The word ‘totalitarianism’ has been taken from the medieval Latin word ‘totus,’ which means ‘entire.’
Totalitarianism in political science is a system of government and ideology in which all social, political, economic, intellectual, cultural, and spiritual activities are subordinated to the rulers’ purposes and a state’s ruling ideology.
In modern totalitarianism, people are made completely dependent on the wishes of a political party and its leaders, usually because they support a pervasive ideology.
The modern totalitarian state is ruled by a political party, which embodies an ideology claiming universal authority and allowing no rivals.
Those countries whose governments are usually characterized as totalitarian were Germany, under the National Socialism of Adolph Hitler; the USSR, particularly under Joseph Stalin; and the People’s Republic of China, under the Communist rule of Mao Zedong.
Other governments have also been called totalitarian, such as Italy under Benito Mussolini, Syria under Hafez al-Assad, and Iraq under Saddam. Hussein etc.
So, the rule of a single party, especially in the Socialist states, is totalitarianism.
Definitions Of Totalitarianism
Dictionary of Politics
Totalitarianism is one in which stern and forceful control is exercised over the population, with no particular concern for their preferences or public opinion.
Totalitarianism is a system in which the political rulers control every aspect of private and social life in the society and have such extensive political power that virtually no liberty or autonomy in decision-making is left to individuals or groups outside the political power system.
Chambers Essential Dictionary
Totalitarianism is a system of government in which a single party controls everything, and no other parties are allowed to exist.
It is the system of a one-party government requiring complete subservience to the state.
Totalitarianism is a centralized government system in which a single party without opposition rules over political, economic, social, and cultural life.
Or It is a centralized and dictatorial system relating to or operating a centralized government system in which a single party without opposition rules over political, economic, social, and cultural life.
Features Of Totalitarianism
Powers With One Party
In this system, there is only one party, and no other party is allowed to exist.
Under a totalitarian system, the ruling party’s members become the nation’s elite.
The entire society is subjected to a hierarchical organization wherein each individual is responsible to another in a position of higher authority.
With the single exception of the supreme leader, where one exists, who is answerable to no one individual or institution.
All non-governmental social groupings are either eradicated or coordinated to serve the purposes of the party and the state.
No one is allowed to criticize party organs or question the orders issued.
In totalitarianism, the party remains a dominant institution, and its decisions are given due respect and acceptance.
Control Of Media
The ruling party controls the media severely. Because of the monopoly of mass communications, the ruling party and the government own all channels through which people receive information, guidance, and direction.
All newspapers, magazines, books, radio and television programs, theatre productions, and cinema films are centrally controlled and directed by the totalitarian regime.
All writers, speakers, actors, composers, and poets are enrolled in party-controlled organizations, and the government licenses them.
Usually, they are required to be members of the party. The party policy is imposed on all mass media through censorship.
The Secret Police
In a totalitarian setup, the party has a strong secret police system.
The secret police use scientific crime detection, modern psychological theories, and techniques to terrorize the population.
This policy is much crueler than the police systems of earlier autocracies.
The totalitarian secret police employ institutions and devices to spread state terror.
One of the dangers natural in the totalitarian system is the possibility that the secret police might seize control of the party itself.
Control Of Uprising
In totalitarian setups, the regimes are capable of facing uprisings with iron hands.
The monopoly of all effective weapons of destruction is a feature of all modern-day, totalitarian governments.
The totalitarian states provide no legal means of effecting a change of government.
Popular revolutions, such as the uprisings that occurred in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956, had slight prospects of success because of the state’s unhesitating use of force to crush differences of opinion.
Modern weapons provided the totalitarian state with a strong defense against revolutions.
Control Of The Economy
Totalitarianism is basically the reaction of a disturbed, unequal system of economy or class life.
In this system, the economy becomes under the control of the state.
The centrally controlled economy enables the totalitarian state to exploit its population for foreign conquest and world revolution.
For example, all resources can be concentrated on a single important military project.
The totalitarian type of economy enables the rulers to control the workers and make them dependent on the government. Without a work permit, none can work. The workers in a totalitarian state are therefore called state slaves.
All the means of production are nationalized, and the income is spent on the whole population and international politics.
In this system, although a list of human rights is given in the constitution, those rights cannot be used practically.
The lengthiest list of human rights was given in the totalitarian communist constitution of the ex-USSR, but people had no liberty to act upon their rights.
The USSR disintegrated because of this gap in theory and practice.
Because it developed deprivation among the masses in the name of human rights.
Totalitarianism is a system believing in the total submission of people to the dictatorship of a single party. In such cases, liberty and rights become controversial with the basic principles of totalitarianism.
It has been seen that totalitarianism is always pro-marxism. One-party rule is seen in the communist world.
In the USSR, there was the Communist Party (CP) dictatorship, and in China, the Central Communist Party (CCP) controls the state.
Nazism of Hitler was basically ‘National-Socialism.’ One party monopoly in dictatorship may not be ideological, but in totalitarianism, one party ever seems to cling to an ideology, especially to socialism or communism.
Totalitarianism demands complete obedience to a single ruling party, which is impossible without forcible means.
So, this type of government always resorts to applying force. People who demonstrate or criticize the party are dealt with iron hands.
People cannot even make other parties demand their rights or liberties.
It is on the party’s will to assess rights and the nature of rights.
In a totalitarian system, the structure of the political system, particularly the organization of the one political party, is based on the principle of democratic centralism.
It means all the institutions from bottom to top are elected, so it is a democracy. Order flows from top to bottom, where every subordinate institution is bound to obey the upper institution, so it is centralism.
In totalitarianism, this principle may be seen widely in use.
Centralization Of Powers
Like a dictatorship or an authoritative form of government, in a totalitarian system, all the state powers are centralized, especially in the hands of the party’s cream leadership.
If one studies and analyses the constitutions of the ex-USSR and the People’s Republic of China, it may be concluded that the communist party is considered the only truth and core of leadership.
In ex-USSR, the powers were vested in the presidium comprised of the cream leadership of the Communist Party.
In China, all powers are exercised by the Permanent Standing Committee of the central legislature composed of the key or ringleaders of the Central Communist Party.
The constitutions of the totalitarian systems are nothing but to legalize and regularize the monopoly of the single parties.
Merits And Demerits Of Totalitarianism
Merits Of Totalitarianism
Totalitarian system is a popular system in the communist world. It is supported by a section of people in the world based on the given positive aspects or advantages:
Totalitarianism is generally attached to Marxism. All the state powers are concentrated in the hands of only one party, which establishes the dictatorship of the workers and peasants. Economic resources and all the means of production are nationalized under the strict supervision and guidance of the ruling party.
In communistic societies, work is taken from everyone according to his capability and compensation according to his needs.
In socialistic societies, e.g., China, from everyone according to his capabilities and to everyone according to his work.
So, it circulates benefits to all in a very just manner. It ensures economic equality.
National Integration In Totalitarianism
There is too much centralization of powers in this system. Therefore, it develops national integration, for it keeps welded the scattered ethnic groups by ensuring equality to all, and it is against exploitation of man by man.
Therefore tension among the divergent cultures is reduced in the same country, resulting in integration and solidarity.
National integration is a vital step towards stability and the people’s general happiness.
Uniformity Of Laws In Totalitarianism
All the laws and orders flow downwards, and all people are subject to those orders.
All the laws are uniform and equally enforceable for all people and places alike within the state.
Laws, decisions, and policies are issued under the strict guidance of a single party. The party’s guidelines are in light of the collective interests.
Political Stability In Totalitarianism
In totalitarianism, there is only one political party, and other parties are not allowed to exist.
So, there is no rivalry or negative competition among the parties. Only one party plays as the ruling as well as the opposition party.
There is neither chaos nor unrest nor division of the people in different and conflicting political camps.
This system produces political stability, and one party works with trust and confidence.
In totalitarianism, centralized control keeps all the clashing interests together, saving the state from instability.
Military Development In Totalitarianism
A Totalitarian form of government is often backed by the military, and the military is also under the party’s grip.
The military is politicized in this system, and there are party organs within the military.
In this system, opposite propaganda is severely controlled. Weapons are in the party’s control that may be used to crush opponents and for geographical or ideological expansion.
So, the military is given too much importance, and special attention is focused on military development.
Demerits Of Totalitarianism
Monopoly Of A Single Party
A Totalitarian system revolves around a single party that has a political monopoly.
This system confines people’s choices because a person with a differing opinion has no second choice, but he is compelled to follow the only one party existing in the state.
This party becomes a dictator and uses all the super most powers of the state.
Lack Of Human Liberties
Various rights are given to the people subject to a totalitarian setup. But these rights have no practical existence.
There is a lack of liberties which means people cannot exercise their constitutional rights with free hands.
The very concept of human rights is vague in this system. There are more obligations and less freedom.
It confines the political choices of the citizens. It is on the sweet will of the ruling party to assess the degree of liberty and nature of rights.
Politics Of Force
Power politics is the very base of totalitarianism. If there is an opposing will or opinion, that is faced very harshly.
It compels all people to obey the just and unjust orders of the leaders of the ruling party.
There is less role of peoples’ will and more role of force. This is the reason why these systems are not durable or popularly supported. In the form of ex-USSR, we saw that flexibility and reforms brought by Gorbachev paved the way for peoples’ freedom and the ultimate disintegration of the USSR.
It means totalitarianism was forcibly imposed on the people of ex-USSR. When an opportunity was provided to people in the form of reforms introduced by Perestroika and Glasnost, the people revolted against USSR and its totalitarian setup.
Totalitarianism Is Against Human Nature
Totalitarianism is against human nature and psychology. It confines human political likes and dislikes, and such confinements are unnatural.
Any system against human desires, needs, temperament, and orientations is not durable and stable.
It has been seen in the case of ex-USSR that it failed, and in China, through various reforms and relaxations, the system has been made realistic to a great extent, and this is the cause that it still survives.
It is based on the dictatorship of a single party. Despotism, absolutism, and cruel means are also adopted to compel people to obey the party’s orders and the single-party government.
Such obedience is always unwilling and reluctant. People in this system have less zeal or enthusiasm to participate in political activities, for it is based on less democratic norms.
It is the age of representative and democratic systems because ballots have replaced bullets in politics.
Issue Of Transfer Of Powers Or Systems
One of the significant disadvantages of this system is that if people want to adopt any other system, there is no legal or set procedure to change this system.
Voice against one-party monopoly is rubbed with full might.