“The maintenance of power was dependent on the successful control of opposition.” Discuss with reference to two authoritarian leaders.

The importance of controlling opposition is an integral aspect of maintaining power, particularly within authoritarian regimes. The essence of an authoritarian regime lies in its monopolistic control over the instruments of power, often accompanied by the suppression of political dissent. The leaders chosen for this discussion will be Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union. These leaders effectively illustrate the role of controlling opposition in the maintenance of power, while also revealing distinct methods utilised in different political and social contexts. 

Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany began with his appointment as Chancellor in 1933. The fire that engulfed the Reichstag building just weeks after Hitler's appointment provided a pretext for the decimation of political liberties and the beginning of the systematic control of opposition. The Reichstag Fire Decree, enacted on the grounds of preventing a communist uprising, enabled Hitler to arrest political adversaries, particularly Communists and Social Democrats. Hitler then manoeuvred through the political landscape to pass the Enabling Act, effectively granting him dictatorial powers. Following this, Hitler instituted a policy of Gleichschaltung, or 'coordination', aiming to Nazify all aspects of German society. This policy involved purging non-Nazi elements from key institutions and organisations. Hitler also orchestrated the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, eliminating the leaders of the SA, who posed a potential threat to his rule. However, the control of opposition extended beyond the political sphere. Hitler sought to shape the German cultural landscape through censorship and propaganda. The infamous book burnings of 1933 and the stringent control over media and education served to suppress dissident voices and cultivate a conformist society. Historian Ian Kershaw, in his biography of Hitler, argues that Hitler's ability to control opposition was paramount to his maintenance of power. His strategies combined legal mechanisms, outright violence, and societal manipulation to maintain a firm grip on power. 

Meanwhile, Joseph Stalin's control over opposition in the Soviet Union provides a comparison. Stalin's rise to power in the years following Lenin's death in 1924 involved a complex power struggle within the Communist Party. Stalin effectively manoeuvred his way to power, isolating and removing potential rivals such as Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev. Stalin's infamous Great Purge from 1936 to 1938 was a brutal campaign against perceived opposition. It resulted in the arrest of millions, with many executed or sent to Gulags. The Purge extended to the armed forces and party cadres, effectively eliminating any potential threat to Stalin's rule. Stalin also sought to control opposition through the use of propaganda, censorship, and a personality cult. His image was ubiquitous, and state-controlled media portrayed him as the father of the nation and the successor of Lenin. The control of education and youth organisations served to indoctrinate Soviet society and suppress dissident voices. Historian Robert Conquest, in his book "The Great Terror", argues that Stalin's control of opposition was a key aspect of his rule, citing the Great Purge as a pivotal moment. However, Conquest also acknowledges the role of propaganda and societal control in maintaining Stalin's power. 

In conclusion, the control of opposition was crucial to the maintenance of power for both Hitler and Stalin. Both leaders utilised a combination of methods, including legal measures, violence, and societal control. However, the specific methods and the extent of their use were shaped by the distinct political and social contexts in which these leaders operated. These cases illustrate that while the control of opposition is a common characteristic of authoritarian regimes, the methods of control can vary significantly, reflecting the unique circumstances and personal characteristics of each leader.