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Alan Little on why Nazi Germany was even worse than the USSR

On the face of it, this posting by Alan Little is about music:

A performance of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, the “Eroica”, by Wilhelm Fürtwangler with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from 1944. There are hundreds of recordings of the Eroica, dozens of which are probably excellent; but this is supposed to be one of the handful of truly great ones according to well-informed opinion on rec.music.classical.recordings. …

Later in this posting, Little was kind enough to link back to a piece I did on my Culture Blog about how Hitler’s love of classical music did dreadful harm to classical music, and when Little emailed me about his Fürtwangler piece, he probably had in mind that it would get a mere reciprocal mention on my blog. But actually, Little’s posting is more in the direction of the Samizdata agenda.

…I’m feeling distinctly queasy, though, about listening to and possibly enjoying a work of art produced under the Third Reich.

See what I mean? Little continues:

Why? I have no qualms about listening to Soviet music, Shostakovich for example. Yet Stalin was just as much of a monster as Hitler and the Soviet Union in the 1930s was at least as much as a horror as the Third Reich. So why does art produced under Stalin not make me queasy whereas art produced under Hitler does? Do I think the Soviet Union was in some ways a lesser evil than Nazi Germany? There’s not much to choose in terms of crude bodycount. But I still think it’s a good thing that the most important war memorial I’ve ever seen is two Soviet tanks in front of the Brandenburg Gate and not two panzers in Red Square; the people of Russia and Eastern Europe would have had an even worse time in the last fifty years if it had been the other way round. I think there also is a sense in which Hitler was something the German people did – they elected him and were enthusiastic about him for quite a while – whereas Stalin was something that happened to the Russians – the Bolsheviks came to power in a wartime military coup that their brilliant propaganda machine subsequently dressed up as a popular revolution.

This question of which was worse, Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, is one that fascinates me. My gut feeling is that there was indeed something an order of magnitude worse about Nazi Germany, in terms of the moral inexcusability of the people who did it rather than in terms of the destructive results – which were much of a muchness when you add it up, as Little says. Russia, you feel, or at any rate I do, was engulfed in a great wave of ideologically induced stupidity and destructive passion. They knew no better, poor fools. (I feel rather the same way about the Islamo-fascists now.) Germany, on the other hand, did know better, but went bad on purpose. Germany chose evil.

Granted, that is an extreme collectivist oversimplification of what was still a vast and vastly messy assemblage of individual decisions, nothing like all of which were as evil as the worst of them. Nevertheless, to a far greater degree than the Russians, the Germans chose, collectively, all in one conversation – so to speak, to go bad.

That also seems to be roughly how Alan Little sees it.

By the way, Little liked that Fürtwangler Eroica. A lot. “The best performance I’ve ever heard, I think.”

48 comments to Alan Little on why Nazi Germany was even worse than the USSR

  • I was just thinking about this the other night! I was trying to fit Saddam into a taxonomy of horrors of modern totalitarian dictators and genocides in my mind. Which led me to ‘who was worse, and why, Hitler, Stalin, Mao?’

    Raw body count is even hard to agree on with Hitler and Stalin: How much of the Russian deaths in WWII should be ascribed to Hitler (the agressor), and how many to how Stalin brutalized his own people in it’s prosecution and aftermath? Once you get a number for all that, you can add it to all of Stalin’s internal repressions and progroms.

    And how much of Mao’s bodycount in Korea do you lay at MacArthur’s feet for thinking he could push the Chinese farther than he could? Over 500,000 dead and years more of war for one arrogant moment is sure an impressive total for one disobeyed order, now isn’t it?

    So Mao get’s a deduction from the insane bodycount in the calculus of hell.

    Saddam just seems like a wannabe Stalin Lite, with shades of Hitler Jr. Bonus points for the level of fever pitched terror experienced by the populace.

    How can you rank terror? Can you measure fear?

    Perhaps (if not already?) some scientists will find the enzyme, brain waves or such to be able to monitor how afraid a population is, and how stunted are their thoughts by self-censorship.

    But I think it safe to say that single party nationalistic regimes seem to always be brutal, murderous, thought controlling horrors.

    Singapore is the closest I can think of as a counter-example.

  • Ian

    The bodycount comparison is a little extreme, no-one knows how much higher it would have been had we sided with Htler against Stalin instead.

    I certainly think Hitler was the more dangerous of the two, the Nazi ideology embraced Nationalism and combined with the technological prowess of the Germans it was a deadly combination, whereas the Soviets were not as nationalistic as a people and played catch up in the technological war against the Americans.

    Its the whole new age ubermensch mentality of the Nazis that really disturbs me though, the Soviets had their Marxist ideas, but not really that different to the American capitalists. Tainting art with the Aryan brush is rather different than putting it under a product of Communism.

  • Leaving morals to one side it is clear that Nazism was an aesthetic triumph – which was part of its dangerous attraction of course. Nazism, though very short lived, is still a huge source of macabre fascination which shows no sign of waning.

  • Reid

    There was an added element of evil in the Nazi’s focused discrimination. If you were one of the inferior breeds, there was nothing you could do to escape or to appease the masters – you were marked for eradication.

  • Stephen

    Consider the vast amount of media exposure given to nazism rather then to stalinism. Exactly what is the ratio of films depeciting the evils of nazism then to stalinism in holywood I wonder? I suspect it to be enlightening.

    The fact that the atrocities against and the oppression of jews and the belief in public moral inequality has been vastly publicised by its victims since 1945′, this seems to have magnified nazism’s repugnance. The imbalance in media exposure takes away from the horrors of the communist belief in radical human equality that resulted in the exterminations of Russia. The cold hell of Kolyma was from what i read more brutal then the sterile ‘scientific’ exterminations of the nazis.
    Both ideologies were based on falacies and misjudgements against human nature, but the fact that Stalin was exterminating his people long before war broke out lends me to believe his doctrines to be more evil. And he was no exceptional mad commie dictator. A visit to Tuol Sleng in cambodia would changed my mind about the relationship in barbarity between the nazis and the communists, and I’m certain that hell-like place had its equivalent in the USSR.

    Reid should note that the kulaks were in thier own way an inferior breed.

  • Stephen

    Apologies for the appalling grammer, i submitted by accident too soon 😐

  • Richard A. Heddleson

    So, do I have this right? The Germans are culpable because they could distinguish evil from good but the Russians are not because they could not? Or is it that the ideologically induced stupidity and destructive passion in revolutionary Russia were somehow qualitatively different from that induced in post-war Germany by the Frenco-American Treaty of Versailles?

    I doubt that human evil has changed dramatically in the last 5,000 years except with regard to the efficiency of its application. It hasn’t been a secret. Everyone has always agreed on the main points. Once you get in the big leagues discussed here, it is hard for me to see material distinctions of degrees of evil.

    I’d be open to changing my mind. But the arguments here don’t show me why the Russians and Islamofascists get a pass but the Germans don’t. They both had religions and moralities that distinguish evil from good. They forgot them, as has almost every other people. (But the Russians remembered enough even after a lifetime of Soviet rule to finally displace evil.) In a world that still seems to have difficulty distinguishing evil from good, I’d prefer progress on that front rather than finer gradations of evil.

  • Doug Collins

    “But the Russians remembered enough even after a lifetime of Soviet rule to finally displace evil. ”

    Would that you were right. I’m afraid that the displacement may have been for reasons of unacceptable economic failures by a Russian people who had finally passed their limit of acceptance rather than for moral reasons. (Perhaps I should say FSC people rather than Russian people, but that is another argument.)

    Ultimately Marx may have been right about everything being economics. Or to coin a phrase, “They saw the future and it didn’ t work”

    I wish I could believe that rejecting evil was the motivation. I could be much more hopeful about their future.

  • Ryan Waxx

    Apologies, but your reasons provided for asserting that Hitler was worse than Stalin are at best weak, at worst garbage.

    You are rationalising… trying to find a justification for the way you feel. That kind of thought process almost always comes up with an answer that feels good, as opposed to being true. (Though the feel-good answer can sometimes be true)

    Do you want the answer…


    Its quite simple. For decades, it was acceptable to demonize the Nazis however we liked, whereas demonizing communists was much tougher.

    The communists were alive to argue back, for one thing. For another, a great many fellow citizens sypathized to some degree with them.

    Even Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ remark drew fire. Are you going to claim that the Nazi empire was evil, while the Soviet one was not? So why is it accceptable to call one evil, and the other not?

    Do you claim Hitler’s racism was what made him odius? Then look again at history, and the second-hand citizen treatment the Ukrainians got, the massacres, and especially the purges by both Russia and Germany when they fought over the Ukraine.

    No, the only REAL reason Hitler was viewed as worse is because he never was a safe haven for those who hate freedom and the West, as the Soviets were during the cold war.

    His REAL crime was to be labelled ‘right-wing’ and therefore unpalatable those few-but-loud of the left who harbor trechery in their hearts.

    His REAL atrocity was losing, in this nasty world where victors write the histories, and need only account for the views of survivors.

    I have never seen the left quail at genocide, invasion, nor lying propaganda, as long as the ‘correct’ people are doing it. Why would Hitler be an exception?

    Why would a surviving, defiantly anti-american Hitler’s gas chambers be any more terrible than Saddam’s gassed villages, to them?

    That is why Hitler is viewed as worse. He is dead, and so are his followers, so its OK to demonize him in ways that would raise protest if applied to Che, Castro, Mao, Stalin, or Imperial Japan.

  • You get the feeling that most of the Russians never really bought the commie thing. The ordinary people saw Stalin as just a particularly bad czar. The top guys were cynical. As usual, the middle ranks were where the true believers were. But even there, it seems that there were more openings for basic decency to operate in Russia, if only because the place is so naturally disorderly. The Germans seem to have really bought into Nazism to much greater degree. Way more people believed in it.

    An old Polish woman of our acquaintance was at one time the prisoner of the Nazis, then of the Russians. The Russians she said were just typical ignorant, violent peasants. The Germans however, were thoroughly indoctrinated with Nazi racial beliefs and were extremely malicious. That is only one data point, but it seems to capture much of the distinction.

    Even the body count doesn’t tell you all that much. Anne Applebaum’s new book on the Gulag shows that the whole thing was conducted in a state of ideological confusion, and that masses of people froze to death or starved to death at least as much out of incompetence or callousness as from any deliberate attempt to kill millions of people. The Nazis, of course, expressly intended to murder millions of people.

    Botton line, both were atrocious, and the horrors of communism need to be retrieved from the memory hole and made part of the common awareness of ordinary people the way the Nazi’s crimes are known.

  • Ryan Waxx

    The Nazis, of course, expressly intended to murder millions of people.

    Then why were ordinary Germans horrified when they were shown the concentration camps?

    The entire country wasn’t behind the extermination of the Jews, and you have no data at all to suggest that more ‘bought into it’.

    The answer is, you feel comfortable labelling huge amounts of Germans, in a way that you wouldn’t label huge amounts of Russians. You have no facts or anything else to back it up, you just ‘feel’ that way.

    As I said, its easy to demonize the Nazis because we have always been permitted to do so without fear of censure. The same is not true of communists.

  • JG

    From a argument based on REASON, not meaningless FEELINGS; there should not be any doubt that Communism was worse than Nazism.

    In terms number of people murdered, communism was much worse.

    In terms of general individual freedom, communism was worse, albeit not by much.

    In terms of property rights, communism was far worse.

    Both are of course despicable, and both are LEFTIST. Hence National SOCIALISM.

    Like a certain libertarian once said: Communism and Facism are just two rabid leftist dogs fighting for the same collectivist bone.

  • D.Citizen

    Ditto as to Ryan Waxx’s comments, and FWIW it seems to me that Naziism’s victims are no more while Communism/Socialism/Collectivism claims more victims every day. The question is, is it better to die from a bullet to the brain, or from a virus that slowly and painfully kills you and your family and all of your friends and, even long after your gone, everything that you ever loved or cared about?

  • It’s interesting that Alan is able to emotionally detatch from the source regime of the music in Shostakovic’s case, but not in Furtwanger’s composition of a Beethoven case.

    I don’t know why that is the case. Is it because Alan, and British people in general, have an emotional reaction to the Nazi regime, in a negative sense that they don’t have with the Soviet one? This would be understandable considering how much British blood and treasure was lost in destroying the Nazi regime.

    Just my 0.02 cents.

  • That should be “was no fan” – I don’t blog with an Italian accent 🙂

  • Death in the name of someone else’s politics is a terrible affront. In death the victims of Nazism, Leninism and Stalinism are all equal and equally affronted.

    Only those who do not understand this simple fact fall into the error of relative thinking about genocide. It is profitless.

    Having said that, I strongly agree about the need to rescue the real history of Soviet (not Russian) genocide from the memory hole. It should be as much a part of our national consciousness as Hitler’s crimes.

  • You’d have greater difficulty rank-ordering the evils of living under Hitler and under Stalin if you were to read very much of The Gulag Archipelago.

  • R C Dean

    I’m comfortable calling it a tie. I think Ryan pretty well nailed why we have a different visceral reaction to Nazis but not Communists – nothing more mysterious than years of indoctrination that Nazis are evil, but Communists just misguided.

  • Brian, thanks for your responses. I started writing something to explore what I was thinking about listening to that Eroica, and ended up in rather deeper water than I expected with not enough time to really explore and defend the ideas I was throwing out.

    “Why does art produced under Stalin not make me queasy whereas art produced under Hitler does?”. In the specific cases of Fürtwangler versus Shostakovich, is it because it’s abundantly clear that Shostakovich had no Stalinist sympathies, whereas (even though he was officially acquitted) it’s by no means abundantly clear that Fürtwangler – not to mention the entire personnel of the 1944 Vienna Phil – had no Nazi sympathies? But that leads back round to the question of why, then, is it ok to listen to the same people, with basically the same beliefs whatever those might have been, recorded ten years later? Not to mention the fact that I revere the original recordings of Shostakovich by the Borodin Quartet, despite knowing that two of the original Borodin Quartet were party members.

    So yes, really it’s all about the fact that I do have more emotional revulsion for Nazi Germany than for the Soviet Union. What I was trying to explore was why and if it’s in any way justifiable.

    Why do I think could there never have been a German Shostakovich? There must be a reason why there are worthwhile products of soviet culture, and no worthwhile products of nazi culture. It may just be that a lot of the creative people in Nazi Germany did manage to get out before the war, whereas it was almost impossible to get out of the Soviet Union. Or, there may or may not be something in my wild over-generalisation that Russian people had less collective culpability for the Bolsheviks than the German people had for the Nazis.

    (to be continued …)

  • “You feel comfortable labelling huge amounts of Germans, in a way that you wouldn’t label huge amounts of Russians.” Ryan, disagree with my half-baked ideas by all means, but don’t tell me what I do or don’t feel comfortable about. I live in Germany; I risk offending good friends if I make generalisations about their culture and their country’s past that I can’t defend. I don’t feel in the least comfortable about it. But are you disputing that tens of millions of people voted for Hitler and nobody voted for Lenin or Stalin? It is one of the few examples in history of such a regime coming to power other than by armed force. One of the things I respect immensely about contemporary German culture is that this is openly discussed, which I think compares very favourably to the post-imperial delusions of grandeur that still linger in Britain.

    I’m not sure what part of “Stalin was just as much of a monster as Hitler and the Soviet Union in the 1930s was at least as much as [sic – of] a horror as the Third Reich” might be ambiguous, and I agree that trying to debate which might be slightly the lesser of two inconceivably huge evils is fairly pointless. That wasn’t what I was talking about – what I was talking about was why, despite all the horrors, creativity and dissent might be possible under one and not the other. A German Solzhenitsyn wouldn’t have survived. (Nor would a 1930s Solzhenitsyn)

    I also agree that communism may be more dangerous because it’s insidious – there aren’t many people who defend Nazism, whereas there a lot of people who still somehow manage to believe Communism was a good idea gone bad. My dad believed (and may still believe, such are the mental blind spots otherwise intelligent people are capable of sustaining) that it might all have been alright if Lenin hadn’t died young. And they still haven’t kicked the bastard out of Red Square.

  • “There were more openings for basic decency to operate in Russia, if only because the place is so naturally disorderly.” Lexington – this is exactly the opinion of an acquaintance of mine who grew up in Russia then moved to the DDR (East Germany), and says the DDR was worse because it was basically the same thing only done efficiently. Only anecdotal, as you say, and I wouldn’t attach that much importance to it. I really don’t think it would have been true in the days of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. Brezhnev was no Stalin.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    A consensus seems to be developing against me and against Alan Little.

    First, I have read The Gulag Archipelago, all of it, and I read it around the time when it most counted to read it, in the early eighties. Come to think of it, I read One Day in the Life Of Ivan Denisovitch on the Essex University Radio, in the early seventies.

    And I then did things about it. I subsequently wrote anti-Soviet pamphlets and assisted Russian (and other nationalities) anti-Soviet activists, and generally did my little bit to topple the Evil Empire. Best of all, several of my pamphlets made it more toppleable by arguing that it actually was toppleable, which very few people around then besides Ronald Reagan were saying. Evil Empire? Of course.

    And of course being murdered by Bolsheviks is no nicer than being murdered by Nazis. I take that as assumed. Of course Soviet Communism was a horror story, for Russia, for surrounding nations, and for the entire world, and it had to be smashed.

    But is moral culpability always and only measured by results? Legally, it clearly isn’t. To take an extreme case that at least makes the point, if you kill someone by accident, that is not as morally culpable as killing them on purpose. Pointing out that dying in a horrible accident is no nicer than being horribly murdered is entirely true, but quite beside the point, and beside the point being got at with this posting.

    Perhaps more similar to this argument is the one that lawyers use to defend murderers by arguing that they were mad. If you are born with a damaged brain that makes you kill people, is it your fault? Difficult. Of course, in a sense you are more evil, in the sense that your evil is inborn. But on the other hand, if you had no choice …

    Now it may make sense to say that the Russians chose Communism and all that Communism then did with rather less consciously murderous deliberation than the Germans did. Or it may not. Maybe the Russians went straight for murder and terror with colder calculation than they are given debit for, as it were. And maybe Germany didn’t choose Nazism even as semi-deliberately as I have suggested. Those are good and relevant points. What is entirely beside the point is to just bang on about how nasty Communism was. We all know that, or I hope we do. That’s not the point here.

    Mind you, part of the point of this post was to enable Communism to be denounced yet again as the horror it was by all the people disagreeing with the point I actually made. I entirely agree that the horrors of Communism deserve a whole lot more examination than they’ve received so far.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    May I just say that I wrote that last comment of mine without having read any of Alan Little’s responses.

    And now I have to rush out, so I can’t pay proper attention to them even now.

  • mad dog

    An interesting discussion, methinks!

    Along with the “dis’em – they’re dead” argument, there is always the more xenophobic” they’re not us/don’t think like we think” argument. Which has many followers, even among the ranks of the samizdatae “enlightened”…

  • Ford Prefect

    Arab Socialist (Bathist), National Socialist, International Socialist…they are all an excuse to steal everything and kill everyone who is a enemy of the People/Working Class/Islam.

  • D Anghelone

    The US and UK govs demonized Germany in two world wars while embracing the USSR as an ally in WWII. Much of our greater visceral reponse to Nazism vs Communism stems from that demonization.

  • OK, a few questions:

    (a) Hypothetical: does anybody think the world would be a better place if the Third Reich had survived WW II and the Soviet Union hadn’t?

    And then, some small questions but they are the ones I started from:

    (b) Does anybody here have any uneasiness about enjoying art produced in the soviet union (leaving aside whether or not you actually *like*, for example, Shostakovich)?

    (c) Does anybody here except me have any uneasiness about enjoying art produced in the third reich? If so, why? Especially if your answer to (b) was no

  • JG wrote exactly what I would have written. Damn him, but great comment!

    Many have proclaimed to me that Hitler and NAZISM was worse because of the racist overtones to their killing. It seems rather odd this sinc, the Soviets were just as anti-Jew and other racial groups as the NAZIs. They might not have set up camps to exterminate them, but they certainly shipped entire peoples to places like the tundra of Siberia en masse (or starved them to death).

  • My mother had a Lithuanian friend who also, like the Polish woman mentioned above, had the opportunity to live under both the Nazi German and Soviet Russian occupations, but had the opposite experience: if you were not Jewish, and didn’t get involved in the Resistance, the Nazis pretty much left you alone, but the Soviets went after business owners, teachers and professors, bank clerks, religious leaders, non-communist trade unionists, property owners… basically, everyone who wasn’t a worker or a farm hand.

  • toolkien

    Like a certain libertarian once said: Communism and Facism are just two rabid leftist dogs fighting for the same collectivist bone.

    The matter boils down to the elements which justify the collectivism in the first place as to why one gets a pass on the other doesn’t, and it has relevance to today’s State expansion in the US and the UK.

    Marxism is founded in ‘the people’, wasn’t initially exclusive as to type of people (e.g. race) and therefore has mass populist appeal and likely why the left adore them so. Meanwhile, Naziism is also founded in ‘the people’ (i.e. the volk), was exclusive, and therefore had a populist appeal to those to whom the benefits applied. The one element that can be seen in both brands is the resentment of money interests in both cases and to me is the only important element native to each. The wealthy are always despised and resented, and is felt to an element to anti-semitism, that it has class elements many times versus ‘race’ elements. Both countries sought to tear down the existing institutions and those who prospered ‘inordinately’ under it. Hitler, ever pragmatic, cut deals with the industrialists and wealthy as long as they did as they were told, and they held on to positions of power, while in Russia they were turned out en masse. Hitler’s cozying up with the wealthy and privileged was his biggest unforgiveable sin for the left.

    Should this in anyway effect how one regards the Art produced under either? Not to me. I am basically alarmed that Art, a mode of communication, was deemed to be a State affair in either case, and both regimes intended to use Art as a means of propaganda on the people. It is inexcusable in either case. As has been noted Shostakovich didn’t like Stalin and detested State interference in Art (though I am sure, like most artist, didn’t mind the financial boost). It is believed the Shostakovich inlaid an element of protest against the Soviet culture in his works that by appearance were ‘patriotic’. Perhaps more of the Art under the Soviet Era had some element of protest against the State while the brief Nazi period did not have as much.

    In the end I would have a hard time appreciating any Art that was ‘manufactured’ by a State regardless of its history. I have some realization that Art is supported much more in socialist Europe per some discussions with my brother’s father-in-law who is German, and he insists that the content is not judged, just collectively financed. I can’t conceive that that is really the case as some boundaries must be in place. I have little use for State Art.

    The only other reason I can think of for the difference in appreciating Art produced by either is an embedded notion that what Germany did was worse because they were more ‘us’ than Russians were. You’d expect such brutality from such people. I suppose this is why Asian and African attrocities come a dime a dozen while German genocide is subject to Sunday Night made for TV movies etc. Germany was Us and should have known better. But this comes from an American perspective so may be out to lunch from a European perspective.

  • “what Germany did was worse because they were more ‘us’ than Russians were.”
    Toolkien – I see what you mean in general, although I plead personally not guilty on the grounds of two thirds of my household being Russian. My argument is more that there was massive popular support for the Nazis and there never was for the Bolsheviks, and for that reason the German people are in a sense more “to blame”. That might conceivably be unfair to Germans, I don’t see how it could be construed as unfair to Russians.

  • Julian Morrison

    I think the nazis arouse more emotive response because they were more “personalized”. The soviet state was monolithic and abstract, mostly operated by a slew of faceless bureaucrats, all following orders. A very dull and unimpressive sort of evil. The nazi state by contrast encourged personal ambition for reasons of “social darwinism”. It wasn’t an impersonal omnipresent state one had to fear, it was Herr Sadisticbastard Von Schweinhund and his hand picked SS goons.

    I also suspect that people are enough in denial about their own just-another-cog-in-the-machine amoral dark side, that they fear to look too closely at the USSR.

  • Dan McWiggins

    Nazism is indisputably far more loathed than Communism, at least in the general media. I have a few ideas on why this is so.

    First is the Nazi emphasis on Aryan racial superiority. The Left hates this with a passion and has an inordinate amount of control of the media. They damn the things they most dislike and that is right at the top of the list.

    Second, the Germans are generally regarded as being a very efficient, intelligent, and industrious race. Such is not the case with the Russians. Try remembering the last time you heard someone use “Russian engineering” as an enhancement to a sales pitch. How about…never? Just so. The Left sees German achievement and work ethic as admirable but fears their exclusive attachment to blood and volk. Defeating that combination militarily was the toughest challenge the Left ever faced and they haven’t forgotten it. Understandably so, as the triumph of Nazism would shortly have led in the rest of the world, as it had in Germany, to the extinction of not only Jews but Communists as well.

    Having that awful memory as a constant goad, the Left has constantly looked in fear for where that combination might again rear its ugly head. The U.S. was the obvious choice, as blatant racial discrimination long existed right alongside the most productive and efficient national economy ever known to man. The Left thought, and continues to think, “it COULD happen here!” Consequently, damning the Nazis and making them and their actions completely beyond the pale has arguably been primus inter pares with all other Leftist goals from 1941 to the present.

    Theirs is a simplistic belief, and doesn’t take into account circumstances in post-WWI German history (Versailles, the blockade, the Ruhr occupation, the hyperinflation, the Great Depression, etc.) that induced a whipsawed, resentful and bitterly angry Germany to allow Hitler’s legal ascent to power. Simplistic or not, the Left hold Nazi evil as the gold standard for that kind of thing and, for reasons I’ve just listed, will probably always do so. The fact that Communist regimes have killed and impoverished far more people, of all colors, is irrelevant.

  • madne0

    Choosing between Nazi Germany and the USSR is like choosing between a .45 or a .44 caliber shot to the head. They’d both kill you right? So why bother?

  • The strange relationship between art and freedom isn’t going to be answered soon. On one hand, art is personally liberating, breaking down our sense of walls, the sense that others are watching us. On the other hand, that personal liberation is often put to use in terrible ways: the walls that enclose us are not always unwelcome.

    Free will, as the sages used to ponder, is only free, if it is free to do evil as well as good, and has its moral weight from this fact. Art, too, is in the hands and in the muscles and in the discipline – and we are not always able to exclude those who are not the “right” people.

    However hard we may happen to try to do so.

  • For some undeterminable reason though there is an intellectual curiosity about the differences between a .44 and a .45 – and especially, which one is which?

    The Communists were worse for the world because Communism is more contageous. Nazism, despite it’s hypnotic allure, doesn’t spread as easily.

    I definately have a more visceral reaction to Nazism and Nazi art though. The Soviet art seems to have plausible deniability. It has the tragic grace of poetic souls caught in a horrible nightmare. I feel like no one Russian (other than the leaders) could take responsibility for the Soviet horrors. It was a systemic problem.

    The Nazis feel like a purer and more thorough evil. For one, there is the German efficiency and hard work. They decided to do something, and then really sat around and said “How can this be done better?” It’s a matter of personal responsibility I guess.

    That’s why the USSR failed – lack of individual initiative. Germany wasn’t like that though, or so it seems. Each and every German (who didn’t flee the country) took it as their personal responsibility to be the best Nazi they could be. They got down to business.

    Americans are just like that too. We take individual responsibility for our actions and for our nation’s actions. We get down to business. We think “How can we do this better?” We take pride in our work and in our nation. The Commies were irresponsible, free-choice fearing peasants who let a dictator bully them around.

    The Germans had every skill that we had. Every quality we admired in ourselves they had in abundance – with just one thing different. It’s really scary to see how easy it would be for an American to become a Nazi.

    And that scares me.

  • Brock’s post resonated with me. I find it all too easy to believe that I would have made a fine little Hitler Youth – or for that matter, a Komsomolsk – had I been born in a different time and place.

    Imagine, if you will, a political party that believed in personal freedom: That wanted the betterment of Humanity by Scientific and Eugenic means. People who wanted to get rid of the bureaucratic parasites and gave opportunity for those with ability to succeed, while still providing compassion and genuine help – Winter Relief – for those who by no fault of their own, were down and out, victims of bureaucratic thieves and outsiders.

    Or imagine a party that wanted electricity to be made available to every home, who wanted the fruits of labour to be owned by the people who produced them, not syphoned off by thieves and repressive taxation by parasites. People who could show the world massive engineering achievements that bettered life for everybody, where everyone gave according to their abililty, and received according to their need.

    The “get the parasites off the backs of the people who actually *do* the work” is a strain you’ll find in all Libertarianism, and is purely Randite. I think it’s something that all readers of Samizdata can agree would be a wonderful principle to apply to dismember the Brussels Bureaucracy.

    In order to beat your enemy, you have to understand them. There were many committed Communists, and Nazis, who genuinely believed that they were Doing Good for Humanity and Civilisation. Just as the most dangerous Islamofascists, the ones who commit suicide in their attacks, believe that what they’re doing is Right and Just, so much so that they’re not just willing, they’re eager to die for it.

    What a f*cking waste. In other circumstances, these people would be the types who would volunteer to go into the Twin Towers to rescue people, not the conscienceless bastards who murdered so many. Something that could have been fine and noble has been unutterably debased.

    And that leads me to why Nazism was worse than Stalinism. They took the Industrial Revolution, the fruits of Science and Technology, and used it to turn people into lampshades, soap and soot. The barabarities of the Gulags were in the same league as, say, the way the Jews were treated by the Egyptians when the Pyramids were being built. Probably worse in detail, but the same in kind. Nothing new, just same old barbarism and cruelty, oppression and death.

    Auschwitz was something different. It was a Death Factory.

    if we fail, the whole world, including the United States and all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister and perhaps more prolonged by the lights of a perverted science.

    They Raped Knowledge. They Defiled Science. Like the Stalinists, they took the finest aspirations of the human soul and corrupted them. And may there be a Hell so they can both Rot in it for Eternity. But Nazism was the worse of the two, for efficiently turning people into product. Industrial Cannibalism.

  • Samizdata asks about whether Hitler or Stalin is worse>>Pol Pot was the worst: 2.5 million murdered out of some 8-9 million. And the Angry Left, which successfully made the US run (not walk, not with honor) away from Vietnam & SE Asia, has hidden it’s guilt and shame for this for far too long.

    Alan makes an excellent, chilling post about how likely he would have been to join the Hitler Youth. Me too.

    But he doesn’t quite follow through. Remember, Hitler lied about the concentration “work camps”, claiming they were just to collect Jews. Like the US concentration camps of Japs. Many Germans supported ethnic camps, only a few supported them becoming death camps.

    Hitler and his top staff decided on the genocide, but that is why HITLER is so evil; and Nazi = Hitler is made equally evil for other Leftist reasons. Not Mussolini’s or Franco’s or (certainly not) Pinochet’s fascisms–though they, too are real evils.

    Had Hitler not murdered the 6 million Jews, and 4 million Gypsies & others, but left them near starving in the camps, this whole comparison would never happen. USSR much worse.

    Yes, the German people voted for him in ’33 — after seeing how terrible the commies really were through the 20s. The Treaty of Versailles is blamed for Hitler’s rise, but Stalin was a known mass murderer BEFORE Hitler was chosen (to save Germany from the commies).

    What is the right metric between Hitler & Stalin, if not folk killed? How about median life? Or a comparison of the median lives of each quintile (top top-mid mid bottom-mid bottom)? It seems that the imagined daily life of each median quintile archetype, is better under the Nazis, except maybe the bottom–more likely to be targeted for death. (Like Sgt. Mom’s Lithuanian friend)

    Note also that while the Nazis hated the “money grubbing Jews” (phrase from Easterblock’s Kill Bill review), the Angry Left & communists hate just about all “money grubbers” — and are increasingly, and unsurprisingly, anti-Jew.

    And of course, the confusion of “public” with “gov’t”, where “we” means our gov’t, makes it more likely that such abuses will occur in modern democracies. Especially in response to external murdering threats.

  • Apart from the body count, how about a soul count? Stalin poisoned millions of souls and minds in Russia with his venomous mix of vulgar Marxism, imperialism and whitewashed Satanism, and millions of souls abroad with a false promise. Hitler’s ideology was far less alluring: there is a general feeling among Christian nations that there is something wrong about being so rabidly nationalistic.

    Overall, I second Alan E. Braine’s post. Note that Solzhenitsyn, for one, was a devout Communist even while in the Gulag.

    I do not know if great works of art emerged in Germany during the 12 years of Nazi dominations. They did in Soviet Russia, even under Stalin’s rule. Most of the good art (with the exception of movies) was produced by individuals opposed to Stalin, although sometimes romantically enamored with the Bolshevik Revolution. Shostakovich was undoubtedly not a Stalinist, nor a favorite of the Kremlin before Stalin’s death: every now and then, Communist critics would batter him for “formalism”. And, of course, Shostakovich was no product of Soviet culture; if he was a product of anything, it was the Russian/European musical tradition, middle-class upbringing, and enduring fear. One can think about his music as art created by an anxious, nervous composer in a very unfavorable, harsh, repressive environment.

    By the way, Commies were not “irresponsible, free-choice fearing peasants who let a dictator bully them around”. Bolshevism was a creature of the big city, and peasants, although they did let Stalin bully them around, were no Communists. As a rule, although peasants are capable of taking up arms against their oppressors (as they did in some areas in the 1920s), they are doomed to fail. But Russia, though still a peasant country in the 1920, had been steadily developing its industry before 1917, and would be forcibly industrialized in the 1930s. “Try remembering the last time you heard someone use “Russian engineering” as an enhancement to a sales pitch.” Quite recently, when someone was talking about arms sales. Take the tanks in front of the Brandenburg Gate, or the H-bomb, or the space ships – they leave no doubt Soviet military engineering was good enough for the country to be a menace to the world, that is, the Communist state was able to use the fruit of technical progress and science. The Nazis used it more efficiently, of course.

    “They knew no better, poor fools.” Brian’s point is, apparently, that Russians managed to confuse themselves to the point of being unable to tell good from evil, while Germans chose evil knowing well what it was. It would only prove that Germans were an exception to the general rule: to win, evil nearly always puts on good’s white garments. If they had had to choose between the two, Russians should have known better – one of the greatest investigators of good and evil in human nature, Dostoyevsky, and one of the greatest moralists of his time, Tolstoy, had lived among them – and Tolstoy died only 7 years before the Bolshevik coup. But the only time Russians could peacefully express their political will was the first universal election in the country’s history – the Constitutional Assembly election in 1917. It happened after the coup, yet Bolsheviks only got 25% of the vote (they closed the Assembly down after its first meeting). Less than a year later, the Civil War began. At least those Russians who opposed Bolshevism didn’t give up without a fight.

  • As for which was worse: they both sucked. Totalitarianism, no matter how it’s marketed, is an abomination, and no amount of accounting will gainsay their evil.

    The more interesting question is whether or not to support something good or beautiful which came from the evil (eg. Furtwaengler’s Eroica).

    Was the latter beautiful? Undubitably so — even if the environment in which it was produced makes us queasy. But remember that Furtwaengler and the Vienna Philharmonic were treasures both before and after Hitler, so I think the fact of their monumental performance is a historical accident — it could equally have been performed in 1946.

    Neither Communism nor Nazism “created” music, as such (and especially not Beethoven) — it was the people who did it.

    Of more interest is our attitude towards something of value which may spring from the true evil of the regimes.

    Had the Nazis, in the course of their ghoulish medical experimentation on Jews, come up with a cure for cancer, would we be using it today? Or would we shun using it because of the manner of its creation?

    A very interesting thread.

  • We must keep in mind that in the west, Nazi Germany has been constantly vilified and its atrocities portrayed very movingly (I think Schindler’s List was the best movie I have ever seen, for example).

    And yet the Nazi terror only lasted 12 years and was commanded by only one person.

    Soviet Communism spread throughout the world, leading to the enslavement of over a billion people, with at least as high a percentage murdered or sent to concentration camps as in Germany. The Black Book of Communism documents that every communist regime created, regardless of what country or what flavor, resulted in huge amounts of murder, brutality and terror.

    Furthermore, do not imagine that the USSR was not nationalistic. It was an imperialist state, and non-Russians were discriminated against.

    Also, Soviet Communism survived through many rulers, proving its danger, and pieces of it survive today in Korea and Cuba and probably a few other countries hardly worth mentioning. And throughout its time, regardless of the rulers, terrible things happened. Under Gorbachev, who is thought by many to be a great peacemaker, the Soviet Union created terrible biological weapons, produced them in enormous quantities and deployed them in ICBM’s aimed at western cities.

    Finally, Lenin and Stalin both engaged in genocide, and both were ruthless totalitarian butchers. Stalin, of course, was in power much longer, so his body count is a lot higher. He was so evil that Soviet POWs returned after the war were almost all executed or worked to death in concentration camps. These were his own people who had fought for him!

    I think that the Nazi’s cause more of an emotional reaction for reasons:

    1) Most importantly, the left in the west long excused or denied the evils taking place in Communist regimes. Since the left controlled most art and theater, no significant movies were made to allow people to vicariously experience the horrors of communism, while many were made about the Nazis. To this day, many on the left have no idea of the horrors of Communism, and make excuses such as blaming Stalin for all the cruelty of the USSR (which is incorrect), and few appreciate that Mao, through the original revolution and later the Cultural Revolution, killed many tens of millions of people, with a campaign targeted at anyone holding knowledge (Pol Pot did the same, but a little more directly and with higher percentages).

    So to me there is no question that the results of Communism were far more horrible than the results of Fascism, and there is no evidence that Naziism was ever really ore than a personality cult centered around Hitler, as opposed to a contagious ideology. The number of people in the west after WW-II attracted to Naziism is microscopic compared to the number attracted to Communism!

    2) The Nazi’s were conquered. The press was able to photograph the liberation of the concentration camps. Has anyone seen dramatic pictures of the Gulag? Not likely, because Russia was never conquered and has no interest in rooting out the former evildoers.

    3) The Nazi’s were more skilled in the use of emotionally powerful propaganda, such as Reisenthal’s (sp?) movies, the Nazi symbols and regalia, and dramatic music. When these powerful symbols are integrated intoi documentories or fiction movies about the Nazis, the evil association is strongly and repeatedly created in one’s mind.

  • Michael B

    Nice discussion, though the internationalist/nationalist distinction in some of the very early posts seems quaint and contrived, obviously rationalized out of a naive or apologist view of Marxist and Leftist interests.

    So if the jihadists, the militant Islamicists, have interests that are international in scope, does that aid their PR campaign? (Actually though, while their interests are global in scope, they are not inter-nationalists per se, in the strict sense of the term. They are interested in establishing the Islamicist umma world wide and that represents more of a militant pan-Islamicist view than inter-nationalist interests per se.)

    Still, great discussion. Seems to me the basic fermenting agent to this discussion is 1) fascism always was vastly more a child of the left, not the right, even if allowed to be a bastard child and 2) the long suppressed, yet entirely apt, comparison of the Soviet regime with the fascist and Nazi regime in terms of evils committed. If the west had not been rife with Soviet, Stalinist, Maoist, etc. apologists and casuists (e.g. Chomsky vis-a-vis the Maoist Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese, Walter Duranty, Sartre, et al vis-a-vis Stalinism and the Soviets) then we would not have had a lengthy history in the west where one brutal regime was excoriated and the other brutal regime was not only pardoned but was even vaunted as late as the ’80s as being a better alternative than the pluralist democratic west!

    The full avalanche of realizations and effects in this area has not yet begun, but one may occasionally observe a long overdue rock slide down the slope.

  • Michael B

    About those href=”http://www.nationalreview.com/hanson/hanson200312190847.asp”>apologists and casuists Victor Davis Hanson (hat tip to Winds of Change Watch) hits on this subject vis-a-vis the current situation.


    “This war would be over far sooner if 350 million Europeans insisted on a modicum of behavior from Middle Eastern rogue regimes, rounded up and tried terrorists in their midst, deported islamofascists, cut off funding to killers on the West Bank, ignored Yasser Arafat — and warned the next SOB who blew up Europeans in Turkey, North Africa, or Iraq that there was a deadly reckoning to come from the continent that invented the Western military tradition…. So for now we should not lament that the Europeans are no longer real allies, but rather be thankful that they are still for a while longer neutrals rather than enemies — these strange and brilliant people who somehow lost their way, and no longer can distinguish between a noisy Knesset and Arafat’s hangmen, much less between those racing to topple a tyrant in Baghdad and others lounging at Sebrenica.”

    The Israeli situation vis-a-vis the well cultivated Arab refugee cum political pawns (they do not warrant the benign-sounding appellation “Palestinians” without a basic and far reaching qualification) is absolutely pivotal to what is occurring more broadly. To give heed to justice/equity/rights concerns relative to residents of Palestine circa ’48 and afterwards is fully warranted, with the right focus and due diligence and proportional balance. However, to allow Leftists throughout the West to serve as apologists and casuists on behalf of Arafat and the nihilism and murderous tactics he forwards, with the help of E.U. nations, is another thing. Entirely. Utterly.

  • Tom

    For most of my life, there was no doubt that the Soviet Union was worse. Why? Because Nazism was a defeated, pathetic joke, while the Soviets were a going concern. Behind the arguments of “Nazism vs. Communisms, which was worse?” is the real argument with those in the West who, when the Soviet Union was still going, didn’t see it as that bad. In other words, not an argument over the facts of the case, but as a proxy argument for what we should do.

    The Nazi vs. Soviet Union debate is easier (and much less urgent) when it reduces to a historical debate.

  • A comparison:
    The U.S. is standing upright via the Constitution.

    Communism is standing on its head

    Nazis is us looking at a reverse image of ourselves in a mirror.

    Thank God for the constitution.

  • well i’m a little late to add up my 2 pence, but i’d say the most horrifying thing about the nazis is their intelligence and their use of technology to achieve their means, Aushwitz could have been compared to a high tech factory of its times, the administrators of concentration camps had to hold a doctorate. whereas communists, russian ones specifically are more or less viewed as goons who were simply following an ideology without having a clear aim in sight.

    to quote M.G. Dantec:
    “the problem of fascism: how to make idiots become geniuses; the problem of communism: how to make geniuses become idiots”

  • Israel Pinkus

    hitler’s virulent national socialism would have been implausible without the prior “success” of jewish bolshevism in detroying Russia. jewish communists were planning a similar fate for germany, which spurred the germans to take extreme measures to ensure it didn’t happen to them. one was the causal factor of the other.

    the bolshevik revolutionary leadership in russia was overwhelmingly jewish, as left wing leadership generally tends to be to this day (feminism, multiculturalism etc.). the germans fought back successfully which is why they are vilified out of proportion to their crimes in the jewspapers of today.

    read the “Black Book of Communism” on the Soviet (not Russian) holocaust against white Russians and you will see that we jews are quite the opposite of the innocent and harmless victims we work so hard to portray ourselves as today.