Speak Out! Agains the new right

The Nazi Connection

Gloria Steinem, Cofounder and editor of Ms. Magazine


Cofounder and editor of Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinem’s views on “The Nazi Connection” are based on her research on international feminism done at the Woodrow Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution.

This article is abridged from Speak Out Against the New Right edited by Herbert F. Vetter (Boston: Beacon Press, 1982)

If Hitler Were Alive, Whose Side Would He Be On?

Six million . . . is the number generally assigned not only to Jews who died under Hitler but to babies who have died under the Supreme Court.

—Patrick Riley National Catholic Register, May 13, 1979

[At the National Right-to-Life Convention] Professor William C. Brennan . . . said [the company] which manufactures devices and medicines used in abortion [is] in the same position as I. G. Farben, the German firm that made chemicals used in the mass execution of Jews.

The Catholic News, July 5, 1979

If you haven't been at an antiabortion rally lately, or stumbled on the right-wing effort on behalf of the 1980 Republican Platform and its support for a Constitutional ban against abortion, then the quotes you've just read may seem bizarre and exceptional.

Certainly, the groups that use these and other inflammatory arguments don't trust the major media. (The same Professor Brennan quoted above, for instance, went on to compare the American press with that in Nazi Germany, and to condemn it for "concealing the facts.") That's why they have created their own media world of right-wing newsletters, pamphlets, and books distributed through churches and local organizations, or through computerized mailing lists for which they claim 10 million names, plus television shows that reach into 14 million homes weekly.

But feminists who have been working on the issues of reproductive freedom especially—and those few reporters who cover the ultraright wing—have been sending back warnings of this increasingly vicious campaign ever since the 1973 Supreme Court decisions on abortion. By 1974, for instance, Marion K. Sanders, distinguished reporter for Harper's magazine, reported that "the analogy with Hitler's extermination program . . . has proved potent propaganda. The implication is that legal abortion is only a first step toward compulsory abortion for 'undesirables,' raising the specter of genocide for black people."

"True idealism," as Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, "is nothing but the subordination of the interests and life of the individual to the community. . . . The sacrifice of personal existence is necessary to secure the preservation of the species."

Does this begin to sound familiar? It should—because the second flaw in the fervent condemnations of pro-choice advocates as Nazis is that Hitler himself, and the Nazi doctrine he created, were unequivocally opposed to any individual right to abortion. In fact, Hitler's National Socialist Movement preached against and punished contraception, homosexuality, women whose main purpose was not motherhood, men who did not prove their manhood by fathering many children—and anything else that failed to serve the need of preserving and expanding the German state.

A return to a strong family life, women's primary identity as mothers, tax penalties for remaining single, loans for young married couples and subsidies for childbearing, prohibition of prostitution and homosexuality, contraception, and abortion: all these were issues that the Roman Catholic Church, the Catholic Center Party, and the Nazi Party could agree on. And once Hitler came to power, popularly elected in part by the patriarchal backlash against feminist successes, he delivered on his promise to restore male supremacy.

In 1933, feminists were removed from teaching and other public posts by the same law that removed "non-Aryans" from such jobs. All women were banned from the Reichstag, from judgeships, and from other decision-making posts.

Under Hitler, choosing abortion became sabotage; a crime punishable by hard labor for the woman and a possible death penalty for the abortionist.

• "If the man's world is said to be the State . . . her world is her husband, her family, her children and her home . . . Every child that a woman brings into the world is a battle, a battle waged for the existence of her people.... It is not true ... that respect depends on the overlapping of the spheres of activity of the sexes; this respect demands that neither sex should try to do that which belongs to the sphere of the other."—Hitler's speech to the National Socialist Women's Organization, September, 1934.

• "A Child's Declaration of Rights," published by Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, includes the right: "To be taught from textbooks that honor the traditional family as a basic unit of society, women's role as wife and mother, and man's role as provider and protector . . ."

• "No funds [will be] authorized . . . under federal law [for] purchase or preparation of any educational materials or studies relating to the preparation of educational materials, if such materials would tend to denigrate, diminish, or deny the role differences between the sexes . . ." —The Family Protection Act, an omnibus federal bill introduced in 1979 by Senator Paul Laxalt (R.-Nev.), which would also deny federally funded legal services for abortion rights, school desegregation, gay rights, and so on.

Feminists seem to be the only group fighting for human rights for everyone, from the bottom up. Antifeminist forces may see this more clearly than our liberal allies do.

Meanwhile, our supposed supporters often remain unwilling or unable to take the "profamily" or "emotional" issues of the ultraright wing seriously. Some even pave the way for further authoritarianism by agreeing with the right wing on women in the family. Having accepted this basic inequity, and the violence that is required to perpetuate it, they are then surprised when the need for superiority grows into dominance toward more groups, a militaristic foreign policy, or some other area that they consider worthy enough, and dangerous enough to them personally, to oppose.

It all sounds a little too familiar. But at least we now know that feminism has a history—and that it is the keystone of any organic or lasting democracy.

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