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“Compare and contrast the internal policies of Mussolini and Stalin

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Mussolini and Stalin were two of the most significant dictators of the 20th century. Both aimed to establish a totalitarian system but their different characters and circumstances in their respective countries resulted in two very different approaches in obtaining their goals.

At the beginning of Mussolini’s era, Mussolini was supported by the Liberals in parliament. With their help he introduced strict censorship and altered the methods of election so that in 1925-1926 he was able to assume dictatorial powers and dissolve all other political parties. Skilfully using his absolute control over the press, he gradually built up the legend of “The Duce”, a man who was always right and could solve all the problems of politics and economics. Italy was soon a police state. With those who tried to resist him, for example the Socialist Giacomo Matteotti, he showed himself utterly ruthless. But Mussolini’s skill in propaganda was such that he had surprisingly little opposition.

At various times after 1922, Mussolini personally took over the ministries of the interior, of foreign affairs, of the colonies, of the corporations, of the army and the other armed services, and of public works. Sometimes he held as many as seven departments simultaneously, as well as the premiership. He was also head of the all-powerful Fascist party (formed in 1921) and the armed Fascist militia. In this way he succeeded in keeping power in his own hands and preventing the emergence of any rival. But it was at the price of creating a regime that was over centralized, inefficient, and corrupt.

Stalin, much more radical than Mussolini, secured his position as a leader through a series of political killings, which reached their peak in the political purges of the 1930s. In the purge trials, many old Bolsheviks including Kamenev, Zinoviev, Aleksey Rykov, and Bukharin, were accused, pleaded guilty, and were executed. Not only political opponents of Stalin were killed but also members of the secret police, e.g. Commander G.G. Yagoda, and high ranking army officers, notably Marshal Tukhachevsky. The terror of the purges reached a climax under the Yezhovshchina, the period (1937-38) when N. I. Yezhov directed the secret police. As the purges drew to a close (1939), the efforts of the secret police were concentrated on eliminating those elements of the population that might be disloyal in case of war. The Soviet system of forced labour camps, the Gulag, was hugely expanded during this period. Many million innocent people where sent to these camps in Siberia or in the north of Russia.

Comparing the two dictators, it is apparent that Stalin made his dictatorship absolute by liquidating all opposition within the party while Mussolini in contrast, used the help of others to become a powerful leader. Stalin killed millions in his quest for power Mussolini was by comparison less brutal and more manipulative in his use of propaganda to manipulate his opponents and the people as a whole.

The two dictators also favoured widely different economic policies. Mussolini, who never had a great interest in economics, thought that a Corporate State* would not only increase his power but also strengthen the economy and therefore would turn Italy into a “respectable power amongst the other European countries” (Heinemann Advanced History). However, the Corporate State, never “really developed beyond appearance” (Handout from Mr. Underwood, Fascist Economy) this was because the corporations undermined any alternative workers forum and in doing so ensured that industry remained in the hands of owners.

Italy continued to remain dependant on other countries throughout Mussolini’s era. The main reason for this was that Italy only had very limited reserves of raw materials such as coal, iron or oil. This lack of raw materials led to trade agreements being made with Germany, in 1938 which in turn began Italy’s dependence on Germany.

Stalin’s economic policies differed from Mussolini’s in a number of key areas.

“Stalin implemented industrial expansion as rapidly as possible through the Five-Year Plan, which was launched in 1928. It was designed to industrialise the USSR in the shortest possible time and, in the process, to expedite the collectivisation of farms. The plan was ruthlessly applied and focused on heavy industries, in particular the development of iron and steel, machine-tools, electric power and transport. Stalin justified these measures when speaking in a statement made in 1931 by saying, “We are 50-100 years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in 10 years. Either we do it or we shall be crushed.”” (My essay “Compare and contrast the economic policies of Lenin and Stalin and evaluate their success”)

Finally, one has to discuss how Stalin and Mussolini influenced and changed the society of their country. Stalin’s period was marked with fierce attacks against the Russian Orthodox Church, and all other religions. Churches were pillaged and priests killed. State education was fiercely anti-religious. Stalin’s hate towards religion was based on Marx’famous statement: “Religion is the opium of the people”.

Further features of Stalinism include an emphasis on the family nuclear unit, and parents were encouraged, and forced to face up to their parental responsibilities. Another notable feature of the era was the total lack of regard and disrespect shown to the Russian intelligentsia, and many writers who did not conform to ‘Stalinist ideology’ were censored or even killed or sent to prison camps. Others were forced into emigrating, such as Solzhenitsyn (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich). “The Stalinist era also saw the Soviet government proclaim the virtue of patriotism and national tradition, which ironically, served as the justification for the brutal, ruthless, criminal regime, which Stalin headed” (essay by Mr. Lepak (January 11, 1996), Stalin’s Years Of Terror, from cheathouse.com)

*[ “In theory this was a third way between communism and capitalism with workers and owners sharing the running of private companies with government advice and support]. (Handout from Mr. Underwood, Fascist Economy)

Mussolini made great use of propaganda, whether at home or abroad, and here his training as a journalist was invaluable. Press, radio, education, films-all were carefully supervised to manufacture the illusion that fascism was “the doctrine of the 20th century that was replacing liberalism and democracy”.(Mussolini 1932) The principles of this doctrine were laid down in the article on fascism, reputedly written by himself, that appeared in 1932 in the Enciclopedia Italiana. In 1929 a concordat with the Vatican was signed, by which the Italian state was at last recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. It also acknowledged Catholicism as the state religion.

Under Mussolini’s dictatorship, the parliamentary system was virtually abolished. The law codes were rewritten. All teachers in schools and universities had to swear an oath to defend the Fascist regime. Newspaper editors were all personally chosen by Mussolini and no one could practice journalism that did not possess a certificate of approval from the Fascist party.

Stalin and Mussolini were clearly following the same idea, a totalitarian system.

Mussolini never had sufficient power to control the state as tightly as Stalin. However, Mussolini did have enough power to change the economy, Italian society and also the political system. Stalin, on the other hand had the power and strength to achieve his goal of an absolute totalitarian system. He changed radically the society and economy but by liquidating his opponents he did not change the political system, he extinguished it.


Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isaevich, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,

London: Mass Market Paperback

Hayes, Paul (1992), Themes in Modern European History 1890-1945

London: Routledge

Philips, Steve (June 2000), Heinemann Advanced History: Stalinist Russia

London: Heinemann Educational Books – Secondary Division

Cheat house, essays and papers for students, http://www.cheathouse.com ,

Accessed 4 May 2004

Evans, Benedikt (March 2004), essay: Compare and contrast the economic policies of Lenin and Stalin and evaluate their success, Impington (March 2004)

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