Comparing 'isms' is risky

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Critique by Will Zuzak; 1999-12-11
In his article in the Edmonton Journal of Nov. 24, 1999, Professor David Marples has provided an excellent and fascinating comparison of the two great socialisms of the 20th century -- Communism and National Socialism. However, there are different perspectives and interpretations which can be attributed to historical events. Perhaps because of the proclivities of his youth, he tends to minimize the evils of Karl Marx and his followers.

I submit that the evils of both "isms" were manifest from their very inception. Once the concept of "dictatorship of the proletariat" was accepted by the proponents of communism, the establishment of a repressive totalitarian regime was assured. And if "religion is the opiate of the masses" and must be eradicated, then the martyrdom of religious believers becomes unavoidable.

Similarly, once the concept of "ubermenschen" and "untermenschen" was established as one of the basic tenets of National Socialism, genocide of the Slavs, Jews and Gypsies became inevitable during Hitler's expansion of the German Empire to the east.

The statement that "Communism was initially a vision for the downtrodden worker" can be counterbalanced by the equally true belief of Hitler that "National Socialism was initially a vision for the downtrodden German worker".

Thus the ideas of International and National Socialism are, indeed, very directly comparable. With the advent of the New World Order, let us hope that the unrealized visions of both Marx and Hitler are relegated to the dustbins of history.

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Comparing 'isms' is risky
Evils of fascism, communism need more than simplistic analysis
Edmonton Journal, Wednesday, November 24, 1999
As 1999 draws to a close, the media often focus on the best or worst of the century. Such comparisons have even found their way into The Journal with a simplistic comparison of the relative evils of communism and fascism. Such analogies are understandable, but misguided.

Communism predates fascism by seven decades. It arose through the works of Karl Marx, one of the most maligned, but most flamboyant personalities of the 19th century. Scientific socialism arose from the horrors of industrialization, and  it gave new direction to the European socialist movement. Marx may have been the originator of the system usually termed "communism" in the 20th century, but the version that succeeded was adapted to conditions in Russia by Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov (alias Lenin).

Once the Russian Social Democratic Party divided into two factions in 1903, the more orthodox Marxists (Mensheviks or Minority) under Yulii Martov, resolved to follow the tenets of traditional Marxism. Thus after the collapse of the Russian monarchy in March 1917, they were prepared to support the provisional government in the knowledge that capitalism under a bourgeois regime must be consolidated and allowed to develop before a proletarian or socialist revolution could occur. Under wartime conditions and economic hardship, the Bolshevik leaders Lenin and Trotsky seized power on behalf of a small, highly disciplined party.

For such a party to gain control in Russia and subsequently the territories of the Soviet Union could only have been achieved by force. The Bolsheviks rejected alliances with all other parties (a brief ruling coalition with the Left Social Revolutionary Party soon ended) and thus paved the way for the Stalin dictatorship. The rigidity of the Soviet regime was passed on to East European neighbors after the Second World War. The Soviet regime used the phrase "democratic centralism" to describe itself. The theory was that the socialist form would eventually mature into true communism (the state would whither away, according to Lenin). Instead a rigid totalitarian system evolved that bore little resemblance to the sort of society envisioned by Marx.

In the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev advanced the theory that if the Soviet system could only return to the original teachings of Lenin, then the "deviations" of the past could be rectified. Historians today concur that it was Lenin himself who corrupted Marxism and that a particularly rigid centralized system was an inevitable result of Lenin's policies. Stalin may have been an aberration - a pathological and suspicious tyrant - but he was a product of a state bureaucracy based on terror. Communism thus arose from the gross injustices associated with industrialization in Western Europe, but developed into a form of personal dictatorship. Its internationalism was submerged beneath the Soviet desire for control.

Fascism, on the other hand, united the malcontents after the First World War. Mussolini's version in Italy and the authoritarian regimes that arose in most of central Europe in the interwar period were less malevolent than German National Socialism. The latter arose from a myth: that the German army in the First World War was undefeated, but had been betrayed by the politicians at home. It also would not have arisen but for the Treaty of Versailles, by which the western Allies hoped to guarantee that a militaristic Germany would not arise again. The treaty actually ensured the opposite once the United States adopted isolationist tactics and Britain and France decided to appease Hitler.

The Nationalist Socialist Party also benefited from super-inflation, which crippled the Weimar Republic in 1923 and again in the late 1920s. By then, democracy had suffered the devastating effects of the Depression. Under Hitler in 1933, Germany had a leader who united demobilized soldiers and the lower middle classes who had seen their livelihood undermined by inflation. National Socialism proclaimed the rebirth of Germany, glorified militarism, vilified communism, and declared as its main goal the revision of the Treaty of Versailles.

Under Hitler, however, the party also found a universal scapegoat for the problems of Germany: the Jews. In Mein Kampf, Hitler gave the public his version of history: the Jews had polluted German and Austrian society; they had created Bolshevism and controlled international finance. Germany could thus overcome two problems in one. By occupying the broad expanses of the Soviet Union, it could eliminate the "Judeo-Bolshevik" regime and resolve the problem of living space for the German nation.

National Socialism was in essence a genocidal concept directed primarily against one group: to succeed it had to destroy the Jews of Europe.

Communism, for all its victims under Stalin, was initially a vision for the downtrodden worker. That is why ultimately the comparison of the two great "isms" of the 20th century - particularly when reduced to numbers of victims - is both fatuous and dangerous. One can compare the regimes of Hitler and Stalin, but not the ideas on which they claimed to be based. Hitler's vision became a stark reality; Marx's did not.
David R. Marples is a professor of history at the University of Alberta.

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