Vladimir Tismaneanu, The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS 2012 (part)
THE ENIGMA OF TOTALITARIANISM
Herein lies the essence and mystery of the totalitarian experiences of the twentieth century: The complete rejection of all barriers and all restraints that politics, civilization, morality, religion, natural feelings of compassion, and universal ideas of fraternity have constructed in order to moderate, repress, or sublimate the human potential for individual and collective violence. The real similarities between the Communist and Fascist experiments (the crucial role of the party, the preeminence of ideology, the ubiquitous secret police, the fascination with technology, the frenzied cult of the New Man,the quasi-religious celebration of the charismatic leader) should not blur significant distinctions (one being the absence of Nazi show trials or intraparty permanent purges). Nevertheless, historian Eugen Weber judiciously remarked that the distinction between fascism and communism is relative rather than absolute, dynamic rather than fundamental. Under the circumstances, one cannot help but ask the same question as Weber. Isn't this fundamental similarity between totalitarian creeds and systems at least as important as their differences of view? This book engages in a dialogue with the most influential contributions to these morally and politically urgent questions. The twentieth century was plagued by agonizing ideological polarizations whose effects continue to haunt our times.
I agree with political scientist Pierre Hassner that despite the differences between Stalinism and Nazism, their fundamental and defining common characteristic was their genocidal frenzy. Or, to use Sheila Fitzpatrick and Michael Geyer's formulation, The phenomenon of the gulag as a manifestation of Soviet state violence and the Holocaust as the central site of Nazi terror conveys the unmistakable message that the two regimes were bent on genocide [my italics]. On the one hand, both Stalinism and Nazism looked for objective enemies and operated with notions of collective, even genetic guilt. Obviously, the Bolshevik vision stigmatized political sins, whereas the Nazi Weltanschauung reified biological distinctions. In his enormously significant toast of November 7, 1937, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Bolshevik coup, as recorded by the Comintern leader Georgi Dimitrov and in his diary, a speech meant to be known only by the top party and People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) elite, Stalin said,Whoever attempts to destroy the unity of the socialist state, whoever seeks the separation of any of its parts or nationalitiesthat man is an enemy, a sworn enemy of the peoples of the USSR. And we will destroy each and every such enemy, even if he was an old Bolshevik; we will destroy all his kin, his family. We will mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts,yes, his thoughtsthreatens the unity of the socialist state. To the complete destruction of all enemies, themselves and their kin! (Approving exclamations: To the great Stalin!)
At the same, the party apparatus never played as powerful a role in Nazi Germany as it did in Stalin's Russia. In fact, Hitler envied Stalin for having been able to place political officers as ideological watchdogs in the army. Historian Ian Kershaw stresses the fact that even when Martin Bormann took over the party leadership in May 1941, thus bringing the Nazi Party's interference and scope for intervention in shaping the direction of policy to a new plane, the internal contradictions and incoherencies of the National Socialist state remained. The Nazi Party (NSDAP) never enjoyed the same charismatic status that the Bolshevik vanguard had acquired. In Hitler's Germany, loyalty belonged to the FΓΌhrer as the embodiment of the pristine vΓΆlkisch community. In Stalin's Russia, the zealots allegiances went to the leader to the extent that they saw him as the incarnation of the party's wisdom.
When he maintained that the cadres decided everything, Stalin really meant it (with him being the ultimate arbiter of promotions and emotions): A great deal is said about great leaders. But a cause is never won unless the right conditions exist. And the main thing here is the middle cadres. They are the ones who choose the leader, explain our positions to the masses, and ensure the success of our cause. They don't try to climb above their station; you don't even notice them. Generals can do nothing without an officer corps.