What Bernie Sanders Won’t Tell You about Social Democracy

Posted first at Lewrockwell.com – Oct. 7, 2019


By L. K. Samuels

Sen. Bernie Sanders is always happy to explain to the public his social democracy ideology, or what he often labels democratic socialism. Despite his enthusiasm, he has never revealed the more infamous past admirers of his brand of authoritarian socialism. Sanders and other Social Democrats always fail to identify one of their most prominent political colleagues— Adolf Hitler. In 1919 the future Führer considered himself a big fan of “national Social Democracy,” and told others that he planned to join the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP).

So what caused Hitler to embrace social democracy? After his arrest as a leader of the short-lived Communist-run Bavarian Soviet Republic, Hitler felt pressured to plead innocent to charges of being a radical leftwing communist. During his interrogation by Weimar Republic officials, Hitler confessed that he was moderate leftist, a “Social Democrat,” not a diehard communist.

Most of this evidence comes from the German historians Thomas Weber and Konrad Heiden. According to Heiden, a journalist based in Munich during the 1920s, Hitler “espoused the cause of Social Democracy against that of the Communists.” Since Hitler did not flee or resign his position with the communist Räterepublik, he likely found it necessary to change his tune after fierce street battles that led to over 600 casualties and the capture of Munich by Weimar Republic and Freikorps troops. In fact, within days after the communist republic was overthrown, Hitler decided to turn “informant” against his former comrades to avoid the possibility of being imprisoned or shot.

Later, as a correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung, Heiden wrote that “Hitler had supported the SPD” (Social Democratic Party of Germany) and he “talked about joining the party.” At an early meeting of a political group that eventually turned into the Nazi Party, Hitler told Friedrich Krohn, an early supporter of the party, that he preferred a type of “socialism” he referred to as “national Social Democracy” like that in nations such as Scandinavia, England, and prewar Bavaria. One wonders if Stalin had it right all along when he condemned the Social Democrats and the National Socialists as “twins” birthed by the same socialist mother. By the early 1930s, both Stalin and the Communist International were describing Social Democratic parties as “social fascists.”

In 1921 when Hitler felt compelled to defend an early Nazi supporter, Hermann Esser, from internal Nazi party attacks, he stated, “Everyone was at one time a Social Democrat.” Several news stories detailed Hitler’s endorsement of social democracy. One newspaper, the liberal daily Berliner Tageblatt, wrote in Oct. 29, 1930, that Hitler had identified himself “as a supporter of Social Democracy.”

However, Hitler’s favorable backing of the Social Democrats was short lived. His sudden feelings of animosity was not over socioeconomic theories or a dislike of socialism, but because the SPD was directly responsible for a punitive peace treaty that made Germans realize that they had actually lost World War I. Most Germans were traumatized by this turn of events. During this juncture, Hitler experienced his own road-to-Damascus conversion through the realization of Germany’s total defeat when the newly formed SPD-led government signed and ratified the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. Hitler saw the SPD as traitors to Germany’s national interests and ethnic identity. This signified his political transformation towards a militant racial radicalization and away from the social democracy. Despite Hitler’s backpedaling from social democracy, he confided in 1942 that “The only problem for the Social Democrats at the time was that they did not have a leader.”

But how different were the Social Democrats from the National Socialists? Apparently, not much. The Social Democrats were willing to compromise with capitalists, but only through a gradualism that advanced the socioeconomic interventions by the state, welfarism, public-state ownership, social justice, and the redistribution of wealth. That was what the National Socialists tried, in their anti-capitalist zeal to bring about a German “socialist people’s state.”

Yet, according to orthodox Marxists, the various Social Democratic parties were not manifesting true socialism, and therefore they were repeatedly berated by Stalinists as reactionary mongrels who were expounding some debauched version of pseudo-socialism or crypto-fascism. This is the same argument used against the National Socialists.

What Bernie Sanders holds in common with the German National Socialists is his proposal calling for government to guarantee jobs for every American “who wants or needs one.” His plan entailed a large-scale jobs program aimed at such priorities as “infrastructure, care giving, the environment, education and other goals.” Yet, again, Hitler beat Bernie to the punch. In 1933 Hitler started to carry out his proposed job—guarantee promises, and spent lavishly on public works projects, which included the autobahn, hospitals, public housing, and the 1936 Olympics stadium. Referring to full employment as a “right to work” entitlement, such government projects held importance because it was “almost synonymous with what they called German socialism.” Bernhard Köhler, the head of the Nazi Party Commission for Economic Policy, declared in 1932: “The National Socialist state will guarantee that every one of our people finds work.”

There was also Bernie’s favorable position on “economic nationalism,” which he championed during his run for U.S. President in 2016. As a self-described FDR New Deal progressive, Sanders made a populist appeal for “tough-talking economic nationalism.” But Sander’s “economic nationalism” was actually the heart of anti-free trade socialism. Calling for nationalistic policies to keep jobs in America instead of going overseas, Sanders echoed the same anti-free trade “autarky” policies advocated by Hitler and Mussolini.

Sanders’ supporters also became excited when he proposed a federal takeover of the entire energy-producing sector, a type of big business nationalization popular with the Nazis. In fact, the National Socialists were nationalizing and creating so many new government-owned companies that Albert Speer, the Nazi Minister of Armaments and War Production, warned that Germany’s economy was transforming into “a state-socialist economic order.”

Yes, Hitler supported but eventually moved away from a Bernie Sander form of social democracy. But such political twists and turns are common among collectivists. Despite their propensity for groupthink and mindless conformity, some socialists will bolt to another tribe over minor doctrinal matters. And if the Social Democratic Party of Germany had refused to sign the hated and humiliating Treaty of Versailles, Hitler would probably have remained a Social Democrat, albeit a militant one who would have fought for a socialistic nation based on his country’s culture, language and traditions, not the international variety.

Much of the material is excerpted from L.K. Samuels’ new book, Killing History: The False Left-Right Political Spectrum.