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Discuss the common threads between fascist and communist regimes established in Europe during the early part of the twentieth century. Do you agree that they share some common values or policies? Ensure that you write about at least two countries.
At the beginning of the 20th century both totalitarianism and fascism were prevalent in Europe. Totalitarianism and fascism are both forms of government and both feature a dictatorial power who suppress any opposition. A totalitarian government has complete control political, social and cultural control and power is maintained using propaganda, secret police and the restriction of free speech. A fascist government is one ‘that exalts nation and often race above the individual’ (Merriam-webster.com, 2018) and has total power over its citizens and social and economic regimentation. These governments can be either right-wing or left-wing, for example Soviet Russia based their policies on Communism, which is ‘a political movement based upon the writings of Marx that considers history in terms on class conflict and revolutionary struggle, resulting eventually in the victory of the proletariat and the establishment of a socialist order based on public ownership of the means of production’ (Collinsdictionary.com, 2018)
There are number of similarities and differences in the ideologies of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Ideology refers to ‘a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy’ (Oxford Dictionaries | English, 2018). Nazism, an abbreviation of National Socialism, was a movement led by charismatic dictator Adolph Hitler. The main features of Nazism include ‘totalitarian principle of government, predominance of especially Germanic groups assumed to be racially superior, and supremacy of the Führer’ (Merriam-webster.com, 2018). Hitler, leader of Nazi German and valued by the German people as an all-powerful leader, believed in intense nationalism and this formed the basis of many Nazi ideologies. The Nazis were strong advocates for preserving traditional 19th century values which included their devout Christian beliefs. The Nazis believed in a superior master race, called the Aryan race which was made up of people with pure German blood, ideally those with blonde hair and blue eyes. For the Nazis it was imperative that pure German blood was preserved. The Nazis wanted to restore the German economy both by giving work to the unemployed and increasing the countries industrial production. Hitler also placed emphasis on military strength, believing that a strong military would make Germany a super power. Hitler wanted to revoke The Treaty of Versailles which would allow him to rearm the Germany army. The Nazis were also masters of propaganda, using it to promote many of their ideologies, in particular those concerning the discrimination of minorities. Historian Walter A. P. Phillips said that Nazi ideology consisted of ‘inconsistent and incoherent ideas’ (Nazi Germany, 2018) but I disagree. I think Nazi ideology was consistent in its aims to preserve German heritage and its promotion of traditional values.
In Soviet Russia, their ideologies were based around Communism. It is from this concept that their ideology was created, a focus was placed on the working classes, led by revolutionaries, overthrowing the bourgeoise government and creating a dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin said “You cannot do anything without rousing the masses to action” (Notable-quotes.com, 2018), the masses he is referring to being the proletariats. This would allow Soviet Russia to achieve socialism in one country with the long-term goal of eradicating socio-economic classes and private property. Karl Marx said, “religion is the opium of the people” (1843, 2018) and in Soviet Russia religion was shunned and atheism was promoted. Historian Robert Service believed that Lenin ‘wanted power for a purpose’ (Russian Revolution, 2018) and I agree, unlike some dictators who want power for the sake of power, Lenin was committed to establishing Russia as a communist country.
The ideologies of both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were focused on national over individual interests. Whilst Germany were right wing and Russia more left wing both were totalitarian states led by a charismatic leader. However, Germany was primarily a Christian country whereas Russia promoted atheism. Lenin even ‘compared religion to a venereal disease’ (Fraser, 2018).
Education was strictly controlled and monitored by the German government. The Nazis wanted to ensure that Aryan children were obedient, so any free-thinking was eliminated. The Nazis used education as a means to shape the minds of children, whilst promoting and implementing their own radical policies. Teachers in Nazi Germany were required to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler, and both teachers and students were made to do Hitler salutes throughout the day. All Jewish teachers, and those who didn’t support the Nazis were dismissed, although ‘32% of teachers became Nazi Party members, and many would wear their uniforms’ (Theholocaustexplained.org, 2018) whilst teaching. A new curriculum was introduced, and textbooks were re-written, both were written and validated by the Nazi party. Hitler said “whoever has the youth has the future” (History Learning Site, 2018) which is why he placed such importance on indoctrinating children through education.
In Soviet Russia, illiteracy was high and Lenin was concerned this may prevent the revolution he wanted. In particular he ‘saw women as a potential resource’ but felt they were ‘shackled by illiteracy and lack of education’ (Voxeu.org, 2018). To combat this Lenin made education mandatory for all children between three and sixteen years old. He also provided free education for adults and created schools for children with both learning and physical disabilities. During this time the government expenditure for education was increased and this led to the number of schools in Russia doubling within the first two years of the revolution.
The education systems in both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany introduced political ideology in the classroom. The curriculum in Soviet Russia included a number of sections focused on communism whilst German curriculums were based on Nazi beliefs. One major difference is that whilst in Russia education was available for everyone with the government prioritising learning in a bid to reduce rates of illiteracy, the German government aimed to limit free-thinking and indoctrinate children with Nazi beliefs. Education in Germany was limited, with only those deemed worthy by the government being included.
In Germany, homosexuality had been illegal since 1871, under Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, although there were very few convictions before the Nazis came to power. Paragraph 175 made any indecent activity between males illegal, although during the Weimar era calls were made to repeal the law and by 1929 the process towards decriminalisation had begun. When the Nazis came to power they created further legislation which meant prosecution involved harsher punishments and imprisonment of up to ten years. The Nazis persecution of homosexuals was ‘part of their so-called moral crusade to racially and culturally purify Germany’ (Ushmm.org, 2018), this oppression commenced just days after Hitler became Chancellor. The Gestapo raided bars and meeting places and even made lists of known homosexual people to facilitate their arrest. The majority of those arrested were sent to police prisons and were forced into hard labour roles. Those imprisoned were also tortured, experimented on and even executed. Homosexual people were forced to wear a ‘Pink Triangle’ and subjected to inhumane treatment from their guards and fellow inmates. Although the majority of homosexuals who were arrested were sent to police prisons there were still a large number, estimated between ten and fifteen thousand, that ended up in Nazi concentration camps. To evade arrest a number of gay German men and lesbian woman entered into heterosexual marriages to appear as if they were confirming to Nazi norms, some homosexuals even fled abroad. When paragraph 175 was redrafted there was debate as to whether lesbianism should be included. It was decided that lesbian woman would not be included in the legislation yet although they weren’t persecuted in the same way gay men were, they were denied any role in public life causing severe economic disadvantage. When the war ended, the Allies didn’t revoke the legislation which meant homosexuals were not recognised as victims of the Nazis and didn’t qualify for any reparations, many even continued to serve their sentences.
In Soviet Russia, homosexuality was illegal under old Tsarist laws however when Lenin came into power the old doctrine was abolished and replaced. The new legislation included no mentions of homosexuality, so whilst not explicitly stated, homosexuality was effectively decriminalised. The scientific community released studies which stated that homosexual acts between consenting adults was natural and ‘Soviet sexologists in the 1920s participated in the international movement for sexual reform’ (Englestein, 2018). Once Stalin entered power this liberal view changed entirely, and in 1933 homosexuality was recriminalized with new legislation passed. Article 121 was created and this meant men convicted of homosexuality were forced into a labor camp for a minimum of five years, between eight hundred and one thousand men were imprisoned under this new law annually. The Soviet government justified the legislation by stating the new laws were in place to protect the general public from bourgeois lifestyles. The new laws, like Nazi Germany, did not criminalize lesbianism and both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia believed the laws against homosexuals were a necessary safety precaution for the general population against perceived moral corruption.
The Nazis believed that mentally and physically disabled people were a burden to the state and society, for this reason on 14th July 1933 the Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Offspring, also known as the Sterilisation law, was enacted. The legislation stated that any person could be subject to forced sterilisation if there was indication their offspring could inherit either severe mental of physical damage. A number of medical conditions, including but not limited to schizophrenia, manic depression and epilepsy, were included under the new law but the law also covered alcoholism and feeblemindedness. A diagnosis of feeblemindedness was made using guidelines based more on social norms than medical criteria, specifically a specially constructed intelligence test which measured learnt information rather than innate ability. The law required doctors to register all patients with hereditary illness and petition for those who qualified under the law to be sterilised. In particular, prisons, asylums, care homes for the elderly and schools for special needs children were targeted for forced sterilisation. It is said that ‘altogether an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people were sterilized’ (Ushmm.org, 2018) under the Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Offspring. In 1939 the Nazis targeted all children under three with disabilities and ‘a panel of medical experts were required to give their approval for the ‘euthanasia’, or supposed ‘mercy-killing’, of each child’ (Hmd.org.uk, 2018), targeted children were removed from their homes and parents were told they were being taken away for improved care. In order to continue the lie Nazis told parents their children had died of pneumonia and their bodies cremated. Due to the large number of people the Nazis were killing, their usual methods of lethal injection and starvation were no longer efficient, to combat this the Nazis set up dedicated killing centers. In October 1935 a further law, the Marriage Health law, was created in order to begin mandatory testing of the entire population. This was done to ensure that two carriers of hereditary illness would not marry and have children. The Nazis believed that having healthy Aryan children was a national duty with Hitler himself stating the in his state ‘the mother is the most important citizen’ (Overy, 2005).
In Soviet Russia after the November revolution, mental and physical disability were defined more by a person’s ability to work and a number of laws and regulations were passed to provide support for those with diminished capacity. Unemployed people were categorised and those unable to work received lower benefits and less help from the government this left ‘sick and starving people surviving through theft and prostitution’ (Socialist Health Association, 2018). After the war laws providing state funding and support for veterans were passed quickly although focus was primarily to rehabilitate men to regain their capacity for labour. For those unable to work or participate in ‘socially useful activities’ housing and medical support was provided by the government which actually meant forced labour camps, which were often torturous, or institutionalisation until they were able to work again. Unfortunately for those with life-long disabilities institutionalisation may last the rest of their lives.
On the surface it seems that Soviet Russia did more to benefit its disabled citizens than Nazi Germany. In Russia, disabled people were given monetary and physical support whilst in Germany disabled people were at best ostracised and at worst killed. However, under the surface Russia also committed people to life-long institutionalisation and agonising labour camps. It is clear that both countries similarly treat those with disabilities cruelly.
Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany had a number of differences, in Russia education was more readily available and in Germany Christianity was encouraged. However, I believe the number of similarities outweigh this. Both introduced political lessons into the curriculum in order to indoctrinate children with their ideologies, both treated disabled and homosexual citizens poorly and both believed that the country as a whole was more important than the individual.
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