Hitler and the Socialist Dream He Declared That 'National Socialism Was Based on Marx' Socialists Have Always Disowned Him. but a New Book Insists That He Was, at Heart, a Left-Winger

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In April 1945, when Adolf Hitler died by his own hand in the rubble of Berlin, nobody was much interested in what he had once believed. That was to be expected. War is no time for reflection, and what Hitler had done was so shattering, and so widely known through images of naked bodies piled high in mass graves, that little or no attention could readily be paid to National Socialism as an idea. It was hard to think of it as an idea at all. Hitler, who had once looked a crank or a clown, was exposed as the leader of a gang of thugs, and the world was content to know no more than that.

Half a century on, there is much to be said. Even thuggery can have its reasons, and the materials that have newly appeared, though they may not transform judgement, undoubtedly enrich and deepen it. Confidants of Hitler. such as the late Albert Speer, have published their reminiscences; his wartime table-talk is a book; early revelations like Hermann Rauschning's Hitler Speaks of 1939 have been validated by painstaking research, and the notes of dead Nazis like Otto Wagener have been edited, along with a full text of Goebbels's diary.

It is now clear beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler and his associates believed they were socialists, and that others, including democratic socialists, thought so too. The title of National Socialism was not hypocritical. The evidence before 1945 was more private than public, which is perhaps significant in itself. In public Hitler was always anti-Marxist, and in an age in which the Soviet Union was the only socialist state on earth, and with anti- Bolshevism a large part of his popular appeal, he may have been understandably reluctant to speak openly of his sources. His megalomania, in any case, would have prevented him from calling himself anyone's disciple. That led to an odd and paradoxical alliance between modern historians and the mind of a dead dictator. Many recent analysts have fastidiously refused to study the mind of Hitler; and they accept, as unquestioningly as many Nazis did in the 1930s, the slogan "Crusade against Marxism" as a summary of his views. An age in which fascism has become a term of abuse is unlikely to analyse it profoundly. His private conversations, however, though they do not overturn his reputation as an anti-Communist, qualify it heavily. Hermann Rauschning, for example, a Danzig Nazi who knew Hitler before and after his accession to power in 1933, tells how in private Hitler acknowledged his profound debt to the Marxian tradition. "I have learned a great deal from Marxism" he once remarked, "as I do not hesitate to admit". He was proud of a knowledge of Marxist texts acquired in his student days before the First World War and later in a Bavarian prison, in 1924, after the failure of the Munich putsch. The trouble with Weimar Republic politicians, he told Otto Wagener at much the same time, was that "they had never even read Marx", implying that no one who had failed to read so important an author could even begin to understand the modern world; in consequence, he went on, they imagined that the October revolution in 1917 had been "a private Russian affair", whereas in fact it had changed the whole course of human history! His differences with the communists, he explained, were less ideological than tactical. German communists he had known before he took power, he told Rauschning, thought politics meant talking and writing. They were mere pamphleteers, whereas "I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun", adding revealingly that "the whole of National Socialism" was based on Marx. That is a devastating remark and it is blunter than anything in his speeches or in Mein Kampf.; though even in the autobiography he observes that his own doctrine was fundamentally distinguished from the Marxist by reason that it recognised the significance of race - implying, perhaps, that it might otherwise easily look like a derivative. …