This year Colorado State Board of Education member Steve Durham exerted his influence to have the state social studies standards revised to remove the word Nazi from the curriculum and replace it with the party’s official name, the National Socialist German Workers Party.
This is part of an effort among some on the far right of the political spectrum to promote the discredited belief that Hitler’s Nazi Party was a leftist socialist movement and not a far-right wing movement. Jewish groups and historians objected to the proposed revisions because they failed to accurately portray the fascism and ethnonationalism of the Nazi Party. Ultimately, Durham agreed to refer to the Nazi Party as the Nazi Socialist German Workers Party.
Durham has found support from the editorial page of the Colorado Springs Gazette and a Denver Post opinion columnist. The Colorado Springs Gazette is misleading about the Nazi Party when it writes, “Socialism means a lot of things but is universally known as an alternative to capitalism in varying degrees.”
The Gazette then goes on to reference, without historical context, several quotes from Adolf Hitler denouncing capitalism. Hitler was not opposed to capitalism per se, as the Gazette insinuates. Instead, according to Professor Ronald Granieri of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the U.S. Army War College, Nazi economic policies were not focused on “controlling the means of production or redistributing wealth to build a utopian society; the Nazis focused on safeguarding a social and racial hierarchy.”
Likewise, The Denver Post’s Krista Kafer ignores history and engages in rhetorical ruses to establish a link between the Nazis and acts of genocide committed by other socialist and communist regimes. Kafer then writes, “Quibbling about where to place Nazism/National Socialism on a reductive left-right political continuum misses the larger point. Under the right conditions, groups of human beings with power and motivation will exterminate other human beings.” I can only assume wrote these words to blunt any criticism directed toward her use of false equivalence.
The problem with the arguments of Durham, the Colorado Springs Gazette, and Kafer is they obfuscate the dark history of fascism and the Nazi Party and ignore, deliberately or otherwise, the ascendance of violent far-right ideology and white Christian nationalism in our nation. At its core, Nazism was about fascist authoritarianism and ethnonationalism in all aspects of the nation-state. The most minimal research on the history of the Nazi party would have revealed this fact. Facts matter, and getting facts right always matters, even if it is uncomfortable.
The focus on the word socialist in the official name of the Nazi party is a deliberate misrepresentation. A cursory review of history shows Hitler took over a fringe political party for the singular purpose of advancing the antisemitic nationalist agenda he outlined in Mein Kampf. It is simply irresponsible to state otherwise.
After the 1932 Reichstag elections, the Nazi party became the largest party in the German parliament. In 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor by German President Paul von Hindenburg. In April 1933, Hitler and the Nazis purged communists, socialists, and Jews from the German civil service. Apart from the Jews, communists and socialists were among the first German citizens sent to concentration camps. On the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, Hitler ordered the murder of top officials in his party who could be competitors. Gregor Strasser, a co-founder of the National Socialist Party, was assassinated, and with him, any remaining connection, to the extent there was any, between the Nazi party and socialism.
In The Gulag Archipelago, the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future.” There is an inherent danger in not calling out evil when we see it. Not naming the Nazis in Colorado’s social studies curriculum hides and buries their evil to detriment of all of us.
Terrance Carroll is a former speaker of the Colorado House. The first and only African American to ever hold that position in Colorado. He is a Baptist preacher, attorney, and former police officer. He is on Twitter @speakercarroll.
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