How did Hitler and Stalin differ?

Dictatorships in Comparison

Richard Overy draws a comparative balance sheet of National Socialism and Communism

Presented by Ulrike Ackermann

Josef Stalin (AP)

In Germany it was frowned upon for a long time to compare the National Socialist and Stalinist dictatorships. Even in the 1990s, the French historian Francois Furet encountered fierce resistance from his German colleagues when he interpreted National Socialism and Communism as two hostile-related offshoots of World War I and bourgeois self-hatred.

The renowned British contemporary historian Richard Overy dares to venture out with his recently published opulent work The dictators. Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia again on this controversial field to this day. In his analysis of the two dictatorships, he compares and contrasts the main features of the regimes in a systematic manner. Overy embeds the biographies of the leaders, their path to power and their consolidation in the context of contemporary history.

"The historian's job is not to prove which of the two men was the bigger villain or psychopath, but rather to try to understand the different historical processes and mindsets that led these two dictatorships to commit murders on such a prodigious scale Both showed obvious similarities in their practical approach: in building the state security apparatus, building large-scale concentration camps, having complete control over cultural production, and building a social utopia on a mountain of corpses. "

Although the regimes differ in many ways, their similarities outweigh the overall picture. Both emerged from the chaos of World War I, the failure of liberalism and parliamentary democracy. They were the fruit of a unique historical constellation of political crisis, social upheaval and revolutionary situation.

At the end of the 1920s, with the collectivization of agriculture and the intensified ideological struggle against the bourgeoisie, the so-called second revolution began in the Soviet Union in order to accelerate the construction of socialism. She returned to the radical path of the early post-revolutionary years of the Civil War.

Richard Overy: Die Dictators (DVA) After the stock market crash in 1929, the extraordinary social and political crisis in Germany triggered a nationalist revolution that vehemently rejected the political system, culture and values ​​of the republic. Hitler and Stalin emerged from the internal political struggles of the 1920s as the highest representatives of these two revolutions and of those circles in both populations who supported and participated in these revolutions.

"The two dictatorships embodied the epitome of a radical rejection of the western-liberal idea of ​​progress in its humanistic form, with its particular emphasis on the sovereignty of the individual, the advantages of civil society and the admission of diversity. War and revolution were the midwives of this anti-bourgeoisie Worldviews. "

... writes the British historian. Both regimes had a utopian vision. In Germany, Hitler promised that in the purebred national community the German people would be freed from the humiliation of the defeat in World War I and the assumed exploitation by international Jewry. And Stalin wanted to create the kingdom of heaven on earth in victorious Soviet communism for the working class by exterminating the so-called class enemies.

For both dictators, terror and violence were means of redemption in their politics of total restructuring of society. In the bitter struggle and the eliminatory practice against the supposed enemies of society, they projected their own destructive, anti-humanist mentality onto their victims.

"The European crisis that gave rise to both of them, and the intellectual and cultural legacy to which each of the two dictatorships invoked, gave birth to two systems that are distinguished by remarkably similar political and social strategies and similar patterns of rule and participation and maintained feedback with the population. "

In Germany and the Soviet Union, the rulers and the ruled came together to build a new society that saw itself as a collective that wanted to join forces to fight for the path to the golden future. It was a mutual relationship in which Hitler and Stalin presented themselves as the incarnation of historical forces and as administrators of the social dreams of their subjects - and were accepted as such by a large part of the population.

Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin represent the darkest chapters of the 20th century. But they were not incomprehensible demons, but part of the political and social history in which Overy places them.

Richard Overy: The dictators
Hitler's Germany - Stalin's Russia
Translated from the English by Udo Rennert and Karl Heinz Silber
Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Munich 2005