It happened today - April 26, 2016

Gestapo headquarters Here’s a bleak detail about April 26. On this date in 1933 the Gestapo, the original “Secret Police,” was formed. Or rather, the imitation but archetypal secret police. Right down to its name.

I mean that in several ways. For one thing, Gestapo is an acronym for “Geheime Staatspolizei” which actually means Secret State Police. Apparently Hermann Goring wanted to call it the Secret Police Office or Geheimes Polizeiamt but the initials GPA were too like the Soviet GPU.

The Soviets were, in fact, the pioneers of secret police, in a very literal sense. The first one was set up under Lenin (not, please note, Stalin; though an apt pupil and a malevolent genius in his own right, he was in fact following the general direction Lenin laid down not somehow hijacking the Revolution). The “Cheka” created in December 1917, and yes, that was fast, wasn’t just deeply sinister in having, for instance, the power to shoot people without trial. Its very existence was quite literally secret.

Cheka, not incidentally, stands for “chrezvychaynaya komissiya”. Note the unpleasant habit of naming things for the first syllable of various words. The Nazis certainly adopted it. But the Soviets invented it. And it is just one of the many things the Nazis adopted with surprising ease and lack of embarrassment even if they didn’t want the acronyms to match so closely as to draw attention to the matter.

The similarities between the superficially diametrically opposed systems of Bolshevism and Naziism, right down to the cult of the leader Orwell would memorably dub “Big Brother,” ultimately led to the development of the theory of “totalitarianism.” It has some significant flaws, most notably an inability to explain what totalitarians think they are doing that makes it weak in predicting what they will actually do or explaining it afterward. But it has certain real strengths as well.

Right down to their not just having evil secret police, but giving them such similar names that for PR reasons it’s necessary to avoid overlapping acronyms. You’d think there were more important problems with having secret policy. But that they worried about this one suggests that at some level they did note the similarities and found them awkward.