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Reproduction was a matter of extreme importance to Nazi and Soviet leaders,
and for this reason alone their reproductive policies merit close scholarly atten-
tion. But Nazi and Soviet attempts to manage reproduction are also signi¬cant
in what they reveal about their leaders™ respective visions of how to trans-
form populations and shape societies. As was true of governments throughout
interwar Europe, the Nazi and Soviet regimes assumed that the state could and
should regulate reproduction. Particularly given the need for a large population
in an age of mass warfare, virtually every country in Europe enacted pronatalist
policies. But within this common rubric of state management of reproduction,
Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union pursued very different reproductive poli-
cies “ policies that re¬‚ected stark ideological, structural, and disciplinary dif-
ferences between the two countries. Each regime sought to transform society,
reshape social bonds, and rewrite the social contract along fundamentally illib-
eral yet modernist lines. Individual liberties were rejected in favor of two quite
different collectivist projects: the establishment of a racially de¬ned Volksge-
meinschaft to provide social support for the hegemony of the “Aryan” master
race over Europe and the world and the much more universalist project of
creating a classless, socialist society to serve as the model for the emancipation
of humanity as a whole. Both of these agendas called for individual citizens to
view reproductive and sexual choices in terms of service to the state. Yet the
divergence of goals “ the Nazi exaltation of the “Aryan” race above and against
all others versus the Soviet development of a universal sociopolitical model for
the entire human race “ combined with immense differences in economic and
social structure to produce quite different policies toward reproduction.
The differences in how reproduction was managed in the Soviet Union and
Nazi Germany can serve as a reminder of the weaknesses of the concept of
totalitarianism in comparing the two regimes. On the one hand, a signi¬cant
super¬cial similarity in how motherhood was glori¬ed and the fact that both
strongly supported the basic idea that state welfare should take precedence

David L. Hoffmann and Annette F. Timm

over individual welfare could lead one to conclude that both displayed a total-
itarian tendency to integrate the private sphere into state projects. While this
similarity should not be discounted and in fact provides the foundation of the
comparison to follow, the differences far outweighed the similarities, high-
lighting the necessity of exploring ideological, social, and cultural differences
and actual policy implementation in each case.1 Methodologically, the sheer
complexity of reproduction as a social, cultural, and political issue requires
an approach that crosses previously sacrosanct historiographical boundaries
that have often served to keep actually quite related themes in isolated boxes.
Historians have too often unquestioningly replicated contemporary prejudices
or the disciplinary specialties of their historical subjects, methodologically sep-
arating, for example, sexuality from reproduction, the history of women or
gender from the history of society and politics more generally, or the history
of demography from the history of war. A comparison of reproductive poli-
tics in two totalitarian regimes emphasizes the arti¬ciality of these divisions,
because it points to the interconnectedness of these spheres; only by including
these various perspectives can the differences in what are super¬cially similar
totalitarian projects be explained.
Population policy is a particularly amenable topic to international com-
parison, since the very idea of controlling birthrates arose out of concerns
about international competition. The combination of similarities and differ-
ences between the Nazi and Soviet cases will emphasize not only the usefulness
of the comparison, but also the degree to which reproductive policies were
intertwined with the larger ideological goals of each state. Population policy
in the mid-twentieth century was, after all, a zero sum game. Fear of the other
was the motivating factor in encouraging a higher birthrate at home. This was
always explicit in German rhetoric about the danger of falling birthrates, par-
ticularly during the interwar period. Although the Soviets explicitly rejected the
link between the birthrate and military might, the specter of international com-
petition always loomed large, and actual experiences in World War II encour-
aged a rethinking of the relationship between war and babies. The degree to
which each of these societies viewed themselves as being engaged in a life-
and-death struggle for survival also had a profound effect on gender roles and
associated social, family, and health policies. Both the looming presence and
the real experience of war infused social policies with a tone of urgency that
intensi¬ed tendencies toward social classi¬cation and the hardening of norms
common to all modernizing states. Normative gender ideals were enshrined
into government policy in both states, providing, for instance, clear ideologi-
cal pronouncements and policies about the roles of mothers and fathers. The
threat of death (taken by both societies to mean social or national rather than

One might add that the totalitarian model also obscures the fact that both Soviet and Nazi welfare

policies had precedents and counterparts in nontotalitarian states. See Edward Ross Dickinson,
“Biopolitics, Fascism, Democracy: Some Re¬‚ections on Our Discourse about ˜Modernity,™”
Central European History 37, no. 1 (2004): 1“48.
Utopian Biopolitics 89

individual death) made calls for gender conformity seem all the more vital.
In both regimes, homosexuality was viewed as a threat to the survival of the
nation, since it was presumed to weaken ¬ghting strength. In Nazi Germany
(and to some extent in the Soviet Union) motherhood was extolled as a nation-
alistic provision of the state with soldiers. These rhetorical responses to human
sexuality and reproduction did result in policies that actively curtailed individ-
ual choice in the reproductive and sexual sphere. Women were prevented from
becoming full public actors in Nazi Germany, and in both countries homosex-
uals were persecuted, while able-bodied men were forced to understand their
roles as citizens to be intimately intertwined with their duties as soldiers.2 But
these elements of social control belied the energizing effects of many policies
oriented toward reproduction in the two regimes. Far from simply controlling
sexual desire, the regimes tended to awaken it through promises of a utopian
future and the creation of enthusiasm for new roles for the individual within
the state. Totalitarian biopolitics promised to reward individuals for their phys-
ical risks and their willingness to direct sexual desire toward nationalistic or
ideological goals.
To compare these processes in Nazi and Soviet society, three fundamen-
tal differences will be emphasized (though not discretely separated) below.
First of all, differences in the material circumstances of the two societies must
provide the background for any comparison of social policy.3 We must not
lose sight of the fact that the Nazis appropriated bureaucratic and political
structures in what was a relatively stable, industrially advanced society, while
the Soviets sought to remake the Russian social and political system funda-
mentally by replacing existing structures and forcibly accelerating processes of
industrialization and urbanization.4 A second and quite obvious difference is
the striking dissimilarity in approaches to eugenics. In contrast to eugenicists
in Nazi Germany (and many other Western nations), Soviet eugenicists failed
to reconcile their science with the ruling ideology; the Soviet government ulti-
mately denounced eugenics as a “fascist science,” with decisive consequences
for reproductive policy. A ¬nal stark contrast between the Soviet and Nazi
regimes are their assumptions about gender. Although super¬cially similar (in
terms of glorifying motherhood and condemning homosexuality, for instance),

This is a theme that deserves its own extended treatment and comparison but can only be

lightly touched on here. Important recent literature includes: Joshua A. Sanborn, Drafting the
Russian Nation: Military Conscription, Total War, and Mass Politics, 1905“1925 (DeKalb:
Northern Illinois University Press, 2003); Ute Frevert, Die kasernierte Nation: Militardienst
und Zivilgesellschaft in Deutschland (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2001); Thomas Kuhne, “Zwischen
Mannerbund und Volksgemeinschaft: Hitlers Soldaten und der Mythos der Kameradschaft,”
Archiv fur Sozialgeschichte 38 (1998): 165“89.
Susan Gross Solomon makes this point convincingly for abortion policy: “The Soviet Legalization

of Abortion in German Medical Discourse: A Study of the Use of Selective Perceptions in Cross-
Cultural Scienti¬c Relations.” Social Studies of Science 22 (1992): 455“85, esp. 469.
This comment was inspired by Karl Schlogel™s contributions to the discussion about state violence

at the ¬rst meeting of the authors of this volume.
David L. Hoffmann and Annette F. Timm

policymakers in the two regimes fundamentally disagreed about the relation-
ship between the family and paid labor “ the single-breadwinner family in Nazi
ideology contrasts with the dual-wageearner model of Soviet households.

state management of reproduction
The conceptual and structural preconditions for state attempts to manage
reproduction were not created by totalitarian states. The roots of such interven-
tion lay in the early modern period, when rulers became increasingly interested
in the population and its productive capacity. In particular, cameralist thinkers
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries systematically analyzed the rela-
tionship between the state™s economic and military power and the size and
productivity of its population. During the eighteenth century, Enlightenment
thinkers developed ideas about the rational reordering of human society, and
these notions further heightened the ambitions of political leaders to use state
power to reshape the population. But it was only in the nineteenth century,
with the emergence of new professional disciplines, that government of¬cials
and reformers began thinking about “social” problems. This trend would con-
tribute to state welfare programs and state attempts to manage reproduction.
Reproduction had previously been considered a natural phenomenon “
something that lay beyond state control or scienti¬c management. Even
seventeenth-century cameralist thinkers who viewed a large population as a
source of cheap labor and national wealth had only vague conceptions of how
one might manage reproduction to control the quantity and quality of chil-
dren born.5 But when social scientists and government of¬cials began to think
of society as an object to be studied, sculpted, and improved, reproduction
emerged as an important sphere of state interference. Throughout the eigh-
teenth century, demography and associated ¬elds developed as disciplines, and
their practitioners began to study birthrates. In the nineteenth century of¬cials
began to compile regular censuses, which made it possible to study long-term
population trends and to aspire to in¬‚uence them.
The most prominent founder of the new science of demography, Thomas
Malthus, had warned of overpopulation in his 1803 Essay on the Principle
of Population. Declines in mortality rates had indeed allowed populations to
rise rapidly in the eighteenth century, as England™s population jumped from
5.6 to 8.7 million between 1741 and 1801.6 By the late nineteenth century,
however, fertility had declined, and warnings about overpopulation shifted to

For a philosophically oriented overview of early modern population policy see Martin Furhmann,

Volksvermehrung als Staatsaufgabe? Bevolkerungs- und Ehepolitik in der deutschen politischen
und okonomischen Theorie des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schoningh,
2002). A more convincing and historically contextualized account that emphasizes the history of
sexuality is Isabel V. Hull, Sexuality, State, and Civil Society in Germany, 1700“1815 (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 1996).
Maria Sophia Quine, Population Politics in Twentieth-Century Europe: Fascist Dictatorships

and Liberal Democracies (New York: Routledge, 1996), 1“2.
Utopian Biopolitics 91

fears of underpopulation. In France, the ¬rst country to experience a decline in
fertility, a census in 1854“5 revealed that the total number of deaths exceeded
the total number of births. Worries about depopulation proliferated following
defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, when French leaders began to fear that
their population was too small to compete militarily with Germany. By 1900
an extra-parliamentary commission on depopulation was created; it reported
that the “development, prosperity and grandeur of France” depended upon
raising the birthrate. In other European countries falling fertility by the end
of the nineteenth century also prompted warnings of national decline and
demographic extinction. In Germany, the annual birthrate of 42.6 per thousand
in 1876 had dropped to 28.2 by 1912, and the 1912 census provoked national
alarm about “race suicide.”7
In the wake of the First World War, political leaders across Europe sought to
manage and increase their populations as never before. Mass warfare required
huge numbers of troops and made clear the link between population size and
military power. Moreover, the horrendous casualties of the war prompted fears
in many countries about their populations™ capacities to sustain military action
in the future. Political leaders came to see the size of the population as a critical
resource, necessary for national defense, and they focused on reproduction as
central to sustaining the population. As a member of the British government
declared in 1915: “In the competition and con¬‚ict of civilizations it is the mass
of the nations that tells. . . . The ideals for which Britain stands can only prevail
as long as they are backed by suf¬cient numbers. . . . Under existing conditions
we waste before birth and in infancy a large part of our population.”8 Similarly
the German General Staff, in a 1917 memorandum on the German population
and army, stated that the falling birthrate was “worse than the losses through
the war” in causing population decrease.9
When ¬ghting ceased, the major combatants were faced not only with the
frightful human cost of the war, but with a demographic catastrophe. France
lost 1,393,515 soldiers, Britain 765,400, and Italy 680,070. One German statis-
tician calculated that in addition to its 2 million soldiers killed in action, Ger-
many lost 750,000 civilian victims of the Allied blockade, 100,000 people to
the 1918 in¬‚uenza epidemic, up to 3.5 million never born because of the war,
and 6.5 million people no longer in Germany because of territorial losses, for
a total de¬cit of nearly 13 million.10 The loss of young men across Europe

Quine, 52“65, 100“1.

Pat Thane, “Visions of Gender in the Making of the British Welfare State: The Case of Women

in the British Labour Party and Social Policy, 1906“1945,” in Maternity and Gender Policies:
Women and the Rise of the European Welfare States 1880s“1950s, eds. Gisela Bock and Pat
Thane (London: Routledge, 1991), 105.
General Ludendorff, The General Staff and Its Problems: The History of the Relations between

the High Command and the German Imperial Government as Revealed by Of¬cial Documents,
vol. 1, trans. F. A. Holt (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1920), 202.
Quine, 17“18; Cornelia Usborne, The Politics of the Body in Weimar Germany: Women™s

Reproductive Rights and Duties (London: Macmillan, 1992), 31.
David L. Hoffmann and Annette F. Timm

reduced the number of potential fathers so sharply that Britain™s birthrate fell
by roughly 40 percent between 1914 and 1930, prompting one member of
parliament to declare that population decline constituted “a danger to the
maintenance of the British Empire.”11 One German social hygienist warned
that Germany in 1924 had a birthrate of only 20.4 per thousand people, barely
high enough to maintain the population at current levels, and he concluded,
“we must . . . make possible to every married couple by means of economic
insurance of parenthood that they shall ful¬ll their reproductive duties.”12
German social hygienists also warned about the disastrous demographic con-
sequences of the spread of fertility-threatening venereal diseases caused by the
separation of families and the supposed loosening of sexual morality during
the war.13 The VD crisis (real or perceived) thus prompted policymakers to
link reproduction with sexual behavior explicitly in a way that had not been


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