As political discourse is increasingly conducted online it is probably inevitable that it will take on features of other forms of online discussion.
Indeed it would appear that Godwin’s law now applies to New Zealand election campaigns. For those who have yet to encounter Godwin’s law it states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”
So, it was with a sense of resigned acceptance that I greeted Trevor Mallard’s tweet today comparing John Key to the Nazis. The tweet reads: “”…People against Unions: Fascist Germany, fascist Italy, Stalinist Russia and U.S. “Conservatives.”” and @johnkeypm”.
It would seem that Trevor’s role in this was simply to add “and @johnkeypm” to someone else’s tweet, but in doing so he is knowingly and willingly likening John Key to a fascist. Even if John Key’s politics had something in common with the fascists, in no way does this approach add anything constructive or positive to political debate in New Zealand. The logic runs thus: Hitler was evil, therefore all of his policies were evil, therefore anyone who shares any policy position with Hitler must also be evil.
The logic is, of course, deeply flawed and unworthy of someone who would serve in high office. The irony, though, is that when the logic, however flawed, is applied to the New Zealand political scene, it rather more poorly on Mallard and Labour than John Key and National. Far from fascists opposing unions, trade union membership was compulsory in Hitler’s Germany. Just like Labour thought student union membership should be. Hitler believed that the state needed to regulate businesses and protect local industry from big corporations. Just like Labour. Hitler believed that the state had a role in all aspects of citizens’ lives. I am tempted to say “just like Labour” again, but then I would be guilty of hyperbole. I will say, however, that Labour prescribe a greater role for the state in the lives of citizens than does John Key, and in this respect are more like Hitler than John Key is. Hitler also created employment and apparent economic growth in Germany by a massive public works programme funded by deficit spending. So, by Trevor Mallard’s logic, John Maynard Keynes was a committed fascist.
The reason that Mallard thinks that he can get away with likening John Key to Hitler, regardless of what the two men’s actual policies are, is that conventional wisdom would have it that fascism and Nazism represent the extreme right of political opinion. As Labour are a left-wing party, John Key must be more like Hitler because they are both to the right of Labour, or so Mallard believes. Of course, it was long ago observed that Hitler and Mussolini had more in common with Stalin than with any other European leader in 1940. Rather than questioning the assertion that Hitler and the Nazis were the extreme-right, people explained this observation by concluding that the political spectrum was horse-shoe shaped, and at the extreme of either end you reached much the same place.
I think that the observation that Hitler and Nazism share a lot in common with Stalin and Communism has a simpler explanation – one which can be gleaned from the Nazi party’s actual name. The National Socialist German Workers’ Party. That explanation is that, in most respects, the Nazis were a left-wing party (just like Labour). Why then did the Nazis hate communists? In their early days the Nazis did in fact associate with nationalist communists, and I think that this reveals the nub of the Nazis’ opposition to Marxism. The Nazis were first and foremost nationalists whereas Marxism argued that German workers had more in common with French or Russian workers than with other Germans. The Nazis found this intolerable and thus were fanatical opponents of Communism, which is the main reason that they are generally categorised as a right-wing party. That and what could be described as a far-right racial ideology.
In truth, I think that this argument too is overly simplistic, but it does highlight the intellectual poverty inherent in a world view focused on a left-right divide with communists on one end and fascists at the other. I do not need to liken Mallard to any historical bogeyman when I say that it reflects very poorly on him that he is willing to resort to an attack with no basis in logic or in historical fact to attempt to smear John Key. Nor do I need to accuse Mallard of Holocaust denial to point out that this sort of reductio ad Hitlerum somewhat trivialises the suffering of those who lived under actual fascists.