“Full authoritarian control could not be achieved.” With reference to two states, to what extent do you agree with this statement?

 The concept of authoritarian control is one steeped in complexity. It transcends the mere monopoly of power by a governing entity and delves into the intricate apparatus of state machinery, a reflection of political ideology, societal constraints, and human agency. This essay seeks to examine the extent of authoritarian control in two distinct states: the Nazi regime in Germany under Adolf Hitler (1933-1945) and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin (1924-1953). While both regimes are notorious for their stringent control mechanisms, there is a potent counter-argument that absolute control was, indeed, an elusive objective. By exploring the political, societal, and ideological structures of these regimes, this essay will present an in-depth analysis of their successes and failures in establishing full authoritarian control.

Hitler's Nazi regime is often cited as a paragon of totalitarian rule, marked by extensive state machinery and unbridled power. This claim is largely supported by the successful enforcement of the Gleichschaltung laws, which in effect dissolved political opposition and centralised power in Hitler's hands. Moreover, the Night of the Long Knives in 1934 demonstrated the regime's resolve to maintain power, highlighting its ruthless elimination of any perceived threats. The Enabling Act of 1933 also granted Hitler dictatorial powers, marking a significant shift towards full authoritarian control. Historian Ian Kershaw opines that Hitler's personality and charisma played a pivotal role in cementing Nazi control, asserting that his image as a "saviour" propelled the German populace to embrace Nazi ideology willingly. Indeed, the use of propaganda, combined with Hitler's public appeal, was instrumental in constructing a societal narrative that championed Nazi rule. However, while this does underscore the breadth of Hitler's influence, it fails to account for the latent but persistent opposition that punctured the illusion of total control.

Despite the ostensible totalitarian control, Hitler's regime was riddled with elements of dissent and resistance. White Rose, for instance, a non-violent resistance group comprising students and a professor from the University of Munich, disseminated leaflets criticising Nazi policies. The Swingjugend, too, rejected the Nazi ideology and rebelled against Hitler's Youth. Although these movements were ultimately suppressed, their very existence demonstrates the limitations of Nazi control. Furthermore, historian Detlev Peukert challenges the notion of full authoritarian control, arguing that the regime's influence was more chaotic and reactive than cohesive and omnipresent. Peukert contends that the Nazi regime was plagued by constant tension between various factions, suggesting an unstable power structure that belied the facade of complete control. This perspective not only adds nuance to our understanding of the Nazi regime but also challenges the traditional narrative of Hitler's absolute dominance.

Turning to Stalin's Soviet Union, the application of the Great Purge and the creation of the Gulag system certainly suggest an era of extreme authoritarian control. Stalin's policy of "Socialism in One Country" and his Five-Year Plans significantly transformed the Soviet Union, further strengthening his position. His consolidation of power was similarly brutal, eliminating opposition within the Party during the Purge. Historian Robert Conquest views Stalin's regime as an epitome of a police state, citing the extensive use of surveillance and coercion. However, Sheila Fitzpatrick challenges this view, arguing that despite the extensive control mechanisms, Stalin's regime was marked by considerable "bottom-up" activity. She asserts that the Soviet populace was not entirely passive and often exploited the system for their own ends, implying a degree of agency that undermines the idea of full control.

In conclusion, the assertion that full authoritarian control could not be achieved appears to hold significant merit. While both Hitler's Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union employed extensive state machinery and oppressive measures to establish control, the existence of resistance movements and societal agency within these regimes suggests that total control was indeed an elusive goal. While it is undeniable that these regimes managed to exert an impressive degree of control, the historical evidence indicates that their power was punctuated by pockets of resistance and dissent, challenging the idea of full authoritarian control. The arguments of historians like Kershaw, Peukert, Conquest, and Fitzpatrick enrich our understanding of these authoritarian regimes, reminding us of the importance of examining both the surface level and the underlying complexities when exploring the concept of control within a state.