Readingstalinist Russia Totalitarianism On The Rise

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Totalitarian: controlling the people of a country in a very strict way with complete power that cannot be opposed[1].

No country would ask for suppression and control as a natural system of government, and yet many governments have implemented this system after gaining power legally. Stalin in Russia, Mussolini in Italy, and (the two regimes used as examples in this essay) Hitler in Germany and Mao in the People’s Republic of China, exercised huge amounts of suppression and terror to drive their populations into submission. However, the role of terror, I would argue, is only useful in removing opposition to a regime – clearing the way for them to take power. They can only gain power through force, or popular support, and my exemplars use a combination of the two factors. The influence of popular support, however, is significant in mobilising a whole population to give a regime designed to oppress and control them a leg-up.

Readingstalinist Russia Totalitarianism On The Rise

The role of an individual, political and ideological figurehead may play a huge role in gaining support for any regime. This idea works well with both of these examples. Hitler’s oratory skills were genuinely impressive to many, given his passion and the popular nature of many ideas he discussed, such as reversing the German humiliation of the Versailles Treaty. Chairman Mao created a personality cult about himself to create an air of infallibility. This worked especially on the youth of China, often members of the notorious Red Guard, who carried the Little Red Book of Mao’s quotes around to use as their Bible, and who would protect the system he formed to the point of violent action. The charisma of a leader as a frontman and representative of a regime helps gain popular support, and I would argue that the role of popular support is more effective than use of force or terror in pushing a totalitarian regime into power, a principle of “mass mobilisation” outlined by Mao in his core ideology of Mao Zedong Thought.

Furthermore, the role of power bases in launching such a regime into power is hugely significant in providing them with an upstart. Under Hitler, it was the S.A. and the S.S.; under Mao, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Red Guard. Whilst force certainly played a role in removing opposition – obviously the S.S. were put in control of solving the “Jewish problem” in Germany, leading to the creation of the notorious “final solution”, and the Red Guards were used to remove potential perpetrators of thought crime, such as teachers and professors – it would do nothing to gain support. Indeed, the brutality of the Guomindang (GMD) Army during the Chinese Civil War towards the general population caused support to drop away to the more disciplined PLA, who were specifically directed away from abusing civilians. However, the role of war and conflict in getting regimes into power should not be underestimated. The Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War was the primary reason for their assumption of government; the oppression of both Chinese and German regimes certainly acted as a deterrent for criticism. But almost wholly the regimes relied on popular support, and the formation of a bank of followers who would devotedly defend their regime to the end.

However, these two, almost wholly constructive factors, could really only work in a country vulnerable to their effects. This again applies in the case of Nazi Germany and the rise of Chairman Mao in China. In a military sense, for instance, Germany was crippled by the Treaty of Versailles, with their army reduced to a humiliating 100,000 soldiers with no conscription permitted. Part of Hitler’s appeal was his aims to regain Germany’s former military status as a great power, by defying the terms of the Treaty and reintroducing conscription in 1936. Economically, much of China was pushed back to a juvenile system of bartering after the financial catastrophe that was the GMD government. For instance, prices increased by 1000% between February and May 1947. Even something as seemingly superficial as a territorial division could weaken a nation to the point that the face of such a regime would seem attractive. Hitler’s longstanding aims of gaining lebensraum for Germany, and retaking territories lost at Versailles, appealed to the anger of many German people at the weakness of those who signed the Versailles Treaty. Such pledges also restored to the German people the potential for them to grow in power and influence. This had never seemed possible under the Weimar Government, which worked almost exclusively through diplomacy in the form of Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann. The signing of Treaties such as Rapallo and Locarno, though actually useful to German foreign policy, came across as definitively submissive, especially when compared with the sweeping military concepts and measures put forward by prior leaders such as Bismarck – and promised by Hitler. In China, territorial division was not a problem to fix for Mao, but rather something to exploit. The lack of national consolidation under the GMD government was augmented by the leadership of warlords in certain areas. Mao and the Communist Party of China (CPC) could manipulate this chaos to reflect badly on the GMD government and pull them down in the eyes of the public, whilst elevating themselves as the true champions of Chinese nationalism. Lastly and perhaps most significantly, is the political vulnerability of such systems at the time of a regime coming to power. As previously mentioned, the Weimar Republic instituted in Germany after the fall of the Kaiser appeared weak to the German public, but also had several loopholes that permitted the rise of an extremist party to institute totalitarianism in Germany. For instance, the system of proportional representation in the Reichstag gave the Nazis an “in”, and Hitler was only able to work up to total power through the flaws in the emergency powers and the Enabling Act in the 1930s. . Furthermore, the perception of the Republic within themselves as being strong, embodied in the foolishness of politicians like von Papen and von Schleicher in thinking they could control Hitler, made them possibly less cautious than they should have been when instituting people like Hitler to work for them. In China, the GMD government lacked popular support, for the reasons outlined above, and could therefore be easily removed, with little protestation from the Chinese population.

So, a totalitarian regime can rise to power when opposition to it is removed, and thus circumstances are right for the appeal of a figurehead to cultivate a loyal base of power and devotion. A totalitarian regime being constructed with no impediment would not seem possible would it not be for the vulnerability of the targeted state, and the supernatural status of a leader elevated beyond human fallibility. Hitler and Mao both demonstrate this system aptly, as along with their personal appeal, they indoctrinate their populations into a belief of supremacy. Far from arguing such regimes are built on a lie, I would argue they rise from an exaggerated faith in national superiority in an international sphere – whether that is a racial superiority, as under Hitler, or a political and economic superiority, as under Mao. This is spread through impressionable children in schools, through organisations such as struggle meetings or the Women’s League, and quickly enough, the idea of one party becomes the foundation of belief for an entire generation – and so a totalitarian regime survives.

14 S.2: Totalitarianism: Stalinist Russia (440-445) Define the following terms: Totalitarianism—government that exerts total control over every aspect of a citizen’s private and public life. Character assassination and purges — also hallmarks of a totalitarian temptation — are on the rise. A University of Chicago economist was forced to resign as editor of the Journal of Political. See full list on

Readingstalinist Russia Totalitarianism On The Rise

Rise of the Totalitarian States

With the onset of the age of anxiety, political dictatorships grew as people searched for stability and solution to the economic difficulties of the Great Depression. The end result was a combination of the resurgence of authoritarian rule coupled with a new type of ruthless and dynamic tyranny which reached its zenith in Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union. It was Hitler’s aggression toward Poland that triggered World War II. The horrors of this time period are a disturbing chapter in history, which many would like to believe were an aberration and will not happen again. One would do well to learn the lessons of history, lest they be repeated in our own day.

The typical form of anti-democratic government in Europe was conservative authoritarianism. Leaders of these governments, like Metternich and Catherine the Great who preceded them, attempted to prevent major changes which might undermine the existing social order. They did so by relying on an obedient bureaucracy, secret police, and armies who were loyal to them. Popular participation in government was either forbidden or severely limited to natural allies. Liberals, democrats, and socialists were persecuted, jailed, or exiled, if not executed.


Such authoritarian governments did not have modern technology or means of communication, and as a result did not have the capacity to control many aspects of the lives of their citizens; however they apparently had no desire to do so, as they were preoccupied with their own survival. Their demands upon their own people largely consisted of taxes, army recruits and passive acceptance of government policy. As long as people did not attempt to change the system, they enjoyed a great degree of personal independence.

Readingstalinist Russia Totalitarianism On The Rise Among

After the First World War, the parliamentary governments of Eastern Europe founded on the wreckage of the war foundered and collapsed one at a time. By early 1938, only Czechoslovakia remained loyal to democratic liberal ideals. Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, as well as Portugal, and Spain all fell to conservative dictators. There were several reasons for this:

    The affected countries did not have a strong tradition of self government, in which compromise and restraint are necessities.

    Many, such as Yugoslavia, were subject to ethnic conflict which threatened their existence. Dictatorships appealed to nationalists and military leaders as a way to repress resistance and restore order.

    Large landowners and the church often looked to dictators to save them from progressive land reform or communist upheaval. The small Middle Class of Eastern Europe also hoped for salvation from communism.

    Europe gps navigation. The Great Depression itself was the coup de grace which forced many Eastern countries in the direction of totalitarianism.

Totalitarian regimes, with the possible exception of Nazi Germany, which was concerned with territorial expansion, largely sought to preserve the status quo, rather than forcing rapid change on society. War was certainly not on their card. Examples include:

  • Hungary, where a totalitarian regime controlled parliamentary elections carefully. Peasants were not allowed to vote, and there was no land reform or major social change.
  • Poland, where democracy was overturned in 1928 by General Joseph Pilsudski who established a military dictatorship. He was supported by the army, major industrialists, and nationalists. Opposition to the government was silenced.
  • Portugal. In 1932, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar became dictator. A devout Catholic, he gave the church the strongest possible position in the country while controlling the press and outlawing most political activity. Traditional society was maintained.

Although conservative authoritarianism predominated the smaller states of central and Eastern Europe, radical dictatorships appeared in Germany, the Soviet Union, and Italy (to a somewhat lesser extent.) They exercised unprecedented control over the masses and violently rejected any form of parliamentary rule. Three approaches are helpful in understanding these radical dictatorships:

  • The rise of modern totalitarianism. The concept arose in the 1920s and 1930s. It was a new kind of state which many scholars have trouble defining even today. Early writers believed that it originated with the total war efforts of World War I, and that the war called forth a tendency to subordinate all institutions and all classes to the state in order to achieve the supreme objective: Victory. This type of totalitarian control is exemplified by Lenin, who demonstrated that a dedicated minority can take over control from a less dedicated majority. He also demonstrated how human rights and institutions could be subordinated to the needs of a single group—the Communist party.
  • Later historians have argued that the totalitarian state used modern means to exercise complete political power. The state took over and tried to control the economic, social, intellectual and cultural aspects of people’s lives. Deviation in art, music, even family behavior became a crime. Nothing was politically neutral, and nothing was outside the scope (or control) of the state. This was a complete break with the principles of the American and French Revolutions, which had sought to limit the power of the state and protect the rights of the individual. Totalitarians were disgusted by liberal ideals such as peaceful progress and individual freedom. They believed in willpower and preached conflict. Violence was an effective tool which they used with abandon. The individual was infinitely less valuable than the state, and there were no lasting rights, only individual rewards for loyal service to the state.
  • Another approach (if one eliminates the Soviet Union) is the concept of fascism,a term which Hitler and Mussolini used with pride. Fascist government shared several characteristics, including extreme nationalism, often to the point of expansionism, antisocialism aimed at destroying working class movements, and alliances with powerful capitalists and landowners, mass parties, etc. which appealed to the middle class and peasantry. All had a dynamic and violent leader who glorified war and the military.
  • A third approach often used by modern historians emphasizes the uniqueness of developments in each country which succumbed to totalitarianism. They stress that change over time indicate unique situations in each country which gave rise to a unique form of totalitarianism. The factors which gave rise to Hitler in Germany are not the same as those which allowed Stalin to control the Italian government, although Hitler and Stalin shared many characteristics and quickly allied with each other.

Antidemocratic totalitarian movements succeeded only in Italy and Germany and to a lesser extent in Spain. There may have been common elements, but there is no common explanation. The problem of Europe’s radical dictatorships is complex and there are no easy answers to explain it.

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