More great stuff from Losurdo’s book on Stalin. He devotes a section to what he calls the reductio ad Hitlerum: the concentrated and intense process by the anti-communist propaganda machine to make out that Stalin was no different from Hitler. Among many guilty of this process is Hannah Arendt’s profoundly influential and wayward work, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). For Arendt, key components of ‘totalitarian regimes’ are the idea of a master race, the belief that one is ‘elected’ for world domination (does she have the USA in mind?), and the abolition of civil society, in which all restraints on the state’s power are removed and the state attempts to control every aspect of life as a basis for world domination. She argues that Hitler and Stalin, Nazism and communism, are therefore two sides of the same totalitarian coin. At the time, this argument suited a European and American Left that was seeking common ground with liberalism, for it enabled them to oppose actually existing socialist states in Eastern Europe and Asia.

The result, suggests Losurdo, is an extraordinary caricature. Stalin’s ‘terror’ was nothing less than gratuitous violence and was exclusively motivated by a totalitarian ideology driven by the bloody paranoia of a singular person.

Another key component is the Soviet-Nazi (Molotov-Ribbentrop) non-aggression pact of 1939, which supposedly shows how close the two sides really were. Neglected are a few interesting little facts: Stalin was late on the scene, as everyone seemed to want to make treaties, pacts, and agreements with the Third Reich. These include the concordats with the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches in Germany (1933); the Haavara agreement (1933-39), when Zionist organisations arranged with the fascist government for the transfer of Jews to Palestine (20,000 German Jews thus made their way there); the naval accord with the UK (1935), which enabled Hitler to re-arm Germany and permitted him to colonise eastern Europe (with the UK seeking to direct Hitler to Russia); the Nazi-Polish non-aggression treaty (1934), and then the Munich Agreement (1938), at which Germany, France, the UK and Italy were present and which explicitly acknowledged the ‘disappearance’ of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Indeed, the US ambassador present at Munich opined that it was important to isolate ‘Asiatic despotism’ (guess who he had in mind) and protect ‘European civilisation’. So Stalin was hardly the only one to be interested in such an agreement, even if all it did was buy him a little time against such united opposition.