Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hitler vs. Stalin: Same Wolf, Different Sheep

Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin; these names are practically synonymous with evil. Most historians agree that both of these men carried out atrocities at the expense of their own people, but some historians argue that that is where their similarities end. The majority of historians believe that the regimes of Hitler and Stalin were essentially the same; the differences between the two were minor and inconsequential. One historian in particular, Richard Overy, believes that these similarities are superficial and that Hitler and Stalin were more different than alike. I beg to differ. Although Hitler and Stalin were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, no matter how far right or far left one’s ideology may be, it ends up in the same place.
Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin were not simply megalomaniacs. Both of these men thoroughly believed that they had a mandate from history. World War I and the resulting Treaty of Versailles devastated both Germany and Russia. This devastation angered and inspired both men to become leaders. After the war, both the German and Russian economies were in shambles. For the Russians, it was not just due to war, but also due to the Bolshevik Revolution, which forcibly removed Czar Nicholas I and his regime from power. The Bolsheviks had to start from scratch. Hitler, and the majority of Germans, felt that the Treaty of Versailles marginalized and emasculated Germany. Hitler believed that Germany had to rise up and reassert herself on the world stage. All of these events together created a need in the minds of Hitler and Stalin: the need to become the savior of their fallen nations.
Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin both believed that the cause (state) was supreme. For Hitler, the cause was National Socialism and the purification of the German “race.” For Stalin, the cause was the Bolshevik (Communist) Revolution of Vladimir Lenin. Both regimes demanded absolute loyalty to the state. Those who differed were deemed “dangerous” to the state and were either executed or imprisoned. One was either with the state or against the state. There was no middle ground.
For Hitler and Stalin, the ends justified the means. These men felt that because they had a mandate from history, it was their historical duty to fulfill that mandate by any means necessary. Their means included persecution, execution, and imprisonment. Hitler’s persecution was based not just on politics, but also on race and religion. Gypsies, Poles, and Jews were Hitler’s “favorite” scapegoats. Stalin, on the other hand, was more equal opportunity. He persecuted based almost solely on perceived loyalty to the Revolution. All groups were fair game, though some groups, particularly Ukrainians, seemed to be “preferred” targets.
In the end, Hitler and Stalin ended up justifiably vilified by historians. Despite a belief in a mandate by history, neither regime survived the death of its leader. Despite the survival of Bolshevism until the 1990s, Stalinism was officially denounced in 1956, by Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev. National Socialism, conversely, was pushed to the very fringes of society. These two regimes illustrate that extremism on either the left or the right is essentially the same thing.