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How did Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin use indoctrination and economic control?

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Indoctrination is an essential element in any totalitarian regime. The reigning ideology must be absorbed by as many as people as possible in order to consolidate the power of the state. And the best way to do this is catch them young. All three of these dictators understood that clearly, and proceeded to ensure that young people were taught from an early age that The Duce, The Fuhrer, and Comrade Stalin were always right and must therefore be obeyed without question. The most infamous example of this was the Hitler Youth organization, which German boys were forced to join and in which they were thoroughly indoctrinated with Nazi ideology.

In Italy, Germany, and the USSR both children and adults alike were subjected to nonstop propaganda. The Fascist, Nazi, and Communist messages were constantly drummed into people through a variety of media—films, newspapers, radio broadcasts, posters. Depending on the message that needed to be conveyed, propaganda could be crude or sophisticated. But in all cases, the purpose was the same—to control what people thought, did, and said.

The respective regimes differed slightly in their approach to economic policy. Hitler was notoriously indifferent to economics. What mattered to him was that the economy should serve his policy goals, especially in relation to German rearmament and preparations for war. According to Nazi ideology businessmen and industrialists should be masters of their own house; independent labor unions were banned, with workers left without means of redress for any grievances they would have over pay and conditions. Under the Third Reich, owners of businesses and factories had to work under constraints like everyone else, and they had to deal with a corrupt, unwieldy bureaucracy ; nevertheless, they enjoyed a far greater degree of autonomy and power than their enserfed workforce.

In Fascist Italy, Mussolini presided over a system called corporatism in which the economic life of the nation was organized on the basis of corporations or large interest groups, representing sectors of the economy such as trade, industry, commerce and agriculture. Although workers were also represented by corporations, in reality, the disparities of power between the respective interest groups were huge, with employers given considerable control over their workforce. As in Nazi Germany, there were no independent labor unions to protect Italian workers from exploitation. Once again, the elitist ideology of Fascism ensured that the economy was to be organized on the basis of a top-down approach.

According to classical Marxism, socialist revolution would only come about in a country where advanced capitalism had taken hold. Only then would the myriad contradictions of the capitalist system develop to such an extent that the conditions for its overthrow would be met.

Yet in Russia, this hadn't happened. The Revolution of 1917 had occurred in a country where the vast majority were peasants and where capitalism was still very much in its formative stage of development. So what Lenin and the Bolsheviks effectively did was was to turn classical Marxism on its head by carrying out the revolution first, and only then developing an industrialized economy.

Stalin was acutely aware of the enormous gap in economic productivity between the Soviet Union and the Western capitalist powers. To that end, he embarked upon a hugely (over) ambitious project of mass industrialization, to be a carried out in a series of Five Year Plans. But as the USSR lacked the know-how, the resources, and the capital needed to get this mammoth project off the ground, Stalin's industrialization policy was beset by inefficiency, waste, and cruelty on a massive scale. Unrealistic targets came down from central planning boards; more often than not, they were unfulfilled. Administrators and bureaucrats often fiddled production figures to make it look like their targets were being met.

Although the Soviet Union did eventually achieve its goal of becoming a fully industrialized state, it was at an enormous human cost. But as far as Stalin was concerned, the most important thing was that it consolidated the control of the Communist state over the economy, and by extension over the people as a whole. In the Soviet Union economic control went hand in hand with political control.

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Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini used similar but not identical means to indoctrinate their citizens and institute economic control. For all three men, a cult of personality was key to the indoctrination of adults and children. Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin commissioned artwork and literature promoting their ideologies. The leaders themselves were held up as father figures. Some of the artwork from the time suggests that these men wanted to be seen as religious saviors rather than just leaders.

In the Soviet Union, Stalin used a series of five year plans to industrialize the Soviet economy. The first five year plan (1928-1932) focused on improving Soviet agriculture at the expense of the kulaks, landowners in the Ukraine who had opposed Stalin. Due to Stalin's polices, millions of kulaks starved to death during this period.

Though Hitler and Mussolini did not control their economies to the extent found in Stalin's Soviet Union, it was not difficult for them to wield their economies towards war. The reason goes back to the Russian Revolution in 1917. Countries in Europe feared that Communist revolutions would spread. Fascism and Nazism were anti-Communist parties that advocated the preservation of capitalism. Once Hitler and Mussolini took power, military spending combined with public works project similar to the US's New Deal programs led to an increase of support from the business sector.

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