Outline of this Article:
Step 1: Impede Freedom of Speech
Step 2: Remove the People’s Weapons
Step 3: Destroy Property Rights
Step 4: Eliminate Religion
Note: This piece is the second article in a series, organized as follows:
Part 1: How Free Peoples Become Enslaved
a. The ‘How to Rule Souls’ Playbook
b. How to Enslave a Nation (this article)
Part 2: How to Liberate Enslaved Peoples
a. Civil Disobedience: The Duty of the Moral Citizen
b. Revolution: By Any Means Necessary (not yet written)
When media pundits start speaking about how “freedom is dangerous”, one should be concerned. When government officials say you must give up your freedoms for the good of society, this is nothing other than an attempted power grab. This article aims to explain why.
Many believe that a democratic society cannot devolve into slavery. However, as long as people can vote away people’s rights, people can vote themselves away into slavery. Fear is often used to convince the masses to give up their rights, to sacrifice their freedoms in exchange for an illusion of safety.
Many Americans believe since they are free now, and because their country is built upon the Constitution, that such means their freedom is always guaranteed. This is not so; freedom is something to be vigilantly and jealously protected against any encroachment. In this article, I outline certain steps power-hungry regimes always take as they attempt a totalitarian takeover of the people. I focus on underlying principles using three case studies in the 20th century: the regimes of Lenin/Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. What is outlined here can be found in many more regimes, but I focus only on these three for the sake of brevity. Although these regimes have become almost stale from overuse as examples, they were the worst of the 20th century dictatorial regimes, and they all followed the pattern outlined below. In addition, much of this history of oppression, particularly under Lenin/Stalin and Mao, is being ignored in schools today.
If a tyrant is not supported by the people, a totalitarian takeover is very difficult. Thus, the takeover must be primarily psychological at first. It must also be gradual, in order to prevent awakening the sleeping dragon (the latent, enormous power unwittingly held by the masses) before it’s too late.
Whether you consider yourself on the right or on the left, tyranny should be a concern to all. The right may be the ones targeted today, but you can be sure that once society is purged of dissenting elements on the right, the dissenting left will then be targeted as well. Tyranny is a voracious fire, consuming everything it perceives as an obstruction.
Step 1: Impede Freedom of Speech
"Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech." - Benjamin Franklin
"Where books are burned, in the end people will burn." - Heinrich Heine
THE SOVIET UNION
When the Marxist Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917, one of the first items on their agenda was speech censorship. The same month they took power, a “Decree on the Press” was issued by the Council of People’s Commissar, the supreme executive authority of the Soviet Union. This decree made certain types of speech forbidden, especially the type that criticized or questioned their authority. They said speech such as this was “no less dangerous than bombs and machine-guns.”1 This was only the start, and censorship became more and more brutal until reaching its peak under Stalin in the 1940s. Not only was the physical elimination of his foes satisfactory, but he required also the written record purged of all traces, including photographs.
In 1921, the Soviet government created an agency to weaponize censorship: the Glavlit. This agency was responsible for controlling all books produced in the USSR, and decided which books were acceptable for publishing and which should never see the light of day. Anything deemed a threat to the Communist Party was purged and varied in nature, ranging from discussions of inflation, to grain harvests, to disease, and military operations. 2
The Nazis similarly found censorship critical to the implementing of their totalitarian take over. Heading the censorship effort in Nazi Germany was the infamous Joseph Goebbels (who happened to cited an American propagandist, Edward Bernays, as the source of his inspiration and propagandist knowledge) and his Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.
Goebbels understood that a combination of censorship and propaganda was essential to convince the German people of their need for the regime. The Nazis took over radio stations and newspapers immediately after taking power, both in Germany, and in any occupied countries. They shut down any which refused to blast Nazi propaganda. They controlled every type of media, from art, music, and theater to film, literature, and radio and turned them all into mouthpieces of the Nazi regime. They even made it a crime punishable by death to listen to foreign media sources.3
Among the great artists, authors, and intellectuals censored by the Nazi Regime were the following:
Vincent van Gogh
Fortunately, the underground press thrived in Nazi Germany and many cleverly sought to evade censorship by putting an “innocent-looking” cover and carefully editing their first and last pages to make the books seem to contain only innocuous material. This practice was so common it was given a name: tarnschriften.
As soon as Chairman Mao took over in October of 1949, he shut down privately owned media sources, and made it punishable to speak out against the regime. The Chinese Communist Party saw media useful only for transmitting the propagandist ideology of the regime. Mao explained his view of the media in the following statement:
“The role and power of newspapers consist in their ability to present the Party’s line, its specific policies, goals and work methods, to the masses in the most effective and rapid of ways.”
Intellectuals and journalists lived in fear of their lives until Mao died in 1976. Many were killed or “suicided.” To this day, vestiges of this censorship remain today in China, as the main media sources are under state control. However, independent journalists and bloggers have more freedom today than they did under Mao.
There were five phases of this censorship under Mao:
1949, Creation of the People’s Republic:
Coinciding with the announcement of Mao’s People’s Republic, privately owned media is shut down.
May 1956, the Hundred Flowers Campaign: Mao announces a “Hundred Flowers” campaign, with the stated intention of allowing more freedom of press and speech. He states: “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.” In this speech, he encourages journalists to criticize the regime, with the hope that this would help improve the regime. He states all topics would now be coverable, “agreeable or not”, including the discussion of both socialist and capitalist countries.
June 1957, The Anti-Right Campaign: Unfortunately, this period of openness does not last, as a year later Mao then initiates a counter-movement called the “Anti-Right campaign.” He accuses the right of exploiting the “Hundred Flowers” campaign in order to inflame tensions of class struggle. During this new campaign, 400,000 people, many of whom were journalists and intellectuals, are sent to re-education camps.
1958, The Great Leap Forward: During the Great Leap Forward, the state is officially given centralized control is the media, and the main theme they transmit through the media is class struggle. Reporters Without Borders states that, as a result of this, “grave misrepresentations of reality occurred, with millions of Chinese peasants dying of hunger because of one-sided press reports designed to ensure that industrial development was put first.”
1966, The Cultural Revolution:
The Cultural Revolution is initiated by a play entitled “Hai Rui” written by historian Wu Han. This play is declared heretical by the regime due to containing “implicit” criticisms of Maoism. The author is arrested and murdered three years later, with his wife soon after committing suicide (unknown if it was a true suicide or not). Their daughter ended up in a psychiatric institute, and also killed herself in 1976. The Maoist regime uses this play to launch mass repression against the media and journalists, forcing journalists to adhere to a personality cult of Mao. Any writer or journalist who expresses a fondness, whether implicit or not, for the “Old China” is “persecuted, humiliated, jailed, or murdered.”5
Step 2: Remove the People’s Weapons
“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”
- Patrick Henry
The most important reason for the Second Amendment is to defend against a tyrannical government. Mr. Biden recently presented an argument against this, saying:
“If you think you need to have weapons to take on the government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons." 6
However, one can merely point to the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Viet Cong in Vietnam to find relevant examples of why this point is irrelevant.
Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, military dictatorships almost always removed weapons from the people they intended to target shortly after assuming power. As a fresh and recent example, one of the first moves the Taliban did in mid-August 2021 once they took over in late July 2021 was confiscate the people’s weapons.7
THE SOVIET UNION
Mere months after taking power in 1918, the Council of People’s Commissars issued a decree entitled “On the surrender of weapons”, ordering the “propertied classes” to surrender any and all weapons. Those who didn’t faced a ten year prison sentence.
Under Stalin’s rule, the only ones in the Soviet Union permitted to own weapons were members of the military or privileged Party members. In a 1927 speech, Stalin made the following statement to great applause and voices shouting “Quite right!”:
“If the opposition disarms, well and good. If it refuses to disarm, we shall disarm it ourselves.”8
Between 1929-1953, millions of people in the Soviet Union unable to defend themselves, were murdered and many more severely persecuted by the regime.
Before Hitler came to power, the Weimar Republic had passed restrictive gun control laws which forced owners to register their weapons. Unbeknownst to them, this was the framework the Nazis would later use to search and seize the homes of Jews in order to confiscate their weapons. In 1938, Hitler passed a Gun Control Act. Though this Act loosened restrictions for German citizens in general, especially those affiliated with the Nazi Party, it forbade weapons ownership by Jews, communists, political dissidents, and other targeted groups. It wasn’t long after that that such targeted groups were then rounded up and sent to camps. Hitler said at a talk in 1942:
“The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty. So let’s not have any native militia or native police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order throughout the occupied Russian territories, and a system of military strong-points must be evolved to cover the entire occupied country.”9
In 1912, a law was passed in China that made illegal the possessing of a weapon without a permit. In 1957, after Mao Zedong took power, the law was made stricter and it then became illegal to manufacture, possess, or buy a firearm without government permission.10 In 1966, Mao set off the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in which hundreds of thousands (low estimates are hundreds of thousands; high estimates are 20 million.) were persecuted and massacred. 11
Step 3: Destroy Property Rights
THE SOVIET UNION
Beginning under Lenin during the Russian Soviet Republic, the “wealthy peasants” known as the “kulaks” began to be demonized. The goal in doing such was to take their property in order to collectivize it. As a result of the severe process called “dekulakization” from 1929-1932, more than 1.8 million peasants were separated from their land and 50 million hectares of “kulak” land was confiscated and then collectivized. Many of those were executed or subjected to severe conditions, such as famine and disease. Robert Conquest estimates that 5 million people died as a result of this process.12
Under Hitler, the ‘Aryanization’ of Jewish property began in 1938. This process removed property from Jews and gave it either to the state or to prominent Nazi Party members. In April of 1938, the Nazi official Hermann Goering issued a decree ordering Jews to register any property they had worth over 5,000 Reichsmarks. The goal was to remove Jews from German economic life. One Jewish conductor, Victor Klemperer, said in response to this decree:
“We have become so used to living in this condition of lost rights… that it hardly disturbs us any more.”
That same year, Jews were banned from owning businesses.
“The transfer of Jewish businesses to German hands gives the Party the opportunity to proceed with a healthy policy… It is the Party’s duty to ensure that the Jew does not receive an inappropriately high purchase price. In this way, Jewry will make reparation for part of the damage that it has done to the German people.”
From the period 1933-1945, more than $8 billion of Jewish property was stolen.13
Under Mao, property owners in general were targeted as a result of his Land Reform Movement. Landlords were murdered in mass by their tenants and their property redistributed to the state. Death toll estimates range from hundreds of thousands to millions. In 1953, “Agricultural Production Cooperatives” were created which transferred property from the people (in particular, the landlords) to the Chinese state.14
Step 4: Destroy Religion
Religion is a threat to any totalitarian regime because it is a source of values for the individual or the society which is not the state. Any values which come from any source other than the state is a threat to a totalitarian regime. Thus, it must either be eradicated, as in the Soviet Union and Maoist China, or rigidly controlled, as in Nazi Germany.
THE SOVIET UNION
Marxism is, at its very essence, atheist. Karl Marx said quite clearly and unambiguously:
"The first requisite of the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion."15
So naturally when the Bolsheviks took over, they embarked on a fierce anti-religious campaign from 1928-1941, targeting with especial care the Russian Orthodox Clergy, whom they believed to be a threat to communist ideology. They arrested both the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church and deported many of the clergy.
In Germany, though Jews and the Jewish religion were the targets of immense persecution, religion in general was not overtly banned. Indeed, many Nazi Party members claimed the Christian religion as their own. However, Hitler understood he needed to control religion, and in so doing, attempted the creation of a single “Protestant Reich Church”, that integrated all of Germany’s Protestant churches under one head. He also closed all Catholic institutions except those which carried out only religious functions. Thousands of Catholic clergy, nuns, and local leaders were arrested.
By seeking to control the ways in which a people worship, one destroys religion. As religious freedom advocate Roger Williams brilliantly stated:
“Forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God.” 16
Thus, any dictatorship which has used religion as a means to oppress has, in so doing, destroyed true religion.
Under Mao, the religious constituted a key part of the “enemies of the people”, and religious leaders were among those who suffered the greatest during his Great Leap Forward. Since the Maoist regime was founded on Marxism-Leninism, which is a philosophy founded upon atheism, the Maoist regime was also by necessity athiest. As the Maoist regime cracked down on people’s faith, they replaced personal religion with the state religion: the personality cult of Mao. Communist ideology replaced the spiritual. Jung Chang, author of a memoir detailing her experience under the Maoist regime, said that the state created “a people who had no thoughts of their own” through the deification of Mao. Those who wished to keep their faith regardless of the persecution were forced to worship in secret. However, it should be noted that all religions were not treated equally by the Maoist regime: each religion was treated according to its respective political utility or threat to Communist ideology.
Mao famously stated, “Religion is poison” and called it a set of “vulgar superstitions propounded by local tyrants for their own selfish ends.”17
Implicit in all of the steps above are also the following principles:
Divide and Conquer: Under Stalin and Mao, this policy manifested in class warfare. Under Hitler, it was of course the dehumanization, persecution, and genocide of Jews.
Purge Dissenters and Political Opponents: This was achieved under Stalin’s Great Purge, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and Hitler’s Operation Hummingbird (also known as the Night of the Long Knives)
Adherence to Ideology Above All Else: For Stalin and Mao, this was communism or Maxism-Leninism. For Hitler, this was loyalty to the Nazi Party. Totalitarian regimes do not allow for the sourcing of one’s values from anything other than the state.
Propaganda: The Soviets created their own censoring agency, the Glavlit, which was responsible not only for censorship but also for putting the right spin on every publication. Joseph Goebbels headed the Nazi Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, intended to flood the airwaves with Nazi ideology. Mao created a cult of propaganda around himself in which he was made into a heroic, flawless figure. Every Chinese citizen was expected to carry and daily quote from the Little Red Book, a selection of Mao’s quotes.
"Wise men say, and not without reason, that whoever wished to foresee the future might consult the past." Niccolo Machiavelli
There are many parallels to be drawn between the regimes outlined in this article, and what is currently transpiring today, both in the United States, as well as in the world. It is the hope of the author that we may act to vigilantly protect our liberty against any encroachment, for tyranny is often gradual. How much of our rights must we accept to be impeded upon before we understand the true nature of what is taking place?
“Decree on the Press.” Michigan State University. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/organs-of-the-press/organs-of-the-press-texts/decree-on-the-press/.
“Glavlit.” Encyclopedia.com. encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/glavlit.
“Nazi Propaganda and Censorship.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/nazi-propaganda-and-censorship
“The Engineer as Ideologue: Reactionary Modernists in Weimar and Nazi Germany.” JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/260329.
“Sixty years of news media and censorship.” Reporters Without Borders. https://rsf.org/en/reports/sixty-years-news-media-and-censorship.
“‘We will find you’: Biden signals crackdown on gun dealers who break the law.” CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/live-updates/biden-crime-gun-violence-speech-watch-live-today-06-23-2021/.
“Taliban in Afghan capital Kabul start collecting weapons from civilians.” Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-afghan-capital-kabul-start-collecting-weapons-civilians-2021-08-16/.
“The Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” Marxists.org. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1927/12/02.htm.
Hitler, Adolf. Hitler’s Table Talk, 1941-1944: His Private Conversations. 2000.
“Staring Down the Barrel: the Rise of Guns in China.“ The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB122394012224530655.
“How Many Died? New Evidence Suggests Far Higher Numbers for the Victims of Mao Zedong’s Era.“ The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1994/07/17/how-many-died-new-evidence-suggests-far-higher-numbers-for-the-victims-of-mao-zedongs-era/01044df5-03dd-49f4-a453-a033c5287bce/.
Conquest, Robert. The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine. 1986.
“Jewish Property Seizures.” Alpha History. https://alphahistory.com/holocaust/jewish-property-seizures/.
Rummel, Rudolph. China’s Bloody Century: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900. 2007.
Marx, Karl. "A Criticism of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right.” The Literature Network. http://www.online-literature.com/karl-marx/selected-essays/1/.
Williams, Roger. “Letter to Major John Wilson and [Connecticut] Governor Thomas Prence.” http://worldpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Williams-1670-Forced-worship-stinks.pdf.
“Religion and State in Communist China.” Boston University. http://blogs.bu.edu/guidedhistory/law-and-religion/maddi-b/.