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Enzo Traverso: The New Anti-Communism: Rereading the Twentieth Century

Enzo Traverso23 August 2016

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With the recent passing of Germany's most acclaimed revisionist historian Ernst Nolte, the question of how we assess the revisionist moment has reappeared. Why did the revisionist historians gain such fame in the 1980s and '90s? What is the place of historical scholarship today? And how do we reconstruct a Marxist historical scholarship after revisionism?

In this essay by Enzo Traverso (taken from History and Revolution: Refuting Revisionism), he takes aim at Nolte, Furet and a host of other revisionists who studied Communism in the twentieth century. Traverso sees that these historians placed the conflict between fascism and communism as the central conflict of the twentieth century - yet the ultimate aim of this was to remove communism as a force from the present day. How, then, do we reclaim the tradition of communism after revisionism? As Traverso says, "the Stalinist legacy, made up of a mountain of ruins and dead, did not erase the origins of communism in the tradition of the Enlightenment and eighteenth-century rationalist humanism."

As many analysts have observed with great astonishment, the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War did not usher in a more ‘objective', less passionately and ideologically oriented approach to the history of the twentieth century, but rather a new wave of anti-communism: a ‘militant', fighting anti-communism, all the more paradoxical inasmuch as its enemy had ceased to exist. In some ways, Paris is its capital. It reached its zenith in 1995 with the publication of The Passing of an Illusion by Francois Furet.1 Two years later came The Black Book of Communism, an anthology edited by Stephane Courtois, whose aim was to show that communism was much more murderous than Nazism.2 On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the old school of Cold War historians seems to have rediscovered its youth, as The Russian Revolution by Richard Pipes (1990) and The Soviet Tragedy by Martin Malia (1994) show.3 In this context Ernst Nolte, a conservative historian who had been isolated since the Historikerstreit of the mid-1980s, when Jurgen Habermas and many German historians accused him of rehabilitating the Nazi past, suddenly achieved a new legitimacy.4 The old revisionism became acceptable, and even fashionable. Praised by Furet in a long footnote to The Passing of an Illusion, the once unpopular scholar is now highly regarded in France, where several of his books have been published (most recently his highly controversial Der europaische Burgerkrieg, The European Civil War).5

These historians cannot be lumped together without an explanation. In fact, they belong neither to the same national context nor to the same intellectual generation; furthermore, the quality of their works is very uneven. Nevertheless, the exchange of letters between Nolte and Furet6 on the one hand and Courtois' preface to the French edition of Nolte's The European Civil War on the other hand reveals a host of `elective affinities' and forges a sort of united front in the present historical and political debate. Beyond their methodological divergences, their battles as `engaged' historians converge on an essential point: anti-communism raised to the status of an historical paradigm, a hermeneutic key to the twentieth century. In the dock is the Russian Revolution, approached in different ways but always interpreted as the first step towards modern totalitarianism.

Within this anti-communist wave, Nolte appears as a forerunner. Perceived as a left historian by many observers at the beginning of the 1960s, when he published Three Faces of Fascism,7 he has taken the lead among German conservative historians since the mid-1980s, with the outbreak of the Historikerstreit. A former student of Martin Heidegger, he belongs to an intellectual tradition of nationalism and conservatism that unquestionably possesses, from Treitschke to Meinecke and from Heidegger to Schmitt, its titres de noblesse. But his place within this current is that of an epigone, in a time in which it has lost any greatness or power to fascinate and its apocalyptic appeal rings like a distant echo of the past. Today, this culture has abandoned its radical tendencies and adapted itself to a more conventional conservatism. After the Second World War, the `conservative revolution' ceased to exist. All that remains is a wounded national pride, sometimes a nationalist ressentiment, and more often an apologetic vision of the German past.8 All those features pervade Ernst Nolte's work.

Many writers before him interpreted the twentieth century as a time of civil war, first European and then international. The concept of `world civil war' (Weltburgerkrieg) already appears in the writings of Ernst Junger and Carl Schmitt.9 Junger used it in his war journal in 1942, namely in a passage devoted to his visit to the Eastern front. Schmitt used it in Der Nomos der Erde, his first work published after the war, in which he analysed the crisis of the Jus Publicum Europeum, i.e. the international order created with the Reformation and effectively destroyed in the spasms of the twentieth century's total wars.10 In this perspective, the civil war was the apogee of the `Political' conceived as the site of an `existential' conflict between `friend' and `enemy'. This concept would later be used by several historians, often on the other side of the political spectrum, such as Arno J. Mayer and Dan Diner. In different ways, they analysed the period 1914±45 as the culmination of a modern `Thirty Years War', emphasizing that the Second World War was at one and the same time a military, a geo-political, and an ideological conflict in which not only great powers but also antithetical global visions clashed (in a kind of Weltanschauungskrieg).11

Nolte suggests a different interpretation. In his opinion, the `European civil war' did not begin in 1914 with the fall of the ancient imperial and dynastic order, the outbreak of a world war, the brutalization of political life in the old continent and the opening of a new cycle of revolutions and counter-revolutions that finally led to the modern totalitarianism. According to Nolte, the `European civil war' started in 1917 with the Russian Revolution, which was followed two years later by the birth of the Communist International, a `party of the world civil war'.12 This is the well-known thesis that provoked a violent controversy among German historians in 1986: Auschwitz as a `copy', of course extreme but nevertheless derivative, of an `Asiatic' barbarism originally introduced to Europe by the Bolsheviks. How can we explain Nazi crimes, which were perpetrated by a regime born in a European, modern and civilized nation? According to Nolte, the answer lies in the trauma provoked in Germany by the October Revolution. As the first totalitarian regime to adopt a politics of terror and of `class extermination' from the onset of the Russian civil war, Bolshevism acted on the German mind as both a `frightful image' (Schreckbild) and a `model' (Vorbild).13 Thus, Nazi genocide and criminal practices could be explained as an `exacerbated' reaction to a threat of annihilation embodied by Russian Bolshevism. In others words, Nolte regards Nazi anti-Semitism as a `particular kind of anti-Bolshevism' and the genocide of the Jews as `the inverted image of another extermination, that of a world class, by the Bolsheviks'.14 In order to defend his thesis, Nolte underlines the exceptional scale of Jewish involvement in the Russian and Central European communist movement. Since the Jews were considered responsible for the massacres perpetrated by the Bolshevik regime (the destruction of the bourgeoisie), the Nazis concluded that they had to `exterminate them, as both a retaliation and a preventive measure'. Auschwitz is thus explained by the gulag, `the logical and factual forerunner' of Nazi crimes, as Nolte wrote in his notorious article in 1986.15

It is interesting to observe that in this reconstruction of the origins of totalitarianism, the collectivization of Soviet agriculture at the beginning of the 1930s is practically ignored. The death of several million Russian and Ukrainian peasants from starvation and mass deportations appears much less important, in Nolte's approach, than the violence of the civil war after the Revolution. At the same time, his reconstruction of the history of the Russian civil war is very superficial (on this point, his book is incomparably less well documented than the works of Edward H. Carr, Orlando Figes or Nicolas Werth).16 For example, he gives no estimate of the number of victims. His attention is focused less on the real horrors of this conflict than on its portrayal and distortions in the German collective consciousness. His thesis on the founding character of Bolshevik violence and on the derivative, `reactive' origins of Nazism rests on an extremely weak and controversial foundation. In fact, his key primary source is counter-revolutionary propaganda. Thus, he accepts as ready money the various (never verified) accounts diffused by tsarist and nationalist emigres about the tortures practised by an imaginary `Chinese Cheka'. In particular, he resurrects the frightening legend of the `cage of rats' (Rattenkafig), which has been narrated in different versions from Octave Mirbeau to George Orwell.17 Nolte's key source is a second- hand quotation. In 1924, Serguei Melgunov, a Russian Social-Revolutionary emigre, published Red Terror in Russia in Berlin. After warning against several evident `exaggerations', Melgunov spent many pages quoting another exile, namely R. Nilostonsky's accounts of the Russian civil war.18 Examining Nolte's different sources, German historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler placed these quotations in their original context; a White propaganda pamphlet published in Berlin in 1920, Der Blutrausch des Bolschewismus (The Blood Lust of Bolshevism), essentially devoted to describing the Cheka's atrocities. Wehler gives a sample of the booklet's prose: `Behind the communist imposture of Moscow, there is the triumph of Jewish world imperialism which, according to the thesis of the Zionist congress, must be realised through the pitiless extermination of the whole Christian population.'19 Of course, this legend of the Chinese Cheka was afterwards diffused first by the Nazi newspaper the Volkischer Beobachter and then in another pamphlet by Alfred Rosenberg, Pest in Russland. Together with many other statements on the violence of Bolshevik propaganda at the time of the Russian civil war, this legend constitutes the essential `documentary' basis on which Nolte builds his interpretation of Nazism, of Hitler's anti-Semitism and of the `preventive' nature of the German war against the Soviet Union.

Nolte's collection of quotations does not prove a thesis, but rather summons up a certain atmosphere. Because of its abundant documentation, his book is not uninteresting as a study of the perception of Bolshevism in Nazi Germany. At the same time, his complete lack of critical distance from his sources and his adherence to an `image of the enemy' of this type are astonishing. After presenting Nazism as a form of inverted Bolshevism, he relates the history of the latter by borrowing many stereotypes from the German conservative literature of the 1930s, reproducing all its fears and irrational phobias.20 Nolte does genuinely grasp an essential feature of Nazism; its counter-revolutionary nature, that of a movement born as a reaction against the Russian Revolution and German Spartacism, as a militant anti-Marxist and anti-communist force. That is true of fascism  -Mussolini's as well as Hitler's - and of the counter-revolution more generally, which is always inextricably, `symbiotically' linked to revolution. October 1917 provoked a frightening trauma among the European bourgeoisie, comparable in many respects to the shock experienced by the aristocracy after 1789. The Soviet dictatorship, as well as the ephemeral Soviet republics that appeared in Bavaria and Hungary in 1919-20, spread fear and even panic among the ruling classes. Nevertheless, that is only one aspect of the problem and it would be very simplistic to reduce the origins of Nazism to this reactive dimension. Certainly, the post-war political crisis created the conditions for its birth 0 contrary to Sternhell's thesis, which dates the beginning of fascism to the end of nineteenth century, in the France of the Dreyfus Affair21 - but many components of its ideology, and in particular its anti-Semitism, were older than the Russian Revolution. Doubtless, the revolutions accentuated an already widespread hatred of Jews, but Nazi anti- Semitism was very strongly rooted in the tradition of volkisch nationalism, which had impregnated the different tendencies of German conservative culture for several decades. Hitler's anti-Semitism was formed in Vienna at the beginning of the twentieth century, when it could be neither contaminated by anti-communism nor fuelled by the role of Jews in the Russian Revolution and the political upheavals in Central Europe.22

Following a tendency that first appeared after 1789, counter-revolution does not limit itself simply to `restoring' the old regime; it `transcends' the past, taking on a modern dimension, trying to build a new social and political order, acting as a `revolution against the revolution' (which explains the strong `revolutionary' rhetoric and style of both Italian and German fascism).23 But the content of the fascist counter-revolution is older; it elaborates and mobilizes a whole number of pre-existing cultural and ideological elements in a new synthesis. Nationalism and imperialism, Pan-Germanism and the idea of `living space', `redemptive' anti-Semitism and racism, eugenics and extermination of the `lower races', hatred of the left and charismatic dictatorship are tendencies that had appeared, in more or less developed forms, from the end of the nineteenth century on. Nazism did not create them, it simply radicalized them.

Unlike the French Revolution, which, propagated by Napoleon's armies, was actually at the origin of a European civil war, the Russian Revolution entered a phase of `internalization' after the defeat of the various insurrectionary attempts in Central Europe. Born during a world war, it led first to a domestic civil war and then to Stalinism. After the troubles of the 1920s and the stabilization of its frontiers, the Soviet regime did not attack international capitalism - with which it tried to establish a modus vivendi - but rather launched a domestic war against the peasantry and traditional Russian society. For his part, Hitler probably considered the Soviet Union a class dictatorship, but his image of the enemy was filtered through the categories of eugenics and racial biology. In his eyes, the USSR represented the threat of a destructive revolution, not as the leading force of the international proletariat, but essentially as the result of a diabolical alliance between the Jewish intelligentsia and `Slavic subhumanity (Untermenschentum)'.24 Nazism perceived communism as a mortal enemy embodying an anti-national force; the proletariat was only its social body, not its real subject. The genocide of the Jews was not conceived as a response to a supposed class extermination but much more, in Social Darwinist terms, as a necessary step in a process of natural selection, as the conquest of the `living space' for the superior race.

If Nazism achieved a fusion of three different struggles - a colonial assault on the Slavic world, a political struggle against communism and the Soviet Union, and a racial fight against the Jews - into a unique war of conquest and extermination,25 this means that its model could not be Bolshevism. It would be more relevant and coherent to find its `model' in the colonial wars of the nineteenth century, which were actually conceived by the European imperialist powers as the appropriation of `living space', a colossal plundering of the conquered territories, a process of enslavement of the indigenous peoples and, according to a Social Darwinist model, the destruction of `inferior races'. Such colonial wars have often taken the form of extermination campaigns by European armies that were convinced they were carrying out a `civilizing mission'. In a completely different historical context, they were inspired by the same fanaticism and crusading spirit that characterized the Nazi war against the USSR. `Exterminate all the brutes!': this slogan, evoked by Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, was applied by Europeans in Africa in the second half of the nineteenth century before being adopted by the Nazis in Poland, Ukraine and Russia during the Second World War. In contradiction to his own thesis, Nolte himself recalls this essential aspect of the German war, emphasizing Hitler's aim of transforming the Slavic world into a kind of `German India'. He quotes Reich Commissar Erich Koch, who claimed to be carrying out a colonial war in Ukraine, `as among niggers'.26 During the first period of the war on the Eastern front in 1941±42, Hitler's `table talks' with Martin Bormann were riddled with references to Eastern Europe's future, as an empire for the Germans comparable with what Asia, Africa and the Far West had been for the British, French and US.27 The historical laboratory for Nazi crimes was not Bolshevik Russia but the colonial past of Western civilization, in the classical era of industrial capitalism, imperialist colonialism and political liberalism. Formulating it in Nolte's own words, we could appropriately describe this historical background as the `causal nexus' and the `logical and factual precedent' for Nazi violence. But it is not at all surprising that the new anti-communist paradigm completely ignores this historical genealogy.

We can recognize an element of truth in Nolte's remark that Nazi Germany appeared almost as a Rechtsstaat in comparison with Stalin's USSR.28 Of course, this means considering the Third Reich a state based on a legal order, not a liberal state. The Hobbesian image of Behemoth, the biblical monster evoked by Franz Neumann in order to describe Nazi Germany as `a non-state, a chaos, a rule of lawlessness and anarchy',29 could probably be applied more accurately to Stalin's USSR than to the Nazi regime. The Soviet Union was created by a revolution that had profoundly modified the class structure of society. Unlike Germany, where the traditional economic, bureaucratic and military elites had kept their power, this revolution had `levelled' the structure of society and created new political hierarchies. Insofar as the political regime was based on a new social structure in which all traditional privileges were abolished, nobody could avoid the threat of repression and deportation. At the apogee of the great Terror, any kulak could become an enemy of socialism, any party member could be a secret spy, any technician could be a saboteur, any former Menshevik could be a counter-revolutionary, any long-time party member could be suspected of Trotskyism and condemned as a traitor, etc. In Nazi Germany, on the contrary, violence was strictly codified. With the obvious exception of political anti-fascists (especially social-democrats and communists), its targets were different minorities classified as not belonging to the German Volk and as enemies of the `Aryan race': Jews, Gypsies, the congenitally ill, homosexuals, `asocial' people, etc. Unlike anti-fascists, who were persecuted because of their political activities, these minorities' `crime' was simply to be alive. The political order that corresponded to this racial-biological hierarchy of society was obviously inhuman and deeply undemocratic, but not necessarily `irrational' or chaotic. In other words, Nazi terror did not threaten society as a whole.

Prisoner of the contradictions of the Nazi `polycracy', the German totalitarian system was no more finished or effective than Stalin's was. The fact is that Stalinism bore no relation to the racist and biological Weltanschauung that inspired Nazi crimes.30 Stalinism, on the one hand, was characterized by a police state, blind repression, a totalitarian organization of society, `feudal-military exploitation' of the peasantry (in Bukharin's words), deportation of peoples judged as `non-reliable' or suspected, according to paranoid criteria, of collaboration with the enemy. Nazism, on the other hand, was characterized first by a `synchronized' (gleischhaltet) society that was organized along ethnic and racial lines, then by a colonial war for conquest of German `living space' in the Slavic world and a war of extermination against the Jews, both converging in the destruction of the USSR and `Judaeo-Bolshevism'. These completely different patterns exclude the hypothesis of a `causal nexus' between Nazism and Stalinism's crimes. They also considerably limit the value of the concept of totalitarianism, which is based on their formal similarities. The interpretation of totalitarianism's origins proposed by Nolte conceals an essential source of Nazism: eugenics, with its projects of racial purification (to the point of euthanasia). Developed in Western Europe beginning at the end of nineteenth century, in the epoch of classical liberalism, this ideology became the central axis of the Nazi political project.31

Forgetting such fundamental aspects, Nolte's analogy inevitably takes on an apologetic flavour. In his book, he uses the concept of genocide in a very broad and not very rigorous way. On the one hand he recognizes the peculiar character of Nazi genocidal policies, but on the other hand he applies this word to all violence occurring during the Second World War. For example, he imputes an `openly genocidal intention' to Churchill, quoting several passages of a letter to Lord Beaverbrook in June 1940 in which the British prime minister mentioned the means to be used in the war against Germany. Nolte defines the deportation of `punished peoples' in the USSR as `ethnic massacres practiced in a repressive and a preventive way'. Finally, he qualifies the Anglo-American war against Nazi Germany as `almost exclusively a war of extermination', adding that the expulsion of German populations living beyond the Oder-Neisse line was an `ethnic murder'.32 Of course such comparisons are highly questionable: they erase any distinction between genocide - the planned extermination of a human group - and forced displacement of a population, however authoritarian, inhuman and reprehensible it may be, as well as between genocide and war crimes (a category to which we could consign the bombing of German civilians between 1942 and 1945). But the main problem raised by all these comparisons lies in their hermeneutic framework: the explanation of Auschwitz and of the Nazi war more generally as a preventive genocide and a preventive war, both generated by a regime facing the threat of a terrible destruction and acting from an elemental instinct of self-defence.

During the Historikerstreit, Habermas described Nolte's thesis as `a kind of damage limitation' (ein Art Schadensabwicklung)33 that enabled Nolte to obfuscate all the German roots of Nazism and attribute its crimes, albeit indirectly, to Bolshevism. According to Saul Friedlander, Nolte's approach tends to radically modify the historical picture, displacing Germany as a whole on to the side of the victims.34 In Nolte's view, Germany does not appear as a society divided between a hard core of perpetrators, a more or less broad layer of accomplices and, with the exception of a minority of anti-fascist opponents, a great majority of passive bystanders, but as a single bloc of victims, as a menaced nation that naturally identified with the regime that tried to organize its defence (and lost its way in criminal excess). In this way, Nolte simply evacuates the question of `German guilt' (deutsche Schuldfrage) - a question that Karl Jaspers raised in 1945 and that could easily be extended to the whole of Europe occupied by the Third Reich. Jaspers distinguished four different forms of guilt: the criminal guilt of the direct perpetrators, the political guilt of the institutions and organized forces that supported Hitler's power, the individual guilt of the accomplices, and the `metaphysical' guilt of all citizens who recognized the criminal character of the Nazi regime but accepted it without protesting. Defined in this way, guilt was the source of a historical responsibility that the German nation was obliged to assume in order to regain its place within the international community.35 By contrast, Nolte's interpretation of the `European civil war' puts Germany as a whole on the side of the victims including the Nazi regime, which was threatened first by a Bolshevik uprising directed from Moscow and then by a war of extermination waged by both Soviet and Allied military forces. The persecutor transformed into a victim: Nolte's revisionism lies in this reversal of the historical perspective. Much more than a canon of historiography, which is very difficult to define, this revisionism concerns a widespread historical consciousness.

A corollary of these premises is Nolte's inclination to legitimate - without agreeing with - Holocaust denial, attributing to its supporters a set of `often honourable' motivations.36 For instance, in his correspondence with Furet, he writes that denial `should be accepted as a phenomenon internal to the scientific development'.37 Although he expressed sceptical reservations about this position, the French historian was not scandalized by such a complacent attitude. Despite their sometimes considerable historical disagreements, Furet accorded his German colleague his regard and admiration. In the last analysis, they found common ground - we could say a common `passion' - in anti-communism, to which they added an important corollary: anti-anti-fascism. That was enough to transform all their disagreements into a normal `ex- change of ideas'. According to Nolte, anti-fascism was only the mask of a totalitarian regime. With the exception of a few details, Furet shared this point of view. In The Passing of an Illusion, anti-fascism is reduced to a facet of Stalinist ideology, as a kind of democratic camouflage, or a stratagem allowing Bolshevism `at the moment of the great Terror to present itself as liberty by virtue of a negation'.38 Reading Furet, one could easily conclude that neither democratic anti-fascism nor anti-Stalinist communism ever existed.

In 1947, Herbert Marcuse broke off a correspondence he had just begun with Martin Heidegger, his former mentor, because of Heidegger's apologetic attitude towards Nazism, which made all dialogue impossible. Heidegger refused to distinguish between the extermination of the Jews by Nazism and the expulsion of the Germans living outside of new German frontiers.39 In 1986, Habermas showed the same indignation towards Nolte. With the composure of his blasé liberalism, Furet reserved his contempt for other adversaries. When Nolte suggests giving scientific credibility to Holocaust denial, Furet expresses only polite scepticism, a mere shadow of the sarcasm and polemical fury he deployed some years earlier in trying to demolish the `populist-Leninist vulgate' of Claude Mazuric and Albert Soboul concerning the interpretation of the French Revolution.40 Perhaps Furet had tried to imitate his great model, Alexis de Tocqueville, who described socialists in his Souvenirs as `rabble' (canailles) but remained a loyal friend and intellectual accomplice of Gobineau, the founder of modern racism, throughout his life.41

In the foreword to the French edition of his book on the `European civil war', Nolte qualifies Marxism as an `ideology of extermination', and Bolshevism, `its practical application', as a `reality of extermination'.42 We can hardly find similar formulations in Furet's writings. Following Raymond Aron, he was still capable of distinguishing between concentration camps like Buchenwald and Dachau, the goal of which was forced labour and where death was a result of the conditions imposed on the inmates, and extermination camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau, which actually functioned as killing factories.43 This difference is implicitly erased in Courtois' introduction to The Black Book of Communism, where he asserts a structural homology between communist `class genocide' and Nazi `race genocide'.44 In a more recent essay Courtois goes even further. Now he presents the Lubianka, the GPU building in Moscow, as a `killing centre' entirely comparable to Auschwitz, whose only difference lay in the means of destruction utilized: on the one hand traditional executions by shooting, on the other hand the gas chambers. (A very similar position was taken earlier, during the Historikerstreit, by Hitler's biographer, Joachim Fest.)45

Basically, our three scholars share a common vision of communism as an `ideocracy', a political system generated by an ideological essence. Its historical antecedent is inevitably perceived to be the Terror of the French Revolution. `As in 1793', writes Furet in The Passing of an Illusion, `Revolution as a whole derives from the revolutionary idea'.46 According to Nolte, the French Revolution was the first historical attempt to `realise the idea of exterminating a class or a group'. Thereafter, the Bolsheviks were inspired by an `extermination therapy' first developed by the French revolutionists.47 Finally, Courtois considers the `extermination of the people' (populicide)48 perpetrated by the Jacobins in the Vendee as a massacre prefiguring Bolshevik and Nazi violence, all three being the expression of an `ideocracy'.

In fact, the violence of the Jacobin Terror came from below. Marat, Danton and Robespierre sought to organize and contain it within a legal framework. It was an expression of an emergency dictatorship - Lazare Carnot called it a dictature de la detresse - which led first to the levee en masse when the Revolution was threatened by a foreign military coalition, then to the Committee of Public Safety, when reaction organized itself inside the country. According to Robespierre and Danton, it was a question of replacing popular vengeance, dangerously blind and raging, with `the sword of the law'. Following Edgar Quinet, Arno J. Mayer analyses the Vendee as a classical civil war marked by excess and fanaticism on both sides. Expressing Catholic, royalist and peasant resistance to revolutionary transformations, the Vendee war took the form of a military reaction that was repressed by force. Today's comparison with a genocide,49 Mayer underlines, is not at all appropriate, because the victims of the Vendee were essentially soldiers. The target of Jacobin `fury' was not a people but the counter-revolution, in a region where 90 per cent of the priests refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the nation, law and constitution and finally organized a royalist army.50 But the `ideocratical' explanation allows our conservative historians to avoid all historical analysis.

The concept of `ideocracy' was first formulated at the end of the 1930s by a German émigré, Waldemar Gurian, a former student of Carl Schmitt who became a theoretician of totalitarianism.51 The golden age of this concept was the Cold War in the early 1950s, when Israeli historian Jacob L. Talmon situated the roots of modern totalitarian ideologies in the radical democratic utopias of Rousseau and Marx.52 Adopting this perspective, many scholars have presented the tradition of counter-revolutionary thought as the first embryonic expression of a critique of totalitarianism. Unlike Hannah Arendt, who presented Edmund Burke's rejection of the Rights of Man as one of the ideological matrices of modern racism and notably of Nazism, Robert Nisbet celebrated the author of the Reflections on the Revolution in France as a forerunner of twentieth-century anti-totalitarian crusaders.53 Among the most recent historians to stigmatize the communist `ideocracy', the most prolific are probably the Americans Richard Pipes and Martin Malia. Inspired - like Furet - by the reactionary historian Augustin Cochin, Pipes compares the `societes de pensee' of the French Enlightenment to the circles of the Russian intelligentsia of the end of the nineteenth century. After stressing their deep affinities, he concludes that the `dry terror' of such intellectual movements laid the foundations for the `blood terror' of the revolutionary dictatorships, both Jacobin and Bolshevik. In other words, the Committee of Public Safety derived from the Encyclopedie just as the Cheka was an outcome of the Populist circles of the tsarist epoch. Concerning the White Terror, whose victims numbered several hundred thousand people between 1918 and 1922, Pipes has nothing to say. It simply did not exist. `Terror is rooted in the Jacobin ideas of Lenin', he writes, adding that its main goal was `the physical extermination of the ``bourgeoisie'''. We can observe that the quotation marks are not put around the verb, exterminate, but the object, the bourgeoisie, a very loose concept including, in his interpretation, not only a social class but, more generally, `all those who, independently of their economic and social status, opposed Bolshevik policies'.54 Although a bit less radical, Malia subscribes to the same logic. He describes communism as the realization of an unnatural `utopia' and presents Soviet history as the manifestation of a harmful ideology: `In the world created by the October Revolution, we are never facing a society, but only a regime, an ``ideocratic'' regime.'55 All these approaches reduce the core of revolutionary experience to the terror - the Jacobin republic of 1793±94 and the Bolshevik dictator- ship of 1918-22 - which can be essentially, if not exclusively, explained by such categories as psychosis, passion, ideology and fanaticism. Evoking Tocqueville, Pipes compares the revolution to a `virus'.56 For his part, Furet describes it as the triumph of `the illusion of politics'.57 Following this hypothesis, he has studied the history of communism as the trajectory of an autarchic concept, devoid of any social dimension. Thus, the communist experience was the rise and fall of an `illusion'. In his first book on the French Revolution written with Denis Richet in 1965, Furet opposed 1789 to 1793, distinguishing between the liberal revolution and its derapage (`going off the rails').58 But now, revolution itself is seen as `going off the rails'. The Bolshevik revolution was intrinsically bad from its inception. From this point of view, communism appears basically as a messianic-political experience, a kind of `secular religion' practised by its adepts as a faith and a passion.

Nolte is perhaps the only conservative historian today concerned with suggesting an interpretation of the origins of totalitarianism. According to him, an essential thread in the first half of twentieth-century history lies in the fundamental opposition between Bolshevism and Nazism, the former introducing the spiral of violence and cumulative radicalization that led to a war of extermination. Unconcerned with its origins, Courtois reduces communism to a simply criminal phenomenon. His reading of the past erases all historical ruptures, its social and political dimensions, and the sometime tragic dilemmas of its actors, and compresses it into the linear continuity of a totalitarian system. The Russian civil war, famine, the collectivization of agriculture, the gulag and deportation did not flow from a plurality of causes, and their explanation may even escape their historical context to a very great degree; they simply become the different external manifestations of a unique, intrinsically criminal ideology - communism. Its birth goes back to the putsch of October 1917. With Courtois, the ideological determinism of the relation between Revolution and Terror needs no explanation; it is simply postulated a priori. Stalin becomes the administrator of Lenin and Trotsky's projects, and his crimes lose the `erratic' and `improvized' character detected by historians like Nicolas Werth and Arch Getty.59 On the one hand, they appear as massacres that were rigorously planned - a diagnosis that is acceptable for the great purges and the gulag, but highly debatable for the collectivization, the most extensive of its crimes - and, on the other hand, they are presented as products of their malignant ideological roots. A criminal ideology, communism, took millions of victims: Lenin was its architect, Stalin its most important executor. These men play the role of authentic demiurgic heroes reminiscent, though in an upside-down way, of the myths propagated in the old days by the Stalinist vulgate. In this way, anti-communist historiography simply proposes, as Claudio Sergio Ingerflom rightly observed, `an anti-Bolshevik version of a ``Bol- shevized'' history'.60

Pushed onwards by the impetus of his relentless crusade against the great evil of the twentieth century, Courtois forgets some basic rules of historical comparison: putting events in context, recognizing their international or national character, keeping in mind the duration of a political regime, etc. For instance, he forgets that unlike Nazism, which existed only twelve years and underwent a continous radicalization until its implosion during the war, the USSR existed for seventy-four years and went through a revolutionary, a `Thermidorian', a totalitarian and a long post-totalitarian phase. In Courtois' eyes, it is simply meaningless to consider communism as a plural and contradictory phenomenon, distinguishing between Trotsky and Stalin, Bela Kun and Enrico Berlinguer, Robert Hue and Pol Pot. It is also superfluous to separate Stalinism from its communist victims or to make distinctions between the movements and the regimes, between a revolutionary utopia and a ruling bureaucracy, between patterns of liberation and oppression, or between an anti-fascist resister and a KGB agent.61 Of course, the frontiers that separate the different forms of communism are not always perfectly clear - at times they may even be very ambiguous - but they exist, and should prevent us from reducing this open `field of experience' to a monolithic phenomenon. In fact, Courtois scrupulously avoids considering such `complications'. In his eyes, communism is criminal as both ideology and reality, and always identical at all times and in all places.

Courtois' simplifications have obliged some historians, including those very close to him like Marc Lazar, to take their distance. According to Lazar, Courtois' `fundamental fault' lies in his attempt to `privilege homologies, very rare in [historical] reality, instead of making analogies', that is, discerning the common elements that may exist between two such globally distinct realities as Nazism and communism.62 This is the difference, in Lazar's opinion, between a critical and a merely ideological use of the concept of totalitarianism. But this critique does not convince Courtois, who incessantly repeats his certitudes. He demands a `Nuremberg of communism' (like the French fascist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen) and points an accusing finger at the `fundamentalism' of both Jewish and communist accounts of the past. This is the main cause, in his opinion, of scholars' reluctance to apply his own historical comparison (Nazism and communism as the twin faces of the same totalitarian genus). If his interpretation has been widely criticized, he suggests, this is due to the hateful influence on French university and research institutions until 1989 of `the formidable ideological power' of communism, a `propaganda machine perfectly organised from the end of the twenties and pervasive in public opinion, including the universities'.63

Basically, Courtois has invented nothing. He simply proposes a new version of the old McCarthyist theory of the communist conspiracy. In a 1950 essay, Isaac Deutscher painted a fine and acute portrait of the ex- communist who transformed himself during the Cold War into a visceral anti-communist, disposed to fight Soviet totalitarianism with totalitarian methods. The ex-Maoist Stephane Courtois fits this ideal-typical portrait very well. Often, writes Deutscher, the ex-communist brings with him the lack of scruple, the narrow-mindedness, the disregard for truth, and the intense hatred with which Stalinism has imbued him. He remains a sectarian. He is an inverted Stalinist. He continues to see the world in white and black, but now the colours are differently distributed. As a communist he saw no difference between Nazism and communism. Once, he accepted the party's claim to infallibility; now he believes himself to be infallible. Having once been caught by the ``greatest illusion'', he is now obsessed by the greatest disillusionment of our time.64

Reviewing The Passing of an Illusion, Eric J. Hobsbawm has written that it was not the first book of the post-communist era, but the latest product of the Cold War.65 Such an appraisal seems even more appropriate to Stephane Courtois. He inherited from his mentor neither the sense of proportion, nor the erudition, nor even the pleasure in narration that marked the style of the historian of the French Revolution. The only legacy he received from Furet is anti-communism.

However, criticizing anti-communist clichés does not solve the problem of the historical comparison between National Socialism and Stalinism. Of course, that requires a reappraisal of the Russian Revolution, the civil war and their relationship to Stalinism. Such questions are not at all closed and continue to invite new and controversial interpretations. Indubitably, we cannot refuse the ideological schemes of anti-communist historiography by means of another brand of apologetic historicism. Some Marxist scholars were tempted to reverse Nolte or Courtois' scheme and to present Stalinism as the response to a colossal threat to the existence of the USSR itself. Nazism, whose 1941 Blitzkrieg proved its project of extermination, embodied this menace; Stalinism, with its regrettable crimes, was the inevitable consequence.66 Of course, the Stalinist response was disproportionate and criminal in its extreme consequences, but finally it was a derivative and exogenous politics. This approach is the symmetrical, Marxist version of Nolte's historical revisionism.

Unquestionably, the isolation of the Russian Revolution - encircled by a hostile capitalist world - in the years between the wars was a historical fact. We can keep this reality in mind in order to explain the dictatorship, but not to legitimate the Cheka's repression, the Moscow trials, the Ukrainian famine or the gulag. If the concept of European civil war is not enough to justify a mono-causal explanation of Nazism, neither does it allow a similar analysis of Stalinism. We can certainly distinguish between revolutionary terror, born in the midst of civil war and fuelled by the violence of the counter-revolution, and Stalinist terror, launched as a `revolution from above' within a country at peace, menaced neither by domestic social reaction nor by foreign military intervention.67 Nevertheless, this difference does not eliminate the problem of Bolshevik policies at the inception of the Soviet experience.

Before the First World War, Marxism was the cultural background shared by both Russian Bolshevism and German social democracy, by Lenin and Kautsky. Until 1914, Lenin considered himself a disciple of Kautsky, whose theories he tried to apply to the analysis of the Russian society.68 If the same ideology inspired both the actors and the sharpest critics of the Revolution, it is difficult to conclude, with Nolte and Courtois, that Bolshevik ideology produced the Russian civil war. Several choices and measures, like the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, censorship, suppression of all political opposition, the Cheka's executions, the creation of the first labour camps in 1919, and the repression of the Kronstadt uprising two years later, cannot be derived from Marxism in the same way that the Nuremberg laws and Auschwitz can be coherently derived from the racist and biological Weltanschauung of National Socialism. But if the Red Terror was not an automatic byproduct of an ideology, it certainly resulted from political choices. The rapidity with which a military and political dictatorship, a single-party regime theorizing and practising violence as a means of building a new society, took shape in Russia needs to be explained. The extent of repression and the stifling of all criticism - including criticism coming from within the revolutionary camp (Martov is an example) - cannot be explained exclusively as a result of the historical context, the White Terror or the threat constituted by the anti-Soviet military coalition. Inevitably, such measures raise the question of the role played by Bolshevik ideology in the formation of Soviet totalitarianism.

Doubtless, the Soviet regime's choices were made in a context of civil war, whose violence was terribly great and murderous. The magnitude of this violence was a legacy of the First World War - the `brutalization' of social and political life (in George Mosse's words) - in a backward country without a democratic tradition; and the sharpness of the conflict between the social and political forces involved in the revolutionary process inevitably accentuated this tendency to resort to violence when the Bolsheviks took power. The old institutions had lost their legitimacy, Lenin's government was supported by the soviets but challenged outside them, the state monopoly of violence had been broken, peasant rebellion had broken out in the countryside and soldiers wished to leave the front. In other words, it was a classical civil war, with all its `furies'. As with the levee en masse and the Vendee repression in France, the Cheka and war communism were, according to Arno Mayer, the result of a context where `panic, fear and pragmatism mixed with hubris, ideology and iron will'.69 Red Terror was a response to White Terror, in a situation of endemic violence, with its spiral of radicalization and excess, that the Bolshevik government tried to control and channel. Once we recognize this historical context, it is possible to debate the role played by ideology in the Bolshevik policy. It did not produce the civil war, but it intensified the conflicts and accentuated the resort to violence, thus contributing to the erection of an authoritarian, undemocratic regime, which finally destroyed all the emancipatory hopes of 1917.

The cult of violence understood as a `midwife' of history, the complete underestimation of the role of law in the new revolutionary state, and a normative vision of dictatorship as an instrument of social transformation; these elements did not derive from the circumstances, but rather helped shape the Bolshevik response to it. Ideology and fanaticism played a role in the Red Terror - a work like Trotsky's Terrorism and Communism (1920)70 was its most coherent theoretical systematization - just as they had played a role in the Jacobin Terror (later lucidly criticized by Marx).71 When Lenin presented the suspension of law as a way to overcome `bourgeois democracy' and Trotsky identified proletarian dictatorship with forced labour and state control of trade unions, violence had lost its objectively imposed and spontaneous character and become a government system justified in the name of Raison d'Etat.72 The cold terror of Stalinism, deployed through the deportation of the kulaks and the political purges of the 1930s, does not change the fact that the foundations of Soviet totalitarianism were laid by Lenin and Trotsky's dictatorship during the civil war. The result of their policies was probably in many respects the opposite of their intentions (as Lenin recognized in his testament), but this does not change the objective impact of their acts. Victor Serge, a strange combination of Bolshevik and libertarian who participated in the October Revolution, was among the first to draw this balance sheet, in the early 1930s.73 If we do not recognize these evident dynamics, our critique of twentieth-century revisionist reinterpretations by anti-communist scholars like Nolte or Furet will appear weak and not very credible, to say the least.

It is time to sum up the different forms of the new anti-communist paradigm. For Nolte, it is the key to interpreting the last century, completely subsumed under the sign of civil war (first European, then international). In spite of its limits and its apologetic aims, his vision is not uninteresting, insomuch as he puts the conflict between fascism and communism at the heart of the century. Furet's anti-communism is more in keeping with the ruling Zeitgeist. After postulating a philosophically and historically debatable equation between capitalism and democracy, he tends to reduce both fascism and communism to a tragic parenthesis on the inescapable path to liberalism. `The greatest secret of the complicity between Bolshevism and fascism', he wrote in The Passing of an Illusion, `remains their common enemy, which they reduce or exorcise, thinking it as in its death-throes, but which nevertheless constitutes their soil: simple democracy.'74 Courtois, the least interesting of our three scholars, does not go beyond the old assimilation of communism to Nazism, two totalitarian regimes based on the same project of exterminating an enemy class (the bourgeoisie) or an enemy race (the Jews). He thus proposes a liberal democracy freed from the legacy of anti-fascism - one of its constitutive elements in continental Europe - and directly based on anti- communism. National-conservative resentment (Nolte), the spirit of revenge of a late Cold-War crusader (Courtois), an apology of liberalism and a historical farewell to revolution by an intellectual who has accepted capitalism as the impassable horizon of our time (Furet): these are the three variants of the new anti-communist historical paradigm.

None of these three approaches can grasp the fundamental difference that separates communism from fascism, in spite of their criminal outcomes and of the formal affinities of their ruling systems. The Stalinist legacy, made up of a mountain of ruins and dead, did not erase the origins of communism in the tradition of the Enlightenment and eighteenth-century rationalist humanism. Marxism descended from this cultural tradition and was one of its main currents until the First World War and the Russian Revolution. This relationship explains the fact that many critics (and victims) of Stalinism combated it in the name of Marxism, communist ideas, democratic principles and humanist values. By contrast, fascism and Nazism, in spite of their racist scientism and their cult of modern technology, were extreme outcomes of the Counter-Enlightenment. `The year 1789 will be expelled from history', declared Josef Goebbels in 1933, when Nazism came to power in Germany. Unlike communism, fascism did not wish to destroy capitalist society but opposed the figure of the leader and the principle of authority to democracy and popular sovereignty, order and hierarchy to freedom and law, race and nation to individuality and humanity. The instrumental rationality at the heart of the modern world's violence - total wars and atomic bombs, concentration camps and industrial killing - does not change this fundamental difference. Any theory of totalitarianism that shows itself indifferent to this difference is condemned to understand nothing of the history of the last century.


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