Power + Dehumanization = Tragedy



[T]here is more that binds us to Bolshevism than separates us from it. There is, above all, genuine, revolutionary feeling, which is alive everywhere in Russia except where there are Jewish Marxists. I have always made allowance for this circumstance, and given orders that former Communists are to be admitted to the party at once. The petit bourgeois Social-Democrat and the trade-union boss will never make a National Socialist, but the Communists always will.

-- Hitler, quoted in Hermann Rauschning, Hitler Speaks

It is often thought that Hitler's fascism is an entirely separate ideology from communism, perhaps because the Nazis persecuted communists (like any group which opposed them) and were at war with Russia. But it turns out that the two movement share common roots and common elements, and that it is no coincidence that both led to some of the worst atrocities of the century.

We use the word Nazi so often, its easy to forget that it was short for the National Socialist Workers Party of Germany. Hitler was partly inspired by Mussolini, who came up with Fascism as a combination of communism and capitalism, with state control over the economy, but corporations left in private hands. Like the communists, Hitler railed against the bourgeois:

It does not dawn upon this depraved bourgeois world that here one has actually to do with a sin against all reason; that it is a criminal absurdity to train a born half-ape [Negro] until one believes a lawyer has been made of him, while millions of members of the highest culture race have to remain in entirely unworthy positions...

-- Mein Kampf, page 639-640

And preached collectivism:

It is thus necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of the nation, that the position of the individual is conditioned solely by the interests of the nation as a whole.

At a time when the rhetoric of communism was sweeping the world, using it was an easy way for demagogues to bring more passion to their cause. Hitler, of course, was no stranger to propaganda:

All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those toward whom it is directed will understand it... Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.

-- Mein Kampf, Page 197

There are two common elements of Nazism and Communism which seem likely to have contributed strongly to the horrors they unleashed. The first is that both of them utterly dehumanized their enemies. For the nationalists like Hitler, this was done on the basis of race, and for communists like Stalin, on class identity. In either case, it is horrifying but unsurprising that when you view a group of people as evil manipulators (the capitalists, the Jews) rather than fellow humans, slaughtering them en masse becomes much easier.

The second element is that both concentrated power in the hands of an elite. For the Nazis, of course, it was obvious that if the master race should rule the world, the elite among the master race should rule their country. For the communists, concentrating power and rule from above was contrary to their stated principles, yet still seems always to be the case. When we think of Russia, we think Stalin and Lenin, Cuba => Castro, Cambodia => Pol Pot, North Korea => Kim Jong Il. Communist countries tend to be associated with a powerful leader who kept a tight leash for decades - a rather odd phenomenon for a philosophy of rule by the workers and lower classes.

But to truly understand these societies we must dig beneath the concealing dirt of rhetoric to find the bleached white bones of reality beneath. Regardless of what philosophies they mouthed, these societies were not created by solidarity or by workers. They were created by cruel, tyrannical, power-crazy, evil men, who were willing to use whatever philosophy would help their goals. And a philosophy of revolution, which preaches that the current state of the world is bitterly unjust - and that certain people are at fault - is quite amenable to being hijacked.

I do not ask you to draw extreme ideas from this - that communism can never work, or that its rhetoric must always be used for evil. But if you study history and consider the nature of power, it is easy to become suspicious of any philosophy (or any adherent, even of one's own beliefs) that preaches bitter injustice that can be righted only by revolution. Be wary of dehumanization in all its forms, and understand that however laudable the goals of a movement may be, concentrated power is always seized by the ruthless, evil men we least want to hold it.


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"I have learned a great deal

"I have learned a great deal from Marxism as I do not hesitate to admit.…The difference between them and myself is that I have really put into practice what these peddlers and pen-pushers have timidly begun. The whole of National Socialism is based on it. … National Socialism is what Marxism might have been if it could have broken its absurd and artificial ties with a democratic order." –Adolf Hitler

Maybe I was reading too late

Maybe I was reading too late at night, but as I went through Mein Kampf, I was struck by the fact that he never spoke badly of socialism, but always spoke badly of both communism and "Manchesterism"/hyperindividualism (his euphemisms for capitalism). Am I wrong? Could it have been just my particular translation?

I was also struck by the passage where he spoke of the working poor in Vienna. I couldn't remember if I recognized those words from _The Jungle_ or from some of Molly Ivins' older columns.