No idea in our time has provoked more impassioned debate than the idea of totalitarianism. Used indiscriminately by some as a synonym for fascism, or Communism, or both, it is abhorred and denounced by others as a source of deliberate confusion and a propaganda weapon. The debate has concerned not only the past and present political character of the Soviet Union but also, in retrospect, the political character of Nazi Germany. Unlike some other current controversies, the debate over totalitarianism has not been a purely academic enterprise. In part it is about words, categories, and definitions; above all, however, it concerns political realities, and it is therefore of considerable practical importance. As is clear from the uproar over Jeane Kirkpatrick’s introduction of the concept into the discussion of Central America, behind seemingly semantic hairsplitting are some of the key issues facing U.S. foreign policy—in particular, how to conduct relations with the Soviet bloc and the Third World.
Although it is widely believed that totalitarianism as a concept was invented in the 40’s and 50’s by Western cold warriors trying to prove there was nothing to choose between Hitler and Stalin, in actual fact the term goes back to the early 1920’s when it was first used by Italian anti-fascists and later picked up with some gusto by Mussolini, who wrote a famous article on the subject. (While the Italians “invented” totalitarianism as a theoretical concept, however, their practical contribution to the form was quite modest; of all the great dictatorships of our time, Italian fascism was the least totalitarian.) The concept was then taken up and elaborated by social scientists, mostly émigrés from Nazi Germany. It was also used on many occasions by left-wing writers like Victor Serge, and by Marxists like Trotsky, Otto Bauer, and Rudolf Hilferding.
All these writers claimed—correctly, in my judgment—that while dictatorships and tyrannies were as old as the hills, there was a qualitative difference between all previous despotisms and the dictatorships which emerged after World War I. To put the difference negatively, old-fashioned, traditional dictatorships had not used propaganda and other means of social control (including terror) to anything like the same extent as did the modern ones. They had not tried to mobilize the masses. Ideology played a far lesser role in their self-conception. There was no monopolistic state-party. And while, in a “traditional” dictatorship, the legal order was always affected to some degree, it was never disregarded as completely as it was in a totalitarian regime.
Finally, if one wished to be crude about it, one could argue that any regime attracting 99 percent of the votes in an election was by definition totalitarian. For an old-fashioned dictatorship would not have been able to induce virtually everyone to vote, or to bring about a result like this by either fraud or pressure; for that matter, it would not have felt the need in the first place to gain such pseudo-legitimacy. This definition of totalitarianism may be regarded as simplistic, but it was probably as good as, if not better than, the more complicated ones developed in more recent decades.
Two works which appeared soon after World War II helped to popularize the idea of totalitarianism: Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and, more influential in the academic community, Carl Friedrich’s and Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy (1957). Both drew attention to the correspondence between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, Arendt stating that they were two “essentially identical” systems, Friedrich and Brzezinski that they were “basically alike.”
But both also put forward theses which were not borne out by later events: in particular, that totalitarianism is an end in itself, that a totalitarian system is bound to become more totalitarian all the time, and that an omnipotent leader is a precondition for totalitarian rule. When Stalin died, and changes took place in the Soviet Union culminating in the famous attacks at the 20th party congress of the CPSU on the “cult of personality,” Arendt quickly retreated from some of these positions. Friedrich and Brzezinski also modified their view, conceding ten years after the first edition of their book that Hitler and Stalin represented not the norm but extreme instances of totalitarianism, and that too much significance had been attributed to certain personal (and therefore transient) features of their regimes which were not necessarily intrinsic elements of totalitarian rule.
It was in part because of flaws like these that some dismissed the totalitarian concept altogether, or at least grew reluctant to use it in describing the regime in the Soviet Union. But only in part; there were reasons of a political or ideological nature behind this reluctance as well. Thus, according to one school of thought, the concept wrongly concentrated on techniques common to Nazi and Communist rule—propaganda, terror, the one-party system—while missing the essence of the regimes as revealed in their professed aims. How could one compare the goals of Marxism-Leninism, such as freedom and social justice, with those of fascism and Nazism? Besides, one could point to certain social and economic achievements of the Soviet regime; if actual performance fell woefully short of the claims that had been made for that society, these might be just temporary distortions bound to disappear in the course of time. Fascism, by contrast, was intrinsically evil, immune to change for the better either through evolution or through reform. In this reading, then, totalitarianism, if useful at all in understanding dictatorial regimes, might be applied to Nazism but not to Communism.
In the 1960’s the totalitarianism concept as applied to Communism fell into further disrepute. In the Soviet Union Stalinism had been replaced by something more difficult to analyze and define, the mass purges had ceased, and the population of the Gulag greatly decreased. In addition, the worldwide Communist monolith was splitting apart. These and other developments seemed to show that Communist totalitarianism as described by Arendt and Friedrich-Brzezinski had either passed from this world, or had perhaps never existed. And so burial rites were held. One critic wrote that the so-called totalitarian state had been neither total nor a state. The author of the entry “Totalitarianism” in the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences predicted that just as there had been no such article in the first edition, there would be none in the third.
But if the concept of totalitarianism was buried, Communist regimes continued to exist. How to define them? According to the new consensus, the Soviet and other Communist systems were authoritarian.
Unfortunately, “authoritarian” is one of those terms that can mean a great many different things. A political regime completely devoid of authority is unthinkable, at least for any length of time. Every dictatorship or semi-dictatorship is a priori authoritarian, be it a monarchy (Saudi Arabia, Jordan under Hussein, Morocco under Hassan) or such disparate regimes as Pakistan, Vietnam, and Indonesia, not to mention all African and most Latin American countries. Even the German government under Adenauer, France under de Gaulle, Israel under Ben-Gurion were to some extent authoritarian. Of what use is a category which can be applied to nine-tenths if not more of the member states of the United Nations? If we say that the Soviet Union or Bulgaria is “authoritarian,” what new light have we shed on their specific character? And if the totalitarianism concept is to be dismissed as inapplicable in view of the differences between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, what is the point of replacing it with a label covering political systems which have nothing in common whatsoever?
Aware of this dilemma, scholars over the years have introduced new terms to define Communist regimes, ranging from the obvious but unhelpful to the irrelevant or even ludicrous: neo-feudalism; welfare-state authoritarianism; failed totalitarianism; institutional pluralism; limited pluralism. Others have relied on the concept of modernization, but this too has been of little assistance, for the term totalitarianism refers to the structure of power in a society whereas modernization involves an altogether different set of social processes. Yet another approach—the study of Western management and of the way Western corporations are run—proved similarly unenlightening when it came to understanding the specific character of Communist societies; ditto with bureaucracy and interest groups.
By the early 1980’s even the more enthusiastic advocates of the various “pluralist” models of Communist society had to admit that the announcement of the demise of their rival concept had been premature. Stephen F. Cohen of Princeton, one of the chief of these revisionists, has observed with regret in his new book, Rethinking the Soviet Experience,1 that the main impact of his school of thought was felt in the middle 1970’s, and that it did not succeed in putting an end to the totalitarianism thesis.
The reason, actually, is quite simple, and has to do with political reality. The revisionists would have easily carried the day if de-Stalinization in the Soviet Union had brought about a radical and complete break with the past; if détente had prevailed in international relations; if there had been unmistakable signs of the emergence of democratic institutions—or at least of true pluralism—inside the Soviet Union. In the face of such incontrovertible evidence, even the staunchest believers in the concept of totalitarianism would have been unable to keep it alive much longer. But facts, as Lenin liked to say, are stubborn things, and the facts dictated otherwise: de-Stalinization, after a promising start, was halted and later even reversed; Soviet political institutions did not fundamentally change; the regime was still an absolute dictatorship.
In short, if no one today denies that in its early form the totalitarianism model was inadequate and in part misleading, the attempt to replace it with something radically new has failed. I suspect that even the most committed revisionists know this, though they are reluctant to admit it in public.
Where then does all this leave us? If the same term cannot be used for the Soviet Union in the late Stalin era and under Gorbachev, for China under Mao and under its present rulers, for Poland and Hungary in the 1950’s and today, is there perhaps a whole spectrum of totalitarianisms?
Leading students of totalitarianism have devoted much thought to this question but there is no unanimity among them. The German scholar Karl Dietrich Bracher, who perhaps has contributed more than anyone else to our understanding of the rise of the Nazi movement and Hitler’s takeover, sees no reason to discontinue using the term both for Nazism and for Communism. His four criteria are: an official and exclusive ideology; a centralized and hierarchically organized mass movement; control of mass communications for the purpose of indoctrination; and control of the economy and social relations.2
Even more important are two basic points which Bracher has emphasized time and again, and which have caused much offense. Totalitarianism, he says, is not a typical and exclusive product of the interwar period that came to an end in 1945; on the contrary, recent technologies offer modern dictatorships even greater possibilities for the mobilization and indoctrination of the masses and the imposition of strict controls over society. Second, the fundamental dividing line in recent history is not between Left and Right, and not between capitalism and socialism (despite all the differences between them), but between dictatorship and democracy, despotism and freedom.
A great deal of blindness is needed to doubt or deny the opposition of democracy and dictatorship—yet it has scandalized some for whom the main ideological issue of our time is not political freedom but economic organization. For them, a dictatorship may still be progressive whereas a democracy, so long as it is capitalist, is still pre-fascist or “potentially fascist.” And since all democracies which have ever existed (except perhaps in Iceland or early modern Switzerland) have been either capitalist or based on a mixed economy, they are all regarded as suspect. Bracher’s scheme neatly exposes the political bias behind such a contention.
Bracher also sees a dividing line between totalitarianism and authoritarianism, as does Juan Linz, a leading Yale political sociologist. Linz draws the distinction around three main points. An authoritarian regime can tolerate limited political pluralism, whereas totalitarian rule cannot. In an authoritarian regime ideology is not a central issue; a general perspective usually suffices. Nor does an authoritarian regime need mass political participation directed from above.
This seems to be about the best available key to an understanding of the differences between the two systems. It is not a magic wand for, as Linz has pointed out, there always will be a degree of uncertainty, a gray zone, with regard to the specific character of authoritarian regimes and the direction they are likely to take in future. Yet the soundness of Linz’s approach has been borne out by, for instance, events in Spain during the last decade. Franco’s rule was not totalitarian, despite what many claimed at the time; there was no central ideology and no political mass party, only an old-fashioned if altogether unattractive military dictatorship. For this reason, after Franco’s death the transition to a democratic regime proceeded without great difficulty. By contrast, no totalitarian regime has ever transformed itself peacefully in a democratic direction: this has happened only following total military defeat.
Bracher and Linz were influenced in their work on the totalitarian state above all by the fascist experience. In the thought of the German political philosopher Richard Lowenthal, it is the impact of developments in the Communist world that is central. Like Bracher and Linz, Lowenthal similarly accepts the line between tyranny and freedom, but he believes that the Soviet Union and other Communist regimes have definitively moved beyond totalitarianism, toward a stage he calls “post-totalitarian authoritarianism” or “authoritarian bureaucratic oligarchy.” There may still be a clearly recognizable leader, but his powers are not markedly greater than those of a Western prime minister over the members of his cabinet. The people still have no means to remove the leadership, but the revolution from above (the most prominent feature of totalitarianism, according to Lowenthal) has run out of steam.
Lowenthal does not argue that the new equilibrium in an erstwhile totalitarian regime offers the prospect of some kind of gradual liberalization; radical opposition to the values and institutions of Western democracy will continue. But in the Communist countries he expects a stabilizing of the post-revolutionary institutions of one-party rule, rather than a revival of totalitarianism per se: “Those countries have not gone from tyranny to freedom, but from massive terror to a rule of meanness, ensuring stability at the risk of stagnation.”3
Lowenthal’s (relative) optimism has been criticized by experts on the Soviet Union and China who have noted that while there have been thaws in both countries, the totalitarian iceberg has not melted.4 Besides, can it really be taken for granted that the experience of Stalin and Mao has immunized these regimes forever against the grosser forms of despotism? Or could it be, as some believe, that they are fated for a long time to come to alternate between cycles of relative relaxation and strong oppression, with the single-party dictatorship and the old structures and institutions remaining intact?
Like Lowenthal, Pierre Hassner, the author of a recent masterly review of the subject,5 recognizes that far-reaching changes have taken place in the Soviet bloc, but they have not in his view gone beyond the point of no return. The new regime is not authoritarian in the traditional sense, but rather represents a form of totalitarianism in decline. Seen in this perspective, “post-totalitarian authoritarianism” is only a totalitarianism which has lost some of its dynamism, and its capacity to control a society which has become more complex and/or more resistant. In the Soviet Union such a development has resulted in fewer purges and less mass terror and perhaps a greater degree of Realpolitik in foreign affairs—though in this last respect the difference with Stalinism is not that great. But it has not resulted in a significantly more liberal regime, and not even in a massive strengthening of interest groups—unless one regards the interpenetration of party, KGB, army, and the commanding positions in the economy as a form of pluralism.
Nor, as Hassner sees it, has there been any fundamental change in Soviet foreign policy. The question of whether the Soviet leaders truly believe in world revolution is irrelevant; perhaps they never did. But:
In the absence of traditional or democratic legitimation, the regime keeps the country in a state of permanent insecurity. In order to maintain their power, the leaders must keep control over their empire and society. In order to achieve this they have to be armed against all outside influences, which means the need for an ideology involving hostility vis-à-vis the outside world, and power which makes it possible to defeat, potentially at least, every outside threat. And these defensive and conservative considerations may push them toward expansion and conflict as surely as any crusading messianism.
If one were to summarize the debate at this stage, then, it seems undeniable that the totalitarianism concept in its original form is in need of modification. But the attempt to substitute the authoritarian label has proved altogether misleading, and the other terms suggested are no better. Among those other terms I myself would include Hassner’s own “totalitarianism in decline” and still another that has been suggested, “failed totalitariansm” (Michael Walzer). In fact, it could be argued that if there has been a certain relaxation of domestic pressure in the Eastern bloc, this is a consequence of the triumph rather than the failure of totalitarianism; the opposition has been crushed, large parts of the population have been successfully indoctrinated, and in these circumstances there is no need for more drastic measures such as mass purges and executions. Still less is it clear why the Soviet Union and China should be regarded as failures.
If one wishes to stick to the totalitarian label (which I would favor for want of a better term), it ought to be stressed that present-day totalitarianism is mature, advanced, perhaps even rational, in contrast to the frenzied or sultanistic (Max Weber) totalitarianism of an earlier period—paranoiac in Stalin’s case, hyperaggressive in Hitler’s. Those who prefer another term are obliged to point out that they are referring by it not to old-style autocratic regimes like absolute monarchies or military dictatorships, but to a modern-type dictatorship, based on a full-control system run by the leadership of a political party using high-technology means of repression and indoctrination. They are referring, in other words, to totalitarianism.
As the totalitarianism debate among students of the Soviet Union and Communist affairs has more or less come full circle in the last thirty years, so a somewhat similar course has been run with regard to National Socialism. That debate began in the 1960’s, when a number of historians and political scientists, mainly German, whose anti-Nazi credentials were above suspicion, began to claim that the earlier interpretations of Nazism had been mistaken.6
Nazi policy, these scholars asserted, far from being monolithic and centralized, was frequently incoherent. Nor was it true that all power was concentrated in Hitler’s hands; the old social structures continued to exist and to be active under the surface. Nazi ideology, too, was less important than had commonly been thought; policy evolved as the result of an interaction between doctrine (ideology) and improvisation, the latter being triggered by all kinds of objective pressures and factors over which the Nazis had little or no control.
In short, if according to adherents of the totalitarianism model (as in Nazi mythology itself) everything in the country was done in a purposeful way, the machine ran smoothly, Hitler’s power was unlimited, and there were no serious conflicts among the Nazi leaders, according to the revised view Nazi Germany was ruled in a casual way, the machine ran anything but smoothly, Hitler’s power was quite limited, and underlings maintained their private empires virtually up to the very end. Some revisionists went so far as to describe the political structure of the Third Reich as “polycratic chaos”; others used less extreme formulations. But the general trend of the critique was unmistakable: like Stalin, Hitler had been a mere “authoritarian.”
Even the history of the Holocaust came in for radical reinterpretation. It was not denied that millions of Jews were actually killed, but it was argued that there was no straight line leading from Nazi ideology to the Holocaust (the so-called “linear thesis”), that there was no coordination and planned Nazi policy toward the Jews, and that the mass murder was not an aim that Hitler had set a priori. Rather, the Holocaust was a Flucht nach vorn, an endeavor to find a way out of a blind alley into which the Nazi leaders had maneuvered themselves. These leaders did not so much plan the Final Solution as more or less stumble into it: because many Jews had already been taken away, the others also had to be deported; since there was no place to resettle them, they had to be exterminated. And so one thing led to another, in considerable part by mere accident, and there was a cumulative radicalization of policy during the war which Hitler had neither foreseen nor planned.
The controversy between “intentionalists” (those stressing the impact of Nazi ideology on Nazi policies) and “functionalists” (or revisionists) has been part of a larger debate over the character of Nazi rule, and it is by no means over. Some of the points made by the revisionists are irrefutable, although they concern allegations never advanced by serious scholars. Thus, as the revisionists say, it is indeed physically impossible for one man, even the most efficient and hard-working leader, to control every aspect of life in a big country. No more than decisions concerning the organization of schools in Uzbekistan were made by Stalin personally did Hitler, who had no interest in economics in the first place, set the norms of production for the Upper Silesian coal industry. Although Nazi mythology, like Communist mythology, described the leader as omnipresent and omniscient, that was even less true in Germany than in the Soviet Union, if only because Hitler had only six years from the seizure of power to the outbreak of war to establish his control mechanisms, not enough time for a major endeavor of this kind. Once war broke out, everything was subordinated to the military effort, and tinkering with political and social institutions was discouraged.
Nevertheless, it is crucial for the understanding of totalitarian regimes to recognize that while not all decisions are actually made in and by the center, no truly important decision is made without the knowledge, let alone against the wish, of the leader. It is equally important to realize that while not all decisions are made by the supreme leader, all could in principle have been made by him.
Private empires and divergent interests existed in the Third Reich; people quarrel and try to expand their power wherever they work together. But without the good will of the leader, satraps lose their power base from one day to the next. Recent purges and reshuffles in the Kremlin show that nothing has changed in this respect. There is no justification for calling a society pluralistic simply because some of its leaders may disagree—or even try to kill each other.
“Functionalist” historians claim that “intentionalists” have taken at face value Hitler’s speeches, Nazi editorials, and Mein Kampf. In actual fact, they argue, Nazi ideology was never that important—and in any case, the Nazi regime like all others was subject to “routinization,” the iron law according to which revolutions lose their impetus through the passing of time, human nature, and the need to make concessions for various reasons. (Similar views have been expressed by revisionist writers in the Soviet field.) Yet this “law” hardly applied in Nazi Germany: as already noted, Hitler had only six years to make domestic changes, and in this period the trend was certainly toward radicalization rather than toward moderation. What would have happened if Germany had won the war is another question altogether, but in any case the “law” of routinization disregards some of the basic features of totalitarianism, in particular the fact that the power concentrated in a few hands is so great that it can be defeated only from the outside.
Functionalism puts excessive emphasis on “objective” social factors. It largely ignores ideology, it trivializes the crimes of dictators and makes them appear almost harmless. In the functionalist perspective, indeed, there seems little to choose between life in a dictatorship and a democracy; there as here people are born, go to school, work, and eventually die. Hitler in this view turns into a near-figurehead, a modern Hamlet unable to make up his mind and only half-aware of what is going on around him. So many other historical culprits, individuals as well as “structures,” have been found by the functionalists in their searches that any competent lawyer acting for Hitler and Nazism in the court of history could without great difficulty obtain a verdict of diminished responsibility by reason of extenuating circumstances. This kind of interpretation is a travesty of what really occurred.
Yet as in the field of Soviet studies, the functionalists, though they have enjoyed a vogue, have finally failed to displace the older understanding of the nature of Nazism. Stephen F. Cohen (in Rethinking the Soviet Experience) has invoked a parallel between the totalitarianism debate in Soviet and in Nazi studies:
Uncharitably, we might contrast the post-revisionist situation in Sovietology to that in Nazi studies, where a totalitarianism school also once prevailed. A major scholar in that field tells us: “Each new detailed study of the realities of life in Nazi Germany shows how inadequate the concept of totalitarianism is.”7
But in actual fact the debate over Nazism does not provide any comfort to revisionists in the Soviet field. Despite the anti-totalitarianism trend in recent German historiography, it would be difficult to think of a single major figure in the field willing to abandon the concept, and this applies even to those who for a variety of reasons find it not wholly satisfactory. The anti-totalitarianism upsurge has had less to do with the shortcomings of the concept than with the fact that it was politically inconvenient to a new generation of scholars and writers anxious to absolve the German past of its unique character and to see Nazism as just another variant of a general modern disease.
But intellectual fashions tend to change; a better gauge of opinion is to be found in the leading German scholarly review, Neue Politische Literatur (“New Political Literature”) which every few years features massive review articles on specific topics. In 1975 the review article on totalitarianism noted that the concept was on its last legs, in a “state of agony.” The 1983 article was entitled: “Renaissance of the Totalitarianism Concept?” There is reason to believe that by the next review, the question mark will have been dropped.
The debate over the character of Nazism is now mainly of historical interest. By contrast, the question of whether totalitarianism survives in the contemporary world and has a future remains one of the key issues of our time. Most proponents of the various “pluralistic” models, after all, have been driven (some openly) less by scholarly consideration than by a desire to prove that the Soviet Union is neither as evil nor as dangerous as the totalitarianism model suggests; others have been intent on finding a rationale for supporting or coopting Marxist revolutions in the Third World.
In other words, the crucial problem is not whether the Soviet Union or China or some Third World country can be made to fit into a concept, old or new, simple or elaborate, for purposes of classification. Definitions are never absolutely perfect, and classification, of great value in botany or zoology, is far more problematical in international politics. All democracies (like Tolstoy’s happy families) are alike, while tyrannies (like unhappy families) are tyrannies in different ways. The basic task is not to find ingenious formulas but to reach a deeper understanding of the essential character of certain political regimes, and the direction in which they are likely to develop.
This much we can say after thirty-five years of analysis and discussion: in the Soviet Union no dissent will be tolerated which will endanger the perpetuation of the regime and the hold of the leadership. Basic political reform (or revolution), which is possible in an authoritarian set-up, is not possible under the Soviet system—not, at least, in the short or medium-range perspective. In this sense, the Soviet regime is still totalitarian, but that does not mean, as the exiled Soviet philosopher Alexander Zinoviev has asserted, that it will last forever. Everything is subject to the law of change, and in circumstances which no one can foresee today the Soviet Union might several decades from now begin to transform itself. Even in the shorter run there might be some economic reforms, overdue in any case, and the resistance to some harmless Western fashions, intellectual or sartorial, might cease.
But there are no cogent grounds for believing that either economic reform or the introduction of rock music will give major impetus to a democratization of Soviet politics. If the “cult of personality,” the permanent mass purges, and some other specific features of the Stalinist regime have been abolished, or at least greatly reduced in scope, the reason is that these measures not only proved unnecessary to perpetuating the role of the party hierarchy, they actually threatened it. The party leadership has not forgotten that Stalin, after all, liquidated proportionately many more Communists than other Soviet citizens; no Communist in his right mind wants a recurrence of this.
Czarist Russia was not a particularly effective regime; it was run by a mere few hundred thousand officials and other pillars of society. But it still took three years of war in which the country suffered one defeat after another to overthrow czarist rule. The Communist party has many more cadres, and in modern conditions social and political control of the masses has become much easier—provided always that there is no split in the ruling stratum. This is the one mortal danger facing such a system, but there are millions of people in the Soviet Union who have a vested interest in the survival of the present order, and who would go to great lengths to prevent its break-up. Nor should one assume that the Soviet people are themselves seething with discontent. They may complain and grumble, but the majority cannot envisage a different regime. In this Zinoviev has a point.
The prospects in the Third World seem brighter. Most of these countries are dictatorships, but except, precisely, for the Communist regimes in China, Cuba, Vietnam, and perhaps a few others, they have not yet reached a stage of social, cultural, and technical development in which totalitarianism can be successfully imposed; there is no political party or ideology to provide control and cohesion. True, a few non-Communist regimes have moved in a totalitarian direction—Egypt under Nasser, Syria under Assad, and Iraq under Sadam Hussein. The hold of the leaders in these regimes is quite strong owing to the great effectiveness of the political police and tight control over the officer corps. But political police and army alone do not make for totalitarian rule; these regimes usually stand and fall with the person of the leader, and once he disappears anything can happen. Seen in this light, such regimes are authoritarian; the changes that have taken place in a totalitarian direction are not irreversible, not even in the short run.
As for that other contemporary phenomenon, radical nationalism combined with fanatical religious belief à la Khomeini, its resemblance to traditional despotism—which was often quite durable and lasted for long periods—would still appear much greater than to modern totalitarianism. Thus, in a long-term perspective there may be reason for cautious optimism so far as the more extreme forms of repression in those countries are concerned—though this is far from predicting a trend toward freedom there.
In Eastern Europe, and possibly in China, there is also the chance of an evolution, however slow, toward some modern version of bureaucratic autocracy. At least such a development is conceivable there. Where it is not conceivable in the foreseeable future is in the Soviet Union. There, given the past, given the need to maintain the legitimacy of the regime against the enemies allegedly threatening it from without, and given the fear of freedom among rulers and ruled alike, czarist-style autocracy, however much updated, must seem as inappropriate as Wilhelminian rule would have been in Germany in the 1930’s. Something more effective is needed, and (until the day that fundamental change takes place) the word for that something is totalitarianism.
1 Oxford University Press, 222 pp., $17.95.
2 These bear comparison with the basic features of totalitarian dictatorship listed by Carl Friedrich in the 1950's: an ideology; a single party typically led by one man; a terroristic police; a communications monopoly; a weapons monopoly; and a centrally directed economy. This scheme was criticized, not without justice, for a variety of reasons: the economy under Nazism and fascism was never under full state control; history seems to show that while fascism needs a single leader, Communism can also do with a collective leadership headed by a primus inter pares; etc. Bracher's list is shorter and simpler.
3 “Beyond Totalitarianism,” in 1984 Revisited, edited by Irving Howe (Harper & Row, 1984).
4 See, for example, A. Schifrin in Totalitarian Democracy and After, International Colloquium in Honor of Y. Talmon (Jerusalem, 1984).
5 “Le totalitarianisme vu de l'Ouest,” in Totalitarianismes, edited by Guy Hermet (Paris, 1984).
6 One of the first American protagonists was Edward N. Petersen, The Limits of Hitler's Power (1969).
7 James Joll, the source quoted by Cohen, is a major scholar but not in the field of totalitarianism.