Friday, January 15, 2010

(National) Socialism

Hitler Stalin Pact

The history of Communism in the Twentieth Century doesn’t make sense without reference to National Socialism. And although I’m not prepared to write extensively about the German or Italian fascist movements, I do want to say something brief about the relationship between National Socialism and Bolshevism.

Moscow Meeting

On the simplest level, the two forms of government have a lot in common. As many have argued before me, whatever the source of their ideological inspiration the deep structure of all totalitarian regimes is necessarily similar. Saddam Hussein may have subscribed to a Baath Party ideology of secularism, modernization, and pan-Arabism, but if Baath ideology didn’t exist, a man like Hussein would have found something else to espouse. For most dictatorships, power rather than ideology counts most. For this reason, Hussein made war, alternately, with Shiite, Sunni, Kurd, and Western regimes, and Adolph Hitler initiated and signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact when it suited his foreign policy objectives.

The structures of totalitarian regimes bear at least some superficial resemblance too, insofar as each regime relies on omnipotent internal security organs, powerful propaganda departments, and oversized military establishments to maintain control over citizens. But in the case of National Socialism and Communism, there are other similarities. Fascism was an attempt to refuse socialist ideological premises, but it was also an attempt to co-opt them. The very term, “socialist,” was incorporated into the German fascist party name, although the fascists rejected basic Communist assumptions regarding internationalism and class competition. The fascists accepted the idea of competition and strife as the engine of historical change, even if their notion of struggle was rooted in racist theory and nationalism, and embraced the notion of violent expansion at the expense of enemies. They also accepted some ideas regarding the putative sins of individualism, bourgeois democracy, and capitalism.

Of course, fascists never articulated their ideology with the precision of the socialists and communists, so it’s difficult to make extended comparisons between the two creeds. Fascism was—in the words of a Saturday Night Live skit related to the way GAP salesmen sell jeans to susceptible customers—whatever people “wanted it to be.” And, despite the anti-Semitism of large portions of the Russian people, Communist was not ostensibly ant-Semitic. The brutality of each regime may have been roughly comparable, but Communism was at least capable of reform, and eventually settled down into a more ordinary kind of evil. Fascism, at least in Germany, was incapable of reform.

In the end, National Socialism propped up Communism. It gave the Soviet Union an enormously important victory in World War II, and the opportunity to occupy Eastern and Central Europe, something that hadn't even happened when Russia defeated Napoleon. And by comparison with fascism, it made Communism seem viable by comparison long after it should have been soundly discredited.

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