It is necessary to control the workers and make them dependent on the government. The policy also makes it possible for the government to direct all its resources on a single project — typically the major “goal” of a regime such as war.
Complete government control on weapons, although not an exclusive characteristic of totalitarian governments precludes the chances of successful uprisings.
Case Studies: Specific Examples of Totalitarian Regimes
The Soviet Communist regime under Joseph Stalin, the fascist regime under Mussolini in Italy and Nazi regime led by Adolf Hitler are typical examples of totalitarian regimes.
Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin: As observed earlier, it is debatable whether Karl Marx had clearly envisaged the formation of totalitarian governments by the application of his Communist theory. However, the first country to adopt Communism, i.e., the Soviet Union soon degenerated into the worst type of totalitarian government imaginable under Joseph Stalin who ruled the country from 1929 to 1953 with an iron hand. Stalin’s regime, typical of totalitarian governments, constantly identified a goal and before it was reached, announced a new one. This was done through the announcement of a series of Five-Year Plans — the object being to keep the people mobilized in a state of “permanent revolution.” (Kreis 2004) Stalin implemented the blueprint of a totalitarian regime ruthlessly. He issued a “party line” and anyone who, in his sole opinion, deviated from the line was terrorized through the use of his secret police — either sent into exile or executed. In the beginning, the major target of the Stalinist pogroms were the kulaks (wealthy peasants) but later on, no including Communist party members, administrators or the ordinary people were exempt. Only the “great leader” — Stalin himself was answerable to no one. Between 1935 and 1939 a great purge was carried out in which countless party members, former comrades of Stalin himself were put on public trials, confessions extracted from them and promptly executed. People were condemned to death or sent to the Gulag for ‘crimes’ as trivial as not clapping long enough after a speech by Stalin. The result was that by 1938 at least one million people were in prison, some 8.5 million had been arrested and sent to the Gulag and nearly 800,000 had been executed. (Ibid.) at the same time, a personality cult was built up around Stalin through the ubiquitous depiction of his portraits, statues, books, films and quotations, constantly reminding the people about the achievements of their ‘beloved’ leader.
The Fascist Regime of Mussolini: Possibly the first person to use the word “totalitarianism” was the Italian Fascist leader, Benito Mussolini who came to power in 1922 and later establishing a one-party dictatorship. The crux of the fascist doctrine and the totalitarian state is encapsulated in Mussolini’s well-known phrase, “all within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” The fascist ideology is now believed by political scientists to be based on anticonservatism, a myth of ethnic or national renewal, and a conception of a nation in crisis. Mussolini, however, was ideologically shallow and supremely opportunistic. Once asked to define Fascism, he is said to have responded: “I am Fascism.” (Blum, 1998) the rise of fascism in Italy was also the result of a fear of Bolshevism that had taken hold in Russia following the World War I and was threatening to spread to the rest of Europe, as well as an adverse reaction to the apparent failure of the laissez faire economics. Mussolini, after getting into power, soon set about establishing a totalitarian state by abolishing all political parties except his own, muzzling the press and establishing a special police force to curb all opposition. He presented himself as an inspired Duce (Leader) sent by providence to retain the past glories of Italy. Mass organizations were created to regiment and mobilize the people. Mussolini was successful in restoring the country’s economy and pride over the next few years until, like all totalitarian regimes over-reached himself by embarking on the path of militarism and allying with Hitler.
The Nazi Regime in Germany: The Nazi regime that came to power in Germany under Hitler in 1933 is perhaps the worst example of a totalitarian government. The Nazi ideology had all the ingredients that typify totalitarianism and more. Hitler had outlined the philosophy in his book Mein Kempf much before coming to power– German racial superiority, virulent anti-Semitism, the concept of “Lebensraum,” (living space), pan-Germanism and the necessity of another war. After maneuvering himself into power, when he was invited to become the Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hitler set about implementing his plan for establishing a ruthless dictatorship. The Nazis burnt down the parliament building themselves and blamed the Communists for it. Using the incident as an excuse, Hitler convinced the then President to declare emergency, abolished the freedom of speech and banned all political parties except the Nazi Party to make Germany a one-Party state. What followed is too well-known to be recounted again, but Hitler’s regime is a classic case-study into the working of a totalitarian government.
Arendt, Hannah. (1966). The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=23477515
Blum, G.P. (1998). The Rise of Fascism in Europe (R. M. Miller, Ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Characteristics of Totalitarianism.” (n.d.) From: Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, by Carl Friedrick and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Retrieved on November 5, 2004 at http://plato.newarka.edu/~labbey/ap_total_charac.html
Kreis, Steven. (2004) “The Age of Totalitarianism: Stalin and Hitler.” Lectures on Twentieth Century Europe: The History Guide. Retrieved on November 5, 2004 at http://www.historyguide.org/europe/lecture10.html
Scruton, Roger. (1998). “The Root of Totalitarianism.” Centre for Political Thought Retrieved on November 5, 2004 at http://www.omp.org.pl/scruton_tot_ang_ang.htm www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=8907637
Talmon, J.L. (1960). The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy. New York: Praeger.
Totalitarianism.” (2003) Article in Encyclopedia Britannica, 2003
Mostly based on totalitarian concepts of fascism and communism
For example, the Nazis found their scapegoats in the Jews and the Russian Communists in the Bourgeoisie.
German-born American political scientist and philosopher known for her critical writing on Jewish affairs and her study of totalitarianism
Orwell’s vision and warning of the potential dangers of totalitarianism have been graphically expressed in his famous and haunting novel, “1984.”
The leader is built up as a larger than life figure through the pervasive use of propaganda and stylized images which is often the only party allowed by a totalitarian state
In Nazi Germany the Jews were demonized and singled out for prosecution and in the Soviet Union — the kulaks (the landowning farmers) were targeted.
Use of modern technology in achieving pervasive control is one of the features distinguishing totalitarian regimes from the classical despotic governments of yester years when such technology had not been developed.
Before the Second World War the Secret Communist Police was known as NKVD
Most contemporary governments have a monopoly control over weapons
Other examples of totalitarian regimes are the Communist regime under Mao, the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and Cuba under Fidel Castro
In 1934, Sergei Kirov, Salin’s heir-apparent, was assassinated in Leningrad on Stalin’s orders. His second wife who publicly rebuked Stalin committed suicide in 1932.