Totalitarianism and Collective Memory

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 17:15
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Andreas HESS, University College Dublin, Ireland
In the paper I take Zygmunt Bauman's intellectual trajectory and particularly his problematic notion of liquid modernity as illustrations in order to highlight some of the differences between National Socialism and Stalinism. I argue that the differences in the way Stalinism is remembered reflect also real regime differences, particularly when compared to NS. For example, the categories of victims, perpetrators and bystanders, to use Raul Hilberg's famous distinctions, are much more intertwined, complex and partly also confused under Stalinism than they are in the case of NS. This means it takes real sociological, political and historical effort to gain some meaningful insight into the particular workings of Stalinism. I argue that instead of enlightening us on those distinctions Bauman's work does exactly the opposite; it does not allow for a critical analysis of both National Socialism and Stalinism and it avoids all meaningful talk about responsibilities. Looking at Bauman's own biography such sociological obscurantism might not be purely accidental. In a final discussion I will also address the question of why so many liberal and left-leaning admirers of Bauman have fallen into the same trap and have remained so uncritical vis-a-vis the narrative and conceptual framework of their idol.