World in the Grip of an Idea: 12. Nazi-Soviet Parallels, Part 2
DECEMBER 01, 1977 by CLARENCE B. CARSON
Continued from Part 1. (Nazi-Soviet Parallels, Part 1)
Rooting Out Infections
A part of the repression of Nazi and Soviet regimes was aimed at the "scapegoats," those on whom the blame for conditions was projected. Another part was aimed at rooting out and destroying any "infections" from these elements. The remainder of the repression, so far as it was ideological in origin, was aimed at concerting all efforts, i.e., producing action in conformity with the regime. Vladimir Yurasov, a defector from the Soviet Union, has summed up the impact of all this in a fictionalized account of his experiences. The following quotations in the speech of one of his characters are supposed to be from General Serov, a real life head of military security:
… We cannot permit our people to live as they please! Do you understand? People it seems have themselves too much in mind! But government deems that you should deny your own self, become the same sort of fanatic or else-off to a labor camp! Off to become a slave! Katia, do you understand?8
Hitler described the Nazi idea this way: "The underlying idea is to do away with egoism and to lead people into the collective egoism which is the nation."9 Or again, "It is essential that the individual should slowly come to realize that his own ego is unimportant when compared with the existence of the whole people. . ."¹º He would, he declared, stamp "the Nazi Weltanschauung [world outlook] on the German people." For, "it is only the harshest principles and an iron resolution which can unite the nation into a single body. . ."11
In both the Nazi and Soviet systems, then, the individual could be of no importance. Only as he joined his efforts to those of the mass would they be of consequence. It follows that individual liberty would be dependent upon the will of the regime, that individual rights could hardly exist, that freedom of choice would be severely circumscribed, and that private property could exist in name only. So it is in the Soviet Union; so it was in Nazi Germany.
Neither freedom of speech, nor freedom of press, nor freedom of association could be tolerated. In the Soviet Union, individuals have been sentenced to years of servitude in forced labor camps for failing to report some anti-Communist remark or joke that they have overheard. A priest was sentenced to death in Nazi Germany for making an anti-Nazi joke in front of an electrician who was working at his rectory.12 Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister for the Nazis, was in charge of the news, among other things. He determined what should be reported and how it should be told. Daily press directives went out from the Propaganda Ministry to editors all over the country, directives which covered in minute detail how everything should be handled." There are, of course, no private newspapers or television or radio stations in the Soviet Union; in consequence, all news is determined by political and ideological considerations. Crashes of Soviet airplanes are not reported, for instance, and the names of those killed are never published. There is good reason for this latter practice; no record is kept of passengers on airlines. So much for the individual!
Nazis held ceremonial book burnings at universities and other places. Not only were the works of Jews consigned to the flames but also many works of Gentiles that were considered dangerous. In general, modern art and modern music were proscribed in Germany. In the Soviet Union, all access to foreign materials is limited or restricted, and all publishing houses are government controlled. Much of the same sort of art and music that was prohibited in Nazi Germany is kept from view by the Communists. Both Communists and Nazis had ideological predilections toward "folk art," but in practice favored the classics. Freedom of association may well be the most valuable of all freedoms. Certainly, without it all other freedoms are sterile and barren. It is the means by which voluntary cooperation takes place, by which men work together in groups to effect their ends, whether social, religious, charitable, business, or whatever. And, freedom of association is anathema to collectivism. Since all activity must be concerted, any voluntary association is suspect, or worse. It is a potential conspiracy against the state; hence, it must be broken up.
Restrictions on Association
Association with an "enemy of the people" has long been proscribed in the Soviet Union. Penalties for it range from a few years in a camp to death. But it is not possible ordinarily to know who is an "enemy of the people" until he has been convicted or sentenced. Thus, all associations are fraught with danger, even with members of one’s own family, for punishment ordinarily is retroactive for association with an "enemy of the people." There are, of course, many associations in the Soviet Union, but membership in them is hardly voluntary, and they are not free. There are associations of writers, of artists, of workers, of farmers, of clergymen, and so on. It is usually necessary to belong to the "association" in order to engage in the activity involved-to belong to the association of writers in order to get published, for example-, but the association is under the direction and control of the state. It is an instrument of state, not of its members.
The restrictions on association were never as thorough and complete in Nazi Germany as in the Soviet Union, but it hardly could be said that the Germans had freedom of association. Only one political party was permitted so that there was no choice of political association. Only one labor union was allowed, and it was government controlled. In effect, there could be no private business associations or private farmer organizations. The government penetrated and controlled these. A dissident association of clergymen ended with many of its members in prisons and concentration camps.
Especially, the Jews
The most strenuous restrictions on association were between other Germans and Jews. (Jews generally have insisted, and rightly, that they were Germans too.) The most rigorous restrictions were applied to marital and sexual relations between Gentiles and Jews, but they extended to other areas as well. Except for the aged, "German" women were not permitted to work in Jewish households. "Jewish pupils were excluded from the state-school system, and all Jews were debarred from public swimming-pools, sports grounds and parks. . . . A typical scene took place at a Berlin greengrocer’s when a four-year old Jewish girl begged her mother for some cherries; when told that fruit was excluded from the Jewish ration she ran out of the shop crying."" It was precarious, of course, to associate with a Marxist, a pacifist, or anyone who might be anti-Hitler or anti-Nazi.
Private property is the necessary condition of individual rights. Without it, there is no place to stand against the state, and there are no means with which to protect oneself. It is well known that Russian Communists made a root and branch assault on private property. Such remnants of it as remain in the Soviet Union are privileges granted by the state, not rights belonging to the individual. The attack upon property was neither so direct nor so drastic in Nazi Germany as in the Soviet Union. The major exception was the property of Jews, much of which was confiscated. Indeed, the Nazi approach to property differed from that of revolutionary socialism. It was more nearly that of gradualist or evolutionary socialism. Hitler had declared in the middle of 1933 that henceforth he intended to follow an evolutionary road. This was generally so where private property was concerned.
Empty Forms of Property
Land titles and deeds generally were left undisturbed. Individual and family holdings were likely to remain technically in the same hands as before. "Technically" is the key word here, however, for property was treated as an adjunct of the state, something to be used and disposed of in the interest of the nation. The substance of private property was drained away while the form was left more or less intact. For example, from 1937 onward shareholders could no longer participate in determination of corporate policy. Many Nazis were placed on boards of directors, and control of companies was determined by a combination of managers, Nazi Party officials, and government policy. There was a movement toward a return to primogeniture and entail for rural property, which divested the owner of the power to dispose of the property. Agriculture was controlled by what was called the Food Estate. Some of its activities are described in the following:
The Food Estate maintained a dossier on each farm, in which it entered monthly reports on the state of crops and livestock, labour force and wages, delivery obligations and actual delivery data. Intent on its self-sufficiency drive, the regime also partly coerced and partly coaxed farmers into reducing the area under such crops as wheat, rye and temporarily-hops in favour of beet, flax, rape and sunflowers."
Coercion apparently extended also to farm animals, for the Food Estate prescribed that each hen should lay at least 65 eggs per year. It is unlikely, however, that Nazi Gauleiters came to the farms personally to wring the necks of non-conformist hens.
In brief, the Nazis controlled, or attempted to, the means of production and distribution of goods and services. All producers belonged to some sort of collective, one devised for the particular undertaking. These collectives, in turn, were interpenetrated and dominated by the government. Prices and wages were controlled; production quotas were set; and the unproductive were weeded out. Licensing for trades and crafts controlled the opening of new businesses. The socialist plank of the Nazi program was honored; even if it was not in the way prescribed by Marxists.
Repressive measures were not the only means used by Nazis or Soviet Communists to draw people into the collective effort. Both regimes sought to concert all efforts by "positive" measures. There were parallels here, too. Communists employ propaganda on a massive scale. Indeed, the language, the literature, the arts, and even the architecture is permeated with propaganda. Communists have long opposed the idea of "art for art’s sake." The practical meaning of this is that art exists for ideological, political, and propagandic reasons. They are equally opposed to food for food’s sake, tractors for tractors‘ sake, clothing for clothing’s sake, sports for sports‘ sake, and so on. Everything that is produced and brought into being is for the glorification of communism: production is for the statistics of production (gross national product, as we would say); victories of Soviet athletes show the superiority of communism; tractors demonstrate the progress of Russia under communism. Foreign newsmen are apt to be accused of spying when they take pictures in the Soviet Union. Their offense, one suspects, is that they may get such pictures published without the propaganda gloss which is necessary to "understanding" them.
The Nazis used propaganda as vigorously and extensively as any regime ever has. Joseph Goebbels undertook to see that every medium of expression was used to glorify the Aryan race, the German people, the Nazis, and Hitler. Nazis probably were much more successful in drawing the people into and making them a part of the propaganda than communists have been. German might became visible by way of goose-stepping soldiers marching through the streets or massing at some rally. But millions of Germans who were not in the army wore uniforms. Eventually, nearly all children belonged to the Hitler Youth between the ages of 10 and 18. There was the SA and the elite corps of SS in their uniforms. The ideal German, German history, and German exploits were depicted in song, in story, in film, on canvas and, if it could be done, in architecture. The Third Reich was supposed to last for a thousand years, a millennium, according to Nazi propaganda, and its enduring foundation was being laid by Hitler.
Commitment to Collectivism
There are too many parallels between the Nazis and Soviet Communists to be covered here. They parallel one another in such things as the Hitler Youth and Komsomol or Young Communists. Both attempted to use the schools for imbuing the young with their ideas. Both Nazi and Soviet leaders were gangster-like in their operations. Both regimes relied on terror to consolidate and maintain their power. The list could be made longer, but surely the point emerges. The matter has been aptly summed up by Leopold Tyrmand in the opening paragraph of a chapter on "Communism and Nazism: a short comparative study":
Ruminating on this topic is generally regarded as vulgar, as something too unbecoming to be done. But why? No one really knows for sure. It is the terror of a convention. Too many people who later became respectable declared themselves Communists at some time in their lives. Those, however, who survived both Nazism and communism, without consenting to participate in either, are not versed in such subtleties. In Eastern Europe there are millions of such people, and the rule consecrated by intellectuals that communism and Hitlerism are not the same does not hold water with them. Because if one thinks about it unsqueamishly, pitilessly, and to the end, it is all too easy to establish their grisly similarity.
The "grisly similarity" is a result of a similar cause: the commitment of both regimes to collectivism. The effort to produce human felicity in both cases produced widespread torment. Even grisly regimes, perhaps grisly regimes particularly, give rise to their own wry humor. Hitler was hardly a laughing matter to Jews, but their sense of humor, this last resort of the human spirit, did not entirely desert them. Here is a Jewish joke from Nazi Germany which might just as well have come from Soviet Russia:
Meeting the worried and abstracted Goldstein, Kohn tells him that Davidsohn has died. Goldstein shrugs his shoulders. "Well, if he got a chance to better himself. . ."17
1Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich, trans. by Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Avon Books, 1970), p. 181.
2Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers, trans. and ed. by Strobe Talbott (New York: Bantam, 1970), p. 614.
3 p. 279.
4 Speer, op. cit., p. 137.
5Khrushchev, op. cit., pp. 320-21.
6bid., p. 648.
7Speer, op. cit., p. 175.
8Vladimir Yurasov, Parallax, trans. by Tatiana Balkoff Drowne (New York: W. W. Norton, 1966), p. 124.
9Alan Bullock, Hitler, A Study in Tyranny (New York: Harper & Row, 1962 rev. ed.), p. 402.
11Ibid., p. 405.
12Richard Grunberger, The 12-Year Reich (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), p. 331.
13See ibid., p. 395.
14 "Ibid., pp. 456, 461.
15 p. ¹63.
16Leopold Tyrmand, The Rosa Luxemburg Contraceptives Cooperative (New York: Macmillan, 1972), p. 165.
17Grunberger, op. cit., p. 340.