Comparison of Nazism and Stalinism

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Hitler in 1938
Stalin in 1930

A number of authors have carried out comparisons of Nazism and Stalinism, in which they have considered the issues of whether the two ideologies were similar or different, how these conclusions affect understanding of 20th century history, what relationship existed between the two regimes, and why both of them came to prominence at the same time. The answers to all these questions are disputed.[1] During the 20th century, the comparison of Stalinism and Nazism was made on the topics of totalitarianism, ideology, and personality. Both regimes were seen in contrast to the liberal West, with an emphasis on the similarities between the two, while their differences from each other were minimized.[2] Hannah Arendt, Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski were prominent advocates of this "totalitarian" interpretation.[3]

The totalitarian model was challenged in the 1970s by political scientists who sought to understand the Soviet Union in terms of modernization,[4] and by the functionalist historians Martin Broszat and Hans Mommsen, who argued that the Nazi regime was far too disorganized to be considered totalitarian.[5][6] The comparison of Stalinism and Nazism, which was conducted on a theoretical basis by political scientists during the Cold War, is now approached on the basis of empirical research, since greater information is available. However it remains a neglected field of academic study.[7]


Leading social democrat Kurt Schumacher famously said that the communists were "red-painted Nazis"[8] and that the two movements enabled each other.

Though the Nazi Party was ideologically opposed to communism, Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders frequently expressed recognition that only in Soviet Russia were their revolutionary and ideological counterparts were to be found.[9] Hitler admired Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Stalinism, and on numerous occasions publicly praised Stalin for seeking to purify the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of Jewish influences, noting the purging of Jewish communists such as Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Karl Radek.[10] Joseph Stalin admired Adolf Hitler and praised Hitler for the 1934 purge, the Night of the Long Knives.[11]


Stalinism and Nazism mutually emphasized the importance of utopian biopolitics, especially in regards to reproduction.[12] This emphasis alone was not unique, as many other European states practiced eugenics at this time, and the Stalinist and Nazi ideals were vastly different.[12] The key similarity was the connection of reproduction policies with the ideological goals of the state.[13] There were nevertheless substantial differences between the two regimes' approaches. Stalin's Soviet Union never officially supported eugenics as the Nazis did—the Soviet government called eugenics a "fascist science"—although there were in fact Soviet eugenicists. Also the two regimes had different approaches to the relationship between family and paid labour—Nazism promoted the male single-breadwinner family while Stalinism promoted the dual-wage-earner household.[14]

Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Fascist Italy were all highly concerned over low fertility rates.[15] Reproductive policies in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were administered through their health care systems—both regimes saw health care as a key pillar to their designs to develop a new society.[16] While the Soviet Union had to design a public health care system from scratch, Nazi Germany built upon the pre-existing public health care system in Germany that had been developed since 1883 by Otto von Bismarck's legislation that had developed the world's first national public health care program.[16] The Nazis centralized the German health care system in order to enforce Nazi ideological components upon it, and replaced existing voluntary and government welfare agencies with new ones that were devoted to racial hygiene and other components of Nazi ideology.[17]

The Communist Party in the RSFSR embraced eugenics in 1920 with the founding of the Russian Eugenics Society, followed the next year with the founding of the Bureau of Eugenics in the Soviet Academy of Sciences.[18]

Political violence and violent societies

Both Stalinism and Nazism utilized mass violence.[19] Both the Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany utilized internment camps led by agents of the state – the NKVD in the Soviet Union and the SS in Nazi Germany.[19] Both regimes engaged in violence against minorities based on xenophobia – the xenophobic violence of the Nazis was outspoken but rationalized as being against "asocial" elements while the xenophobic violence of the Stalinists was disguised as being against "socially harmful" elements – that was a term that targeted diaspora nationalities.[20]

Both Stalin's Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were violent societies where mass violence was accepted by the state, such as in the Great Terror of 1937 to 1938 in the Soviet Union and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany and its occupied territories in World War II.[21] The Stalinist Soviet Union established "special settlements" where the "socially harmful" or "socially dangerous" who included ex-convicts, criminals, vagrants, the disenfranchized and "declassed elements" were expelled to.[22] The "special settlements" were largely in Siberia, the far north, the Urals, or other inhospitable territories.[23] In July 1933, the Soviet Union made a mass arrest of 5000 Romani people effectively on the basis of their ethnicity, who were deported that month to the "special settlements" in Western Siberia.[23] In 1935, the Soviet Union arrested 160,000 homeless people and juvenile delinquents and sent many of them to NKVD labour colonies where they did forced labour.[24]

Similar to Nazism, Stalinism in practice in the Soviet Union pursued ethnic deportations from the 1930s to the early 1950s, with a total of 3 million Soviet citizens being subjected to ethnic-based resettlement.[25] The first major ethnic deportation took place from December 1932 to January 1933 during which some 60,000 Kuban Cossacks were collectively criminally charged as a whole with association with resistance to socialism and affiliation with Ukrainian nationalism.[26] From 1935 to 1936, the Soviet Union deported Soviet citizens of Polish and German origins living in the western districts of Ukraine, and Soviet citizens of Finnish origins living on the Finland-Soviet Union border.[26] These deportations from 1935 to 1936 affected tens of thousands of families.[26] From September to October 1937, Soviet authorities deported the Korean minority from its Far Eastern region that bordered on Japanese-controlled Korea.[26] Soviet authorities claimed the territory was "rich soil for the Japanese to till" – implying the Soviet suspicion that the Koreans could potentially join forces with the Japanese forces to unite the land with Japanese-held Korea.[26] Over 170,000 Koreans were deported to remote parts of Soviet Central Asia from September to October 1937. These ethnically-based deportations reflected a new trend in Stalinist policy a "Soviet xenophobia" based on ideological grounds that suspected that these people were susceptible to foreign capitalist influence, and based on a resurgent Russian nationalism.[26]

After Nazi Germany declared war on the Soviet Union in 1941, the Soviet Union initiated another major round of ethnic deportations. The first group targeted were Soviet Germans, between September 1941 and February 1942, 900,000 people – over 70 percent of the entire Soviet German community – were deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia in mass operations.[27] A second wave of mass deportations took place between November 1943 and May 1944 in which Soviet authorities expelled six ethnic groups (the Balkars, Chechens, Crimean Tartars, Ingush, Karachai, and Kalmyks) that numbered 900,000.[28] There were also smaller-scale operations involving ethnic cleansing of diaspora minorities during and after World War II, in which tens of thousands of Crimean Bulgarians, Greeks, Iranians, Khemshils, Kurds, and Meskhetian Turks were deported from the Black Sea and Transcaucasian border regions.[28]

Two ethnic groups that were specifically targeted for persecution by Stalin's Soviet Union were the Chechens and the Ingush.[28] Unlike the other nationalities that could be suspected of connection to foreign states that had their nationality, the Chechens and the Ingush were completely indigenous people of the Soviet Union.[28] Instead, the Soviet Union claimed that these peoples' culture did not fit in with that of the Soviet Union as a whole – such as accusing Chechens of being associated with "banditism" - and claimed that the Soviet Union had to intervene in order to "remake" and "reform" their culture.[28] In practice this meant heavily armed punitive operations carried out against Chechen "bandits" that failed to achieve its forced assimilation, resulting in Soviet authorities in 1944 carrying out a massive ethnic cleansing operation that arrested and deported over 500,000 Chechens and Ingush from the Caucasus to Central Asia and Kahzakstan in order to "relieve" the Russian minorities (30 percent of the population) of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR.[29] The deportations of the Chechens and Ingush also involved the outright massacre of thousands of people, and severe conditions placed upon the deportees – they were put in unsealed train cars, with little to no food for a four-week journey during which many died from hunger and exhaustion.[30]

German and Soviet soldiers during the official transfer of Brest to Soviet control in front of a picture of Stalin in the aftermath of the invasion and partition of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939.

The main difference between Nazi and Stalinist deportations was in their purpose: while Nazi Germany sought ethnic cleansing to allow settlement by Germans into the cleansed territory, Stalin's Soviet Union pursued ethnic cleansing in order to remove minorities from strategically important areas.[31]

Concentration camps

Works by historians such as Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hillgruber and others in the 1980s compared the policies of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and drew a parallel between the concentration camp system in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.[32]

Margarete Buber-Neumann in her memoirs from both communist (1937–1940) and nazi (1940–1945) concentration camps found methods of both regimes to be very similar. After she was released from Ravensbrück concentration camp she summarized her observations as follows:[33]

Between the misdeeds of Hitler and those of Stalin, in my opinion, there exists only a quantitative difference. To be sure, Communism as an idea was originally positive, and National Socialism never was positive; it was, since its origin and from its beginning, criminal in its aims and its programme. I don't know if the Communist idea, if its theory, already contained a basic fault or if only the Soviet practice under Stalin betrayed the original idea and established in the Soviet Union a kind of Fascism.

— Under Two Dictators (page 300, location 6456, Kindle edition)

Creating the "New Man"

Both Stalinism and Nazism share an ideological vision of creating an ideal "new man", both identified the "bourgeois" world as the old world that was obsolete, and both involved a total rejection of liberalism as well as individual rights and freedoms, in which they sought to create a new, illiberal modern society.[34][35] This vision of the New Man differed between them, the Stalinists conceived of the New Man as necessarily involving the liberation of all of humanity - a global and non-ethnic goal, while the Nazis conceived of the New Man as a master race that would organize a new racial hierarchy in Europe.[34] Both systems made heavy use of propaganda, with Stalinism attempting to reshape the new "Soviet man".[36]


Both the Soviet Union under Stalin and Nazi Germany exhibited militarism.[37] Both placed a major emphasis on creating a "party-army" with the regular armed forces controlled by the party, in the case of the Soviet Union Political commissars, and the introduction of the equivalent "National Socialist Guidance Officers" in 1943.[9]


File:Bolschewismus ohne Maske2.jpg
A 1937 Nazi anti-Bolshevik propaganda poster. The translated caption: "Bolshevism without a mask – large anti-Bolshevik exhibition of the NSDAP Gauleitung Berlin from November 6, 1937 to December 19, 1937 in the Reichstag building".


Historian Conan Fischer argues that the Nazis were sincere in their use of the adjective socialist, which they saw as inseparable from the adjective national, and meant it as a socialism of the master race, rather than the socialism of the "underprivileged and oppressed seeking justice and equal rights."[38] However both ideologies espoused the "have-not, proletarian-nation" theory, Lenin adopting it only after it was introduced in Italy.[9]

Further, while Hitler for "tactical" reasons had rhetorically declared a 1920 party platform with socialist platitudes "unshakable," actually "many paragraphs of the party program were obviously merely a demagogic appeal to the mood of the lower classes at a time when they were in bad straits and were sympathetic to radical and even socialist slogans...Point 11, for example...Point 12...nationalization...Point 16...communalization.... put in at the insistence of Drexler and Feder, who apparently really believed in the 'socialism' of National Socialism."[39] In actual practice, such points were mere slogans, "most of them forgotten by the time the party came to power.... the Nazi leader himself was later to be embarrassed when reminded of some of them."[39] At the same time Stalin was consistent in his implementation of complete nationalization and communalization of the country.

Two-way comparisons

Some features of the two regimes are considered both as differences and as similarities of the two.


In The Black Book of Communism, communist studies scholar Stéphane Courtois argues that the Nazi regime adopted the system of repression from those of the Soviet Union, in particular from the Gulag system, and that repression during the Soviet era was similar to the policies of the Nazis. Courtois considers Communism and Nazism to be slightly different totalitarian systems. He claimed that "more recently, a single-minded focus on the Jewish genocide in an attempt to characterize the Holocaust as a unique atrocity has also prevented the assessment of other episodes of comparable magnitude in the Communist world." Courtois claimed that "the genocide of a "class" may well be tantamount to the genocide of a "race" and that the death of a child from famine in the USSR was "equal to" the death of Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto.[40]

Courtois' approach has been rejected by Annette Wievriorka, who claims that Courtois attempts to substitute the memory of Communism for the memory of Nazi crimes and displace accounts of Nazi atrocities.[41] Historian Amir Weiner objects to Courtois' arguments. He points out that the "The Third Reich's four-year extermination machine, stopped only by military defeat, still overshadows any other calamity, even when numbers of victims are the main concern", and that peasants in Russia "were not targeted in toto for extermination as were Jews and other racial-biological categories in the Nazi world." Weiner claims that the comparison of the Nazis with the Soviets is flawed, because "When Stalin's successors opened the gates of the Gulag, they allowed 3 million inmates to return home. When the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps, they found thousands of human skeletons barely alive awaiting what they knew to be inevitable execution."[42]

Economist and communist studies scholar Steven Rosefielde uses the term "Red Holocaust" as a term for repression during Communist-ruled states.[43][44]

History and scholarship of the comparisons

There is a long tradition of Fascism and Communism, or more specifically, Nazism and Stalinism, being compared to each other. In the 1920s, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), under the leadership of Chancellor Hermann Müller, adopted the view that "red equals brown," i.e. that the Communists and Nazis posed an equal danger to liberal democracy.[45] In 1930, Kurt Schumacher famously said the two movements enabled each other. He argued that the Communist Party of Germany, which was staunchly Stalinist, were "red-painted Nazis."[46] This comparison was mirrored by the social fascism theory advanced by the Soviet government and the Comintern (including the Communist Party of Germany), according to which, social democracy was one of many forms of fascism, along with nazism and other ideologies.[47]

The Origins of Totalitarianism

File:Hannah Arendt.jpg
Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt's seminal work, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), describes and analyzes the two major totalitarian movements of the twentieth century, Nazism and Communism. She concludes that both Nazism and Communism were totalitarian movements that sought to eliminate all restraints upon the power of the State.[48]

Research institutions

A number of research institutions are focusing on the analysis of Fascism/Nazism and Stalinism/Communism, and the comparative approach, including the Hannah Arendt Institute for the Research on Totalitarianism in Germany, the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in the Czech Republic and the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland.

In modern politics

The comparison of Nazism and Stalinism has long provoked political controversy,[49][50] and it led to the historians' dispute within Germany in the 1980s.[51] The debate has continued since the fall of the Soviet Union and the expansion of the European Union into former Soviet Union territory, resulting in pronouncements such as the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism and various related developments known as the Prague Process, supported mainly by the European Union members most affected by Stalinism.

After the revolutions of 1989, European bodies such as the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe are increasingly treating Nazism and Stalinism (or sometimes more broadly, fascism and communism) as two comparable forms of totalitarianism. Growing efforts have been made to link the two in museums, public monuments, and commemorative days and events.

The 2008 Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, initiated by the Czech government and signed by figures such as Václav Havel, called for "a common approach regarding crimes of totalitarian regimes, inter alia Communist regimes" and for "reaching an all-European understanding that both the Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes each to be judged by their own terrible merits to be destructive in their policies of systematically applying extreme forms of terror, suppressing all civic and human liberties, starting aggressive wars and, as an inseparable part of their ideologies, exterminating and deporting whole nations and groups of population; and that as such they should be considered to be the main disasters, which blighted the 20th century."[52]

The Communist Party of Greece opposes the Prague Declaration and has criticized "the new escalation of the anti-communist hysteria led by the EU council, the European Commission and the political staff of the bourgeois class in the European Parliament."[53] The Communist Party of Britain opined that the Prague Declaration "is a rehash of the persistent attempts by reactionary historians to equate Soviet Communism and Hitlerite Fascism, echoing the old slanders of British authors George Orwell and Robert Conquest."[54]

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) Vilnius Declaration, while "acknowledging the uniqueness of the Holocaust," stated that "in the twentieth century European countries experienced two major totalitarian regimes, Nazi and Stalinist, which brought about genocide, violations of human rights and freedoms, war crimes and crimes against humanity."[55] The Economist argued that "despite Russia's protests, Stalin was no less villainous than Hitler" but noted: "The debate will not change the world: the parliamentary assembly is just a talking shop on the sidelines of the 56-member OSCE. Its resolutions are not legally binding."[56]

Since 2009, the European Union has officially commemorated the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism,[57] proclaimed by the European Parliament in 2008[57] and endorsed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2009,[58] and officially known as the Black Ribbon Day in some countries (including Canada).[59]

The President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, argued that "both totalitarian systems (Stalinism and Nazism) are comparable and terrible."[60]

In some eastern European countries the denial of both fascist and communist crimes has been explicitly outlawed, and Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg has argued that "there is a fundamental concern here that totalitarian systems be measured by the same standard."[61] However, the European Commission rejected calls for similar EU-wide legislation, due to the lack of consensus among member states.[62]

The European Union has established the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, an educational project originally proposed by the Prague Declaration, to promote the equal evaluation of totalitarian crimes in Europe. Several EU member states have established government agencies and research institutes tasked with the evaluation of totalitarian crimes, which draw parallels between Nazism and Stalinism or between fascism and communism. These include the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, the Lithuanian International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, and the Hungarian House of Terror museum. An all-party group in the European Parliament, the Reconciliation of European Histories Group, has been formed to promote public awareness of the crimes of all the totalitarian regimes at the EU level.

A statement adopted by Russia's legislature said that comparisons of Nazism and Stalinism are "blasphemous towards all of the anti-fascist movement veterans, Holocaust victims, concentration camp prisoners and tens of millions of people ...who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the fight against the Nazis' anti-human racial theory."[63]

See also



  1. Geyer (2009). p. 18.
  2. Geyer (2009). p. 16.
  3. Geyer, p. 4-9
  4. Geyer (2009). p. 7.
  5. Geyer (2009). p. 5.
  6. Lorenz, Chris "Broszat, Martin" pages 143-144 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Volume 1, edited by Kelly Boyd, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999 page 143; Kerhsaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 pages 45-46; Menke, Martin "Mommsen, Hans" pages 826-827 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing edited by Kelly Boyd, Volume 2, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishing, 1999
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  13. Geyer (2009). p. 88.
  14. Geyer (2009). p. 90.
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  16. 16.0 16.1 Geyer (2009). p. 98.
  17. Geyer (2009). pp. 98-99.
  18. Geyer (2009). p. 102.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Geyer (2009). p. 133.
  20. Geyer (2009). p. 135.
  21. Geyer (2009). Pp. 135, 139-151.
  22. Geyer (2009). Pp. 139-140.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Geyer (2009). p. 140.
  24. Geyer (2009). p. 141.
  25. Geyer (2009). pp. 157-158.
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