The reductio ad Hitlerum

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.

4 thoughts on “The reductio ad Hitlerum

  1. Losurdo’s book is not in English as far as I can find. Annoying.

    In the face of Nazi aggression and in the certainty that the capitalist states would not assist the USSR, what alternative did Stalin have? None. It bought time to prepare for 22.6.41: and we should all thank god for that.

    1. Yes, It has been published in Italian, French and German, but not yet in English. The war historians have been reassessing Stalin for a while, and Furr has been doing his work on the Khrushchev report, but this is to my knowledge the first major philosophical study that provides a thorough reassessment and demolishes many of the caricatures of Stalin.

  2. After your recent blog posts about the excellence of Losurdo’s book, I found that I couldn’t wait for an English edition to possibly one day materialize. I decided to bite the bullet and ordered a copy of the French edition which arrived yesterday. Reading this book in French will be an interesting challenge for me. Although I studied the language for four years in high school, my vocabulary has faded since then, and I’m sure it was never at the level required for sophisticated political and philosophical works. Before tackling Losurdo’s book, I was thinking of trying to read Candide and possibly some other French literature _en français_ on my Kindle as a warm up so that I can try rebuilding my vocabulary easily with an installed French-English dictionary.

    Also, I really enjoy reading your blog. As a Christian communist who rejects anti-communist and Trotskyist caricatures of Stalin, I found your blog a welcome surprise when I stumbled across it one day.

    1. Thanks John. Losurdo writes quite clearly, so the translation is not as difficult as some. I haven’t heard of any plans for an English translation as yet, but it should be done.

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