At times, Brazil does seem to be a country straight out of Bizarro World. Earlier this week, a social media clash showed just how difficult things have gotten around here. After the German Embassy in Brasília published a video about Nazism – highlighting its extreme-right politics – Brazilian netizens went berserk. They called out the German diplomats, saying that Nazism was “obviously” left-wing, as Adolf Hitler’s movement was called the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
In one stroke, these enraged social media trolls associated Nazism to Socialism and, therefore, to the left-leaning Workers’ Party.
Incited by Olavo de Carvalho, an ultra-conservative ideologue who lives in the U.S., the new Brazilian right interprets things at face value when it calls Nazism a left-wing movement due to the word “socialist,” and the fact that state interventionism was a trademark of Nazi Germany.
Many people make that mistake out of sheer lack of information. But there’s a more obscure reason for that association: getting rid of the burden that Adolf Hitler represents, handing it off on the lap of the left wing. By twisting this political concept, they also try to associate the right wing to a purer version of liberalism, at least a purely economic version of liberalism (which we could call “marketism”). Everything related to state intervention is associated with the left, according to this line of thinking.
We can see that effort even in libertarian circles. MisesBrasil, an ultra-libertarian website, makes the same shallow connection.
The left/right dichotomy
This argument throws the very history of the left-right dichotomy into the trash, a polarity which came to be during the French Revolution. The terms “left” and “right” appeared after members of the National Assembly were divided into supporters of the king, to the president’s right (those who wanted to preserve their aristocratic privileges), and fans of the revolution to his left (liberals, who were for equal rights for all – thus loathing privileges).
The distinction between the two sides of the political spectrum arises from the defense of inequality as a legitimate trait of society (right), or the indictment of inequality (left). Socialism didn’t even exist back then – appearing only in the following century. And, as socialism was even more egalitarian than liberalism, it was placed left of the latter – updating the left/right dichotomy to a new context.
Remember, folks. The left/right distinction always depends on context.
The association between interventionism and leftism also ignores the numerous acts of state intervention – both in the economy and in social relations – made by conservative regimes. Germany’s Otto von Bismarck, for instance, created the conservative Social State and propelled industrial development with government incentives. Mr. Bismarck was undoubtedly anti-liberal – but on the right, not the left.
The same could be said about Getulio Vargas in Brazil – a fervent anti-communist. And that is especially the case of Adolf Hitler, who – like other fascists – attacked freedoms from the right.
What Nazism thought about Socialism
Nazi ideology had at its core a fundamental inequality between races – placing Germans above the rest. That’s what makes Nazism a right-wing movement. And, as this defense of inequality was radical and violent (as we saw with the Holocaust), it was a far-right movement.
That is what makes every movement that defends fundamental inequalities a right-wing movement. Whether it is sexism, homophobia, racism, and so on. We can also add the call for hierarchy as a value in itself – something typical of rightist movements about order and tradition.
Hitler himself, in a 1923 interview to George Sylvester Viereck, clarified what “Socialism” meant to him:
“Why,” I asked Hitler, “do you call yourself a National Socialist since your party programme is the very antithesis of that commonly accredited to socialism?”
“Socialism,” he retorted, putting down his cup of tea, pugnaciously, “is the science of dealing with the common weal. Communism is not Socialism. Marxism is not Socialism. The Marxians have stolen the term and confused its meaning. I shall take Socialism away from the Socialists.
“Socialism is an ancient Aryan, Germanic institution. Our German ancestors held certain lands in common. They cultivated the idea of the common weal. Marxism has no right to disguise itself as socialism. Socialism, unlike Marxism, does not repudiate private property. Unlike Marxism, it involves no negation of personality, and unlike Marxism, it is patriotic.
“We might have called ourselves the Liberal Party. We chose to call ourselves the National Socialists. We are not internationalists. Our socialism is national. We demand the fulfillment of the just claims of the productive classes by the state on the basis of race solidarity. To us, state and race are one.”
This week, Deutsche Welle was intrigued by the fact that “Brazilians create a debate that simply doesn’t exist in Germany.” The reporter identified many of the users who associated Nazism to the left as supporters of Jair Bolsonaro. The only such association from a German person identified by the report comes from Erika Steinbach, a former congresswoman, who joined Alternative for Germany (AfD) a populist party that has demonstrated with neo-nazis.
It is not surprising that Bolsonaro-backers are more prone to this idea. Hatred towards the left forms the backbone of his candidacy – and a continuous attempt to stigmatize it, whether by associating with an abject thing like Nazism or by painting all left-leaning ideas as “extreme.”
The flipside of this is the attempt to hide Mr. Bolsonaro’s dictatorial stances, trying to paint him as a “Liberal.” Nothing more eloquent than the global cover of The Economist, which called Mr. Bolsonaro a “threat to democracy.”