The Rise of Dictatorial Regimes

By: Shelby Pittman, Stephie Teffeteller & Mackenzie Sork

The Rise of Dictators

By 1919, Italy, the Soviet Union, Germany, and many other European states had adopted dictatorial regimes. These regimes took both old and new forms. One of these new forms was called the modern totalitarian state.


Totalitarian State- a government that aims to control the political, economic, social, intellectual, and cultural lives of its citizens


Through the use of mass propaganda techniques and high-speed modern communication, totalitarian states conquered the minds and hearts of its people. They were led by a single leader and a single party. They rejected the idea of limited government power and the guarantee of individual freedoms.

Fascism in Italy

Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, established the first European fascist movement in Italy in the early 1920s. As a political philosophy, fascism glorifies the state above the individual by emphasizing the need for a strong central government led by a dictatorial ruler. In a fascist state, people are controlled by the government, and any opposition is suppressed.


As a result of the severe economic problems that Italy faced, inflation grew, and both industrial and agricultural workers staged strikes. As part of his Fascist movement, Mussolini created bands of what he called "Blackshirts" which were used to attack socialist offices and to break up strikes. Mussolini won thousands of converts to fascism through the use of his patriotic and nationalistic appeals.


In 1922, Victor Emmanuel III, the king of Italy, gave in and made Mussolini prime minister after Mussolini and his Fascists threatened to march on Rome. Mussolini used his new position of authority to create a Fascist dictatorship.


Mussolini created a secret police force, the OVRA, whose purpose was to watch citizens' political activities and enforce government policies.


The Italian Fascists tried to exercise control over all forms of mass media, which was used to spread propaganda. This propaganda was intended to mold Italians into a single-minded Fascist community.


Mussolini never achieved the degree of totalitarian control seen in other states ruled by Hitler and Stalin. The Italian's fascist party never completely destroyed the country's old power structure. However, Mussolini's regime did recognize the sovereign independence of a small area within Rome known as Vatican City. In return for the large grant of money that Mussolini gave the Catholic Church and for recognizing Catholicism as the "sole religion of the state," the Catholic Church urged Italians to support the Fascist regime.

Benito Mussolini: Biography of Fascist Italy's Dictator

A New Era in the Soviet Union

The Reign of Vladimir Lenin

Lenin established his New Economic Policy (NEP) which was a modified version of the old capitalist system. The NEP allowed retail stores and small industries (with fewer than 20 employees) to be privately owned. Although, the NEP gave the government control of heavy industry, banking and mines. Lenin , along with the communists, created The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or the Soviet Union. The NEP saved the Soviet Union from complete economic disaster but was intended to be only temporary.
Vladimir Lenin Biography

The Reign of Joseph Stalin

Stalin’s real name was Joseph Dzhugashvili. He joined the Bolsheviks in 1903. He was a member of the Politburo which was a committee that had become the leading policy making body of the communist party. He had a personal rivalry between him and Leon Trotsky. He took power after Lenin. In 1924, Stalin held the bureaucratic job of party general secretary. He appointed regional, district, city, and town party officials. His bureaucratic job was one of the most important positions in the party. He used his post to gain complete control of the communist party. Eventually he took on the role of being the dictator over the Soviet Union. During his reign, he was one of the greatest mass murderers in human history, killing as many as 25 million people through his deliberate executions and policies. The Stalinist Era marked the beginning of an economic, social and political revolution. Stalin ended the New Economic Policy in 1928 and lanched the first Five Year Plan.

Mini BIO - Joseph Stalin

Stalin's Five Year Plan

The first Five Year Plan was a set of economic goals for a five year period. It emphasized maximum production of capital goods that were devoted to the production of other goods (such as heavy machinery) and armaments. The plan quadrupled the production of heavy machinery and doubled oil production. The social and political costs of industrialization were huge. There were few provisions made for caring for the expanded labor force in the cities. As a result, millions of workers and their families lived in unsanitary and unsafe conditions Real wages decreased as well and strict laws were put in place to limit where workers could move. The government used propaganda to keep workers happy but peasants began to resist as a result of Collectivization. This was a system in which private farms were eliminated and the government owned all of the land. The resistance caused the government to step up Stalin's program. The only concession Stalin made to the peasants was that collective farm worker was allowed to one tiny, privately owned garden plot. To achieve his goals, Stalin strengthened his control over the party bureaucracy.

Authoritarian States in the West

A number of governments in the western world were not totalitarian but authoritarian. Although these states did adopt some totalitarian features, like use of police powers. However, the main concern of these authoritarian governments was not to create a new kind of mass society, but to preserve the existing social order.


Some of these governments were found among the new states of eastern Europe. After the war, it seemed that political democracy would become well established. Austria, poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary all adopted parliamentary systems, but soon were replaced by authoritarian regimes.


Parliamentary systems failed in the majority of eastern European states for many reasons. The states had little tradition of political democracy, and they were mostly rural and agrarian. The majority of the peasants were illiterate, and much of the land was still dominated by large landowners who feared the peasants. In addition, ethnic conflicts also threatened these countries.


Powerful landowners, the churches, and even some members of the small middle class feared land reform, communist upheaval, and ethic conflict. This caused these groups to look towards an authoritarian government to maintain the old system. Czechoslovakia, which had a large middle class, a liberal tradition, and a strong industrial base, maintained its political democracy.


A political democracy also failed to survive in Spain. Francisco Franco, led Spanish military forces that revolted against the democratic government in 1936. This was the start to a brutal and bloody civil war.


Foreign intervention complicated the Spanish Civil War. The Fascist regimes of Italy and Germany provided Franco's forces with arms, money and men. The Spanish republican government was also aided by 40,000 foreign volunteers and by trucks, planes, tanks, and military advisers from the Soviet Union.


The war ended when Franco's forces captured madrid in 1939. Franco established a dictatorship that benefited landowners, businesspeople, and the catholic clergy. Franco's dictatorship is an example of a regime, because it favored traditional groups and did not try to control every aspect of people's lives. This regime was authoritarian rather than totalitarian.


Hitler used the Spanish Civil War as a chance to test new weapons of his revived air force.



Essential Questions!

1. What was the main goal of totalitarian states?

2. How did the tactics Lenin used to run the Soviet Union compare to those of Stalin?

3. How did Czechoslovakia maintain its political democracy?