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the Nazi regimes elicited in their time.39 Although historians have grown tired
of the shackles imposed on their work by the concept of totalitarianism and
the political debates over fascism and totalitarianism, they have also increas-
ingly realized that the two national historiographies have to move toward each
other, because, for one, antagonists as the two regimes were, they were quite
literally on each other™s throat and, for another, they shook the world in their
antagonism. This may not be enough to make them of the same kind,40 but
it is surely enough to see them in tandem and in interaction “ and to explore
what they might have in common.

See ftn 9.

Tony Judt, Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944“1956 (Berkeley: University of California

Press, 1992); Julian Bourg, After the Deluge: New Perspectives on the Intellectual and Cultural
History of Postwar France (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004); Jan-Werner Muller, Ger-
man Ideologies since 1945: Studies in the Political Thought and Culture of the Bonn Republic
(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
Leonid Luks, “Bolschewismus, Faschismus, Nationalsozialismus “ Verwandte Gegner,”

Geschichte und Gesellschaft 14, no. 1 (1988): 96“115.
Michael Geyer

The project of seeing the two regimes together “ its scope and its method,
as well as its thematic framework “ has yet to be determined. In fact, despite a
number of recent studies, the very nature of the challenge remains unde¬ned.
For what is at stake is not, as it may appear at ¬rst glance, the validity of the
old debates, but an effort to make historical sense of the twentieth century;
and, one of the crucial touchstones of this endeavor is making sense of Nazi
Germany and the Soviet Union, a task yet to be accomplished, in history, as
well as of the contemporary intellectual controversies they elicited.41
The scholarly enterprise of historians, however, is one thing; historical trends
are quite another. Whether historians like it or not, re¬‚ections on totalitarian-
ism have been rekindled in recent years. Initially, the revival of totalitarianism
could be seen primarily as a French (liberal, pro-Western) preoccupation with
exorcizing the specter of late Marxism among its intellectuals and as a German
as well as British (conservative) effort to provide an antidote to a dominant,
social-scienti¬c understanding of Nazism and Stalinism.42 It has, perhaps more
importantly, been encouraged by the rise of “people™s power” “ democracy “
as a European and global phenomenon.43 The collapse of the Soviet Union,
in turn, has led to intriguing conversions “ and has created some strange bed-
fellows.44 Last but not least, the link between religious fundamentalism and

Michael Rowe, Collaboration and Resistance in Napoleonic Europe: State Formation in an Age

of Upheaval, c. 1800“1815 (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
Guy Hermet, Pierre Hassner, and Jacques Rupnik, eds., Totalitarismes (Paris: Econom-

ica, 1984); L´ on Poliakov and Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Les totalitarismes du XXe si` cle: Un
e e
ph´ nom` ne historique d´ pass´ ? (Paris: Fayard, 1987); St´ phane Courtois, ed., Une si longue
e e e e e
nuit: L™apog´ des r´ gimes totalitaires en Europe, 1935“1953 (Monaco: Rocher, 2003); Michael
e e
Scott Christofferson, French Intellectuals against the Left: The Antitotalitarian Moment of
the 1970™s (New York: Berghahn Books, 2004); Uwe Backes and Eckhard Jesse, eds., Total-
itarismus, Extremismus, Terrorismus: Ein Literaturfuhrer und Wegweiser zur Extremismus-
forschung in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 2nd rev. ed. (Opladen: Leske + Budrich, 1985);
Uwe Backes, Eckhard Jesse, and Rainer Zitelmann, eds., Die Schatten der Vergangenheit:
Impulse zur Historisierung des Nationalsozialismus (Frankfurt am Main: Propylaen, 1990);
Hermann Lubbe, and Wladyslaw Bartosyewski, eds., Heilserwartung und Terror: Politische
Religionen im 20. Jahrhundert (Dusseldorf: Patmos, 1995); Horst Moller, ed., Der rote Holo-
¨ ¨
caust und die Deutschen: Die Debatte um das “Schwarzbuch des Kommunismus” (Munich and
Zurich: Piper, 1999); Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (New York: Hill &
Wang, 2000).
Guillermo A. O™Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead, eds., Transitions

from Authoritarian Rule: Comparative Perspectives (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1986); Juan J. Linz and Alfred C. Stepan, eds., Problems of Democratic Transition and Con-
solidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1996); Achim Siegel, ed., Totalitarismustheorien nach dem Ende des
Kommunismus (Cologne: Bohlau, 1998).
Ferenc Feh´ r and Agnes Heller, Eastern Left, Western Left: Totalitarianism, Freedom,

and Democracy (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1987); Wolfgang
¨ ¨ ¨
Kraushaar, Linke Geisterfahrer: Denkanstosse fur eine antitotalitare Linke [with an introduc-
tion by Daniel Cohn-Bendit] (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag neue Kritik, 2001); Slavoj Ziˇ ek, Did
Somebody Say Totalitarianism? (London; New York: Verso, 2001).
Introduction 11

terror has added buzz to the old formula.45 Again, we note the heterogeneity of
initiatives that insist on the need for a new round of thinking on totalitarianism.
In the German context, the initial impetus “ often under the rubric of the
comparative study of dictatorships “ originated out of the attempt to integrate
the East German regime into German history.46 The notion of two dictator-
ships, a National Socialist and a Communist one, counterbalancing the relent-
less and ultimately successful Westernization and democratization of (West)
Germany seemed plausible.47 The latter meant de-exceptionalizing and, in a
way, normalizing the Third Reich, even if only fringe groups doubted the
extreme character of Nazism.48 This internal German debate on the two dicta-
torships is particularly intriguing, as it quickly came to de¬ne the most salient
effort to revitalize thought on totalitarianism. This effort is best known for
rediscovering and highlighting “ideology” as a key component of Nazism (and
Stalinism).49 The novel interest in ideology led to a debate on political religion
or religious politics and, more generally, various gestures in the direction of
political theology.50 The return to “ideology” developed in tandem with an
approach that emphasized extreme forms of violence and terror, motivated
less by interest than by principle and, hence, by reference to some higher law “
be it extreme nationalism or a religious kind of belief or any other fundamen-
The extreme violence of totalitarianism is also what exercised American
scholars, public intellectuals, and pundits. The most productive area of engage-
ment has been the ¬eld of genocide studies.52 But the main push came from

Michael Burleigh, Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to

the War on Terror, 1st U.S. ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).
Gunther Heydemann and Eckhard Jesse, eds., Diktaturvergleich als Herausforderung: Theorie

und Praxis (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1998).
Hans Wilhelm Vahlefeld, Deutschlands totalitare Tradition: Nationalsozialismus und SED-

Sozialismus als politische Religionen (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2002).
Backes et al., Schatten der Vergangenheit, ftn 31.

Alfons Sollner, “Totalitarismus: Eine notwendige Denk¬gur des 20. Jahrhunderts,” Mittelweg

36, no. 2 (1993): 83“8.
Hans Maier, Politische Religionen: Die totalitaren Regime und das Christentum (Freiburg:

Herder Verlag, 1995); Hans Maier, ed., Totalitarismus und politische Religionen: Konzepte
des Diktaturvergleichs (Munich: F. Schoeningh Verlag, 1996); Hermann Lubbe and Wladys-
law Bartosyewski, eds., Heilserwartung und Terror: Politische Religionen im 20. Jahrhundert
(Dusseldorf: Patmos, 1995).
Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan, eds., The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical

Perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Bernd Weisbrod, “Fundamentalist
Violence: Political Violence and Political Religion in Modern Con¬‚ict,” International Social
Science Journal 174 (2002): 499“508; Christian Gerlach, “Extremely Violent Societies: An
Alternative to the Concept of Genocide,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006): 455“71.
For the terror of the German Left and the debate it elicited, see Gerrit-Jan Berendse, Schreiben im
Terrordrom: Gewaltcodierung, kulturelle Erinnerung und das Bedingungsverhaltnis zwischen
Literatur und Raf-Terrorismus (Munich: Edition text + kritik, 2005).
Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan, eds., The Specter of Genocide.
Michael Geyer

a popular- or populist-political response to the real and perceived threats to
the security of the homeland, such that the debate is quite literally carried into
the halls of academia.53 American historians of Germany and the Soviet Union
had each begun to reconsider the issue of Stalinism and Nazism (highlighting
on the German end the ideological nature of the regime™s violence and on the
Soviet end the everyday micro-mechanisms of a violent regime),54 but now
they were overwhelmed by the public glamour surrounding the globalization
of extreme violence, which, rightly or wrongly, turned an essentially European
phenomenon into a global calamity.55
In Soviet times, “totalitarianism” and the Stalinist-Nazi comparison were
taboo subjects, although Aesopian hints that the two regimes were comparable
at times surfaced, as in Mikhail Romm™s much-admired ¬lm Obyknovennyi
fashizm (1965). The ¬‚oodgates opened during perestroika: a 1989 edited vol-
ume, Totalitarianism as a Historical Phenomenon, reported that the term was
already “intensively used” and “ever more clearly claims the status of chief ex-
planatory model of our recent past.”56 The problem, as the editors pointed
out, was that nobody knew what the term meant: a danger existed that it
would become merely an empty “linguistic clich´ ” like “cult of personality” or
“period of stagnation.” Orwell™s 1984, which appeared in translation in the

popular monthly Novyi mir at the beginning of 1989,58 was clearly a major
in¬‚uence. Arendt™s work on totalitarianism had yet to be translated.59 While an
all-powerful party with a pervasively propagated ideology and a charismatic
leader were usually part of the de¬nitions of totalitarianism offered to Rus-
sian readers, it was the state™s invasion of privacy that seemed to resonate the
most: “Totalitarianism is the socio-political system (stroi) characterized by an
all-embracing despotic interference of the state in all manifestations of the life
of the social organism and the life of individuals,” according to the 1991

Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2003); Pierre

Clermont, De L´ nine a Ben Laden: La grande r´ volte antimoderniste du XXe si` cle: D´ mocratie
e e e e
ou totalitarisme (Monaco: Rocher, 2004); Benjamin Barber, Fear™s Empire: War, Terrorism,
and Democracy (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2003).
Peter Fritzsche, Life and Death in the Third Reich (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of

Harvard University Press, 2008); Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalinism: New Directions (London and
New York: Routledge, 2000).
Mark Juergensmeyer, ed., Violence and the Sacred in the Modern World (London: Frank Cass,

1991); E. Ann Kaplan, Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005).
A. A. Kara-Murza and A. K. Voskresenskii, eds., Totalitarizm kak istoricheskii fenomen

(Moscow: Filosofskoe obshchestvo SSSR, 1989), 5 (preface by Kara-Murza).

Novyi mir, 1989, nos. 2, 3, and 4 (translation by V. Golyshev). Orwell™s Animal Farm appeared

in Russian translation a little earlier, but in a journal with small circulation, Rodnik (Riga),
1988, nos. 3“7 (Russian title: Skotnyi dvor).
Kara-Murza and A. K. Voskresenskii, in Totalitarizm, 6. It was ¬nally published in Russian

translation as Istoki totalitarizma in 1995.
Introduction 13

Philosophical Dictionary.60 The Nazi-Stalinist comparison was sometimes
invoked “ most memorably in Tenghiz Abuladze™s ¬lm Repentance (1987) “
but it did not generally seem to be as interesting to Russians in the late 1980s
and 1990s as it had been in the 1960s.61
It might well appear that, intellectually and historiographically, this is the
moment at which a quarter-century of empirical scholarship is yet again being
transcended. During the heyday of totalitarianism theory, historians could
rightly claim that theory and ideology had been imposed upon them and that
they had not engaged in the ¬rst round of comparison since they had not yet
even begun seriously to study either of the societies or regimes. But now they
have done their work, and it is for them to respond to the new challenges and to
develop a new scholarship of integration “ be it of the narrative, interpretative,
or explanatory variety.

what is to be done?
There is quite a bit of movement within academia today that suggests a grow-
ing unease with the proliferation of and the disconnect in so much of current
academic work, which, as the saying goes, knows more and more about less
and less. For obvious reasons, this applies more to the German case than
the Soviet one, where huge gaps in and intense controversies over empirical
knowledge still exist. But the problem is a general one and is met with a grow-
ing readiness, if not to “theorize,”62 then to move on to a conceptual plain
where the contours of German and Russian or, for that matter, European or
global history are recast. While there is a return to theory, the concern with
what traditionally has been called political theology being among the dominant
lineages of thought, the main departure is best described as a revived “schol-
arship of integration.” New books, such as Ferguson™s War of the World or
Wasserstein™s Barbarism and Civilization, but also Service™s History of World
Communism, Grif¬n™s Modernism and Fascism, or Rosanvallon™s Democracy,


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