The political system under which the whole activity of a nation's populace is coordinated and directed by the government, and the government has authority over the entirety of each citizen's life. There is no "private sphere" of any sort: no activity, be it economic or personal, is private in the sense of being secure from state intervention. Trade, family life, employment, religion, property, organization, travel, communication — all are subject to state approval or disapproval.

Totalitarianism is not confined to any particular political or economic ideology. Communist, fascist, and theocratic governments have all approached totalitarianism from their own directions. Today, there is concern among some that republican governments can also become totalitarian through corruption of the legislature and the unchecked growth of police powers.

Everything for the state; nothing outside of the state; nothing against the state!
Benito Mussolini
Totalitarianism depends on surveillance, the ability of the state to find out what its citizens are doing; and on enforcement, its ability to stop them from doing unapproved things and require them to do approved ones. For this reason, people who fear a totalitarian future tend to suspect new technologies of surveillance and enforcement — be they databases of personal information, censorship laws, the militarization of the police, or the use of children as informers upon their parents.

In one sense, the opposite of totalitarianism is anarchy -- a situation in which government has no authority whatsoever. However, in a more meaningful sense the opposite of totalitarianism is constitutional government -- in which the role of government is clearly defined and limited. Constitutions oppose totalitarianism both implicitly and explicitly: implicitly by granting only limited powers to government; and explicitly by enumerating areas into which government may not extend itself, as by incorporating bills or charters of rights.

To date, no government, no matter how repressive, has managed to create a fully functional totalitarian society. There always seem to remain pockets of protest, samizdat, and other resistance to the regime. Let us hope that remains the case.

Normal men do not know that everything is possible.


Introduction and definitions

"It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens." - Baha'u'llah

It is easy to state that totalitarianism has never existed when one considers it to be a de facto form of government rather than a state of mind. The Oxford Wordfinder defines totalitarianism thusly -

"of or relating to a centralized dictatorial form of government requiring complete subservience to the State"

The two movements most pertinent to this description were Stalinism in the Soviet Union and Nazism in Germany - they may not have achieved the absolute surveillence (and hence power) of George Orwell's 'Big Brother', but their ambitions were no less. Totalitarianism can be seen as the link between these two otherwise seemingly fairly different régimes (it would be a mistake, for instance, to presume that because Nazism borrowed stylistic conventions from Fascism, it is closer to Il Duce's Italy than Stalin's Russia)1. The term was first coined by Hannah Arendt in her seminal three-volume work on the subject, The Origins of Totalitarianism, in which she makes the case for considering totalitarianism as a historical phenonoma of its own, regarding comparisons to other movements as of secondary importance2. A comparison to fascism, for instance, falls down when it is realised that fascists are primarily nationalists, but neither Hitler nor Stalin held the glory of their nation to be their goal. Totalitarian movements are global in scope - Hitler sought to create a world-wide Aryan state and the goal of the Bolshevik Party had always been the world revolution. Any comparison to fascism, then, involves redefining the state in racial terms or class terms, at which point it becomes more palatable - Hitler, who Himmler always said "thinks in Germanic terms" rather than German, once declared himself to be "a magnet . . . extracting the steel from [the German people]". Anyone who was not eventually in his camp was "worthless", which everyone knew would mean their liquidation3. Similarly, the Russian Revolution of February need certainly not have led to totalitarianism, nor even October - it was the liquidation of all of the Bolsheviks' peer parties, even fellow-travellers such as the Left Social Revolutionaries, that started Russia down this road.

It is also interesting to note the similarities between the Communists and the Nazis in Germany before 1933 (which saw the liquidation of the former). Although Nazism and Communism (and Fascism and Communism) declare themselves to be mutually antagonistic, Nazism and Communism at least have in common that they wish to destroy the very state itself. Both therefore existed outside the normal Party system, which they sought to destroy. They also recruited their followers not from stratified classes4, but from the vast mass of people in Western democracies who do not belong to a political organisation, or don't even have an alignment. These are the people that parties commonly rely on on election day, but do not expect to be ideologically motivated enough to become members or activists.

Intellectual roots of Nazism and Bolshevism

I. Hegelianism, Marxism & Bolshevism

"Socialism is Bolshevism with a shave." - Detroit Journal

The nineteenth century is remarkble for the plurality of ideologies and "isms" it produced - Communism, conservatism, liberalism, Marxism, Darwinism, Hegelianism, socialism, Romanticism, &c. The first attempt at grandiose system building in the nineteenth century was undoubtedly that undertaken by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 - 1831). Writing in the tumultuous period of the French Revolution, the liquidation of the Holy Roman Empire and then the Congress of Vienna, Hegel's philosophy seemed to be a reaction to the uncertainty and what was contemporaneously called the "nihilism" of those times. Hegel was not solely or even primarily a philosopher of history, but it is in this role he interests us here - for Hegel claimed to discover a general "key to history", and to his followers it was no longer jumbled or meaningless.

The German historical traditional of the ninteenth century clearly contains the influence of Hegel's thought - it no longer became the science of telling a story truthfully, but the art of interpreting historical meaning. Hegel taught that history was the unfolding of the very meaning of the Universe that would leave no question unanswered. This system lent such a wonderful unity to the World - something German philosophers had been searching for for decades - because within it nothing was "wrong", but all competing ideas were just functions of the historical dialectic, an expression of the Zeitgeist ("spirit of the times"). Hegel's philosophy of history helped two particularly influential people model their own systems - Karl Marx and Count Arthur de Gobineau.

Marx's theory of revolution is sufficiently well understood due to the huge impact it has had on the last century. A particularly concise declaration is to be found in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy -

At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or -- what is but a legal expression for the same thing -- with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto.

Marx basically saw it as inexorable part of Man's history that at one point one particular class - the bourgeois - would dominate and exploit another - the proletariat - in this case due to its monopoly on the means of production. Just as inexorable was the eventual death of the bourgeois as a class after their lengthy period of digging their own grave - Das Kapital was an attempt to educate the proletariat about the historical "laws" of their own development and eventual victory, with the aim of speeding this victory5. Das Kapital was published in Czarist Russia in 1872, deemed too impenetrable and dense to be revolutionary by the censors. But against their expectations it spread quickly just as previous intellectual fashions had done among the Russian intelligentsia. In 1898 the first Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party convened (it was attended by nine socialists who passed a resolution of standard Marxist goals and then were arrested almost to a man by the police) and in 1903 the Party split into two factions, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks.

The defining piece of literature on international Leninism was his What Is To Be Done? (1903), which quite clearly spells out the Bolshevik goal of militarization of the Party and the importance of loyalty to leadership and "progress". They took the Marxist dialectic to be irrefutable proof of the fact they had to march forward without dissent (anyone dissenting such a truth clearly had counter-revolutionary goals) and the Bolsheviks - who wore black leather and lived ascetic lifestyles - were the élite formation that would bring about the revolution. And Russia was only the start of the revolution - for Leninism was always global in scope.

II. Count Arthur de Gobineau and racialism

"If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. If, however, my theory is proven false, France will call me a German, and Germany will call me a Jew." - Albert Einstein

Between 1853 and 1855, Count de Gobineau published his Essai sur l'Ingégalité des Races Humaines (Essay on the Inequality of Human Races). This four volume work stressed the primacy of the Aryan race above all others, and discussed how racial impurity would eventually lead to the fall of civilization. Although seemingly not concerned with the rise of civilization, but only its fall, Gobineau claimed to have "elevated" history to the status of a natural science and discovered the laws of its development. It is particularly remarkable that he did this without the influence of Charles Darwin's theories, which would in the future be combined with his own in vulgar form to propose the idea of the survival of the fittest races.

Gobineau discovered racism almost by accident - as a French nobleman, he was concerned with the survival of his caste amidst the egalitarian trends of the day. His choice of the Aryans as the supreme race was due to him accepting the old theories that the nobility of France were Germanic in origin, and the bourgeois descendents of Gallic-Roman slaves. Gobineau claimed to be a direct descendent of the God Odin, and it perhaps says something about the bizzareness of the age that serious intellectuals could accept this claim. Gobineau, however, went largely unread for over fifty years, and only really found a mass audience during the fatalism of World War I. The pessimism that underpins his work had alienated it from most among the optimism of the mid nineteenth century, but fatalistic racial explanations of events came into vogue in World War I. Racialism as a tool of explaining events wasn't anything new by this time, but Gobineau's urging that the "master race" needed preserving didn't find a mass audience until then.

Modern Teutonist chauvinism was helped especially by the cult of Richard Wagner, which helped to Germanize Gobineau's theory and turn it into a mass movement. The Englishman Houston Stewart Chamberlain published, in German, his Foundations of the Nineteenth Century in 1899, a text Hitler would later describe as 'the gospel of the Volk movement'. Combined with vulgar Social Darwinism and intellectualized anti-semitism, a powerful movement for mobilizing the masses was developing.

III. Anti-semitism and imperialism: the birth of Weltpolitik

"World politics is to a nation what magalomania is to an individual." - Eugen Richter

The figure of Jew as enemy was very malleable in Europe (including Russia). He could be easily cast as the reactionary opponent of socialism or liberalism or the insidious revolutionary anarchist seeking to destroy all civilization. Medieval political anti-semitism had fallen out of vogue in the Early Modern Period when the aristocracy had found the international infrastructure of European Jewry especially useful as a net for acquiring capital through loans as well as for communication. Thus political anti-semitism had never been expedient throughout Europe, although there had always been strong currents of social anti-semitism. The rise of anti-semitism as a political issue in Austria, France and Germany in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century could be directly traced to imperialism and the financial scandals that were a part of it.

Modern French anti-semitism can probably be said to have come of age with the Dreyfus Affair, which began in 18946. The case involved a Jewish French artillery officer, Alfred Dreyfus, who was accused of spying for the Germans. Although it is almost certain today that Dreyfus was innocent, the Affaire caused great commotion at the time and since - indeed, the Vichy government of France was largely composed of anti-Dreyfusards or their descendents. The Affaire was particularly notable having followed the Panama Scandal, during which it emerged that many Jews with middlemen between a corrupt Parliament and imperialists. The Panama Scandal in France and the Gründungsschwindel in Germany and Austria resulted in massive losses for their respective middle classes. Although not a single Jewish house emerged with a profit, the reputation of them all were stained.

The publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by the Okhrana (Czarist secret police) was to be the text of greatest influence on European anti-semitism in the post-World War I period. It was estimated that its circulation was second only to the Bible, and it can be broadly described as the start of anti-semitism's transformation from an élite fashion into the defining political issue of a movement. Just as the European tribal nationalists had seen the Jew as an enemy because of their interational, "racially pure" complexion as a people, it is arguable that the totalitarian movement in Germany fashioned itself on the model of the "Jewish world government" in the Protocols. As a propaganda device, the Nazis would say that if the Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy was destroyed, the Aryan race could take its place.

The very concept of Weltpolitik ("world politics") came into being with the advent of the imperialist era - after the scramble for Africa (which saw Africa carved into European colonies within a generation) and the land grab in Asia, a conception of "world politics" was easier. The situation also obviously provided a fertile ground for the growth of race theories, as well as brutal practices against the "inferior" races. The Belgian genocide in the Congo is an extreme example7.

The totalitarian movement

I. The social and political context of Europe after World War I

"A jolly little war." - Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia at the outbreak of WW1

The misleading calm before the storm that pervaded Europe in the decade before World War I was exploded quickly and brutally when hostilities began. People cheered when it began, but they cheered even harder when it was over - at least eight million soldiers died in battle, with millions more civilians also killed. The "front generation" came back with a peculiar, brutal outlook on life having seen mankind at his worse - those who had started with a Romantic warrior myth soon found it destroyed8. And the society they came back to was one that was increasingly atomised and seeing the dissolution of what had henceforth being the only social division in Europe, the strata of classes. World War I was the first "mass war", involving mass propaganda, mass conscription and very mass combat. The political situation after the war saw the truth birth of mass politics, and people who had worried about how the masses might be manipulated seemed to be increasingly vindicated.

World War I, which so shook people's belief in rational progress, was followed a decade later by the Wall Street crash and the Depression. Although Russia's isolation meant it was not quite so badly effected as elsewhere, most of Europe saw a huge slump in demand and mass unemployment. The great wealth of the few was contrasted sharply with the misery of the many. The "front generation" had come back with a peculiar nihilism, a nihilism that wanted to destroy the decadence of high society. No society where such misery exists can afford to be permeated with the values of the bourgeois for long, and Hitler knew very well how to play on this resentment. This mass of disaffected, lonely individuals, who blamed themselves for their own misfortune, was easy to dominate.

In Russia, the New Economic Policy (NEP) of Lenin (which had been a strategic retreat into a "bourgeois democratic" stage of revolution) had helped create a rudimentary class system. Russia had always comprised of a large homogenous mass of people who were not organised in any fashion whatsoever - not by the old feudal aristocracy and not by the provisional capitalism. The only new class to emerge directly from the Revolution were the Bolshevik Commissars, but the NEP in the 1920s allowed a class of landowners to develop. Stalin's liquidation of the kulaks ("capitalist peasants") in the early 1930s was the start of the breakdown of this class system, and had being made possible by his dissolution of the Soviet apparatus in the late 1920s. Once no democratic institutions of power remained and the peasantry had been broken, the urban middle class and the proletariat shared a similar fate.

After this stage was completed, the bureaucracy that had carried the purges out shared a similar fate. Between 1936 and 1938 the entire apparatus of government was liquidated and new officials brought in. From then on purges in the Party apparatus became a Stalinist institution.

II. Prepower totalitarianism

"I do not want to be an I, I want to be a We." - Michael Bakunin

Totalitarianism, then, recruited men from the vast mass of people who had no political organisation, yet a strong desire to belong. Their appetite for the sort of vulgar organisation provided by the pre-power totalitarian movements proved vast. When Corporal Hitler was sent to investigate the German Workers' Party in 1919, he didn't agree with its platform, he just needed a Party. After trying to propel himself to power in the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler wrote Meine Kampf in jail. This was the Bible of National Socialism, which laid down many of the goals of the movement for the future. It remained impenetrable to many Germans but it laid down the program of the movement quite fully.

Contrary to their actions when they're in power, totalitarian movements are very open about their goals in the prepower stage. Their very power rests in their ability to shock. It has been posited that it is their ability to shock which attracted the élite who had recoiled from the values of bourgeois society. It certainly appealed to many young men who were attracted by ideology. If it is true that the atomisation of society led to deep personal loneliness and a lack of purpose, then totalitarian ideology certainly was able to help cure this. The fundamental precepts of the two truly totalitarian systems of our time were based on what was taken to be "scientific" proofs, but afterwards all reference to reality stopped. Totalitarian ideology was worked out a priori from this first fundamental precept (be it the law of History, ie. class warfare, or Nature, ie. the supremacy of the Aryan race).

To someone inside the movement, at the core, this is fully understood and clear. Totalitarian ideology is beyond question at the core of the movement, which has begun to construct its own reality. Here we have people to whom their fundamental ideology is beyond question, who fashion the world in the image of this ideology as much as it is in their power to do so (as they will continue to do when their power is total). Who questions the ideology of race when admission to the inner core of the movement is based on this ideology? But the totalitarian core can not yet fashion the entire World in their image, nor even the reality inside the territorial boundaries of their current nation-state. They must convince the outside World of their validity, and mobilise the population of their current nation as sympathisers. In the prepower stage, the movement can be pictured as concentric rings around the élite at the center. These rings, increasingly more élite as they approach the center, serve a dual purpose: they shelter the outside World from the fanatiscism of their leaders, and they shelter their leaders from the normalcy of the outside World.

In the prepower stage the totalitarian movement has an active need of approval - when it has power, its entire being is thrown into crushing the possibility of approval in favour of mindless obedience. The élite formations in the prepower stage of course look down on the less élite ones, but they are perfectly capable of losing their position - the Sturmabteilung dramatically fell from influence after Hitler was in power after the Night of the Long Knives, although he continued to speak silken words to them. They were marginalised not only due to Röhm's inappropriate sympathies, but because it was time for the SS's rise to ascendency.

The point of the totalitarian movement, then, is to function as if its fictitious World were reality. So Stalin didn't just declare that the kulaks were a dying class and that History would remove them - he massacred them and liquidated their wealth himself. The Nazi structure, along with its paramilitary organisations (useless as actual soldiers, an extremely good organisation for propaganda and intimidation), constructed a World fashioned on its own ideology. The Nazi movement quickly developed an organisation to replace all of the State's - including all the seemingly mundane things like teachers' associations - which not only meant that when it came to power it could substitute these organisations for the Weimar ones, but that people would see these organisations acting as if Nazi fiction were true. This helped legitimise the propaganda of the movement, something Hitler noted in saying that "Organisation is the most effective means of propaganda".

No-one inside the movement believes what the Leader tells the outside World. No senior Bolshevik expected Stalin to adhere to any of the principles of the Soviet Constitution, but they admired him for deceiving sympathisers. Because the guiding star for the élite is the ideology, not the Leader, they understand that the Leader embodies this ideology. In the prepower stage this means that each concentric ring of the organisation tends to despise the gullibility of the rings outside it, and look down on them. But all apart from the Leader know that ultimately they are at the mercy of the movement and that none are above it: it is only the Leader's claim to be the embodiment of the laws of History or Nature that places him above them.

Totalitarianism in power

I. Movement

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace in a continual state of alarm by menacing them with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." - H. L. Menchken

The totalitarian state is based on constant dynamism. When it comes to power in a nation-state it first sets about the destruction of organised resistance to its rule, after which it can begin its total domination of the entire population (secret police activity in both Russia and Nazi Germany reached its zenith and remained there only after organised resistance was destroyed). The totalitarian state then sets about the achievement of its goals - it no longer needs to spread propaganda about these, because it has the power to effect them. Given the ability to to liquidate the kulaks, it is no longer neccesary to preach that the kulaks are a dying class.

Despite Stalin's direct propaganda to the nontotalitarian World stating the opposite (which was really no more believable to the Party élite than Hitler's statement that "National Socialism is not an export commodity"), totalitarianism amounts to a "permanent revolution"9. The ideology of Nature or History must be constantly applied, and because both ideologies demand change - be it the death of classes or Aryan World domination - change can never be stopped. The constant changes in the Party line in Stalinist Russia - as the ideology was logically applied to the circumstances of the day - led to absurd changes that marginalised and led to the liquidation of groups of people who had yesterday being faithful servants. In Nazi Germany the process was even more complex: all commentators on the Nazi "state" note its Byzantine "shapelessness", and this came from the constant promotion and demotion of entire institutions. What was more amazing about the Nazi "state" was that it never liquidated redundant political machinery, but merely let it continue in its work whilst another organisation held its actual power.

Constant ideological movement required constant fresh victims for the altar of ideology, and fresh goals for the masses. Stalin was aware that rudimentary classes would always form when the bureaucracy was left unshaken for a few years, and it was for this reason that purges became a permanent institution. Lack of faction and atomisation of individuals was a prerequisite for totalitarian domination. As for the Nazis, they had plans for all the "disabled" portions of the German population following the extermination of the Jews, as well as plans for the extermination of the Poles. As for the war, the Nazi leadership was at least content that whatever its outcome, it would be a disaster for European Jewry. Because the movements thought in terms of millenia ("the Thousand Year Reich"), they were much more concerned with their ideology than utilitarianism. This is why, during the worst phase of the war against Russia, Nazi Germany had the most manpower and resources invested in the death factories of Poland. The fact that while undertaking the most audacious invasion in history they were pursuing their brutal ideological goals with more zeal than ever hilights perhaps more than anything the anti-utilitarian nature of the Nazi movement.

The constant motion of state machinery in both Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany precludes any sort of stability - the constant liquidation or devaluation of institutions already mentioned was carried out apparently arbitrarily to the people on the sharp end. This means that the most fundamental quality totalitarianism demands in its adherents is obedience to the Party line, without question. Intellectual acceptance or endorsement implies the possibility of rejection later on, and in the fast-moving World of the movement this is not at all acceptable. The élite formations of the Party understand this better than anyone. When NKVD agents or Chekists were arrested during Stalin's Great Terror, or at any other point when he was following his usual tactic of pinning his faults onto others, they would usually provide confessions without being intimidated. If the Party demands it of them, then this demand comes straight from the laws of History and Nature, and hence it is their duty to surrender to it.

II. Police

"Respect for the truth comes close to being the basis for all morality." - Frank Herbert

The true executive power of the totalitarian state rests in the secret police. It is they who have the ultimate task of transforming the nontotalitarian World into their own image, and it is they who are the most élite of the larger Party organisations. Their loyalty and ability should be beyond question (which is why you usually couldn't choose "secret policeman" as a career), which has the added bonus that they would always admit culpability in crimes if the regime found it expedient to use them as a scapegoat. For the secret policemen the ideological assumptions of the movement are accepted facts (there is no room for mere sympathisers).

This was especially clear in the case of Soviet police units who served as occupation forces in the West after World War II. So fundamental was their belief in Bolshevik ideology that, unlike Red Army units (who were often sent to a Gulag upon their return), they usually maintained their fidelity to the ideology in the face of its blatant lies being exposed as they travelled further West. Typical is the propaganda statement that the only subway in the World existed under Moscow - someone not indoctrinated might have their faith shaken by discovering the existence of the Paris subway. But the true Bolshevik understood that this meant that the Paris subway must be destroyed, hence remaking the World in the image of an ideology taken to its logical conclusions and having long lost all reference to reality.

Totalitarian police terror rests on the politicization of every sphere of life and the constant affirmation of the atomization and impotence of the individual (as mass rallies showed graphically). The old liberal concept of the "private" and "public" spheres dissapears along with the former, something differing totalitarianism from traditional authoritarian conservatism. By mapping the relationships of every citizen with all others and turning, by their attitude, the whole of the citizenry into potential informants, the totalitarian regimes came closer than any other in making "thoughtcrime" a reality. Freedom of conscience was not recognised - so a Jehovah's Witness who said "Heil" rather than "Heil Hitler" (as he would say such deference is only due to God) could be fired. People who didn't make "voluntary" donations to the causes relevant to the current Party line could likewise be prosecuted.

All real power in the totalitarian state rests with the secret police - unlike traditional authoritarian conservative regimes, the totalitarian state generally neglects the armed forces. The armed forces, whose members are drafted from the common people of the nation, and not necessarily composed of "mob" elements, often have trouble persecuting their own people: the defining characteristic of the secret police is that they have no such scruples. Totalitarian jurisprudence, which essentially boils down to the "will of the Leader", uses the secret police as a prime executive power and so long as the police put into action the "will of the Leader" they can do no wrong. One of the most important concepts for the police is the category of "objective enemy" - people who are enemies of the state independent of their actions, and who hence by the impeccable logic of totalitarian ideology must be eliminated (they lie outside the nation). These people might be Jews, kulaks or the loosely-defined "burzhui".

The objective enemies are important for fostering movement and struggle, which is why new ones must be found: where it merely the fact that the bourgeois are a dying class who must be liquidated, the regime could return to normal life after the slaughter. This is not the case - the objective enemy is clearly important for the very character of the regime. The fact secret police activity reaches its peak after all true resistance is gone (usually along with exagerated proclamations of the internal danger) shows that the police serve a deeper purpose than merely indoctrinating and eliminating subversive elements.

III. Camp

"They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we will have to find in ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains." - Primo Levi

The defining institution of Nazi Germany is the concentration camp - less so the Soviet gulag system, although its population was perhaps 12 million in the war years. The concentration camp and the oblivion therein finds historical comparison only in the reality outside in the totalitarian "utopia" being constructed. And they are an integral part of this reality, necessary for totalitarianism to prove one of its fundamental claims: that it can accomplish anything. Any attempt to understand the camps from a modern perspective flounder for much the same reason that the Nazis knew that if the Allies found out about the Final Solution, they wouldn't believe it anyway. To an outside observer the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet prison camps seem anti-rational, anti-utilitarian and incomprehensible. They need to be seen in the context of the people who erected them.

Inside the camp man is transformed into beast - reduced to a bundle of reactions to particular circumstances, just like Pavlov's dog. Here is the true Homo Soveticus, even if he lacks the supposed dignity of this "higher form of man". Many of the writers who have given us accounts of their time in the camps talk about how their primary battle was the battle to keep some vestige of their old personality alive. For the camp seeks to destroy any sense of power left in the individual - to bring about his atomisation and isolation completely. In this state he can be dominated totally because he knows his superfluity. Imagine for instance the emotions felt by newcomers at Auschwitz I when they heard this speech from the Commandant -

I tell you it is not a sanatorium you have come to but a German concentration camp from which the only exit is up the chimney. If there are any Jews in the convoy they are not entitled to live more than two weeks; priests have one month of life and the remainder three months.

The irrational violence within the camps against the "enemies behind the wire" as the prisoners were called is again a microcosm of the arbitrary violence against "objective enemies" by the totalitarian regime. Once in a camp, there was no escape - even a forced labour camp (most Soviet camps were called this, but their goal was certainly not productive output) has a rational purpose. But inside a place built merely to exhaust and kill thousands - where death might come from the unwelcome attentions of a guard, through systemised torture, or merely be inflicted because more prisoners are arriving and room is needed - the individual was impotent and their moral character was destroyed. The camp wasn't just an unrelated by-product of totalitarianism: it was its pinnacle, necessary for its existence.

This Hell on Earth breaks down the moral character of a man because he will do anything just for a few more days of life. In a place where everyone is doomed it might not seem to matter much at the time to take advantage of a situation for your own good. It has been suggested that this is what has led to the lack of monologues on the camp experience - when in the camp, you are a different person. This person expires when freedom is again granted.

1. Such comparisons are largely misleading anyway. Mussolini certainly used the language of totalitarianism, but he never approached the issue with the same zeal as his peers and never tried to establish a fully-fledged totalitarian state. Scholars almost universally agree that Nazi Germany was totalitarian, but Mussolini's Italy, Francisco Franco's Spain, and António de Oliveira Salazar's Portugal are more commonly classed as authoritarian. Authoritarian states, as with totalitarian ones, brook no dissent - but they do not aim to control every aspect of every citizen's life to prevent such dissent. In Italy, the figures of sentences meted out to political offenders are illuminating. In one of the busiest periods, 1926 - 1932, there were only 7 death sentences, and 12,000 people were concluded to be innocent. As we shall see, to Nazi and Bolshevik terror, "innocence" was a quite irrelevent idea!

2. This train of thought was not original, but largely overlooked in many respects before the publication of her book. One example of an acknowledgement of the novelty of the so-called totalitarian state is this quote from The Nazi State by William Ebenstein (New York, 1943): "the endless discussion . . . as to the socialist or capitalist nature of the German economy under the Nazi regime is largely artificial . . . [because it] tends to overlook the vital fact that capitalism and socialism are categories which relate to Western welfare economics." We may admire his insight in this respect, if not his understanding of capitalism (totalitarianism is necessarily statist, and therefore the antithesis of free market capitalism).
   It has likewise been argued that totalitarianism is a form of "scientism", that is the application of positivism at its logical extreme to politics. But positivism in the social sense, as the Western intellectual scene received it from Auguste Comte, was concerned with human welfare, something alien to totalitarianism. Totalitarianism's link with Comte's law of three stages is rather that they both claim to have the key to the laws of history and both aspire to take mankind down this inexorable path - the path, however, is wholly different.

3. The early propaganda of the Nazi movement, which was remarkable in its veracity as to their goals, misled the people on this fundamental point at least. One of their earliest concepts was Volksgemeinschaft, which declared every German to be equal to one another but superior to non-Germans. This was ingenious, mirroring as it did the Bolshevik promise of a classless society, and setting the German people against the rest of the World. Says Arendt: "the classless society had the obvious connotation that everybody would be leveled to the status of a factory worker, while the Volksgemeinschaft, with its connotation of conspiracy for World conquest, held out a reasonable hope that every German would become a factory owner."
   During World War II Hitler initiated Operation Hay, which was the abduction and re-parenting of Aryan children in the territories he occupied. This, coupled with the obvious contempt shown by the Nazi leadership for the German people after their rise to power, shows that their movement was, in reality, international in scope.

4. Paradoxically, Communism won very little support from the proletariat. In Russia the working class despised the machinations of the Bolsheviks as they had despised the machinations of the Czar, the former being the more insulting because the Bolsheviks were supposed to be 'their' Party. During the period of War Communism the Bolsheviks rode roughshod over trade unions and the democratic Soviets. Gradually all these organisations were 'Bolshevised' and the libertarian ideals of the Revolution died a death. On the relationship between the Bolsheviks and the Russian proletariat see A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes, Parts three and four, passim.

5. This is notably different from utopian socialism, which is more taken with moralizing - scientific socialism was a dispassionate ideology. The lack of pontificating by its formulators is comparable to the reason Newton didn't lecture on the "morality" of his laws of motion - they were taken to be scientific, superlative truths.

6. For a particularly comprehensive internet source on the Dreyfus Affair, see Wikipedia:

7. This article -,3858,4460659,00.html claims that ten million Congolese died as a result of Leopald's policies in the Congo. Joseph Conrad immortalized his experiences in Heart of Darkness, which was later adapted into the film Apocalypse Now.

8. Only three types of warfare in the modern age seem to contain the pleasure of the skillful combat narrative for soldiers - bayonet fighting, sniping, and aerial combat. Grinding artillery duels with an enemy one cannot even see produces the opposite effect - the effect of being a tiny cog in a large machine. The sort of men who subsume themselves in this anonymous affair with pleasure have perhaps their intellectual forefather in British secret agent T. E. Lawrence, and their child in the men of the totalitarian movements. See An Intimate History of Killing by Joanna Bourke (Granta, 2000), ch. 2, passim.

9. "Permanent revolution" was the guiding principle of the followers of Leon Trotsky, which Stalin countered with the propaganda statement "Socialism in One Country", implying he was only interested in Soviet Russia. It is one of the particularly ironic pieces of twisting in totalitarian propaganda that Stalin would take up the ostensible horns of exactly what he opposed, and anyway he would only really be believed by the same sort of person who believed him when he "dissolved" the Comintern. It provided ample capital against the Trotskyites, however (at this point he was dealing with real organised resistance, and hence needed to make a seemingly real case), and Trotsky himself was eventually assassinated on Stalin's orders by an icepick to the head whilst he was in Mexico.

Sources other than those cited & internet resources of interest:

The Age of Ideologies: General Introduction (

The Age of Ideologies: Reflections on Karl Marx (

History of European Thought vol. 6: The Age of the Masses by M. Biddiss (Penguin, 1977)

A genealogy of anti-Americanism @

Reading the Holocaust by Inga Clendinnen (Cambridge, 1999)

Wikipedia articles on the following: Fascism, History of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, National Socialism, Nazi Germany, Stalinism, Totalitarianism, World War I, World War II

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