What is a Dictatorship? Definition, Feature & Characteristics

A dictatorship is a form of government characterized by the absolute rule of one person or a very small group of people who hold all political power.

Meaning of Dictatorship.

According to Ford,

Dictatorship is the assumption of extra-legal authority by the Head of the State.

 Alfred says,

Dictatorship is the government of one man who has not obtained his position by inheritance but either by force or by consent, and normally by a combination of both. He must possess absolute sovereignty. All political powers must ultimately emanate from he will and it must be unlimited in scope. It must be exercised more or less frequently in an arbitrary manner by decree rather than by law. Finally, it must not be incompatible, with absolute rule.

From Alfred Cobbon’s analysis, it is revealed that the main features of dictatorship are :

  1. This was one man’s rule;
  2. This is based on force or consent or a mixture of both;
  3. The dictator is not responsible to any other authority;
  4. His powers are unlimited;
  5. The Dictator runs the administration authoritatively and not  according to law; and
  6. His tenure is not fixed.

Cobbon Alfred’s explanation applied to dictators like Napoleon or Kamel Ata Turk. It is also applicable to modern military dictators. But in countries where dictatorship is based on party, this is not applicable. For instance, there is a dictatorship of the Communist Party in Russia, China, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, etc, The First Secretary of the Communist Party is all-powerful in these countries but his powers also depend on the party’s support.

Modern Dictatorship

Modern Dictatorships Between 1919 and 1939 there was a great reaction against democracy and dictatorship was established in many countries of the world. in Turkey, Kamal Pasha established his dictatorship in 1921 and he remained in power till his death in 1938. Mussolini abolished democracy in Italy in 1922 and became a dictator. In Spain, Primo de Rivera became dictator from 1923 to 1939. In Portugal, General Carmona remained a dictator from 1926 to 1933. In Yugoslavia, Emperor Alexander established his dictatorship in 1929 and he ran the administration without a Parliament. In 1933, Hitler established his dictatorship in Germany and he remained in power till 1944.

Lenin established the dictatorship of the Communist Party in Russia after the evolution of 1917. After the Second World War, China, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Finland, and Lithuania (Eastern Europe) also established the dictatorship of the Communist party but now most of the countries have opted for democracy.

Some years ago, Military Dictatorship was established in some countries, e.g., Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Nigeria, Burma, Ghana, Indonesia, and in some countries of South America, Chile, Panama, Argentina, and Brazil. Now civilian rule has been restored in Argentina and Brazil, the largest countries in Latin America. Military revolutions took place in these countries and the administration was run by Military Dictators.

Causes of the Rise of Dictatorship:

Outbreak of the First World War.

The First World War broke out in 1914. To conduct the war successfully even in democratic countries, the executive captured all the powers of the government and Parliaments were pushed wide. There was no regard for the freedom and rights of the people. As such, democracy received a severe setback. ,

The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 was based upon injustice.

The Treaty of Versailles (Paris Pact) was based on injustice. According to this treaty, Germany was bifurcated into two parts and they were handed over to France, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Poland, and the League of Nations. Besides, a sum of £6,600 million was imposed as War-Indemnity on Germany. This compelled the people of Germany to think that only a strong government could bring about the unification of the country and payment of reparation could be avoided. Thus, Hitler assumed power in 1933.

Though, according to the secret Treaty of London, Italy was to be given new territory, after winning World War I, the governments of England and France did not fulfill that obligation. Italy suffered a heavy loss in World War I and she was Very much disappointed. People believed that only a strong government could be effective at that stage. Thus Mussolini rose to power in 1922,

Incompetence of democratic governments, After World War I:

Democratic governments were established in Germany and Italy. They had to fag many crises from the very beginning. There was the problem of the unification, the motherland, and the Economic Depression in Germany. In Germany, the Jews were, traitors and they advanced money at a high rate of interest to France during the war. Communists were encouraging civil war on all sides and they were resorting to strikes. This hit the economy very badly. The democratic government of Germany could not do anything between 1920 and 1933.

At last Hitler’s Nazi Party came to power, and it was determined to root out all these evils. In Italy, too democratic government was established after World War I, but this could not solve the political and economic problems. Thus Mussolini ended the democratic government with the help of his Fascist Party and solved the political and economic problems by dint of his ability and strength.

Lack of Democratic Traditions.

There was a lack of democratic traditions in Italy, Germany, Russia, Portugal, and Spain. The people became restive and they transferred all their rights to dictators.

Inability to secure economic liberty.

In Russia, before the 1917 revolution, Czar, Nichols II was the ruler. He failed to take effective steps for the economic prosperity of the people. At the time of the October Revolution, the Communists promised to remove economic disparities and guaranteed livelihood to all, with the result that the Communist revolution took place in Russia and the Communist Party established its dictatorship.

After World War II, Communist Revolutions took place in China, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Finland, Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, because the governments of these countries failed to bring prosperity to their people. At present there is the dictatorship of the Communist Party in these countries.

Feature of Modern Dictatorship:

Though the principles of Military Dictatorship, Communist Dictatorship, and Fascist Dictatorship differ considerably, there is some identity among them The following are similarities among them.

Absoluteness of the State.

Dictators are staunch opponents y democracy and they make the state all-powerful. In this way, the powers of the government are absolute in Dictatorship and no constitutional check is imposed on them.

In Military Dictatorship, the Constitution is suspended and, the Revolutionary Council is formed. They run the government through ordinances and decrees.

The fascist dictatorship was established in Germany and Italy during Hitler and Mussolini’s regimes respectively and after that, it was established in Spain. In the Fascist regime, the constitution is suspended.

In a Communist dictatorship, there is a Constitution, but it gives all powers to one party only.

The judiciary can not protect the Constitution. Therefore, the leadership of the Communist Party runs the administration arbitrarily and abides by the provisions of the Constitution in an autocratic manner. The people are deprived of their rights in this type of state this type of state.

No distinction is recognized between the State and Society:

Dictators consider the state absolute. They think that the state has every right to interfere and regulate every sphere of an individual’s life. For this reason, the government regulates social, economic, and political spheres completely.

Suspension of Fundamental Rights and Liberties:

In Dictatorship people are generally deprived of their fundamental rights and other liberties, Rights area? considered inherent amongst the people; they are considered concessions from the State. In the countries where Military Dictatorships have been established, there is a nominal constitution and people enjoy only those liberties which are allowed by the State.

Similar is the condition in Fascist Dictatorship. In a Communist dictatorship, there is a Constitution, and there is a declaration of Fundamental rights and Liberties. But the judiciary is not the guardian of these rights, with the result that people enjoy only those liberties which are allowed by, the Communist party.

Belief in violence and force.

Dictators do not believe in peace, nonviolence, and the principles of Panch Sheel. They conquer the neighboring weak states and enhance their prestige. For example, Hitler conquered Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland, Belgium, and France and enhanced his prestige. Mussolini conquered Ethiopia and enhanced his influence. China tried to enhance its influence in Asia by invading India in 1962 and, following the Chinese policy Pakistan too made a vain effort to occupy our territory by invading India in 1965 and 1971.

Opposition is not allowed to exist:

Opposition parties are banned in dictatorship. If any effort is made to the contrary, it is suppressed with force, and persons concerned are penalized. There is only one party in Russia, China, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Poland, Burma e.t.e., which is the ruling Communist Party. The formation of opposition parties Is not allowed there. In Pakistan and Turkey, the ban on the opposition parties has been lifted recently and a democratic government has been installed in Pakistan. In a Fascist dictatorship, the formation of any opposition party is not allowed.

Emphasis on obedience to Authority, strict discipline, and realization of full responsibility.

Special stress is laid on equality, liberty, and fraternity in democracy. Dictators condemn all these three principles. Instead, they teach the people three other principles to one leader, observance of rigid discipline and feeling of responsibility towards society. They believe that common people are not so competent as to give leadership. The welfare of the people lies only in the obedience of an intelligent leader.

Secondly, they say that without discipline, the development of a nation is not possible. Therefore, strikes in educational institutions, factories, and government offices are undesirable.

Thirdly, they say that the people should only perform their duties. They should not be after rights because the progress of a nation depends upon the performance of duties by the citizens.

Control over Press and Radios:

Dictators never allow the press the liberty of criticizing the government freely, but they exercise full control over the press and radio and make use of them to seek the support of the people. Through the Medium of the Press and Radio, propaganda of the government policies was carried on. In this way, the dictators control the public opinion.

Dictators ignore the international public opinion:

The dictators did not care for international public opinion and they gave priority to their selfish Motives, Ignoring international public opinion, Hitler invaded many neighboring Countries. Mussolini also repeated the same thing. Nowadays China and Pakistan are also following the same policy. Their aggressive designs towards their neighbors are widely known. Because of her undesirable activities, China could not Gain entry into the U.N. till 24th October 1971. In the past, China was thinking of forming a rival international organization and Pakistan has already threatened to Come out of the world body in the event of the Kashmir problem not being solved to her Satisfaction.

Difference between three types Of Dictatorships.

However, there is some Similarity among the Military. the Fascist and the Communist Dictatorships, yet they are different in certain ways. In a Communist Dictatorship, stress is laid on the principles of Communism. Communist Dictators believe in three main principles Karl Marx. They are Materialistic or Economic Interpretation of History, War, and Theory of Surplus Value.

However, Fascists and Military Dictators, oppose these principles. They check the conflict between the capitalists and the workers and persuade both classes to work in the interest of the nation stop black-marketing and hoarding by law and try to increase all-around production, in the country.

Secondly, in Fascist and Military Dictatorships, capitalism, is tolerated under state control, but in Communist Dictatorships capitalism, is abolished altogether.

Thirdly, whereas Military and Fascist Dictators give a high place to nationalism, Communists condemn it, because Karl Marx had said that the workers had no Fatherland.

Fourthly, in Fascist and Military Dictatorships religion is tolerated, and the state does not interfere in the religious matters of the people But in Communist Dictatorship religion is considered opium and, therefore, condemned.

Fifthly, in Military and Fascist Dictatorship, the State is considered a permanent institution, but in Communist Dictatorship it is considered a temporary institution because Karl Marx had said that the state would fade away in the end and a classless and stateless society would emerge.

Merits of Dictatorship

Dictatorship has certain merits and demerits. First of all, we shall discuss the merits and then the demerits to come to a correct conclusion:

Establishment of a strong Government.

In Dictatorship the weakness of the government is ended and a powerful government is established at the Center. The tendencies of decentralization are ended and complete unity is established. The conflicts of caste, color, creed, religion, and provincialism are ended and a strong nation emerges, which is honored in foreign countries also.

Stable and efficient Government.

The Dictator does not fight periodical elections. He remains in power for a long time with the help of his party and military, with the result that the government becomes stable. The Dictator exercises unlimited powers of the government he appoints able persons to high posts and abolishes red-tapism and nepotism from the administration. In this way, the government becomes efficient and there are no undue delays in carrying out government policies. Everybody receives justice and the hardships of the people are mitigated.

Economic Prosperity.

Dictators try to improve the economic condition of the country. To do so they lay stress on increasing the production and stopping the strikes in the industries. In Communist countries, the workers are 00 allowed to go on strike. Hitler and Mussolini made special efforts to bring about industrial peace and established Industrial Courts for the settlement of disputes between the capitalists and wages for the workers and awarded severe punishment for violating industrial laws. They smash the hoarders, and black-marketeers § smugglers by making use of force. They reform the economy of the country by fixing prices and by streamlining the system of distribution.

Social Reforms.

Dictators bring about social reforms to make the country strong they eradicate social evils through laws and propaganda Mustafa Kamal Pasha brought about basic changes in the social structure of Turkey. Before he came to power, Turkey was called the sick man of Europe. But he made her healthy and strong with tireless efforts.

He removed the evil among the ladies and brought about its modernization. After that, he laid stress on the development of education, science, and industries. Other dictators also brought about reforms in the educational structure of their country, infused the spirit of patriotism among the people, and inculcated the spirit of militarism and sacrifice.

Facing the crisis boldly.

The Dictators face the economic and political crisis firmly because all powers are concentrated in them. They seek advice from able persons, make decisions without any delay, and keep their decisions secret. Any leakage of secrets can prove dangerous.

Demerits of Dictatorship

The following are the defects of dictatorship :

Curtailment of the rights and liberties of the people.

The main defect of Dictatorship is that liberty and rights are curtailed in it. Dictators cannot tolerate any opposition and impose restrictions on the press, political parties, and adverse propaganda.

Establishment of Absolute Government.

In Dictatorship, an absolute government is established. People are deprived of taking part in the administration, with the result that they do not take any interest in the government. In such a type of administration, the question of training in local self-government does not arise.

Dictators lead the country to war.

Dictators believe in victory, war, and violence, with the result that the country is engulfed in war. This brings ruin to the country. The policies of German dictator Hitler and Mussolini of Italy were responsible for World War II, in which they were defeated and many other countries were destroyed.

Dictators do not leave behind capable successors.

In a dictatorship, none but the dictator is allowed to show his ability, with the result that after the death of the dictator, the problem of finding a capable successor becomes acute. In case of non-availability of a capable successor, the country suffers a great loss.

No importance to the individual.

No importance is attached to an individual in Dictatorship. The individual is a means and the state is an end in a Dictatorship; which retards the development of the individual. Individuals do not enjoy many rights and adequate liberty for the development of their personality and he is always forced to act according to the directives of the state.

Fear of rebellion and revolution.

There is always a danger of rebellion and revolution in a dictatorship because the dictators smash all rival viewpoints with force. Opposition parties think that since the government cannot be changed with votes, it can be overthrown only by a rebellion and revolution. This makes the government unstable. Only a government based on public opinion is stable because provides an opportunity for the opposition parties to express their views.


The disadvantages of dictatorship are more than the advantages. It is difficult to decide what type of government is suitable for a particular country, but generally, We find that in a country where social, economic, and political situation deteriorates, Corruption, black-marketing, hoarding, favoritism, and nepotism are the order of the day, democracy gives way to dictatorship.

For instance, before the assumption of power by Field Marshal Ayub Khan in Pakistan, all these evils prevailed there and the democratic government failed to remove these ills. Field Marshal Ayub Khan was successful in controlling them to a certain extent.

In Germany and Italy before the coming to power of Hitler and Mussolini, the economic, social, and political situation had deteriorated, but they were able to improve the situation to a great extent. Thus, we can say that dictatorship is very useful for improving the conditions for a short time, but this is not a suitable government for a long period.

The dictators engage the countries in war with others in the name of administrative efficiency and the entire freedom of the people is usurped, which destroys the country. Hitler and Mussolini started wars with other countries, which not only brought destruction to other countries but also proved ruinous for their own countries.

Ayub Khan of Pakistan sent infiltrators, into Kashmir on August 5, 1965, and later on invaded Kashmir on a large scale on September 1, 1965. The Government of India had to take defensive steps and our forces gave a crushing defeat to Pakistan. Though we won the war, yet because of the wrong policy of Ayub Khan not only Pakistan but India also suffered a great loss of men, money, and materials.

Pakistani President, Yahya Khan did not hand over the power to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, although the latter had secured a majority in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. He resorted to such a large-scale massacre of Bangladesh that the example, of which is not available in the world-history. In this massacre. more than one million people lost their lives and 6.5 million people were rendered homeless.

They took shelter in India. In October 1971, he gave a threat of war to India and concentrated troops near our borders. The shelling of Agartala (Tripura) resulted in the creation of tension between India and Pakistan, India had to spend crores of rupees on the refugees from Bangladesh (East Bengal), which resulted in a heavy strain on our economy.

After the overthrow of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, General Zia-ul-Haq established his military dictatorship in Pakistan in 1975 which was in force till he died in a plane crash. Benazir Bhutto was the P.M. of Pakistan in 1995. In 1998 Mr. Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister of Pakistan.

China has also a Communist Dictatorship. She instigated the war in Vietnam and had an aggressive design against India. She also crushed the liberty of Tibet and Dalai Lama had to run for safety in 1959 and has not returned until now. All these actions are a threat to international peace. Besides, dictatorship is not a stable government, because there is a scant regard for public opinion in it and there is always a fear of rebellion and revolution. Thus, it is an unsuitable form of government. Permanent peace and a stable government can be established only through democracy because public opinion is respected in it and it believes in the policy of co-existence.