Nazis, Communists, and Free Speech

by Xander Snyder

For all their differences, national socialism and communism have one essential similarity: they both justify mass murder by promising utopia. Their versions of utopia differ, but they are believed to be attainable, not theoretical. First, though, society must pass through a period of chaos, anarchy, and mass violence. This transition period - the struggle -  is endured since what comes after is expected to be a revolutionary better world.  But the need to endure a time of extreme violence is not a small part of either philosophy - it is a core aspect of both. A better world can be had. But first there must be killing.

Two Utopias

These two utopias differ by employing distinct concepts of identity to drive mass mobilization. National socialism envisions a nation that is the embodiment of its people, which is bonded together in blood but not necessarily class. A strong nation, therefore, requires a strong people. If the people are strong, but the nation appears weak, then it is not the people’s fault but instead some lurking subversion resulting from social impurity.

This is how the Nazis came to claim that the Jews were an inferior race while also blaming them for successfully undermining the German war effort in World War I. They were powerful enough to cause Germany’s defeat but still, somehow, inferior. The Nazis believed the Jews betrayed the country in the first world war for profit and therefore were weak - certainly too weak to defend the Fatherland. Jews, therefore, were not seen as representative of the true German people. Since they were not part of the German nation and in fact represented a threat to it, they had to be eliminated.   

In national socialism the people are the components of a greater state, but in communism the state is literally the people themselves: not constituent parts but each person individually and equally sovereign. While this never actually works in practice - officials or representatives are needed for the execution of office -  communism nevertheless envisages a state in which the governing institutions are, theoretically, controlled by the masses.

Communism considers that a state controlled by and comprised of the masses provides for a more just and prosperous system, and therefore proposes discrete paths to bring it about. Owners of capital are identified as the primary roadblock to establishing the new system, since economic elites have great incentive to preserve the current order. More importantly, since the rules of the existing system are defined by those who control it, owners of capital heavily stack the deck against the average worker.  A new order, therefore, cannot be established through means provided for by the current system. Those in control must be compelled through violence, which is why communism advocates violent revolution and overthrow of the bourgeoisie.  

These utopias, like all others, require a violent end for many and great suffering for more. Both are also impossible to create. National socialism considers the perfect society to be defined by a racial purity that requires murdering so many people that a coalition of threatened states will always materialize to oppose it. It’s feasible that the Soviet Union could have learned to live with a Western European nation that dominated the European peninsula but stayed out of the East. But core to the Nazi ideology was depopulating Russia - eliminating Slavs to create “living space.” Compromise was not an option for the Russians. They had to fight or die.

Communism’s utopia is a radically equal society that can be established only by first sowing complete chaos. Without chaos, the existing government remains too strong to usurp. Establishing new institutions of power and beginning again, however, requires all rules of the game to be erased. When institutions that previously administered society are destroyed it is left leaderless, lacking a social contract and a sovereign to impose it.

Without rules, the only way to acquire and retain power is through force. Dictators emerge from power vacuums because everyone who’s not willing to murder ruthlessly to stay in power gets killed by the guy who is. Opposition to the regime becomes “counter-revolutionary”  - a remnant of the institutions that must be eradicated before a more just society can be formed. Of course, the opposition very quickly comes to include anyone who challenges the new dictator.

Who Must Die?

Since the utopias of nationalist socialism and communism are different, so too are the people that must be killed to create them. Nazis kill according to race, to strengthen the purity and strength of the nation. Communists kill according to class, to weaken the existing nation sufficiently for a new one to be built upon its ashes.

Nazi ideology lends itself to the killing of who it claims it will kill. Since it targets racial impurities - minorities - it focuses on exterminating groups that cannot seriously challenge its power. Communism, on the other hand, focuses first on direct attacks against those who have the greatest means to retaliate. And while communism first emphasizes the killing of owners of capital, its net inexorably expands outwards. For the revolution to survive all opposition must be eliminated.

This is why communist purges are so vast and almost always end up targeting intellectuals, students, business people, and even the poor in whose name the revolutionary leaders claim to be fighting. Anyone blocking the path to utopia is dirtying the world for the rest, an enemy of progress, and morally repugnant. Their murder, then, is not only justified but just.

The Nazi party was a new regime taking control of the existing levers of power. Communists by definition seek to first eliminate those levers and then build new ones. This is why the Nazis came to power in the 1930s with relatively moderate levels of violence compared to the massive civil wars and purges that all major communist takeovers have entailed.

Both consider political dissidents to be sufficiently threatening that they must be killed. Free speech and free ideas are inherently antagonistic to these utopias because they are threatening to the “unity” that each state needs. This is why these types of government set up secret police and mass surveillance capabilities: to root out and destroy anyone who was thinking or saying the wrong thing.

Both will then pursue massive exterminations after seizing power for their own distinct reasons. What differs is the cadence of their mass murders.

Free Speech

There is a type of person in the West - though not by any means in the majority - that will lacerate Neo-Nazism as a virulent ideology in one sentence and extol the virtues of communism in the next. However the difference is not that one has ever been more successful in establishing the utopia it promises. The difference is in who must be killed first to get started.

Many have argued that, with the resurgence in white nationalism and Neo-Nazism, there should be a limit to what these people are allowed to say in public. The case could be just as easily made for communism. During the cold war the US feared communists, which justified McCarthyism and targeted anyone else who extolled the virtues of this competing ideology.

The question, however, always remains: who gets to decide what’s acceptable to say in public? So long as speech is not directly and immediately creating violence - which is not, by the way, protected under the 1st Amendment - there is a benefit to letting the proponents of terrible ideas spell out their rationale so that the rest of us can determine the full extent of their catastrophic consequences. Shutting one side or another up grants legitimacy. It shows that, to some degree, the state is fearful of its power. It also sets the precedent of silencing those who challenge existing authorities.

Americans should be concerned about abhorrent, monstrous ideas. However, they must also consider the risk of granting unnecessary powers in moments of fear. No one ever knows who will be in power tomorrow. A society must be cautious about the degree of authority granted to individuals that have the power to decide who gets to say what, and how those that disobey should be punished.

In 2013, many liberal acquaintances of mine remained relatively unconcerned about the mass surveillance revelations leaked by Edward Snowden, and only in November of 2016 expressed their fear about the extent of these capabilities. Of course, it was not the nature of this power that changed but who yielded it. Instead of President Obama, President Trump now controlled the mass surveillance apparatus.

If the person you like is in charge today, and you give them the power to restrict speech, what happens when someone you don’t like is elected and inherits that power? What dangers come from granting the government powers to limit thought in the hopes of creating a better world, by eliminating the parts you don’t like?