Readingstalinist Russia Totalitarianism On The Rise

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See full list on hotnhumidhistory.fandom.com. Totalitarian sy stems that arose in Russia and Germany in the twentieth century irrevocably changed the nature of international states and politics, giving rise to unexpected new forms of national.

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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

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:

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    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.

    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.

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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.

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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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