Was Hitler a Socialist?

The 2016 U.S. presidential race was a wild ride and a throwback to misunderstood history. When Bernie Sanders was running in the DNC-rigged primary, the Right claimed his brand of Democratic Socialism wasn’t that different from the Socialism of the USSR, North Korea, China, Cuba, Venezuela, and Germany’ National Socialism. On the other side, liberals claimed it was President Donald Trump and his supporters who were Nazis, some even claiming that President Trump was literally Hitler.

Liberals making such claims about President Trump prove they don’t know smack about history. Hitler’s program was, at its core, all about socialism. The difference between National Socialists and today’s progressives is that NatSocs wanted socialism for each ethnic nation; progressives want it for nations with open borders, with no special consideration for native populations. 

was hitler a socialist

Poster for the NSV charity reading “Health, child protection, fighting poverty, aiding travelers, community, helping mothers—These are the tasks of the National Socialist People’s Charity. Become a member!”

The 25-point Programme of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) has two main themes. The first eight points are nationalistic, such as citizens being only those with German blood and only allowing foreigners in the country if all citizens are already employed.

Points nine through 24 are socialistic (detailed below). It could even be argued that the 25-point NatSoc plan is more socialistic than nationalistic. (The 25th point simply states that a strong central power is necessary to fulfill the program. The conservative talking point that all socialism is fascism certainly applies.)

This program was first proclaimed by Hitler in February 1920. All of the following are policies espoused by today’s progressives and Democratic Socialists: 

  • All citizens will have equal rights and obligations 
  • The activity of individuals must not work against the community, but should result in “the benefit of all”
  • Unearned incomes will be abolished, such as income from investments rather than from work. Most agree that commission-based incomes (such as real estate agents) fit the bill for “unearned incomes.”
  • Elimination of debt (interest)-slavery, as usury will be outlawed
  • Personal enrichment through war will be designated a crime against the people. This will eliminate politicians advocating for wars for their own financial interests or those of their friends. 
  • A division of profits of all heavy industries
  • Large-scale expansion of old-age welfare 
  • The creation and conservation of a healthy middle class 
  • Consideration will be given to small businesses in contracts with state or local governments 
  • Elimination of all speculation on land (i.e., investing in land to make a profit later on) 
  • Government will have the power to seize land for the public use 
  • Abolishment of taxes on land. (This allows low-income people and elderly with limited budgets to continue to own their property.)
  • Reconstruction of the national education system, “to enable every capable and industrious German to obtain higher education and subsequently introduction into leading positions”
  • Education, at government expense, of gifted children of poor parents 
  • Child labor will be outlawed 
  • Physical fitness will be encouraged, in part by establishing gyms and sporting facilities 
  • Abolition of mercenary troops 
  • Freedom of religion for all religious denominations (as long as they don’t endanger the nation or oppose the moral senses of the German people)
  • Publications that are counter to the public good will be forbidden 
  • “The common good before the individual good” (Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz)

In addition, although National Socialism left businesses in private control, it was the German government that really controlled industries, deciding what products were manufactured, in what quantities, where they were distributed, the wages paid to workers, the end prices, and how much profit business owners were allowed to receive. This was justified by one of the points above, that the public good would come before the individual. 

was hitler a socialist

Poster for the Nazi charity NSV, reading “Support the assistance program for mothers and children.”

Public health was another big concern. An anti-smoking campaign included banning smoking in a number of workplaces and public spaces and distributing pamphlets and providing lectures. Government agencies worked to limit asbestos and pesticides, while lead and mercury were removed from products. Women were encouraged to have regular breast cancer screenings. Health care insurance plans run by the government were offered as well. 

Hitler and the National Socialists also had one of the most progressive policies of the day for the environment and animal welfare. Their “Blood and Soil” doctrine aimed to protect the bond between the Germany people and nature by protecting the earth from industrial pollution. One historian called National Socialism’s environmental views a “”religion of nature.”  Hitler himself discussed renewable energy sources, such as various sources of environmentally friendly hydropower as alternatives to coal. Richard Walther Darré,Reich Minister of Food and Agriculture, has been called the “father of the Greens” for his advocacy for organic farming (lebensgesetzliche Landbauweise, farming according to the laws of life). In 1934, an order was passed for planting new forests and protecting wildlife. The following year, the Reichsnaturschutzgesetz (Reich Nature Conservation Act) was enacted to protect nature. 

nazis environment

A National Socialist poster from 1943 promoting a paper recycling drive

In the realm of animal welfare, the Nazi Party passed a law in 1933 that said no animals were to be slaughtered without anesthetic. The same year, vivisection was banned. Per Hitler’s instructions, NatSoc leader Hermann Göring had Germans who violated animal welfare laws committed to concentration camps. In addition, Göring banned commercial animal trapping, prohibited the boiling of lobsters and crabs, and imposed restrictions on hunting. The Reichstierschutzgesetz (Reich Animal Protection Act) was passed later that year, which prohibited the use of animals in films or public events if it would damage their health. By 1938, a law was passed so animal protection would be taught in public schools and universities.

Numerous other examples can be found of National Socialist policies to protect the environment and animals. 

Despite the many similarities in platforms, Democratic Socialists and Communists will argue that such policies are racist, because they’d only benefit German citizens. However, Hitler hoped that nations throughout the world would adopt National Socialism. He had no plans to conquer and enslave other nations. Self-determination and nationalism were his goals for every country on earth. 

So, you can love National Socialism or hate it. You can make arguments as to why President Trump is similar to Hitler. But at the least, those making such claims should know the basics of Hitler’s policies before expecting to be taken seriously.