The phenomenon of National Socialism is often portrayed as an homogenous pseudo-ideology based upon the principles of Prussian militarism, authoritarian governance and radical antisemitism. This is a television documentary view of the facts, and one which is not supported by a thorough reading of the period’s history. Rather, National Socialism was a big tent consisting of various factions with differing priorities who were unified under a nationalistic worldview particular to the German condition.
In this post, I intend to demonstrate what I believe were the most prominent and differential factions within the National Socialist movement, with a brief commentary on their manifestations.
1. Bohemian National Socialism
The first faction (and the most interesting) to discuss is that of the Bohemians. Bohemian National Socialism incorporates specifically those national socialists for whom the esoteric, the occult and folklore were of high importance, and who came to national socialism through the National-Liberal tradition prominent within 19th century Germany. It consisted of such groups as the Thule Society and their fellow travellers, some of whom took a great interest in the Eddas and the history of the pre-Christian religiosity of the Germanic peoples, as well as large strands of the loosely intertwined Völkische Movement. Intriguingly, Adolf Hitler himself came at least partially through this movement, a fact supported by his reputed interest in Ostara, the Viennese magazine distributed by occultist and Ariosophist Lanz von Liebenfels, although, as we will later explore, The Chief belonged primarily to a different faction.
Prominent individuals who could be assigned to this Bohemian description include the philosopher Alfred Rosenberg and Heinrich Himmler partially, anti-Christians such as Erich and Mathilde (von Kemnitz) Ludendorff, and other precursors to NS ideology such as the Thule Martyrs of Walpurgisnacht executed by the Red Army in 1919. It may be said with reliance that members of this faction were of disproportionately bourgeois extraction, who contributed a disproportionate amount of theory to the national socialist cause, although without praxis.
2. Left-Wing National Socialism
Left-wing national socialism is an obvious category to students of the period, although lay-observers frequently baulk at the notional contradiction of the phrase based upon a misunderstanding of the left-right political spectrum. Despite that, left-wing national socialism was, for a large period, the quantitively dominant strain of the ideology for a large period, to the extent that it almost seized control of the entire movement at various times, notably during the early years when the Strasser brothers built a considerable support base in Berlin, and during the early month’s of The Chief’s reign when the Sturmabteilung was a powerful agency under the stewardship of Ernst Röhm. It wasn’t until the Night of the Long Knives (Summer ’34) that the Rindersteak Nazis were permanently subordinated to Adolf Hitler.
Although it may be obvious, it’s nevertheless worth explaining that the left-wing national socialists place great emphasis on the ‘socialist’ aspect of their title. They ranged from former Social Democrats to outright communists who believed the German Revolution of 1933 would usher in a socialist utopia with the abolition of private property and the military’s replacement with a ‘People’s Army’ – both aims of the rank-and-file SA men. Prominent Nazis who fell within the bounds of this faction included the aforementioned Strasser brothers, Joseph Goebbels (before 1933), leader of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront Robert Ley and Walter Darré, although this latter inclusion is slightly tenuous. Interestingly, many members of the left-wing of the NSDAP advocated an alliance with the Soviet Union against the capitalist democracies of the West, an idea Joseph Goebbels opined upon regularly in his pre-war diaries. The Night of the Long Knives (July 1934) may be viewed as a purge of the party’s left wing.
3. Pragmatic National Socialists
Clearly the most dominant faction throughout the Nazi Party’s period of governance is that of the pragmatists, individuals who were not ideologues and who remained relatively flexible in the discharging of public duties. The pragmatists invariably held to some common principles of national socialist doctrine, such as the quest for living space, racial hygiene and antisemitism, although even on this latter point there was considerable flexibility, and they often approached these topics from a pragmatic point of view. Their desire for living space for the German nation, for example, derived from the necessities of supporting a population expansion that was to be the prerequisite of raising Germany’s status in world affairs. The axis pact can be viewed through the lens of pragmatism, with the Italian alliance in particular stemming from the realities of government forms in contrast to the more ideological desires of various factions to instead ally with Great Britain or the Soviet Union. The pragmatists also controlled the German economy, and disassociated themselves swiftly from the radical socialism of their left wing; the economic miracle of the years 1933-39 was largely down to utilising the pragmatic ideas all successful governments require to get along, notably an alliance with industry and the taming of the unions.
Adolf Hitler himself was no great ideologue. Many point to Mein Kampf to evidence their assertion of The Chief as some ideological fanatic, a book which undoubtedly expresses a particular worldview but pales in significance when compared with Table Talk, which displays his musings about policy while actually occupying a position of supreme power within the German administration. Here, one finds what modern political analysts would describe as practical, non-ideological and common sense ideas as they were particular to Germany’s circumstances at that time. Along with Hitler, key players such as Hermann Göring and Rudolf Hess, both occupying the position of Hitler’s deputy de facto or de jure, were strong pragmatists, along with fellow travellers who quite literally joined the party through pragmatic self-interest, such as Werner von Braun and the military theorists and generals.
One gets the impression that the pragmatists were somewhat embarrassed by the other factions. The Chief personally viewed many of national socialism’s ‘associated acts’ in a negative light, evidenced by his purging of the left wing of the party and his prohibition of the Ostara magazine, as well as his private comments attested in Table Talk in which he ordained that the petty squabbles of factional politics, like the fight against the churches and the occultist fantasies, were to be side-lined until after the war.
There are undoubtedly more, smaller factions that could be described, or notable individuals who do not fit nicely into those proposed herein, but they remain beyond the scope of this post. Here, I sought to briefly outline the factions as they appear to us from history – perhaps another post may deal with them individually. The Bohemian faction might make for particularly enjoyable research and reading.
To summarise, it is this author’s view that national socialism may best be described as a constitutional canvas upon which various ideological priorities may be overlaid. It is inaccurate to view national socialism as an ideology as such, but rather in the aforementioned manner, or as a coalition of nationalist factions that may not necessarily share commonalities ignorantly ascribed thereto by journalists and pseudo-historians of the modern age.
I hope you found this post enjoyable and/or informative. Check back soon for more posts from this series, as well as others including Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious and Against Democracy.