Political and social ideologies drive totalitarian government styles and the way in which they function. One totalitarian government might focus on nationalism and racism, while another might focus on the economy and the corporations that divert wealth and control labor. Still another might focus on eliminating the concept of the individual in favor of the concept of the society.
Totalitarian governments, which have their origin in the 20th century, have the following features, one leader who controls all of government, military power, and society through a single, massive political party that is closely interrelated with the administration of the state. There is a monopoly over military and law enforcement, mass media and mass communications. There is central control over the economy and there is terroristic policing, with gross, crude and inhumane violence as a form of social control.
Nazi-ism was the unique brainchild of Hitler and, through their combined mastery of propaganda and the mass media, Goebbels. While there was a mastery of the propaganda component, there was a struggle in dealing with the Prussian military leadership for quite some time, and the economic/administrative complex was a bit of a mess. The most well known aspects of Nazi-ism were the massive, gross and crude brutality of the police and military, the racist component of the ideology, and the use of communications to identify and to take out dissidents. Science, along with a slave based industrial workforce, which is not often mentioned in relation to totalitarian government, became a good part of the military/economic complex and almost an obsession. Hegemony and world domination was also a destructive, but obsessive function of Nazi-ism.
Fascism was more about Mussolini’s communication skills as a former journalist and about propagandizing his facist ideologies. In execution, however, Mussolini did a loose form of corporatism as part of his economic program, did not use the military or law enforcement for draconian actions against the masses. The Catholic Church and the monarchy were powers behind Mussolini’s rise and fall, making a unified, sole political party less of a factor. Other than the fascist ideology, Mussolini’s government serves more as a way to compare totalitarian governments than an example of a classic totalitarian example.
Fascist ideology included the concepts of recognizing the state instead of individuals. It is a corporatist ideology, meaning that there is a contract between and regulation by the organizations and groups of society, with social representation by the organization, not the individual, as the outcome. In terms of economy, fascism strives for the middle road between free wheeling individualism and lassiez-faire capitalism and severe control through state socialism.
Socialism goes for direct worker control and even ownership of the means of production and resource allocation. Rewards are based on individual merit and productivity as opposed to Capitalist exploitation of labor to concentrate resources and wealth to the privileged few. With some socialists advocating nationalization and others advocating state control within the boundaries of a market economy. There are many cases where socialism comes about as a reaction to industrialization, with calls for more power to the workers, less concentration of wealth, more equitable distribution of wealth, including through welfare programs, and less private ownership combined with public authority.
Communism is a political party and comprehensive social ideology that goes along with all kinds of governments, from totalitarian to liberal democracies. When communism is the only party that is allowed, then totalitarian governments have formed, as with Stalinism, who in many cases was more interested in building the power and influence of the communist party and ideology than in focusing on any other component of government. Under communism, rejection of private ownership, ending inequitable distribution and control of resource allocation, and group representation of the individual are features. Labor, as exploited to benefit private owners of the means of production, combined with rewards that are based on productivity and merit, along with general welfare support are features of communistic ideology and group power through party representation.
Capitalism is a form of economic system where the means of production are privately owned. Market forces are not controlled by governments, and are lassiez faire as a result. There are generally imbalances between power of owners and labor in terms of wages that are based on contracts or merit or whether the terms are exploitative of labor. Combined with hard economic and social stratification of the rights and privileges of classes and castes, the wide differences in wealth and poverty, and the volatility of the uncontrolled market forces, capitalism can be quite volatile, indeed.
While the ideology behind capitalism is that the markets, along with individual productivity and ability result in anyone being able to achieve wealth, the reality is that capitalist systems are a volatile and ever changing series of imbalances between government intervention and regulation, labor group or individual power and contract, and corporate or private owner’s ability to be free of restriction solely in the interests of making profit. In true capitalism, there is always some form of imbalance between the three and there is always some form of trying to achieve balance.
Gilbert Pleuger, “Totalitarianism”, New Perspective Vol 9, No 1