Contemporary European History

Articles

‘Working Towards the Führer.’ Reflections on the Nature of the Hitler Dictatorship

Ian Kershaw

Abstract

The renewed emphasis, already visible in the mid-1980s, on the intertwined fates of the Soviet Union and Germany, especially in the Stalin and Hitler eras, has become greatly intensified in the wake of the upheavals in Eastern Europe. The sharpened focus on the atrocities of Stalinism has prompted attempts to relativise Nazi barbarism – seen as wicked, but on the whole less wicked, than that of Stalinism (and by implication of communism in general).1 The brutal Stalinist modernising experiment is used to remove any normative links with humanising, civilising, emancipatory or democratising development from modernisation concepts and thereby to claim that Hitler's regime, too, was – and intentionally so – a ‘modernising dictatorship’.2 Implicit in all this is a reversion, despite the many refinements and criticisms of the concept since the 1960s, to essentially traditional views on ‘totalitarianism’ and to views of Stalin and Hitler as ‘totalitarian dictators’.