Setting the Record Straight on Communism and Socialist Revolution


November 13, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


Lie #4: Communism is a form of totalitarianism. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin sought to impose total domination over society—through repression that invaded every aspect of society and individual life, and mind-manipulative ideology.

The theory of “totalitarianism” equates communism with fascism…the dictatorship of the proletariat with fascist rule…and Stalin with Hitler. This is a grotesque misrepresentation of reality. The Soviet Union when it was socialist (from 1917 until the mid-1950s) and Nazi Germany (1932-45) were polar opposites in all key aspects: in their economic foundations; political and social structures; aims and outlook of leadership; guiding ideologies; in the actual ways these societies functioned…and in the lived experience of the individuals making up these societies.

The theory of totalitarianism traffics in gross lies and distortions of the methods and goals, and the real history and experience, of communist revolution. It detaches Nazi Germany from its capitalist underpinnings. And it pathetically worships at the feet of liberal-democratic imperialism as the highest and furthest human society can and should go—prettifying its monstrous crimes and inhumanity, and the savage exploitation of hundreds of millions at the base of this system.

The most influential “scholarly” work proposing the theory of “totalitarianism” is Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. The powerful critique of Arendt by Bob Avakian in Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? provides essential understanding for why this theory is unscientific and the agenda it serves.

The main target of “totalitarian” theory is in fact communism. And this theory’s main ideological function is to distort and demonize communist revolution and reconcile people to this world of horrors.

Reality Check #1—Different origins and systems of class rule of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany

*The socialist Soviet Union was the outcome of a mass revolution bound up with the horrific death and destruction of World War 1 and a highly oppressive and repressive society that millions were in revolt against. The October Revolution of 1917, led by the Bolshevik (communist) Party, overthrew the old capitalist-imperialist ruling class/elites; and the ensuing civil war of 1918-20 shattered their remaining political-military power. The revolution created new governing structures—the dictatorship of the proletariat—that empowered the formerly oppressed and exploited, in alliance with the great majority of society, to take ever greater responsibility for the running of society. And the new socialist system spurred radical social-cultural transformation and ferment.   

*Hitler and the Nazi vision of a resurgent, revengeful, and “racially pure” imperial Germany emerged out of German defeat in World War 1 in 1918. Hitler built up a mass racist and reactionary social base through the 1920s. His program ultimately gained the backing of sections of the traditional German capitalist-imperialist ruling class. Nazi rule was erected on the foundations of developed German industrial-finance capitalism. And Hitler united the reigning economic-military elites behind a project to make Germany the great and dominant imperial power of the world. Fascist rule deprived people of minimal rights, creating categories of undesirables, and carrying out savage persecution and control—moving first against communists!

Reality Check #2—Two utterly different economic systems

*The revolution in the Soviet Union led to history’s first planned socialist economy. Unlike capitalism, it operated according to the principle of production for social need, not profit in command—providing for the material and cultural needs of the people and bringing workers and peasants into positions of responsibility. Resources were allocated in a conscious and planned way to develop an all-around economy. The Soviet economic system was not driven, nor did it seek, to expand and exploit globally, or to colonize peoples and regions. The new Soviet Union recognized the right of self-determination and aided and supported the struggles of peoples colonized and dominated by imperialism.

*The German economy under Hitler maintained and enforced the system of capitalist ownership and control and exploitation of wage labor—and was transformed into a predatory militarized economy. The German imperialist state sought to gain control of the resources and labor of vast stretches of Europe and beyond: through annexation, war, and plunder.   

Reality Check #3—Emancipating humanity vs. tightening the chains of oppression

A. Women in Soviet and Nazi society

*The Nazi program for women was one of total subordination. The Nazis pushed women out of the workforce and sought to turn them into compliant breeders and mothers for the fatherland. “Kitchen, children, church” was the slogan. The Nazi “role model” projected in state propaganda, in the educational system, and culture was the “Aryan” male: the patriarch and racial warrior.   

*The Soviet revolution stood for the liberation of women. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Soviet society was challenging traditional gender roles and customs enslaving women, including Sharia law. Abortion was legalized and made widely available—as was the right to divorce. Never before had a society made the uprooting of women’s oppression such a focus. Women joined the labor force in the greatest numbers in history—with childcare and nursery facilities provided. Great efforts were put into improving post-natal care for minority nationalities.

In the mid-1930s, however, the government saw the need to stabilize society as the threat of war grew. Certain radical social measures were reversed and abortion banned. This was a grievous retreat, though women continued to play a major role in political, economic, and cultural life.

B. Racial purity vs. multinational/multi-ethnic equality

*The Nazis aimed to establish the rule of the so-called German “master race” over Europe and the East. Only “racially fit” Germans were deemed suitable to reproduce. Nazi social policy aimed to eliminate “inferior” Germans (the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, homosexuals, and “a-socials”) through sterilization and denial of medical treatment. And the Nazi racial state ultimately embarked on a program of genocidal extermination of the Jewish people in Germany and Europe, along with other ethnic and national groups. Hitler propagated the imaginary conspiracy of Bolshevism/communism and the Jewish people, and sought the elimination of both.

*The socialist Soviet Union was the world’s first multinational state based on equality. It valued and promoted ethnic diversity. It waged campaigns against “great-Russian chauvinism.” It created autonomous regions where minority nationalities previously forbidden from using their own languages in schools and official political life could now do so—and local, indigenous leadership was fostered. Minority cultures flourished. Soviet scientists and educators worked to explode the myth of “backward” and “superior” races. Nowhere else in the world was this going on—least of all the U.S., where segregation and white supremacy were the law of the land and lynching against Blacks rampant; and Jews were subjected to discrimination.

The Soviet Union put an end to the persecution of the Jewish people. And, please Mr./Ms. Totalitarian, the Soviet Union was the only fucking country in World War 2 that actively sought to save the lives of massive numbers of Jewish people. In Eastern Europe, where the Red Army in World War 2 marched, Jews were protected; where the Nazi military marched, Jews faced genocide. Fact: 200,000 Polish Jews escaped the German Holocaust when they came under the control of the Soviet Union in 1940.

Reality Check #4: There were no “death camps” in the Soviet Union.

In 1936-38, as the threat of massive imperialist attack on the Soviet Union was growing, the socialist state launched police operations to prevent counterrevolution. The target of these campaigns became too broad, rights were violated, and many innocent people were arrested and executed. (We will have more to say about the reasons and lessons in a separate installment on Stalin.) But there were no “death” or “extermination” camps in the Soviet Union. The claim that “millions” were executed by Stalin is pure myth. No ethnic group was targeted for elimination. And no nationality was singled out for mass imprisonment (as is the case for African-Americans in the U.S. today).    

Reality Check #5: And who in fact played the decisive role in defeating Hitler?

One rather glaring problem with totalitarian theory’s equating of Hitler and Stalin is that it cannot really account for the fact that the socialist Soviet Union and capitalist-imperialist Nazi Germany were locked in mortal antagonism. Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, in a war of conquest and destruction on a scale unseen before in human history—with Hitler making it clear to his troops that they were to discard every principle of humanity for a war of total annihilation. The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the Nazi war machine. And under Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet Red Army and the Soviet people not only courageously beat back this onslaught but played the decisive role in defeating Hitler in World War 2—at a cost of some 26 million Soviet lives, including 11 million soldiers.

Reality Check #6: Two different modes of thinking

Communism is a science. It is internationalist. It requires the rational-scientific investigation and understanding of reality. It aims to transform reality, to bring a world free of exploitation and all oppression into being—based on the real-world potential to forge such a world and the conscious struggle of oppressed humanity and all who aspire to such a world. Whereas…

The Nazi outlook was based on concepts of German “blood and soil,” racial purity, male supremacy, hatred and contempt for critical thinking, and out-and-out irrationalism.

To conclude…

The theory of totalitarianism is intellectually hollow and empirically impoverished. It is influential bullshit that does great harm. The charge of “totalitarianism” leveled against communism—that communism is a “utopian ideal turned madness”—is a critical element in the bourgeois ideological arsenal that declares: Stay away from communist revolution, don’t aspire to a radically different and better world, don’t  try to change people’s values and thinking for the better. It will only make things nightmarishly worse. Long live the status quo.

Recommended Readings

*Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? by Bob Avakian, 1986. Especially Chapter 6, section: “The Theory of Totalitarianism and Its Political Role.”

*Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, and What It’s All About, Session 3 Is Communism Totalitarianism?” A film of talk by Bob Avakian, 2003,

*You Don’t Know What You Think You “Know” About… The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future, an interview with Raymond Lotta, 2014, and

*Three Alternative Worlds, by Bob Avakian, December 3, 2006,


Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.