This remarkably ambitious book tells the story of the great social and political catastrophe that enveloped Europe between 1914 and 1945. In a period of almost continuous upheaval, society was transformed by two world wars, the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust, and the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Combining a powerful narrative with profound analysis, acclaimed historian Robert Gellately argues that these tragedies are inextricably linked and that to consider them as discrete events is to misunderstand their genesis and character. Central to the catastrophe, of course, were Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, and this book makes use of recently opened Russian and German sources to explain how these dictators’ pursuit of utopian—and dread- fully flawed—ideals led only to dystopian nightmare.
In a groundbreaking work, Gellately makes clear that most comparative studies of the Soviet and Nazi dictatorships are undermined by neglecting the key importance of Lenin in the unfolding drama. Rejecting the myth of the “good” Lenin, the book provides a convincing social-historical account of all three dictatorships and carefully documents their similarities and differences. It traces the escalation of conflicts between Communism and Nazism, and particularly of the role of Hitler’s anathema against what he called “Jewish Bolshevism.” The book shows how the vicious rivalry between Stalin and Hitler led inescapably to a war of annihilation and genocide. The reverberations of this gargantuan struggle are felt everywhere to this day.
Robert Gellately is the Earl Ray Beck Professor of History at Florida State University and was the Bertelsmann Visiting Professor of Twentieth-Century Jewish Politics and History at Oxford University in 2004-5. He is the author of The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy, 1933-1945 and Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.
“A most impressive account of the tragedies that
befell the world during the first half of the twentieth century. Not
the least merit of his book is that, unlike most historians who
treat Lenin as a well-meaning idealist, he places him alongside
Stalin and Hitler as a founder of modern barbarism.”
“Books on the Holocaust and Nazism now number in
the tens of thousands. Of that vast library, a handful of texts
should be deemed essential reading for any serious student of the
bloody and pathetic twentieth century. Robert Gellately’s Backing
Hitler is among them.”
“A fascinating study of coercion and consent in
the Third Reich.”
“An intriguing and illuminating new book.”
“A groundbreaking book... Will change our
understanding of Hitler’s relation to his people.”
excerpt from Epilogue
In the course of completing this book, I spoke with a number of people along the way. Quite a few were disconcerted, sometimes also intrigued, by my naming Lenin, along with Stalin and Hitler, as one of the three truly vile despots of the first half of the twentieth century. Social scientists I met, at home but especially in Europe, castigated me for not giving Lenin enough credit for his “good intentions.” A colleague in the United States pleaded, “Of course, Lenin made a few mistakes.” Not everyone reacted so defensively to my portrayal of Lenin, however. Some confided that all along they had regretted the tendency of many scholars to place Lenin above history and shield him from the criticism he deserves. I submit that we have to avoid slipping into the role of apologist for Soviet leaders, including, and in some respects above all, Lenin, a heartless and ambitious individual who was self-righteous in claiming to know what was good for “humanity,” brutal in his attempt to subject is 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.
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.
Abbreviations and Glossary