Stage 5: Purges, Genocide, and Total Control

Using the crisis of stage 4 as an excuse, the totalitarian government now seizes absolute control over the lives of its citizens. The regime overcomes the enemies of stages 3 and 4. It begins brutally enforcing its “utopia” and ideology on the populace. This stage also sees the greatest atrocities committed against the populace because resistance to the totalitarian regime has been crushed. The people are defenseless and demoralized. Nothing stands between the regime and its victims. This stage involves mass killings as the regime liquidates any remaining enemies while seeking to control every detail of citizens’ lives.

During the latter stages of the French Revolution, the Committee of Public Safety received dictatorial powers to defeat anyone who opposed the revolutionary government. During 1793–94, the CPS eliminated rival revolutionary groups before passing a law that suspended citizens’ rights to a public trial or legal assistance and gave the jury only two options, acquittal or death. The result was horrifying: throughout France, three hundred thousand suspects were arrested, seventeen thousand were executed, and about ten thousand died in prison or without trial.

But it was nothing compared to the Red Terror and Joseph Stalin’s purges. The party used the attempted assassination of Lenin as justification for intense persecution of its enemies. Tens of thousands of people became victims, as discussed in Richard Pipes’s The Russian Revolution. But Lenin’s handiwork was only a precursor to Stalin’s “purges” of political enemies. Historians are divided on just how many people Stalin killed, but estimates reach as high as sixty million.

Estimates of the people killed by Hitler and his Nazi Party vary as well. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the figure stands at seventeen million, but only God knows for certain.

In addition to carrying out mass killings, established totalitarian regimes seek to control everyday life through measures like censorship, propaganda, gun control, and internal passports.

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