Dictators are not born as ruthless adults. They are born as innocent children. They are someone’s son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter. They are born like all other children, with the potential to be loved. Knowing that, it is hard to fathom just how Adolf Hitler, of Germany, and Joseph Stalin, of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, became two of the cruelest totalitarian dictators of the twentieth century. This essay will analyze their rise to power and address the political, economic, and social conditions that allowed for such a totalitarianism takeover.
Even though from a young age, they may have received rationed love from their mothers, their fathers were as absent and nonchalant from their lives as the ocean is from the desert. As young men they were both poor and had a variety of negative social issues that affected their growth and development as confident people. Joseph Stalin was born in Gori, Georgia in 1878. He was bullied because as a boy he had had smallpox that left scars on his face. He was an only child, born to a laundress and a shoemaker. His father was an alcoholic, who beat both his mother and him. It is evident that he was brought up in a violent environment, which most likely contributed to him being a violent dictator, later on in his life. Hitler, who was born in Austria, in 1889, was the fourth of six children born to his father and his third wife. He, like Stalin, had a father who was physically and emotionally abusive towards his wife and his son. In addition, three of Hitler’s siblings died in infancy but when his youngest brother, Edmund, died, he became a sad and isolated boy. As they grew older, both Hitler and Stalin developed intimidating personalities. They lacked empathy, kindness, and genuine self confidence. They were cruel, ruthless, narcissistic dictators. By analyzing the ways in which Hitler and Stalin rose to power, light is shed on how two seemingly innocent boys developed into dictatorial monsters who gained a blind and fanatical following.
As a young man, before WWI, Stalin read Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and became interested in the revolutionary movement, to overthrow the Russian monarchy.
He became an underground political agitator and took part in labor demonstrations. He was arrested and imprisoned many times and eventually was exiled in Siberia. He later married and had a son who died when he was older. Stalin’s first wife died of typhus so he remarried the daughter of a Russian revolutionary. They had two children that were later left motherless after their mother committed suicide. Hitler was also a young revolutionary and he eventually married as well, although at a much older age and for only 40 hours. (History.com Editors, 2009)
He lost both parents at a young age and ended up living in a homeless shelter. He wanted to study art but was rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna. He was strongly influenced by the anti Semitic and strong German nationalist culture that was prevalent in Austria at the time. The chaos, poverty, and unhappiness that both Hitler and Stalin lived as children continued to follow them as they got older. Both of these periods in their lives played a very important role in shaping their leadership styles. They did not have much control over their young lives and they were both abused. In their rise to power, it is interesting to note that they became the abusers and the controllers.
Just as dictators are not born as ruthless adults, they also don’t become authoritarian rulers overnight. They evolve over time when the existing social, political, and economic conditions are in turmoil. Such was the case when both Hitler and Stalin were interested in acquiring power. In both the USSR and the Weimar Republic, the economies were very depressed and there was wide unemployment. Weimar Germany tried to recover economically after WW1 but because of the war, the treasuries were drained. They had a 70 year old president who was a war hero, but who did not know how to rule. The people were used to a monarchy and not a democracy so they did not know how to function in a democracy. There were too many political parties that were sharply divided and could never reach consensus which, in turn, did not allow the government to function efficiently. Similarly, the government of the USSR was in disarray because Vladimir Lenin, its ruler, was dying with no apparent heir.
These factors made it easier for Hitler and Stalin to assume power. Neither man was elected. They were both appointed or supported by the previous governments. This came about because they both placed people in strategic positions that would guarantee their ascent to power. or they manipulated idealistic policies of democracy. In the case of Hitler, President Hindenburg of the Weimar Republic felt pressured to grant the title of Chancellor to Hitler. By doing this, Hitler passed the Enabling Act which gave the government the power to ignore the newly formed democratic constitution. With this move, Hitler acquired absolute power. In order to rule his country with no restraints, Stalin exiled Leon Trotsky, his rival and the assumed heir. He too, was then free to rule with no restraints. They promised to create new countries and better the lives of its citizens but this, too, was manipulative. What they really wanted was to rule unquestioned and with no limits. They did not believe in democracy. However, here is one place where they differed. Hitler was completely anti communist while Stalin’s basis of government was Communism. They both used forceful, secret government police known at the SS in Germany and the KGB in the USSR. Anyone who defied them was sent to a concentration camp or executed.
In order to industrialize the USSR, Stalin replaced Lenin’s new economic policy with five years plans. In order to stimulate Germany’s economy, Hitler used public work projects, grants to private construction firms, and a massive rearmament program in order to put the country back to work and end the depression. A difference in their labor policies was that Stalin encouraged women to form part of the workforce while at the same time continuing with their duties at home. Hitler, on the other hand, decreed that women could only be employed domestically. They had a very important job in procreating white Aryan children for the Third Reich, the name of the German Empire under Hitler. In order to encourage their people to work for the good of the nation, both dictators used a platform of ideology, national pride, national honor, and traditional militarism. They effectively used impassioned speeches, mass communication, rallies, and propaganda.
Many people did agree with their policies and did feel genuine national pride. Initially, in the USSR, people were anxious to industrialize their country and join the modern world. Hitler’s young maid, Elizabeth Kalhammer, was proud to work in Hitler’s house. Many of those in the youth groups in Germany were eager to sacrifice for their country. They were young, naive, and motivated. If, however, the citizens did not agree with the policies, there were other ways of making them comply. Neither dictator shied away from using force, fear, repression, secret police, scapegoating, and coercion to get maximum cooperation.
Were it not for their damaged personalities that collided with the dire political, economic, and social conditions that existed in their countries at the time, Stalin and Hitler, could have been the leaders that their countries needed. Some of their policies and ideas were good and sound. They had opportunities to better their countries and to truly instill positive national pride. Ultimately, however, they were blinded by power. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Lord Acton, 1887) Hitler and Stalin got the power they craved but millions of people paid the price.