In his book, War Crimes in Vietnam, published in 1967 Russell several times calls the United States a Nazi State:

The United States government is conducting a war of annihilation in the Vietnam. The sole purpose of this war is to retain a brutal and feudal regime in the South and to exterminate all those who resist the dictatorship of the South ... the real concern which brings the United States to pursue the brutal policy abandoned by France in Indo-China is the protection of economic interests and the prevention of far-reaching social reforms in that region of the world ... I raise my voice because the war that is being conducted is an atrocity ... the American government has suppressed the truth about this war, the fact that it violates the Geneva Conventions ... and that it is being conducted in a manner reminiscent of warfare as practised by the Germans in Eastern Europe.

He quotes the Dallas Morning News, January 1st, 1963 in support:

Supposedly the fortified villages is to keep the Vietcong out. But barbed wire denies entrance and exit. Vietnamese farmers are forced at gun-point into these virtual concentration camps. Their homes, possessions, crops are burnt ... In the province of Kien-Tuong, seven villagers were led to the town square. Their stomachs were slashed and their livers extracted and put on display. These victims were women and children. In another village, a dozen mothers were decapitated before the eyes of compatriots. In still another village, expectant mothers were invited to the square by government forces to be honoured. Their stomachs wrere ripped, and their unborn babies removed ...

This was the regime of Bai Dai and Ngo Dinh Diem that the US attempted to keep in power under their protection which might absolve them of culpability, but to which Russell acidly replies:

I am reminded of the argument by an eminent Nazi, he did not kill a single jew, he just provided the lorries.

And he goes on to say:

In the course of history there have been many cruel and rapacious empires and systems of imperialist exploitation, but none before have at their disposal the power of the US imperialists. This constitutes a world system of oppression and represents the true threat to peace ... it is now painfully clear that US imperialism cannot be persuaded to end its aggression, its exploitation and its cruelty. In every part of the world the source of war and suffering lies at the door of US imperialism. Wherever there is hunger, wherever there is exploitative tyranny, wherever people are tortured and the masses left to rot under the weight of disease and starvation, the force that holds the people down stems from Washington.

Hence he goes on to point out:

The battle-front for freedom is in Washington, in the struggle against war criminals - Johnson, Rusk & McNamara - who have degraded the US and its citizens. Indeed, they have stolen the United States from its people and made the name of a great country stink in the nostrils of people the world over. This is a harsh truth, and it is a truth that is affecting the daily lives of Americans irrevocably and increasingly. There is no looking the other way. There is no use pretending that war crimes are not occurring ... there is no dignity without the courage to examine this evil and oppose it. There is no solution for the American crisis short of the emancipation of the American people themselves from these barbarous men who speak in their name and defile a great people by doing so.

Given the role of the Nazis in the Western world as the epitome of evil, perhaps Russell is making this comparison to emphasise his outrage. Yet he insists that:

The United States is obliged to act as the ... Nazis behaved in Eastern Germany. This is literally true. The concentration camps to which I have referred, and which held nearly sixty percent of the total population of South Vietnam, were scenes of brutal tortures, massacres and mass burial. The special experimental weapons, like the gas and the chemicals ... were as bad as anything the Nazis used during the second world war. It is true that the Nazis systematically exterminated the jews and the United States has not done anything comparble in Vietnam. With the exception of the extermination of the Jews, however, everything that the Germans did in Eastern Europe has been repeated by the United States in Vietnam on a scale which is larger and with an efficiency that is even more terrible and complete.

he adds:

These things were the reasons for hatred the world had for the Nazis. These things led to the trials at Nuremberg, in which the Nazi leaders were hung as war criminals.

It's worth pointing out that once one adds the support for apartheid regimes like Rhodesia and South Africa, the Atlantic slave trade and the holocaust visited upon the Native Americans on the colonisation of the Americas by the Europeans the difference that Russell points out appears to completely vanish, except of course that these crimes were committed over a far longer time-scale.

Moreover, recalling in this context that both Hannah Arendt, a theorist of totalitarism in Europe and Franz Fanon, a theorist of colonialism have both written that Nazi Germany imposed on Europe a system of domination, oppression and exploitation that had been perfected in the colonies of Europe to be imposed on the native. This is why Aime Cesaire said:

the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism. That it is Nazism, yes, but before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated Nazism before it was inflicted upon them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimised it, because, until then, it had only been applied to non-European peoples, that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and before engulfing the whole of Western, Christian civilisation in its reddened waters, it oozes, trickles and seeps from every crack.

This leads me on to my question:

Q. Can it be said that the United States by adopting the policies of colonisation abandoned by the Europe in Indo-China have followed a trajectory that led to Nazism?

Q. Is then Bertrand Russell correct in characterising the then United States as a Nazi state?


Given the criticisms of using the term 'nazi' with respect to the USA in its then pursuit of colonialist policies in Vietnam (despite the fact the Russell could see no option but to use it), a footnote in Arendts book, The Origins of Totalitarianism is pertinent:

No doubt, the fact that totalitarian government, its open criminality notwithstanding, rests on mass support is very disquieting. It is therefore hardly surprising that scholars as well as statesmen often refuse to recognize it, the former by believing in the magic of propaganda and brainwashing

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Philip Klöcking Oct 2 '19 at 21:10
  • In what manner did Russel use the term "Nazi"? 1) National socialism? 2) The members and organization controlling the totalitarian state? 3) The totalitarian state itself? 4) Simply as a shock value phrase in his campaign to stop atrocities? – christo183 Oct 3 '19 at 6:47
  • I'm not sure 'Nazi' is quite the right word but the general message seems reasonable. We're all a lot less naive these days and more easily able to understand what lies behind these wars, so this seems a less outspoken view than it must have done at the time. As for previous European behaviour it was often disgraceful and barbaric, but two wrongs don't make a right. – user20253 Oct 3 '19 at 12:09
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    The word "Nazi" (derived from National Socialist) has become a popular insult, based on the perception that WWII Germans were the most evil people who ever lived. It sounds to me like Russell is just engaging in name calling. The U.S. empire is indeed evil, but using the Nazis as some sort of yardstick of evil is intellectually lazy and even inaccurate. It would be more accurate to compare the U.S. to the Roman Empire, which was easily more evil than WWII Germany. – David Blomstrom Oct 6 '19 at 4:57
  • @David Blomstrom: You need to read the book to see how Russell has pulled the evidence together. If the USA had done what they did to, say Belgium, rather than Vietnam there is no doubt that in my mind that they would be called Nazis. That they are not is merely part of the double standards that racism so often involves us in. – Mozibur Ullah Oct 24 '19 at 23:01

So far as I can see, Russell does not identify the United States as ideologically Nazi in any substantive sense. He does not say or suggest, for instance, that the United States in its Constitution or in its military and political policies denies basic human moral equality.

Russell only suggests a parallelism in respect of certain policies and practices. If the US used lies and violence internally or abroad, if it is governed by an elite, if it has been racialist or imperialist, if it has played fast and loose with international law and order - examples inspired by the quotations above - I or anyone else could grant this and still deny that it proves or suggests anything specifically Nazi about the US.

All the evils just listed have been committed by any number of states and political units throughout modern history. If Russell's charges hold good, they apply equally to Tsarist and Stalinist Russia, to Imperial Japan, to China after 1949, and to a cluster of Latin American dictatorships - examples with all of which Russell would have been familiar.

I have no concern to defend or attack the United States. My point is only that, if what Russell says about the United States is true and on that ground the US was or is Nazi, then so were or are Tsarist and Stalinist Russia, Imperial Japan, China after 1949, and a cluster of Latin American dictatorships. If on a parallelism of evil, the US is or was Nazi, by parity of reasoning so was Tsarist Russia; but if we are to stretch 'Nazism' to include the Tsarist autocracy, we have stretched its meaning to a breaking point of vacuity. The term becomes as empty as the current use of 'fascist' to characterise political positions with which one disagrees - not a universal but an all to common feature of contemporary political discourse.

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  • But Germany was not ideologically Nazi either. There were plenty of people at the time who could not understand how a nation as civilised as Germany could fall prey to Nazism at the time. Russell accepts those charges - he mentions - and I've quoted above - that there have been any number of cruel imperial regimes in history but he marks out the USA in particular for what was being done in Vietnam - the eight million rounded up into concentration camps - as a continutation of Nazi policies by other means - and its vast military power. – Mozibur Ullah Oct 2 '19 at 18:48
  • Point taken, thanks, but I don't see how the US qualified as specially, specifically or uniquely 'Nazi' for what it did in Vietnam. If we shift from the ideological sense of 'Nazi' to the practical sense of invasion, mass cruelty and terror, in 1967 and then recent memory, other regimes were as bad as or worse than the US. Think of Mao's Cultural Revolution and of the Russian gulags of the 1950s. I prefer to describe regimes for their specific features rather than to slip them into catch-all pigeon-holes such as 'Nazi' or 'Fascist'. We should use political terms with strict historical nuance. – Geoffrey Thomas Oct 3 '19 at 11:57
  • But your question is intellectually stimulating. Maybe my answer is too history-oriented. I can only offer the answer that seems best to me. I look forward or to your next questions and answers. Best - GLT – Geoffrey Thomas Oct 3 '19 at 12:00
  • I think history is actually quite useful in thinking through this question - Russells point which is buttressed by Arendts analysis, is that Nazism, though particular to Germany, was out-growth of colonial practises. In Vietnam, the USA continued a policy begun by France. I think I had already made it plain in the question. Arendt also makes the point that the scholarly literature emphasises the crimes of Nazism and Fascism to the exclusion of other pathological regimes. Perhaps this is why Russell had no recourse to the term 'Nazi' to call the USA. – Mozibur Ullah Oct 25 '19 at 0:28
  • I was a historian before I became a philosopher and I tend to index terms to their context. A sort of historical conscience prevents me from applying the term 'Nazi' to the US regime; there at least as many differences as similarities. But I get it: you have explained plausibly why Russell may have found that the term, 'Nazi', fitted the American case. He was not doing history but writing (in a good sense) political polemics. An excellent response as always, and thank you: Geoffrey – Geoffrey Thomas Oct 25 '19 at 9:22

The word ‘Fascist’

The word fascism comes from the fascist party(s) of Italy. It was founded in 1915 and ruled Italy (under 3 names) from 1922–1945.

During this period it could be said to have some significant meaning starting from the literal to the more affinitive.

Thereafter it could only — if at all — have a symbolic metaphoric meaning.

Writing in 1944 George Orwell wrote: [emphasis added]

The word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

Even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it. By ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’.

That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.

The one line he has that could be taken to give the term some meaning

If ‘Fascist’ means ‘in sympathy with Hitler’, some of the accusations I have listed above are obviously very much more justified than others…

Obviously written a time Hitler was alive and active, this has a very different meaning it has from today 75 years after his death.

In the intervening years what has changed about the meaning of the word fascist?

As a starting point, its worth hearing Orwell in more detail

When we apply the term ‘Fascism’ to Germany or Japan or Mussolini's Italy, we know broadly what we mean. It is in internal politics that this word has lost the last vestige of meaning. For if you examine the press you will find that there is almost no set of people — certainly no political party or organized body of any kind — which has not been denounced as Fascist during the past ten years. Here I am not speaking of the verbal use of the term ‘Fascist’. I am speaking of what I have seen in print. I have seen the words ‘Fascist in sympathy’, or ‘of Fascist tendency’, or just plain ‘Fascist’, applied in all seriousness to the following bodies of people:

  • Conservatives: All Conservatives, appeasers or anti-appeasers, are held to be subjectively pro-Fascist. British rule in India and the Colonies is held to be indistinguishable from Nazism. Organizations of what one might call a patriotic and traditional type are labelled crypto-Fascist or ‘Fascist-minded’. Examples are the Boy Scouts, the Metropolitan Police, M.I.5, the British Legion. Key phrase: ‘The public schools are breeding-grounds of Fascism’.

  • Socialists: Defenders of old-style capitalism (example, Sir Ernest Benn) maintain that Socialism and Fascism are the same thing. Some Catholic journalists maintain that Socialists have been the principal collaborators in the Nazi-occupied countries. The same accusation is made from a different angle by the Communist party during its ultra-Left phases. In the period 1930-35 the Daily Worker habitually referred to the Labour Party as the Labour Fascists. This is echoed by other Left extremists such as Anarchists. Some Indian Nationalists consider the British trade unions to be Fascist organizations.

  • Communists: A considerable school of thought (examples, Rauschning, Peter Drucker, James Burnham, F. A. Voigt) refuses to recognize a difference between the Nazi and Soviet régimes, and holds that all Fascists and Communists are aiming at approximately the same thing and are even to some extent the same people. Leaders in The Times (pre-war) have referred to the U.S.S.R. as a ‘Fascist country’. Again from a different angle this is echoed by Anarchists and Trotskyists.

  • Trotskyists: Communists charge the Trotskyists proper, i.e. Trotsky's own organization, with being a crypto-Fascist organization in Nazi pay. This was widely believed on the Left during the Popular Front period. In their ultra-Right phases the Communists tend to apply the same accusation to all factions to the Left of themselves, e.g. Common Wealth or the I.L.P.

  • Catholics: Outside its own ranks, the Catholic Church is almost universally regarded as pro-Fascist, both objectively and subjectively;

  • War resisters: Pacifists and others who are anti-war are frequently accused not only of making things easier for the Axis, but of becoming tinged with pro-Fascist feeling.

  • Supporters of the war: War resisters usually base their case on the claim that British imperialism is worse than Nazism, and tend to apply the term ‘Fascist’ to anyone who wishes for a military victory. The supporters of the People's Convention came near to claiming that willingness to resist a Nazi invasion was a sign of Fascist sympathies. The Home Guard was denounced as a Fascist organization as soon as it appeared. In addition, the whole of the Left tends to equate militarism with Fascism. Politically conscious private soldiers nearly always refer to their officers as ‘Fascist-minded’ or ‘natural Fascists’. Battle-schools, spit and polish, saluting of officers are all considered conducive to Fascism. Before the war, joining the Territorials was regarded as a sign of Fascist tendencies. Conscription and a professional army are both denounced as Fascist phenomena.

  • Nationalists: Nationalism is universally regarded as inherently Fascist, but this is held only to apply to such national movements as the speaker happens to disapprove of. Arab nationalism, Polish nationalism, Finnish nationalism, the Indian Congress Party, the Muslim League, Zionism, and the I.R.A. are all described as Fascist but not by the same people.

The above is just the 1944 starting point. If anything in the intervening years the accusing parties have changed but the sense-less bedlam continues, eg anti-fa is anti-fascist and antifa is fascist... etc... endlessly. The ultimate internet limit as accurate as hilarious…

Godwin's law

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1

IOW if Orwell points out the de facto meaninglessness of 'Fascist' Godwin makes it de jure (for 'Nazi')

However if we can ignore the meaningless terms 'fascist/nazi' or 'hitler' used as a common noun …

Russell's sentiment not without widespread corroboration

  • Dinesh D'Souza shows the history viz. that not only the third reich and American Democratic Party were related, Hitler in fact took inspiration from the KKK, Jim Crow etc, all the Democratic party's babies
  • Chomsky draws parallel between America and not just the tired godwined fascist/nazi metaphor but to Genghis Khan

  • Johan Galtung founder of peace studies calls for sharply distinguishing America-the-empire and America-the-republic, the latter as glorious as the former is despicable

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