Soviets and Nazis — which were worse?

The Nazis were evil, killing millions of human beings, and they have universally and properly rummel-20th_c_mortacraciesproperly condemned for their horrors.

The Soviets were also evil, killing more millions than the Nazis did, yet they have not been universally condemned. The Soviets have been attacked by libertarians, conservatives, and moderates as a great lesson in evil — but not by the political left. (Alan Kors here takes them to task for this abdication of moral responsibility.)

In part this makes sense: When socialism was in power in Russia, China, and many other places, leftists were widely admiring of those regimes. So it’s understandable that after-the-fact shame would lead them to denial and avoidance. And younger leftists are likely to believe that socialism is moral in theory despite its practical failings, so they will want to cut Stalin and Mao some slack.

But Sidney Hook offers a philosophical explanation — that by egalitarian standards the communists were more moral than the fascists even though the communists killed more people:

“When I confronted them with the evidence that Stalin had unjustly killed more Jews than Hitler, which was true at the time, swastika-112x50they retorted that he was killing them not as Jews but as dissenters. Since in this respect the Jews were being treated equally with others, that was more important in their eyes than the alleged injustices of their executions” (Out of Step, p. 353).

So a thought experiment. Which of the following regimes is worse?
* Regime A kills 5 Jews, but it doesn’t kill non-Jews.
* Regime B kills 6 Jews, but it also kills 6 non-Jews.

By the principle of individual rights, both are evil and Regime B is worse.
By the principle of equality, Regime B is better.

Question: Is Hook right that this is actually how leftist egalitarians think, or are the leftists in his anecdote engaged in bad-faith avoidance?

Update: I just came across this post by Professor Lester Hunt: “Nazism or Communism: Which is More Evil?”

Marxism = Nazism (another datum).
Heidegger, anti-humanism, and the Left.
Chipotle Mexican Grill versus egalitarianism.
18th-century Russia as egalitarian paradise.

[Chart image source: R. J. Rummel’s Democide site.]

8 thoughts on “Soviets and Nazis — which were worse?

  • February 24, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Posted these comments on Facebook; thought I’d share here as well. The egalitarian claim is wrong. The Soviets were plenty anti-Semitic and where killing Jews because of their Jewishness as well. And a thought on why Nazis tend to beat out the Soviets on the evil scale: The Germans were supposed to be an enlightened modern people. So the shock of the Germans engaging in mass murder, using the technology and knowledge of the modern age to do it, strikes us so much worse. And maybe the world sort of expected this kind of thing from the Russians.

  • February 24, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Question: Is Hook right that this is actually how leftist egalitarians think

    Yes. The Left’s most fundamental premises are epistemological subjectivism, moral relativism, and egalitarianism (which is supported by altruism although in a secular Comtean form). Egalitarianism is the sine qua non of Leftism. You can be a non-egalitarian collectivist; ie a Conservative. But if you reject egalitarianism then you are by definition not a Leftist.

    Non-discrimination and equality of results/outcomes are a secular religion to Leftists. And as you have pointed out Stephan, Post-modernism demonizes the white, heterosexual, Christian male. Today’s Left directs massive amounts of hatred against white straight males (just look at TV commercials for this – Google up ‘the golden rule of TV commercials’). If you even so much as challenge egalitarianism in a way that the Left does not approve they will DESTROY you.

    Notice how 10 1/2 years after 9/11 there has not been ONE anti-Jihad blockbuster action movie. There were about 5 of them between 1993 and 2000; the best of which was ‘Executive Decision’. (Today there may be Muslim terrorists but they are never moral agents who are evil in and of themselves. They are always being used by agents of greater evil which is invariably Capitalists, oil companies, the CIA, etc.)

    Also, an ESPN commentator made a statement about that Asian basketball player on the Knicks using the expression a “chink in the armor” and he was fired because of it. Think about what that says about the evil of the Left. “Chink in the armor” or “niggardly” are now expressions that you can lose your CAREER for because they SOUND like racial epithets. Talk about radical subjectivism.

    This holds in politics as well. The Left hates Pinochet because he was too associated with America and capitalism. But the Left loves Castro and Chavez and any other Leftist dictator. The Left will ALWAYS love Leftist dictators because they are trying to implement egalitarianism by force and Leftists love, love, love egalitarianism. They don’t care if it is implemented by force or by vote as long as it is implemented. Look at the OWS movement. That is a trial Leftist TOTALITARIAN movement and it has the backing of ALL Leftists and “liberal” media.

    The Left is EVIL. They make today’s conservatives look benevolent by comparison and conservatives are not liberty advocates. Only the Randians and the better libertarians are.

  • February 27, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Leftists claim they are “compassionate.” Their “compassion has left millions dead during the 20th century. The left condemns the Nazis only because the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union.

  • March 1, 2012 at 6:34 am

    To your question: do not know the people in Rummel’s anecdote, but certainly people I’ve argued with have claimed to think that it was worse for a Jew to be murdered for being Jewish than for being middle-class.
    (I’m a lefty egalitarian myself, but do not see the point of arguing about whether one serial killer is somehow objectively better than another.)

  • March 3, 2012 at 11:28 am

    From Rafe Champion: “Many people on the left are clearly in denial about the evil of communism. This is demonstrated by the contempt they show for the people who fought the good intellectual fight during the cold war and the respectul reception they give to autobiographies of communists and ex-communists. Imagine who they would treat the memoires of nazis!”
    Rafe Champion

  • March 17, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Jean-Francois Revel wrote the definitive book on this subject: “Last Exit to Utopia” in English, “La Grande Parade” in the original French.

    Subtitle: “The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era”

    Revel says “there are two sorts of totalitarian systems.” “The first is the kind whose ideology is … ‘direct’. Hitler and Mussolini always made it plain that they despised democracy, freedom of expression and culture, political pluralism and independent unions. … Supporters and adversaries of this category of totalitarianism find themselves right from the start on one side or another… Communism differs from direct totalitarianisms in that it has recourse to ideological dissimulation: it is mediatized by Utopia (to use a little Hegelian jargon). … Communism promises abundance and engenders misery; it promises liberty and imposes servitude [etc., etc.] … Yet many believers will persist in accepting [these] contradictions because Utopia is always located in the future. … The most efficient form of totalitarianism, the only socially presentable kind and the longest lasting, was not the kind that worked Evil in the name of Evil, but the kind that worked Evil in the name of Good.”

    Revel explains that “the ‘hypernesia of Nazism’ turns attention away from the ‘amnesia of Communism'”.

    Revel recounts a conversation between Max Weber and Joseph Schumpeter in a Vienna cafe. Weber is dismayed, knowing the 1917 Bolshevik revolution will lead to destruction, deprivation, and death. Schumpeter is excited about the 1917 revolution in Russia; it’s a “perfect laboratory experiment” in socialism and will prove its futility. “As an economist, Schumpeter believed that economic failure amounted to refutation. But the sociologist knew that Utopia is never refuted.”

    Fascists are rightly abhorred and condemned for what they did. Marxists are judged by their intentions. Of course, any sane objectivist or libertarian understands that both are contemptible for both their intentions and their actions.

  • October 11, 2012 at 2:22 am


    The question being which was worse, perhaps, should read, which was first? The rise of Marxism/Communism provoked the rise of Fascism. One might label the Roman Empire of the Caesars as Fascist, and Mussolini obviously drew on its aura. Fascism seems to be a monolithic government, usually directly or indirectly by the military, backed by the predominant religion. In Rome, the cult of Mars (among others) and in Germany/Italy, the Roman Catholic Church. The Concordat with the Pope Hitler made served him well. He was never excommunicated, and paid his church dues up till the end. Most of Southern Germany is Catholic, and supplied some of its best soldiers, most of whom considered the Prussian General Staff (who despised Hitler) as overrated.

    Hitler characterized Communism as “an Asiatic philosophy” with good reason. Any system which puts the masses over the achieving individual must become murderous : the crowd lives on blood. Most of social “progress” comes from a genius like, well, Henry Ford or Eli Whitney (who invented ’standardized parts’ beside the Cotton Gin) but both these men provided war fodder also. As Ayn Rand testified before Congress, “you can’t understand the collectivist mind…you wouldn’t want to.” The French Revolution proved one can mechanically eliminate a ruling class. WWI showed the perverse application of mass production, formerly the province of the Catholic Church (pun intended). Rand’s comment about Russia may be applied to post war Germany in the Weimar Republic, which is portrayed by left-wing types as a Renaissance of sorts, if you call playwrights like Brecht or the phalanx of pornographers (including the emergence of huge homosexual contingents, male and female, Berlin becoming the Queer Capital of the World briefly) “artists.” Hitler was quite right to adjudge modern art (Cubism and its brothers) as “degenerate.” Unfortunately, it is not the place of government to instill artistic values, unless you consider Periclean Athens.

    WWI destroyed all “middle class” values and many “aristocratic” ones. Which falls in the pale of Communism. There is no proletariat, and hopefully, there never will be : it is a fiction necessary to propel Communism/Marxism into a society where there MUST be a proletariat. “Working class” is not the same thing! The English had a “class system” that functioned adequately. Skills and IQ are usually transmitted through the family genes.

    Both systems relied on lies and force to achieve their ends. Most people would rather have lived in Germany than Soviet Russia. That is, until the local Gauleiter posted you to “the Russian front”! Perhaps there is more truth in Churchill’s “democracy is the worst form of government, save for all others” than we currently appreciate. None of us can imagine the Angst of Europe after WWI, and during the early Depression. In Germany, you’d saved up for your retirement and — zowee — the Government prints money to make your savings worthless. That is happening in America now. Wherever the individual or genius or entrepreneur is NOT rewarded for his élan, the welfare state must grow, particularly with female suffrage : women fear the loss of a child more than the death of their husbands.

    Hey, I didn’t make this scenario — it just makes me puke!

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