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'\\ I t t t TegkEng PmEncs Nazasm and i :$talinism Commentators have been struck by similarity of the seemingly irreconcilable regimes of Nazi...

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TegkEng PmEncs

Nazasm and


:$talinism Commentators have been struck by

similarity of the seemingly irreconcilable regimes of Nazi


Germany and Stalinist Russia since the 1930s. Leon Trotsky, a f ierce opponent of both systems, argued that there was little to separate Stalin from Hitler lies and their preference



oppression as

the main

means to



IItt tlI

I lan Thatcher argues that surface between the regimes of " similarities Hitler and Stalin disquise deep-seated differences.

assert political control. This viewpoint was brilliantly and wittily expressed in a contemporary cartoon by David Low, whose political satires were published in the British newspaper The Evening

Standard. Low has Joseph Stalin sitting behind a desk in the Kremlin, clipping his moustache in the style of one Adolf Hitler, after having done a

Low's famous cartoon of


August 1936 was occasioned the recent execution of 16 Old Bolsheviks, on charges of conspiring to assassinate Stalin and replace him by Trotsky. At the end of the preceding June, Hitler had murdered his Nazi rivals in bY

'the Night of the Long Knives'.

I I t I I I


I I t t t I :



HistorvReview March 2003


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fliT.rftffih$ru;'"-'r:';:i ;.,in"";' lf one cannot imagine


fascism without Hitl€f, vve\"., politics, war and terror, economv. know that 1"*ilil ,,, :i'J':'5iJ',".l,"oiil retrospect - will more i; t-t^nl-tt,lf rrr. was rer IIrYrY rret far ao-munism show that the case for durable and was able tO j dissimilarity is convincins


t !,,-,a itself to rational goals


f.'. Germany J.{',x'iiru'#i;]**:1,'* ii r:I :::: not. .,, ollllrilu was ::'," ll"'-;,,,i ,"

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emphasise the

metamorphosis, is a large painting


[i.1ffi :mr''i'l'J"1:Ir


and Sta/in's Russia. The similarities do not end here. lf both systems were



price, for a trend of continuing radicalisation in conditions of administrative chaos was preparing Nazism's downfall. ln lan Kershaw's words, Hitler s leadership was utterly incomp,atible with a rational decisionmaking process, or with a coherent, unif ied administration and the attainment of limited goals ... its selfdestructive capacity unmistakable. its eventual demise certain'. Stalin s style of rule contrasts sharply with that of Hitler. First of all if Hitler

was Nazism, Stalrn was most certainly

not Soviet communism. lf

ultimate sign of similarity between

recognise as greater than himself. No one stood above Hrtler. Stalin worked within a system of rules govern;ng


however, immense differences in how

#rfHs;'ilfnl+-irfi';ilJ hn:r#:l#-,"1,,':::l: ?* Stalin

;j I ii*11$:'riir."ri;ri:1i#1 :::;similar ;l#ll:J: s without the Fuhrer, whose personality

Russia were basically

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'ffi 'f il:'il.']'

,iliJ.'",'|on:l out, for

example, that

Nazi and Stalin regimes as being flowed from Hrtler s siyle of leadership.

equallV 'totalitanan


lndeed, there


He was completely non-bureaucratic in

Stalin presided over regimes that were When asked how a party member anti-democratic, violent, one-party should progress up the ladder to systems employing a mixture of terror become, say, a regional chief, Hitler and propaganda to maintain answered that the individual should

to the above ii:-# :::"?X";31;'ilflL::lil: t'Tff'J:?',f".i1i,,,, tf that the 'similarity' action. ln this wiy Hitler expected


its leading student, 'systemless'. The regime itself was to pay the ultimate


Stalin, party in one. the Communist party of the oile of execution orders the Soviet Union in the other. Both waiting to be signed and the map of a were also driven by an ideology, large and m'enacing USSR. The fascism or communism. There were,

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rational order; it was, in the words of

regimes neJOei by Hitler and

T:" fi:;

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life. The Hitler regime therefore lacked


lilfli?i:I lffi ::#,::,:J ii'"TJ';.1?;'

'totalitarian school', whose key pointed


bureaucratic practices, preferring to avoid the minutiae of daily political

anyone created Soviet communism was Lenin. Stalin came to power paying





simirar makeover on his hair

of loyalty to the hated the detail of Fuhrer. He

those most worthy




an wisdom, *1it urgr. arqument is misconceived. There were amorphous Nazi movement to throw m6re dissimilarities than similarities: up by a process of natural selection


to Lenin, a man he had to

state and party life that pre-dated his accession to power. lf Hitler could ignore cabinet government, consulting with individuals as he saw f it, Stalin had to operate within a party and a system of Soviet government that had certain regulations. lt is not

by accident that Stalin followed a highly bureaucratic and interventionist

pattern of work, for this followed from the nature of the system itself. This system of rule constrained Stalin to speak in a particular way, justifying his actions with reference to MarxismLeninism. lt was not always certain that Stalin would get his way and his

will was often

thwarted during important policy decisions. Soviet communism was thus able to outlive its leader of the late 1920s to

the early '1950s precisely because its stability did not depend upon the powers of one man. Sia - s successors could even clair :'a: 'e made many mistakes as 3e^e'ai

EH*t *nFy lar*s 5€*EEn's



examine these materials to get a much

R*ssi* v*ny dg$€*r*n€

G*rr'-**:y. it


better idea of the purges' intentions and scope. Of course these materials

*3** pr*€*r*bl*.

have not eliminated historical debate

and dispute Disagreements continue Secretary, particularly, as Khrushchev argued at the 2Oth Party Congress of 1956, when he acted illegally, outside the normal Leninist rules of party life. lf one cannot imagine fascism without

Hitler, we know that


communism was far more durable and was able to limit itself to rational goals in a way that Nazi Germany was not.

The ultimate difference between the political systems of German fascism

and Soviet communism can be expressed in the fact that the thousand-year Reich lasted all of 12 years, while the first workers' state

survived to celebrate its



War and Terror The experience of war and terror should be central to any analysis of Nazism and Stalinism. The type of economy prioritised by both regimes rn the '1930s, for example, was the war economy. Both regimes killed millions of their own citizens and had state organs whose task it was to spy on the population and take preventive measures against so-called enemies of the state. The repressive structures,

the Gestapo in Germany and the NKVD in Russia, were brutal and participated in state-sPonsored violence. Both Germany and Russia had prison camps. The sanctity of human life as an abstract principle meant little for either dictatorshrp. Recently it has been calculated that communism killed more people than fascism: the former was responsible

for around 100

murdered in

1917-91, Ihe million 25 million for some latter accounting victims between 1933 and 1945. Even

if these figures are disputed, the key point is that terror lay at the centre of both German fascist and Sovtet communist rule.

There were, though,


dissimilarities in the approach to war and terror in the Hitlerite and Stalinist contexts. ln Nazi Germany war was glorified in and of itself . lt was seen as

tl-e ultimate test for man rn for

Darwinian struggle domination. Moreover,


survival and

the type of


that there are important quantitative and qualitative differences in the way

the fascist and communist


murdered. Hitler was responsible for 5-6 million purposive deaths; Stalin for around '1 million. Hitler sought to eliminate a whole race. Stalin did not. However terrible the Gulag sYstem was, some .inmates were released by the communist authorities. Memoirs




e in the Gulag were

produced and even publrshed in the

USSR. including


Solzhenitsyn's famous novella One Day in the Life of lvan Denisovich in the leading literary journal The New

complete liberation of all people. This class war was not to be a constant

Auschwitz would emerge alive. Hitler was careful not to sign death orders, insisting on no documentation. Some historians have even earned the reputation of Holocaust-deniers, at



human history.

When violence communism was achieved, between people would stop, and man

would be free to express his true, loving and communal essence.

The divergent Nazr and


approaches to war were also ref lected in two very different types of foreign

policy. In

the 1930s Hitler's regime

sought war. lt was constantly revising Versailles and causing international tensions. lt is to Britain's shame that it allowed Germany to swallow Austria and Czechoslovakia before coming to terms with Hitler s true intentions. ln

this period the USSR attempted to contain Hitler through collective security, but was ignored by a problematic issue of terror. The following argument should not be taken as a iustification for the destructive actions of Stalin s government, evident f rom the

1920s onwards. for examPle during collectivisation and the

Great Terror. There are, however, notable differences in how and whY terror was pursued in Germany and Ru ss ia.

ln the USSR documentary records of the purqes were made. Historians can HistoryReview Mcrch 2003

by Stephen Wheatcroft has

war glorif ied by the Nazis was a war of race against race. The main enemies were the inferior races, be they Jew or Slav. ln the Soviet Union there was no such glorification of war. War was presented in class terms, an inevitable if reqrettable stage on the path to the

suspicious international community. This brings us to the slightly more


about the numbers of victims. Within these debates, however, recent work

World. There was no intention that anY of

the 'inferior types sent to concentration camPs such as




involvement" ln contrast, no one could denY Stalin s role in the Great Terror. He signed death warrants because he thought people guilty of a crime. ln exile Trotsky was able to organise a counter Hitler

show trial, held in Mexico but presided

over by the leading American liberal philosopher John Dewy. This refuted

all of

Trotsky's supPosed crimes.

Hitler s victims had no such chance

because no legal case, however fabricated, was ever made against them. The key drfference in their respective

approaches to war and terror, however, must be that Nazism promised no end to violence, whereas Soviet communism did.


ln the

economic f ield there are important similaritres. There was strong government intervention in both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, with state economic Plans; both suffered frcm a shortage of skilled Iabour; both tried to protect the domestic economy from the world

I t I t t t t I

I I I t




t J t t t t J t t J tt

market; there was a decline of farming in both; and both were in debt.

Yet once again the contrasts

in outlook. Their ideal was the prerndustrial Volk, Ihe pure race that


sprang from the land. Of course the

greater than the similarities. The USSR looked beyond capitalism to a postcapitalist world. lt sought to abolish

modern German to build up the armed forces led actual Nazi

the free market and replace it with

economic policy away from this rural ideal. For the most part. in contrast to Soviet communism, the Nazi regime

centralised state planning. The



of the

economy and the desire

of a society in complete submission to and in total fear of the state and its leader. The notion that there was no hiding place from the political ears of the state was epitomised in the Soviet Union by the child Pavlik Morozov lauded by the regime for denouncing his father for 'falling under the


influence of kulaks' (rich peasants). Some historians write of the mid'1930s USSR as though it were caught up in a 'denunciation frenzy'. Martin McCauley, for example, claims that denunciations 'flowed into the NKVD in torrents', while Robert Conquest notes of Soviet 'denunciations': 'There was no sign of opposition or even neutrality; enthusiasm was the only


party s more left-wing elements once in power. There was no upheaval of

visible phenomenon. Even the children and relatives of the arrested got up to

fundamentaI social change. There was a mass movement of people across the USSR. The mushroom growth of the urban environment placed great strain on the country's infrastructure. Housing, sanitation and shopping all struggled to keep up with the pace of

the German economic and structure comparable to

change. There was

could say that he was the

Evening News points a similar moral

that he was the society ('La Soctete,

noted, 'lt is fatal for the caricaturist to see too much'.)

was to be a self-sufficient industrial giant, from which stock markets and private banks would be absent. To this

end, Stalin ordered a


transformation of the Soviet economic





industrialisation and collectivrsation all but elimrnated private enterprise. The attack on the traditional commune as the heart of peasant life and the

of some industrial centres from scratch entailed

to be no similar leap into

modernity for Hitler s Germany. The Nazis were, if anything, pre-capitalist

accepted private enterprise and the economic institutions of capitalism.

Although state regulation



economy did increase, to a large extent the Nazis left the private market untouched. Firms worked for prof its, not for the state. Despite being called National Socialrsfs, Hitler

ditched his commitments




experienced in Stalin's Russia.

State and Society: Popular Opinion and Participation Trotsky once noted that if Louis XIV state ('L'Etat, c'est moi'), Stalin could claim

c'est moi '). This conjures up an image

denounce their parents ... Just as Nazism provided an rnstitutionalised

outlet for the sadist, so Stalinist totalrtarianism on the whole automatically encouraged the mean

Bert Thomas's cartoon in the to Low's. (As George Orwell

/ -J-\1 n),1

*---#-- L"#pr$rsn*:-

@ Hisrory





and the malicious'.

Recent research, however, has illustrated how Soviet and German citizens differed in their reaction to government policy and the activities of

the secret police. Using


inaccessible NKVD reports


of the



Soviet people. for

example, Sarah Davies has shown how Soviet citizens were highly critical of the communist government, especially for not living up to its promises of a better life for all. ln contrast to the earlier

scholarship mentioned above, new studies of public denunciations show that only rarely would family members inform on each other. lf anything family ties were strengthened during the Terror. And outside the family, only




Soviet citizens wrote

denunciations practice was,


to the regime. The in any case, a risky

far greater frequency than their Soviet


letters daily. Citizens' letters were also sent to other leaders, as well as to national and local newspapers. Although there

Only one in


was successful, and

one could be imprisoned for making a wrongful denuncration. Furthermore, not all denunciations were for reasons favoured by the regime. but for personal gain. Stalin's Russia was unsuccessful in its attempt to control its citizens. This is why it was an overpoliced society, with one NKVD official

for every 500 citizens, a sharp contrast to the under-policed society of Tsarist Russia.

Nazi Germany, on the other hand, was to a large extent self-policing, wrth one Gestapo official for every 10,000 Germans. Ordinary Germans wrote letters to the authoritres with

counterparts. Hitler's office received

from one to two thousand

was undoubtedly a large element of self-interest in this system. coveting neighbours' property and so on, the fact is that half of Gestapo cases against Jews began with denunciations from below. The figure for non-racial crimes is even greater: a full 73 per cent beginning with a denunciation from below. lf German historians have written books on the


subject of


Executioners. in which it is argued that Nazi revolution was largely 'consensual', the latest worKby Soviet historians emphasises the amount of opposition, or at least indifference,


the Stalin regime encountered from domestic opinion.

Art and Culture Both regimes sought to use art and culture to win the population over to their respectrve goals. Art and culture should glorify the regime, act as a symbol of power, a forum for public theatre, and be a way of inculcating regime values. Both Hitler's Germany and Stalin s Russia sought, for example, to construct buildings on a monumental scale. Citizens should be dwarfed by the power and sheer scale of these embodiments of the regime

in stone. Art

historians haVe also

argued that Stalinist art of the 1930s is less inventive and interesting than that

of the 1920s, and similarly that


art was less inventive and interesting than Wermar art.

These similarities notwithstanding, ideological differences between the regimes meant that art conveyed very

different messages. This is true in representations of the leadership as well as of ordinary people. Paintings of

Hitler, for example, set the Fuhrer alone against a background of the pure German countryside. ln Nazi propaganda movies no actor was

This portrait of Hitler projected an

image of dependable social conservatism. Hitler's Person dominated Nazi propaganda far more than Stalin's did Soviet propaganda.



History Review Mcrch 2003

t I I I I I I I

t t t I t t I I

t t

I r I

Fascism and comrnunisnr rryere *ppcsite extnennes, not joint cff-spr!ng of a single totalEtarlan fantily. allowed to play the role of the Fuhrer. There was no such elevation of Stalin in Soviet propaganda. ln poster art, for

example, Stalin

integral part

is presented as

of a


broader Soviet

system. lt was only after the victory in the Great Patriotic War that he was allowed emerge from Lenin's shadow in the movie The Fall of Berlin (1949-50). Stalin was also pictured


against peoples representing the multi-racial reality of the USSR. ln Nazi Germany men and women had to be

racially pure. and quite perfect

in in

form. Women were portrayed passive roles, men as active and masculine. There are much more class-

based and varied representations of

the Soviet people in propaganda,


with man and woman

working in harmony in the common task of building communism and a better future for all.

Nazism and Stalinism in Retrospect






Stalinism were

the same, one


recognise the attempt

to liberate and

improve humanity's lot, even

if it

went quite wrong. Moreover,


communism revealed a potential to liberalise itself in the post-Stalin years.

Khrushchev and Gorbachev in particular tried to overcome the brutality of the Stalinist system. There

was an attempt at reconciliation, a coming to terms with the crimes of the past. As mentioned above, people like Solzhenitsyn were liberated from the camps by the system itself, and he was even able to publish a harrowing

portrayal of daily camp life in an official journal of the 1960s. One cannot imagine Hitler's regime ever being so lenient or trying to admit that it was wrong to incarcerate and kill. ln this sense it was moral that Britain and America eventually became Soviet Russia's allies to defeat Hitler. lt was important that Hitler be overthrown. Betters that Stalin rather than Hitler should have control over nuclear weapons. Such a viewpoint was also held at the

historians would

time. When America was still neutral in the war, for example, a poll of June 1941 conducted in America revealed

and Soviet experiences, there are clear differences in how they are evaluated in retrospect.

It is Very hard to

have anything

positive to say about Hitler s Germany. lndeed, in some parts of the world this is actually banned rn law. ln contrast, some historians have positive points to

make about the Stalin years. They

that over 70 per cent of respondents favoured a Russian victory over Germany, with only 4 per cent supporting Germany over Russia. Today there is no good reason for rejecting this view. Not only was Stalin's Russia very different from


Hitler Germany, preferable.

it was

Further Reading



condemn them in equal measure. Yet when we come to consider the Nazi



Edward Acton, Nazism and Stalrnbm (The Historical Association,'l 998)

Dawn Ades et. al. (eds), Art and Power: Europe under the dictators 1930-45 (The Hayward Gallery, 1996) David Wedgwood Benn, 'Nazism and

Stalinism: Problems



Europe-Asia Studies, 51 (1), 1 999, pp.


Robert Conquest, The Great Terror (Macmillan, 1968) Stephane Courtois et. al. (eds), Ihe Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Harvard University Press,



Sarah Davies, Popular Opinion in Stalin's Russia (Cambridge University Press,



Paul Dukes and John



'Towards an Historical Comparison of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in the 1930s , New Zealand Slavonic Journal, 1, 1979, pp.45-77 . Sheila Fitzpatrick and Robert Gellately

(eds), Accusatory



Modern European History, 1789-1989 (University of Denunciation

Chicago Press, 1997)

Daniel. J. Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners (Abacus, 1 997) lan Kershaw and Moshe Lewin (eds), Stalinism and Nazism (Cambridge University Press,'1 997)

David Low, Europe Since Versailles (Penguin, 1940) Martin McCauley, Stalin and Stalinism

(Longman, 1995)

Milne. The battle for history', Guardian,'1 2 September 2002, p. 19. Richard Taylor, Film Propaganda: Seumas


Elizabeth Wiskemann called


famous textbook of European history 1919-1945, Europe of the Dictators. There were indeed many parallels to

be drawn between unsavoury regimes.


It would be

wrong to assume, however, that common characteristics rendered seemingly hostile regimes basically

alike. As this essay has shown,


comparison of Nazism and Stalinism

reveals more dissimilarities




and Nazi Germany


Tauris, 1998)

Stephen Wheatcroft. 'The Scale and






Repression and Mass Killings, '193045', Europe-Asia Studies, 48(8), 1996, pp. 1 31 9-53.

Dr lan D. Thatcher is Senior Lecturer in Modern Russian History at the University of

similarities. Fascism and communism were opposite extremes, not the joint off-spring of a single totalitarian

Leicester. His most recent book



Trotsky, published in


the Routledge Historical Biographies

Histo4 Rn'iru I