Did World War II result in socialism being "beat?" No, that's not true: socialism, one of the many adopted ideologies of the era that continued into the later 20th century, is not the same as "national socialism," more popularly known as Nazism, an ideology that was adopted by the Nazi Party of Germany. Socialism aimed to solve problems of economic inequality by eliminating capitalism. Nazism focused on exaltation of the German race, with little attention to inequalities.
The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) published on March 5, 2020. It featured an image of a celebration of Victory in Europe (V-E) Day in New York City with text that read:
May 08, 1945 -- Two million people gathered in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II when liberty beat socialism. Have we forgotten?
This is what the post looked like on Facebook on October 4, 2021:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Mon Oct 4 23:46:54 2021 UTC)
Socialism is most commonly defined as collective ownership of the means of production. The ideology was loosely embraced by the Soviet Union, officially known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Soviet Union was one of the major Allied Powers of World War II, which won the war. Soviet troops fought Germany, Italy and Japan, the so-called Axis Powers. More information about the Allied and Axis Powers can be found here.
Nazism, fascism and Japan's imperial ambitions were defeated in the war. The V-E Day celebration cited in the Facebook post was held to acknowledge the Allied Powers' success in Europe and the fall of Nazi Germany and its national socialist rule. National socialism is synonymous with Nazism, the ideology of totalitarian Nazi Germany that emphasized racial superiority.
Lead Stories reached out to Ronald Granieri, a Foreign Policy Research Institute Templeton Education Fellow and an associate professor of history in the Department of National Security and Strategy at U.S. Army War College, who wrote a perspective piece for The Washington Post discussing the difference between socialism and national socialism. In an email to Lead Stories on October 4, 2021, Granieri said:
The short answer to your question is no, the simple claim, 'liberty beat socialism' is not remotely accurate. Even though the Nazis were 'National Socialists,' as the piece of mine that you cite makes clear, the claim is wrong on multiple levels, four big ones being:
- The Soviets contributed mightily to the defeat of Nazi Germany, and they literally called their participation a triumph for socialism
- Socialists had been among those targeted for political repression in Germany and those parts of Europe under Nazi occupation
- Related to that, the Resistance in France and elsewhere included people from across the political spectrum, including many people who considered themselves socialists
- The Europeans who rebuilt Europe after WWII pursued economic and social policies that involved significant government intervention in the economy and the creation of generous welfare states--positions that some in the USA are currently vilifying as 'socialism,' even though supporters of those policies included conservatives as well.
The defeat of Nazi Germany was definitely a triumph for human freedom and it made possible the reconstruction of democracy in much (though, alas, not immediately all) of Europe. But it is false and tendentious to reduce Nazism to 'socialism' or to suggest that contemporary policies considered 'socialism' has any real connection to Nazism. Those who insist on doing that are advancing a political agenda that is based on ignorance of the actual historical context.
Lead Stories also reached out to the National World War II Museum for further information about the claim and will update the story with any response.
Lead Stories has previously debunked a quote about Nazism misattributed to Hermann Goering, a Nazi leader tried in the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg following World War II.