The Catechism of the Revolutionary

The Cathechism of the Revolutionary seems to be contradictory. The prevalent theme is that the primary and single motivator behind all decisions is the consideration of how said decision will benefit or harm the revolution. Any action that will benefit the revolution must be undertaken immediately, regardless of any personal conflicts or entanglements and, likewise, any action or person who could harm the revolution must be destroyed. While the idea that the revolution stands above all else remains constant throughout, there are discrepancies in the teaching that the entire modern world must be hated in order to appropriately embrace a new world embodied by happiness and peace. How could love spawn from hatred, and how could humanity be embraced if all members of the revolutionary organization are considered as nothing more than parts of a machine, as means to an end? If the organization has no other aim that “complete freedom and happiness of the people”, then wouldn’t the happiness and dignity of the people need to be considered throughout the process of the revolution and not just at the end, when the goal has been accomplished? A revolution cannot fulfill its ultimate goal, which is to preserve the dignity of the people, if there is no consideration of the individual struggle throughout the process. If the entire movement revolves around doing whatever possible, no matter the destruction involved, to achieve a goal, there leaves little likelihood for the consideration of the people’s complete happiness to be a top priority in the future. Human beings cannot change their thinking processes at the drop of a hat. The means to this revolution do not match up to the ends, but only add to an already prevalent cycle of destruction and attempted rebuilding which results in a society very different, and far less palatable, from the original aim of revolution.

Grievances and Demands of the Revolutionaries

The “Program of the Narodnaia Volia” in 1879 early on declared that the implementation of socialist principles is the purpose behind their disapproval of the government and subsequent assassination of Tsar Alexander II. They view their socialist principles as the most progressive way to maintain and establish  welfare for the people. Their overall grievances revolve around the autocracy of the government where people do not have expression, and in fact are so enslaved and repressed that they don’t recognize that there is another option. Their demands to combat this are to redistribute land and to establish a new system with a representative body that is voted in by the people. In part A, they state that the current state of Russia is in “absolute slavery” of the people, where they are so deprived that they “cannot even think what is good and what is bad for them.” They recognize the power struggle in the capitalistic power and the excessive exploitation of people stuck and enslaved in the lower class. Part B is where they begin to express their demands: to freeing of people enslaved and the access to power by more in the nation. They want the power of the authoritarian government to be expanded for the people of Russia to have access to their own fate by creating an Organizing Assembly to make decisions (that are voted in by the people). Part C discusses the demands for personal freedoms of the people such as popular representation, self- controlled villages (economic and administrative autonomy), redistribution of land ownership to the people, and personal freedoms of speech. This document is written after Alexander II’s assassination and presented to Alexander III- it represents a warning for what could happen to him if he does not enact change and demonstrates the affect of the masses on Alexander III’s policies.

Thoughts on the Nazi-Soviet War as a System of Violence

In the chapter “States of Exception” from Beyond Totalitarianism, by Mark Edele and Michael Geyer, the question of the Eastern Front of World War II is tackled. The most particularly fascinating thing about this study is the unprecedented ruthlessness of the respective campaigns and how they escalated drastically in their unrestrained violence. The separation drawn between the projected measures to be used in accordance with the military planning of the German invasion into the Soviet Union and the actualities of the war (excessive violence with no regard for the humanity of the opposing side) is notable throughout the chapter as a major theme, as it reveals quite a bit about the methods of warfare each country resorted to in the conflict.

One major point of interest here is Hitler’s interest in wiping out the Jews and Bolsheviks as a primary influencing factor in the strategic planning of German forces. This contributed to what amounted to nothing short of “targeted murder” of a vast population of Soviet citizens. ((Edele, Mark and Geyer, Michael. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism, 357. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.)) Such an assault inspired resolve within the Soviets to fight until the last, which sparked a brutal conflict that took an incredible number of lives. The Nazi policy of all-out warfare in pursuit of a swift and total victory was applied towards this end, and though it had proven effective in France the circumstances which surrounded the Eastern Front were not conducive to the success of such a strategy.

Furthermore, the atrocities committed by the Soviets in warfare were responded to by similar acts of cruelty from the German side. The chapter rationalizes the German response by posing such circumstances as Soviet scorched-earth tactics and the mutilation of prisoners of war. It seems from the reading that failing to recognize the humanity of the other side directly inflates the level and intensity of violence in warfare.

Understanding the Holocaust

In”Hitler and the Holocaust,” Ian Kershaw begins his historiography stating,

“Explaining the Holocaust stretches the historian to the limits in the central task of providing rational explanation of complex historical developments. Simply to pose the question of how a highly cultured and economically advanced modern state could ‘carry out the systematic murder of a whole people for no reason other than they were Jews’ suggests a scale of irrationality scarcely susceptible to historical understanding.” (Kershaw, Ian. “Hitler and the Holocaust.” In Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, 237 – 281. Binghamton, New York: Vail-Ballou Press, 2008).

In both Kershaw’s and Nicholas Stargardt’s pieces, the central point is the discussion that currently surrounds the Holocaust. Many historians are and have discussed how anti-Semitism became a key component in the practice of government and what role Hitler played throughout the implementation of anti-Semitism on a national level. Both Kershaw and Stargardt discuss the different points that are made in the current controversy on the Holocaust. The two main arguments for the questions posed above are the ‘Hitlerist’ or ‘intentionalist’ point-of-view and the ‘structuralist’ or ‘functionalist’ point-of-view.

Intentionalists or ‘Hitlerists’ argue that Hitler was the central actor who planned the murder of the Jews. The ‘Hitlerist’ interpretation stresses Hitler’s personal anti-Semitic attitude and his notions of scientific racism, as well as his personal vendetta against Jews when it comes to blaming them for Germany’s defeat in WWI. Generally, the systematic killing of Jews in Europe was Hitler’s intention from the very beginning and was central to the ideology of the Nazi party. Functionalists or ‘structuralist’ view the bigger picture and take other factors and agents such as, timing that led to the eventual systematic killings of millions of Jews. Although, these two points defer from each other, according to Stargardt, historians have generally accepted that 1941 was a crucial year. Would you say the same?  Which argument do you find the most convincing – ‘structuralists’ or ‘intentionalists’? Why?


A Twisted Path or Straight Path?

In Kershaw’s “Hitler and the Holocaust,” the main idea posses the question of interpreting Hitler and his relation to the ‘Final Solution’.  According to Kershaw there are two types of interpretation: ‘intention’ and ‘structure’.  Intentionalists believe Hitler fully intended to eliminate the Jews by created an elaborate plan, known as the Final Solution, in which was the central goal of Hitler’s dictatorship.  In contrast, structuralists believe Hitler played a minimal role in creating the Final Solution, instead it was the bureaucracy who were unable to agree on a single idea on how to eliminate Jews, creating lots of chaos.

Looking further into the ‘structuralist’ interpretation, Yehuda Bauer, an Israeli expert on the Holocaust, argues the bureaucracy caused the twisted path leading to the ‘Final Solution.’  With Hitler playing a minimal role in the planning of the ‘Final Solution,’ it is difficult to argue there was a straight, direct path leading to the annihilation of the Jews.  The bureaucracy was unable to agree on clear objectives and the answer to the ‘Jewish Question,’ therefore creating chaos within the government .

The structuralist interpretation argues Hitler was minimally involved which raises the question as to whether or not Hitler was necessary in organizing and constructing the ‘Final Solution’, or was any individual in a dictator role capable of doing so?  Is the radicalization of the individuals and bureaucracy to blame instead?

The Racial Paradigm: Hitler and the Holocaust

Both Stargardt and Kershaw discuss Hitler’s leadership style. Each specifically discusses Hitler’s leadership as it relates to the extermination of the Jewish population in Germany, or the Final Solution. Kershaw discusses Hitler’s leadership style as a bottom-up approach. Stargardt similarly argues that Hitler relied on local leaders to implement his policies.

It is commonly known that Hitler had his inner-circle of advisors whom he relied on for advice and implementation. However, both articles brought up the racial issue that was central to Hitler’s regime. To orchestrate something as large as the Holocaust, mass organization was necessary.

Stargardt has a section of his article titled “The Racial Paradigm” in which he addressed the complexity of race during the Holocaust. He argued that although political decisions were made within the inner-circle, the majority of participation came from middle class lobbyists. Stargardt’s claim is logical, as mass participation had to occur in order for society’s perception to change.

This brings up the subject of societal consciousness. Although there was mass participation, was society aware of the bottom-up format of government, or were they still under the impression that this was solely Hitler’s doing?


Intentionalist v. Structuralist and the Final Solution

Both Nicholas Stargardt’s “The Holocaust” and Ian Kershaw’s “Hitler and the Holocaust,” address the various interpretations surrounding Hitler and his ideology, and how (and to what extent) this translated into the “Final Solution,” the mass extermination of the Jewish people in the name of achieving an ideal race. The two main categories of classification for scholars studying this topic include “intentionalist” versus “structuralist” responses.

Also referred by Kershaw as “Hitlerism,” intentionalists believe that Hitler was at the forefront of anti-Semitic ideology and its execution. Scholars argue that Hitler had always possessed the specific desire to exterminate the Jewish population, and that the policy changes implemented by the Nazi Party were all purposeful in achieving that end goal. They cite evidence such as Hitler’s Mein Kampf, as well as personal anecdotes from his life to demonstrate the presence of these desires as early as 1918. In contrast, structuralists assert that to place the blame solely on Hitler and his desires is too simplistic, and that there is a need for greater analysis. They argue that Hitler may not have possessed the specific idea of mass extermination, citing his use of common vague phrases such as “getting rid of the Jews.” However, structuralists believe that policies implemented as a result of vague directions by Hitler, as well as the subsequent actions of the lower bureaucrats within the Nazi system are what instigated the “Final Solution”.

The structuralist approach suggests that the haphazard and unplanned shaping of Nazi policies towards Jews resulted in the implementation of the “Final Solution.” After reading about Hitler’s leadership style and reflecting on the structuralist versus intentionalist theories, can we consider the Holocaust an event that would have happened inevitably?





Conflict of Perceptions: Intentionalists vs. Structuralists

In Nicholas Stargardt’s “The Holocaust” and Ian Kershaw’s “Hitler and the Holocaust”, many different interpretations as to the relationship between Hitler’s personal agenda and the “Final Solution” are presented. The two prevailing modes of thought in regards to Hitler’s influence in the mass extermination of the Jews within these texts are the “intentionalist” perspective and the “structuralist” perspective.

The “intentionalist” thinkers seek to place Hitler as the main fountain from which the anti-Semitic actions of the Nazi regime spilled forth. Intentionalism, also known as “Hitlerism”, assumes that Hitler had always desired and intended the annihilation of the Jews, and that the major policies of the Nazis in regards to the Jewish population was a result of his own aspirations. Structuralists, on the other hand, believe that there was a greater context than just Hitler’s own misgivings about the Jews that led to the eventual implementation of the Final Solution. They claim that it was the “improvised shaping” of Nazi policies towards Jews that led to the ultimate order for their extermination. ((Kershaw, Ian. “Hitler and the Holocaust” in Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, 239.))

There is evidence for both interpretations; Hitler clearly despised Jews, which intentionalists use as support for the idea that individual autonomy can influence the course of history dramatically. On the other hand, historian Hans Mommsen pointed out that Hitler also despised decision making (though in my opinion, this could be used to detach him from all policies of the German state he was not explicitly involved in) and that the Nazi policy towards Jews went through multiple stages and considered several options before arriving at their Final Solution.

There is also a compromise between these two interpretations of history: that the plan to kill the Jews came from Hitler, but only after a long deliberation and this was not his original intent. ((Kershaw, “Hitler and the Holocaust”, 244-5)) This interpretation leans towards the intentionalist approach, however, as it directly involves Hitler whereas structuralists seek to incriminate a much large German participating audience.

A common falsity pointed out in “Hitler and the Holocaust” is that because Hitler made clear his desire for the eradication of the Jews, and because such an episode eventually occurred, many historians draw the conclusion that “Hitler’s expressed ‘intention’ must have caused the destruction”. ((Kershaw, “Hitler and the Holocaust”, 246)) Besides being an egregious oversimplification of the contingency of the Final Solution in a wider historical context, it also ignores vast amounts of evidence that the Nazi government was primarily responding to public demands with their increasingly hostile policies towards the Jews; to say that Hitler was the sole cause of their destruction is to cast away notable events such as the implementation of the Nuremberg Laws and the incorporation of Poland’s three million Jews at a time when the Nazis were attempting to rid the country of them. ((Kershaw, “Hitler and the Holocaust”, 252))

There is also a great deal of research supporting the intentionalist approach. According to Stargardt, Hitler and the Nazis “created an atmosphere in which this was discussable”. ((Stargardt, Nicholas. “The Holocaust” in German History Since 1800London: Arnold, 1997, 349)) However, the evidence presented in this text supports only Hitler’s hatred of Jews and his intent to remove them- not the contingency of the Holocaust on Hitler’s plans.

A particularly striking delineation I found was the attribution of a “traditional notion” of totalitarianism to intentionalists; that society bends to the will of its dictator. This is contrasted with the structuralist concept of the state bowing to the people. This contrast illuminates some of the deeper differences between the two schools of thought. As for myself, the structuralist approach seems to make more sense, as it takes into account the broader implications of the day.


Looking at Literacy in a Multi-Ethnic Russian Empire

While Kappeller discusses several different aspects of ethnicity in the nineteenth century in the eighth chapter of The Russian Ethnic Empire, the portion discussing the growth of literacy most definitely stands out.  When discussing literacy, Kappeller first explains that the censuses taken in the latter half of the century, he notes that literacy was defined by reading, but not necessarily writing.  Additionally, only the ability to read and write Russian was recorded, making literacy rates among certain ethnic populations lower.  Kappeller notes this could be one of two things: either education in the ethnic school systems were oral and repetition-based (or as Kappeller calls it, “parrot fashion”), or the census may not have taken into account foreign languages such as “Arabic, Tatar, Hebrew, Yiddish, or Mongolian” (Kapeller, pg. 310).  Additionally, he compares literacy between Protestant and Jewish populations with Protestants in Russia having more literacy, primarily because women were more literate in these communities than in Jewish communities.  This can be tied to the differences in educational beliefs, like that in Jewish communities, education was geared toward men.

1. Although Kapeller mentions that had the census recorded the ability to write along with literacy, it would have made the numbers for literacy in Russia as a whole significantly decrease, the bigger question is not why writing was not recorded in the census, but rather why were so many people literate yet not able to write?

2. Why wasn’t literacy still widespread with the general population of Russian women at this point in time, and mostly just in Protestant communities?

Russia as a Multi-Ethnic Empire

In the latter half of the nineteenth century,  Russia experienced a massive shift in population in a number of ways.  From ethnicity, to occupation, Russia became more modern than it had ever been before.

Kaeppler talk about the expansiveness of Russia’s ethnicity.  The vast array of backgrounds was established by the 1897 Russian Empire census, the only official one they had ever taken at that time.  In the census, it was revealed that the Russian ethnicity/ nationality made up only 44.3% of the entire Empire.  The other 55.7% was a large mixture of ethnicities;  This was shocking when the Tsar and government declared that two thirds of the empire was of Russian nationality.  The sheer number of nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and languages mentioned in Kappeler’s article is a testament to how diverse the Russian Empire was.

In addition to the ethnic diversity of Russia, there was also an increase in agricultural diversity.  With the freeing of serfs in 1861, Russia was undergoing a large amount of economic change.  Specific regions were beginning to focus on more commercial crops and crops that were more specific the the region they were being grown in.  For example, the Poles focused on cultivating Tobacco, while Middle Asia grew vineyards and rice.  This was only possible as trading was much more expansive and farming was more versatile.

Was this diversity a positive or negative aspect of the Russian Empire?