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Nazism subscribed to theories of racial hierarchy and social Darwinism. Germanic peoples (called the Nordic race) were depicted as true "Aryans", and the "master race". Opposed to both capitalism and Marxism, it aimed to overcome social divisions, with all parts of a homogeneous society seeking national unity, and what it viewed as historically German territory as well as additional lands for expansion.

The term "National Socialism" arose out of attempts to create a nationalist redefinition of "socialism", as an alternative to both internationalist Marxist socialism and free market capitalism. This required a Volksgemeinschaft or "people's community" of all Germans. It rejected the Marxist concept of class struggle, opposed ideas of equality and international solidarity, and sought to defend private property.

The Nazi Party was founded as the pan-German nationalist and antisemitic German Workers' Party on 5 January 1919. By the early 1920s, Adolf Hitler assumed control of the organisation, renamed the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei; NSDAP) to broaden its appeal. The National Socialist Program, adopted in 1920, called for a united Greater Germany that would deny citizenship toJews or those of Jewish descent, while also supporting land reform and the nationalisation of some industries. In Mein Kampf, written in 1924, Hitler outlined his antisemitism and anti-communism at the heart of his political philosophy, as well as his disdain for parliamentary democracy and his belief in Germany’s right to territorial expansion.

In 1933, with the support of more conservative elites, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and the Nazis gradually established a one-party state, under which Jews, political opponents and other "undesirables" elements were marginalised, with several millions eventually imprisoned and killed. Hitler purged the party’s more socially and economically radical factions in the mid-1934 Night of the Long Knives and, after the death of President Hindenburg, political power was concentrated in his hands, as Führer or "leader".

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