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   Course Title    Introduction to the 20th Century Totalitarianism
Lecturer    Vsevolod Bashkuev
Institution    Komsomolsk on Aamur State Pedagogical University
Country    Russia


The origins and nature of the 20th century totalitarianism have been the subject of continuous academic scrutiny for more than sixty years. It has been commonly accepted that the 20th century tyranny evolved into a much more complex phenomenon, compared to that of earlier times. The totalitarian rule expanded geographically to embrace nearly a half of the planet with the population well over a billion. The tyranny extensively used technological achievements of the century to serve its purposes: dictatorships created modern arms arsenals to control the population and wage aggressive wars against their rivals; new media technologies were used to control masses through brainwashing and indoctrination; surveillance network penetrated all strata of society. However, it is ideology that became by far the most dangerous weapon of totalitarianism. Virulent and versatile, totalitarian ideas enabled the 20th century dictators to almost fully determine mass behavior of its subjects, and inspired fear of their power to completely subjugate the individual.

Nowadays, at the turn of a new millennium, the study of totalitarianism has not lost its scholarly and educational significance. Though the quintessential totalitarian regimes of the century, Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany have ceased to exist, the heavy legacy of tyranny extends far into the 21st century. It can be traced in the ethnic conflicts in the former USSR and Yugoslavia, the blossoming of political extremism, attempts at restoration of dictatorships throughout the vast spaces of the NIS and the former Soviet bloc and many other manifestations. At the same time, the new generation in many post-totalitarian societies is largely reluctant to consider these dangerous tendencies as guises of totalitarianism, and, very often, is prone to its virulent ideas. This is caused, in our opinion, by the lack of general knowledge on the history of totalitarianism.


This course has been designed to introduce undergraduate students to the contemporary study of totalitarianism in an effort to provide them with the background knowledge of how a totalitarian system is formed, its main features and techniques of ruling the minds of the people. In this course we will attempt to look at a totalitarian leader as an individual, as well as to study the aspects of life within a totalitarian society. Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany will be in the focus of this course, though wider parallels will be made where possible. The choice of these two totalitarian states is based on the popular academic viewpoint that Stalin’s USSR and Nazi Germany share a unique combination of the structure of power, politics and the organization of economy and society, which sets them aside from all earlier, contemporary, and succeeding dictatorships.

Taking into account the specialization of our department, we not only expect the students to learn the historical, political and social aspects of totalitarianism, but also train them in reading authentic scholarly literature in English, enhance their research skills, stimulate interest in humanitarian scholarship and develop analytical abilities. Therefore this course will include an equal share of individual research work and creative assignments, which will both contribute to the development of the aforementioned skills and improve the level of English proficiency – the main requirement of a foreign languages department.


Stimulation of interest for independent research is one of the key objectives of this course. Therefore, the course will not be based on a conventional lecture-seminar scheme. Rather, it will be a combination of colloquia and discussion sessions, for which all students should prepare themselves independently, using the course reader and additional information from various sources. Special attention will be paid to research techniques and public presentation of the research results. The course includes the following components:

a) READINGS: course readings have been carefully selected to expose the students to a variety of different historical perspectives. They combine chapters from textbooks to provide background historical information, chapters from several monographs of the key students of totalitarianism, and scholarly articles. Brief timelines are included into the course reader. We will also enrich our reading material with other types of sources, including (where possible) memoirs and primary documents.

b) FILMS: in this course we will watch two films – one documentary and one feature film. The first film is Turksib (Vostok-Kino, dir. by Turin, 1929). This is a black-and-white avant-garde documentary telling about the titanic construction of the Turkestan-Siberian Railroad during the first Five-Year Plan. The second film is Burnt by the Sun by N. Mikhalkov (1996). Winner of the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Film, this movie chronicles the effect of the purges on a Russian family. In addition to shedding light on how the purges might be carried out, this film reflects the politics of the glasnost era. Though not particularly informative from a historical point of view, this film provides a good background for discussion, which will follow each film session. The students will also be asked to write a reaction paper for each film, following the guide we used in the first semester for Social Aspects of War in the 20th Century course

c) ASSIGNMENTS: this component of the course includes a number of assignments, which will help train the students to use modern research techniques and methods. The students are required to produce a book report (a summary of a book they have read on one of the topics within the course, book choice agreed with the instructor) and an annotated bibliography of books that they will use to prepare their oral presentation.

d) DISCUSSION MODERATION: each student will be responsible for preparation of a synopsis of discussion topics for a seminar. The synopsis should be based on readings for each particular seminar in the course schedule and the students should distribute the topics together with the course instructor during the first class.

e) ORAL PRESENTATION: each student will prepare a 20-minute oral presentation on the topics within the course. The topics should be discussed with the course instructor in the beginning of the semester.



March 9, 2001


Course objectives, distribution of syllabi;

  1. Distribution of topics for discussion moderation;
  2. Possible topics for oral presentations are suggested;
  3. Contextualization of the course (a 50-min. lecture outlining the main concepts in the contemporary study of totalitarianism accompanied by a very brief overview of the historical background of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany).


March 15, 2001

Stalin and Hitler: Comparable Despots, Comparable Dictatorships?

Readings: Tucker, Robert C. "The Dictator and Totalitarianism". World Politics, Vol. 17, Issue 4 (Jul., 1965), pp. 555-583;

Rieber, Alfred J. "The Marginality of Totalitarianism".

Kershaw, Ian. "Working Towards the Fuhrer". In Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison. Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp.88-106.

This session will focus on the individual traits of dictators and the way those traits were reflected on the systems they created.


March 23, 2001

Totalitarian power: how did the system work?

Readings: Suny, Ronald G. "Stalin and His Stalinism". In Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison. Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp. 26-52.

Lewin, Moshe. "Bureaucracy and the Stalinist State", ----. Pp. 53-74.

Session structure:

  1. discussion of the readings (student moderator);
  2. book report (student reporter).

This session will focus on the functioning of the command-administrative system, created by Stalin in the USSR in the 1930s –1950s.


March 29, 2001

Totalitarianism and propaganda.


Tucker, Robert C. "Stalin and the Uses of Psychology". In World Politics, Vol. 8, Issue 4 (Jul., 1956). Pp. 455-483

Session structure:

  1. discussion of the readings (student moderator);
  2. book report

Annotated bibliography is due


April 5, 2001

Totalitarianism and propaganda.


Cassinelli, C.W. "Totalitarianism, Ideology, and Propaganda". In The Journal of Politics, Vol. 22, Issue 1 (Feb., 1960). Pp. 68-95.

Session structure:

  1. discussion of the readings (student moderator);
  2. book report (student reporter);
  3. discussion of the film TURKSIB (reaction papers are due)


April 13, 2001

Totalitarianism and economy.


Suny, Ronald, G. Chapter 9: "The Stalin Revolution", Chapter 10: "Stalin’s Industrial Revolution". In The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States. Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. 217-232; 233-251.

Session structure:

  1. discussion of the readings (student moderator);
  2. book report;


April 19, 2001

Totalitarianism and terror.


Viola, Lynne. "The Second Coming: Class Enemies in the Soviet Countryside, 1927-1935". In J. Arch Getty and Roberta Manning, eds, Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives, pp.65-98.

Suny, Ronald G. Chapter 11: "Building Stalinism", pp.152-168.

Session structure:

  1. discussion of the readings (student moderator);
  2. book report;
  3. Discussion of BURNT BY THE SUN (reaction papers are due)


April 27, 2001

Totalitarianism and war.


Bartov, Omer. "From Blitzkrieg to Total War". In Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison. Cambrigde University Press 1997. Pp. 158-184.

Bonwetsch, Bernd. "Stalin, the Red Army, and the ‘Great Patriotic War’". In Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison. Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp. 185-207.

Session structure:

  1. discussion of the readings (student moderator);
  2. book report;


May 11, 2001

Everyday totalitarianism.


Nolan, Mary. "Work, Gender, and Everyday Life in Twentieth-Century Germany". In Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison. Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp. 311-342.

Suny, Ronald S. Chapter 12: "Culture and Society in the Socialist Motherland". Pp. 269-290.

Session structure:

  1. discussion of the readings (student moderator);
  2. book report;


May 17, 2001



May 25, 2001



May 31, 2001

Wrap-up discussion


This course is an optional sign-up course for 4th year students. However, those students who sign-up for this or any of the four offered special courses are required to be present. The final result is usually a credit. You are required to attend ALL CLASSES (unless your instructor is informed of your absence prior to the class) and submit all assignments on time in order to receive a credit.

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