Totalitarianism Daniel Lazar
Definition of Totalitarian Political Systems Controls every aspect of life, so that there is no private sphere or independent organizations. The political system penetrates the whole society - dominating religion, family life, economy, education, everything. At the very top is the all-powerful leader.
Examples that Fit the Definition Given No pure types but these regimes had totalitarian elements: • Nazi Germany, 1933-1945 • Stalinist Soviet Union, 1925 to 1953 • China under Mao Zedong, 1949 to 1976 • Cambodia (Kampuchea) under Khmer Rouge, early 1970s
Logic of totalitarianism • Creating a perfect society out of imperfect human beings requires a high level of coercive control of every facet of life. • In contrast, authoritarian governments are not interested in creating a utopia but maintaining control over existing society. Coercion only used against perceived enemies of the state.
Features of totalitarianism 1. the cult of the leader. Leader must be supreme and autonomous - Hero worship. The Leader is perceived as wise, paternal, charismatic. 2. radical ideology: official, total, comprehensive. It exploits popular fears and prejudices. The ideology inspires and legitimates a revolutionary break from the past: • a.) provides a scapegoat for past wrongs • b). explains present sacrifices • c.) promises a future of peace & plenty
Features of totalitarianism 3. organization. A single political party serves the leader in promoting the ideology. The party initially might be powerful, but it becomes subservient to the leader. In time, no dissent permitted even among party elites. 4. mass mobilization & indoctrination. Fanatic followers make any sacrifice. Regime mobilizes against internal enemies (opponents, scapegoats, counterrevolutionaries) and external enemies. Use aggressive warfare (that is, wars without proper justification, not in self-defense) to keep the people mobilized.
Features of totalitarianism 5. use of secret police. All sovereign states monopolize armed services and police, but totalitarian states also use secret police and informers to monitor and control the citizenry. 6. central control of all organizations, including schools, the arts, clubs, news media, labor unions, universities, churches, the economy. No separate organizations; no civil society.
Features of totalitarianism 7. use of terror and violence: • To smooth the way to a takeover. Creates an atmosphere of crisis and political instability. Dramatizes inability of old government to provide security. • To maintain control afterward. Keeps the population too terrorized to dissent.
Terror & Violence • Totalitarian leaders may become so obsessed with total control that they eliminate not just enemies but loyal deputies who could become rivals. Some even imagine enemies where none exists & conduct bloody purges. • Examples from Hitler, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Zedong.
Difference between violence & terror Violence can be useful to dictators. 1. enhances leader’s status. 2. brings economic gain (confiscating property of victims). 3. punishes political opponents and thereby discourages future dissent. • destroys a group completely. May help solidify support among the other groups. Terror useful in the short term. It is arbitrary and unpredictable. Goal: to produce an extreme fear in populace to paralyze them into an utter lack of resistance. Terror creates an emotional and psychological state. Where violence is a reaction to resistance, terror seeks to prevent resistance from ever forming. Terror serves two objectives: • 1. to maintain control over society (by eliminating any possible opposition before the fact), and • 2. to transform the society to a new and radical goal (which people ordinarily would strongly resist). Called state terror.
Example of state terror • The Khmer Rouge, a radical Maoist group, sought to create a socialist utopia in Cambodia (Kampuchea) from 1975 to 1978. Policies left between 1 to 3 million dead, directly or indirectly. • Regime relied on terror to remake society, including to eliminate family & clan loyalties. Even children used as spies – and sometimes killers - of their parents. • See, for example, the film TheKilling Fields
State terror over time Once a reputation for terror is established, a regime does not need to continue the high level of actual terror. It can use rumors and lies to convince people that the government is both invincible and omniscient (all-knowing). The people will believe that resistance is futile. In addition, terror becomes less necessary as a revolutionary government becomes more legitimate. Regime then has other means of ensuring obedience, such as material incentives.
State terror over time However, in the long term, terror is highly dysfunctional. 1. Harms productivity and creativity, damaging economy & technological innovation. 2. Destroys an individual's trust in government & other people, leading to break‑down of community and even family ties.
For Discussion • Define the point at which an authoritarian regime becomes totalitarian. • To what extent were the following regimes totalitarian: • Stalin’s USSR • Idi Amin’s Uganda • Mao’s China • The GDR • My research suggests that totalitarian regimes are a thing of the past. • Are there modern totalitarian regimes? • Do modern, empowering technologies (the internet, free travel) preempt us from total control? • Which modern leaders, if any, have developed a cult of personality? • Can you imagine a world where a wave of totalitarianism reemerges? Is this likely/unlikely? Preventable?
The Middle East The Shah and Ahmadinejad (Iran) Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi (Libya) Hosni Mubarak (Egypt) King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud (Saudi Arabia) Central Asia General Pervez Musharraf (Pakistan) Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan) Asia The CCP in China Kim Jong Il (North Korea) Africa Joseph Kabila (Congo or Kinsasha) Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) Omar al-Bashir (Sudan) “Europe” Alyaksandr Lukashenka (Belarus) Vladimir Putin-Dmitry Medvedev (Russia) Latin America Fidel-Raul Casto (Cuba) Others? Modern Authoritarianism:The case-studies belows are deemed “not free” by the Freedom House Index. You are free to choose authoritarian regimes that are not on this list. We will use the Freedom House index and other tools to gauge the state of modern authoritarianism