A classical dictatorship is not the same as a totalitarian state. Merriam-Webster defines a dictatorship this way – “The meaning of dictator is a person who rules a country with total authority and often in a cruel or brutal way.” However, there are few examples of one person in complete control. There is a group of people behind the scenes in almost all cases. Some people call this the “deep state.” The process that a classical dictatorship goes through is different from that of a totalitarian state. In a classical dictatorship, the dictator will eliminate the opposition until no one is left to challenge him. He will become less aggressive to demonstrate to the people that he is a good leader.
In a totalitarian state, the opposite happens. Once the despot eliminates the opposition, he is the cruelest. Josef Stalin’s rise to power in Russia in the 1930s is an example. Author Edmund Wilson (1895-1972), in his magnum opus book, To the Finland Station, describes events that led to the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Finland Station is a railroad station in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Station was the destination of a sealed boxcar with one passenger, Vladimir Lenin. Lenin had fled Russia to escape from Czar Nicholas Romanov. The Western Powers knew that he would spearhead a revolution by transporting him back to Russia. When Lenin died in 1924, Josef Stalin replaced him, one of the most ruthless men who ever lived.
By 1930, Stalin had solidified his power and started his large-scale reign of terror, which led to the death of 80 million people. His worst atrocities occurred after he had eliminated all credible opposition. In a totalitarian state, when the despot kills all potential competition, that is the time for extreme atrocities. Despots always need new victims. Under Stalin, the first victims were the Bourgeoisie, the owners of the means of production. After the Bourgeoisie came the Kulaks, these were prosperous peasants, people who lived in two-story houses and owned more than 8 acres of land. Then came the Jews, then came Communist Party leaders, then came military generals, and so on. These people were loyal supporters of the movement. In a totalitarian state, people who wholeheartedly accept the official narrative, the most dedicated supporters, will be faithful to the point of their destruction. Totalitarian states eventually cannibalize themselves.