One of the primary characteristics and areas of study on European dictators of the interwar period is the use and degree of violence in these regimes. In Christian Gerlach’s and Nicolas Werth’s chapter in Beyond Totalitarianism on “State Violence – Violent Societies,” the role that violence played in Nazi Germany in Stalinist Soviet Union respectively, as well as past historical interpretations of state violence within these regimes are assessed with a focus on the methods of violence, the degree of the violence, the role of the state, and the incorporation of ideologies ( (Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth, “State Violence- Violent Societies” in Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, ed. Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 133) ). Gerlach and Werth argued that state violence is much more complex than the systematic killings that were seen in concentration camps and gulags. Throughout the chapter, Gerlach and Werth investigated state violence at a smaller degree and concluded that in both regimes, “initiative from below” and public participation/ support were important key components of such violence for the sake of creating a perfect society that would benefit the state through a mass consensus within the collective population. (Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth, 172).
According to Gerlach and Werth, mass violence in Nazi Germany is characterized as a form of “imperialist” violence, while mass violence in Stalinist Soviet Union was characterized as “developmental violence”(Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth, 179). The difference in mass violence between both regimes reflects on different case studies discussed by Gerlach and Werth. The discussion on “socially harmful elements” in the Soviet Union and “asocials” in Nazi Germany supports the idea that mass violence was “developmental” or “imperialist” in the respective dictatorships. In Nazi Germany, different social subgroups were persecuted as “asocials,” people who were accused of deviant behavior. By 1939, “asocials” were categorized as Gemeinschaftsfremde and Gemeinschaftunfahige, “alien to the community” and “socially unfit” (Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth, 144). It is important to note the use of diction in describing those who were targets of exclusion and eventually mass violence. By stating that “asocials” were “alien” to the “people’s community,” it antagonizes them and creates a divide between native Germans and those who are not considered to be part of a “greater Germany.” For this reason, Gerlach and Werth argue that mass violence in Nazi Germany is characterized as a form of “imperialist” violence since it was externally driven considering that most victims were people residing on Nazi-occupied territories.
In the Soviet Union, those who were perceived as “socially dangerous” and “socially harmful” were deprived of rights that were granted to “good” Soviets, those who were involved with the collective good of the nation and the party. Mass violence in the Soviet Union eventually targeted those who were “socially harmful” to the state in an effort to create a harmonious and conflict-free society. Amir Weiner added in his article, “Nature, Nurture, and Memory in a Socialist Utopia: Delineating the Soviet Socio-Ethnic Body in the Age of Socialism,” that state violence in the Soviet Union was internally driven and sought to rid Soviet society of “divisive and obstructing elements.” Weiner stated that, “the Soviet state emerged and operated within an ethos aptly named by Zygmunt Bauman as the ‘gardening state,’ which appeared ever more universal in the wake of the Great War. This cataclysmic event brought to fruition the desires for a comprehensive plan for the transformation and management of society, one that would create a better, purer, and more beautiful community through the removal of unfit human weeds” ( (Weiner, Amir. “Nature, Nurture, and Memory in a Socialist Utopia: Delineating the Soviet Socio-Ethnic Body in the Age of Socialism.” The American Historical Review 104, no. 4, 1999, pp. 1116.) ) Considering that most societies of the interwar period aimed towards perfecting their populations and creating an organized and controlled society, can’t “developmental violence” also apply to Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany? Do you agree with Gerlach and Werth or do you think that both “imperialist violence” and “developmental violence” could be applied to all three regimes? Is the aim of mass violence, as discussed in both readings, to create utopian societies?