialism without collectivization and other excesses of Soviet Union.

Many Germans believed that Nazis really protect animal rights for ethical reasons, not just to make a ban on Jewish meat.

In reality it turned out that even conservative clergymen looked like Bolshevicks compared to Nazis.

This masquerade became possible because Hitler departed from earlier tradition typical for ultra-right, volkishe movements. Initially he was even criticized from the far-right positions for even use of the word "party" instead of traditional for the right-wing "league" "movement" or "union". But Hitler was smarter. He abandoned monarchism in favor of unrestricted ultimate dictatorship. He pursued clergy because they were too left for him and Christian principles were too egalitarian and not enough anti-Semitic, although historically religious Christians were the most anti-Semitic group. He denounced aristocracy and social estates in favor of eugenics. He denounced right-wing to promote ultra-right instead.


Socialism was prevalent in Germany and hitlers selection of national socialism was specific to delineate his group from much of socialism in germany which he considered Jewish. Fascism or fascismo means 'group' in Italian. The american thinker is pro-individual. Mussolini considered himself a socialist, the quotes are there. Hitler modeled fascism into nazism. Also, there are many other quotes from hitler and his contemporaries stating that they are socialist. You also need to look at the 25 point plan. It is very anti-individual, anti-capitalist, centralized government, anti-democratic, anti-parliamentary, and very statist in its policies. That is not right winged. Some of the militarism and nationalism are definitely right winged. Rohm the head of the SA was a self proclaimed socialist, but he was also a militarist, so a union of both wings of politics. He was also gay, and once Rohm became a threat and his behavior fell out of favor with the nazi ideal, he was vanquished. Also, perspective is warranted. Liberalism and conservatism in Germany 1938 is nothing like the american democrat or republican.

Note, that many rightly state that the more conservative business elite in Germany joined ranks with Hitler. But why. The truth of the matter was the communists had won a large portion of the elections and they feared the communists more for their own welfare, and in their own self interests they joined the nazi party. If not, why did they not join earlier in hitlers rise. Some causality that's always omitted.

Also, the fact that academia immediately spouts nazism as right winged should be looked at with biased eyes. What percent of teachers in today's or yesterday's universities are truly left winged. About 90%! So why would teachers from the last 30 years declare nazism as left winged. It's not going to happen.
Anybody with honesty can see that hitler used everyone, including his own people, his own supporters, et. al. He picked the Christian socialists for the 'heil hitler', the deaths head from the Prussian military, etc.

Nazism is a mixture of both left winged and right winged ideology if you have any intellectual honesty. Read his policies before he took authoritarian rule. Hating Jews does not make it right winged, and stating or thinking so just makes you just another lemming fanatic.

Also, look at Wikipedia under socialism. Every instance of racist socialism is removed and labeled separately as right winged. Why? Because it plays into today's american politics. Today Europe is still heavily anti-Semitic but it is almost entirely socialist in politics. It's an amazing numerical coincidence that all those anti-Semites are the vastly right winged minority in Europe. I think not. Be honest and think for yourselves.

Nazism is a mesh of everything hitler could use for himself be it from the volk, the business elite, the militarists, the nationalists, the socialists, the racists, the Christians and Catholics, the pagan, the social Darwinists, the ecological purists, etc.


We can't really leave economics behind. Economics and social aspects cannot be fully disentangled.

Nazism is actually an apt description of its own ideology. Literally, it means National Socialist.

(Building on StasM's answer to show how these examples illustrate the phenomenon:)

-Economically, the Nazis were very much socialist, with the State controlling the economy. Propaganda-wise, there was little if any freedom of speech. Dissent was squashed. This has major social implications. Socially, yes, there was socialist social engineering (sounds redundant, and it is!).

-At the same time, the legitimacy of the regime was founded upon national identity, which was for all practical purposes impossible for the German people to discard. These two conditions are not mutually exclusive, and the necessary preservation of some traditional societal institutions (family, and within some limits religion) does not contradict nor fully prevent the seizure of power by a Socialist government of other vital institutions, to the extent of overpowering and controlling all others. This makes the remaining institutions more like a puppet than an accomplice--very many German citizens in fact had very little or no knowledge at all about the holocaust.

What this shows is that not all of the institutions of society need to be fully dismantled and dissolved into social collectivism before collectivist ideology can seize full power over the people. It is like having a brain hijacked with an otherwise more or less healthy body to do its will. Thus only a limited number of truly controlling institutions need to be monopolized in any Socialist strategy in order to acquire eventual and total control. People who are captives economically effectively enjoy only those freedoms allowed to them by those who are in control of the economy. This is the fundamental tenet of Socialism: If you control the economy, you control the people. If you control either production or consumption, you control the economy. Blackmail will wither the will of the other half to resist. Religious liberty can be maintained on paper so long as the practice of it does not interfere with the State's economic, military, and dogmatic totalitarianism.

So in short Nazism is intrinsically a Left-wing (Socialist) phenomenon, even while it may like an undead ghoul still possess vestigial properties of the host populace as it attempts to usurp and assert commanding authority.

The media on the Left today deny that such a thing can exist, classing all nationalism as far-right. However, this denies the repeatedly observed reality of centralization of power and control of all institutions of society by monopolizing a critical subset through socialization.

The marked animosity between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia conveys no irreconcilable dissimilarity between the Socialist platforms upon which the dictators controlled the people; as between two bloodthirsty feudal warlords, it is merely a natural consequence of the differing national identity and rival ambitions of the two Socialist regimes.

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    You seem to be conflating socialism, communism and fascism. Jan 25, 2020 at 0:28
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    @TemporalWolf Invalidating connections between historical socialism, communism and fascism would invalidate the OP's question and premises a priori. I demonstrated specific aspects of Nazism that are extremely similar to communist regimes.
    – pygosceles
    Jan 25, 2020 at 0:38
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    Like your answer, your response is not sufficiently supported. Using the name of a group is not sufficient to claim it represents an idea: Case in point, North Korea (The Democratic People's Republic of Korea) is a democratic republic, just like the United States. I think you'd be hard pressed to find many folks outside of North Korea who would consider them a good example of a democratic republic. Jan 25, 2020 at 20:33

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