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Hitler and Stalin

  • Date Submitted: 09/01/2011 02:37 AM
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Millennium issue: Hitler and Stalin
The heights of evil
Dec 23rd 1999 | from the print edition

AS NIGHTMARES go, the similarities are striking. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin gave us the word “totalitarian”. No regimes, ever, had encompassed with such totality the peoples under their sway. Few had such mad ideas, none the means so intensively to stuff their subjects’ heads with them. None had both the technology and the readiness to kill on so huge a scale. They murdered by the million, terrorised by the hundred million—and, Hitler for 12 years, Stalin for 29, until his death, they got away with it.
Yet the differences were large. For one, Hitler was appointed chancellor, in January 1933, constitutionally, and with a ballot-box mandate: his National Socialists had won 37% of the vote in the free-and-fair Reichstag elections of July 1932, more than any other party. By 1939, rising living standards, a new sense of order, albeit forcefully imposed, and success abroad had won him huge popularity, which the hysteria of war and conquest then increased. For those Germans, the bulk, who supported him, or at least kept their heads down, life was far better, until the Soviet army and the Anglo-American airforces got to work in 1943, than the grim years of inflation and then unemployment after humiliation in the first world war.
Russia’s Communists never had such popular backing, except maybe in the joy of victory over Germany in 1945. Lenin took power in 1917 in a coup. His Bolsheviks won under 25% of the votes for a constituent assembly in the only national election they ever allowed, far behind a rural party of the left. Starting, it’s true, from a low base, in 74 years they never gave Russia’s people more than a hint of prosperity from a state-run economy built—above all under Stalin, leader from 1924 till his death in 1953—by ruthless means.
Yet in many ways they outdid Hitler. They lasted far longer in power. They beat him in battle, and then for half a century...

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