Moeller van den Bruck, the Nazis and Revolutionary Conservatism

I’m published many articles on this blog attacking the claim that Nazism was a form of socialism. It’s essentially a Conservative smear, intended to put people off anything remotely socialist, like state medical care, strong trade unions, an extensive and effective welfare state or the nationalisation of important industries, by associating these policies with the horrors of the Third Reich. The standard arguments for the socialist nature of the Nazi party is that they called themselves socialists and there were socialist elements in the 1922 Nazi party programme. In practice, however, Hitler was very firmly for private industry and was only willing to consider nationalisation if a business or agricultural estate was failing. He considered businessmen part of the biological elite following Social Darwinist ideology, and definitely did not want the workers to share in the profits of the companies they worked for. He was also bitterly opposed to ‘Marxist’ socialism, which meant not only Communism but the reformist socialism of the SPD, anarchism and the trade unions. The anti-capitalist elements of Nazi ideology were based on the Italian Fascist corporate state, which had its roots in syndicalism, but also in Italian Nationalism. And even then the Nazis in power did not create anything resembling the Italian corporatist system.

But aside from styling themselves ‘socialist’ to steal the clothes of the genuinely socialist parties and movements, the Nazis were also strongly influenced by extreme right-wing radical ideologues, who saw themselves as Conservatives. One of these was Moeller van den Bruck, whose 1923 book, The Third Reich, provided the Nazis with the name of their new order. Hitler met van den Bruck a year before the book’s publication, and was greatly impressed. So impressed that he wanted van den Bruck and himself to work together. But van den Bruck refused. Van den Bruck also called for a form of patriotic, indigenous German socialism, but considered himself a revolutionary Conservative. Noel O’Sullivan describes his views on pp. 144-7 of his book Fascism (London: J.M Dent & Sons 1983). He writes of van den Bruck’s view of Conservatism and revolution

Moeller’s starting-point, like that of other radical conservatives, was the belief that the only relevant form of conservative doctrine in the modern world is one which begins by accepting and embracing revolution, instead of by rejecting or suppressing it. ‘Conservatism and revolution co-exist in the world today’, Moeller wrote, with the result that the task now is to evolve ‘a conservative revolutionary thought as the only one which in a time of upheaval guarantees the continuity of history and preserves it alike from reaction and from chaos’. In the same context, he explained that ‘conservatism and revolution would destroy each other, if the conservative had not … the political wisdom to recognise that conservative goals may be attained even with revolutionary postulates and by revolutionary means’. The essence of the new, radicalised conservatism, then, is that it ‘seizes directly on the revolution, and by it, through it and beyond it saves the life of Europe and of Germany’. (pp.144-5).

On the following pages he describes the similarity between Moeller’s radical conservatism and Nazism. These were

  1. Revolutionary conservatism was not the ideology of a party, but an entire worldview.
  2. Revolutionary conservatism has no doctrine, but was a ‘war for life, for the nation’s freedom’.
  3. Revolutionary conservatism was against rationalism and thus parliamentary democracy, capitalist economics and Bolshevik socialism.
  4. This was to be achieved through a native, corporate German socialism which had descended from the remote past in the form of guilds and professional bodies.

This last point seems to me to be an attempt to find a suitable model from German history for corporate state of the type Mussolini was creating in Italy.

O’Sullivan then goes on to discuss how radical conservatism like van den Bruck’s could easily lead into Nazis, and van den Bruck’s reasons for rejecting the older, traditional form of conservatism. This was the older conservative ideal was too static to gain the support of masses. Hence the fall of the Second Reich of Bismarck and the Kaiser. The Third Reich, however, would have as its task the conquest of the political apathy of the masses. O’Sullivan concludes

In this respect, the affinity between the Nazi ideal, on the one hand, and Moeller’s vision of a ‘conservative revolution’ which could create a Third Reich, on the other, needs no comment: both envisaged a Third Reich based on the activist fervour of the masses. (p. 147).

Clearly van den Bruck’s revolutionary conservatism differs considerably from modern, parliamentary conservatism. Van den Bruck’s conception of it was an attempt to create a revolutionary, socialistic form of the old conservative opposition to political liberalism, based as this was on parliamentary democracy, laissez-faire capitalism, and ‘Bolshevik socialism’, which meant everything from Communism to democratic, reformist socialism. Modern Conservatism, however, has borrowed considerably from 19th century Liberalism in its promotion of free trade capitalism and parliamentary democracy, even if this latter is becoming increasingly restricted through legislation designed to keep the poor and ethnic minorities from voting under the pretext of combating voter fraud. On the other hand, modern Conservatism still retains the vehement hostility to trade unions and genuine socialist politics, which are being condemned by the right on both sides of the Atlantic as ‘cultural Marxism’. And there is a section of the Tory party, whose views and membership frequently intersect with the overtly Fascist parties and organisations.

This therefore poses a problem for those, who maintain that the Nazis must be socialists, because they claimed they were. By that standard, the conservative element in Nazism must also be taken seriously and accepted, because Moeller van den Bruck, whose ideas paralleled theirs and which they partly adopted, saw himself as a Conservative, albeit of a radical, revolutionary type. But don’t expect anyone in the Republican Party in America and the Tories over here to do so. Despite their support for Fascist monsters like Pinochet and other Latin American butchers and torturers, they’re very keen to deny they have any connection to real Fascism, which is really just socialism. At least, for the purposes of public propaganda.