Staunton, April 20 – The coincidence of the birthdays of the two founders of the archetypical totalitarian regimes of the 20th century – Germany’s Adolph Hitler on April 20 and Russia’s Vladimir Lenin two days later – is an appropriate occasion for thinking about how their systems were similar and different, Leonid Gozman says.
“For all the differences between Nazism and communism,” the Russian opposition politician says, “their incarnation was based on a single premise: the need to manage the individual for his own good and to impose on people of very strict ideas about their own identity and the rights connected with it” (snob.ru/entry/175786).
Nazism was judged at Nuremburg, Guzman says; but judgment about communism has not yet occurred in an equally definitive way. Instead, and for Russia in particular, “the question of the similarity (coincidence) of the two ideologies is not an idle one.” It is about how Russians assess themselves.
“Were we a criminal country under the power of criminals or something else which went along a road not yet marked out, committing particular mistakes and allowing certain ‘excesses’?”
Between communists and Nazis, of course, there are “obvious differences in their basic principles, Guzman says. Nazism was criminal from the outset because of its ideas about racial supremacy. “The ideas of the communists in this sense were not criminal;” and at least in principle might be applied in ways consistent with generally accepted moral norms.
“But from the very first steps of the practical application of Nazi and communist ideas, these distinctions disappeared: the leaders began to take nearly identical steps.” The Nazis began, slowly at first, to kill those they wanted to exterminate. The Leninists began to kill them immediately on taking power and continued to do so until 1953.
None of those exterminated remains around to answer the question as to whether it was “important” to them whether they were “killed under the black swastika or the red star,” the Russian politician says.
The two systems ran their economies differently but they resembled one another in the political structures they put in place. They also shared a common distain for the individual and his rights and a distrust of his judgment, convinced in both cases that they and not those being ruled knew how best those under their control should live.
“The military fraternity of the USSR and Germany on the eve and during first period of World War II as based not only on pragmatism but also on this closeness which was sensed by both sides,” Gozman says.
Moreover, he continues, “they longer they existed, the more alike they became and the further removed from one another were their initial differences.” As a result former communists in the former GDR vote for extreme right parties, and “our palace political analysts [Andranik Migranyan in particular] declare that up until a certain time, Hitler was not all that bad.”
But one similarity between the two, increasingly important for the present and the future is that “both systems denied individuality consider an individual a direct function of his group membership, Ethnic as in the idiotic racial theories of the Nazis or class as with the communists.”
Both regimes, Gozman points out, “suppressed not simply external freedom … but also hated internal freedom and its chief aspect – the freedom of choice and the freedom to decide who you are and, having decided that, to decide what this means.” The Nazis defined this racially; the communists in terms of class. But both insisted that the state did the deciding.
This matters not only historically but now and in the future, he says. “Nations, classes and typically confessions do not have clearly expressed status as subjects. This distinguishes them from individual people, the subjectness of which is precisely in themselves and from states in the name of which speak their legitimate leaders.”
“The spread of such tight definitions about who is a real American, Pole, Christian, Jew and so on down the list is the basis of anew Nazism or communism which is being reborn today in various countries” to the detriment of individual rights and freedoms. Some of this, he says, is by evil design; but much of it, as in the past, is the result of ignorance.
Both things need to be fought.