Not in his entirety, I hasten to add. It’s only Cartesian epistemology or, to be precise, its central postulate that’s deemed delinquent,.
All knowledge, wrote the philosopher, is based on comparing two or more things. Now, I have both philosophical and theological problems with that notion (it denies, for example, intuitive or revelatory knowledge, along with the knowledge of God, who is by definition incomparable).
But Putin’s objections are more practical than that. The other day the Duma proposed, and Putin endorsed, a law making it illegal to “equate the objectives, decisions and actions of the Soviet leaders, generals and soldiers with the objectives, decisions and actions of the Nazi leaders, generals and soldiers.”
One can deduce two things from this, one false, the other true. The false inference is that no parallels between the Soviets and the Nazis exist and therefore drawing them can yield no knowledge. The true inference is that the parallels do exist, but the knowledge they yield is unacceptable to Putin and his coterie.
If Euclid is to be believed, parallel lines can’t converge – which is why they are called parallels and not overlaps. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be drawn. In this context, though Bolshevism and Nazism weren’t identical in every respect, their similarities outweighed their differences.
The Duma member who proposed the law singled out Poland as the principal culprit in drawing those objectionable parallels. Yet one wonders how anyone can deny that the Poles have every right to wax Cartesian in this respect.
After all, on 23 August, 1939, the two evil regimes, Hitler’s and Stalin’s, signed a pact (followed by a lesser-known friendship treaty) dividing Europe in general and Poland in particular between them. To claim her piece, Germany attacked Poland on 1 September; Stalin followed suit on the 17th.
Thus at the beginning of the war Hitler and Stalin were allies. They fired the first shots, and Poland was the first target.
Before the year was out, the Soviets deported more than a million Poles. Most ended up in Siberian concentration camps, others in unmarked graves – and the 22,000 officers murdered at Katyn and elsewhere are far from being a complete list of victims. At least 300,000 Soviet Poles also fell victim to Stalin’s genocidal purges, with about 100,000 dying of bullet or neglect.
Under those circumstances one can understand the Poles’ inability to distinguish between Brown and Red concentration camps, or between Brown and Red hit squads – especially since most Poles who perished in the Nazi camps were actually Jews (who accounted for three million out of the five million Poles killed during the war).
Actually, since the affection for Jews in Poland has always been rather understated, most Poles who lived through the war regard the Soviet occupation as worse than the Nazi one. And when the Soviet troops re-entered Poland in 1944, they began to rape, loot and murder on a scale that exceeded the Nazi crimes, which took some doing.
Moreover, having occupied the country, the Soviets installed a version of their own evil regime that continued to enslave the Poles for the next 50-odd years, while the Nazis only managed to do so for less than five years.
Moving on to a more fundamental level, both communist and Nazi ideologies – which is to say both nationalism and internationalism – are offshoots of the Enlightenment. A major difference between the two is that the Nazis declared war on the whole world except their own people, while the Bolsheviks’ war was waged on the world, including their own people.
While national and international socialism each developed in its own way, both were doctrinally committed to extreme statism, with state worship replacing religion, to which both regimes were violently opposed. That model came courtesy of Marx, and both Hitler and Stalin acknowledged their debt to him, the first obliquely, the second directly.
As part of the alliance established on the state level, the NKVD and the SS forged their own links. In 1940 the NKVD-SS Friendship Society was inaugurated with the approval of both Stalin and Hitler. The two diabolical organisations were comparing notes and exchanging pointers.
Even before the natural affinity between the two was institutionalised, a profitable exchange of ideas and equipment had been under way. The SS learned from their Soviet colleagues how to set up and run a network of concentration camps – and how to use gas for mass murder.
The Soviets were the first regime in history to use poison gases on their own people. That happened during the peasant uprisings in the 1920s, when gas shells were dropped from planes on the forests where the rebels were hiding. At the same time, the Soviets pioneered the use of gas vans, mobile gas chambers of low throughput but high efficacy.
The Nazis saw the potential of that innovation, used it in the early stages of the Holocaust and later developed it into the stationary facilities since then amply documented. In gratitude, the Gestapo shared with their NKVD colleagues the torture equipment essential to the needs of the Soviet growth industry.
In short, the parallels between the Soviets and the Nazis are perfectly valid and clearly visible, mutatis mutandis. But one can understand why Putin’s gang regards them as obnoxious.
Its ideological basis is a return to the imperial glory of Stalin’s Russia, if without the attendant communist slogans. Hence Putin’s propaganda machine is busily fostering the image of Russia as a noble fighter for goodness surrounded by enemies colluding to destroy it.
Russia emerges as a sort of prostitute with a heart of gold whom everyone screws and no one loves. Explained in those terms is everything awful that happens to Russia, such as her appalling poverty (outside Putin’s trusted lieutenants), the former constituent republics claiming their independence, and the West responding with sanctions to Putin’s holy mission of reversing “the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” (i.e. the disintegration of Stalin’s empire).
Putin’s Goebbelses are spinning the same yarns as did Soviet propaganda from Lenin onwards. NATO, using that ghastly Poland as its spearhead, is planning an invasion of Holy Russia, starting with her historically lawful, if illegally detached, property in the west.
This week Putin’s answers to Der Sturmer are screaming about the impending NATO thrust into Belarus to be launched from Poland and Lithuania. The only possible response is of course to preempt that aggression by dispatching Russian troops into the country, whether she wants it or not.
Reviving the ethos of a virtuous Soviet Union heroically fighting off its enemies is part of the propaganda offensive. Obviously, anyone daring to compare Stalin with Hitler jeopardises this signalling of nonexistent virtue. Clapping such a spoilsport into prison becomes the only logical response.
If old René were alive today, he’d have to think twice before indulging in his epistemology. Comparing those two things might or might not yield knowledge. But it could definitely earn him a tenner in one of the extant camps.