One doesn’t need to search for long to discover that words like “totalitarian,” “fascist” and “political extremist” are all the rage nowadays. Most often they serve as little more than personal attacks, rather than accurate descriptions of the forces at play. To call an opponent a “fascist” is one of the most groan-inducing clichés of the modern times. While much can be said about each of these words, and what they actually mean, it is worth noting that while “fascist” has a very particular political and historical meaning, and the phrase “political extremism” is extremely relative, the word “totalitarian” literally has no meaning at all.
One could say that, like “fascist,” it has become a meaningless buzzword, but that would be incorrect, since unlike fascism it was always a meaningless buzzword meant to smear any system that doesn’t follow the liberal capitalist viewpoint, as we shall see below.
Where Does the Word Come From?
The word “totalitarianism” was brought into the popular consciousness by scholar and author Hannah Arendt in her first major work, the 1951 volume The Origins of Totalitarianism. The idea behind this book was that communism and fascism were both somehow connected, and formed the same sort of society, which was called the “totalitarian” society.
In Arendt’s hands, the major differences between the USSR and Nazi Germany disappeared. Her theory suggested that two completely different political and social ideologies can be considered fundamentally the same when compared with the author’s own—in this case, liberal capitalism, which is the only ideology put forward as not “totalitarian.”
Since then, media puppets, right-wing intellectuals and the ruling class in general have made great play with the word “totalitarianism,” a word that one hears blaring from every television.
The Theory of “Totalitarianism” is Unrealistic & Unscientific
Essentially, the term “totalitarianism” is not a scientific term, but simply a tool. Its place in history was on the side of capitalism when it sought to find a way to equate the USSR with Nazi Germany.
In fact, Arendt’s theory of “totalitarianism” has never measured up in the real world. There has never been a so-called “totalitarian” society, not even under the fascist dictatorships of Hitler and Mussolini, nor could one ever realistically exist.
It is quite odd to read Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, because she has no understanding of how socialism and fascism work and grossly distorts them both.
For example, she offers literally no explanation as to why the USSR and Nazi Germany were on opposite sides during World War II, nor why Nazi Germany invaded the USSR, nor why the USSR entered the conflict even before the United States, or why 22-27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis.
From the way she describes it, the Nazis and the Soviets should have been on the same side against the capitalist and liberal nations, putting aside for a moment the fact that fascism is actually a form of capitalism—a fact that, of course, she also ignores.
Did World War II, the single greatest conflict in all of human history, merely happen as a result of personality conflicts on the part of Stalin and Hitler? The fact that communists and fascists were on opposite sides and bitterly fighting against each other—all this is nowhere in the “totalitarian” analysis. All that it seen is a chauvinist attempt to mush everything together.
The Theory of “Totalitarianism” is Hypocritical
The word “totalitarian” is used often in place of, or as a supplement to, the word “dictatorship,” which actually does have a meaning. A dictatorship, or a rule by a single class unrestricted by any laws, can exist, such as the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is called “totalitarian.” However, liberal democracies are dictatorships of the bourgeoisie, and they are not called totalitarian.
The criteria often given by those that have a definition of “totalitarian” are:
- All facets of society are controlled directly by the dictator and the government through force; the dictator dominates all areas of life without exception.
- A highly militaristic society which glorifies the military and the police, as well as other armed forces of the dictator and the ruling government.
- There is no separation of powers; judiciaries, legislative and executive are all controlled by the dictator or the ruling party.
- The dictator or the party controls the thinking of the masses.
- There is no freedom of speech or religion, no freedom of the arts and no freedom of the press except that which glorifies the dictator.
- Political repression is practiced on those that dissent from the dictator or ruling party.
- Torture of incarcerated persons and political prisoners.
- Forced or compulsory military conscription.
- Subordination of the individual in favor of the dictator and the ruling government.
What is notable about these above criteria? All of them also apply to liberal democracies. One only has to replace “dictator” with “capital” and “the government” with “capitalism.”
The last point here is the most controversial, since most loose definitions of totalitarianism come from the idea of the individual being subordinated to the collective. Individuals within capitalism are subordinate to money and the means by which it is made, in this case, by work. What a person can do within those societies depends on his or her ability to pay money and to work. Do scholars call capitalist countries totalitarian? No. It is word which serves no useful purpose except in propaganda.
Why Is Our Society Not Considered “Totalitarian?”
Money, profit and capital rule our society absolutely. Every aspect of our lives is subject to the will of capital. There can be no freedom of speech or religion, no freedom of the arts, and no freedom of the press insofar as capital exists. You can say anything you want, but without capital no one will hear you, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what will happen when you say something that becomes a threat to the existence of the ruling class. Take a look at what happened to the Black Panthers.
Take a look at what happened to Fred Hampton, George Jackson and Anna Mae Aquash. Take a look at Kent State, where the National Guard murdered unarmed student protesters.
You can worship whatever god you want, but does your religion actually free you from capital? You can draw, paint, sing, and create whatever you want, but if it doesn’t make a profit, how will you continue, and how often will you be able to do it? And if it is not in the interests of capital, how will you get an audience, and how big will that audience be? If the ruling class doesn’t like what you have to say, you will be silenced or more likely, never heard at all.
If art is not in the interests of capital, it will not be published, especially if it goes against those interests. And the press is, by and large, owned by capital itself.
The whole definition put forward of both totalitarianism and “political extremism” only has value within the camp of capitalist ideology. The concept is simply an invention of reactionary intellectuals in the NATO bloc.