on July 30, 2005
In recent times libertarians following Hayek have suggested that the regimes of Hitler and Stalin were two sides of the same coin. Overy who has written a very good book on the reason why the allies won the Second World War examines the two regimes.
One of the more interesting chapters is that dealing with the two economic systems. In some respects there were significant similarities. In the 30's both systems achieved amazing growth figures. The Soviet by around 100% the German by some 50%. In both economies growth was fuelled by massive investment by depressing living standards. In Russia the collectivisation policy allowed for the siphoning of farm income to fund machine imports. In Germany wages were regulated and kept at depression levels. The Soviet system allowed some private enterprise to flourish mainly in small plots and the German system had large state enterprises developing synthetic rubber and oil.
Many other aspects of the regimes were similar, the control of culture, the idealisation of the leader the means of repression. However there were also significant differences. Hitler believed in a sort of racial mercantilism where the key to prosperity of society was the geographic size of the country. To achieve wealth a country must have an empire. That empire was to be administered by those of the "German" race who operated a slave type system in the conquered territories. Inferior races were to be serfs denied education and citizenship. No one of course was going to voluntarily be part of that empire so that one had to have a strong army. In fact the key role of the government, in the Nazi State was to provide that army so that the country could achieve territorial expansion and safeguard the destiny of the race.
The Soviet system although having the same concentration camps, the same elements of repression was more a child of the enlightenment. Historically Russia had been a country that had celebrated the role of the "Russian People" in the development of the Czarist empire. Under the communists the country was not even known as Russia but the more abstract Union of Socialist Soviets. Broadly it was a repellent system but not a racist one. This meant that during the crisis of the Second World War it was better able to mobilise its resources and win. The Germans by their policy of racial exclusivity limited the potential size of their armies and were appalling at using the resources of their conquests.
on September 20, 2004
Overy makes the controversial thesis that Hitler's regime was more revolutionary than Stalin's Russia. Overy claims that the Nazi party began to take over areas of the German economy while Stalin after the nineteen thirties left the economy in the hands of economist and engineers. Also during the war years the Nazi party was taking over control of military operations, but Stalin was ceding control to his generals. The Gestapo was not constrained by any law while the Soviet NKVD in the early forties was scrutinize by some judicial oversight. Finallly the Nazis eliminated ethinic groups based on their race and the Soviets judged other ethinic groups based on their loyalty to the Soviet state. The main weakness of Overy's book is that he skims over Stalin's collectivization drive and how it resulted in the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens through stravation and repression. Despite this weakness, I would reccomend this book for anyone ineterested in a comparason of these two regimes.
on September 9, 2004
If one wanted to do a comparative history of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, then Richard Overy would not be the worst choice. He is one of the leading historians of the Nazi dictatorship, with his books on the air war, Goering and why the Allies lost. By contrast, his reading skills in Russian are limited, and his archival sources are non-existent, but he keeps a close eye on the scholarly literature. What Overy has done is not write a comparative biography of the two men, but a comparative history of their two regimes. He starts off by looking at the two dictators, and the circumstances in which they won power. Then he discusses the way they ruled things, their utopianism and their attacks on religion. He then looks at official culture, how they organized their economy, how they organized their armies, the way they fought their wars, their policies on nationalities and the regime of their camps.
The result is a hugely informative book that provides the latest research on a whole host of topics, and presents a complex view of many issues. Like many recent scholars he emphasizes the way consent, not coercion, undergirded the regimes. He points out that the Gestapo had only 20,000 people to watch over all of Germany, including the secretaries, while once one removed the staff and the border guards the NKVD only had 20,000 people to look over the USSR. Whether it is the Nazi campaign against the Gypsies (not as genocidal as the Holocaust), or the way each side treated the prisoners of war from the others (the Soviets come out better here), whether it is the hierarchies of the concentration camps, or the assassination attempts against Hitler, or the Communists' strategy against the Orthodox Church, on topic after topic we have a thorough, complex and well-researched discussion of the issue. Overy also provides many striking details. When Hitler came to power he promoted the judge who gave him an extremely lenient sentence for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch. Stalin loved hunting, Hitler hated it. For all of Hitler's Wagnerian aura, his favorite opera was actually "the Merry Widow". At the height of the German Eastern Advance, the Soviet Union could only call upon 23% of the coal output and 28% of the iron output of The Third Reich. More members of the German Communist Politburo were killed by Stalin than by Hitler. For their many minorities the Soviet Union offered 92 alphabets in 125 languages, and for the centenary of Pushkin, produced 27 million copies in 66 languages.
Although he is critical of the totalitarian interpretation, Overy tends to emphasize the similarities of the regimes. The dictators themselves, he notes early on, had very different personalities with the empty Hitler who lived only for mass charisma contrasting with the more gregarious Stalin who slowly mastered the party and had to work to achieve his cult. The Nazi Party was more influential, and oddly more lawless, with Stalin's Russia too big and rural and illiterate to achieve the same kind of depth. But both regimes shared a similar utopianism, and a similar hostility to religion, capitalism and intellectual freedom. Of course, Overy points out that while Stalin was willing to use war as a tool, he was fundamentally defensive. There is no question here that the Soviet Union was the victim of an aggressive attack. There is also no question that the Soviet Union, with help from lend-lease, managed an amazing mobilization of its economy, in contrast to the Nazis who could not do so until it was too late. Nazi racism was genuinely genocidal, while the Soviet Union genuinely believed in the diversity of its people, though that did not save it from outbreaks of xenophobic paranoia. In the world of concentration camps, 40% of the Nazi's prisoners died, while about 15% of the Gulag's did. But then most of the Gulag's victims were not political prisoners. (In the Nazi extermination camps, of course, everyone was supposed to die, and at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor more than 99.9% of them did).
There are some criticisms one can make. Much of the case on Hitler's "anti-capitalism" is based on his rhetoric, or on gestures like the mass wearing of uniforms. (David Cesarani's new biography of Eichmann suggests he was not the low-class beneficiary of Nazi social mobility that Overy suggests.) Overy also relies of Herman Rauschning, a source Ian Kershaw's biography was much more skeptical of, while Richard Steigmann-Gall has pointed out that Hitler's Table Talk, which Overy cites to demonstrates Hitler's hostility to Christianity, has been mistranslated in key places. The conclusion is somewhat mediocre. Science is blamed, while Overy says the two dictators were united by illiberalism, a hostility to the "liberal idea of progress" and a hostility to diversity. But both regimes supported some sort of progress, and the Soviet Union supported a diversity of cultures certainly as liberal as its predecessors or successors. An emphasis on ideology as a cause overlooks the fact that one reason why the Bolsheviks were so dogmatic, cruel and intolerant was because there was so little purchase under Tsarism, the first World War and the Russian civil war for open-mindedness, charity and mercy. By contrast, nothing in Germany's 20th century experience explains Nazi anti-semitism. Nevertheless, this is the leading book on the similarites and differences of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
on November 6, 2013
This is a work of monumental achievement. It is undeniably one of the best treatments of comparative history that I have ever read (only slightly better than Robert Gellately's, "Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe," another fantastic work of comparative history). One of the best features of the work, besides how well he treats the subject mater, is Overy's organization of the chapters, as I will attempt to explain below.
Throughout the work, Overy starts new subject matter by giving the reader the meta-argument - the general idea of a dictatorship within a given topic. For example, in a chapter titled "Moral Universe of Dictatorship," Overy discusses (among other topics) the relationship between law and the state in a dictatorship. Overy gives the meta-argument first: "Under a dictatorship the state was not subject to any form of judicial review. Those who made the law also enforced it. Law was unpredictable and unequivocally applied." (Overy, 288). Then Overy explains the similarities between the two dictators and their regimes. For example, Overy explains that in the legal systems of both Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia, "court proceedings were weighted overwhelmingly in favor of the prosecution and any punishment handed down could be altered at will by the political authorities." (Overy, 288). Then Overy gives lengthy discussions on the foundation and claims of legitimacy of the legal systems in both Stalin's and Hitler's regimes. Most importantly, Overy highlights the differences between the two systems throughout the work.
The example given above is a small summary of the organization of most of the work. Overy's treatment of the topic, and his ability to express the topic in a smart and well organized manner merits a five star rating. The only draw back, as one reviewer has already pinpointed, was the lack of treatment of the Collectivization under Stalin's regime. While the argument against including this could be that this is a comparative work and there was no need to include it. However, it could have easily been put in to the chapter on States of Terror. But this is a minor complaint, and no way takes away from the achievement of this great work.
I highly recommend this work for anyone interested in the concept of dictatorial regimes and more specifically on the inner workings of Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. Enjoy!
on August 5, 2005
Overy is more than a scholar; he is a deep thinker. There is a world of difference. "The Dictators" is a seminal work comparing how the two greatest dictators of all time exercised control over their political, economic, and military systems all while laying out the implications of this control.
It is the painstaking comparison, often paragraph-by-paragraph, that gives this work its magisterial quality. But what really makes "The Dictators" work is how it builds on Overy's previous work, "Why the Allies Won," which assumed that the Allied victory was not a forgone conclusion in 1940 and asked, and answered, probing questions about comparative command structures, production economies, and capital sources.
Without this base, Overy's latest could have become just another book on Hitler and Stalin. And a boring one at that. With it, however, we get insights unavailable elsewhere. Having studied Marxism, Leninism, and the Soviet Union for forty years, I was deeply impressed.
The next step in this line of scholarship is to put it in the context of falling information costs. Wealth is created when increasing amounts of ever cheaper information can be substituted for other resources like land, labor, and capital. "The Dictators" describes how Hitler and Stalin did the opposite, systematically lowering the cost of information or themselves and raising it for everyone else.
Following Overy's reasoning in "Why the Allies Won" the question is, absenting world war, was the Dictator system sustainable? If so, for how long? This question is critical to understanding the future of China as it tries to contain falling information costs and keep some semblance of Party leadership. And critical to us in trying to manage our relationship with China. Next book Mr. Overy?
Editing: Five Stars. Comparing two systems across so many functions page-by-page and often paragraph-by paragraph can quickly become unwieldy and most would advise strongly against it. Better to keep each leader to his own chapter. But Overy carries this off and his editor wisely let him proceed.
Copy Editing: Five Stars
on December 3, 2011
Richard Overy's book The Dictators sought to compare the ideological similarities and differences exemplified by Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. He examines many different factions of both regimes. He starts by looking at how these two dictatorships were able to come about and concludes that without the occurrence of World War I and a little bit of luck, these regimes could not have risen. Overy then goes on to look at the style in which these two dictators ruled. He explains that they claimed the democracy of the West divided the nation into a class system. They wanted true democracy that gives undisputed power to one political party to represent the country. Overy also suggests that Hitler and Stalin were not dictators just for the sense of power, but in order to reach their goal of a Utopia even though their ideas of Utopia differed. Hitler's utopia was a racially pure society, while Stalin's utopia was a classless society. Both of these rulers knew that they faced another inevitable war, and they both heavily involved themselves in the militaristic strategies of their countries. Overy states that WWII would become a total war because it would determine if the ideology of each system would survive. Lastly Overy focuses on the nationalism and racism in each dictatorship, which led to the mass extermination as well as deportation of people. He explains that due to the nationalism and anti-Semitism in both countries it was easy for people to look past the rumors of work and extermination camps.
This book in fairly in depth, and a slow read due to the immense amount of information Overy includes. At times Overy seems a little to eager to place Stalin and Hitler in the same category when comparing the two dictatorships, and you must take what Overy says with a grain of salt. He is however clearly very knowledgeable on what he is writing and is very in tune with the ideas he is trying to set across. Overy does not lack data or support throughout his book. If you are interested in how dictatorships come to be and how they are able to keep their power this is a great book for you to read. Some parts are a little harder to get through than others, but overall the topic is interesting and very well written.
on December 27, 2013
This is a good companion piece to Bullock's "Parallel Lives" but from more of a political angle. The focus is on the political systems that both men created and the conditions in their respective countries that shaped the course of their careers.
on November 27, 2011
Richard Overy's The Dictator's: Hitler's Germany and Stalin' Russia provides great insight for those lacking in solid history of the time period. Although the book demands some knowledge of the time period, making for a slow read and visits to "Google" to further ones knowledge of any number of particulars, the book provides a solid understanding of both the two dictators as human beings and their dictatorships. Overy glides over the basic facts of familial history and upbringing to focus on the reasoning behind each rise to power. The books format, although lacking a chronological format, flows well in providing a side by side comparison on topics such as economic systems and cultural control. The book educates the reader on the way each viewed his territories and its people, as well as the "utopia" so interestingly referred to within its pages. Overy explains how each Stalin and Hitler felt war and conflict was inevitable, yet for different reasons. Hitler felt any dictator had to go through war, as if it was a right of passage. Stalin felt as though to defend his ideological beliefs, war was a necessary measure. Although a slow read, and sometimes heavy; the book leaves the reader with an understanding of the time and the reasoning behind these trying periods in history. The book is long, yet contains many illustrations to break it up and the work entices the reader to reach the next chapter and learn of a new comparison. One would be hard pressed to find criticism regarding the wealth of knowledge contained in the work; it proved well researched and informative from start to finish.
on June 8, 2012
This book is essential reading for the serious student of 20th century history, or for novices who simply want to understand the monstrous regimes of Hitler and Stalin. Overy tends to focus on the similarities of the regimes to really find how these dictatorships sustained themselves for so long. Readers will be interested to learn how the regimes of each dictator were NOT absolutely controlled by each individual dictator, but were made possible by the service of thousands of men, each with their own reasons for collaboration with the regime.
Each chapter examines a different aspect of both dictatorships: one chapter on Hitler and Stalin's rise to power, a chapter on each regimes' ideology, military, art, science, economics etc. I agree with other reviewers that some of these chapters can get a little dry (especially the chapter on economics, partially because I am an economic ignoramus). Regardless, this book is extremely readable overall, and I had trouble putting it down. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It explains not only the defining regimes of the 20th century, how they came to power and sustained their murderous regimes, but it is also a study of power itself, and how it holds sway over otherwise good people and societies. This is possibly the best history book I have ever read.
on November 9, 2011
Richard Overy offers his readers a fresh, well researched perspective on the characteristics of Hitler and Stalin's regimes. The comparative method employed by Overy makes it comprehensible and accessible to the average reader. You do not need to be an expert to enjoy this book, but once you complete it you will feel as though you have advanced your understanding of these two dictators significantly.
Overy cuts right to the facts in this book. You will not catch this author speculating on the sexual inclinations, intrapersonal relationships, or drug habits of either Hitler or Stalin. Instead, this author chooses to examine the methods by which these two men came to power, their ideology, economic policies, military initiatives, and manipulation of justice. Overy is concise and fair in his representation of the dictators. You never feel as though this author is telling you to what to think. Overy gives his reader all of the facts and leaves the rest open to interpretation.
Overall this book was highly enjoyable. I've read many books that focus solely upon the personal characteristics of Hitler and Stalin. It was quite refreshing to finally learn more about the institutions that supported them.