In Europe, many single party rulers emerged in 19th century. Joseph Stalin in Russia and Adolf Hitler from Germany, were two of many dictators which made up the European history and it’s obvious that without them, whole European History, and in fact history of the whole world would be totally different from what we know.
Since both of these dictators established their power, the European history became the result of perfect blend of leader’s personality and events which happened at that time. It is more likely that leadership took a minor part, and other factors (circumstances) are the one which actually allowed these leaders to seize power.
Stalin: A charismatic leader of a manipulator?
Joseph Stalin became the next leader of single party states in USSR after Lenin died. He was a “grey blur” whom no one ever notices his presence before he came to power. Lenin was a charismatic leader whom worked together with Trotsky to win the October Revolution. Many people thought that Trotsky was the one who was going to replace Lenin. So, was Stalin’s personality much better than Trotsky and that’s why he became the next dictator of Russia?
Lenin clearly mentioned in his testament in 25 December 1922 that “Stalin is too rude..”. Bukharin also mentioned at a secret meeting with Kamenev in July 1928 that ” He (Stalin) changes his theories according to whom he needs to get rid of next.” He was not like other leaders who emerged to the surface with charismatic character. Some historians agree that it was his ‘manipulation skill’ and ‘cunning personality’ that brought him to power.
He was also the one who caused other Politburo members to hate Trostky. He exaggerated when Trotsky didn’t attend Lenin’s funeral and made other members to think that Trotsky was not loyal. He was a politically skillful man who had the power to control the members of the party. This helped him to become the dictator of USSR.
I.Deutscher mentioned that “..that Stalin, the witful and sly but shabby and inarticulate man in the background, should be his rival.” And just like I. Deutscher, who gave a revisionist point of view, many revisionists historians argue that the events happening during his time was the real cause of his power seizure.
Luck helped Stalin as well. Major events which happened during the time of his rise to power was that the Lenin’s testaments were not read to the members of the politburo (because Stalin’s wife was Lenin’s secretary), Sverdlov, a great organizer, died of Spanish flu and gave Stalin the chance to become one step closer to Lenin, formation of ‘faction’ by Trotsky and his supporters which allowed Stalin to remove them with ease, and death of Lenin. Luck was mentioned as one of the circumstances as well, as M.McCauley argued that “Stalin had luck on his side.”
Then, what about Collectivisation? It was a part of Stalin’s plan to increase military, to achieve self-sufficiency, to increase grain supply, to move towards socialist country and to improve the standard of living. Stalin took into consideration that agriculture was the main source of money for the country and implemented collectivization. But he also had to face unexpected result of it: peasant revolution. Peasants were forced to sign agreements and many ‘kulak’ peasants were kicked out of the country. They felt no protection, no sense of living, and no purpose of continue being farmers. They burnt crops, tools, and houses rather than handing it in to the government. Stalin had to do something, because it was an unexpected situation. He backed off and waited for the farmers to calm down.
This reinforces the revisionist perspective that Stalin was good at dealing with problems or events occurring at that time. If his ruthless, tough personality was used to fight back the revolution, there would be a massive massacre happening at that time. He meticulously thought about delaying the collectivization and the result was satisfactory: By the end of February 1930, half of peasant household had been collectivized.
Thus, it can be concluded that Stalin’s personality did bring him to become a dictator, but the circumstances were the ‘decisive’ factors which made Stalin the dictator of a single party state in USSR.
Hitler: The central controller or a clever situation adaptor?
Adolf Hitler has a different characteristic from Stalin. He was an Austrian, who served the German military during WWI. Different from Stalin whom had clear Marxist ideology but no clear principle, he had vague ideology of Nazism but he had clear principles in which became the fundamental base of his leadership and they way he ruled the single party state. There were anti Semitism and racial supremacy, Lebensraum, Anti-democracy, and Fï¿½hrerprinzip.
Intentionalist historians argue that everything happened was a part of Hitler’s ‘master plan’ to establish his power. He had ambitions, for sure, and he was enthusiastic and capable of achieving it. Hitler was a great leader; he was a great ‘elocutionist’, a great manipulator, a great organizer and a great strategist. Otto Strasser mentioned in his book, Hitler and I, in 1940 that “..and he is promptly transformed into one of the greatest speakers of the century.” This is considered reliable because other than written in 1940,during the time period, Otto Strasser was close to Hitler. His points might be biased, but those points give clearer picture of Hitler rather than ‘estimation’ and ‘prediction’ of historians. Also, the chaos faced by the Nazi party when he was not there (during his imprisonment due to the Munich Putsch) showed his power to control the party.
W.Brustein, for example, argued that “The Nazi power did not gain its phenomenal mass constituency because of its emphasis on xenophobia but rather because the party designed a series of innovative programs…Xenophobia alone could not have brought the Nazis to power.” (The logic of Evil, Pg.184). His intentionalist perspective strengthens the argument that everything was under the control of Hitler.
On the other hand, structuralist historians have their own argument. They argue that blaming Hitler as the one to blame is a ‘selfish act’ and the focus of judgment should be the structure of Third Reich, the political and economic condition at that time, and major events outside Germany (the mood and the manipulation.) I think that this school of thought is more reliable, because it looks the Third Reich and Hitler’s establishment of power through a broader point of view, not focusing on one person. I.Kershaw argued in his book, Hitler, that “..in bringing Hitler to power, chance events and conservative miscalculations played a larger role than any actions of the Nazi Leader himself.” (Pg38).
There are some major events to the rise of Nazi power. Munich Putsch is one of them. The successful take-over of power by Mussolini in 1922 encouraged Hitler to do the same political power seizure. This failed though, due to insufficient military support. Despite disappointing outcome, this gained him much political advantages. He won respect from many right-wing nationalists. This was a perfect ‘starting point’ of seizure of power.
Great Depression is another example. Death of Gustav Stresemann, the only democratic politician, brought a great impact on Hitler’s rise of power. After few years of ‘Great Inflation’, Germany faced ‘Great Depression.’ This was an ‘opportunity’ for Hitler, and he clearly knew how to deal with it. Other than that, Nazi party was really organized, contrasting the weak young Weimar Republic at that time. People lost faith in the government and supported Nazi party which seemed to have a clear idea and a sense of direction. He gained most of the support during this period. This could happen due to the perfect timing, perfect events, and perfect leader with perfect personality.
This point is substantiated by A.J.P. Taylor in his book, The Course of German History, first published in 1945. “The Germans were enthusiastic for a demagogic dictator and engaged on a war for the domination of Europe.” This reflects the condition at that time, where they needed someone to direct them out of the chaos and confusion, since they doubted the reliability of the government. Nazism was an emotional response to a crisis happening at that time.
Luck also followed Hitler on the way towards his chancellorship. The 5 years imprisonment changed to 10 months sentence, weakening of Weimar Republic, and Papen. Papen was the one who recommended Hindenburg to put Hitler in the chancellorship position. If Hindenburg sticked to his decision to make Papen as the chancellor, no matter how good Hitler’s future planning was, won’t have any meaning.
There were also other dictators which started to gain power in Europe. Stalin-USSR, Mussolini-Italy and Franco-Spain due to WWI. His rise to power was lighted by other dictator’s success which encouraged him to do the same. It’s arguable that his personality played the minor part of the whole play.
Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler were two of dictators in Europe. Even though they had a different background and ideology, some common links could be found in them: They had ambition and they tried their best to make the country ‘better’. Their personality was one of the elements which build up the European history that we know today, but it is strongly argued that there were other factors or the circumstances which actually brought the rulers of single party states to power.