In this photo taken Aug. 19, 2007 soccer fans show a German Nazi flag with a swastika during an Ukrainian League Championship soccer match between Dynamo Kyiv and Karpaty in Kiev, Ukraine. With the defeat of Adolf Hitler in 1945, the Nazi’s scarlet flag with a black swastika was banned in Germany and remains so today. The banner once hung from all official buildings in the Third Reich, was waved madly by the cheering crowds that supported Hitler and the Nazis, and was an integral part of military and other uniforms. Synonymous with the genocidal policies of the Nazis, the flag, the swastika and all other such symbols are illegal to display today, but remain favorites of neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists, both inside Germany and around the world. After the war, the swastika was chiseled out of the talons of the stylized stone eagle that featured on many Nazi buildings, but today there is now a debate about whether the bird itself should go as well. (Ukrinform via AP)
Last Thursday, Bernie Sanders, self-proclaimed Socialist, was campaigning at a rally in Phoenix, AZ when a man somewhere behind him unfurled a Nazi flag. As Sanders made an effort to speak, the cheers of his supporters were quickly replaced with boos. In less than thirty seconds, the man waving the flag had it snatched from his hand and was escorted out of the building by security.
Most would agree that waving a NAZI flag around, particularly at an event focused on electing America’s first Jewish president and whose family was killed by Nazis during the Holocaust, is despicable. Many denounced the behavior and questioned Sanders’ safety on the campaign trail, and rightly so. Yet, how many people today, especially young people and those following Sanders, really understand the history of the Nazis and what Hitler stood for? Additionally, do they know why Hitler objected to Jews, particularly Communist Jews? The truth of this history is rarely taught in an average U.S. History class. Even more rare is any motivation on the part of Sanders’ followers to consider what he stands for and where those beliefs fall on the historical spectrum.
For starters, NAZI translates to National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Before one gets all giddy over the term “Socialist” being included in this title, one must understand that it was first called the German Worker’s Party. The German Army sent Hitler to infiltrate it in order to discover what type of revolutionary left-leaning party it might be. He discovered instead how similar their political persuasions were to his own. When leader Anton Drexler realized Hitler’s oratory skills, he invited him to join the party, after which Hitler became their propaganda manager. It was Hitler who advocated for a name change for the party to reflect socialist ideals because that political philosophy itself was popular in Germany during the post WWI era. He redefined the term socialist by placing the word nationalist before it. He further defined party principles with a push for the reunification of Germany, but only for those with German blood and specifically excluding those of Jewish heritage. Additionally, Party members rarely referred to themselves as Nazis or referred to their overall goals as Nazism. In fact, according to the Jewish Virtual Library the term was a “derogatory word for a backward peasant, an awkward and clumsy person” and along with the terms Nazi Germany and Nazi Regime were popularized by anti-Nazis and German exiles living abroad.
Irregardless, in order to gain support for the party from the working class and socialists, Hitler outlined a program with the following goals: redistribute income, create profit-sharing in large industries, nationalization of trusts (generally without compensation to companies or industries who would lose profits from the government takeover,) free education, and the abolition of ground rents, to name a few. Compare this list to Bernie Sanders’ goals, taken directly from his website: debt-free college to all, national rent control, a public credit registry to replace for-profit credit reporting agencies, free school meals using locally sourced foods, progressively higher taxes for companies with large gaps between CEO and median worker pay, pass a constitutional amendment that “makes clear that money is not speech and corporations are not people,” enact a federal jobs guarantee to ensure that everyone is guaranteed a stable job that pays a living wage, and most importantly of course, shift the wealth of the economy back into the hands of the workers. The problem with Hitler’s goals, while seemingly admirable, eventually came to exclude anyone who pushed back or resisted his sweeping changes, which did not happen overnight, but instead over the course of years before he gained full control of the government.
Incidentally, in 1924 when Hitler failed to gain the support of many who felt the economic policies of the German government were rather successful, he downplayed his extremism, stating that he was willing to participate with other parties in democratic elections. Sound familiar? Also, in an attempt to obtain financial contributions from industrialists, Hitler wrote a pamphlet in 1927 entitled The Road to Resurgence. Only a small number of these pamphlets were printed, and they were only meant for the eyes of the top industrialists in Germany. The reason that the pamphlet was kept secret was that it contained information that would have upset Hitler’s working-class supporters. In the pamphlet Hitler implied that the anti-capitalist measures included in the party rhetoric would not be implemented if he gained power. However, many industrialists did not support him because they thought his policies were too far to the left. Those in rural areas who faced the economic struggles of things such as food shortages did support him. Hitler promised them food. Other supporters were part of the struggling working class. Hitler promised them he would take money from high profit entities and redistribute it to them. Hitler appealed to young people, especially when he encouraged disgruntled youths to attack Socialists, Communists, Jews and other political party members as a show of force and intimidation. He then downplayed the violence much like our media does today, unless of course it is against someone they politically agree with. There were a significant number of Communist Jews at the time and Hitler saw their wealth and privilege as ill-gotten. (Wait, isn’t Bernie Sanders a wealthy Jew?) That fed his anti-Semitism and though the violent tactics were kept at bay for a while, eventually they became the full force way to control the population once he had gained the supreme commandership. At that point the promises made to gain power went by the wayside and the goal became to literally transform the nation from the inside out. (Have you seen Bernie’s website? He is pretty clear about transforming America from the inside out.)
While many would argue that the term Nazi and the term Socialist are not synonymous, the goals laid out by both Hitler and Bernie Sanders are extremely similar. Many would argue that Socialism is not Communism. Socialism is kinder than Communism. Socialism is better than Communism. Yet their goals are so similar that when one considers the end goals of a leader who says exactly what people want to hear so that he can gain power under the auspices of helping the working class, yet does not live by the same standards he proposes that commoners live by, it is easy to not trust him, or her as the case may be. The difference between those who supported Hitler and those who now support Sanders is a matter of want. Germans knew what it was to live without, to have their country ravaged by war, and to be bitter about the unjust way in which their country was decimated economically after that war. One can almost sympathize with their reaching for something that, as it turns out, was far too good to be true. As for the those from this century supporting a political candidate with very much the same agenda as Hitler, regardless of what moniker he chooses to embrace, very few of them have any idea what it means to do without. They have nearly any piece of information they want at their fingertips on the miniature computers they carry around in their back pockets. They can get food delivered to them at a bus stop. And frankly, contrary to what some believe, almost anyone who wants to go to college today can. It is a well known fact that in the 1980s if a high school grad wanted to go to college they either had to have rich parents or they had to have pretty awesome grades from the time they were nine. Now scholarship and grant money seems abundant, and while the topic of student loan debt could be addressed here, that will be saved for a later column in which it can be addressed more thoroughly. No one would claim that everyone in this generation has everything they want. But politics is much like advertising, the goal being to convince the consumer that they would be so much better if only they had…
So, while they may rant at someone who waves a Nazi flag at the rally of a Socialist Jew and call down social media outrage upon him (and rightly so,) they do not truly understand what they are signing up for. One’s only hope in supporting such a candidate is to get something one does not have, or to be one of the privileged few chosen to remain in the top echelons with said candidate. Which is exactly the way Sanders wants it. That way, when this is all over, should he win, he will enjoy the power he has gained as he strives to enact policies that tear at the foundations of our Republic, continuing to promise what he cannot deliver, and hardly caring of the consequences as he enjoys life in his fourth home – our home – the people’s White House, and continues to relish the riches that capitalism provided for him while denying that same opportunity to everyone else, including his blind followers, all the while plunging America into a financial fiasco it will be hard to dig her way out of. As long as it doesn’t affect his own finances, he will not care. Because after all, whether Socialist, Communist, or Fascist, some are more equal than others.
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