Now do Hitler


If it was the Soviet Russia, everyone would have needed to swipe right in order to be left:

It’s amazing what kind of behaviour hot people can get away with on dating apps. But does that rule also apply to one of the better known dictators of the 20th century? I wonder this while examining a match box a friend brought back for me from Georgia, birthplace of the former Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin, a man who reputedly said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

On one side of the packet, Stalin is pictured as he is in history books: round face, Tom of Finland moustache and slicked-back hair. The other side shows a young, clean-shaven man with jet black hair in a quiff. He could be the synth player from a mid-2000s landfill indie band, but he’s not: he’s the totalitarian communist as a young, bafflingly handsome, revolutionary.

To find out just how far your looks can take you on Tinder, I register as Josef, 27, on Tinder…

I now have flood of messages in my inbox. My matches can be sorted into three main groups. First: the clueless – those showering me with compliments. Second: those who become increasingly skeptical as we chat; “I didn’t realise I was talking to a dictator. I should read people’s bios more carefully,” says one. Third: a combination of Stalinists and history experts. With these people I can speak freely about Lenin’s Testament, using a silence emoji, and chat about the murder of party rival Trotsky, utilising the ice pick emoji.

Very few seem disturbed by the fact that I’ve assumed the identity of a tyrant – at least, no one tells me they have a problem with it. Alex says, “I wouldn’t mind sharing a Gulag with you ;)”. Cute.

It seems from the piece that most of Uncle Joe’s matches are men, which just goes to show that men will hit on anything that moves, even if it hasn’t actually moved since 1953. It’s an interesting experiment, but…

The author, Paul Schwenn, is a German and his Tindering took place in Germany. It’s of course ironic, because no one will ever experiment with a “young Adolf” profile, not in Germany, not anywhere else. The profile would be reported and suspended within hours, and not days later, as Schwenn’s was. Furthermore, no one would find it even remotely amusing, even if the profile and the equivalent chat up lines easily write themselves (“A budding artist… loves Wagner… looking for a girl who can prove her Aryan ancestry back eight generations…”). Why is that?

There continues to be a double standard in how we react to the two varieties of totalitarianism, the national socialist and the international socialist one (Nazi and communist, for the simple folks). Nazism and all that it produced – the dictatorship, the world war, the brief empire, the Holocaust – is rightly considered an unmitigated evil, without any redeeming qualities, and a grossly inappropriate subject for humour. Communism, on the other hand, gets a much lighter and more nuanced treatment, even if only a few nowadays seek to deny or minimise its bloodiest chapters (Stalin, after all, was more successful, lasted longer on the top and killed more people than Hitler). The explanation for these differing attitudes towards and the treatments of the two great totalitarian experiments of the 20th century is not particularly complex: Nazism, a collectivist creed made quite exclusive by the considerations of “race”, has never had a wide intellectual or popular appeal, certainly not outside of Germany. By contrast, communism seems a lot more inclusive and a lot more appealing an ideology with all its talk of equality, ending poverty and creating a happy utopia (in theory, because in practice it never works the way it’s supposed to). Even as most on the left acknowledge the “distortions” and “corruptions” of the Soviet experiment, they can’t reject and abandon the underlying socialist vision and the progressive ideals. So it largely comes to a matter of numbers and influence: there are far more socialists and fellow travelers out there than there ever were fascists.

I suspect it’s also a matter of history: the book has been well and truly closed on Nazism among the ashes of Europe; its last and lasting images are the ruins of Berlin and liberated concentration camps. The time for Nazism and fascism froze in 1945 and has stood still ever since. By contrast, communism has not only been the victor of the world war, but its post-war history is one of slow deradicalisation and normalisation from the peak of conquest and oppression, all the way to the cuddly teddy bear that was Mikhail Gorbachev. The communism that finally ended throughout most of the world was relatively mild and vaguely ridiculous rather than bloody and scary as it has been for most of its, particularly early, history. For an increasing number of people alive today this is the communism they remember or at least anything about. Imagine an alternative history – something like “Fatherland” or “The Man in the High Castle” – where the German Reich has been victorious; it’s quite conceivable that just like communism, Nazism it would have grown more moderate until eventually running out of steam under some youngish, reformist Fuhrer (Barbie, not Gorbie). Death camps would have been an ancient history and the declining German empire more and object of pity and scorn than revulsion. In that universe maybe the hammer and sickle and the red star, and not the swastika, that would be the ultimate hate symbols and no one would think of Tindering as a 27-year old Stalin and the writing about it for Vice Germany.

Whatever the explanations, and however exculpatory you find them, there is a double standard in the popular attitudes to Nazism and communism, and it is harmful because it downplays the evil that was done under communism and makes the victims matter less than those of Nazism. Asian pop bands, which for some bizarre reasons flirt with fascist iconography, are quickly forced into tearful apologies; wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt incurs no moral penalty. I suggest you swipe left.