A number of authors have carried out comparisons of Nazism and Stalinism in which they have considered the similarities and differences of the two ideologies and political systems, what relationship existed between the two regimes, and why both of them came to prominence at the same time. During the 20th century, the comparison of Nazism and Stalinism was made on the topics of totalitarianism, ideology, and personality cult. Both regimes were seen in contrast to the liberal West, with an emphasis on the similarities between the two. The political scientists Zbigniew Brzezinski, Hannah Arendt and Carl Friedrich and historian Robert Conquest were prominent advocates of applying the "totalitarian" concept to compare Nazism and Stalinism.
One of the first scholars to publish a comparative study of Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union was Hannah Arendt. In her 1951 work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt puts forward the idea of totalitarianism as a distinct type of political movement and form of government, which "differs essentially from other forms of political oppression known to us such as despotism, tyranny and dictatorship." Furthermore, Arendt distinguishes between a totalitarian movement (such as a political party with totalitarian aims) and a totalitarian government. Not all totalitarian movements succeed in creating totalitarian governments once they gain power. In Arendt's view, although many totalitarian movements existed in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, only the governments of Stalin and Hitler succeeded in fully implementing their totalitarian aims.
Arendt traced the origin of totalitarian movements to the nineteenth century, focusing especially on antisemitism and imperialism. She emphasized the connection between the rise of European nation-states and the growth of antisemitism, which was due to the fact that the Jews represented an "inter-European, non-national element in a world of growing or existing nations."Conspiracy theories abounded, and the Jews were accused of being part of various international schemes to ruin European nations. Small antisemitic political parties formed in response to this perceived Jewish threat, and, according to Arendt, these were the first political organizations in Europe that claimed to represent the interests of the whole nation as opposed to the interests of a class or other social group. The later totalitarian movements would copy or inherit this claim to speak for the whole nation, with the implication that any opposition to them constituted treason.
European imperialism of the nineteenth century also paved the way for totalitarianism, by legitimizing the concept of endless expansion. After Europeans had engaged in imperialist expansion on other continents, political movements developed which aimed to copy the methods of imperialism on the European continent itself. Arendt refers specifically to the "pan-movements" of pan-Germanism and pan-Slavism, which promised continental empires to nations that had little hope of overseas expansion. According to Arendt, "Nazism and Bolshevism owe more to Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism (respectively) than to any other ideology or political movement."
Arendt argues that both the Nazi and Bolshevik movements "recruited their members from [a] mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up," and who "had reason to be equally hostile to all parties." For this reason, totalitarian movements did not need to use debate or persuasion, and did not need to refute the arguments of the other parties. Their target audience did not have to be persuaded to despise the other parties or the democratic system, because it consisted of people who already despised mainstream politics. As a result, totalitarian movements were free to use violence and terror against their opponents without fear that this might alienate their own supporters. Instead of arguing against their opponents, they adopted deterministic views of human behavior and presented opposing ideas as "originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the power of reason." The Nazis in particular, during the years before their rise to power, engaged in "killing small socialist functionaries or influential members of opposing parties" both as a means to intimidate opponents and as a means of demonstrating to their supporters that they were a party of action, "different from the 'idle talkers' of other parties."
Totalitarian governments make extensive use of propaganda, and are often characterized by having a strong distinction between what they tell their own supporters and the propaganda they produce for others. Arendt distinguishes these two categories as "indoctrination" and "propaganda". Indoctrination consists of the message that a totalitarian government promotes internally, to the members of the ruling party and that segment of the population which supports the government. Propaganda consists of the message that a totalitarian government seeks to promote in the outside world, and also among those parts of its own society which may not support the government. Thus, "the necessities for propaganda are always dictated by the outside world," while the opportunities for indoctrination depend on "the totalitarian governments' isolation and security from outside interference."
The type of indoctrination used by the Soviets and the Nazis was characterized by claims of "scientific" truth, and appeals to "objective laws of nature." Both movements took a deterministic view of human society and claimed that their ideologies were based on scientific discoveries regarding race (in the case of the Nazis) or the forces governing human history (in the case of the Soviets). Arendt identifies this as being in certain ways similar to modern advertising, in which companies claim that scientific research shows their products to be superior, but more generally she argues that it is an extreme version of "that obsession with science which has characterized the Western world since the rise of mathematics and physics in the sixteenth century." By their use of pseudoscience as the main justification for their actions, Nazism and Stalinism are distinguished from earlier historical despotic regimes, who appealed instead to religion or sometimes did not try to justify themselves at all. According to Arendt, totalitarian governments did not merely use these appeals to supposed scientific laws as propaganda to manipulate others. Rather, totalitarian leaders like Hitler and Stalin genuinely believed that they were acting in accordance with immutable natural laws, to such an extent that they were willing to sacrifice the self-interest of their regimes for the sake of enacting those supposed laws. For instance, the Nazis treated the inhabitants of occupied territories with extreme brutality and planned to depopulate Eastern Europe in order to make way for colonists from the German "master race," despite the fact that this actively harmed their war effort. Stalin repeatedly purged the Communist Party of people who deviated even slightly from the party line, even when this weakened the party or the Soviet government, because he believed that they represented the interests of "dying classes" and their demise was historically inevitable.
Arendt also identifies the central importance of an all-powerful leader in totalitarian movements. As in other areas, she distinguishes between totalitarian leaders (such as Hitler and Stalin) and non-totalitarian dictators or autocratic leaders. The totalitarian leader does not rise to power by personally using violence or through any special organizational skills, but rather by controlling appointments of personnel within the party, so that all other prominent party members owe their positions to him. With loyalty to the leader becoming the primary criterion for promotion, ambitious party members compete with each other in trying to express their loyalty, and a cult of personality develops around the leader. Even when the leader is not particularly competent and the members of his inner circle are aware of his deficiencies, they remain committed to him out of fear that without him the entire power structure would collapse.
Once in power, according to Arendt, totalitarian movements face a major dilemma: they built their support on the basis of anger against the status quo and on impossible or dishonest promises, but now they have become the new status quo and are expected to carry out their promises. They deal with this problem by engaging in a constant struggle against external and internal enemies, real or imagined, so as to enable them to say that, in a sense, they have not yet gained the power they need to fulfill their promises. According to Arendt, totalitarian governments must be constantly fighting enemies in order to survive. This explains their apparently irrational behavior, for example when Hitler continued to make territorial demands even after he was offered everything he asked for in the Munich Agreement, or when Stalin unleashed the Great Terror despite the fact that he faced no significant internal opposition.
Arendt points out the widespread use of concentration camps by totalitarian governments, arguing that they are the most important manifestation of the need to find enemies to fight against, and are therefore "more essential to the preservation of the regime's power than any of its other institutions." Although forced labor was commonly imposed on inmates of concentration camps, Arendt argues that their primary purpose was not any kind of material gain for the regime: "The only permanent economic function of the camps has been the financing of their own supervisory apparatus; thus from the economic point of view the concentration camps exist mostly for their own sake." The Nazis in particular carried this to the point of "open anti-utility," by expending large sums of money, resources and manpower - during a war - for the purpose of building and staffing extermination camps and transporting people to them. This sets apart the concentration camps of totalitarian regimes from older human institutions that bear some similarity to them, such as slavery. Slaves were abused and killed for the sake of profit; concentration camp inmates were abused and killed because a totalitarian government needed to justify its existence. Finally, Arendt points out that concentration camps under both Hitler and Stalin included large numbers of inmates who were innocent of any crime - not only in the ordinary sense of the word, but even by the standards of the regimes themselves. That is to say, most of the inmates had not actually committed any action against the regime.
Throughout her analysis, Arendt emphasized the modernity and novelty of the governmental structures set up by Stalin and Hitler, arguing that they represented "an entirely new form of government" which is likely to manifest itself again in various other forms in the future. She also cautioned against the belief that future totalitarian movements would necessarily share the ideological foundations of Nazism or Stalinism, writing that "all ideologies contain totalitarian elements."
The totalitarian paradigm in the comparative study of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was further developed by Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who wrote extensively on this topic both individually and in collaboration. Similar to Hannah Arendt, they state that "totalitarian dictatorship is a new phenomenon; there has never been anything quite like it before." Friedrich and Brzezinski classify totalitarian dictatorship as a type of autocracy, but argue that it is different in important ways from most other historical autocracies. In particular, it is distinguished by a reliance on modern technology and mass legitimation. Unlike Arendt, Friedrich and Brzezinski apply the notion of totalitarian dictatorship not only to the regimes of Hitler and Stalin, but also to the USSR throughout its entire existence, as well as the regime of Benito Mussolini in Italy and the People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong.
Carl Friedrich noted that the "possibility of equating the dictatorship of Stalin in the Soviet Union and that of Hitler in Germany" has been a deeply controversial topic and a subject of debate almost from the beginning of those dictatorships. Various other aspects of the two regimes have also been the subject of intense scholarly debate, such as whether Nazi and Stalinist ideologies were genuinely believed and pursued by the respective governments, or whether the ideologies were merely convenient justifications for dictatorial rule. Friedrich himself argues in favor of the former view.
Friedrich and Brzezinski argue that Nazism and Stalinism are not only similar to each other, but also represent a continuation or a return to the tradition of European absolute monarchy on certain levels. In the absolute monarchies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the monarch ultimately held all decisional power, and was considered accountable only to God. In Stalinism and Nazism, the leader likewise held all real power, and was considered accountable only to various intangible entities such as "the people", "the masses" or "the Volk." Thus the common feature of autocracies - whether monarchical or totalitarian - is the concentration of power in the hands of a leader who cannot be held accountable by any legal mechanisms, and who is supposed to be the embodiment of the will of an abstract entity. Friedrich and Brzezinski also identify other features common to all autocracies, such as "the oscillation between tight and loose control." The regime alternates between periods of intense repression and periods of relative freedom, often represented by different leaders. This depends in part on the personal character of different leaders, but Friedrich and Brzezinski believe that there is also an underlying political cycle, in which rising discontent leads to increased repression up to the point at which the opposition is eliminated, then controls are relaxed until the next time that popular dissatisfaction begins to grow.
Thus, placing Stalinism and Nazism within the broader historical tradition of autocratic government, Friedrich and Brzezinski hold that "totalitarian dictatorship, in a sense, is the adaptation of autocracy to twentieth-century industrial society." However, at the same time, they insist that totalitarian dictatorship is a "novel type of autocracy" and argue that twentieth century totalitarian regimes (such as those of Hitler and Stalin) had more in common with each other than with any other form of government, including historical autocracies of the past. Totalitarianism can only exist after the creation of modern technology, because such technology is essential for propaganda, for surveillance of the population, and for the operation of a secret police. Furthermore, when speaking of the differences and similarities between fascist and communist regimes, Friedrich and Brzezinski insist that the two kinds of totalitarian governments are "basically alike" but "not wholly alike" - they are more similar to each other than to other forms of government, but they are not the same. Among the major differences between them, Friedrich and Brzezinski identify in particular the fact that communists seek "the world revolution of the proletariat," while fascists wish to "establish the imperial predominance of a particular nation or race." 
In terms of the similarities between Nazism and Stalinism, Friedrich lists five main aspects that they hold in common: First, an official ideology that is supposed to be followed by all members of society, at least passively, and which promises to serve as a perfect guide towards some ultimate goal. Second, a single political party, composed of the most enthusiastic supporters of the official ideology, representing an elite group within society (no more than 10 percent of the population), and organized along strictly regimented lines. Third, "a technologically conditioned near-complete monopoly of control of all means of effective armed combat" in the hands of the party or its representatives. Fourth, a similar monopoly held by the party over the mass media and all technological forms of communication. Fifth, "a system of terroristic police control" that is not only used to defend the regime against real enemies, but also to persecute various groups of people who are only suspected of being enemies or who may potentially become enemies in the future.
Two first pillars of any totalitarian government, according to Friedrich and Brzezinski, are the dictator and the Party. The dictator, whether Stalin, Hitler or Mussolini, holds supreme power. Friedrich and Brzezinski explicitly reject the claim that the Party, or any other institution, could provide a significant counterweight to the power of the dictator in Nazism or Stalinism. The dictator needs the Party in order to be able to rule, so he may be careful not to make decisions that would go directly against the wishes of other leading Party members, but ultimate authority rests with him and not with them. Like Arendt, Friedrich and Brzezinski also identify the cult of personality surrounding the leader as an essential element of a totalitarian dictatorship, and reference Stalin's personality cult in particular. They also draw attention to the fact that Hitler and Stalin were expected to provide ideological direction for their governments and not merely practical leadership. Friedrich and Brzezinski write that "unlike military dictators in the past, but like certain types of primitive chieftains, the totalitarian dictator is both ruler and high priest." That is to say, he not only governs, but also provides the principles on which his government is to be based. This is partly due to the way that totalitarian governments arise. They come about when a militant ideological movement seizes power, so the first leader of a totalitarian government is usually the ideologue who built the movement that seized power, and subsequent leaders try to emulate him.
The totalitarian dictator needs loyal lieutenants to carry out his orders faithfully and with a reasonable degree of efficiency. Friedrich and Brzezinski identify parallels between the men in Hitler and Stalin's entourage, arguing that both dictators used similar people to perform similar tasks. Thus, for example, Martin Bormann and Georgy Malenkov were both capable administrators and bureaucrats, while Heinrich Himmler and Lavrentiy Beria were ruthless secret police chiefs responsible for suppressing any potential challenge to the dictator's power. Both Hitler and Stalin promoted rivalry and distrust among their lieutenants so as to ensure that none of them would become powerful enough to challenge the dictator himself. This is the cause of an important weakness of the totalitarian regimes: the problem of succession. Friedrich points out that neither the Nazi nor the Stalinist government ever established any official line of succession or any mechanism to decide who would replace the dictator after his death. The dictator, being the venerated "father of the people," was regarded as irreplaceable. There could never be any heir apparent, because such an heir would have been a threat to the power of the dictator while he was alive. Thus the dictator's inevitable death would always leave behind a major power vacuum and cause a political crisis. In the case of the Nazi regime, since Hitler died mere days before the final defeat of Germany in the war, this never became a major issue. In the case of the USSR, Stalin's death led to a prolonged power struggle.
Friedrich and Brzezinski also identify key similarities between the Nazi and Stalinist political parties, which set them apart from other types of political parties. Both the Nazi Party and the CPSU under Stalin had very strict membership requirements and did not accept members on the basis of mere agreement with the Party's ideology and goals. Rather, they strictly tested potential members, in a manner similar to exclusive clubs, and often engaged in political purges of the membership, expelling large numbers of people from their ranks (and sometimes arresting and executing those expelled, such as in the Great Purge or the Night of the Long Knives). Thus, the totalitarian party cultivates the idea that to be a member is a privilege which needs to be earned, and total obedience to the leader is required in order to maintain this privilege. While both Nazism and Stalinism required party members to display such total loyalty in practice, they differed in the way they dealt with it in theory. Nazism openly proclaimed the hierarchical ideal of absolute obedience to the Führer as one of its key ideological principles (the Führerprinzip). Stalinism, meanwhile, denied that it did anything similar, and claimed instead to uphold democratic principles, with the Party Congress (made up of elected delegates) supposedly being the highest authority. However, Stalinist elections typically featured only a single candidate, and the Party Congress met very rarely and simply approved Stalin's decisions. Thus, regardless of the differences in their underlying ideological claims, the Nazi and Stalinist parties were organized in practice along similar lines, with a rigid hierarchy and centralized leadership.
Each totalitarian party and dictator is supported by a specific totalitarian ideology. Friedrich and Brzezinski argue, in agreement with Arendt, that Nazi and Stalinist leaders really believed in their respective ideologies and did not merely use them as tools to gain power. Several major policies, such as the Stalinist collectivization of agriculture or the Nazi "final solution", cannot be explained by anything other than a genuine commitment to achieve ideological goals, even at great cost. The ideologies were different and their goals were different, but what they had in common was a utopian commitment to reshaping the world, and a determination to fight by any means necessary against a real or imagined enemy. This stereotyped enemy could be described as "the fat rich Jew or the Jewish Bolshevik" for the Nazis, or "the war-mongering, atom-bomb-wielding American Wallstreeter" for the Soviets.
According to Friedrich and Brzezinski, the most important difference between Nazi and Stalinist ideology lies in the degree of universality involved. Stalinism, and communist ideology in general, is universal in its appeal and addresses itself to all the "workers of the world." Nazism, on the other hand, and fascist ideology in general, can only address itself to one particular race or nation - the "master race" that is destined to dominate all others. Therefore, "in communism social justice appears to be the ultimate value, unless it be the classless society that is its essential condition; in fascism, the highest value is dominion, eventually world dominion, and the strong and pure nation-race is its essential condition, as seen by its ideology." This means that fascist or Nazi movements from different countries will be natural enemies, rather than natural allies, as they each seek to extend the dominion of their own nation at the expense of others. Friedrich and Brzezinski see this as a weakness inherent in fascist and Nazi ideology, while communist universalism is a source of ideological strength for Stalinism.
Friedrich and Brzezinski also draw attention to the symbols used by Nazis and Stalinists to represent themselves. The Soviet Union adopted the hammer and sickle, a newly-created symbol, "invented by the leaders of the movement and pointing to the future." Meanwhile, Nazi Germany used the swastika, "a ritual symbol of uncertain origin, quite common in primitive societies." Thus, one is trying to project itself as being oriented towards a radically new future, while the other is appealing to a mythical heroic past.
Totalitarian dictatorships maintain themselves in power through the use of propaganda and terror, which Friedrich and Brzezinski believe to be closely connected. Terror may be enforced with arrests and executions of dissenters, but it can also take more subtle forms, such as the threat of losing one's job, social stigma and defamation. "Terror" can refer to any widespread method used to intimidate people into submission as a matter of daily life. According to Friedrich and Brzezinski, the most effective terror is invisible to the people it affects. They simply develop a habit of acting in a conformist manner and not questioning authority, without necessarily being aware that this is what they are doing. Thus, terror creates a society dominated by apparent consensus, where the vast majority of the population appears to support the government. Propaganda is then used to maintain this appearance of popular consent.
Totalitarian propaganda is one of the features that distinguishes totalitarian regimes as modern forms of government and separates them from older autocracies, since a totalitarian government holds complete control over all means of communication (not only public communication such as the mass media, but also private communication such as letters and telephone calls, which are strictly monitored). The methods of propaganda were very similar in the Stalinist USSR and in Nazi Germany. Both Joseph Goebbels and Soviet propagandists sought to demonize their enemies and present a picture of a united people standing behind its leader to confront foreign threats. In both cases there was no attempt to convey complex ideological nuances to the masses, with the message being instead about a simplistic struggle between good and evil. Both Nazi and Stalinist regimes produced two very different sets of propaganda - one for internal consumption and one for potential sympathizers in other countries. And both regimes would sometimes radically change their propaganda line as they made peace with a former enemy or got into a war with a former ally. Yet, paradoxically, a totalitarian government's complete control over communications renders that government highly misinformed. With no way for anyone to express criticism, the dictator has no way of knowing how much support he actually has among the general populace. With all government policies always declared successful in propaganda, officials are unable to determine what actually worked and what didn't. Both Stalinism and Nazism suffered from this problem, especially during the war between them. As the war turned against Germany, there was growing opposition to Hitler's rule, including within the ranks of the military, but Hitler was never aware of this until it was too late (see: 20 July plot). In 1948, during the early days of the Berlin Blockade, the Soviet leadership apparently believed that the population of West Berlin was sympathetic to Soviet Communism and that they would request to join the Soviet zone. Given enough time, the gap between real public opinion and what the totalitarian government believes about public opinion can grow so wide that the government is no longer able to even produce effective propaganda, because it does not know what the people actually think and so it does not know what to tell them. Friedrich and Brzezinski refer to this as the "ritualization of propaganda": the totalitarian regime continues to produce propaganda as a political ritual, with little real impact on public opinion.
The totalitarian use of mass arrests, executions and concentration camps - also noted by Arendt - was analyzed at length by Friedrich and Brzezinski. They hold that "totalitarian terror maintains, in institutionalized form, the civil war that originally produced the totalitarian movement and by means of which the regime is able to proceed with its program, first of social disintegration and then of social reconstruction." Both Stalinism and Nazism saw themselves as engaging in a life-or-death struggle against implacable enemies. But to declare that the struggle had been won would have meant to declare that most of the totalitarian features of the government were no longer needed. A secret police force, for instance, has no reason to exist if there are no dangerous traitors who need to be found. Thus the struggle, or "civil war" against internal enemies, must be institutionalized and must continue indefinitely. In the Stalinist USSR, the repressive apparatus was eventually turned against members of the Communist Party itself in the Great Purge and the show trials that accompanied it. Nazism, by contrast, had a much shorter lifespan in power, and Nazi terror generally maintained an outward focus, with the extermination of the Jews always given top priority. The Nazis did not turn inward towards purging their own party except in a limited way on two occasions (the Night of the Long Knives and the aftermath of the 20 July plot).
The peak of totalitarian terror was reached with the Nazi concentration camps. These ranged from labor camps to extermination camps, and they are described by Friedrich and Brzezinski as aiming to "eliminate all actual, potential, and imagined enemies of the regime."  As the field of Holocaust studies was still in its early stages at the time of their writing, they do not describe the conditions in detail, but do refer to the camps as involving "extreme viciousness." They also compare these camps with the Soviet Gulag system, and highlight the use of concentration camps as a method of punishment and execution by Nazi and Stalinist regimes alike. However, unlike Hannah Arendt, who held that the Gulag camps served no economic purpose, Friedrich and Brzezinski argue that they provided an important source of cheap labor for the Stalinist economy.
The comparative study of Nazism and Stalinism was carried further by other groups of scholars, such as Moshe Lewin and Ian Kershaw together with their collaborators. Writing after the dissolution of the USSR, Lewin and Kershaw take a longer historical perspective and regard Nazism and Stalinism not so much as examples of a new type of society (like Arendt, Friedrich and Brzezinski did), but more as historical "anomalies" - unusual deviations from the typical path of development that most industrial societies are expected to follow. Therefore, the task of comparing Nazism and Stalinism is, to them, a task of explaining why Germany and Russia (along with other countries) deviated from the historical norm. At the outset, Lewin and Kershaw identify similarities between the historical situations in Germany and Russia prior to the First World War and during that war. Both countries were ruled by authoritarian monarchies, who were under pressure to make concessions to popular demands. Both countries had "powerful bureaucracies and strong military traditions." Both had "powerful landowning classes," while also being in the process of rapid industrialization and modernization. And both countries had expansionist foreign policies with a particular interest in Central and Eastern Europe. Lewin and Kershaw do not claim that these factors made Stalinism or Nazism inevitable, but rather that they help to explain why the Stalinist and Nazi regimes developed similar features.
Ian Kershaw admitted that Stalinism and Nazism are comparable in "the nature and extent of their inhumanity," but noted that the two regimes were different in a number of aspects Lewin and Kershaw question the usefulness of grouping the Stalinist and Nazi regimes together under a "totalitarian" category, saying that it remains an open question whether the similarities between them are greater or smaller than the differences. In particular, they criticize what they see as the ideologically-motivated attempt to determine which regime killed more people, saying that apologists of each regime are trying to defend their side by claiming the other was responsible for more deaths.
Lewin and Kershaw place the cult of personality at the center of their comparison of Nazism and Stalinism, writing that both regimes "represented a new genre of political system centred upon the artificial construct of a leadership cult - the 'heroic myth' of the 'great leader', no longer a king or emperor but a 'man of the people." With regard to Stalinism, they emphasize its bureaucratic character, and its "merging of the most modern with the most archaic traits" by combining modern technology and the latest methods of administration and propaganda with the ancient practice of arbitrary rule by a single man. They compare this with the Prussian military tradition in Germany, which had been called "bureaucratic absolutism" in the eighteenth century, and which played a significant role in the organization of the Nazi state in the twentieth century.
Kershaw agrees with Mommsen that there was a fundamental difference between Nazism and Stalinism regarding the importance of the leader. Stalinism had an absolute leader, but he was not essential. He could be replaced by another. Nazism, on the other hand, was a "classic charismatic leadership movement," defined entirely by its leader. Stalinism had an ideology which existed independently of Stalin. But for Nazism, "Hitler was ideological orthodoxy" - Nazi ideals were by definition whatever Hitler said they were. In Stalinism, the bureaucratic apparatus was the foundation of the system, while in Nazism, the person of the leader was the foundation.
Moshe Lewin also focuses on the comparison between the personality cults of Hitler and Stalin, and their respective roles in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. He refers to them as the "Hitler myth" and the "Stalin myth," and argues that they served different functions within their two regimes. The function of the "Hitler myth" was to legitimize Nazi rule. The function of the "Stalin myth" was to legitimize not Soviet rule itself, but Stalin's leadership within the Party. Stalin's personality cult existed precisely because Stalin knew that he was replaceable, and feared that he might be replaced, and so needed to bolster his authority as much as possible. While the "Hitler myth" was essential to Nazi Germany, the "Stalin myth" was essential only to Stalin, not to the Soviet Union itself.
Together with fellow historian Hans Mommsen, Lewin argues that the Stalinist and Nazi regimes featured an "intrinsic structural contradiction" which led to "inherent self-destructiveness": they depended on a highly organized state bureaucracy which was trying to set up complex rules and procedures for every aspect of life, yet this bureaucracy was under the complete personal control of a despot who made policy decisions as he saw fit, routinely changing his mind on major issues, without any regard for the rules and institutions which his own bureaucracy had set up. The bureaucracy and the leader needed each other, but also undermined each other with their different priorities. Mommsen sees this as being a much greater problem in Nazi Germany than in Stalin's Soviet Union, as the Nazis inherited large parts of the traditional German bureaucracy, while the Soviets largely built their own bureaucracy from the ground up. He argues that many of the irrational features of the Nazi regime - such as wasting resources on exterminating undesirable populations instead of using those resources in the war effort - were caused by the dysfunction of the Nazi state rather than by fanatical commitment to Nazi ideology. In accordance with the Führerprinzip, all decisional power in the Nazi state ultimately rested with Hitler. But Hitler often issued only vague and general directives, forcing other Nazi leaders lower down in the hierarchy to guess what precisely the Führer wanted. This confusion produced competition between Nazi officials, as each of them attempted to prove that he was a more dedicated Nazi than his rivals, by engaging in ever more extreme policies. This competition to please Hitler was, according to Mommsen, the real cause of Nazi irrationality. Hitler was aware of it, and deliberately encouraged it out of a "social-darwinist conviction that the best man would ultimately prevail." Mommsen argues that this represents a structural difference between the regimes of Hitler and Stalin. In spite of its purges, Stalin's regime was more effective in building a stable bureaucracy, such that it was possible for the system to sustain itself and continue even without Stalin. The Nazi regime, on the other hand, was much more personalized and depended entirely on Hitler, being unable to build any lasting institutions.
Kershaw also saw major personal differences between Stalin and Hitler and their respective styles of rule. He describes Stalin as "a committee man, chief oligarch, man of the machine" and a "creature of his party," who came to power only thanks to his party and his ability to manipulate the levers of power within that party. Hitler, by contrast, came to power based on his charisma and mass appeal, and in the Nazi regime it was the leader that created the party instead of the other way around. According to Kershaw, "Stalin was a highly interventionist dictator, sending a stream of letters and directives determining or interfering with policy," while Hitler "was a non-interventionist dictator as far as government administration was concerned," preferring to involve himself in military affairs and plans for conquest rather than the daily routine of government work, and giving only broad verbal instructions to his subordinates regarding civilian affairs, which they were expected to translate into policy. Furthermore, although both regimes featured all-pervasive cults of personality, there was a qualitative difference between those cults. Stalin's personality cult was "superimposed upon the Marxist-Leninist ideology and Communist Party," and could be abandoned (or replaced with a personality cult around some other leader) without major changes to the regime. On the other hand, "the 'Hitler myth' was structurally indispensable to, in fact the very basis of, and scarcely distinguishable from, the Nazi Movement and its Weltanschauung." The belief in the person of Adolf Hitler as the unique savior of the German nation was the very foundation of Nazism, to such an extent that Nazism found it impossible to even imagine a successor to Hitler. Thus, in Kershaw's analysis, Stalinism was a fundamentally bureaucratic system while Nazism was the embodiment of "charismatic authority" as described by Max Weber. Stalinism could exist without its leader. Nazism could not.
Rousso defends the work of Carl Friedrich by pointing out that Friedrich himself had only said that Stalinism and Nazism were comparable, not that they were identical. Rousso also argues that the popularity of the concept of totalitarianism (the way that large numbers of people have come to routinely refer to certain governments as "totalitarian") should be seen as evidence that the concept is useful, that it really describes a specific type of government which is different from other dictatorships. At the same time, however, Rousso notes that the concept of totalitarianism is descriptive rather than analytical: the regimes described as totalitarian do not have a common origin and did not arise in similar ways. Nazism is unique among totalitarian regimes in having taken power in "a country endowed with an advanced industrial economy and with a system of political democracy (and an even older political pluralism)." All other examples of totalitarianism (including the Stalinist regime) took power, according to Rousso, "in an agrarian economy, in a poor society without a tradition of political pluralism, not to mention democracy, and where diverse forms of tyranny had traditionally prevailed." He sees this as a weakness of the concept of totalitarianism, because it merely describes the similarities between Stalinism and Nazism without dealing with the very different ways they came to power. On the other hand, Rousso agrees with Hannah Arendt that "totalitarian regimes constitute something new in regard to classical tyranny, authoritarian regimes, or other forms of ancient and medieval dictatorships," and he says that the main strength of the concept of totalitarianism is the way it highlights this inherent novelty of the regimes involved.
Nicolas Werth and Philippe Burrin have worked together on comparative assessments of Stalinism and Nazism, with Werth covering the Stalinist regime and Burrin covering Nazi Germany. One of the topics they have studied is the question of how much power the dictator really held in the two regimes. Werth identifies two main historiographical approaches in the study of the Stalinist regime: Those who emphasize the power and control exercised by Joseph Stalin himself, attributing most of the actions of the Soviet government to deliberate plans and decisions made by him, and those who argue that Stalin had no pre-determined course of action in mind, that he was reacting to events as they unfolded, and that the Soviet bureaucracy had its own agenda which often differed from Stalin's wishes. Werth regards these as two mistaken extremes, one making Stalin seem all-powerful, the other making him seem like a weak dictator. But he believes that the competing perspectives are useful in drawing attention to the tension between two different forms of organization in the Stalinist USSR: an "administrative system of command," bureaucratic and resistant to change but effective in running the Soviet state, and the strategy of "running the country in a crudely despotic way by Stalin and his small cadre of directors." Thus, Werth agrees with Lewin that there was an inherent conflict between the priorities of the Soviet bureaucracy and Stalin's accumulation of absolute power in his own hands. According to Werth, it was this unresolved and unstated conflict that led to the Great Purge and to the use of terror by Stalin's regime against its own party and state cadres.
In studying similar issues with regard to the Nazi regime, Philippe Burrin draws attention to the debate between the "Intentionalist" and "Functionalist" schools of thought, which dealt with the question of whether the Nazi regime represented an extension of Hitler's autocratic will, faithfully obeying his wishes, or whether it was an essentially chaotic and uncontrollable system that functioned on its own with little direct input from the Führer. Like Kershaw and Lewin, Burrin says that the relationship between the leader and his party's ideology was different in Nazism compared to Stalinism: "One can rightly state that Nazism cannot be dissociated from Hitlerism, something that is difficult to affirm for Bolshevism and Stalinism." Unlike Stalin, who inherited an existing system with an existing ideology and presented himself as the heir to the Leninist political tradition, Hitler created both his movement and its ideology by himself, claiming to be "someone sent by Providence, a Messiah whom the German people had been expecting for centuries, even for two thousand years, as Heinrich Himmler enjoyed saying." Thus, there could be no real conflict between the Party and the leader in Nazi Germany, because the Nazi Party's entire reason for existence was to support and follow Hitler. However, there was a potential for division between the leader and the state bureaucracy, due to the way that Nazism came to power - as part of an alliance with traditional conservative elites, industrialists, and the army. Unlike the USSR, Nazi Germany did not build its own state, but rather inherited the state machinery of the previous government. This provided the Nazis with an immediate supply of capable and experienced managers and military commanders, but on the other hand it also meant that the Nazi regime had to rely on the cooperation of people who had not been Nazis prior to Hitler's rise to power, and whose loyalty was questionable. It was only during the war, when Nazi Germany conquered large territories and had to create Nazi administrations for them, that brand new Nazi bureaucracies were created without any input or participation from traditional German elites. This produced a surprising difference between Nazism and Stalinism: When the Stalinist USSR conquered territory, it created smaller copies of itself and installed them as the governments of the occupied countries. When Nazi Germany conquered territory, on the other hand, it did not attempt to create copies of the German government back home. Instead, it experimented with different power structures and policies, often reflecting a "far more ample Nazification of society than what the balance of power authorized in the Reich."
Another major topic investigated by Werth and Burrin was the violence and terror employed by the regimes of Hitler and Stalin. Werth reports that the Stalinist USSR underwent an "extraordinary brutalization of the relations between state and society" for the purpose of rapid modernization and industrialization, to "gain one hundred years in one decade, and to metamorphose the country into a great industrial power." This transformation was accomplished at the cost of massive violence and a sociopolitical regression into what Werth calls "military-feudal exploitation." The types of violence employed by the Stalinist regime included loss of civil rights, mass arrests, deportations of entire ethnic groups from one part of the USSR to another, forced labor in the Gulag, mass executions (especially during the Great Terror of 1937-38), and most of all the great famine of 1932-33, known as the Holodomor. All levels of Soviet society were affected by Stalinist repression, from the top to the bottom. At the top, high-ranking members of the Communist Party were arrested and executed under the claim that they had plotted against Stalin (and in some cases they were forced to confess to imaginary crimes in show trials). At the bottom, the peasantry suffered the Holodomor famine (especially in Ukraine), and even outside of the famine years they were faced with very high grain quotas.
Werth identifies four categories of people that became the targets of Stalinist violence in the USSR. He lists them from smallest to largest. The first and smallest group consisted of many of Stalin's former comrades-in-arms, who had participated in the revolution and were known as "Old Bolsheviks." They were dangerous to Stalin because they had known him before his rise to power and could expose the many false claims made by his personality cult. The second group consisted of mid-level Communist Party officials, who were subject to mass arrests and executions in the late 1930s, particularly during the Great Purge. Eliminating them served a dual purpose: It helped Stalin to centralize power in the Kremlin (as opposed to regional centers), and it also provided him with "corrupt officials" that he could blame for earlier repressions and unpopular policies. Werth draws parallels between this and the old Tsarist tradition of blaming "bad bureaucrats" - rather than the Tsar - for unpopular government actions. The third group was made up of ordinary citizens from all walks of life who resorted to petty crime in order to provide for themselves in the face of worsening living standards (for example by taking home some wheat from the fields or tools from the factory). This type of petty crime became very widespread, and was often punished as if it were intentional sabotage motivated by political opposition to the USSR. The fourth and largest category consisted of ethnic groups that were subject to deportation, famine, or arbitrary arrests under the suspicion of being collectively disloyal to Stalin or to the Soviet state. This included the Holodomor famine directed at the Ukrainians, the deportation of ethnic groups suspected of pro-German sympathies (such as the Volga Germans, the Crimean Tatars, the Chechens and others), and eventually also persecution of ethnic Jews, especially as Stalin grew increasingly antisemitic near the end of his life.
Burrin's study of violence carried out by the Nazi regime begins with the observation that "violence is at the heart of Nazism," and that Nazi violence is "established as a doctrine and exalted in speech." This marks a point of difference between Nazism and Stalinism, according to Burrin. In Stalinism, there was a gulf between ideology and reality when it came to violence. The Soviet regime continuously denied that it was repressive, proclaimed itself a defender of peace, and sought to conceal all the evidence to the contrary. In Nazism, on the other hand, "doctrine and reality were fused from the start." Nazism not only practiced violent repression and war, but advocated it in principle as well, considering war to be a positive force in human civilization and openly seeking "living space" and the domination of the European continent by ethnic Germans.
Burrin identifies three motivations for Nazi violence: political repression, exclusion and social repression, and racial politics. The first of these, political repression, is common in many dictatorships. The Nazis aimed to eliminate their real or imagined political opponents, first in the Reich and later in the occupied territories during the war. Some of these opponents were executed, while others were imprisoned in concentration camps. The first targets of political repression, immediately after Hitler's rise to power in 1933, were the parties of the Left in general and the Communists in particular. Then, after the mid-1930s, repression was extended to members of the clergy, and later to the conservative opposition as well (especially after the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944). The death penalty was used on a wide scale, even before the war. During the war, political repression was greatly expanded both inside Germany and especially in the newly occupied territories. Political prisoners in the concentration camps numbered only about 25,000 at the beginning of the war. By January 1945 they had swelled to 714,211 - most of them non-Germans accused of plotting against the Reich.
The second type of Nazi violence, motivated by exclusion and social repression, was the violence aimed at purging German society of people whose lifestyle was considered incompatible with the social norms of the Nazi regime (even if the people involved were racially pure and able-bodied). Such people were divided into two categories: homosexuals and "asocials." The "asocials" were only vaguely defined, and included "Gypsies, tramps, beggars, prostitutes, alcoholics, the jobless who refused any employment, and those who left their work frequently or for no reason."
The third and final type of Nazi violence, by far the most extensive, was violence motivated by Nazi racial policies. This was aimed both inward, to cleanse the "Aryan race" of "degenerate" elements and life unworthy of life, as well as outward, to seek the extermination of "inferior races". Germans considered physically or mentally unfit were among the first victims. One of the first laws of the Nazi regime mandated the forced sterilization of people suffering from physical handicaps or who had psychiatric conditions deemed to be hereditary. Later, sterilization was replaced by murder of the mentally ill and of people with severe disabilities, as part of a "euthanasia" program called Aktion T4. Burrin notes that this served no practical political purpose - the people being murdered could not have possibly been political opponents of the regime - so the motivation was purely a matter of racial ideology. The most systematic and by far the most large-scale acts of Nazi violence, however, were directed at "racially inferior" non-German populations. As laid out in Generalplan Ost, the Nazis wished to eliminate most of the Slavic populations of Eastern Europe, partly through deportation and partly through murder, in order to secure land for ethnic German settlement and colonization. But even more urgently, the Nazis wished to exterminate the Jews of Europe, whom they regarded as the implacable racial enemy of the Germans. This culminated in the Holocaust, the Nazi genocide of the Jews. Unlike in the case of all other target populations, the Jews were to be exterminated completely, with no individual exceptions for any reason.
In Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, editors Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick disputed the concept of totalitarianism, noting that the term entered political discourse first as a term of self-description by the Italian Fascists and was only later used as a framework to compare Nazi Germany with the Soviet Union. They argued that the totalitarian states were not as monolithic or as ideology-driven as they seemed. Geyer and Fitzpatrick describe Nazi Germany and the Stalinist USSR as "immensely powerful, threatening, and contagious dictatorships" who "shook the world in their antagonism." Without calling them totalitarian, they identified their common features, including genocide, an all-powerful party, a charismatic leader, and pervasive invasion of privacy. However, they argue that Stalinism and Nazism did not represent a new and unique type of government, but rather that they can be placed in the broader context of the turn to dictatorship in Europe in the interwar period. The reason they appear extraordinary is because they were the "most prominent, most hard-headed, and most violent" of the European dictatorships of the 20th century. They are comparable because of their "shock and awe" and sheer ruthlessness, but underneath superficial similarities they were fundamentally different and that "when it comes to one-on-one comparison, the two societies and regimes may as well have hailed from different worlds."
According to Geyer and Fitzpatrick, the similarities between Nazism and Stalinism stem from the fact that they were both "ideology driven" and sought to subordinate all aspects of life to their respective ideologies. The differences stem from the fact that their ideologies were opposed to each other and regarded each other as enemies. Another major difference is that Stalin created a stable and long-lasting regime, while Nazi Germany had a "short-lived, explosive nature." Notably, the stable state created by Stalinism was based on an entirely new elite, while Nazism, despite having the support of the traditional elite, failed to achieve stability.
However, the two regimes did borrow ideas from one another, especially regarding propaganda techniques (most of all in architecture and cinema), but also in terms of state surveillance and antisemitism. At the same time, they both vigorously denied borrowing anything from each other. While their methods of propaganda were similar, the content was different. For instance, Soviet wartime propaganda revolved around the idea of resisting imperial aggression, while Nazi propaganda was about wars of racial conquest. Geyer and Fitzpatrick also take note of the fact that both Stalinism and Nazism sought to create a New Man, an "entirely modern, illiberal, and self-fashioned personage," even though they had different visions about what being a "New Man" would mean.
Among the other authors contributing to the volume edited by Geyer and Fitzpatrick, David Hoffmann and Annette Timm discuss biopolitics and the pro-natalist policies of the Nazi and Stalinist regimes. Both governments were highly concerned over low fertility rates in their respective populations, and applied extensive and intrusive social engineering techniques to increase the number of births. Reproductive policies in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were administered through their health care systems--both regimes saw health care as a key pillar to their designs to develop a new society. While the Soviet Union had to design a public health care system from scratch, Nazi Germany built upon the pre-existing public health care system in Germany that had existed since 1883, when Otto von Bismarck's legislation had created the world's first national public health care program. The Nazis centralized the German health care system in order to enforce Nazi ideological components upon it, and replaced existing voluntary and government welfare agencies with new ones that were devoted to racial hygiene and other components of Nazi ideology.
The Nazi and Stalinist attempt to control family size was not unique, as many other European states practiced eugenics at this time, and the Stalinist and Nazi ideals were vastly different. In fact, they had more in common with third parties than with each other: Nazi Germany's policies were rather similar to those in Scandinavia at the time, while the USSR's policies resembled those in Catholic countries. The common point between Nazi and Stalinist practices was the connection of reproduction policies with the ideological goals of the state -- "part of the project of a rational, hypermodern vision for the re-organization of society". There were nevertheless substantial differences between the two regimes' approaches. Stalin's Soviet Union never officially supported eugenics as the Nazis did--the Soviet government called eugenics a "fascist science"--although there were in fact Soviet eugenicists. The two regimes also had different approaches to the relationship between family and paid labor--Nazism promoted the male single-breadwinner family while Stalinism promoted the dual-wage-earner household.
In another contribution to the same volume, Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth discuss the topic of mass violence, and the way that it was used by both Stalinism and Nazism. Both Stalin's Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were violent societies where mass violence was accepted by the state, such as in the Great Terror of 1937 to 1938 in the Soviet Union and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany and its occupied territories in World War II.
Both the Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany utilized internment camps led by agents of the state - the NKVD in the Soviet Union and the SS in Nazi Germany. They also both engaged in violence against minorities based on xenophobia - the xenophobic violence of the Nazis was outspoken but rationalized as being against "asocial" elements while the xenophobic violence of the Stalinists was disguised as being against "anti-soviet", "counter-revolutionary" and "socially harmful" elements - a term which often targeted diaspora nationalities. The Stalinist Soviet Union established "special settlements" where the "socially harmful" or "socially dangerous" who included ex-convicts, criminals, vagrants, the disenfranchised and "declassed elements" were expelled to. These "special settlements" were largely in Siberia, the far north, the Urals, or other inhospitable territories. In July 1933, the Soviet Union made a mass arrest of 5000 Romani people effectively on the basis of their ethnicity, who were deported that month to the "special settlements" in Western Siberia. In 1935, the Soviet Union arrested 160,000 homeless people and juvenile delinquents and sent many of them to NKVD labor colonies where they did forced labor.
The Nazi regime was founded upon a racialist view of politics and envisioned the deportation or extermination of the majority of the population of Eastern Europe in order to open up "living space" for ethnic German settlers. This was mainly intended to be carried out after an eventual German victory in the war, but steps had already started being taken while the war was still ongoing. For instance, by the end of 1942, the Nazis had deported 365,000 Poles and Jews from their original homes in western Poland (now German-annexed) and into the General Government. A further 194,000 Poles were internally displaced (not deported to another territory but expelled from their homes). The Nazis had also deported 100,000 persons from Alsace, Lorraine, and Luxembourg, as well as 54,000 Slovenians.
Stalinism in practice in the Soviet Union pursued ethnic deportations from the 1930s to the early 1950s, with a total of 3 million Soviet citizens being subjected to ethnic-based resettlement. The first major ethnic deportation took place from December 1932 to January 1933, during which some 60,000 Kuban Cossacks were collectively criminally charged as a whole with association with resistance to socialism and affiliation with Ukrainian nationalism. From 1935 to 1936, the Soviet Union deported Soviet citizens of Polish and German origins living in the western districts of Ukraine, and Soviet citizens of Finnish origins living on the Finland-Soviet Union border. These deportations from 1935 to 1936 affected tens of thousands of families. From September to October 1937, Soviet authorities deported the Korean minority from its Far Eastern region that bordered on Japanese-controlled Korea. Soviet authorities claimed the territory was "rich soil for the Japanese to till" - implying a Soviet suspicion that the Koreans could potentially join forces with the Japanese to unite the land with Japanese-held Korea. Over 170,000 Koreans were deported to remote parts of Soviet Central Asia from September to October 1937. These ethnically-based deportations reflected a new trend in Stalinist policy, a "Soviet xenophobia" based on ideological grounds that suspected that these people were susceptible to foreign influence, and which was also based on a resurgent Russian nationalism.
After Nazi Germany declared war on the Soviet Union in 1941, the Soviet Union initiated another major round of ethnic deportations. The first group targeted were Soviet Germans. Between September 1941 and February 1942, 900,000 people - over 70 percent of the entire Soviet German community - were deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia in mass operations. A second wave of mass deportations took place between November 1943 and May 1944, in which Soviet authorities expelled six ethnic groups (the Balkars, Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Ingush, Karachai, and Kalmyks) that together numbered 900,000. There were also smaller-scale operations involving ethnic cleansing of diaspora minorities during and after World War II, in which tens of thousands of Crimean Bulgarians, Greeks, Iranians, Khemshils, Kurds, and Meskhetian Turks were deported from the Black Sea and Transcaucasian border regions.
Two ethnic groups that were specifically targeted for persecution by Stalin's Soviet Union were the Chechens and the Ingush. Unlike the other nationalities that could be suspected of connection to foreign states which shared their ethnic background, the Chechens and the Ingush were completely indigenous people of the Soviet Union. Rather than being accused of collaboration with foreign enemies, these two ethnic groups were considered to have cultures which did not fit in with Soviet culture - such as accusing Chechens of being associated with "banditism" - and the authorities claimed that the Soviet Union had to intervene in order to "remake" and "reform" these cultures. In practice this meant heavily armed punitive operations carried out against Chechen "bandits" that failed to achieve forced assimilation, culminating in an ethnic cleansing operation in 1944, which involved the arrests and deportation of over 500,000 Chechens and Ingush from the Caucasus to Central Asia and Kazakhstan. The deportations of the Chechens and Ingush also involved the outright massacre of thousands of people, and severe conditions placed upon the deportees - they were put in unsealed train cars, with little to no food for a four-week journey during which many died from hunger and exhaustion.
The main difference between Nazi and Stalinist deportations was in their purpose: while Nazi Germany sought ethnic cleansing to allow settlement by Germans into the cleansed territory, Stalin's Soviet Union pursued ethnic cleansing in order to remove minorities from strategically important areas.
Other historians and political scientists have also made comparisons between Nazism and Stalinism as part of their work.
Stanley Payne, in his work on fascism, said that although the Nazi Party was ideologically opposed to communism, Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders frequently expressed recognition that only in Soviet Russia were their revolutionary and ideological counterparts to be found. Both placed a major emphasis on creating a "party-army," with the regular armed forces controlled by the party. In the case of the Soviet Union this was done through the political commissars, while Nazi Germany introduced a roughly equivalent leadership role for "National Socialist Guidance Officers" in 1943.
François Furet, in his work on communism, noted that Hitler personally admired Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and on numerous occasions publicly praised Stalin for seeking to purify the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of Jewish influences, especially by purging Jewish communists such as Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Karl Radek.
Richard Pipes draws attention to Stalin and his antisemitism in a parallel with Nazi antisemitism. He notes that soon after the 1917 October Revolution, the Soviet Union undertook practices to break up Jewish culture, religion and language. In the fall of 1918, the Soviet Communist Party set up the Jewish section Yevsektsiya, with a stated mission of "destruction of traditional Jewish life, the Zionist movement, and Hebrew culture." By 1919, the Bolsheviks began to confiscate Jewish properties, Hebrew schools, libraries, books, and synagogues in accordance with newly imposed anti-religious laws, turning their buildings into "Communist centers, clubs or restaurants." After Joseph Stalin rose to power, antisemitism continued to be endemic throughout Russia, although official Soviet policy condemned it. On August 12, 1952, Stalin's personal antisemitism became more visible, as he ordered the execution of the most prominent Yiddish authors in the Soviet Union, in an event known as the "Night of the Murdered Poets". Shortly before his death, Stalin also organized the anti-Semitic campaign known as the Doctors' plot.
A number of research institutions are focusing on the analysis of fascism/Nazism and Stalinism/communism, and the comparative approach, including the Hannah Arendt Institute for the Research on Totalitarianism in Germany, the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in the Czech Republic and the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland.
In comparing the deaths caused by both Stalin and Hitler's policies, historians have asserted that archival evidence released after the collapse of the USSR confirms that Stalin did not kill more people than Hitler. In 2011, American historian Timothy D. Snyder said the Nazi regime killed about 11 million non-combatants (which rises to above 12 million if "foreseeable deaths from deportation, hunger, and sentences in concentration camps are included"), with analogous figures for Stalin's regime being roughly 6 and 9 million. Australian historian and archival researcher Stephen G. Wheatcroft posits that "The Stalinist regime was consequently responsible for about a million purposive killings, and through its criminal neglect and irresponsibility it was probably responsible for the premature deaths of about another two million more victims amongst the repressed population, i.e. in the camps, colonies, prisons, exile, in transit and in the POW camps for Germans. These are clearly much lower figures than those for whom Hitler's regime was responsible." Wheatcroft also says that, unlike Hitler, Stalin's "purposive killings" fit more closely into the category of "execution" than "murder", given he thought the accused were indeed guilty of crimes against the state and insisted on documentation, whereas Hitler simply wanted to kill Jews and communists because of who they were, and insisted on no documentation and was indifferent at even a pretence of legality for these actions.
Kristen Ghodsee, an ethnographer of post-Cold War Eastern Europe, contends that the efforts to institutionalize the "double genocide thesis", or the moral equivalence between the Nazi Holocaust (race murder) and the victims of communism (class murder), and in particular the recent push at the beginning of the global financial crisis for commemoration of the latter in Europe, can be seen as the response by economic and political elites to fears of a leftist resurgence in the face of devastated economies and extreme inequalities in both the East and West as the result of neoliberal capitalism. She notes that any discussion of the achievements under communism, including literacy, education, women's rights, and social security is usually silenced, and any discourse on the subject of communism is focused almost exclusively on Stalin's crimes and the "double genocide thesis", an intellectual paradigm summed up as such: "1) any move towards redistribution and away from a completely free market is seen as communist; 2) anything communist inevitably leads to class murder; and 3) class murder is the moral equivalent of the Holocaust." By linking all leftist and socialist ideals to the excesses of Stalinism, Ghodsee concludes, the elites in the West hope to discredit and marginalize all political ideologies that could "threaten the primacy of private property and free markets."
Political scientist and cultural critic Michael Parenti posits that many of the narratives which equate Nazism (or Fascism more generally) and Stalinism (or Communism more generally) are often simplistic and usually omit the class interests of each respective movement. Parenti says that the fascists in Germany and Italy, in spite of "some meager social programs" and public works projects designed to bolster nationalist sentiment, supported and served the interests of big business and the capitalist class at the expense of the workers by outlawing strikes and unions, privatizing state-owned mills, plants and banks along with farm cooperatives, abolishing workplace safety regulations, minimum wage laws and overtime pay, and subsidizing heavy industry. This resulted in the fascists having many admirers and supporters among the capitalist class in their own nations and throughout the West, including the United States. By contrast, while stating there were deficiencies in Marxist-Leninist states (some of which he attributes to maldevelopment due to outside pressure from a hostile capitalist world) and acknowledging the numerous state-sanctioned imprisonments and killings (which he claims were exaggerated for political reasons), Parenti asserts that the Stalinist regime in particular "made dramatic gains in literacy, industrial wages, health care and women's rights," and communist revolutions in general "created a life for the mass of people that was far better than the wretched existence they had endured under feudal lords, military bosses, foreign colonizers and Western capitalists."
The comparison of Stalinism and Nazism remains a neglected field of academic study.
In the 1920s, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), under the leadership of Chancellor Hermann Müller, adopted the view that the communists and Nazis posed an equal danger to liberal democracy. In 1930, Kurt Schumacher said that the two movements enabled each other. He argued that the Communist Party of Germany, which was staunchly Stalinist, were "red-painted Nazis." This comparison was mirrored by the social fascism theory advanced by the Soviet government and the Comintern (including the Communist Party of Germany) during the Third Period, which accused social democracy of enabling fascism and went as far as to call social democrats "social fascists." After the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was announced, The New York Times published an editorial arguing that "Hitlerism is brown communism, Stalinism is red fascism."
Marxist theories of fascism have seen fascism as a form of reaction to socialism and a feature of capitalism. Several modern historians have tried to pay more attention to the economic, political and ideological differences between these two regimes than to their similarities.
The 2008 Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, initiated by the Czech government and signed by figures such as Václav Havel, called for "a common approach regarding crimes of totalitarian regimes, inter alia Communist regimes" and for
reaching an all-European understanding that both the Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes each to be judged by their own terrible merits to be destructive in their policies of systematically applying extreme forms of terror, suppressing all civic and human liberties, starting aggressive wars and, as an inseparable part of their ideologies, exterminating and deporting whole nations and groups of population; and that as such they should be considered to be the main disasters, which blighted the 20th century.
The Communist Party of Greece opposes the Prague Declaration and has criticized "the new escalation of the anti-communist hysteria led by the EU council, the European Commission and the political staff of the bourgeois class in the European Parliament." The Communist Party of Britain opined that the Prague Declaration "is a rehash of the persistent attempts by reactionary historians to equate Soviet Communism and Hitlerite Fascism, echoing the old slanders of British authors George Orwell and Robert Conquest."
The 2008 documentary film The Soviet Story, commissioned by the Union for Europe of the Nations group in the European Parliament, published archival records which listed thousands of German Jews who were arrested in the Soviet Union by the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) from 1937 to 1941 and handed over to Gestapo or SS officials in Germany. These German Jews had originally sought asylum in the USSR. The documentary film accuses Stalin's regime of being an accomplice in Hitler's Holocaust by arresting these asylum seekers and sending them back to Germany.
Since 2009, the European Union has officially commemorated the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, proclaimed by the European Parliament in 2008 and endorsed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2009, and officially known as the Black Ribbon Day in some countries (including Canada).
The former President of the European Parliament and Christian Democratic Union member, Hans-Gert Pöttering, argued that "both totalitarian systems (Stalinism and Nazism) are comparable and terrible."
In some Eastern European countries, the denial of both Nazi and Communist crimes has been explicitly outlawed, and Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg has argued that "there is a fundamental concern here that totalitarian systems be measured by the same standard." However, the European Commission rejected calls for similar EU-wide legislation, due to the lack of consensus among member states.
A statement adopted by Russia's legislature said that comparisons of Nazism and Stalinism are "blasphemous towards all of the anti-fascist movement veterans, Holocaust victims, concentration camp prisoners and tens of millions of people ... who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the fight against the Nazis' anti-human racial theory."
British journalist and Labour Party aide Seumas Milne posits that the impact of the post-Cold War narrative that Stalin and Hitler were twin evils, and therefore Communism is as monstrous as Nazism, "has been to relativise the unique crimes of Nazism, bury those of colonialism and feed the idea that any attempt at radical social change will always lead to suffering, killing and failure."
" The total number of noncombatants killed by the Germans--about 11 million--is roughly what we had thought. The total number of civilians killed by the Soviets, however, is considerably less than we had believed. We know now that the Germans killed more people than the Soviets did . . . All in all, the Germans deliberately killed about 11 million noncombatants, a figure that rises to more than 12 million if foreseeable deaths from deportation, hunger, and sentences in concentration camps are included. For the Soviets during the Stalin period, the analogous figures are approximately six million and nine million. These figures are of course subject to revision, but it is very unlikely that the consensus will change again as radically as it has since the opening of Eastern European archives in the 1990s.