Did the Nazis identify as being Fascists? How exactly did they view themselves?

Did the Nazis identify as being Fascists? How exactly did they view themselves?

In the 1920s, Italy established the National Fascist Party (Italian: Partito Nazionale Fascista, PNF ) Hitler adopted much from his Italian allies including their fascist ideals. Even the infamous straight-armed salute was actually an old Roman salute. However, Hitler's group was called the National Socialist German Workers' Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, abbreviated NSDAP) Considering Hitler appealed to the disenfranchised and downtrodden masses as Germany was in a rough shape at the time; calling it the NSDAP is fitting but Socialism and Fascism are on opposite sides of the political spectrum which eludes the latter.

Answers to this older question Did Hitler get called a fascist by his opponents within Germany? Did he or other Nazis have a problem with that? tell that the words "Fascist" and "Fascism" already projected a negative image and was used to defame Hitler and his Nazi ideals. But he and the entire Nazi party were fascists weren't they? That's simply a fact. To slander Hitler by calling him and his obviously fascist group "fascist" would just be redundant. Unless, they never openly proclaim to being such.

I cannot find a single account by any actual Nazi party member at the time claiming themselves fascist. Instead finding mostly socialist and nationalistic sentiments. So did the german people under nazi rule openly identify as being fascist like Italy? or did they view themselves differently regardless if Hitler knew they were?

There is a confusion of terminology at work, here. First of all, you have to understand what the terms involved were not: They weren't the "loaded" terms we recognize them as from today's point of view.

Fascists were followers of the Partito Nazionale Fascista. That is where the term originated, and that was all it originally meant.

Nazis were followers of the National Socialist German Worker's Party ("National Socialists"). That is where the term originated, and that was all it originally meant.

So, did the Nazis consider themselves Fascists? No, because they weren't Italian. They surely saw some analogies between their respective movements, but still these were two separate movements, not one.

Did some Nazis consider the Führer to be a tyrannical, ruthless leader? Perhaps, but they didn't call him "Führer" because he was such a leader, but the term "Führer" got that connotation because the one "Führer" who ever held that term as a title was who he was. (He could have been a benign head of state not initiating WW2, and "Führer" wouldn't have gotten the connotation it has today if used outside of composite words like "Bergführer", where it still means "(mountain) guide" and nothing else.)

What actually constitutes "fascism" exactly is controversial even today.

As for political right / left definitions, these are useful for a quick orientation, but seldom do a political party or movement justice in all detail. There were elements of socialism in the NSDAP agenda, but in the end they were about conservative values, a strong state (and leadership), and nationalism, just as much as the PNF.

(The fasces symbolizing solidarity and confederation doesn't make the PNF "left" either… )

How did they view themselves? Let's ask them.

Take the diaries of Joseph Goebbels. He writes in the extant works about national-socialism and fascism, mostly as a differentiation.

But differentiating between what? He does not identify himself as a fascist. The fascists are the Italians, under Mussolini. They are not only allies. They are brothers in mind and spirit.

He criticises fascists as being too lenient on the Jews, the fascists to be pitied, yet much closer to nazis than anything "liberal" (p891). He talks about fascists being something else yet the same.

In Goebbels mind, National-socialism and Fascism are one and the same 'thing', in broad conceptual terms. In his mind Spanish, English, Italian, Austrian fascists are the National-socialists of the respective country. Even identical twins can have slight idiosyncrasies in opinion or behaviour. They remain very closely related. But that is also a problem. Throughout these books it is not always easy to differentiate what he really means with 'fascists'. Quite some times he uses it just to stand in as a synonym for 'Italians', as that is apparently a word he seems to almost avoid until very late.

During his own rise nazism is just the German fascism, than the better fascism. When the luck of war turned, so does his view, identifying fascism now as just the current government of Italy:

Not only do the Italians do nothing in the field of warfare, but they also do hardly anything worth mentioning in the field of the arts. One could almost say that fascism had a sterilising effect on the creative life of the Italian people. It is not what National Socialism is. In contrast to its deep effect, it is a surface phenomenon. That is very regrettable, but we must be clear about it. National Socialism is in reality a world view. It starts all over again and lays new foundations for life. That is what makes our struggle so difficult, but also so beautiful ; and the goal that we will achieve in the process is actually worth the sweat of the best. (9 Feb 1942, p1792)

The authoritarian sympathy is better exemplified in an earlier entry:

With Göring and d'Antinori into the deep night in a Russian cafe. D'Antinori told very interesting stories about fascism today. Mussolini does not seem to have recognized the Jewish question. Even in Italy, not everything that glitters is gold. But it has a leader, and he has the power. (13. Apr 1930, p477)

Source: Ralf Georg Reuth (ed): "Joseph Goebbels Tagebücher 1924 -1945", Piper: München, Zürich, 1999.

Instead finding mostly socialist and nationalistic sentiments. So did the german people under nazi rule openly identify as being fascist like Italy?

You have to keep in mind that 'socialist' sentiments were later in name only! If these sentiments were identical in actual meaning to what actual socialists, anarchists and communists - or even liberals (European and American meaning!) - understood that term to mean than the NSDAP would have to be called a wholesale fraud on that account alone. They redefined these terms to suit them.

The party programme of the NSDAP is quite slogan like in outlining actual plans and measures to be taken. The contents could be misidentified, and that was from the time that real socialist elements were driven out of the organisation, but kept with intention for working class appeal and brand recognition. That gave them some trouble for middle class appeal or pleasing their wealthy financiers when they still were trying to get votes.

But this was all explained in more detail eventually to illustrate their self-image and desired projected image, while demonstrating the un-socialists meaning of national-socialist:

Social and Socialist
"Yes, we call ourselves Socialist. That's the second step. The second step away from the middle class state. We call ourselves Socialist in protest against the lie of social middle class pity. We don't want pity, and we don't want social-mindedness. We don't care a hoot for that which you call 'social welfare legislation'. That's barely enough to kep body and soul together.
"We want the rights to which nature and the law entitle us. "We want our full share of what Heaven and of the returns from our physical and mental labors.
"And that' Socialism!

Nationalist and Socialist
!Then we will prove that nationalism is more than a comfortable moral theology of middle class wealth and Capitalist profit. The cesspool of corruption and depravity will then yield to new nationalism as a radical form of national self-defense, and to new Socialism as the most conscious creation of its requisite preconditions.

This goes on to smear Marxism, Jews, Monarchists, Republicans, Internationalism, Capitalism or Parliaments, Pacifism, and solidarity, while at the same time outlining a still very capitalist corporatist state. These are not elements of socialism as it was understood then or understood now.

"Marxism will die, so that Nationalism may live! And then we will shape the new Germany - the nationalistic Socialist Third Reich!"

From the very handy Joseph Goebbels: "The Nazi-Sozi. Fragen und Antworten für den Nationalsozialisten", Verlag der nationalsozialistischen Briefe: Elberfeld, 1927/1932. (On archive.org)

Another prominent Nazi wrote this, but note the name and the date:

We therefore felt that the republican-monarchist semi-darkness deliberately maintained by the party leadership was a burden, the exaggerated reverence for the fascist authoritarian state, which is becoming more and more apparent on the part of the official party authorities, almost a danger to the movement and a sin against the idea. Source: Aufruf der Otto-Strasser-Gruppe vom 4. Juli 1930: "Die Sozialisten verlassen die NSDAP" (The socialist are leaving the NSDAP)

The well known painter with moustache talks extensively about Italian fascism in that book he is known for. He praises most core ideas, criticises what he thinks more important or underdeveloped in fascism ("the Jews!"), but not once does he call himself in that way a fascist.

And that illustrates other problems with the label "fascist":
on the one hand it was seen as 'an Italian thing', on the other hand it was of little use as a clear differentiator to other right-wing parties and organisations, who were almost all labeled 'fascist', somehow. At once by the communists of course.
But at the same time by themselves then, or the conservatives and other radicals at least ventilated the greatest sympathy, admiration and model character of fascism. When the term came to be known in Germany, it at first did not have that much of a negative connotation in itself.
The Stahlhelm, the Black Reichswehr, the DNVP for example did so.
Examples from Hugenberg's sphere: Ludwig Bernhard, Hans Meydenbauer: "Faschistische Eindrücke", in: Preußische Jahrbücher Vol. 201, Juli 1925, H. 1, p105-109; "Faschistischer Fortschritt", ib., Vol. 202, November 1925, p271-275. // Reinhold Quaatz: „Italienischer Nationalismus“, in: Das Freie Deutschland. Nationale Zeitschrift für Politik und Wirtschaft, Nr. 8 vom 21.11.1931. These examples are clear indicators, but limited in time, as those right-wingers later viewed fascism and then national-socialism as still "too socialist" for their tastes.

To stand apart the nazis were well-advised not to overplay the similarities, even in names for self-description, and in terms generally thrown around:

In the second half of the Weimar Republic, several articles appeared in the right-wing journalism which dealt with the transferability of the Italian model under the heading "German Fascism". In April 1927 Helmut Franke made the start with a three-part series of articles in Arminius, to which Heinrich von Gleichen answered already in the following month. Three years later Max von Binzer put the matter on the agenda again in the Deutsches Adelsblatt (German magazine for the nobility, after he had already in 1928 in the yearbook of the Centre International d'Etudes sur le Fascisme, published in Lausanne, identified parallels to fascism among the Alldeutschen (All-Germans), the Deutschnationalen (German Nationals), in conservatism and in the Stahlhelm (steel helmet). Another article by Willy Hellpach appeared in the special issue of European Revue on the topic "Ten Years of Fascism" in November 1932. (Links added for convenience)
Maurizio Bach & Stefan Breuer: "Faschismus als Bewegung und Regime. Italien und Deutschland im Vergleich", VS: Wiesbaden, 2010.

The label with the word "socialist" being in the very name of the party?

Obviously, there was no humanitarian impulse or desire for a new form of society in Hitler's version of socialism. He himself declared that his socialism had “nothing at all to do with a mechanical construction of economic life”; rather, it was the complementary concept to the word “nationalism.” Socialism meant the responsibility of the whole for the individual, whereas “nationalism” was the devotion of the individual to the whole; thus the two elements could be combined in National Socialism. This prestidigitation allowed all interest groups to have their way and reduced the ideas to mere counters: capitalism found its true and ultimate fulfillment in Hitler's socialism, whereas socialism was only attainable under the capitalistic economic system. This ideology took a leftist label chiefly for tactical reasons. It demanded, within the party and within the state, a powerful system of rule that would exercise unchallenged leadership over the “great mass of the anonymous.” And whatever premises the party may have started with, by 1930 Hitler's party was “socialist” only to take advantage of the emotional value of the word, and a “workers' party” in order to lure the most energetic social force. As with Hitler's protestations of belief in tradition, in conservative values, or in Christianity, the socialist slogans were merely movable ideological props to serve as camouflage and confuse the enemy. They could be changed or rearranged, depending on the situation. The leaders, at any rate, were totally cynical about the principles of the program-as one enthusiastic young convert learned from a talk with Goebbels. When the young man remarked that Feder's call for smashing the enslaving system of interest payment did contain an element of socialism, Goebbels replied that what ought to be smashed was anyone who listened to such twaddle.
Joachim C Fest: "Hitler", 805.6 (eBook), Harcourt: New York, 1974.

Also noteworthy is that many conservatives, authoritarian right-wingers, interpreted fascism as the Prussification of Italy.
Authority, discipline, military, brutality, warmongering, ant-democratic tendencies. What's not to like about that? (Given the 'right' mindset.)

When Hitler was given power, the German conservatives were already fascists in mind and heart. That was the perfect soil on which national-socialism could sprout. In such climate a communist might think 'fascist' would be an insult, but right-wingers back then would just emphasise the small details of difference and otherwise just think "Yeah, so what? Brown is the new black."

Question: Did the Nazis identify as being Fascists? How exactly did they view themselves?

The Nazis saw themselves as the organization of superior individuals which were righting the historical and unjust wrongs inflicted on the German people. They believed Germany was betrayed in the first World War and was unjustly held responsible for the war. The Nazi's believed they were the people who were going to fix that wrong and return Germany to its former glory. The Nazi's were creating the third Reich, or the third golden age of Germany. The first being the Holy Roman Empire the second being the German empire period ending with Kaiser Wilhelm.

Beyond that the Nazis saw themselves as heirs to the Age of Enlightenment. Their ideology extended to Plato and their ideal Nazi was compared to an Ancient Greek Spartan Soldier. A warrior singled out in history for his exceptionalism. Yes, these models weren't German, but Hitler proclaimed them Aryans. Related to Germans by their association with an ancient race of supermen who had migrated to Europe from the Himalayans, ( believe it or not).

Yes, the Nazi's self identified as Fascists. Yes, the Nazis saw a lot of similarities between their movement and the Fascist Party in Italy which predated the Nazi Party. The Italian Fascist party was also looking to return Italy to its former greatness, the Roman Empire. They too were looking to the past to reclaim something they believed the modern iteration of their country had lost.

The (Italian Fascist, 1922) March on Rome brought Fascism international attention. One early admirer of the Italian Fascists was Adolf Hitler, who less than a month after the March had begun to model himself and the Nazi Party upon Mussolini and the Fascists. The Nazis, led by Hitler and the German war hero Erich Ludendorff, attempted a "March on Berlin" modeled upon the March on Rome, which resulted in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in November 1923.


To slander Hitler by calling him and his obviously fascist group "fascist" would just be redundant. Unless, they never openly proclaim to being such.

The Nazis did not see calling themselves Fascists as a slander. The Italian party was the forerunner and model for the German Nazi Party. The German's believed the term Fascism accurately described both their party and the Italian party and used the term amongst themselves to describe themselves. Early on the Nazis did a lot which the German public took pride in, this added to their popularity and their ascension to power.

However, looking in to the history of the word itself, back then to the Germans the word meant "Leader" or "Guide" and der Führer in english would be "The leader". Clearly, the (non-jew) Germans did not view Hitler as being a tyrant but rather a great leader seeing as how they fervently followed him.

Hitler proclaimed himself Der Führer or the Leader. In the interwar period in court were he was defending himself for instigating a coupe against the German Republic. The Weimar Republic was unpopular, weak, and ineffective; and hitler was able to use that trial as a way to brand himself into mainstream Germans.

Hitler took part in a conspiracy to overthrow the Republic. The Beer Hall Putsch of 1924. A conspiracy involving high level German Military officers, German aristocracy, and Hitler's Nazis. All using each other to come to power at the expense of the Unpopular Weimar Republic. When the Putsch was put down and collapsed all the conspirators down played their role in the coupe, except Hitler. Hitler used the court trial as a stage for an unapologetic condemnation of the unpopular Government. In his tirades he over and over again proclaimed himself as the leader, (the Führer) of the attempted coup. Hitler would be found guilty, and would be sent to prison; where he would pen his best selling manifesto. Mein Kampf, or My Struggle. From that point on he would be known to the German people as the Führer.

From Comments:

"When the Nazi's described themselves as Fascists… " - that's the part I'd like an actual reference for. There's a pretty big difference between "We'd like our party to do something like what the Fascists did in Italy, but here in Germany" and "We're Fascists", and I'm not seeing any evidence they ever actually said the latter…


Adolf Hitler Speech Munich, Germany, February 24, 1941
… I place my confidence in the best army in the world, in the best army which the German nation has ever possessed. It is numerically strong, it has the finest weapons and is better led than ever before. We have a body of young leaders who have not merely proved their worth in the present war but, I can well say, have covered themselves with glory. Wherever we look today, we see a bodyguard of chosen men to whom the German soldiers have been entrusted. They in their turn are the leaders of soldiers who are the best trained in the world, who are armed with the finest weapons on earth. Behind these soldiers and their leaders stands the German nation, the whole German people. In the midst of this people, forming its very core, is the National Socialist Movement which began its existence in this room 21 years ago,-this Movement the like of which does not exist in the democratic countries, this Movement whose only pendant is fascism. Nation and army, party and state are today one indivisible whole. No power in the world can loosen what is so firmly welded together. Only fools can imagine that the year 1918 can be repeated.

Hermann Göring - In an interview with Gustave Gilbert's in Göring's jail cell during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (18 April 1946)
Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

Main difference between Fascists and National-Socialists was racial(genetic) question

We all know that Hitler and National-Socialist valued blood purity, Germanic race, Aryan genetic heritage. It was essentially core of their political program.

With Italian Fascists it was much more ambiguous. There were some racial overtones, as explained in this article, but there were some completely opposite statements like this by Mussolini :

Race! It is a feeling, not a reality: ninety-five percent, at least, is a feeling. Nothing will ever make me believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today… National pride has no need of the delirium of race.

There was even a very popular song Faccetta Nera or "little black face", about Abyssinian girl who would become Roman woman when Italians win war against Ethiopia.

This distinction was very "painful" for opponents of National-Socialism on the left. For example, Soviet sources as a rule mention "fascist invaders" , "fascist beasts" , "German fascist" etc… National-Socialism is almost never mentioned (because of socialism part), but also shortened form "nazism" is rarely mentioned. Reason for that is that political left (socialism and communism) usually tried to explain all "far right" movements of the time as simply class problem (reaction of petty bourgeoisie and small land owners) . For the political left, nations were just temporary formations, mostly characteristic for final phase of feudalism and various phases of capitalism, and even more conservative authors among communists (like Joseph Stalin in his Marxism and the National Question) reduced them to mostly cultural and linguistic communities. With the advent of socialism and communism, nations were expected to die.

Marxism, although ostensibly materialistic, was never very strong on question of genetics (after all, it was brand new field then) , so for them Russian worker and German worker had more in common then German worker and German landowner. Rise of National-Socialists in Germany (and subsequent destruction of previously very strong German political left ), mostly among working class, was unexpected and partially unexplainable. Various theories all concentrated on explaining Fascism, but differences between Fascism and National-Socialism were swept under the rug.