Dialectical logic, according to this scheme of things, had seen no disadvantage in occasionally combining with the Nazis in efforts to topple the real enemy, social democracy (or ‘social fascism’, as the Communists confusingly termed it). There was much in any case to draw together the proponents of the two great chiliastic upheavals of modern times. The psychological, philosophical and historical connections between Communism and National Socialism were so close that their supporters were for the most part consciously or unconsciously aware of this. The Marxists were more chary of making any compromising admissions, but the consistent Soviet policy of referring incorrectly to National Socialists as ‘German Fascists’ surely betrays a consciousness of the dangerous parallel likely to be drawn between the two philosophies.
This similarity has sometimes been obscured in the popular mind by the continuing suggestion that Nazism was ‘right wing’, a phrase of very imprecise meaning. If, as seems generally accepted, the term is held to imply ‘reactionary’ and ‘conservative’ in politics and morals, then the misconception is deep indeed. For, as a distinguished scholar points out ‘no one has ever produced a single institution that Hitler and his circle wished to conserve…they wished to conserve nothing, and therefore cannot be labelled conservatives’. In fact it is clear that National Socialism, ‘although the reactionary aspects of its ideology and its opposition to the political results of the revolution [of 1918 in Germany] conveniently disguised the fact, was a revolutionary movement.’ The distinction to be drawn is not that between ‘left’ and ‘right’, but between totalitarian and other concepts of government. All modern totalitarian doctrines aim at an ideal: the ‘left’ towards a socialist millennium, and the ‘right’ towards the stirring of the masses to active participation in some national purpose.
From the earliest days of the Nazi Party many of its members had entertained a respect, frequently reciprocated, for what they regarded as the sincerity, vigour and ultimately similar aims of the Communists. The Marxist philosopher Ernst Niekisch advocated a programme which combined the ideas of Marxism and Nazism, and a ‘National Bolshevik’ movement seeking to effect this union received sympathetic approval from Goebbels and Karl Radek, the Soviet ideologist.
Early Nazi membership was frequently recruited from the Communist Party (KPD), and vice versa. In particular a very high proportion of the SA (Brownshirts) came over in ever-increasing numbers from the ranks of the Communists. Ernst Roehm, the SA chief, welcomed them for their fanaticism and love of violence, nicknaming them ‘beefsteaks’ (brown outside, red within). The flow worked the other way too, and in 1923 Hitler is reported to have admitted that ‘either we act now or our SA people will go over to the Communists’. (Similarly, many young Italian Fascists flocked to join the Communist Party after the fall of Mussolini).
The National Socialist leader whose sympathies were closest to Bolshevism was Goebbels. There is little doubt that he could as easily have become a Marxist as a National Socialist…
Hitler’s attitude to Bolshevism was more ambivalent, but he was quite candid about the debt National Socialism owed to Marxism. From the earliest days of the Party’s struggle he expressed a strong preference for ex-Marxists as suitable members. With pardonable confidence, he declaimed in 1934:
‘It is not Germany that will turn Bolshevist, but Bolshevism that will become a sort of National Socialism…Besides there is more that binds us to Bolshevism than separates us from it…I have always made allowance for this circumstance, and given orders that former Communists are to be admitted to the party at once.’
This was no idle claim: more than half of the fifty thousand Brownshirts recruited in Berlin in the previous year had been Communists.
Nazi leanings towards their Marxist rivals and counterparts were willingly and unwittingly reciprocated. Apart from anti-Semitism, the German Communist Party (KPD) advanced policies not very different from those of the Nazis. Their programme was dictated by the Kremlin via the Comintern. ‘To the last the Communist Party beat the drum of nationalism and whipped up the masses against Versailles. They could hardly hope to outbid the Nazis, but they served as valuable pacemakers and helped to prepare the workers for the anti-Western foreign policy of Hitler’.
Tolstoy N, Stalin’s Secret War, Second Edition, 1982, Pan Books Ltd, pp 95-97