Historian explores the influence of three brutal world leaders
In lenin, stalin, and hitler, robert gellately, the earl ray professor of history at florida state university, has written a sobering and chilling account of the unspeakable terror visited upon europe, and indeed upon the entire world, during the first half of the 20th century. the years between 1914 and 1945 witnessed world war i, the russian revolution and the triumph of bolshevism, the great depression, the dictatorships of the joseph stalin and adolf hitler, world war ii, the genocide of the holocaust, and the construction of the gulag. while the brutalities of stalin and hitler are well known, gellately points out that a key figure is often neglected or minimized in the chronicle of european barbarism: vladimir illych ulyanov, a.k.a. lenin. in his famous speech in 1956, which renounced the atrocities of stalin and signaled a "thaw" in the soviet union, nikita khrushchev claimed that "the bad stalin" had corrupted "the good lenin." "khrushchev trotted out the myth of lenin the noble and good," writes gellately, "to save the 'inner truths' of communism from association with what were belatedly recognized as 'stalinist evils." this myth of the noble and good lenin, claims gellately, no longer convinces. documents from the newly opened russian archives make abundantly clear that lenin was the most extreme of the radicals, the leader who pressed for terror as much as, and probably more, than anyone. far from perverting or undermining lenin's legacy, as is sometimes assumed, stalin was lenin's logical heir. gellately began this work as a study of the conflicting ideologies of communism and nazism and the murderous rivalries of stalin and hitler. at first, he didn't include lenin as a major figure. as he conducted his research, however, and tried to reconstruct the events leading up to world war ii, he began to see that much of what he wanted to say was inexorably leading back to lenin and the beginnings of the soviet dictatorship. "my book deviates from the standard appraisal," he writes, "by giving significant attention to lenin and by putting the story in proper chronological sequence." lenin was, says gellately, "a heartless and ambitious individual who was self-righteous in claiming to know what was good for 'humanity,' brutal in his attempt to subject his own people to radical social transformation, and convinced he held the key to the eventual overthrow of global capitalism and the establishment of world communism." lenin and stalin were not alone in their utopian visions which turned europe into a dystopia. adolf hitler offered his followers a "social darwinism," a pseudo-scientific philosophy emphasizing a brutal will to power, he preached that the historical mission of the "aryan master race" (germanic peoples) was to exterminate "inferior races," which he referred to as "sub-humans," "parasites," "vermin," and "trash." the brunt of hitler's wrath was directed against the jews, who, he ranted, were responsible for the cowardly "stab in the back" at the end of world war i, and who, he raved, were the sinister instigators of bolshevism. although lenin, stalin, and hitler includes highlights of military action during the second world war, the lion's share of the book deals with social and political developments in the soviet union and germany, and especially with the suffering and death of untold millions of people in the labor camps of the russian gulag and the death camps of nazi germany. gellately shows how the holocaust was, and remains, unprecedented. it was (gellately here quotes professor omer bartov of brown university) "the industrial killing of millions of human beings in factories of death ordered by a modern state, organized by a conscientious bureaucracy, and supported by a law-abiding, patriotic, 'civilized' society." in the epilogue, gellately writes, "this book is an attempt to record the evils perpetrated by both soviet communism and german nazism and to figure out how it came about that, separately and together, the two systems brought such misery and destruction to the world." the roman playwright plautus (c. 250 b.c.) wrote, "lupus est homo homini" ("man is a wolf to man"). if anyone doubts the truth of this aphorism, he or she should read gellately's disturbing volume.