The Age of Anxiety, the age of the lost generation, was also an age in which modern Fascism and Totalitarianism made their appearance on the historical stage. By 1939, liberal democracies in Britain, France, Scandinavia and Switzerland were realities. But elsewhere across Europe, various kinds of dictators reared their ugly heads. Dictatorship seemed to be the wave of the future. It also seemed to be the wave of the present. After all, hadn’t Mussolini proclaimed that this century would be a century of the right? Of Fascism?
And this is what bothered such writers as Arthur Koestler (1905-1983), Yevgeny Zamayatin 1884-1937), Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Karel Capek (1890-1938) and George Orwell (1903-1950). It was a nightmare world in which human individuality was subsumed under the might of totalitarian collectivism. The modern totalitarian state rejected liberal values and exercised total control over the lives of its subjects. How this indeed occurred is the It goes without saying that the governments of Europe had been conservative and anti-democratic throughout their long histories.
The leaders of such governments — whether monarch or autocrat — WERE the government, and by their very nature, revented any incidence of social or political change that might endanger the existing social order. Of course, there have been enlightened monarchs but few of them would have been so enlightened to have removed themselves from the sinews of power. Before the 19th century these monarchs legitimized their rule by recourse to the divine right theory of kingship, an idea which itself appeared in medieval Europe.
Such was the case in France until the late 18th century when French revolutionaries decided to end the Bourbon claim to the throne by divine right by cutting off the head of Louis XVI. Of ourse, France ended up with Napoleon who also claimed the divine right of kingship. Only this time, divine right emanated from Napoleon himself. In a country such as England, on the other hand, twenty years of civil war in the 17th century as well as the Glorious Revolution of 1688, produced a constitutional monarchy.
In the 19th century, it was the dual revolution — the Industrial and French Revolutions — which created the forces of social change which monarchs, enlightened or not, could not fail to take heed. A large middle class had made its appearance in the 18th century but lacked status. Now, in the 19th century, this large class of entrepreneurs, factory owners, civil servants, teachers, lawyers, doctors, merchants and other professionals wanted their voices heard by their governments. They became a force which had to be reckoned with and the government began to utilize its talents by creating large, obedient bureaucracies.
In this way, government seemed to reflect the interests of all when in actual fact, they represented the interests of the bourgeoisie. So European governments maintained order by giving the middle classes a stake in the welfare of the nation. Governments also built trong police forces and armies of loyal soldiers. Meanwhile, the great mass of people, the “swinish multitude,” lay completely unrepresented. And radicals were either imprisoned or exiled because of their liberal, democratic, socialist, communist or anarchist inclinations.
Despite these measures, and there were others as well, traditional authoritarian governments were not completely successful. Their power and their objectives were limited. These governments lacked modern communications and modern transportation. They lacked, in other words, the ability to totally control their subject populations. The twentieth century — thanks to improved technology — would change all that. In fact, it can be said that true totalitarian regimes are limited only by the extent to which mass communications have been made a reality.
And, of course, with mass communications comes mass man, and the capability of total control. Following World War One, there was a revival of traditional authoritarian regimes, especially in Eastern Europe. By 1938, of all the central and eastern European countries, only Czechoslovakia remained true to liberal political ideals. It has been remarked that the eason for this development was the perception that liberal democracy was a failure. It was not “made” for Eastern European nations. These nations lacked a tradition of self-government but they did have lengthy traditions of ethnic conflict as well as a steady growth in nationalism.
As agrarian nations, the large landowners and the Church opposed any efforts at land reform. These countries also contained a small and relatively weak middle class. In a way, the 18th century seemed to have ignored these countries. Finally, for nations such as Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Austria and Estonia, it was the Great Depression that dashed any hopes for a liberal government based on the western model. Although many of these central and eastern European countries would adopt fascist characteristics, their general aim in doing so was not to become fascist themselves.
Instead, their aim was to maintain the established order. They wanted to avoid revolution and more important, they wanted to avoid another world war. Modern totalitarian regimes made their appearance with the total effort required by the Great War. The reason for this is quite simple — war required all institutions to ubordinate their interests to one objective at all costs: victory. The individual had to make sacrifices and so their freedoms, whatever they might have been, were constantly reduced by increasing government intervention.
The invisible hand of Adam Smith had to be replaced by the visible hand. Governments could not longer remain idle hoping that some “laissez-faire” mentality would carry them through the day. No. Governments had to intervene and the great event which made this notion of intervention a necessity, was the Beyond this, the crucial experience of World War One was Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the Russian Civil War. Lenin had shown how a dedicated minority — the Bolsheviks — could make a dedicated effort and achieve victory over a majority.
This was as true of the Revolution as much as it was of the Civil War when the Bolsheviks overcame the White Army who were numerically superior. Lenin also clearly demonstrated how institutions and human rights might be subordinated to the needs of a single party and a single leader. So, Lenin provided a model for a single party dictatorship, i. e. the Bolsheviks. It was Lenin, who provide the model for Stalin as well as Hitler and Mussolini. Totalitarian regimes — thanks to technology and mass communications — take over control of every facet of the individual’s life.
Everything is subject to control — the economy, politics, religion, culture, philosophy, science, history and sport. Thought itself becomes both a form of social control as well as a method of social control. Those of you familiar with Orwell’s premonitionary novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, should have an easy time understanding this development. The totalitarian state was based on boundless dynamism. Totalitarian society was a fully obilized society, a society constantly moving toward some goal. Which begs the question: Is democracy the means to an end or the end itself?
Paradoxically, the totalitarian state never reached its ultimate goal. However, it gave the illusion of doing so. As soon as one goal was reached, it was replaced by another. Such was the case in Stalin’s Russia. Stalin implemented a series of Five Year Plans in an effort to build up the industrial might of the Soviet Union. Production quotas were constantly announced well before they had been reached in order to supply the illusion that the Five Year Plan was orking. But before the Five Year Plan had run its course, another Five Year Plan was announced.
Hopefully, you can intuit the psychological necessity of such an act on Stalin’s In the end, totalitarianism meant a “permanent revolution,” an unfinished revolution in which rapid and profound change imposed from above simply went on forever. Of course, a permanent revolution also means that the revolution is never over. The individual is constantly striving for a goal which has been placed just a hair out of reach. In this way, society always remains mobilized for continual effort. The first example f such a permanent revolution was Joseph Stalin’s “revolution from above,” which he instituted in 1927 and 1928.
After having suppressed his enemies on both the left and the right, as well as the center, Stalin issued the “general party line. ” Anyone who deviated from that line was condemned to either exile or execution — in most cases, execution. Stalin’s aim was to create a new kind of society and a new human personality to inhabit that society: socialist man and socialist woman. At the same time, a strong army would have to be built as well as a powerful industrial economy. Once everything was owned by he State, Stalin believed, a new kind of human personality would emerge. The Soviets under Stalin were by no means successful.
Just the same, the Soviets did build a new society, one whose basic outlines survived right down to the late 1980s. However, Stalinist society did have its frightening aspects and none was more frightening than the existence of brutal, unrestrained police terrorism. First used against the wealthy peasants or kulaks during the 1920s and 1930s, terror was increasingly used against party members, administrators and ordinary people. No one would ever be above suspicion — xcept Stalin, of course. Some were victims of terror for deviating from the party line — others were victims for no apparent reason other than Stalin’s moodiness.
One Soviet recalled that in 1931, “we all trembled because there was no way of getting out of it. Even a Communist can be caught. To avoid trouble became an exception. ” As we now know, Stalin’s second wife also publicly rebuked Stalin for the destruction the terror famine was working and she committed suicide in 1932. And on December 1, 1934, Sergei Kirov, the man who in some circles was rumored to be Stalin’s heir, was ssassinated in Leningrad on Stalin’s orders. Using Kirov’s death as an excuse, Stalin systematically purged the Communist Party of his opponents.
Hundreds of party members were shot for their alleged complicity in Kirov’s death. Kirov was a full member of the ruling Politburo and leader of the Leningrad party apparatus as well as an influential member of the ruling elite. His overt concern for the welfare of the Leningrad workers and his skill as an orator earned him considerable popularity. It is doubtful that Kirov represented a serious threat to Stalin, however, Kirov did disagree with Stalin on several But Stalin had already begun to doubt the loyalty of the Leningrad party and he looked for a pretext to begin a broad purge.
The murder of Kirov was necessary. Although it was Leonid Nikolaev who committed the assassination, it is now clear that the whole episode had been, over a period of two years, crafted by Stalin and the NKVD. Stalin, of course, then used the crime as an excuse to introduce severe laws against all political crimes. So, following the death of Kirov at the end of 1934, there began the Soviet witch-hunt which culminated in the Great Terror of the years 1935-1939. In 1936, Stalin brought his old comrades Zinoviev and Kamenev to a staged public trial.
An international press corps was invited to lend a sense of legitimacy to the proceedings. When their trial had ended Zinoviev, Kamenev and fourteen other old Bolsheviks either admitted involvement in the Kirov Affair or signed confessions that had been fabricated for them. These men had not been conspirators but they did satisfy Stalin’s paranoia. As to be expected, they were all executed. The confessional process was helped by the black jack, continuous interrogation and the swan dive, where towelling was put between the aws and the feet and tightened, arching and breaking the back.
But often, the confession was voluntary because the Party demanded it. As one survivor recalled, “serving the party was not just a goal in life but an inner need. ” In January 1937 a second great show trial was held in which seventeen leading Bolsheviks declared that they had knowledge of a conspiracy between Trotsky and the German and Japanese intelligence services by which Soviet territory was to be transferred to Germany and Japan. A crowd of 200,000 packed Red Square in frigid weather to hear Nikita Khrushchev read out the death sentences.
All seventeen were executed. Then on June 11, 1937, the cream of the Red Army, stripped of their medals and insignia, were ushered into the courtroom. They included Marshal Tukhachevsky, the most brilliant soldier of his generation and the pioneer of armored and airborne warfare. The generals were accused of spying for the Germans, found guilty, shot and dumped in a trench on a construction site, all within eighteen hours. Six of the officers who condemned them were soon shot. Of 85 corps commanders 57 disappeared within a year.
Of the 100,000 Red Army officers on active duty in 1937, perhaps 60,000 were purged. The last of the public trials took place in March 1938, as twenty-one leading Bolsheviks, including Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938), confessed to similar charges and were executed. Also to go was Yagoda, Stalin’s hand-picked head of the NKVD. These public show trials and the secret trials of the generals provide only a faint idea of the extent of the Great Terror. Every member of Lenin’s Politburo except Stalin and Trotsky were either killed or committed suicide to avoid execution.
A partial list of those -two vice-commissars of foreign affairs –most of the ambassadors in the Soviet diplomatic corps –numerous members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party –almost all the military judges who had sat in judgment and had condemned –the prime ministers and chief officials of all the non-Russian Soviet republics –the man who had led the charge against the Winter Palace in 1917 –a 70 year old schoolteacher who owned a book which included a picture of –an 85 year old woman who made the sign of the Cross when a funeral passed –a man who took down a portrait of Stalin while painting a wall
Not since the days of the Inquisition had the test of ideological loyalty been applied to so many people. And not since the days of the French Revolution had so many died for failing the test. Arrests multiplied tenfold in 1936 and 1937. Anything was used as an excuse for an arrest: dancing too long with a Japanese diplomat, not clapping loudly enough or long enough after one of Stalin’s speeches, buying groceries from a former kulak. People went to work one day and simply did not return — they were either killed immediately or sent to the GULAG.
The NKVD employed millions of secret informers who infiltrated every orkplace. Most academics and writers came to expect arrest, exile and prison as part of their lives. A historian could be sent to exile for describing Joan of Arc as nervous and tense just when the general party line wished her described as calm in the face of death. When a linguistic theory that held that all language was derived from four sounds was accepted as official, professors who opposed this view had their books confiscated.
By 1938 at least one million people were in prison, some 8. 5 million had been arrested and sent to the GULAG and nearly 800,000 had been executed. In fact, before the KGB was issolved in 1991, it was revealed that 47 million Soviet citizens had died as a result of forced collectivization and the purges. That figure, of course, represents the recorded tally. How many more people died without being recorded is a matter of conjecture. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Stalin wanted to destroy any possibility of future conspiracies.
So he trumped up charges against anyone who could conceivably become a member of a regime that might make the attempt to replace his own. He did this to maintain his power. He also did this, as his biographers are quick to point out, because he as paranoid. Despite the upheaval of the constant purge trials, the Soviet state did not break down. New bureaucrats were found to replace the old. New Stalin-trained officials filled all top-level posts and terror became one of the principal features of the government itself.
In the end, the purgers were also purged. They were the scapegoats used by Stalin to carry out the Great Terror. Meanwhile, Trotsky had been out of Russia for years but he continued to use his pen to attack Stalin in his journal, The Bulletin of the Opposition. In Stalin’s eyes, Trotsky could not be left free. Stalin’s purges baffled nearly all foreign observers. He saw threats everywhere. Were they real? Leading Communists confessed to crimes against the State they never committed. Some were brainwashed, others tortured.
Still others, like Nikolai Bukharin, were shot in the head. And eventually, even Trotsky was murdered in Mexico City in 1940, an ice pick Soviet life in the 1930s, purge trials aside, was one of constant propaganda and indoctrination. Party members lectured to workers in factories and peasants in the field. Newspapers, films and radio broadcast endless socialist achievements and capitalist evil. Art, literature, film and science were politicized — sovietized. The intellectual elite of the 1930s were ordered by Stalin to become “engineers of human souls.
Russian nationalism had to be glorified. Capitalism was portrayed as the greatest of evils. Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great were resurrected and depicted as the forerunners of Stalin. History had to be rewritten. “Who controls the past, controls the future; who controls the present controls the past,” wrote Orwell. Stalin rarely appeared in public but his presence was everywhere: portraits, statues, books, films and quotations from his idiotic books urrounded the Soviet man and woman.
Life was hard inside Soviet Russia and the standard of living declined in the 1930s, despite Stalin’s claim that the Five Year Plans had modernized the nation. Black bread and shabby clothes came to represent the Russian masses. There were constant shortages of food although heavily taxed vodka was always available. Housing was poor and in short supply. Although life was hard, the Soviet people were by no means hopeless. The average Russian saw himself heroically building the world’s first socialist society while capitalism was crumbling in the west.
On the positive side, the Soviet worker received social benefits such as old age pensions, free medical services, free education and even day care facilities. Unemployment was technically non-existent and there was the possibility of personal advancement. The key to advancement was specialized skills and a technical education. Rapid industrialization under the Five Year Plans required massive numbers of experts, technocrats, skilled workers, engineers and managers. So the State provided economic incentives for those people who would faithfully serve the needs of the State.
But for the nskilled, low wages were the rule. But, the State dangled high salaries and special housing to those members of the growing technical and managerial elite. This elite joined forces with the “engineers of the human mind” to produce a new social class — and all this Stalin’s ego mania and paranoia eventually contributed to the near destruction of Soviet Russia. His perpetual and pathological lying and deception, culminating in the infamous purge trials of the 1930s, took the Soviet Union down a road out of which it is now slowly recovering, if, in fact, it ever will recover.