Readingstalinist Russia Totalitarianism On The Rise

Stalin changed the Soviet Union into a totalitarian state and made it into an industrial power. Italy under Benito Mussolini In the early 1920s, Italy was struggling economically and politically. Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party fought with the Communists for political power and won. Mussolini promised to restore the. Stalinism, the method of rule, or policies, of Joseph Stalin, Soviet Communist Party and state leader from 1929 until his death in 1953. Stalinism is associated with a regime of terror and totalitarian rule. Three years after Stalin’s death in 1953, Soviet leaders led by Nikita Khrushchev denounced the cult of Stalin.

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.

The Rise Of Totalitarian Regimes -

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.

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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.