Comparing Hitler and Stalin

Robin Shepherd has an interesting piece wondering why Joe Stalin is so much less reviled than Adolf Hitler, despite the former arguably committing even greater attrocities.

Analysis: Comparing Hitler and Stalin (UPI)

Amid all the chitchat, commentary and controversy over this week’s celebrations marking the end of World War II, there is a question that has never been far from the surface, though it has rarely broken through: Which was really worse — communism or Nazism?

One answer, a sensible one at that, is that both systems were so degraded, disgusting and unpalatable that it is impossible to establish a hierarchy of value in which one could possibly stand higher, or lower, than the other. When you’ve reached the deepest pit in Hell there’s nowhere lower to go.

Unfortunately, though, that conclusion is often lost in a quagmire of ignorance and historical distortion. Not because anyone this side of decency really doubts the horrors of Nazism. But, sadly, because there are still large numbers of people (and judge for yourself which side of decency they stand) who still refuse to face up to the horrors of communism.


As a matter of fact, mass terror and purges were even more central to the Soviet system of rule than to Nazism, the full extent of whose tyranny did not evolve until several years after Hitler had taken power, and then in the midst of World War II.

Soviet mass terror, by contrast, was a feature of the regime right from the beginning. Lenin’s core principle of Red Terror was applied in the slaughter of up to half a million class enemies in the very first years of Soviet rule. And that is before we add in the millions of victims of a civil war which was the direct result of communist despotism.


The full death toll, most of it accumulated in peace time, at the hands of Lenin and his political and ideological successor, Stalin, is estimated by the best authorities at somewhere between 25 million and 30 million people. Not bad in a system for which mass terror and purges were not “intrinsic” parts. In what passes for Steele’s argument, he suggests the scaling down of the terror after Stalin’s death is evidence the system was not inherently terroristic. Does it not occur to him that there was no one left to kill?

Quite right. Part of the reason that “Hitler” and “Nazi” have more power than “Stalin” and “Communist” is that, although the two men worked together for a brief time, the Soviets ultimately were our allies during World War II. This meant that Hitler’s attrocities were played up while Stalin’s were played down. Further, there was always a much larger group of Americans sympathetic to the theories of Communism–although certainly not its totalitarian excesses–than of Nazism. For decades, it was fashionable for Western elites to espouse socialistic ideals. Neonazi sentiment has been relegated mostly to the white underclass.

The manifestations of this dichotomy remain with us today. Radley Balko discovered, to his horror, that Target was selling a line of Soviet nostalgia clothing to middle America. One can scarcely imagine them selling t-shirts nostalgic for Adolf Hitler. Similarly, one sees Che Guevara shirts on college campuses but never Josef Mengele ones.

Update: Kevin Aylward and Rusty Shackeford have more.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    I once said somewhere that the main significant difference between Hitler and Stalin was that Hitler spoke German and Stalin spoke Russian. I’ve since been moved to amend by adding another significant difference: Stalin got better press in the U.S.

    And that was even before we were war allies against the Nazis.

  2. The simple truth is that Big Mustache murdered more people than Little Mustache…and enslaved more people, conquered more people, oppressed more people.

    1+1=2. The concepts of more and less actually exist.

    More means more, despite leftist liberal whines to the contrary.

  3. DC Loser says:

    Read “Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives” by Sir Alan Bullock (read the amazon comments). One of my all time favorite biographies. Interesting parallel treatment of both dictators, comparing and contrasting their styles and accomplishment.

  4. Phil Davis says:

    “More means more, despite leftist liberal whines to the contrary.” Leftism…

    So sad, whiny liberals are so unfair to poor Hitler.

  5. Maniakes says:

    Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass:

    `I like the Walrus best,’ said Alice: `because he was a little sorry for the poor oysters.’

    `He ate more than the Carpenter, though,’ said Tweedledee. `You see he held his handkerchief in front, so that the Carpenter couldn’t count how many he took: contrariwise.’

    `That was mean!’ Alice said indignantly. `Then I like the Carpenter best–if he didn’t eat so many as the Walrus.’

    `But he ate as many as he could get,’ said Tweedledum.

    This was a puzzler. After a pause, Alice began, `Well! They were both very unpleasant characters–‘

  6. spaceman says:

    That’s east to answer, the media has always had an affection for commies. Even today, they are worried Bush is “upsetting” the Ruskies.

  7. Zsa Zsa says:

    The answer is neither. Freedom and Democracy is what we need to support in every way! Socialism, Fascism, Communism is a NO NO! anyway you look at it! What is sad is that in our country today we are being inundated by people posing as Democrats that are actually Socialists! At least it seems that way to me. Democrats and Republicans by definition are two major political parties associated with policies and principals favoring to restrict the powers of the Federal Government and emphasize States rights for the people and by the people!… Howard Dean seems to me as being one of those people posing as a Democrat, but in reality he is most certainly a Socialist!…Am I wrong?