Joseph Stalin

Start Free Trial

Dictators use the following four techniques to gain and maintain power: indoctrination, force and terror, use of scapegoats, and propaganda. How did Stalin and Hitler use these techniques?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Indoctrination—The Nazis and the Communists presided over totalitarian dictatorships. This meant that every single aspect of life was controlled by the state. The best way of doing this was to ensure that everyone was indoctrinated with the dominant ideology. In Stalin's Russia, this was done, for example, through massive campaigns to encourage workers to be more productive. It was believed that this would make people more committed to socialism and bind them more closely to the regime.

The Nazis created the Hitler Youth and the League of German Maidens to instill boys and girls respectively with the regime's ideology. It was important for the Nazis to shape young people's minds, to separate them from their parents, and to teach them how to think, act, and behave.

Fear and terror—For those who did not accept Nazi or Communist rule, fear and terror were the order of the day. The Nazis established a system of concentration camps for their political opponents and, later, for the Jews. The secret police, the Gestapo, encouraged people to spy on anyone who did not fit into society. Law and justice were nothing more than a sham, and punishments were brutal and excessive.

Under Stalin, a network of forced labor camps called gulags was set up to punish those deemed a threat to society. The vast majority of people sent to the gulags were wholly innocent of the charges made against them, and arbitrary arrest and imprisonment were widespread. Terror in the Soviet Union took on momentum all of its own. Even those most fanatically devoted to the regime could find themselves being tortured, shot, or sent to the camps. Stalin had inherited an apparatus of terror from Lenin, but his paranoia took it to the next level, ensuring that no one, no matter how senior they were in the Party or the state, was safe.

Propaganda—The Nazis were highly skilled at using propaganda to promote themselves and their policies. Hitler understood the importance of using the relatively new technology of radio to reach the widest possible audience. Cinema was also an important medium for spreading the Nazi message, and propaganda films in the Third Reich were elaborate affairs, often with lavish production values.

Stalin, like Hitler, developed something of a personality cult. Pictures, statues, and busts of the dictator were everywhere in the Soviet Union. The official government newspaper, Pravda, consisted of almost nothing else but massively exaggerated paeans of praise to Stalin's monumental genius. If one read Pravda, one could be forgiven for thinking that Stalin was some kind of god. He was certainly treated like one.

Scapegoats. According to Nazi propaganda, the Fuehrer was always right. If, therefore, there were any problems in society, then the blame had to lie elsewhere. Long before they came to power, the Nazis believed that the Jews were responsible for every kind of misfortune, from the spread of international Communism to causing the Great Depression. Achieving power made no difference to this fundamental article of Nazi faith. The Jews were always presented by the regime as working behind the scenes, pulling the strings to destroy Germany, both economically and politically.

Kulaks were peasants in the USSR considered relatively well-off. In a Communist society in which everyone was supposed to be equal, this was dangerous. Stalin presided over the comprehensive reform of Soviet agriculture, forcing peasants into collective farms that would be run for the good of the state. The system proved disastrous and led to widespread famine and suffering. As it was thought impossible for Stalin to be wrong about anything, it was necessary to find a scapegoat for the regime's failings. The charge of "kulak" was made against anyone in the countryside who showed the least opposition to the policy of collectivization, irrespective of whether they had much wealth to speak of.

The same principle was used to account for the failures and inefficiencies of Stalin's rapid industrialization policy. Whatever went wrong with the system—chronic shortages, the breakdown of machinery, failure to fulfill overambitious production targets—could be blamed on deliberate acts of sabotage. The "wreckers" responsible for such alleged acts were subjected to mock trials, and the most outrageous of charges were laid against them. So-called wreckers were accused by the regime of being in league with Stalin's domestic opponents, often under the catchall heading of Trotskyites. Failing that, they were supposedly in the pay of a hostile foreign power, such as the United States or Britain.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles


Stalin indoctrinated the young using education. He used classrooms to spread his version of Communism among students by exposing them to Communist information and further grouping them into Communist groups which would in the future join the Communist party.

Hitler developed several levels that were used to indoctrinate children and this was mandatory for the young ones. They would join the Young Folk at 10 years and proceed to Hitler Youth at 15, then to Labor Service at 19. By this time most of the youths were fully indoctrinated.

Fear and terror

Hitler used auxiliary policemen called Sturmabteilungen (SA) to impose a state of fear among his opponents who were mostly beaten up or killed arbitrarily.

Stalin used fear and terror to enforce his policies as exemplified by his forceful removal of Trotsky from the government and eventually leading him to exile and finally arranging his murder.


Hitler used the Jews as his scapegoat this is because he needed someone to blame for the failing economy. He also used a variety of anti-Semitic myths that were already historically entrenched in the European society to garner support for his ideology.

Stalin used both the Kulkas (landowning peasants) and professionals as scapegoats. He targeted them in order to ensure that his ideology resonated well with the poor who were the majority.


Stalin's use of propaganda is seen when he tries to portray himself as a close ally and possible heir to Lenin. He even hides one of Lenin’s testimonies about his leadership (Lenin believed Stalin was arrogant and rude, making him unfit for leadership).

Hitler's use of propaganda is seen when he established the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda whose aim was to communicate Nazi information to the public. The major topics of propaganda included Jewish subversion, discrimination against ethnic Germans in East Europe and the Bolshevik threat.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both of these men used force and terror to try and control people. Stalin mostly in his own country and against those who spoke out against him and his policies. Hitler used force and violence against the Jews and anyone who tried to help the Jews.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Dictators must build up support from below.  One method of indoctrination in Nazi Germany was the Hitler Youth Program.  There was no better way to unsure a generation of support for Hitler's leadership than to welcome in the children who usually feel invisible to the adult world and tell them they where important and that they were the future.  He shaped the mindsets of thousands of children, and by extension, many of their parents.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

For one example, both Stalin and Hitler used scapegoats.  Hitler, of course, used the Jews.  Stalin used people like the kulaks and like the fictitious "wreckers" who were accused of causing most of the problems when things went wrong.

Of course, both used force and terror by imprisoning opponents or just killing them.  They both had secret police for this task.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team