Totalitarian Regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union

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This paper talks about the similarities and differences in the totalitarian elements of rule between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Totalitarianism is defined as a form of government in which all societal resources are monopolized by the state to control all aspects of public and private life, driven through propaganda, fear, and terror. This form of government is usually enforced by a single dictator in a single ruling political party.

Two of the most famous dictatorships were the regimes of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. Adolf Hitler was in command of Nazi Germany, while Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union. Throughout the 1930s the propaganda machines of the Nazi and Soviet regimes did all in their power to insist that they were ideological enemies, diametrically opposed to each other in every conceivable way. Hitler was a right-wing nationalist, and Stalin was a far-left-wing communist. Although they differed in their leadership styles and ideas, they converged in many ways and had an influence on each other.

Hitler's Totalitarian Regime

I will begin by giving some context behind Hitler’s totalitarian regime. Following the definition of totalitarianism, Hitler ruled by controlling all aspects of public and private life of German citizens through propaganda, fear, and terror. Hitler was a far right-winged nationalist who ruled under his political ideology Nazism, which carried many totalitarian elements. Nazism is a form of Fascism that seeks to eliminate any force deemed to cause the degeneration of the state. It is a radical, authoritarian, and nationalist form of government that bounds its citizens by race, ancestry, and culture. Hitler’s goal was to build a national community in Germany with a singular collective identify. It is important to understand the context and circumstances that allowed Hitler to govern under this type of rule.

After World War One, Germany was in a state of uncertainty, a poor country with a widespread attitude of despair among the German people. Most of society had rejected the Weimar Republic and the Treaty of Versailles and feared a descent into civil war-like conditions. When Hitler came into power, he was seen as a guarantor of security and order to Germany. Hitler rejected the existing society and projected an alternative totalitarian society disguised as superior, demanding total conformity on the part of the people. Hitler and the Nazi party promised to stabilize the country and restore the empire that had been lost in WWI. After his appointment as chancellor, Hitler announced new elections and enacted emergency laws, giving him power to create the laws of the land and total power over the government. This was Hitler’s first step to totalitarianism. The next move Hitler made to solidify his power as an authoritarian dictator was working with Heinrich Himmler to fuse the Nazi Party with the government. Within a few years, Hitler had merged the state police with the SS and the SD, creating the foundations of the “SS state.” Once the Nazi Party had merged with the police, Hitler was allowed to enforce the laws that he created. These laws were aligned with Hitler’s mission of purifying Germany of its toxicity by ethnically cleansing his country of minority groups that were harming the state. Hitler united the German people with hate by turning them against a common enemy: the undesirables, most important Jews. His idea was a variation of Social Darwinism, the theory that human groups and races are subject to the same laws of natural selection as Charles Darwin perceived in plants and animals in nature. Hitler’s ideology was not restricted only to people; competing ideologies like communism, democracy, or liberalism were rejected and their leaders were subject to various forms of punishment including public humiliation, torture, and death. Hitler also maintained strict censorship in the media, and information effectively organized through control of television, radio, press, and education. Along with constant dissemination of pro-government propaganda, a totalitarian government prohibits certain religious, racial, and political groups and practices. Hitler fostered hate in Germany by replacing the class conflict with the idea of the “Volk community”. The Volk community was a rejection of old religions and ideologies and centered and focused on forming a united German identity based around ideas of race, struggle, and state leadership. For the National Socialists, the Jew was the number one enemy of the Volk, the race, and the state.” Hitler encouraged and brought hate upon Jews and other minorities in Germany by dehumanization, calling them “parasites”, “useless eaters,” and “alien to the community.”

The Totalitarianism of Stalin

Stalin came to power shortly after Lenin’s death in 1924. To first dominate his nation, Stalin had to use the key traits of totalitarianism, which are: ideology, to set goals of the state; the state control of individuals, demanding loyalty and denying basic liberties; methods of enforcement, such as police terror and persecution; modern technology, as were advanced military weapons; state control of society, including business, housing, education, labor; the practice of dictatorship; and being a dynamic leader who unites people.

Under Stalin's rule, many changes were made to the Soviet Union; changes that were both positive and negative. Stalin had a 'secret police' which used tanks and armored cars to stop riots. He was also in total control of newspapers, motion pictures, radios, and other sources of information, as well as all that was learned in schools and universities. He also enforced the ban of religious teachings and exchanged them for the teachings of communism. A turn out to all of this though was the fact that women had rights in which they were declared equal to men and were allowed to vote and work.

Stalinist terror, in contrast to Germans, was directed itself inward and only during the latter moments of the war spilled outside the borders of the SU. The origins of the modern project of homogenizing unambiguity reach back to the early nineteenth century, when Tsars officials surveyed and realized that the Soviet Union was premodern; it was an “agrarian, religious, estate-based, and multi-ethnic society”. They observed that modern societies were urban secularized, and national. The nation state represented progress while multinational empires were backwards and disorderly. This transferred to Stalin and his functionaries, who believed that cultural boundaries between nations had impeded their progress and sparked a cultural revolution. The Soviet Union under Stalin’s control spread the message of a class conflict, especially the bourgeois, and pushed the ideals of communism. In the late 1920’s, the regime began to close churches and mosques, remove books from the library to civilize farmers, and rid people of their cultural memory.

Stalin ruled by terror and with a totalitarian grip in order to eliminate anyone who might oppose him. He expanded the powers of the secret police, encouraged citizens to spy on one another and had millions of people killed or sent to the Gulag system of forced labor camps. During the second half of the 1930s, Stalin instituted the Great Purge, a series of campaigns designed to rid the Communist Party, the military and other parts of Soviet society from those he considered a threat.

After a while, it was no longer an issue of class enemies, kulaks, and “socially foreign elements” that had to be deported. Stalin believed that the enemy was everywhere, and it was hiding in ethnic groups. Fascist regimes that rose during the 1930’s further bothered the Soviet Union. “Spy mania, fear of foreigners, and xenophobia all developed out of the conviction that foreign powers were working to destroy the Soviet Union.” After the Great Terror, Stalinism lived off ever-new conspiracies and sought out ever-more victims. Bolsheviks continued to stigmatize and punish collectives into the 1940s. But now there were only 'objectively' defined enemies, which no longer required confessions. With this development, the enemy was no longer complicit in his or her own destruction. Furthermore, Bolsheviks no longer spoke of kulaks and 'former people' when they classified people into enemy categories; rather they spoke of 'Germans,' 'Poles,' and 'asocial' or 'criminals.' Asocial elements became generically alien. And because the Bolsheviks contaminated Soviet society with a poisonous hatred of the foreigner, Soviet society only received information that conformed to its xenophobic expectations.

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Similarities Between Hitler and Stalin’s Totalitarian Regimes

There were many similarities between Russia and Germany after the First World War. Both countries had suffered defeat; both were treated as pariahs by the western powers; both bitterly resented this treatment, and therefore gravitated towards each other. “Nazism thus, and its war, have done for Central Europe what Bolshevism did in its Revolution for Russia: destroyed the Old Order, and thus cleared the way for the building of the ‘new’. Each ideology had no room for dissent or varying points of view.  Each held strict beliefs in terms of who would make decisions for the “greater good” of the society. Target audience did not need to be persuaded. Both Stalinism and Nazism played on the weakness of the people who were tired of old political systems.

Stalin and Hitler shared most elements of totalitarianism rule. They both merged their parties with the government, maintained control over communication, spread information through propaganda. They widely spread their ideology and used their power to try anyone who challenged them. The objective of both their totalitarian regimes was to exercise absolute authority as well as dominating the government. In this way, they could use their power to try anyone for “crimes against state” if they challenge his policies. Both Stalin and Hitler were dynamic and powerful leaders, uniting their people and symbolizing the government through a single vessel: themselves. However, Hitler united his people through hate for ethnic minorities while Stalin empowered his people by focusing on the consolidation of the workforce into a homogenous proletariat where labor-power is prized over all else. Most importantly, both ideologies assumed that the individual mattered little and the social organism mattered a great deal.

Both Stalinism and Nazism were both attempts to establish an order devoid of ambivalence and uncertainty. However, unlike the total ethnic cleansing sought after by Hitler, the Soviet Government was not racist. While Hitler used propaganda to dehumanize Jews as “genetically diseased”, Stalin did not consider one race superior to the other. Stalin’s concept of race was problematic in that there was a lack of homogenization within the nation. Socially 'cleansed' environments could only survive as ethnically homogeneous environments. Classes existed within nations. Whenever the Soviet Government were suspicious of enemies, they simply deported all members of the unreliable ethnic group. As long as different cultures did not reside within the bordering regions, they were not ill-treated. These were justified as national defense.

Following the point about attempting to establish order, there was little that was random in the Nazi and Soviet use of terror and imprisonment. Those, too, were planned with a purpose in mind. They targeted the designated “enemies of the people” to isolate and destroy all who opposed “the brave new world” in the making. But those arrested and sent off to concentration camps in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were also viewed as forced labor for building the Nazi and Soviet societies. The victims were all part of the same central plan, whether for work or extermination.

Although the two systems pursued slightly different paths, the end result was the same: the suppression of all freedom, humanity and religion, and the worship of an infallible man-god. For they shared the same complete disregard for moral norms, the same contempt for human life and liberty, the same disregard of public opinion, even in their own countries.

Communism and Nazism, therefore, were variations on the same collectivist theme, in which the individual and his identity as a person were determined by either his “class” or “race.” Both were paranoid in their outlook on life. Nazis saw racial threats everywhere, in the form of inferior groups that could defile Germany’s blood purity. Communists saw class enemies surrounding and threatening the existence of the Soviet workers’ state. Vigilance at the borders and secret-police terror internally were essential for the regimes to preserve either the master race or the proletarian paradise.

Differences Between Hitler and Stalin

Although there were many similarities between the two regimes, they had different goals and were supported by different types of people. The main difference between Stalinism and Hitlerism is that whereas Stalinism is based on class war, and the superiority of the working class, Hitlerism is based on racial war, and the superiority of the Aryan race… It is important to note differences in Hitler and Stalin’s totalitarian regimes. While both strived for homogenization and order, Hitler displaced class struggle onto a racial struggle. Hitler’s political struggle was the homogenization of a country, ethnically cleansing minorities that disrupted the harmony of the Aryan people.

While Hitler antagonized people based on race, Stalin antagonized people based on class. Stalinism promoted the escalation of class conflict, utilizing state violence to forcibly purge society of the bourgeoisie, whom Stalinist doctrine regarded as threats to the pursuit of the communist revolution. This policy resulted in substantial political violence and persecution of such people. We can see that in both cases is the same formal antagonistic structure, but that the place of the enemy is filled by a different element (class, race).

Another difference is that the Nazi regime was fundamentally a genocidal regime. It was based on the notion of genocide, in the sense that it believed that there were certain biological groups, as it saw it, that had to be entirely eradicated, completely killed, each and every one. That was not part of Stalinist or Communist ideology. There were other parts of Communist ideology, which justified the mass killing of populations, but it was not a genocidal regime. Fascism told people they had to sacrifice for their country; communism told people they had to sacrifice for their fellow citizens

The state-wide control of society that Hitler implemented was targeted against Jews and ethnic minorities who he considered “parasites, vermins, etc.() Stalin used propaganda to replace religious teachings with the ideals of communism. An officially sponsored group of atheists, the government and the League of the Militant Godless, spread propaganda against religion. The main target of persecution was the Russian Orthodox as the police destroyed magnificent churches and synagogues, and many religious leaders were killed or sent to labor camps. Stalin's total control of the society annihilate personal rights and freedoms in favor of the power of the state.


These forms of government highlight the reality of a minority rule. In each instance, the unelected few make and enforce the rules and dictate policy to the majority of the citizens who have no say in what the government does. These types of governments cannot last as they must spend valuable resources controlling the population. In short, the supporters of each ideology must create a police state to survive.

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