I noticed a lot of hate focused on the idea of Nazism, especially with Hitler's reputation and whatnot. But I was wondering, because Hitler's scheme was far from 'socialist' and more fascist than 'nationalist'. Simply put, you could be (non-)racist but still be a Nationalist Socialist. Or am I just not understanding what a true nationalist-socialist is?

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    Please clarify further what you currently understand the term "Nationalist Socialist" to mean and differentiate it from the terms "National-Socialist" and "Nazi". Dec 19, 2018 at 20:26
  • See this question - and please read e.g. Wikipedia. Dec 19, 2018 at 22:45
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    Can you clarify what you mean by "the racism is left to ambiguity?" Changes in the loudness level of the racism doesn't really change its essential character as racism. Stylistic decisions about whether you shout the racism really loudly or say it quietly don't inherently change the nature of a political philosophy. Dec 19, 2018 at 23:11
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    By 'racism is left to ambiguity' I'm trying to say that nationalist socialists by the definition I provided aren't inherently racist but can be and yet still be nat soc
    – yolo
    Dec 20, 2018 at 7:00
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    Hitler's racial views were not political? It's really weird that the policy of the country he led focused on carrying out those racial views through a program of systematic slaughter and imprisonment, then. You make it sound as if Hitler's belief in Aryan supremacy was just an offensive opinion he brought up in coffee-table discussion, but otherwise of little practical importance.
    – Obie 2.0
    Dec 24, 2018 at 6:45

9 Answers 9


National Socialism is a specific thing. You can't just take parts of the name and then assume what it means based on these parts (another example: The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is not a democracy). National Socialism is not simply a nationalist version of socialism (Stalin's Socialism in one country would be closer to that).

National Socialism is the ideology that Nazi Germany had. It is inherently antisemitic, racist, nationalist, völkisch, social-Darwinist, anti-communist, anti-liberal, and antidemocratic. Nazism cannot be separated from these ideas.

National Socialism did not want to change the relations of production (as socialists would), and expressions that might hint towards socialism were only catchphrases used for propaganda purposes.

Some try to temporarily separate Nazism from some of these concepts in an attempt to whitewash it and make it palatable to the mainstream. This is not possible. If you consider antisemitism, racism, or genocide to be "bad", then you should also consider National Socialists and those trying to defend them to be "bad".

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    So you are saying that we define the idea nationalist socialist against Hitler's ideals albeit the ideals did not follow that of what the name suggested. If so- how do we differentiate if someone who is talking about a nationalist socialist (by definition of name) and a nationalist socialist (by definition of Nazi ideals)?
    – yolo
    Dec 19, 2018 at 19:32
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    @yolo There is no such thing as a "definition of name"; only a definition. The way a word is used determines what it means, not how the word looks. There are plenty of words that look like they might mean one thing, but which are never used that way. National Socialism is such a word. It is always the National Socialism of the Nazis, and never some sort of odd national version of socialism.
    – tim
    Dec 19, 2018 at 19:38
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    And if you want to refer to said 'odd national version of socialism'?
    – yolo
    Dec 19, 2018 at 19:39
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    @yolo then you make up a new word or phrase to describe it that doesn't carry all the negative associations of ' national socialism '.
    – PhillS
    Dec 19, 2018 at 19:42
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    Some also try to deny that there are no socialist aspects in Nazism at all in an atempt to rescue the label socialism from disrepute.
    – John
    Dec 18, 2019 at 13:09

Q: How does Hitler's interpretation of “Nationalist Socialism” relate to the modern interpretation of “Socialism” and “Nationalism”?

In easy English and fairly short sentences:

  • The definitions of the words did not change.
  • The "relations" between them have therefore also not changed.
  • The person of interest did not interpret any "Nationalist Socialism"
  • The person of interest invented "National-socialism."
  • That is a difference.
  • This National-Socialism was never any form of Socialism.
  • National-socialism is not socialism.
  • It was not so in theory, not in practice.
  • National-socialism has a good deal of nationalism in its core beliefs and a genuine hatred for any form of socialism.
  • For Hitler "nationalism" was natural, socialism "unnatural".
  • Nazi = right-wing, like republicans or democrats
  • Socialism = left-wing
  • People claiming the word part "socialism" in "national-sociliasm" would really mean socialism = very reprehensible, but just extreme right wingers as well.
  • The socialism in national-socialism was kept as a fraud by the nazis.
  • The Nazi-party was not socialist, disapproved of socialism and explained it again and again before being given power.

In terms of analysing the political spectrum, one might think that there is a clear continuity from generalised right-wing to the extremes of fascism and national-socialism.

If it weren't for the distraction of "socialism" in the name. But that is just a remnant of the origins of that far-right authoritarian movement.

First, "Socialism" was the future, as seen by almost everyone after the Russian revolution and the end of the First World War.

Some early members of the Nazi-party had indeed some rather left-leaning ideas about the future. But they were a minority quickly expelled.

Nothing remotely socialist remained.

But the name stuck and was kept for social appeal as well as brand-recognition.

Only far-right extremists ignore the actual history, deeds and politics of national-socialism and focus solely on the latter part of the term, socialism.

In that distorting world view the overwhelming similarities in actual political views and goals between "ordinary" far-right authoritarians and just one small further step towards the fascism of "national-socialists" should be overlooked by focussing on the distraction that the devil-be-with-us word "socialism" seems to provide.

But labelling the nazis as socialists is:

  • completely ahistorical,
  • believing the fraud-by-misnomer the nazis devised
  • intentionally distracting from or even derailing meaningful discussion.

The 25 points party programme is completely irrelevant!

That could be read on the relevant Wikipedia page already. Or in the edit history of this answer. With details, links and quotes. But on this exchange analysis, proof, quotes or meaningful argument are labeled as "too much information".

Since here apparently no one wants to read – or even can read – that much of things they do not like:
you have to take the above as truth. It is.
And be content. It's now a two minute read.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Catija
    Mar 6, 2019 at 15:46
  • "The definitions of the words did not change." - quite difficult statement, even as today we have institutionalized political correctness, a linguist (think you have a really background there) probably won't confirm invariance of semantics! E.g. "Holocaust" was not used before the 60s (70s in Europe), which is a fundamental change. Your claim "ahistorical" is factually false for the Austrian section, with basic income (an obvious socialist agenda) and really high taxes as shown below. Feb 15 at 7:52

Hitler originally joined the precursor to the national socialist party in 1919 as an agent of the Bavarian police to spy on them and make sure the weren't revolutionaries. At the time, they were significantly more socialist than the Nazis of the 1940s.

The Nazis shed much of their socialism around 1934 (when they killed George Strasser) in order to gain favor with industrialists and the "junker" military class. The socialist policies didn't help them much electoraly because most of the people they would have appealed to would prefer to vote social Democrat or communist. They didn't change the name of the party.

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    The night of long knives is worth mentioning, I think. For reader who aren't aware. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_Long_Knives Dec 20, 2018 at 13:34
  • "Bavarian police" is not really the right term. Basically, Hitler was a spy for a counter-revolutionary propaganda division of the "Provisionary Reichswehr of Bavaria", one of the organisational precursors of the Reichswehr. Thus, he was a spy for a military unit agitating against revolutionary movements, not for a police force.
    – Schmuddi
    Nov 16, 2019 at 11:20
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    Hitler came to power democratically in 1933, so all the appeal he needed to have he already got by '34 - before his shift away from socialism. And of course it's only "typical socialism" he shifted away from. In death they were all equal after all.
    – John
    Dec 18, 2019 at 13:14
  • He may have been elected in 1933 but he still needed to consolidate his power and needed to appeal to the junkers and industrialists still. Dec 18, 2019 at 14:48

If you want to restrict your question to the strictest of laboratory settings, you may be able to squeeze out a point if the concerns are artificially limited to just economic questions about the division of labor. The problem is that National Socialism didn't happen within a laboratory, it happened in real life. Arguments made from the perspective of: "Perhaps a true national socialist wouldn't have done that" are a recognizable informal fallacy, and vulnerable to the pure fact that the actual National Socialists committed atrocities on a grand scale in the name of their total and complete ideology, whatever it may have been.

Trying to compare even in an academic sense policies or goals on a simple left-right scale may grant you knowledge at the cost of wisdom, so it is probably best to use it sparingly. Trying to split off "nationalist" or "socialist" in an attempt to understand why others simplify with the colloquial "fascist" I don't think will get you anywhere, but something that may help is to look into Horseshoe Theory. A quick summary is that far-right self styled "fascists" may actually believe in and support similar types of policies to those that may want to describe themselves as "anti-fascists." The only difference being who they choose to direct those policies against. This point of view naturally sits well with those in the "center" who just want everyone to get along, but your assertion that the "two sides" could "balance out to the middle" is a huge assumption that in the real world wound up with an estimated 3% of the entire world's population dead.

But to answer your title question: the full name of the party (in English) was: National-Socialist German Workers' Party, which you are correct itself includes appeals to nationalist, socialist as well as populist ideals, but in the end it's just a name. If you wish to promote policies inspired by both "nationalist" and "socialist" ideals, I would suggest you choose a different one. And yes they are bad.


Allow me to put a political theory spin on this...

Nationalism. Nationalism is a political ideology which holds that political, social, and economic power should rest with a particular identity-group (a 'nation' in political science jargon). How that identity-group/nation is imagined or construed can vary widely: it can be ethnic, religious, cultural, class-economic, historically derived, based on biology or appearance, or etc. What matters is that some group of people identify as and with a group and assert that this group has a natural, irrevocable right to power within a particular territory or state. Note that historically speaking fascism was a particular form of nationalism based on ethnohistorical group identification (though it's probably unfair to call all ethnohistorical nationalist groups 'fascist')

Socialism. Socialism in its loosest (pre-Marxist) sense is an ideology which holds that there are community or collective rights and values that are at least as important as the individual rights and values proposed by the ideology of Classical Liberalism. Early socialism was often closely tied to religious groups, and opposed the careless destruction of people, communities, and environments that occurred during the hyper-individualism of capitalist industrialization. Marx took this individualist/communitarian opposition and reconstructed it as class conflict, in which a community of capitalists use the concept of individual property rights to undercut the rights and values of the community of working class people. He then rebranded 'socialism' as a particular political form in which the capitalist class is deprived of private ownership by giving all private ownership over to some group which acts as a proxy for the working class. There are various forms of such socialism (the most well-known being state socialism, as in the USSR, where the state ostensibly acts as proxy), but Marx saw this kind of system as a flawed stepping stone that must also be disposed of on the way to a classless society.

National Socialism. Given the above, National Socialism is a system in which the government becomes a tool for promoting and defending the community rights of a particular identity-group to hold political, social, and economic power, over and above any other people who might be present. This combines the identity-group (nation) focus of nationalism with the pre-Marxist (community rights and values) sense of of socialism. The combination of terms is perfectly sensible once we set aside the purely Marxist understanding of socialism.

The Nazi party, thus, asserted the following as irrevocable 'facts':

  1. That people of Aryan descent (their identity group) were the 'true' Germans, and should properly have political, social, and economic dominance in territories deemed to be historically 'German'.
  2. That in said territories, 'true' Germans had been displaced, oppressed, and dispossessed by outside groups (particularly Jews), which violates the intrinsic community/collective rights of these 'true' Germans.

This led to the ever-escalating insanity of expropriation, oppression, displacement, annexation, war, and outright murder as the regime tried simultaneously to recover and expand putatively 'German' territories while cleansing these territories of non-Aryan peoples.

As to whether one can be National Socialist but non-racist... Nationalism, per Orwell's Notes on Nationalism, is intrinsically a matter of 'competitive prestige,' in which ones's own identity group must always be presented as superior to some other group. It is inherently comparative, and the comparisons are necessarily concrete, meaning that there always has to be an actual target-group to paint as villainous, craven, animalistic, despicable, or otherwise lesser. One cannot express nationalism without having someone to metaphorically (or non-metaphorically) whip. Ethno-nationalism implies racism; religious nationalism implies anti-religious sentiment; class-economic nationalism implies the degradation and dehumanization of laboring classes. If you've ever wondered why the more radical elements of the current US Rightist media insist on slinging labels — from mild ones like 'liberal' and 'socialist' to problematic ones like 'illegals' to outright offensive ones I won't repeat — it's because of this nationalist mindset that can only construct itself as 'good' by constructing some other group as 'bad'. Without having some group to compete with for prestige, nationalists would have noting to talk about (except for facts, which they generally find problematic and distasteful). National Socialists may not always be 'racist' in the literal sense of the term — I can't tell you how many anti-Islamists I've heard claim they aren't racist because Islam isn't a race — but they always irrationally hate some group. No sense getting lost in semantics.


Today, the issue of Climate Change is a huge issue globally and whilst the major fossil fuel companies say that they are on board with achieving net zero, enviromentalists have accused them of merely 'greenwashing' their reputation and that they are speaking in bad faith. To back this up, they point to their funding of groups that deny anthropogenic climate change or pushback against strong action on climate.

Now, the prominance of climate change today is more or less reflects the prominance of socialism from the mid 19th C to the mid 20th C. Socialism, like markets, are not new. The teachings of Christ have been seen in that light, as have that of Plato and Abu Dharr al-Gifari, a companion of Muhammed is seen by many muslims as the first Islamic socialist. However, socialism in the modern era is marked by theories of Marx and were hugely popular. This is hard to see today, especially in the West, when neoliberalism has been the ruling ideology. Socialism is about democracy in economics, and simply a further stage in flowering of democracy in Europe after the revival of Greek philosophy - and which would have included political philosophy - in the Renaissance.

Many political parties, aiming to attract followers called themselves socialist but their actions did not match their rhetoric. They were engaged in, for want of a better phrase, red-washing. Mussolini ran a socialist paper before turning to fascism. Hitler's party called themselves Nationalist Socialists before the world found out truly what Nazism was about.

Hitler wanted all of Germany, and then Europe to answer to him alone. To think of Europe as a 'socialist collective' under a dictator is to twist the political meaning of socialism out of all shape. It is not about democracy but about tyranny. To purge Europe of undesirable races such as the Roma and the Jews is not nationalism but a vile hatred for anything different. To destroy Europe in the search for a Germanic destiny, is not destiny but a blind, obstinate and arrogant egotism. To believe in scientific racism shows no understanding of science.

Nazism has to be identified with what their policies in practise meant and not by the rhetoric by means of which they gained power. It was a patholological and evil political creed and is rightly despised around the world.

  • Consider the climate catastrophe as permanent media event. +1 for the last sentence. Now, China seems to be the prototype structure which is able to react to global developments. They now build the new generation of nuclear power plants and probably soon will fulfill CO2 requirements as IPCC suggested. Western democracies could easily do the same. Instead they introduce climate taxes and convert to police states with maximum surveillance. I can image that two generations later people will ask: "What has mankind really achieved in 90 years but replacing National Socialism by a global one?" Feb 10 at 10:17
  • I like the phrase red-washing.
    – Jan
    Feb 10 at 13:04

Some similarities between nazis and socialists --

Both Nazis and extreme socialists/(communist) believe in unlimited Government power.
Neither believes in individual rights. Specifically:

  • No freedom of speech
  • No right to a fair trial
  • No freedom of religion
  • No right to a meaningful vote
  • No right to bear arms

The Nazis created a "cult of personality" type government where everything depended on a single leader. Extreme socialists/(communist) seem to do the same thing, while the less extreme ones generally don't.

Some differences --

Nazis wanted to conquer (and sometimes exterminate) other peoples by invasions and external force. Socialists/communists usually prefer internal revolutions.

During the later part of their time in power, Nazis wanted to exterminate certain groups and peoples as a fundamental tenet of their program. By contrast, socialists/communists don't have a fundamental desire to exterminate this group or that, although there have were cases where they did so order to stamp out opposition.

Nazis were explicit about wanting to care for "members of the race" only. Socialists/communist generally claim to want to care for everyone. (Whether they actually do so is another matter).

Nationalism is all over the map. I don't think it has enough universal traits that you can say much about it in general, so trying to compare it with Naziism is probably a hopeless task.

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    Minor clarification request: " Nazis and more extreme socialists", do you mean to say that 'Nazis are less extreme socialists'? I guess and hope: no you don't. But I can't tell what exactly this is supposed to mean. ((& just can't hold myself together about it. But as two answers here were criticised for the contradictions presented by 25-points; care to contrast that with your narrative? Dec 23, 2018 at 0:54
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    @LangLangC just read the party platform : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Socialist_Program ... Particularly points after 10. There is a significant overlap between the declared goals of the Nazis and the declared goals of socialists. Maybe these things didn't happen (I'm NOT knowledgeable on this topic) and they were just tools that Hitler used to gain power, but didn't the same thing arguably happen in other 'socialist' countries?
    – Elle Najt
    Dec 24, 2018 at 18:02
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    This answer would benefit from being backed up. In particular, I think that many Socialists would be surprised to hear that they don't believe in freedom of speech, fair trials, or effectual voting. Jan 8, 2019 at 5:07
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    "Socialism" means different things to different people. The early days of the USSR were devoted to building "Socialism in one country". At the other end, we have Sweden. That's why I wrote "extreme Socialists". Jan 8, 2019 at 13:51
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    -1 for the blatant falsehoods. "Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary." - Karl Marx
    – JS Lavertu
    Aug 2, 2021 at 15:19

Were German National Socialists socialists?
Yes, they were. Economically their program and rhetortic were very much socialist and anti-capitalist, as they aimed at spreading wealth of the rich and diminishing the previliges of the aristocracy. In many ways they did deliver on their promises, although (like in many socialist societies) this eventually led to degradation of the overall level of life and political and social freedoms.

It is worth remembering that Nazis came to power in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, which was particularly felt in Germany, restrained by the conditions of the Versailles Peace Treaty. Their economic reforms very much paralleled those implemented at the same time in other western countries, such as New Deal in the US. The horror of the Nazism is that - although the majority of Germans did not subscribe to the Nazi antisemitism, eugenics, etc. - they didn't mind these excesses, as long as the Nazis delivered on their promises to improve the ordinary people's life. Indeed, before establishing himself as a dictator, Hitler at no point had support of more than a third of German voters.

The anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist rhetoric, directed mainly at England and the US, continued all the way through the World War 2.

Night of the long knives
Having said all this, it is necessary to mention that, after coming to power, Nazis did find an accomodation with the big industrialists, which eventually led to a massive purge of what was considered the socialist wing of the Nazi party: it was led by Ernst Röhm, the head of the Sturmabteilung - the Brown Shirts, who were the main force during the Nazi rise to power and were responsible for most of the Nazi atrocities throughout the 30s. Röhm and his collaborators being too socialist and homosexuals was cited as a reason of dispensing with them. Politically Röhm's socialist credentials made him too much of a rival to Hitler.

National Socialists vs. Marxists/Communists
National Socialists certainly didn't base their ideas on Marx's writings, although the similarity between their programs was rather obvious, and some of the Nazis - notably young Joseph Göbbels - advocated closer collaboration with the German communist party. Hitler always considered communists as his major opponents in fight for power - he managed to convert some Nazi party members to his views (such as the above mentioned Göbbels) and did away with the others (such as Röhm). It is worth remembering that pre-war communists were in favor of a violent overthrow of the existing economic and social order (i.e., they literally sticked to the Marxist doctrine) and as such represented the direct competitor to Nazis in their quest for power.

On ideological level Marxists were internationalists, aiming at changing the economic conditions for everybody, regradless of race, national origin, etc. On the other hand, Nazis from the very beginning advocated improving conditions of Germans at the expense of non-germans - although also at the expense of the German aristocracy, German "rich", and the German intelligensia. Of course, socialist movements are rarely truly internationalist - most of them aiming at the redistribution of wealth within their own country, but not with the outside world. Yet, redistribution based on a racial principle is characteristically Nazi concept.


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    This is false. The only wealth the Nazis were ever interested in redistributing was the wealth of Jewish individuals; the only qualification necessary to receiving that wealth was to be German ('Aryan'). Hence why so many German companies got so much richer in that period.
    – Jan
    Feb 10 at 13:01
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    @Jan this is a gross oversimplification, even though Jews, other non-aryans and handicapped certainly had it much worse than anyone else. Feb 10 at 13:29

The philosophy was mainly a racist nationalism and excessive patriotism, such that it enabled the Holocaust. The communicated purpose of the patriotism was to re-establish the German identity after the hard "Treaty of Versailles". Hitler acted in the interest of the working class, and restarted the economy, which the failed Weimar Republic had left with 6 million unemployed.

To some degree we do have both elements: Socialism and Nationalism.

The term "Socialism" on Wikipedia supports the idea that it was never an independent philosophy, more a kind of joker for a wide range of political agendas. And so Hitler probably used it for tactical reasons: he identified the central block as the enemy of his policy and collected voters from the far-left and far-right wings. Hitler was everything but a Marxist!

Today socialism is occupied by the left, while the meaning of nationalism depends on who uses it: the left associate it with racism, the right with patriotism.

EDIT 1 Income taxes were raised by 50% at the beginning of war in 1939. So my initial reasoning for socialist elements of Hitler's politics was false:

In quantity: The tax rate was about 70%, i.e. you mainly worked for others. Compared to recent tax rates in Western countries today from about 20% to 40%, Nazi Germany was closer to socialism than capitalism.

EDIT 2 And here is the source, which I wrongly had associated with Germany. It is a speech from an Austrian Jewish lady and attests clearly to concepts of Socialism and puts light on incorrect display of the Annexation of Austria : Holocaust survivor Kitty Werthmann's entire speech


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