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Journal of World History 10.1 (1999) 269-271



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Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison. Edited by Ian Kershaw and Moshe Lewin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp. xii + 369. $54.95 (cloth); $18.95 (paper).

In Stalinism and Nazism Ian Kershaw and Moshe Lewin have collected thirteen essays from a conference in Philadelphia in 1991, where twenty-seven papers and eighteen commentaries were presented. The contributions span the history of Stalinism and National-Socialism for the fifteen years between 1930 and 1945, making comparable and, in part, comparing the two systems, especially their wartime records.

In their introduction the editors choose what they call the "common ground" approach—not trying to judge whether or not a label like "totalitarianism" might fit or whether we may speak of an essential "sameness," but looking for "pointers towards explaining how such easily equated dictatorships, though fundamentally different in so many respects, were produced almost simultaneously in countries with sharply differing profiles" (p. 5). In his overview on Stalinism, Ronald Grigor Suny describes the constant narrowing of the political field from Lenin's times to the 1930s, when the "Khoziain" regularly and frequently gave directives. Lewin points to the contradictory process of a growing bureaucracy on one hand (it exercised a monopoly of implementation of politics and was growing fast) and, on the other hand, the despotism of Stalin, the "creature of his party" (p. 70). Stalin depended on shock methods that were antibureaucratic in character.

Hans Mommsen also points to the antibureaucratic character of dictatorship, in his case the National-Socialist one. Hitler's conviction that within a seemingly archaic competition system the best would win [End Page 269] led to an escalation of ruthlessness in the pursuit of the aims of the movement, to "cumulative radicalization" (p. 82), and in the long run to self-destruction. Kershaw, following that, puts weight on the difference between Stalin and Hitler, the first intervening constantly, the second trying to stay aloof from the everyday infighting. Lewin, however, points to common ground: both dictatorships, if in different ways, were "versions of a 'deconstruction' of the state as a rational-legal, ad-ministrative, and normally policed organization" (p. 121). Also starting from the chaotic character of both regimes, Michael Mann attempts to explain both as embarking "on a continuous revolution, refusing to compromise with allies and enemies" (p. 145).

In the second part of the book we find comparisons in interaction, the record of both parties examined in their war against one another. Omar Bartov writes on the two competing images of the war: the blitzkrieg, seemingly technical and professional, orderly and neat, and the massive, destructive, chaotic defeat following Kursk. Images and realities relate, but in a different way. The "modern" media coverage at home created this image of neatness and order, but in fact the blitzkrieg was "simultaneously related to unleashing of policy of genocide toward other populations" (p. 183). Bernd Bonwetsch shows that the catastrophic defeat of the Red Army in 1941 and early 1942, despite its superiority in armaments and men, was largely attributable to Stalin's unprofessional interventions into military matters. The change only occurred when, in summer 1942, professionalism won over party intervention, highlighted by the abolition of war commissars on 9 October 1942. Jacques Sapir, although noting some similarities in economy between the two fighting countries, argues that the differences between the two technological cultures outstripped these similarities.

In the third part, some historiographical issues are tackled. Mark von Hagen describes the slow transfer of historiography from the ideologies of the regime to more professional history writing in Russia, and especially the debate on Stalin and Stalinism. George Steinmetz offers a long critique of the German Sonderwegsthese with an especially rich bibliography from Wehler to Eley to Faulenbach, and others. Convincingly he follows the argument that the implication of the English model is in fact presupposing a constellation of social and economic relations as typical, which also was quite "exceptionalist." What remains, though, is that (against popular wishing within the country to have reached Bewältigung of this history...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8050
Print ISSN
1045-6007
Pages
pp. 269-271
Launched on MUSE
2005-02-24
Open Access
No
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