Totalitarianism, its Definition and Implication on Modern Politics

161107120239-01-trump-parry-super-169In the election of 2016, Mr. Donald Trump won the American presidential election. Mr. Trump, for his populism based policies and violent attitude toward social minorities, is criticised ruthlessly by the opposing and even the same party members. One of his main policies that created social disturbance during the early stages of campaign, to build a wall on the Southern Border of the United States and to remove all illegal immigrants out of the country. These strong state based nationalistic policies were analysed by many journalists to follow the traits of totalitarian rulers. This essay will argue that indeed, it is unsafe to generalise Mr. Trump as a totalitarian and lead to a deeper discussion on what a safe historical analysis and its implementation on modern society is.

To debate whether Mr. Trump is or is not a totalitarian, the term totalitarianism should be defined using historical evidence to support the definition. Totalitarianism is a single party system based political structure promising nationalism and economic growth which uses strict security and police system to retain power.

Totalitarian governments are single party system based political structures that use security and police system to retain power. As the outcome of the election of November 1932, the Nazi party remained the biggest political party in Germany. Also, as the former chancellor Papen left office, Hitler was appointed the chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Although Hindenburg remained as president until 1934, Hitler was able to consolidate absolute power under himself. Hitler representing the Nazi party, passed the Reichstag fire decree and the enabling act in February and March 1933 respectively, which gave absolute legislative and executive power under Hitler. He used this power to outlaw all non-Nazi political parties. Through these steps, Hitler not only consolidated an individual led government but more importantly, a single party based political structure which did not check and balance the absolute leader. Also, Hitler used violent security to ensure his power. Schutzstaffel were the personal guards of Hitler. They were divided into units that served specific purposes in society. Gestapo in specific was the secret state police dressed up as civilians that would spy on and report illegal activities such as treason that happened in the private sectors of the German citizens. This strict security system enabled Hitler to stay in power.

Also, Stalin consolidated a single-party communist system. Lenin, with the Russian revolution, created a single communist government. This was passed on to Stalin who commissioned the Soviet Constitution which empowered the communist party as the only political party and Stalin as the absolute leader. To ensure his power, he created the NKVD, an intelligence agency that conducted political oppression. In the 1930s, using the NKVD, Stalin carried out several purges where he executed several thousands of people for being accused of political oppositions. The political opposition included rebellion leaders and possible assassinators of himself amongst the officials. Through strict politics based on terror, Stalin remained in power until the end of the World War.

Totalitarian governments use nationalism to gain popularity. Nation in modern society is defined as an “imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign”. Hence, nationalism is an ideal that claims that the members of the nation are bonded to each other within the principles of nation. The commonality necessary to form a bond may include symbols such as flags to the shared identity such as ethnicity to language.  Hitler emphasised the German nation in order to gain popularity. The 25-point Program of the NSDAP claims that the Nazi party demanded “unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the people’s right to self-determination”, “substitution of a German common law in place of the Roman Law” and that “only a member of the race can be a citizen”. Given that these programs that the NSDAP party suggested for the election are deeply rooted in nationalistic ideals and that they are the first three programs suggested out of twenty-five, it can be said that the NSDAP party emphasised nationalism in their campaigning. Also, during his time as a chancellor of Germany, Hitler promoted strong boycotts and violent rampaging of Jewish shops and businesses. Despite of the enlightened ideas that were abundant within the European nation that all people are equal and the hyper-liberal metropolitan cities that illuminated Germany which embraced diversity, German public was supportive of these racially discriminatory policies as well as extremely German specific nationalistic programs. Given that Hitler won the election using programs that oppose the general norm of the German public, it came be safely claimed that Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power with the promises of enlightening the failed German nationalism after the first World War, which the people valued over other liberal values such as equality of all.

Mussolini also used ideas of nationalism to gain popular support and to legitimise its power. The Italian identity has been defined by Roman and Christian values for Italy had prided their bearing of the great Roman Civilization. Mussolini, in The Doctrine of Fascism, calls on to Christian values. He emphasizes the “self-sacrifice, the renunciation of self-interest, by death itself… purely spiritual existence” using biblical allusions to promote state prioritization over individual. Also, the symbol of fascist party originated from the ancient roman object Fasces that symbolized the governor’s judicial and executive power in the Roman government. Mussolini used these symbols in his propagandas to ensure Italians that he will bring back the lost nationalism. During the 19th century, Italy went through unification which promised them a successful and a strong nation. However, at the end of World War 1, Italy, although being on the winners’ side, was left in great war damage while not being granted enough compensation. The consequences of the war failed the trust in Italians for their country. Hence, the Fascists who promised to light the fire of nationalism once again won the people’s demand for a successive country.

Furthermore, Stalin too embodied nationalistic ideas as well. The Soviet Constitution states that the Soviet is constituted with several Republics under a single Union where each Republic represents the specific ethnic group that reside in it. Also, each Republic was granted, to some extent, autonomy to legislate laws for its own benefit and execute them if it does not conflict with the laws of the Union. This shows that each unit of Republic would have been strongly bonded by their common ethnicity in its own Republic according to the principles of ethnic nationalism. However, by granting autonomy to individual Republics, the Soviet Union as a whole became decentralized. Nevertheless, the Union was able to reduce revolts thus gain more power through granting autonomy to all Republics by fulfilling the minor ethnic groups’ demand for self-determination. Although the Soviet Union did not establish national identity of the Soviet Union, by granting individual nationalism according to ethnic groups, the Soviet Union gained popularity and support.

Totalitarian governments promise the public to bring economic success and prosperity of the nation to gain power and eventually rise to power. After the Great War, Germany was devastated by the war reparation as compromised by the Treaty of Versailles and the economic depression of 1929. In the abyss of economic failure, Hitler gave German people realistic plans to save them from their devastated state. The 25-point program of the NSDAP party demands “abolition of unearned incomes… breaking of debt (interest)-slavery” and most importantly, “abrogation of the peace treaties of Versailles”. Along with policy changes, Hitler nationalized industries and gave orders to corporations on what they should and should not produce, increasing job opportunities and production. As a result, Porsche was ordered to create the Volkswagen, the people’s car. The beetle modeled cars along with several other industries increased middle, low-class spending on cheap luxury goods which eventually revived the German economy.

Mussolini too promised economic success to workers extensively for he got the most support from them. The basic doctrine behind fascism is to create efficiency. Thus, they divided the citizens into syndicates consisted of people with similar economic interests. For example, workers would be placed in the worker syndicate when lawyers would be placed in the lawyer syndicate. Through this system, the syndicates would vote for representatives who arrange the general interest of its syndicate and discuss it with other representatives from different syndicates in order to resolve conflicts. This efficient way of problem-solving between classes established several workers’ benefit such as increased wages. This shows that regardless of the total production, Mussolini ensured that the workers increased their benefits thus keeping the promise.

Stalin promises economic success to its nation. He posed the five-year plans to improve Russian economy. Nationally planned economy was primarily designed by Vladimir Lenin. However, Lenin’s plan failed as the agricultural production stagnated and the overall industrial production did not rise significantly. When Stalin gained power, he increased the state power over economy, thus increasing the frequency of government intervention in economy. The five-year plans that were created as the result of Stalin’s rise to power fostered several industries. The iron, coal and oil industry production increased by over 300%. This production increase put USSR next to America in terms of production, relieving the country from economic deprivation.

Analyzing the definition of totalitarianism in terms of Mr. Trump and his policies, it can be easily concluded that Mr. Trump and the republican government that will come to power in 2017 is not a totalitarian. Firstly, for the first time in many years, the parliament, as well as the president, are republican. Thus, despite the existence of the democrats, it has been speculated several times that the democrats will not have enough power to bring about change. This political situation resembles the single party system in which the legislative and the executive branch are tied to a single group of people. It is also true that Mr. Trump used extensively nationalistic policies to gain popularity. His main slogan for the campaign was “make America great again”. This slogan embodies the American nationalism as it demonstrates Trump’s belief in American prosperity. This is illustrated more dramatically when several of his policies are analyzed. Mr. Trump plans to reconsider all international relationships to evaluate if the particular relationship is beneficial to America. Also, he plans to establish a strong citizen based minimum wage system where the benefit of the American production goes to the American citizens. Furthermore, Mr. Trump’s policies regarding economy and taxation is very promising to the peasants. Mr. Trump aims at decreasing overall tax and abolish Obama care in order to reduce the additional compulsory payment. He also claims that he will increase job opportunities by building infrastructures and expanding on government cyber system. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump has not started his office yet. As a result, it seems too early to evaluate Mr. Trump if he fits within the definition of totalitarianism. This is evident since Mr. Trump has neither demonstrated if he will use strict and even violent securities and police to retain his power nor if he will achieve the economic goals that he has set. Thus, Mr. Trump cannot be called a totalitarian yet.

This inconsistency considering the future poses a deeper and a general historiographical question. Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin rose to power and declined. Modern day historians classify these individuals as totalitarian for their past works, treacherous or glorious. Although the word totalitarianism was used several times by politicians during the early and mid-20th century, the most significant use of totalitarianism was by Hannah Arendt who analyzed Hitler and Stalin to argue that they were not traditional tyranny but an entirely new form of government in 1951. This shows that although speculations of the totalitarian rulers were made during their times of regime, a formal historical analysis of the totalitarian government was made once the government had terminated. If so, can Mr. Trump be analyzed as a totalitarian in terms of history even though he has not completed and even more so started his career as a politician? More deeply, can current issues or events that ought to come be evaluated or even predicted by analyzing history? It is true that history repeats itself. Marx consolidated the theory of Dialectical Materialism which argued that analyzing history, there are natural progresses in which the world flows. His evidence was that history repeats itself. For example, repeated revolutions have caused the society to be more liberal; from the middle ages, the scientific revolution sparked the enlightenment, thus the enlightened despots; the French Revolution ended the monarchical forms of government and triggered the democratic forms of government; several revolutions during the 19th century and the Russian Revolution provoked communist governments. Similarly, the Totalitarian governments of the 20th century rose to power as a reaction to the failed status quo of Germany, Italy and Russia during the inter-war period like how Louis XVI consolidated individual power, abolishing the liberal parliament that his predecessor, Louis XV left while trying to pay the national debt caused when fighting against Britain. It is true that this historical connection can be made since in both cases, the individuals are dead and the event has terminated. However, even though history does repeat itself, humans cannot rely on history to tell them what will happen according to history. This is because individuals have the power to change history. Hitler coming to power might seem like the obvious step that has followed the economic depression. However, the German people in 1930s would have had similar discussions that are carried out nowadays because of Mr. Trump. Also, due to rambling totalitarian governments in Europe, the second world war did seem inevitable. However, many of the soldiers who were recruited in the war would have had a normal life like Asian men who are not aware of the growing tension around the Pacific Ocean. Thus, it is very unsafe to generalize a repetition in history as a consequential event that will happen.

Recently, media and the public show the trend of lightly comparing Hitler with Mr. Trump for being excessively nationalistic and racist. Although it is true that both individuals strongly believe and believed in nationalist values, it is highly risky to even compare Hitler with Mr. Trump for one exists only in history when the other has not created it yet. Thus, as historians, we cannot evaluate if Mr. Trump is totalitarian. Also, even if we were to evaluate history, we would have to keep in mind that nothing in history is inevitable or obvious, that all participants of history are individuals just like us.


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