Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lenin, Stalin and Hitler

Lenin, Stalin and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe by Robert Gellately; published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York; 720 pages

Robert Gellately is a professor of history at Florida State University and was a visiting professor of twentieth century Jewish history at Oxford University. He is better known for his books that focus on the police state in Nazi Germany and the tragedy of racial politics and his work has been translated into 15 languages.

The latest is a scholarly look at the ideological threads that tie together Lenin, Stalin and Hitler. It is a comprehensive look at the similarities and differences between the Soviet and Nazi systems. It takes a nuanced approach to the three leaders and their interrelationships, like Hitler’s contempt for Soviet dictators and the terror they used on their own people.

Hitler worked hard ideologically to win over all non-Jewish Germans in a communal bonding based on exclusion of Jews and those deemed ‘‘racially unfit.” Hitler’s form of government was a consensus dictatorship. The author takes a sophisticated look of the social and political upheaval that gripped Europe between 1914 and 1945. Understanding the evolution of dictatorships is crucial to gauging the type of leaders and the agendas they set for their nation, with the resultant corrosive impact both internally and externally on other nations.

What makes this study unique is that most books focus on Hitler and Stalin as rivals while neglecting Lenin (the founder of the Soviet State). Instead, this book traces how Russian Bolshevism and German National Socialism (Nazism), built around the humiliation of World War I, would be on a collision course that led to a war of annihilation.

The book shows how in essence Nazism and Communism demanded constant struggle to keep power. Lenin was a man obsessed with concentrating all power in the hands of the Soviet (Bolsheviks). He could not compromise with Mensheviks, the Russian Communist minority who were moderate and wished to address the issue of civil rights. When Lenin consolidated power in October 1917, the first freedom to be tossed aside was freedom of expression. The Bolsheviks created three brutal apparatuses, the cheka (secret police), gulags (political concentration camps) and People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del or NKVD), forerunner to the KGB. These organs conducted purges and began the process of pogroms (ethnic cleansing) first of Jews, then Cossacks, professionals, intelligentsia and other classes of people.

Hitler in his early years fed on German Communism. By 1921, Hitler saw the German Communist Party as attempting to undermine the nation from within to create a dictatorship on the Russian model. Hitler’s ideas represented a dismal fantasy world of categorizing races based on their value to what he describes as Germanic races. Hitler’s book ‘‘Mein Kampf” (‘‘My Struggle”) provided a brutal philosophy of life backed up by pseudo-science. Today, Islamist militants provide pseudo-theological, narrow interpretations of history and foster intolerance to create jihadist groups obsessed with hate.

Editor’s note: Aboul-Enein lectures on Islamist militant ideological theory in war colleges, the George Schultz Foreign Service School and for deploying units. He wishes to thank Personnel Specialist 1st Class (SW⁄AW) David Tranberg for his edits and comments that enhanced this review.