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Russian Revolutions, Fascism, and Totalitarianism Essay

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Updated: Sep 8th, 2021

At the beginning of the 20th century, Russia was undergoing social and economic turmoil which was characterized by widespread poverty, hunger, and dissatisfaction with the tsarist government. As populist ideologies took place, a series of Revolutions took place in an attempt to establish a new government. The first revolutionary wave occurred early in 1905 in a handful of Russian cities, it was largely ineffective and had little impact, but demonstrated that the Russian people were ready to protest. The first major event was the February Revolution in 1917 when women entered the streets to protest hunger while workers began to unionize and deputize. This event was the first indication of the working class rising and dissatisfied with the rule of the rich bourgeoise while the majority population was barely surviving.1

In order to survive, the existing regime decided to abdicate power to the Duma, establishing a new temporary government that ruled based on a duality of power. Despite some confrontation, this revolution was relatively peaceful and simply a pause before everything came crashing down. Finally, the October “Bolshevik” Revolution in 1917 resulted in a complete and violent uprising against the tsarist government. Led by Lenin, the Soviet party first acquired political support and then began a military uprising, usurping power and establishing a dictatorship. It was a powerful revolution, led by the elimination of political enemies and the beginning of a prolonged Civil War in Russia.2

The Bolshevik revolution was inherently more successful due to a combination of factors. The primary reason is that the people wanted concrete change, no longer satisfied with promises or interval changes such as the provisional government. Second, the Bolsheviks had strong leadership in the likes of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky who were confident in their abilities and inspired the people with their knowledge and understanding of their struggles. It is this comprehension that allowed them to implement a communist ideology that they strongly upheld and modify to fit the Russian society, with a belief that the workers should rule themselves which was appealing to the majority of the population.

Marxism was altered significantly by Lenin originally, producing a new ideology of Leninism. It sought to use political opportunism to preserve capitalism. It was also seeking to apply socialist principles in the political experience in the birth of the Soviet Union and apply it to the worldwide revolution. Although sharing some similarities with Marx, Lenin’s New Economic Policy was attempting to find a balance between socialism and capitalism, which was ineffective. When Stalin came into power, he radically changed the ideology by introducing a systemic party and rule. He established strong leadership and control which ruled through terror and suppression. The economy also changed towards a centralized command economy, but it was far from the socialist exchange of commodities that Marx had proposed.3

Before the Revolution, Russia was ruled by an absolute monarchy, giving unlimited power to Tsar Nicholas II. It was ultimately this aspect that led to the overthrow of the government and the rise of Communism. Incompetent decision-making and significant class divide which placed Russian workers in impoverished conditions were further exacerbated by World War I and the violence of the government against its own people. Communism was the direct opposite and an attractive solution to many by providing representation to workers and suggesting that the control and ownership of the industrial system be given to the collective society. Lenin built on this by introducing his three decrees which established peace, abolished land ownership, and gave rights and minimum wages to workers. Other socially oriented policies were implemented such as universal healthcare, education, and women’s rights.4

Hitler built on the rising nationalism and Germany’s sentiments that it was unfairly punished for the sins of World War I. Hitler, who was a soldier during the Great War later adopted these sentiments into a nationalistic ideology which he used to gain the power of the population discontent with the government that supported the status quo of Germany’s poor economic and political state. After the war, Hitler becomes disillusioned with the Treaty of Versailles, serving as a vindictive policy not only against the German economy but hitting at the heart of German nationalism. He becomes involved in right-wing political groups like the National Socialist German Workers Party, rising through its ranks due to his leadership and organizational skills. Hitler took advantage of the four dimensions of power to achieving fascism, ideological, military, economic, and political. Using his charisma, he was appealing to both politicians and the masses alike, building a cult of personality which is a pattern in Fascism.5 It is his attempt at the Beer Hall Putsch, a small beginning of public protest meant to mimic Mussolini’s March on Rome. It led Hitler to confront the government and gain the support of locals which pushed him to adopt the radical fascist ideology stated in Mein Kampf.6

Similar to Hitler, Mussolini was also a soldier and an advent political ideologist for most of his life. He founded the Fascist Party based on his socialist beliefs with the hopes to end discrimination and raise the level of life in Italy which was undergoing economic hardships. He took advantage of the political opportunities and weakness of his opponents to quickly gain support. Similar to other dictators, he used his charisma to promise Italians a new life and a powerful Italy, actions he supported with the invasion of Ethiopia as well as extensive public works programs to benefit the people. While doing this, he dismantled any democratic institutions, consolidating his power and establishing a Fascist stronghold over Italy.7 Mussolini gained power during the March on Rome in 1922, impressing people with his ideas. He aligned himself with large businesses and landowners as well, suggesting that Fascism should be a merger between state and corporate power. He was able to present a political front that filled the power void left by previous weak governments and gathered support based on fear of Communism and nationalistic pride.8

Finally, Franco was able to achieve his power largely due to the support of the other two dictators. He also had a background in the military and used the chaos of the Civil War in Spain to establish a foothold in power. His involvement in the military and disagreement with commanding officers during the wars of the early 20th century where Spain was participating, led him to join a military coup. Franco rapidly acquired power and used a combination of Fascist ideology and the backing of the Catholic Church to secure power for the fascist militia groups. They further consolidated control through violent means and murdering of political opponents.

Bibliography

Bosworth, Richard. “Coming to Terms with Fascism in Italy.” History Today 55, no. 11 (2005): 18-20.

Eatwell, Roger. ” Explaining Fascism and Ethnic Cleansing: The Three Dimensions of Charisma and the Four Dark Sides of Nationalism.” Political Studies Review 4, (2006): 263-278.

YouTube video, 18:30. Posted by Hip Hughes. 2016. Web.

Kolonitskii, Boris, and Yisrael Elliot Cohen. “Russian Historiography of the 1917 Revolution: New Challenges to Old Paradigms?.” History Memory 21, no. 2 (2009): 34-59.

Paxton, Robert O., and Julie Hessler. Europe in the Twentieth Century. Boston: Cengage, 2012.

Perry, Marvin, Matthew Berg, and James Krukones. Sources of European History: Since 1900. 2nd ed. Boston: Cengage, 2010.

YouTube video, 9:59. Posted by History Matters. 2016. Web.

Footnotes

  1. Boris Kolonitskii and Yisrael Elliot Cohen, “Russian Historiography of the 1917 Revolution: New Challenges to Old Paradigms?” History Memory 21, no. 2 (2009): 34.
  2. Robert O Paxton and Julie Hessler, Europe in the Twentieth Century (Boston: Cengage, 2012), 173.
  3. Marvin, Perry, Sources of European History: Since 1900, 2nd ed. (Boston: Cengage, 2010), 263.
  4. “Ten Minute History – The Russian Revolution.” YouTube video, 9:59, posted by History Matters. Web.
  5. “Fascism Explained: World History Review.” YouTube video, 18:30, posted by Hip Hughes. Web.
  6. Roger Eatwell, ” Explaining Fascism and Ethnic Cleansing: The Three Dimensions of Charisma and the Four Dark Sides of Nationalism,” Political Studies Review 4, (2006): 264.
  7. Richard Bosworth, “Coming to Terms with Fascism in Italy,” History Today 55, no. 11 (2005): 18.
  8. “Fascism Explained: World History Review.” YouTube video, 18:30, posted by Hip Hughes. Web.
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IvyPanda. "Russian Revolutions, Fascism, and Totalitarianism." September 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/russian-revolutions-fascism-and-totalitarianism/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Russian Revolutions, Fascism, and Totalitarianism." September 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/russian-revolutions-fascism-and-totalitarianism/.

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