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Ernst Nolte, Der europaische Burgerkrieg, 1917“1945: Nationalsozialismus und Bolschewis-
94

mus, 5th ed. (Munich: Herbig, 1997); Ernst Nolte, Marxism, Fascism, Cold War (Atlantic
¨
Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1982); Francois Furet and Ernst Nolte, “Feindliche Nahe”:
Kommunismus und Faschismus im 20. Jahrhundert (Munich: F. A. Herbig, 1998); Richard
Shorten, “Europe™s Twentieth Century in Retrospect? A Cautious Note on the Furet/Nolte
Debate,” European Legacy 9, no. 3 (2004): 285“304.
Hans Mommsen, “Das Ressentiment als Wissenschaft: Anmerkungen zu Ernst Noltes ˜Der
95

Europaische Burgerkrieg,™” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 14, no. 4 (1988): 495“512; Wolfgang
¨ ¨
Schieder, “Der Nationalsozialismus im Fehlurteil philosophischer Geschichtsschreibung: Zur
Methode von Ernst Noltes ˜Europaischem Burgerkrieg,™” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 15, no.
¨ ¨
1 (1989): 89“114; Schmeitzner, ed., Totalitarismuskritik von Links: Deutsche Diskurse im 20.
Jahrhundert, 519“60.
Introduction 23

War I and Holocaust historians who consider the Great War to be the ur-
catastrophe of twentieth-century European history and, therefore, the source
of Bolshevism, National Socialism, and Fascism, although the Russian end of
this history remained largely underdeveloped (mainly because there still is rela-
tively little work on the “eastern front” in World War I).96 But it was Michael
Mann with his Dark Side of Democracy who developed a both historically and
analytically preferable answer to Nolte™s challenge.97 If World War I historians
had emphasized the multiple effects of a single historical event, Mann made
the case that, for one, the conundrum of mass politics and popular sovereignty
was at the core of the problem and that, for another, there were many solu-
tions to the common European and, indeed, global problematique of popular
sovereignty. Therefore, rather than looking at a single, historical event as origin
of a given regime, we have to look at contingency and politics in the making
of such regimes. This is certainly one of the more productive solutions for the
conundrum of understanding how it is that these two regimes, so fundamentally
different from one another, nonetheless appear so similar on the surface.
There is a third way of engaging comparison that is rather underdeveloped
in the current project, although it is the rage among European historians: a
comparison that focuses on transfers and mutual in¬‚uences “ not necessar-
ily in the entangled sense, but in the concrete sense that symbols, practices,
actions, and ways of doing things are spread, and have a way of spreading
mimetically, throughout Europe.98 Architecture and cinema are among the best
examples. Propaganda techniques too are said to have circulated quickly. But
what about the politics of surveillance or state violence?What about the more
hard-knuckled transfers in which Bolshevik politics shaped national communist
affairs and in which German politics shaped Ukrainian and other ethnic auxil-
iaries in the Soviet Union?And, last but not least, what about anti-Semitism?99
The point is that there is a history of transfers and overlays, of mimesis, that
must be part and parcel of any comparative history of Nazism and Stalinism.


Ernst Schulin, “Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende des alten Europas,” in Jahrhundertwende: Der
96

Aufbruch in die Moderne 1880“1930, eds. August Nitschke et al. (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1990),
369“403; Omer Bartov, Mirrors of Destruction: War, Genocide, and Modern Identity (Oxford
and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Dietrich Beyrau, “Der Erste Weltkrieg als
Bewahrungsprobe: Bolschewistische Lernprozesse aus dem ˜imperialistischen™ Krieg,” Journal
¨
of Modern European History 1, no. 1 (2003): 96“124; Peter Holquist, Making War, Forging
Revolution: Russia™s Continuum of Crisis, 1914“1921 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2002).
Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (Cambridge and
97

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
Michel Espagne, Russie, France, Allemagne, Italie: Transferts quadrangulaires du n´ oclassicisme
e
98

aux avant-gardes (Tusson: Du L´ rot, 2005); Catherine Evtuhov and Stephen Kotkin, The Cul-
e
tural Gradient: The Transmission of Ideas in Europe, 1789“1991 (Lanham, MD: Rowman &
Little¬eld, 2003); Matthias Middell, “Kulturtransfer und historische Komparatistik “ Thesen
zur ihren Verhaltnis,” Comparativ 10 (2000): 7“41.
¨
Amir Weiner, Making Sense of War: The Second World War and the Fate of the Bolshevik
99

Revolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).
Michael Geyer
24

The dif¬culty with this kind of comparison is evident. The two regimes
or rather their imaginations (and their historiographies) were built on the
presumed opposition between Nazism and Stalinism, and, therefore, the twain
can neither meet nor borrow from each other. If an interactive or mimetic
history is largely missing, it is neither an oversight nor a historiographical
predisposition. Rather, the problem is that in crucial arenas of Stalinist and
National Socialist affairs, the two regimes never acknowledged, or so it seems
on the surface, an even subterraneous in¬‚uence on each other. But this only
suggests that the matter of transfers and in¬‚uences is a complicated one. It
obviously involves a great deal of politics that opens and closes access. It also
involves more complex cultural phenomena such as mutual prejudices and
stereotypes. And, not least, it depends on the relative mobility of information
and people. That having been said, it would be surprising if, of all nations and
of all regimes, Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany did not connect. If indeed
this were the case, their insulation would have to be treated as a grand and
deliberately manufactured autism. There would still be witting or unwitting
transfers to be considered (and the arenas of such transfers would have to
be identi¬ed). But we might well come to the conclusion that a politics of
insulation is one of the hallmarks of the two regimes “ and, inasmuch as that is
the case, it will be all the more important to identify the strategies of insulation
employed by the two regimes “ and the areas where they did not work.
These three variations of a comparative history of Nazism and Stalinism are
at various degrees of distance from the ¬rst generation of theories of totalitari-
anism. They reject by and large the formalism of “high” social science theory,
especially of the Friedrich variety, for being too in¬‚exible in accommodating
or making sense of the empirical knowledge historians have accumulated over
the years. They are certainly more open to a historical-genetic approach, but
look with a rather jaundiced eye on grand philosophical schemes, even if they
come from Fran§ois Furet or Arno Mayer, because they aim to demonstrate
genetic origins, be they in the French Revolution or World War I, when histori-
ans rather ¬nd circuitous roads.100 They surely have not taken to Ernst Nolte™s
monocausal explanation of the Bolshevik revolution as the source of all evil
in the world, although this argument has considerable traction in the overall
revival of the notion of totalitarianism in recent years.101 It is intriguing that
Hannah Arendt™s work, not least because her work is so extraordinarily rich


Fran§ois Furet, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century
100

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Fran§ois Furet and Ernst Nolte, Fascism and
Communism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001); Daniel Schonp¬‚ug, “Histoires
Crois´ es: Fran§ois Furet, Ernst Nolte and a Comparative History of Totalitarian Movements,”
e
European History Quarterly 37, no. 2 (2007): 265“90; Arno J. Mayer, The Furies: Violence
and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
2000).
St´ phane Courtois, ed., Quand tombe la nuit: Origines et l™id´ e des r´ gimes totalitaires en
e e e
101

Europe (Lausanne, Switzerland: L™Age d™Homme, 2001); St´ phane Courtois, ed., Une si
e
longue nuit: L™apog´ e des r´ gimes totalitaires en Europe, 1935“1953 (Monaco: Rocher, 2003).
e e
Introduction 25

and irritating, has fared best, although this is more the case for Nazism than
for Stalinism “ and possibly even more for Imperialism than for Nazism.102 But
what she has to offer above all is what historians have rediscovered on both the
Soviet and the German ends. The two regimes and the two societies went, or,
rather, the two regimes and their respective self-selected elites pushed societies
through processes of extraordinary, violent acceleration “ a “dynamic” that
some interpret as heroic “reconstruction” whereas others see, as Arendt did,
the potential of self-destruction.103
For historians to make one or the other version of comparison happen, they
will have to (re)discover what had been torn asunder by World War II and by
the Cold War: the two regimes are part of a common history. Henri Pirenne
made a similar point shortly after World War I when he scolded his German
colleagues for withdrawing into the prison of the nation rather than thinking
of the common European history they shared.104 He believed that there were
common European events, such as the effects of war and revolution, that perco-
late through each nation. Although Pirenne was more interested in identifying
the Europeanness of these events, he was keenly aware that a key to twentieth-
century comparison lay in tracing the percolation process in each nation and
region. War and defeat placed societies and states in similar predicaments and
could serve as starting points for comparison. Needless to say, the solutions to
these common predicaments vastly differed (and one nation™s solution might
well have affected another™s), but the point was to establish a controlled range
of difference “ and the way to do so consisted in historicizing the comparison.
Pirenne™s grand intervention entailed insisting that the tertium comparatio-
nis is never beyond (an ideal type like the classical notion of totalitarianism),
but always in history and, as such, is conditioned by it. Comparison succeeds
inasmuch as it de¬nes its levers historically.
And then some: for it would be quite unproductive to think of “common
history” in the way some of the more recent megaprojects on European history
have done “ providing a wide berth for everyone and everything. In history,
much as in war, nothing is ever fair. The two regimes did not coexist in a
common history but saw in each other potentially deadly competitors and con-
sidered the rest of the world and, especially, the dominant “¬rst world” of
capitalists or Jewish plutocrats, respectively, as equally, if not more hostile.
Both set out to reshape and remake their respective nations “ with extreme,
genocidal violence “ in order to challenge and defeat their rivals. Neither was

Margaret Canovan, Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Political Thought (New York and
102

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Jean-Michel Chaumont, Autour d™Auschwitz:
e`
De la critique de la modernit´ a l™assomption de la responsabilit´ historique: Une lecture de
e
Hannah Arendt (Brussels: Academie Royale des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts, 1991).
David D. Roberts, The Totalitarian Experiment in Twentieth-Century Europe: Understanding
103

the Poverty of Great Politics (New York and London: Routledge, 2006), 412“52.
Peter Schottler, “Henri Pirennes Kritik an der deutschen Geschichtswissenschaft und seine
¨
104

Neubegrundung des Komparatismus im Ersten Weltkrieg,” SozialGeschichte 19, no. 2 (2004):
¨
53“81.
Michael Geyer
26

able to escape the pushes and pulls of European and global interaction, notwith-
standing their efforts to shelter themselves. Peter Gourevich refers to this phe-
nomenon as “the second image reversed: the international sources of domestic
politics.”105 The theory behind this phenomenon “ historians call it “entangled
history” or histoire crois´ e “ need not overly concern us.106 The main point
e
is that we selected Russia and Germany not only because they were entangled
with each other, but because their entanglement and its outcome shaped much
of the twentieth century “ and, lest we forget, left deep scars that shaped both
nations and the rest of Europe.
In rehearsing basic strategies of comparison, we have in a circuitous way
answered the initial question, why this comparison, the comparison of Stalinist
Russia and national Socialist Germany, matters. The reason is that in under-
standing and making sense of the two, we gain a crucial vista into twentieth-
century history that on their own neither of the two national histories can
produce. Both regimes set out to transform and overcome history and pur-
sued what, on the surface, appear to be parallel strategies. In exploring this
perceived parallelism, however, we discover profound differences “ differences
where thought on totalitarianism once presumed sameness. It is this puzzle
of acute-difference-in-manifest-similarity that leads us to believe that compar-
ison will not only help us understand the two nations and regimes better, but
will also bring new insight to the question of what made these regimes such
quintessential forces in twentieth-century history.

beyond totalitarianism
The decision to write joint essays imposed a genuine handicap. For in the stan-
dard one-on-one comparison, scholars peddle their respective national wares
and essentially engage in a “show and tell.” The result is a bit like parading
one™s Sunday best and, not uncommonly, the most typical national costume.
Two-part, nation-on-nation comparisons have the odd effect of indigenizing
and typecasting or neatly categorizing their respective subjects. The current
volume is not entirely exempt from this tendency. Furthermore, “head-on com-
parisons,” in which two authors struggle with a single theme or issue, must
contend with an additional set of problems: namely, when two nations are
brought into such intimate proximity in one essay, historians must confront
difference before they can explore mutuality. In short, authorial cohabitation
reveals a number of problems inherent in the Russian-German comparison “
and in the Nazism-Stalinism comparison, in particular; problems that cast


Peter Gourevitch, “The Second Image Reversed: The International Sources of Domestic Poli-
105

tics,” International Organization 32 (1978): 881“912.
B´ n´ dicte Zimmermann, Claude Didry, and Peter Wagner, eds., Le travail et la nation:
ee
106

Histoire crois´ e de la France et de l™Allemagne (Paris: Maison des sciences de l™homme,
e
1999); Sebastian Conrad, Globalisierung und Nation im deutschen Kaiserreich (Munich: Beck,
2006).
Introduction 27

serious doubt on the value of the hard-nosed, model-oriented social scienti¬c
approach that characterized older notions of totalitarianism. But two authors
working together on a common project encourages the exercise of prudent
judgment that comes with the recognition of the other.
First, comparison is always case and theme sensitive. Our enterprise started
with no shared, a priori position on the value of this comparison or on the
balance of similarities and differences between Stalinism and Nazism. Gen-
erally speaking, the cultural historians were more likely to be interested in
similarities and to appreciate totalitarian theory than the social and economic
historians, who were more prone to be struck by the differences between the
two societies and, hence, were less interested in the totalitarian project. The
more politically oriented historians occupied the middle ground in that they
shared areas of great commonality but quickly came to be impressed by the tan-
gible differences in commonality.107 Because of these idiosyncrasies, the ease of
comparison materially depended on the subject matter at hand: where domains
shared a common universe, comparison ¬‚owed easily; where they were held

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