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Totalitarian and Authoritarian Dictators: A Comparison of Fidel Castro and Alfredo Stroessner

  • Paul C. Sondrol (a1)


Personal dictators remain a key feature of contemporary regimes termed ‘authoritarian’ or ‘totalitarian’, particularly in their early consolidating phases. But there is still disagreement over the seemingly ideological, polemical and indiscriminate use of the term totalitarian dictatorship as an analytic concept and tool to guide foreign policy formulation. Jeane Kirkpatrick elevated the taxonomy to a vociferous level of debate with a 1979 Commentary article. Entitled ‘Dictatorships and Double Standards’, the work raised anew semantic hairsplitting concerning the qualitative differences between all previous tyrannies and those bearing organisational similarities with the Nazi, Fascist or Stalinist prototypes.



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1 See Tucker, Robert C., ‘The Dictator and Totalitarianism’, World Politics, vol. 17, no. 4 (1965), pp. 555–82. For a review of the scholarly debate concerning the concept of totalitarianism, see Friedrich, Carl al., Totalitarianism in Perspective (New York, 1969).

2 Kirkpatrick, Jeane J., Dictatorships and Double Standards (New York, 1982).

3 See Bracher, Karl Dietrich, ‘The Disputed Concept of Totalitarianism’, in Menze, Ernest A. (ed.), Totalitarianism Reconsidered (Port Washington, NY, 1981), pp. 1134.

4 My thanks to an anonymous reviewer for reminding the author of this caveat. The article was revised with these and other comments in mind.

5 See Popper, Karl, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Age of Plato, vol. 1 (Princeton, 1945).

6 Aristotle, , Politics, Book v, 9 (London, 1941).

7 Machiavelli, Niccolo, The Prince (New York, 1952); Hobbes, Thomas, The Leviathan, in Christie, George C. (ed.), Jurisprudence (St Paul, 1973), pp. 297357; Rousseau, Jean Jacques, The Social Contract (New York, 1954). See also Talmon, J. L., The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (New York, 1966).

8 Gerth, H. H. and Mills, C. Wright (eds.), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York, 1958), pp. 246–9.

9 Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York, 1951), pp. 3375.

10 The author gratefully acknowledges a second anonymous reviewer who suggested analysing the characteristic totalitarian internationalist posture.

11 Schapiro, Leonard, Totalitarianism (New York, 1972), p. 22.

12 Neumann, Sigmund, The Permanent Revolution: The Total State in the World at War (New York, 1942), p. 43.

13 Arendt, , Origins, p. 361.

14 For the psychology of subordinate behaviour under totalitarianism, see Arendt, Hannah, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York, 1963). See also Milgram, Stanley, ‘Obedience to Authority’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, vol. 67, no. 4 (1963), pp. 371–8.

15 Friedrich, Carl J. and Brzezinski, Zbigniew K., Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, 2nd ed. (New York, 1965), p. 44.

16 Koestler, Arthur, Darkness at Noon (New York, 1941), p. 82.

17 Shakespeare, William, King Henry V (Cambridge, MA, 1954), p. 100.

18 Burke, Edmund, Reflections on the Revolution in France (New York, 1966).

19 See Linz, Juan, ‘An Authoritarian Regime: Spain’, in Allardt, E. and Littunen, Y. (eds.), Cleavages, Ideologies, and Party Systems (Helsinki, 1964), pp. 291341.

20 Morris, Stephen D., ‘Corruption and the Mexican Political System’, Corruption and Reform, no. 2 (Dordrecht, Netherlands, 1987), pp. 315.

21 Linz, Juan J., ‘Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes’, in Greenstein, Fred and Polsby, Nelson (eds.), Handbook of Political Science, vol. 3 (Reading, Mass., 1975), pp. 260–2. A clear exception is Romanian Nicolae Ceausescu, whose overthrow and execution on 25 December 1989 revealed a palatial life-style. However, Ceausescu's megalomania and prophetic delusions—more than mere greed—prompted his plundering. Also, the Eastern European regimes had totalitarianism imposed upon them. Unlike Castro, Hitler, Mussolini or Mao, Ceausescu or East Germany's Erik Honecker did not achieve supreme power by leading their own revolution, but rather through Soviet-sponsored intra-party competition. See Fischer, Mary Ellen, ‘Idol or Leader? The Origins and Future of the Ceausescu Cult’, in Nelson, Daniel N. (ed.), Romania in the 1980s (Boulder, 1981), pp. 117–41.

22 For Castro's symbiosis of the totalitarian regime's domestic needs (militancy, agitation) and its confrontational, expansionist foreign policy, see Fagen, Richard, ‘Mass Mobilization in Cuba: The Symbolism of Struggle’, Journal of International Affairs, vol. 20, no. 2 (1966), p. 267. More current and detailed is Domínguez, Jorge I., To Make a World Safe for Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1989).

23 Macridis, Roy, Modern Political Regimes (Boston, 1986), p. 209.

24 Castro, Fidel, Revolutionary Struggle 1947–1958: Selected Works of Fidel Castro, edited by Bonachea, Roland E. and Valdés, Nelson P. (Cambridge, MA, 1972).

25 Fagan, Richard, ‘Charismatic Authority and the Leadership of Fidel Castro’, Western Political Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 2 (1965), pp. 275–84.

26 Domínguez, Jorge I., Cuba: Order and Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), pp. 197–8.

27 LeoGrande, William M., ‘Party Development in Revolutionary Cuba’, Journal of Inter American Studies and World Affairs, vol. 21, no. 4 (1979), pp. 457–80.

28 Guevara, Ernesto Che, Man and Socialism in Cuba (Havana, 1967), p. 17. For expanded analysis of fidelismo see, among others, Debray, Régis, Revolution in the Revolution (New York, 1967); and González, Edward, Cuba Under Castro: The Limits of Charisma (Boston, 1974), pp. 146–67. González perhaps best explains this blending of personalism and ideology into fidelismo, comparing it to Stalinism where party and state institutions were subordinate to the fiat of the dictator. By this definition, fidelismo appears little different from the führerstat of Germany.

29 Draper, Theodore, Castroism: Theory and Practice (New York, 1965), pp. 48–9. An additional perspective that probes Castro's mindset is a Rand Corporation study by González, Edward and Ronfeldt, David, Castro, Cuba, and the World (Santa Monica, CA, 1986).

30 Gilmore, Robert, Caudillism and Militarism in Venezuela (Athens, Ohio, 1964), p. 47. See also Stokes, William S., ‘Violence as a Power Factor in Latin American Politics’, Western Political Quarterly, vol. 5 (1952), pp. 445–68.

31 Dealy, Glen Caudill, The Public Man (Amherst, 1977), p. 33. Caudillaje typifies a style of life oriented to the values of public leadership. The word itself may be translated as the domination of a caudillo.

32 Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino, Facundo: Civilización y Barbarie (Buenos Aires, 1959); Bastos, Augusto Roa, Yo El Supremo (New York, 1986).

33 Lanz, Laureano Vallenilla, Cesarismo Democrático (Caracas, 1961), p. 207. Translation by author.

34 See the more general analysis by Wolf, Eric and Hansen, James C., ‘Caudillo Politics: A Structural Analysis’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 9, no. 2 (1957), pp. 168–79.

35 Friedrich and Brzezinski, Totalitarian Dictatorship; Linz,‘ Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes’; Kirkpatrick, , ‘Reflections on Totalitarianism’, in Dictatorships and Double Standards, pp. 96138.

36 Castro, Fidel, Granma Weekly Review (20 09. 1979).

37 For transcripts of the show trial, see Vindicación de Cuba (Havana, 1989).

38 For an analysis of this aspect in the Ochoa episode, see the commentary in the New York Times Review of Books, ‘Fidel and Religion’, 7 Dec. 1989.

39 Morris, , ‘Corruption’, pp. 315.

40 Domínguez, , Cuba, pp. 229–33; also Szulc, Tad, Fidel: A Critical Portrait (New York, 1986), p. 81. The terms ‘affective’ and ‘instrumental’ supports come from Easton, David, ‘A Reassessment of the Concept of Political Support’, British Journal of Political Science, vol. 5 (1975), pp. 435–57.

41 Bourne, Richard, Political Leaders of Latin America (New York, 1970), p. 101.

42 Interviews with, among others, Adriano Iralla Burgos, Director, Oficina de Estudios Paraguayos, Universidad Católico, Asunción, 5 June 1988; these conclusions confirmed in interview with Jack Martin, Political Officer, US Embassy, Asunción, 7 June 1988 and conversation with Paraguayan specialist Paul H. Lewis, Asunción, 12 June 1988.

43 Huntington, Samuel P., Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven, 1968), pp. 192263.

44 Lewis, Paul, Socialism, Liberalism and Dictatorship in Paraguay (New York, 1982), p. 23. See also Alcalá, Guido Rodríguez, Ideología autoritaria (Asunción, 1987).

45 Seiferheld, Alfredo, Nazismo y fascismo en el Paraguay (Asunción, 1985), pp. 211–16.

46 On these and related points, see Sondrol, Paul C., ‘Authoritarianism in Paraguay: An Analysis of Three Contending Paradigms’, Review of Latin American Studies, vol. 3, no. 1 (1990), pp. 83105.

47 Hamill, Hugh, Dictatorship in Spanish America (New York, 1965), p. 13.

48 Lewis, Paul H., Paraguay Under Stroessner (Chapel Hill, 1980), p. 108.

49 Bourne, , Political Leaders, pp. 182–5.

50 See Fanon, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth (New York, 1966).

51 González, , Cuba Under Castro, pp. 182–5; Lewis, Paul, Socialism, p. 69; Miranda, Carlos, The Stroessner Era (Boulder, 1990).

52 González, Ibid., p. 184.

53 The author remembers attention in Asunción riveted on Stroessner's June 1988 speech before the United Nations General Assembly on (of all topics) nuclear disarmament. The speech was carried live via direct satellite feed on both of Paraguay's television networks. It was patently crafted for domestic consumption; being more a nationalistic defence of democracy ‘Paraguayan style’. The cameras remained glued to Stroessner. Later, it was revealed the General Assembly was almost empty of spectators who were boycotting the speech in protest against Stroessner's dictatorship. The speech was a huge success in Asunción.

54 For Stroessner's consolidation of power, see Yegros, Leandro Prieto, El Coloradismo Eterno Con Stroessner, tomo 1 (Asunción, 1988).

55 The term comes from Lanz, Cesarismo Democrático. See also Franz Neumann's conceptualisation of the term in his The Democratic and Authoritarian State (Glencoe, 1957), p. 236.

56 See, for example, Moreno, Dr Augusto, La época de Alfredo Stroessner: Valoración político, histórica y filosófica (Asunción, 1966); Morinigo, Ubaldo Centurión, Stroessner, defensor de las instituciones democráticas (Asunción, 1983); Stroessner, Alfredo, Política y estrategia del desarrollo (Asunción, 1986).

57 This personal Presidential Escort Regiment fought the motorised Cavalry Divisions headed by General Andrés Rodríguez in the coup of 3 Feb. 1989. Approximately 300 men from both sides died in the fighting.

58 Linz, , ‘Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes’, pp. 259–63.

59 Foster, George M., ‘The Dyadic Contract’, American Anthropologist, vol. 63 (1961), pp. 1, 173–92; idem., ‘The Dyadic Contract II’, Ibid., vol. 65 (1963), pp. 1,281–94. Quotation from p. 1,281.

60 Hicks, Frederick, ‘Interpersonal Relationships and Caudillismo in Paraguay’, Journal of InterAmerican Studies and World Affairs, vol. 13 (1971), pp. 89111. Quotation from p. 99.

61 General-President Andrés Rodríguez, long a Stroessner intimate before turning on him, is considered by law enforcement authorities to be Paraguay's No. 1 drug trafficker. See The Arizona Daily Star, 5 Feb. 1989. The assassination of deposed Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza was rumoured to be linked to a faction of the officer corps surrounding Rodríguez, for Somoza's parvenu involvement in the military's international cocaine trade. See COHA's Washington Report on the Hemisphere, 30 Sept. 1980. For more on military corruption, see Carlos María, Lezcano G., ‘Lealtad al General-Presidente’, Investigaciones Sociales Educación Comunicación—ISEC, vol. 6 (Asunción, 1986), p. 3.

62 Alexander, Robert J., ‘The Tyranny of General Stroessner’, Freedom at Issue, vol. 41 (1977), pp. 1617. Quotation from interview with journalist and author Guido Rodríguez Alcalá, 7 June 1988, Asunción. Translation by author.

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Totalitarian and Authoritarian Dictators: A Comparison of Fidel Castro and Alfredo Stroessner

  • Paul C. Sondrol (a1)


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