Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Nazis XII: Classification issues, drawing borders on different granularity levels

leave a comment »

As I noted in Nazis VIII, I feel confident in applying the label “Leftist” to the “mature NSDAP”—but not, without additional research,* “Socialist”. What then might there be to research, in addition to what I have already gone through?

*To my slight annoyance, checking the exact quote during proofreading, I find that the additional research is more implied than stated. It might be that I made some similar claim, explicitly involving additional research, elsewhere among these many texts.

The hitch lies more in what “Socialist” implies than what “Nazi” implies. Words can mean different things to different persons, at different times, in different contexts, etc.; and there is no simple definition of “Socialist” that will find universal acceptance.* The first (likely main, maybe only) step, likely involving considerable research, would then be to find some sufficiently reasonable and acceptable definition of “Socialist”, in order to check whether the Nazis fit this label. A second step might or might not have followed, to do more targeted research on the Nazis, themselves, based on the now established criteria for “Socialist”.

*For instance, many view Communists as Socialists, while others merely see two sibling groups. (Compare the below remarks on the Neanderthals.) For instance, many on the U.S. non-Left see little distinction between “Leftist” and “Socialist” in the first place. For instance, the old “Eastern Europe” nations might largely have rejected both Social-Democrats (“Social-Fascists”) and Nazis from the label of Socialist.

But what of “Leftist”? Is not “Leftist” a term that is even vaguer or more likely to cause disagreement than “Socialist”? Quiet possibly. However, there is a larger core area of less dispute and the disputed areas are not necessarily the same.

Consider, as an analogy, the questions of whether Åland belongs to Finland or Sweden resp. Europe or some other continent.

On the one hand, Åland was the center of a dispute* about intra-European borders, complicated by e.g. the fact that most of the population of Åland speaks Swedish but seems more attracted to Finland. Other such disputes exist; and the claim that “area X belongs to country Y” is by no means always clear cut.

*However, a long settled and no longer very controversial dispute. I still go with Åland for two reasons: Firstly, my own thoughts on the topic originated with the example of Åland as a means of illustration of and a better way to understand the “Nazis are Socialists” vs. “Nazis are Leftist” issue. Secondly, most other such disputes are more likely to involve strong feelings in one party or another.

On the other, similar and larger disputes* are possible for the borders of Europe, including with an eye at geography and politics. Is Greenland a part of Europe? The Falklands? Turkey? (Even Israel is sometimes included, e.g. in sports, which demonstrates the importance of context—this position would border on the absurd in many other contexts.)

*However, these disputes are typically more likely to involve semantics and matters of definition that politics and nationalism. The Falklands above, e.g., are at most indirectly a matter of whether they “rightfully” might belong to the U.K. or to the Argentine; the main issue is whether a so geographically distant island group should count as part of Europe. Here, we see the additional complication that it is possible for a dispute to simultaneously occur at different levels and with answers that might initially seem surprising. For instance, it is very possible to simultaneously claim that the Falklands do belong to the U.K., but do not belong to Europe. (Also see excursion for a similar topic.) Even the claim that they belong politically to Europe but not geographically is possible.

Even so, it is entirely uncontroversial to claim that Åland belongs to Europe, and neither Finns, nor Swedes, nor Ålanders (?) can reasonably complain—no matter what they think of the more local matter. Indeed, even reassigning Åland from Finland to Sweden, or making it an independent country in its own right, would not alter the fact that it is solidly in Europe.

Similarly, it is often possible to claim that X belongs to the very vague area Y, while not being able to make the same claim for the less vague area Z. This the more so, the more “fine-grained” Z is relative Y. For instance, there is still a dispute whether the Neanderthals were members of Homo Sapiens (i.e. whether they are more appropriately considered Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis or Homo Neanderthalensis), but a classification as Homo, primate, mammal, whatnot is not disputed.

This brings us back to the Nazis: If the Nazis were Socialist, they were a fortiori Leftist, but they might well have been Leftist without automatically being Socialist. Correspondingly, calling them “Leftist” is safer and requires less research than calling them “Socialist”.

Excursion on Europe, Norden,* and Greenland:
A good illustration of how different-definitions-for-different-entities can lead to problems is given by my teacher during lågstadiet**. She would illustrate Norden by speedily waving her pointer in a very imprecise figure on the big world map that hang in the classroom. The area within her imprecise figure did cover Norden, Greenland included, but also typically portions of (the non-Norden) continental Europe, of the Soviet Union***, and of the British Isles. To illustrate Europe, she would make a similarly speedy wave and imprecise figure to cover Europe, without Greenland, and with some losses around various border areas (notably, parts of the European Soviet Union; parts of Italy?, Spain?, Balkans?). As the area covered by her waving was larger for Norden, I came away with an early impression that Europe was a part of Norden instead of (approximately****) the other way around.

*The Swedish/Norwegian/Danish name for the grouping of Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland + some tricky areas. The phrase “the Nordic countries” is occasionally heard in English, but I doubt that it is widely understood. Note that these countries are historically, culturally, linguistically (excepting Finland), geographically (excepting Iceland), and often politically and economically closely tied to each other; and that the concept of Norden might have been of greater importance than that of Europe in school and/or the typical Swedish worldview. (The EU, respectively the then EC, was not much competition at the time.)

**The first three years of primary education in Sweden.

***This was in the early 1980s.

****This, again, depends on how e.g. Greenland is counted relative Norden and Europe. The idea that two areas could be overlapping without the one being a part of the other did not, to my memory, find mention. I have no recollection of a reasonable explanation of the status of Greenland either. (The typical “explanation”, to my very vague memory, was something almost quantum mechanical about Greenland simultaneously belonging and not belonging to Denmark.)

(This with the reservation that I speak from memories roughly forty years old. The description of her waving holds in principle, but might be off in the exact details.)


Written by michaeleriksson

June 7, 2022 at 9:41 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: