TO THE FIRST EDITION
“Totalitarianism” is one of the most controversial terms of the twentieth century. First used by Italy’s democratic critics in the mid1920s to describe the new Fascist regime, it gained currency in AngloSaxon countries during the 1930s in reference to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as well. It became extremely popular between the signing of the NaziSoviet NonAggression Pact in August 1939 and the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, a time when the two dictatorships were virtual allies. However, once the Soviets became enemies of the Nazis, and especially after the American intervention into the war in December 1941, the term suddenly became a political embarrassment and disappeared from public discourse. With the opening of the Cold War in the late 1940s and 1950s, following the Soviet occupation of East Central Europe, the term reached a new peak of popularity only to fall into disfavor during subsequent decades when relations between the Soviet Union and the West improved.
Fading memories of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Benito Mussolini made “totalitarianism” an anachronism at best, and a polemic at worst, loosely applied only to a country’s most diabolical enemies. Scholars from the 1960s to the 1980s were particularly loath to use a term that could label them as unreconstructed cold warriors and preferred the term “authoritarian” to describe the Soviet Union of their day. Members of President Ronald Reagan’s administration, however, were eager to revive the term after his election in 1980. The biggest catalysts for changed thinking, however, resulted from the opening of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself in 1991. Interestingly enough, those people who had actually lived in totalitarian states were not the least reluctant about using the term once they were finally free to do so.