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How Were Hitler and Stalin Similar?

29 Nov 2016History Essays

Within the books The Prince and Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, Niccolo Machiavelli contrived statements for the contempt of the rule of Italy. These books were intended to illustrate the failings of leadership, and the compounding of the consequences of those failings. Within the twentieth century, many men would follow the writing of Machiavelli – though not necessarily on purpose – and rise to great power.  This paper will expound upon two such dictators, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.  

The conditions within Germany during the interim between the two great wars were so that the charisma and dedication of Hitler were seen as a welcome change from the lack of viable leadership Germany had been forced to accept. Following Germany's surrender in 1918, the country was stripped of its government by the Allied Forces who had defeated it. The decision of the Allied forces was to move the capital of Germany from Berlin to the Saxon city of Weimar – from which the new German Republic would be run. For Germany, the outcome of these measures would be the economic and social collapse. The infrastructure of the state would deteriorate, as would the buying power of the German Mark. The run-away inflation would lead to starvation in many areas, as well as extreme poverty throughout the whole of Germany. The state of affairs Germany found itself in during the Weimar Republic, would serve as the stage for the rise of Adolf Hitler's National Socialist Party.
The First World War ended in such as way that many Germans felt betrayed by their leaders. After the decades of German dominance of Europe, the leader of German forces, General Erich Ludendorff called for a cease-fire on October 8, 1918. Though this action was originally a ploy to set up a strong counteroffensive, it effectively ended the war – with a German surrender. The German borders were not breached by the Allies, and therefore, the majority of German people felt that this defeat came at the hands of inept leadership, rather than a stronger enemy. Instead, the defeat came through the political overthrow of the Kaiser, Wilhelm II. The collapse of the Kaiser's leadership resulted in a new government and new constitution, and no plans to continue the war effort. To this end, General Ludendorff proclaimed that his army, and the German people, for that matter, had been "stabbed in the back" by the new German government. By taking away its ability to wage war, and defend the faltering German effort, the new government had defeated its own military – a betrayal that would resonate in the minds of many Germans for the next twenty years. The political leadership disarmed the unconquered army and delivered over Germany to the destructive will of the enemy in order that it might carry through the revolution in Germany unhindered.  That was the climax in the betrayal of the German people.

Thus was perpetrated the crime against the German nation.  No political regime has ever committed anything worse.  Not the enemy, but our political leadership broke down the power of our military command, and consequently of the nation - that power which was embodied in the officers' corps and in the army. (Ludendorff)

This feeling of betrayal would resonate throughout the nation – and be capitalized upon by the growing NAZI party. The quiet chant of him Felde unbesieged (unbeaten in the field) would be repeated well into the next decade. The fact that the German military was given the proper opportunity to regain its power was seen as treasonous in the eyes of the German public. The extent of the damage done to Germany by its new government was not known until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June of 1919. The treaty would only serve to aggravate the already bitter German nationalists. The first of these aggravations came from the stripping of German territory. Many areas, of German descent, were taken from the German state; including Luxemburg, Austria, and Belgium. Also, lands, such as the Rhineland, which had been disputed between France and Germany since the turn of the century, but was under German control at the time of the cease-fire. The treaty stated that Germany and Austria were banned from forming a union. This meant that, though both nations were essentially Germanic, there would be no legal acceptance of their union as a single German state. It was seen that a strong and united German state – as envisioned by Otto von Bismarck, would pose a constant and pending threat to the safety of Europe. Therefore, it was the idea of France and Great Britain to keep Germany as weak as possible. The next of these aggravations came that the near complete dissolution of the German military. The Treaty of Versailles limited the total German military, including officers, to just one hundred thousand men. It also limited the production of the materials of war, such as weaponry and war machines. The main function of the German military, following the Treaty of Versailles, would be a maintenance of the German state – without the possibility of newly founded aggression. In his book, Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler would write that the causes of the majority of problems in Germany were rooted in this era. By calling to mind the time of Bismarck, an era still vivid in the minds of Germans, Hitler set a feeling in his opus of an expectation of power and victory of Germany. Hitler first praised the German military strength, and then condemned the political leaders who took its strength away. The organization and leadership of the German army were the mightiest that the earth had ever seen. Their deficiencies lay in the limits of all human adequacy in general. The collapse of this army was not the cause of our present-day misfortune, but only the consequence of other crimes, a consequence which itself again, it must be admitted, ushered in the beginning of a further and this time visible collapse. (Hitler Volume 1, Chapter 10)

By placing the blame for the woes of the German people on the heads of its own leaders, Hitler was able to set the stage for his eventual take over the German Parliament and then the nation. The inflation felt in Germany was incredible. The devaluation of the German mark was among the worst in the history of civilized nations. In 1921, the German mark traded against the American dollar at a rate of 64 marks per dollar. However, by the end of 1923 this had changed to more than 4.2 trillion marks to the dollar. Because of this, a major shift in thought was needed in Germany for it to survive. This shift was headed by Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Worker's Party – from which the NAZI party was formed. By capitalizing on the failures of the previous German government, Hitler was able to instill the idea that a major shift was necessary for the survival of Germany. While the successes of the Weimar Republic in the mid-1920s staved off the early pushes of Hitler and his National Socialists, the economic collapse of 1929 and 30 would renew his fervor. His book, Mein Kampf, took new life in the 1930s. Though virtually ignored when it was first published, the second economic collapse within a decade had many Germans scrambling for some sort of hope – even if it meant strict new leadership. Hitler likened the cause of Germany's woes to decades of lax rule, as well as various other social ills; such as prostitution, the decline of marriage, and the power of the Jewish race.
Out of the vast number of devastating evils for which  this institution was directly or indirectly responsible,I shall pick only a single one which is most in keeping with the inner essence of this most irresponsible institution of all times: the terrible halfheartedness and weakness of the political leaders of the Reich both home and abroad, which, primarily attributable to the activities of the Reichstag, developed into one of the chief reasons for the political collapse.(Hitler Vol. 1, Ch. 10)

Anti-Semitism in Europe, and especially Germany was not new – however, it was at a new level during the rise of Hitler's NAZI movement. Part of Hitler's plan to assume control of the German government was based on the ability to rally the German people to a singular ideal – and Anti-Semitism was an easy choice. By decrying the Allied Powers, the war-time German leaders, and the Jewish presence in German government and economy, Hitler was able to bring many thousands of people under his ideology.
For in 1918 this much was clear: no resurrection of the German people can occur except through the recovery of outward power. But the prerequisites for this are not arms, as our bourgeois 'statesmen ' keep prattling, but the forces of the will. The German people had more than enough arms before. They weren't able to secure freedom because the energies of the national instinct of self-preservation, the will for self-preservation, were lacking. The best weapon is dead, worthless material as long as the spirit is lacking which is ready, willing, and determined to use it. Germany became defenseless, not because of armswere lacking, but because the will was lacking to guard the weapon for national survival. (Hitler Vol. 1 Ch.12)

The rise of the NAZI party in Germany would take a very short time. By 1933, Adolf Hitler was Chancellor of Germany, and the NAZI party held a significant majority in Parliament.
The conditions that were placed on Germany following the end of the First World War were intended to place as much harm to the nation as possible. The Allied Nations, with the exception of the United States, who refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, were left without the remuneration of an invasion of German lands. This feeling manifested in the strict, demeaning, and damaging conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. France and Great Britain joined Italy in the post-war defeat of the German nation. While the German military was defeated by their own collapsing government, it was the actions of the Allied Nations that inflicted defeat on the German peoples. So devastating were the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles that the United States and Great Britain backed out of the treaty, and offered easements from their war debt. Without the easements, and later, the Locarno Pact, Germany would have most certainly collapsed entirely. However, allowing the conditions in Germany to deteriorate as far as they did was a sure sign of strong resentment of German aggression in 1914. Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR from 1924 to 1952, took the ideas of Machiavelli to a higher level. During his rise to power, and during the first two years of his reign, Stalin used his influence to kill his opposition. Stalin had eliminated all likely potential opposition to his leadership by late 1934 and was the unchallenged leader of both party and state. Nevertheless, he proceeded to purge the party rank and file and terrorize the entire country with widespread arrests and executions. During the ensuing Great Terror,which included the notorious show trials of Stalin's former Bolshevik  opponents in 1936-1938 and reached its peak in 1937 and 1938, millions of innocent Soviet citizens were sent off to labor camps or killed inprison. (LOC.GOV)

The ideas within The Prince, specifically, to kill those who disobey you, were used to solidify the rule of Stalin. By eliminating his chief rivals, and removing their existence from the public record, Stalin effectively removed the idea of dissent from the public mindset. Most certainly because of his terrible use of power, Stalin remained as the leader of the USSR until his death in 1952. As one of the only leaders to remain in power following World War II, Stalin stands as the prime example of how to use ultimate power to retain ultimate control.

Bibliography

  1. Burleigh, Michael. The Third Reich: A New History. Macmillan Co. New York. 2000. 
  2. Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Hitler.org. URL: http://www.hitler.org/writings/Mein_Kampf/ (accessed: April 6, 2007 9).
  3. "Repression and Terror: Stalin in Control". Library of Congress Archives. 1996. Date of access: April 6, 2007. URL: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/reps.html
  4. Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. The Culture of Defeat: On National Trauma, Mourning and Recovery.Trans. Jefferson Chase. New York. Metropolitan Books. 2001.

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