“Imperialist” Violence vs. “Developmental” Violence: The Violent Societies of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Soviet Union

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?

New Man the Hero?

The composition and fate of the hero has been the subject of culture and literature since antiquity.  The idea of one individual, surpassing common constraints and achieving greatness has long held an important place in the human psyche.  The creation of the New Man, by both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, transformed the concept of a new , modern human being into their own unique ideal.  Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck argued in Beyond Totalitarianism that the Nazi hero exemplified the optimal Aryan purity and perfection, while Soviet Russia allowed every individual to achieve greatness through self-reformation into the proletarian socialist.

The relationship between the physical body and this transcendent state of being occurred in both ideologies.  Soviet Russia concentrated its efforts in creating the ideal proletarian New Man by changing the human body through modernization and mechanization.  One example, Bogdanov underwent blood transfusions in order “to create a communal proletarian body.” ((Peter Fritzche and Jochen Hellbeck, “The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany,” in Beyond Totalitarianism, ed. Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 316))  In this case the individual attempted to change their blood, the very essence of their being, in order to create a New proletarian Man.  Although the physical transformation of the body into the New Man faded from mainstream Soviet ideology, the body (this time young, healthy, and robust) remained a secondary indicator of the ideal Soviet New Man. ((Fritzche and Hellbeck, “The New Man” in Beyond Totalitarianism, 320))

Similarly, Nazi Germany utilized the physical as a representation for the important ideas meant to create the New Man.  The racial purity espoused by the Nazi Party was meant to guarantee a superior race of human beings capable of world domination; by perfecting the body through race the German people could once more achieve greatness. ((Fritzche and Hellbeck, “The New Man” in Beyond Totalitarianism, 328))  The body must therefore be continuously transformed through generations of racially pure matches in order to create the ideal New Man.  Moreover, the idealized Aryan eclipsed racial purity and applied to clothing, exercise, and, diet. ((Fritzche and Hellbeck, “The New Man” in Beyond Totalitarianism, 329))  The New Man relied on physical and aesthetic, not just mental enlightenment; similar to the concept of the New Man in Stalinist Russia.

In both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, the regimes attempted to create a New Man by manipulation not only of the mind, but also the body.  How does this physical manipulation relate to the construction of the modern state?

The “New Man”

Germany and the Soviet Union utilized the idea of the New Man in different ways, according to Fritzsche and Hellbeck in “The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany”. In Nazi Germany he was a tough figure, with no remorse and racial superiority was held above all. In the USSR, the New Man conformed to the new movements and was an example to others. All of this was achieved through propaganda, which Schivelbusch, in Three New Deals detailed through radio broadcasts and symbols.

The Soviet New Man became part of the intelligentsia and was physically robust. The world was for the New Man, and the old must be removed. Yet in Nazi Germany it was for only the pure Aryan. To be deemed Aryan, Germans themselves had to compile Ahnenpass themselves.1The geneological passport that was created went from the current person backward. Each person was required to do this to prove their Aryan heritage. It was also inspected before marriage, and often couples were deemed unfit to marry due to their bloodlines. They were not candidates to contribute to the greatness of the Aryan race.

During the Nazi reign, some Germans, deemed Aryan and without defects, were denied the right to marriage and children. This is an area we have not discussed in class. It appears as though the Nazi regime was continually reducing the amount of people who were allowed to procreate, at a time when the population was already suffering from losses in the Great War, and soon to occur in WWII. To me it appears counterproductive. Yes they were trying to establish a master race and only wanted to pure of blood to live within Germany, yet they were continually putting the country at a great disadvantage by threatening to decrease the population of people and thus workers and soldiers.


1 Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck, “The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany,” Beyond Totalitariansim, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, 331.

Totalitarianism: Can a definition be reached?

Friedrich and Brzezinski define totalitarianism in a way that is often disagreed upon by others. They state it is an autocracy that is adapted to an industrial society. The ruler has ultimate power and none can challenge his decrees or rulings. Also, that it is only with modern technology and mass democracy that these regimes were able to come about. Totalitarian regimes can undergo changes, but never disappears. The only instance that causes it to crumble is war with outside powers.
“Totalitarian Revisited: Nazism and Stalinism in Comparative Perspective” by Ian Kershaw, disagrees with the definition of totalitarianism by Friedrich and Brzezinski. Kershaw states the term itself is dynamic and a transitional event, defining only one part of an authoritarian dictatorship. It can lead to the collapse of a system, as with Nazi Germany, or can lead to a systematic government, as was adopted by Soviet Russia. The author makes sure to note it is not a system in itself, and is not “compatible with the stabilization of a political system” (32). Once a system is stabilized, it is no longer totalitarian. In his conclusion, Kershaw reiterates that totalitarianism is a revolutionary, violent, and transitional period not the regime itself.
Friedrich and Brzezinski state fascist and communist dictatorships are almost one in the same. Kershaw argues that Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany are completely different, and can only be compared during Stalin’s reign, if at all because after Stalin’s death the government gained relative stability, and the revolutionary goals became less of a motivation and more rhetoric. Even Nazi Germany can only be compared in its beginnings to other fascist movements, beyond 1933 it is a whole new radical branch of fascism.
Walter Laqeur, in his article, “Is There Now, or Has There Ever Been, Such a Thing as Totalitarianism?” demonstrates another view on totalitarianism. In his article, he states the differences between a totalitarian regime and a dictatorship are the use of propaganda and social control, mobilization of the masses, ideology, and a monopolistic state-party. There is an agreement with Friedrich and Brzezinski in regards to the leader having unchallenged rule, however, according to Laqeur, the leader himself does not always make the decisions, but all are made by the center, and none without the approval of the leader. The article has a statement that helps explain why it is so difficult to define totalitarianism; “all democracies are alike, while tyrannies are tyrannies in different ways.” Each is unique, and thus is difficult to find one all encompassing definition.