Stalin, Fascists and Freedom

The texts assigned for Friday’s class portray the changing views, which the Soviet Union held towards Germany and other Western nations. While the Hitler-Stalin Pact suggests a mutual understanding between the two leaders (and, by extension, their nations), the later documents paint a far different view of a ‘fascist’ Germany.

In Stalin’s speech in February 1946, he seems to align the Soviet Union with the Western world in a coalition against fascism, and describes the USSR (and other countries involved in the coalition) as freedom-loving. To most Westerners, this would appear contradictory: freedom is only seen in a capitalistic, democratic context, indicating that socialism and communism are inherently freedom-less.

Stalin’s response to Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech shows a shift in Stalin’s thinking, as Stalin compares Churchill to Hitler and accuses Churchill of creating an English racial theory, somewhat similar to Hitler’s racial theory. This was a drastic shift, occurring in only a little over a month (Stalin’s response was published in Pravda in March 1946).

In general, these shifts in allies and the definition of ‘good’, ‘evil’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ don’t seem uncommon for the Soviet Union. The massive arrests during the time period, in addition to the Great Purges within the Communist Party, seem indicative of this trend.

The Realities of Collectivization

In 1928, Joseph Stalin addressed the need for collectivization of grain farms and the procurement of grain from villages throughout the Soviet countryside. His speech, “Grain Procurements and Prospects for Development of Agriculture,” attacks villages throughout Siberia who refused to relinquish their surplus grain to the State. He cites the grain shortage occurring throughout the country, and states, “The effect will be that our towns and industrial centres, as well as our Red Army, will be in grave difficulties; they will be poorly supplied and will be threatened with hunger. Obviously, we cannot allow that.”[1] This statement highlights the fragility of the Soviet Union at the beginning of Stalin’s time in office. It also demonstrates his fears of an unnecessary war that the Soviet Union could not withstand, as Lynne Viola mentions in her chapter on collectivization.[2] In an attempt to motivate the local masses, Stalin accuses the local Party organizations and kulak, or local gentry, of hoarding the surplus grain, and implores the peasants to force the kulak to give the grain to the State. However, as his subsequent speeches and the legislation of the Central Committee in the following years indicates, this call to action led the collectivization efforts to spin out of control and away from the State’s expectations.

Viola notes in her chapter the violence that resulted from Stalin’s collectivization plans and his anti-kulak statements. The cadres placed in the countryside, wishing to prove themselves to the State, forced peasants and workers to collectivize in order to reach their quotas. They also attacked the kulak in order to force them to give up their capitalistic system of grain management. Such actions led to Stalin’s “Dizzy with Success” speech in March of 1930 and the Central Committee’s On Forced Collectivization of Livestock legislation in March of 1932. After mentioning the success of completely socializing the countryside, Stalin attempts to reprimand the country peasants and quell the attacks on the kulak. He states, “They [successful people] show a tendency to overrate their own strength and to underrate the strength of the enemy.”[3] The success of collectivization is and should be the voluntary nature of collective-farm movement, he reminds the populous.

Similarly, the Central Committee calls the forced collectivization of the countryside a “flagrant violation of repeatedly issued directives.”[4] However, this resolution remained ineffective given the soft language used when telling the party how to address the problem on the ground. “The TsK of the VKP (b) proposes to all party, Soviet and kolkhoz organizations…”[5] The word “proposes” is not nearly as definitive or intimidating enough to force the party officials along the countryside to adhere to the Committee’s suggestions, when they gained popularity and success administering collectivization their own ways through pressure and fear.

As Viola demonstrates in her chapter, due to Stalin’s insufficient intervention and the Committee’s ineffective, unenforceable legislation, party officials throughout the countryside developed their own system of collectivization that nearly destroyed the government’s mission as well as the country.

[1] J.V. Stalin, Grain Procurements and the Prospects for the Development of Agriculture,

[2] Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in Robert V. Daniels (ed.) The Stalin Revolution: Foundations of the Totalitarian Era. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994: 108-126.

[3] J.V. Stalin,

[4] TsK VKP (b), On Forced Collectivization of Livestock,

[5] Ibid.

Habitual Violence

In the article “States of Exception”, the authors Mark Edele and Michael Geyer examine the extraordinary and unique violence that occurred on the Eastern front, the conflict between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The authors assert that the relationship between the two states produced the violence, and it’s escalation. They argue that “the devastating nature of this war, [they] suggest, is the consequence of the inimical interrelationship of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union” ((Edele, Mark, and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception.” In Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, edited by Michael Geyer and Shelia Fitzpatrick, 345-395. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)). No one event, action, or side assumes complete responsibility for the barbarism that defined the Eastern front.

The authors highlight numerous historical events, trends, and statements that reinforce the cyclical nature of the escalation. The authors identify that the escalation grew from the bottom up ((Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 358)). Additionally, the authors write that this escalation of violence resulted in and corresponded with the extermination/persecution of various religious, ethnic, and social groups within both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. This specific movement of growth developed out of Nazi Germany’s deliberate loosening of its control over the actions of lower leaders ((Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 351)). This notion seems to support the structuralist view of Hitler’s role in regards to the Holocaust and also the overall decentralized structure of the Nazi state as outlined in Nicholas Stargardt’s article, “The Holocaust” and Ian Kershaw’s article, “Hitler and the Holocaust.” However, the state’s role in inducing a bottom up escalation of the violence seemingly contradicts the very nature of a free and self perpetuating violence. Furthermore, the entire notion of reciprocity, that the violence of the Soviet Union encouraged the escalation of violence by Nazi Germany and visa versa, undermines the authors’ arguments that the violence truly originated from the bottom.

Both Stalin and Hitler reacted to and encouraged shifts in their respective army’s display and direction of violence ((Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 369, 353 )). Do you think that the violence and its unique development actually developed from the bottom? Also, the authors argue that the radicalization of violence actually developed out of a sense of pragmatism. Do you think this pragmatism reinforces or undermines the uniqueness and bottom up movement of the violence?

Habitual Terror

The In Sheila Fitzpatrick’s book Everyday Stalinism; Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s, the chapter “A Time of Troubles” analyzes the nature and evolution of the Great Purges of 1937-1938. She introduces the notions of surveillance, when the State monitors its population, and terror, when the population are the target of extreme State violence, and tracks their relationship in the Soviet Union ((Fitzpatrick, Sheila. “A Time of Troubles,” in Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s. (Oxford University Press, 2000), 190.)) . She writes about how State violence, originally aimed at specific classes, eventually turned inward and escalated due to paranoia and publicity.

I was particularly intrigued in the self-perpetuated escalation of terror within the Soviet Union. The State targeted elite Communist leaders in 1937 because of they abused their regional power, stole money from the State, lived lavish lifestyles, undermined the State, and developed dangerously powerful personal cults ((Fitzpatrick, “A Time of Troubles,” 196)). These habits defined a new type of bourgeoisie class that the Communist Party feared and battled. The public trials by which the State tried these leader, and highly detailed coverage of them, wrecked the state, heightened public interest and awareness. In the same public manner, everyone connected to a guilty individual faced the real threat of State persecution. These criminalization of human interactions and connections set ablaze a wild fire of paranoia among the populous. I am impressed how the nature of the Great Purge naturally changed.

In many respects, the Great Purge outgrew the State. It became a self perpetuating terror. Citizens turned in neighbors for the slightest remarks, suspicions, or seeming self preservation. Fitzpatrick captures the evolution of the Great Purge with the example of Andrei Arhilovsky. This former political prisoner’s attitude towards the Purge shifted over time through three stages. He originally praised the arrest and elimination of enemies of the State, then feared their overwhelming presence as the number of arrests escalated, and ultimately viewed them as “‘a replay of the French Revolution. More suspicion than fact” ((Fitzpatrick, “A Time of Troubles,” 215)). The Great Purge’s fanatic nature fueled it but eventually out grew and consumed itself. Was the escalation of the Great Purge inevitable? Were the Great Purges a product of Modernity or Communism?


Leadership from the top.   Two books, Three New Deals by Wolfgang Schivelbusch and Beyond Totalitarianism, a book with a collection of works by various authors, explored the term leadership and how it applied to FDR, Hitler, and Stalin. Schivelbusch’s book two new deals focused on the connection FDR and Hitler had with its population using the term ‘charisma’ while Chapter 2 of Beyond Totalitarianism primarily focused on the political make up of Hitler and Stalin and the differences between the two men.

In Chapter two of Schivelbush’s book, he focuses on the how FDR and Hitler made connections with its population using ‘Charisma.’ Specifically, Schivelbush refers to the term “Charisma” when he discusses FDR and Hitler.  Schivelbush discussed what a charismatic leader is and how they arise.  He stated that a charismatic leader “is a man who stands above party politics” and that the charismatic leader “arises in crisis situations”. ((SchivelBusch, WolfGang. Three New Deals. New York: Henry Holt and Company 2006. 50))  As examples, Schivelbusch pointed out how FDRs fireside chat and Hitlers rallies were used to rally the population.  In his fireside chats, FDR attempted to rally the US population in hopes to raise their moral levels during the Great Depression and World War II.   Interestingly enough, Schivelbusch notes that no other person could pull off the fireside chats like Roosevelt. ((SchivelBusch, WolfGang. Three New Deals. New York: Henry Holt and Company 2006. 56))  In his way of boosting the German population, Hitler used speeches to promote his opinions and facts.  Schivelbusch noted that Hitler had a particular way of presenting his speeches.  He noted that Hitler’s speeches had three parts.  Hitler speeches entailed presenting facts, then angrily blame German enemies for the problems, and then end his speeches with “positive” tone.  ((SchivelBusch, WolfGang. Three New Deals. New York: Henry Holt and Company 2006. 56))  Hitler used these speeches to let the German population know that Germany was going to be strong and that its ‘enemies’ would not get in the way.  While FDR’s speech came in a more calm and collected manner in hopes to boost American moral, Hitler wanted Germans to get excited about the future, a future where Germany would be strong again.

Yoram Gorlizki and Hans Mommsen’s piece on Stalinism and National Socialism in the book Beyond Totalitarianism also discussed Hitlers ability to talk.  Like Schivelbush’s chapter on leadership, Girlizki and Mommsen discussed how Hitlers ability to talk was key to his authority.  The authors argued that all of Hitlers “most important policy decisions were accompanied by major speeches.” ((Gorlizki, Yoram and Hans Mommsen.  “The Political ‘dis’orders of Stalinism and National Socialism” in Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, edited by Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick. 64-65. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009))


Schivelbush’s chapter on Hitler and FDR and Gorlizki and Mommsen’s share a common theme.  They both discuss the characteristics of leaders and how they were a leader of men.  Although Schivelbush used FDR instead of Gorlizki and Mommsen’s use of Stalin, they both discuss how these leaders have certain characteristics that make them capable of leading their countries and boosting their populations moral, regardless of how history views them. FDR had the ability to give a strong and confident voice to the American people to get through hard times in his Fire side chats.  Hitler also used speeches to boost German unity and confidence through his rally’s.  Stalin on the contrary used his ability of working long hours “on the machinery of the government” to push his regime forward. ((Gorlizki, Yoram and Hans Mommsen.  “The Political ‘dis’orders of Stalinism and National Socialism” in Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, edited by Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick. 64-65. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009))



The Importance of Totalitarianism

Friedrich and Brzezinski utilized the term totalitarian dictatorship to separate the governments of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia from other autocracies in “Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy.”  In the words of Friedrich and Brzezinski the totalitarian dictatorship “emerges as a system of rule for realizing totalist intentions under modern political and technical conditions”, or put more simply, a system of complete control using modern technology and infrastructure (17).  Published in the 1950s “Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy” lost credibility with its false prophecy that the only way to neutralize a totalitarian state was from an external conflict with the destabilization of the Soviet state in the 1980s.

Totalitarian dictatorship for Laqueur in “Is there now, or has there ever been, such a thing as Totalitarianism?” existed only within a specific time and place: the regime of National Socialism in Germany and the rule of Stalin in Soviet Russia.  Moving beyond Nazi Germany and Stalin’s dictatorship in Soviet Russia, the governments shift away from a totalitarian state and towards a more relaxed authoritarian system.  Kershaw in “Totalitarianism Revisited: Nazism and Stalinism in Comparative Presence,” stipulated that totalitarianism existed as a “phase” in Stalin-ruled Russia and the beginning of Nazi Germany.  Both of these definitions, as opposed to Friedrich and Brzezinski’s, have roughly thirty more years of Stalinist Russia to examine whilst making comparisons with Nazi Germany.  Laqueur and Kershaw, therefore, remain united in challenging the initial definition of totalitarianism as an institution that can only be changed by an external war.

The common thread of all three of the definitions presented by the authors relied on the flexibility and variability of the concept totalitarianism.  Neither of the more modern authors completely disregards totalitarianism, just tweaks the initial concept to gain new meaning.  In this way the word becomes a representation for the continuing study and historiography of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.

Stalin’s Reply to Churchill

3 Observations

1. Churchill had a similar view to Hitler, believing that one racial group should control all the power.  Instead of believing the Aryans had all the power Churchill believed that English-speaking nations should rule over the world.

2. The world must notice that the Soviet Union has lost more men in German invasions then both the United States and the United Kingdom.

3. The common people are being controlled by Churchill and his party and need to think for themselves.

2 Questions

1. What was the international response to comparing Churchill and Hitler?

2. What was the reaction in England to Stalin’s comments about the “common people”?

1 Thought:

It is interesting to see Stalin alienate both sides of the war.  He goes after Hitler, briefly calling him out for the Nazi racial theory and attacks Churchill.  He has basically left himself with no one to lean on in war.  However Stalin does not come across as worried.  He says that the Soviet Union has lost the most men in the war and yet does not say they will give up.  He gives strength to the Soviet Union in his speech while also taking away both possible allies.


European Dictators: The Worse of Two Evils?

While viewing pictures of the gulags on, I was reminded of the pictures of Auschwicz  I had seen in high school during our holocaust unit. The starvation, disease, and forced labor I read about on the site, as well as in the book A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich seemed reminiscent of the Nazi concentration camps.

These facts made me wonder why in American culture Joseph Stalin’s crimes often seem to be minimized. (Not that I believe Hitler’s crimes are exaggerated at all.)  According to the Jewish Virtual Library, 11 million people were killed in the Holocaust. According to the International Business Times, Stalin’s kill count is estimated to be 20 million. *Both counts vary according to different sources.

I will not try to determine “who is worse.”  I am merely examining why Hitler seems so much more evil to Americans than Stalin does, while, at first glance, they committed similar crimes.

I think the reason America remembers Hitler more than Stalin is because 1) Hitler was concerned with the extermination of certain races 2) Hitler killed using more sadistic methods 3) Stalin’s crimes were internalized to his country and 4) Stalin had been an American ally.

While Hitler was probably “more racist” as his entire philosophy was based around race, Stalin wasn’t exactly Martin Luther King. He sent various nationalities to the gulags because he perceived them as a threat.  These nationalities included Ukrainians, Germans, and yes, Jews.  So Stalin was also anti-Semitic.  Though he was arguably less so than Hitler, (he didn’t want to actually exterminate them), does it really matter who is more or less anti-Semitic?  Both of them killed people simply for being Jewish.  Which we can all agree is incredibly wrong.

Yes, Hitler was definitely more sadistic than Stalin. While Stalin killed people who he felt threatened by, Hitler almost seemed to take joy in the pure act of sadistic killing. My guess is that this is what truly sets the two apart in the minds of most Americans. Stalin joins the ranks of Genghis Khan and the ancient Roman emperors- killing because they believed they had to in order to remain in power. Hitler’s more of a Jeffrey Dahmer figure with unlimited power.

Hitler also attempted to take over Europe: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, the Netherlands, France and an alliance with Italy, and an attempt on Russia. When he would take over a country, he would send the local Jewish, Romani, handicapped, etc. populations to concentration camps (except in the case of Poland, where he basically sent anyone he could).  Stalin stuck to the Soviet Union. While it was the largest country in the world at the time, it was Stalin’s, so he could more or less do as he pleased.

Finally, during World War II, the United States sided with the Soviet Union, and Stalin. First of all, Soviet troops fought valiantly against Hitler, following the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” rule.  Also, as we did ally ourselves with Stalin, we may have trouble admitting we sided with someone who was basically as evil as the one we were fighting against.

Stalin is perceived as less racist and less sadistic than Hitler. He stuck to his own territory and was even an American ally for a little while. Whether deserved or not, these reasons make Stalin the “lesser of two evils” for many Americans.