Spartacus Blog

The Language of Right-wing Populism: Adolf Hitler to Boris Johnson

John Simkin

In 1908 Adolf Hitler was an extremely unhappy man. His much-loved mother, Klara Hitler, had died of cancer on 21st December, 1907. He moved to Vienna with the objective of becoming a student of the Academy of Art, but twice his application was rejected. His friend August Kubizek claims that Hitler took the news of the second rejection very badly: "Choking with his catalogue of hates, he would pour his fury over everything, against mankind in general who did not understand him, who did not appreciate him and by whom he was persecuted and cheated... I had the impression that Adolf Hitler became unbalanced." Without saying goodbye Hitler left the flat he was sharing with Kubizek and became homeless. (1)

It was during this period Hitler heard the Karl Lueger, the leader of the Christian Social Party (CSP) and the mayor of the city, making a speech. Males in Austria had been given the vote in 1896. The Social Democratic Workers' Party (SDAP) soon became the largest political party. Its leader was Victor Adler, and Lueger attacked him for his Jewish origins and his Marxism. Lueger advocated an early form of "fascism". This included a radical German nationalism (meaning the primacy and superiority of all things German), social reform, anti-socialism and anti-semitism. In one speech Lueger commented that the "Jewish problem" would be solved, and a service to the world achieved, if all Jews were placed on a large ship to be sunk on the high seas. (2)

Karl Lueger
Karl Lueger

These speeches by Lueger upset Franz Joseph, the Emperor of the Austria–Hungary Empire, who in 1867 had granted the Jewish population equal rights, saying "the civil rights and the country's policy is not contingent in the people's religion". The persecution of Jews under Tsar Alexander III resulted in large-scale emigration from Russia and by 1890 over 100,000 Jews lived in Vienna. This amounted to 12.1% of the total population of the city. Migration from Russia grew even faster after the forced expulsion of Jews from Moscow in 1891. (3)

Emperor Franz Joseph had become closely associated with S M von Rothschild, a banking enterprise established in 1820 in Vienna, by Salomon Mayer Rothschild. The business prospered, financing various Austrian government undertakings where large amounts of capital had to be raised. The bank played a major role in the building of the country's economic infrastructure including the first rail transport networks. The bank was later run by Anselm von Rothschild and Albert Salomon von Rothschild. The historian, Hannah Arendt, has argued that the close connection between the Rothschilds and the financial interests of the monarchy caused a great deal of resentment against Jewish capitalists. (4)

After the 1895 elections for the Vienna's City Council the Christian Social Party, with the support of the Catholic Church, won two thirds of the seats. Lueger was selected to became mayor of Vienna but this was overruled by Emperor Franz Joseph who disliked his anti-semitism. The Christian Social Party retained a large majority in the council, and re-elected Lueger as mayor three more times, only to have Franz Joseph refuse to confirm him each time. He was elected mayor for a fifth time in 1897, and after the personal intercession by Pope Leo XIII, his election was finally sanctioned later that year. Konrad Heiden has pointed out that without the "all-powerful Catholic Church" Lueger could never have achieved power." (5)

In the worst pogrom year, from mid 1905 to mid-1906, more than 200,000 Jews emigrated from Russia. It is estimated that by the time that Adolf Hitler arrived in Vienna there were over 175,000 Jews in the city. Hitler claims that at first he was unaware of the problem of Jewish immigration. "At home I do not remember having heard the word during my father's life-time". At high school there was a Jewish boy - "but we didn't give the matter any thought... I even took them (the Jews) for Germans". (6)

Initially Hitler did not identify the Jews as a cause of his poverty. "Oppressed by the hardship of my own lot, I gained at first no insight into the inner stratification of the people in this gigantic city. Notwithstanding that Vienna in those days counted nearly two hundred thousand Jews among its two million inhabitants, I did not see them... The Jew was still characterized for me by nothing but his religion, and therefore on grounds of human tolerance I maintained my rejection of religious attacks in this case as in others. Consequently the tone of the Viennese anti-Semitic press seemed to me unworthy of the cultural traditions of a great nation." (7)

Hitler pointed out in Mein Kampf (1925) that it was Lueger who helped develop his anti-Semitic views: "When I arrived in Vienna, I was hostile to Dr. Karl Lueger and the Christian Social Party... The man and the movement seemed reactionary in my eyes. My common sense of justice, however, forced me to change this judgment in proportion as I had occasion to become acquainted with the man and his work; and slowly my fair judgment turned to unconcealed admiration... For a few hellers I bought the first anti-Semitic pamphlets of my life.... Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity. Particularly the Inner City and the districts north of the Danube Canal swarmed with a people which even outwardly had lost all resemblance to Germans. And whatever doubts I may still have nourished were finally dispelled by the attitude of a portion of the Jews themselves." (8)

Hitler began to blame the Jews for all the problems he observed in Vienna. "Was there any form of filth or profligacy, particularly in cultural life, without at least one Jew involved in it? If you cut even cautiously into such an abscess, you found, like a maggot in a rotting body, often dazzled by the sudden light - a kike!" According to Hitler, the Jews were largely responsible for prostitution in the city. "When for the first time I recognized the Jew as the cold-hearted, shameless and calculating director of this revolting vice traffic in the scum of the big city, a cold shudder ran down my back." (9)

The main thing that Hitler learned from Lueger was how the use of violent language could influence the way people thought about political issues. Lueger persuaded the people to direct their anger towards the Jews, many of them recently arrived immigrants to Vienna. Hitler was able to blame the Jews for all the problems he faced. At the same time he developed a hatred for those who were leading the opposition to Lueger, the Social Democratic Workers' Party. He especially disagreed with its internationalism and desire for equality. "What most repelled me, was its hostile attitude toward the struggle for the preservation of Germanism... In a few months I obtained what might have otherwise required decades: an understanding of a pestilential whore, cloaking herself as a social virtue and brotherly love." (10)

Hitler later became critical of Lueger because he never really carried out any real action against the Jews. The Jewish journalist and novelist, Stefan Zweig, who was living in Vienna at the time, pointed out in his autobiography, The World of Yesterday (1942), that Lueger never allowed his official anti-Semitism to stop him from being helpful and friendly to the Jews: "His city administration was perfectly just and even typically democratic... The Jews who had trembled at the triumph of the anti-Semitic party continued to live with the same rights and esteem as always." (11)

It was not only the anti-semitic rhetoric that Hitler learnt from Lueger. It was the importance of oratory in politics. "The power which has always started the greatest religious and political avalanches in history rolling has from time immemorial been the magic power of the spoken word, and that alone. The broad masses of the people can be moved only by the power of speech. All great movements are popular movements, volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotional sentiments, stirred either by the cruel Goddess of Distress or by the firebrand of the world hurled among the masses." (12)

Hitler's comments were based on his own experiences. However, in recent years we have discovered why people are moved by "volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotional sentiments". As Nancy Moyer points out: "The frontal lobes are the two large areas at the front of your brain. They’re part of the cerebral cortex, which is a newer, rational, and more advanced brain system. This is where thinking, reasoning, decision-making, and planning happen. The frontal lobes allow you to process and think about your emotions. You can then manage these emotions and determine a logical response."

Moyer adds that the "amygdala is a collection of cells near the base of the brain". This is where emotions are given meaning, remembered, and attached to associations and responses to them. "Early humans were exposed to the constant threat of being killed or injured by wild animals or other tribes. To improve the chances of survival, the fight- or-flight response evolved. It’s an automatic response to physical danger that allows you to react quickly without thinking. When you feel threatened and afraid, the amygdala automatically activates the fight-or-flight response by sending out signals to release stress hormones that prepare your body to fight or run away." (13)

Hitler used language to bypass the frontal lobes (what is known as the "amygdala hijack") and as leader of the Nazi Party, used the same strategy as Karl Lueger. However, it had but with little impact in the 1920s. Despite losing the First World War and the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty, the "ensuing Weimar Republic was perhaps the world’s most democratic state yet - with free elections, voting rights for all adults (male and female), an independent judiciary, a free press, regional autonomy and elections by proportional representation. In the 1920 elections the parties that had brought the Republic into being won an overwhelming majority. It seemed as though nothing could go wrong." (14)

Hitler began to make progress when he met up with Joseph Goebbels. Both men were impressed with each other. Goebbels described one of their first meetings in his diary: "Hitler begins to speak. What a voice. What a gestures, what passion. Exactly what I had wanted from him. I can scarcely contain myself. My heart stands still. I hang on every word.... Shakes my hand. Like an old friend. And those big blue eyes. Like stars. He is glad to see me. I am in heaven. That man has everything to be king.... I am ready to sacrifice everything for this man. History gives peoples the greatest men in the greatest times of need." (15)

Hitler and Goebbels shared an interest in propaganda and together they planned how the Nazi Party would win the support of the German people. Hitler's first biographer, Konrad Heiden, attempted to explain how he did this: "The true aim of political propaganda is not to influence, but to study, the masses. The speaker is in constant communication with the masses; he hears an echo, and senses the inner vibration. In forever setting new and contradictory assertions before his audience, Hitler is tapping the outwardly shapeless substance of public opinion with instruments of varying metals and varying weights. When a resonance issues from the depths of the substance, the masses have given him the pitch; he knows in what terms he must finally address them. Rather than a means of directing the mass mind, propaganda is a technique for riding with the masses." (16)

As Hannah Arendt, a philosopher who grew up in Nazi Germany, pointed out in her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) that figures like Karl Lueger and Adolf Hitler, need to find a way of communicating with the mob. "The mob is primarily a group in which the residue of all classes are represented. This makes it so easy to mistake the mob for the people, which also comprises all strata of society. While the people in all great revolutions fight for true representation, the mob always will shout for the 'strong man,' the 'great leader.' For the mob hates society from which it is excluded." (17)

In 1927 Hitler was introduced to Emil Kirdorf, a very wealthy industrialist. Although Kirdorf agreed with most of Hitler's views he was concerned about some of the policies of the Nazi Party. He was particularly worried about the opinions of some people in the party such as Gregor Strasser who talked about the need to redistribute wealth in Germany. Hitler tried to reassure Kirdorf that these policies were just an attempt to gain the support of the working-class in Germany and would not be implemented once he gained power. Kirdorf suggested that Hitler should write a pamphlet for private distribution amongst Germany's leading industrialists that clearly expressed his views on economic policy. (18)

Kirdorf and his wealthy right-wing friends were particularly attracted to Hitler's idea of winning the working class away from left-wing political groups such as the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Communist Party (KPD). Kirdorf and other business leaders were also impressed with the news that Hitler planned to suppress the trade union movement once he gained power. Kirdorf joined the Nazi Party and immediately began to try and persuade other leading industrialists to supply Hitler with the necessary funds to win control of the Reichstag. Kirdorf gave the party "100,000 Marks that went a long way towards overcoming the party's immediate financial plight." (19)

Adolf Hitler addresses the German people on radio on 31st January, 1933
John Heartfield, Fritz Thyssen Pulls the Strings (August, 1930)
(Copyright The Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive)

Otto Dietrich, the Press Chief of the Nazi Party, later recalled: "Our Führer suddenly decided to concentrate systematically on cultivating the influential economics magnates... In the following months he traversed Germany from end to end, holding private interviews with prominent personalities. Any rendezvous was chosen, either in Berlin or in the provinces, in the Hotel Kaiserhof or in some lonely forest-glade. Privacy was absolutely imperative, the Press must have no chance of doing mischief." (20)

Adolf Hitler constantly argued that German prosperity would not last and warned that the country was about to suffer an economic recession. The fortunes of the Nazi Party changed with the Wall Street Crash in October 1929. Desperate for capital, the United States began to recall loans from Europe. One of the consequences of this was a rapid increase in unemployment. Germany, whose economy relied heavily on investment from the United States, suffered more than any other country in Europe. (21)

With the drop in demand for labour, wages also fell and those with full-time work had to survive on lower incomes. Hitler, who was considered a fool in 1928 when he predicted economic disaster, was now seen in a different light. Hitler told a Munich audience: "We are the result of the distress for which the others were responsible." People began to say that if he was clever enough to predict the depression maybe he also knew how to solve it. (22)

However, it was never Hitler's intention to use logic in his arguments. Instead he blamed the Jews for the problems that faced Germany. In the General Election that took place in September 1930, the Nazi Party increased its number of representatives in parliament from 14 to 107. Hitler was now the leader of the second largest party in Germany. Harold Harmsworth, 1st Lord Rothermere, the owner of The Daily Mail and a long-term supporter of the Nazi Party, wrote in his newspaper after the general election result: "What are the sources of strength of a party which at the general election two years ago could win only 12 seats, but now, with 107, has become the second strongest in the Reichstag, and whose national poll has increased in the same time from 809,000 to 6,400,000? Striking as these figures are, they stand for something far greater than political success. They represent the rebirth of Germany as a nation." (23)

Oskar Garvens, A Breakdown: A Pleasing Phenomenon! (March, 1932)
Oskar Garvens, A Breakdown: A Pleasing Phenomenon! (March, 1932)

Adolf Hitler was never able to persuade the majority of Germans to vote for him. He managed to get 37.27% in the July, 1932 Election. This fell to 33.09% in November, 1932. On 4th January, 1933, Hitler had a meeting with Franz von Papen and decided to work together for a government. It was decided that Hitler would be Chancellor and Von Papen's associates would hold important ministries. "They also agreed to eliminate Social Democrats, Communists, and Jews from political life. Hitler promised to renounce the socialist part of the program, while Von Papen pledged that he would obtain further subsidies from the industrialists for Hitler's use... On 30th January, 1933, with great reluctance, Von Hindenburg named Hitler as Chancellor." (24)

After the 1933 General Election, Chancellor Hitler proposed an Enabling Bill that would give him dictatorial powers. Such an act needed three-quarters of the members of the Reichstag to vote in its favour. All the active members of the Communist Party (KPD) were in prison, in hiding, or had left the country (an estimated 60,000 people left Germany during the first few weeks after the election). This was also true of most of the leaders of the other left-wing party, Social Democrat Party (SDP). However, Hitler still needed the support of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP) to pass this legislation. Hitler therefore offered the BVP a deal: vote for the bill and the Nazi government would guarantee the rights of the Catholic Church. The BVP agreed and when the vote was taken on 24th March, 1933, only 94 members voted against the Enabling Bill. (25)

While it is true that Hitler eventually used force to gain power, he was able to persuade over 37% to vote for him in 1932. Some historians have compared Hitler's strategy to that of Donald Trump. For example, Timothy D. Snyder, the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010), and a leading expert on fascism, has argued: "In the Germany of the early 1930s, the newspaper industry was suffering after a financial crisis. Hitler and other Nazis used the idea of the Lügenpresse (fake news) to attack remaining journalists who were trying to report the facts. In Germany and Austria today, the far right once more speaks of the Lügenpresse, in part because the American president has made the idea respectable. The extreme right in Germany and Austria knows perfectly well that 'fake news' is American English for Lügenpresse." (26)

Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state under Bill Clinton, shares Snyder's concerns. Albright was born into a totalitarian age. When she was a child her parents, who were of Jewish descent, fled Czechoslovakia after Hitler’s invasion in 1939. Albright does not accuse Trump of being a fascist, but of using the language and strategies of the fascists in the 1930s. "He has yet to resort to extrajudicial violence - except, of course, for encouraging his acolytes to beat up protesters at rallies - and his efforts to undermine the rule of law have had only mixed success, in part due to his own fecklessness." (27)

In her recent book on the presidency of Donald Trump, Fascism: A Warning (2018) Albright states: “If we think of fascism as a wound from the past that had almost healed, putting Trump in the White House was like ripping off the bandage and picking at the scab." Trump is "the first anti-democratic president in US history". He "flaunts his disdain for democratic institutions, the ideals of equality and social justice, civil discourse, civic virtues, and America itself". (28)

Richard J. Evans, Britain's leading expert on Nazi Germany, also believes there are parallels today with Europe in the 1930s. However, it is also necessary to point out the differences. In his review of Albright's book he argues: "Fascism, as Albright correctly notes, used mass violence against its opponents to bludgeon them into submission as a means of overcoming them. Today’s threat to democracy, surely, is more insidious, involving, as a start, a populist appeal to voters that produces the kind of overwhelming electoral dominance that Hitler, who never secured more than 37.4% of the vote in a free national election, failed to achieve. That is why he deployed hundreds of thousands of stormtroopers, following the example of Mussolini’s squadristi, to turn democratic success into dictatorial power. For today’s enemies of democracy, it is the coercive institutions of the state that play the key role, not private armies of thugs." (29)

Timothy D. Snyder
Timothy D. Snyder

The American academic, Timothy D. Snyder has also written about the dangers of fascism in the United States, in his book, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (2018) he puts forward a conspiracy theory that is being orchestrated by Vladimir Putin. It was his "cyberwar" that enabled Trump to obtain the American presidency. “In 2016,” he writes, “the British voted to leave the European Union, as Moscow had long advocated, and Americans elected Donald Trump as their president, an outcome Russians had worked to achieve." The central theme of the book is an opposition between what Snyder calls the “politics of inevitability” and the “politics of eternity.” That the world is "moving inexorably toward liberal democratic capitalism, and that there is thus no need to worry about the shortcomings of the existing system (such as mounting economic inequality and a feeling of disenfranchisement among ordinary people)." (30)

In an interview he gave to Slate Magazine, Snyder insists that: "Most folks on the left would say that wealth inequality in the United States is a problem, and they’re absolutely right. One country that has a greater degree of wealth inequality than we do is Russia, and Russia shows how wealth inequality is associated with monopolies in the media, is associated with the thing that we call fake news. In order to see everything that’s going on in the U.S., you have to look at Russia." He links the current situation to the end of the Cold War: "It’s no coincidence that most of the Cold War - the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s - coincides with two very important developments: giving African Americans the right to vote and the creation of a social welfare state, plus generally the endorsement or at least the tolerance of labor unions, which allowed for wealth inequality to close. In the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, the gap between the top 1 percent and the bottom 90 percent was actually closing in the United States. That’s actually related to the Cold War. It’s related to the fact that the United States couldn’t allow the Soviet Union to make too much of our racial and class problems." (31)

In a speech, The Road to Unfreedom: Democracy, Neo-fascism, and the Importance of Language, made at the American Academy in Berlin, Timothy D. Snyder, defended his use of the word fascism to describe the presidency of Donald Trump. Snyder argued, “fascism exists, and it existed in history, and we need to keep returning to the history of fascism because it allows us to see things in our present world that we might not otherwise see.” According to Snyder, fascism relies on creating a false enemy, usually recent immigrants. Hitler concentrated on the Jews, Trump on Mexicans. It his use of language that really connects him to fascism. The slogan "Build that wall," Snyder says, "is a tribal scream: we need a barrier between us and them." But where did the slogan come from? It was chosen by algorithms, he notes, "tested by Cambridge Analytica on millions of Americans." But two years later, there is still no wall. "And there will never be a wall. The phrase alone is the thing-in-itself." In this way, "build that wall" is connected to "a state of exception, or a state of emergency, serving a political purpose." (32)

In a review of The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (2018), Richard J. Evans attacks Snyder for comparing the situation in Germany in the 1930s with the United States today. What Snyder fails to grasp is that fascism is an economic as well as a political system. So far there is little evidence that right-wing populists such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have any intentions of introducing a corporate state. "Snyder... seems to equate hostility to democracy with fascism.... The Yale professor calls as witnesses a procession of obscure Russian thinkers... What united all these thinkers was their ultra-nationalism, which is why they are being taken up by Putin; but ultra-nationalism is not the same as fascism, for all the things they have in common."

This is not to say that people such as Trump do not pose a serious threat to our values. Evans agrees with Snyder Trump is engaged in “a turn away from democracy and the rule of law”. He points out that "Trump said he would reject the presidential election as rigged if he did not win, hinted that Hillary Clinton might suffer violence if she pushed for stricter gun controls, and spread 'internet memes from fascists'. Trump is a 'sadopopulist', winning support from deprived masses only to implement policies, notably in healthcare and tax reform, that were designed to hurt them. Of course, the hallmark of populists is that their rabble-rousing rhetoric does not really hold out the promise of improving opportunities for the masses... its promises, such as halting immigration, or reviving obsolete industries, are all snake-oil medicines." (33)

Evans rightly argues that it is the language of Trump and Johnson that links them to the rhetoric of Hitler. This is the same point made by George Monbiot. "Is this democracy’s death spiral? Are we, in this country and others, falling into a lethal cycle of fury and reaction, that blocks the reasoned conversation on which civic life depends? In every age there have been political hucksters using aggression, lies and outrage to drown out reasoned argument. But not since the 1930s have so many succeeded. Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Scott Morrison, Rodrigo Duterte, Nicolás Maduro, Viktor Orbán and many others have discovered that the digital age offers rich pickings. The anger and misunderstanding that social media generates, exacerbated by troll factories, bots and covertly funded political advertising, spill into real life."

Monbiot takes a look at the research carried out by the neuroscientists Stephen Porges and Gregory Lewis. "They show that when we feel threatened, we cannot hear calm, conversational voices. When we feel safe, the muscles in the middle ear contract, with an effect like tightening the skin of a drum. This shuts out deep background sounds, and allows us to tune into the frequencies used in ordinary human speech.... When we feel particularly threatened or angry, a fight-or-flight response kicks in, overwhelming our capacity for reason – a phenomenon some psychologists call amygdala hijack. The amygdala sits at the base of the brain and channels strong emotional signals that can override the prefrontal cortex, preventing us from making rational decisions. We lash out irrationally, saying stupid things that then trigger amygdala hijack in other people. That’s more or less how social media works."

Right-wing populists use words that trigger emotions like fear, anxiety, aggression, and anger. "Today politicians and commentators speak a language of violence that was unthinkable a few years ago. In the UK, Johnson mocks the memory of the murdered MP Jo Cox. Nigel Farage, talking of civil servants, promises that 'once Brexit’s done, we will take the knife to them'. Brendan O’Neill, editor of the website Spiked, a publication that has received funding from the Koch brothers, told the BBC that there should be riots over Brexit’s delay. They must all know, particularly in view of the threats and assaults suffered by female MPs, that violent language licenses violence. But these statements seem perfectly pitched to trigger unreasoning aggression. Surely voters must now wake from this nightmare, dismiss those who have manufactured our crises, and restore the peaceful, reasoned politics on which our security depends?" (34)

Trevor Rollings makes the same point in his book, We Are More than Our Brains (2017): "Our political discourse is particularly vulnerable to limbic manipulation. Liberalism is founded on the ability of reasoned debate to resolve our differences, but liberal politicians have been accused of underestimating the role of feeling in how we choose our leaders. Populist rabble-rousers know only too well the benefits of playing on people's fears, hatreds, grievances and prejudices. The limbus is a sucker for conspiracy theories, repeated half-truths, fake news and false promises. Populism is a version of politics that sets the id against the superego, or the people against perceived threats or oppressors. The problem is that if we set suspicion, private need, gut-feeling and immediate interest over trust, critical debate, mutuality and longer term policy, we squander the capacity to legislate for the good of the next generation, saving forests and coral reefs, opting for energy technologies which involve short term pain for longer term gain." (35)

What right-wing populist leaders have in common is a language based on nationalism, but often disguised as being patriotism. Whereas patriotism is the "devotion to and vigorous support for one's country", nationalism is the "identification with one's own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations". Nationalists need an enemy, both within and without. Hitler had the Jews and internationalists within and the victors of the First World War without. Johnson and Farage have the immigrants, refugees and Remainers within and the European Union without. That is reinforced with the rhetoric of war, the "surrender bill" and the "collusion with the enemy". (36)

As Nick Cohen recently pointed out in The Observer: "The language of war has been the language of Brexit. The right raids the dressing-up box for Battle of Britain uniforms. The prime minister damns half the population as quislings advocating betrayal and surrender. Dominic Cummings’s hero Bismarck fought three wars to unify Germany. Cummings talks as if he’s ready to unleash one to break up Britain. Paranoid fear of enemies within, once confined to the right-wing press and far-right politics, now defines British conservatism... The 'people' is no longer composed of all your fellow citizens. Membership is confined exclusively to those who doff their caps to nationalist politics. Meanwhile, you only have to listen to Johnson to know that the far right’s paranoid style has become the Conservatives’ style. The default position of its politicians and journalists is to rouse the rabble by depicting parliament, the judiciary and the civil service as sinister forces conspiring against their own country." (37)

One of the important aspects of the campaign carried out by Karl Lueger against the Jews was to attack their defenders, the Social Democratic Workers' Party (SDAP), as Marxists. This was also true of Hitler's campaign against the Jews. Interestingly, as soon as he gained power in 1933, the first people he had arrested were members of the two political parties, Social Democrat Party (SDP) and the Communist Party (KPD), who had encouraged their members to reject the anti-Semitism of the Nazi Party. As one historian has pointed out: "Hitler's anti-communism was more pertinent to domestic politics than his anti-Semitism. To control the German state, he would have to break the communists and the social democrats. Over the course of 1933, some two hundred Germans were locked up, most of them seen as left-wing opponents of the regime." (38)

Over the years in Britain, right-wing populists have not only attacked the arrival of immigrants and refugees, but the political party that attempts to protect them. For example, despite the need for immigration in 1962 the Conservative government, responded to the campaign by the right-wing press by passing the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. This tightened the regulations and restricted the rights of immigrants to come to Britain, to those who had government-issued employment vouchers. The leader of the opposition in Parliament at the time, Hugh Gaitskell, called the act "cruel and brutal anti-colour legislation" and accused the government of "yielding to the crudest clamour" of racism and suggested that liberal members of the government should be ashamed of their failure to stop "this miserable, shameful, shabby bill" by threatening to resign. (39)

This was a blatant attempt to win the support of those members of the electorate who held racist views. However, the government faced a severe shortage of labour in certain industries and secretly encouraged large-scale immigration from the Asian subcontinent. This labour shortage was especially a problem in the National Health Service. The Minister of Health, Enoch Powell, made an important decision. Powell’s war experiences in India made it the place he turned to for help. “We know Powell had a high regard for Indian society and that Indian medical schools trained doctors based on the British system, so he knew he could find a relatively good source of well-qualified doctors.” In 1963 Powell invited Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi doctors to the UK. This resulted in 18,000 arriving over the next twelve months. (40)

Victor Weisz (Vicky), Evening Standard (14th October, 1963)
Victor Weisz (Vicky), Enoch Powell: Minister of Health (1963)

Powell praised these doctors, who he said, "provide a useful and substantial reinforcement of the staffing of our hospitals and who are an advertisement to the world of British medicine and British hospitals." Many of those recruited had several years of experience in their home countries and arrived to gain further medical experience, training, or qualification. Powell's initiative was a great success and after eight years 31 per cent of all doctors working in the NHS in England were born and had qualified overseas. (41)

In the 1964 General Election the Labour Party obtained a swing of 3% to obtain victory. However, some Conservative Party members played the race-card during the election. This included Peter Griffiths, who was taking on Patrick Gordon Walker, who had been Shadow Foreign Secretary, in Smethwick. The constituency had the highest percentage of recent immigrants to England and during the campaign his supporters used the slogan "If you want a n***** for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour". (42)

Griffiths himself did not coin the phrase or approve its use, but he refused to disown it. "I would not condemn any man who said that, I regard it as a manifestation of popular feeling". Griffiths reminded the electorate that Walker had opposed the introduction of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act. “How easy to support uncontrolled immigration when one lives in a garden suburb,” Griffiths sneered at his Labour rival during the general election campaign. Griffiths won the seat with a 7.2 % swing to the Conservatives and reduced Walker's vote from 20,670 in the previous election to 14,916. (43)

This tactic was used again by Margaret Thatcher, when she became leader of the Conservative Party. In a television interview in January, 1978, Thatcher played the race-card when she claimed "Some people have felt swamped by immigrants. They've seen the whole character of their neighbourhoods change." (44) Bernard Levin, who was a supporter of Thatcher, warned that, "If you talk and behave as though black men were some kind of virus that must be kept out of the body politic then it is the shabbiest hypocrisy to preach racial harmony at the same time." (45)

David Olusoga, points out in Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016): "Immigrants accounted for a mere 4 per cent of the British population in 1979. Yet, the word 'swamped' struck home with voters and shocked some commentators. Intentionally or not it was an echo of Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech... Thatcher's words were denounced by black British groups and by her political opponents, and criticised by some of her own party." (46)

Thatcher's comments increased her popularity with the British public and it is believed it was a factor in her victory in the 1979 General Election: "Before her remarks, only 9 per cent of British citizens felt that there were too many immigrants; afterwards 21 per cent admitted they were worried. Thatcher's supporters argued that it was a politician's job to draw the public's attention to uncomfortable truths. Opponents suggested that such rhetoric was self-fulfilling. It was easy to forget that at this time immigrants amounted to 4 per cent of the population. Was it possible for so small a minority to 'swamp' a mighty imperial nation?" (47)

This prepared the way for Thatcher's economic policies neo-liberal economic policies in order to control the power of trade union movement. Unemployment figures rose substantially over the next few years: 1980 (7.4%), 1981 (11.4%) and 1982 (13.0%). With high unemployment and with the encouragement of the politicians who have created the unemployment, people turn their hostility towards the people who are immigrants or who look like immigrants, who believe they have taken their jobs. (48)

When leaders of the Labour Party complained about Thatcher's racism, she attacked socialists as being "the enemy of the people". After the arrival of Tony Blair as leader of the Labour Party he stopped talking about socialism and he believed it was a major factor, along with the support of Rubert Murdoch and his right-of-centre newspapers, that won him three general elections. It was only when Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the party in 2015, that the word socialism came back into favour. In fact, one of the main reasons for its growth into the largest political party in Europe. (49)

The word "socialism" is no longer has negative connotations and so right-wing populists have started using the term favoured by Hitler, "Marxist". During his campaign to become prime minister, Boris Johnson described Jeremy Corbyn as "the leader of a cabal of superannuated Marxists". Interestingly, it was a member of the left-wing of the Conservative Party, Ruth Davidson, who criticised Johnson for this tactic of using labels to discredit the Labour leader.: "We have to get past the identity politics. And we’re so guilty at the moment of people dismissing the speaker rather than challenging the idea." This has not stopped the right-wing British press, the same ones who supported Hitler and the Nazi Party in the 1930s, from constantly calling Corbyn a Marxist. (50)

Paul Stocker has published an important book on the growth of nationalism and xenophobia, England Uprising: Brexit and the Mainstreaming of the Far Right (2017). Stocker argues that far-right groups and ideologies have traditionally existed at the fringe of British politics, the subject of the European Union has resulted in the growing mainstreaming of their ideas. During the referendum Nigel Farage unveiling an anti-migrant poster that appeared to suggest that migrants and refugees were flooding UK borders. On the same day that the poster was unveiled, Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered outside of her constituency surgery. "Undoubtedly targeted because of her commitment to the ‘Remain’ campaign and her advocacy of migrants’ rights, her attacker, right-wing extremist Thomas Mair, was heard to shout ‘Britain First’ as he shot and stabbed Jo Cox." (51)

Boris Johnson will of course use the language of right-wing populism that won him the referendum campaign, in the hope he could win the coming general election. Will it be possible for a multimillionaire who has lived a life of privilege to present himself as a man who can lead the "people" in their fight against the ruling elite. At least Hitler could point to his life of poverty before he gained power. However, as Hannah Arendt has pointed out, that in times of crisis there is a "temporary alliance between the mob and the elite." (52)

We have been here before. Oswald Mosley who formed the British Union of Fascists in 1932 came from a very wealthy background and had a very pronounced upper-class accent. He was extremely popular with the ruling elite and received backing from Harold Harmsworth, 1st Lord Rothermere, and his newspaper empire, including the The Daily Mail, The London Evening News, and The Sunday Dispatch. However, the party never won a seat in the House of Commons and only one council seat (a middle-class ward in Worthing). (53)

In February, 1937, Mosley announced that the British Union of Fascists would be taking part in London's municipal elections the following month. During the campaign BUF candidates attacked Jewish financiers, landlords, shopkeepers and politicians. Mosley also attacked the Labour Party for not solving London's housing problem. The main slogan of the BUF was "Vote British and Save London". The election results announced on 6th March 1937 revealed that the BUF won only 18% of the votes cast in the seats they were contesting. Mick Clarke and Alexander Raven Thompson did best of all with winning 23% of the vote in Bethnal Green. This was less than half of those of the Labour candidates. The BUF vote mainly came from disillusioned supporters of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party rather than that of Labour. This suggested "that Mosley had as yet made little political headway among the ordinary working-class of East London - dockers, transport men, shipyard workers." (54)

Richard J. Evans, our leading expert on German fascism, has recently published an article entitled Britain’s Reichstag Fire Moment: where he warns about the possible danger of a successful Johnson election campaign: "In the UK, Johnson’s policy is single-mindedly directed towards winning back the voters who have defected from the Conservatives to the Brexit Party, after which, following a no-deal Brexit, he will go to the country and be elected as the man who took Britain out of the EU. A divided opposition with an unpopular and ineffective leader will, he calculates, be easy prey at the hustings. The Weimar Republic was a failed democracy, but in the 21st century, democracies fail in different ways. We can’t expect a direct re-run. But there are certainly echoes, even if they are not yet audible to most voters. By the time we hear them, we may no longer be in a position to do anything about it." (55)

John Simkin (14th October, 2019)


(1) August Kubizek, The Young Hitler I Knew (2006) page 163

(2) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 216

(3) Shumuel Ettinger, Jewish Emigration in the 19th Century (October 2019)

(4) Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) 2017 edition page 55

(5) Konrad Heiden, Hitler: A Biography (1936) page 57

(6) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925) page 56

(7) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925) page 52

(8) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925) page 94

(9) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925) page 59

(10) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925) pages 37-38

(11) Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday (1942) page 63

(12) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925) page 107

(13) Nancy Moyer, Amygdala Hijack: When Emotion Takes Over (22nd April, 2019)

(14) Richard J. Evans, Prospect Magazine (29th August, 2019)

(15) Joseph Goebbels, diary entry (12th July, 1925)

(16) Konrad Heiden, Hitler: A Biography (1936) pages 117-118

(17) Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) (2017 edition) page 138

(18) James Pool, Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979) pages 138-141

(19) Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889-1936 (1998) page 299

(20) Otto Dietrich, With Hitler on the Road to Power (1934) pages 12-13

(21) John Simkin, Hitler (1988) pages 32-33

(22) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 151

(23) Harold Harmsworth, 1st Lord Rothermere, The Daily Mail (24th September, 1930)

(24) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 154

(25) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 270

(26) Timothy D. Snyder, The Guardian (30th October, 2018)

(27) Michelle Goldberg, New York Times (13th April, 2018)

(28) Madeleine Albright, Fascism: A Warning (2018) pages 4-5

(29) Richard J. Evans, The Guardian (19th July, 2018)

(30) Sophie Pinkham, The Nation (3rd May, 2018)

(31) Timothy D. Snyder, Slate Magazine (29th March, 2018)

(32) Timothy D. Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom: Democracy, Neofascism, and the Importance of Language (14th January, 2019)

(33) Richard J. Evans, The Guardian (19th July, 2018)

(34) George Monbiot, The Guardian (3rd October, 2019)

(35) Trevor Rollings, We Are More than Our Brains (2017) page 73

(36) The Guardian (29th September, 2019)

(37) Nick Cohen, The Observer (12th October, 2019)

(38) Timothy D. Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010) page 63

(39) Hugh Gaitskell, speech in the House of Commons (16th November, 1961)

(40) Vicki Power, Daily Telegraph (12th November, 2010)

(41) Stephanie Snow and Emma Coleman-Jones, Immigration and the National Health Service (8th March 2011)

(42) Martin Pugh, Speak for Britain: A New History of the Labour Party (2010) page 332

(43) Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian (15th October, 2014)

(44) Margaret Thatcher, television interview (27th January, 1978)

(45) Bernard Levin, The Times (14th February, 1978)

(46) David Olusoga, Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016) page 515

(47) Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain (2013) page 307

(48) James Denman and Paul MacDonald, Unemployment Statistics from 1881 to the Present Day, Labour Market Trends (January 1996)

(49) Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian (27th September, 2016)

(50) Conrad Landin, The Morning Star (14th August, 2019)

(51) Katherine Williams, LSE Review of Books (11th December, 2017)

(52) Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) page 427

(53) The Evening Argus (23rd January, 2003)

(54) Robert Skidelsky, Mosley (1981) pages 408-410

(55) Richard J. Evans, Prospect Magazine (29th August, 2019)

Previous Posts

The Language of Right-wing Populism: Adolf Hitler to Boris Johnson (11th October, 2019)

The Political Philosophy of Dominic Cummings and the Funding of the Brexit Project (15th September, 2019)

What are the political lessons to learn from the Peterloo Massacre? (19th August, 2019)

Crisis in British Capitalism: Part 1: 1770-1945 (9th August, 2019)

Richard Sorge: The Greatest Spy of the 20th Century? (29th July, 2020)

The Death of Bernardo De Torres (26th May, 2019)

Gas Masks in the Second World War killed more people than they saved (9th May, 2019)

Did St Paul and St Augustine betray the teachings of Jesus? (20th April, 2019)

Stanley Baldwin and his failed attempt to modernise the Conservative Party (15th April, 2019)

The Delusions of Neville Chamberlain and Theresa May (26th February, 2019)

The statement signed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (20th January, 2019)

Was Winston Churchill a supporter or an opponent of Fascism? (16th December, 2018)

Why Winston Churchill suffered a landslide defeat in 1945? (10th December, 2018)

The History of Freedom Speech in the UK (25th November, 2018)

Are we heading for a National government and a re-run of 1931? (19th November, 2018)

George Orwell in Spain (15th October, 2018)

Anti-Semitism in Britain today. Jeremy Corbyn and the Jewish Chronicle (23rd August, 2018)

Why was the anti-Nazi German, Gottfried von Cramm, banned from taking part at Wimbledon in 1939? (7th July, 2018)

What kind of society would we have if Evan Durbin had not died in 1948? (28th June, 2018)

The Politics of Immigration: 1945-2018 (21st May, 2018)

State Education in Crisis (27th May, 2018)

Why the decline in newspaper readership is good for democracy (18th April, 2018)

Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party (12th April, 2018)

George Osborne and the British Passport (24th March, 2018)

Boris Johnson and the 1936 Berlin Olympics (22nd March, 2018)

Donald Trump and the History of Tariffs in the United States (12th March, 2018)

Karen Horney: The Founder of Modern Feminism? (1st March, 2018)

The long record of The Daily Mail printing hate stories (19th February, 2018)

John Maynard Keynes, the Daily Mail and the Treaty of Versailles (25th January, 2018)

20 year anniversary of the Spartacus Educational website (2nd September, 2017)

The Hidden History of Ruskin College (17th August, 2017)

Underground child labour in the coal mining industry did not come to an end in 1842 (2nd August, 2017)

Raymond Asquith, killed in a war declared by his father (28th June, 2017)

History shows since it was established in 1896 the Daily Mail has been wrong about virtually every political issue. (4th June, 2017)

The House of Lords needs to be replaced with a House of the People (7th May, 2017)

100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Caroline Norton (28th March, 2017)

100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Mary Wollstonecraft (20th March, 2017)

100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Anne Knight (23rd February, 2017)

100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Elizabeth Heyrick (12th January, 2017)

100 Greatest Britons: Where are the Women? (28th December, 2016)

The Death of Liberalism: Charles and George Trevelyan (19th December, 2016)

Donald Trump and the Crisis in Capitalism (18th November, 2016)

Victor Grayson and the most surprising by-election result in British history (8th October, 2016)

Left-wing pressure groups in the Labour Party (25th September, 2016)

The Peasant's Revolt and the end of Feudalism (3rd September, 2016)

Leon Trotsky and Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party (15th August, 2016)

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England (7th August, 2016)

The Media and Jeremy Corbyn (25th July, 2016)

Rupert Murdoch appoints a new prime minister (12th July, 2016)

George Orwell would have voted to leave the European Union (22nd June, 2016)

Is the European Union like the Roman Empire? (11th June, 2016)

Is it possible to be an objective history teacher? (18th May, 2016)

Women Levellers: The Campaign for Equality in the 1640s (12th May, 2016)

The Reichstag Fire was not a Nazi Conspiracy: Historians Interpreting the Past (12th April, 2016)

Why did Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst join the Conservative Party? (23rd March, 2016)

Mikhail Koltsov and Boris Efimov - Political Idealism and Survival (3rd March, 2016)

Why the name Spartacus Educational? (23rd February, 2016)

Right-wing infiltration of the BBC (1st February, 2016)

Bert Trautmann, a committed Nazi who became a British hero (13th January, 2016)

Frank Foley, a Christian worth remembering at Christmas (24th December, 2015)

How did governments react to the Jewish Migration Crisis in December, 1938? (17th December, 2015)

Does going to war help the careers of politicians? (2nd December, 2015)

Art and Politics: The Work of John Heartfield (18th November, 2015)

The People we should be remembering on Remembrance Sunday (7th November, 2015)

Why Suffragette is a reactionary movie (21st October, 2015)

Volkswagen and Nazi Germany (1st October, 2015)

David Cameron's Trade Union Act and fascism in Europe (23rd September, 2015)

The problems of appearing in a BBC documentary (17th September, 2015)

Mary Tudor, the first Queen of England (12th September, 2015)

Jeremy Corbyn, the new Harold Wilson? (5th September, 2015)

Anne Boleyn in the history classroom (29th August, 2015)

Why the BBC and the Daily Mail ran a false story on anti-fascist campaigner, Cedric Belfrage (22nd August, 2015)

Women and Politics during the Reign of Henry VIII (14th July, 2015)

The Politics of Austerity (16th June, 2015)

Was Henry FitzRoy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, murdered? (31st May, 2015)

The long history of the Daily Mail campaigning against the interests of working people (7th May, 2015)

Nigel Farage would have been hung, drawn and quartered if he lived during the reign of Henry VIII (5th May, 2015)

Was social mobility greater under Henry VIII than it is under David Cameron? (29th April, 2015)

Why it is important to study the life and death of Margaret Cheyney in the history classroom (15th April, 2015)

Is Sir Thomas More one of the 10 worst Britons in History? (6th March, 2015)

Was Henry VIII as bad as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin? (12th February, 2015)

The History of Freedom of Speech (13th January, 2015)

The Christmas Truce Football Game in 1914 (24th December, 2014)

The Anglocentric and Sexist misrepresentation of historical facts in The Imitation Game (2nd December, 2014)

The Secret Files of James Jesus Angleton (12th November, 2014)

Ben Bradlee and the Death of Mary Pinchot Meyer (29th October, 2014)

Yuri Nosenko and the Warren Report (15th October, 2014)

The KGB and Martin Luther King (2nd October, 2014)

The Death of Tomás Harris (24th September, 2014)

Simulations in the Classroom (1st September, 2014)

The KGB and the JFK Assassination (21st August, 2014)

West Ham United and the First World War (4th August, 2014)

The First World War and the War Propaganda Bureau (28th July, 2014)

Interpretations in History (8th July, 2014)

Alger Hiss was not framed by the FBI (17th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: Part 2 (14th June, 2014)

Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: The CIA and Search-Engine Results (10th June, 2014)

The Student as Teacher (7th June, 2014)

Is Wikipedia under the control of political extremists? (23rd May, 2014)

Why MI5 did not want you to know about Ernest Holloway Oldham (6th May, 2014)

The Strange Death of Lev Sedov (16th April, 2014)

Why we will never discover who killed John F. Kennedy (27th March, 2014)

The KGB planned to groom Michael Straight to become President of the United States (20th March, 2014)

The Allied Plot to Kill Lenin (7th March, 2014)

Was Rasputin murdered by MI6? (24th February 2014)

Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons (11th February, 2014)

Pete Seeger and the Media (1st February 2014)

Should history teachers use Blackadder in the classroom? (15th January 2014)

Why did the intelligence services murder Dr. Stephen Ward? (8th January 2014)

Solomon Northup and 12 Years a Slave (4th January 2014)

The Angel of Auschwitz (6th December 2013)

The Death of John F. Kennedy (23rd November 2013)

Adolf Hitler and Women (22nd November 2013)

New Evidence in the Geli Raubal Case (10th November 2013)

Murder Cases in the Classroom (6th November 2013)

Major Truman Smith and the Funding of Adolf Hitler (4th November 2013)

Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler (30th October 2013)

Claud Cockburn and his fight against Appeasement (26th October 2013)

The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)

Robert Vansittart's Spy Network (17th October 2013)

British Newspaper Reporting of Appeasement and Nazi Germany (14th October 2013)

Paul Dacre, The Daily Mail and Fascism (12th October 2013)

Wallis Simpson and Nazi Germany (11th October 2013)

The Activities of MI5 (9th October 2013)

The Right Club and the Second World War (6th October 2013)

What did Paul Dacre's father do in the war? (4th October 2013)

Ralph Miliband and Lord Rothermere (2nd October 2013)