There is not an agreed definition of "totalitarianism". For the purposes of this guide, a totalitarian state is defined as an authoritarian state led by an all-encompassing ideology that actively seeks to exert control over any single aspect of life. Much like the definition, there is not an agreed "list" of totalitarian systems; there are very obvious cases (China, North Korea, Eritrea) and others that are more in a grey area and might or might not be considered totalitarian depending on the exact definition and its interpretation (Venezuela, Iran).
Disclaimer: I have not read books like The Communist Manifesto or Mein Kampf, instead, this guide is based almost exclusively on overall analysis on present or recent totalitarian states. In fact, you may find that many of the nations referenced are Communist or former Communist states, as Communism has been, by far, the most successful totalitarian system in history. In particular, the People's Republic of China (from here onward referred to as PRC) is probably the most advanced model of 21st century technological totalitarianism, and for this reason it will appear frequently in this guide.
- The Political System
---- Monopolizing power
------1. Puppet parties
------2. Absolute ruler
------3. Unelected institutions
------4. One-party states
---- Ruling from the executive
------1. Replacement by another organ
------2. Parallel party-state structures
------3. No elected legislature
------4. Unelected institutions
- Social Control
------3. Brute force
------4. Classifying your citizens
---- Economic Control
------1. Planned Command Economy
------2. Market Socialism
---- Access to information: the Internet
The Political System
Ideology defines the overall "flavour" of your totalitarian state. However, it is the presence of an ideology that defines a totalitarian state, not its specific content and teachings. Indeed, all totalitarian states have many common characteristics, because their overall political system and repressive apparatus is fairly rigid, hence (despite their directly opposing ideologies) the frequently mentioned similarities between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. In contrast, you can be much more creative when it comes to designing an specific ideology that leads your nation. The ideology might not even be a very explicit set of specific ideas - take the case of Eritrea, where the ideology of the state is fairly vague (other than "left-wing nationalism" and "extreme militarism").
However, there are still a number of restrictions. In any case, to justify the oppressive political system, there must be a goal. In fact, there can be several - Nazi Germany had, for example, the following goals: Lebensraum and "solving" the Jewish Question. Furthermore, this implied a set of subgoals, most notably Axis victory in World War II. Another, very common goal is building Communism. In this case, each of the steps towards the Communist ideal society can be considered a subgoal.
Goals do not need to be very explicit, but there must be one that provides the regime's legitimacy. It can be as simple as total self-reliance and eventual military victory over a hostile neighbour (main goal of Eritrea, at least until recently, and also subgoals for North Korea) or obeying the word of God (Saudi Arabia, Iran).
However, to preserve the legitimacy of the totalitarian state forever (if possible), the goal can never be fully achieved. The goal can be, for example, a continuous task with no end by definition, as happens with theocratic totalitarianisms. Or, the state may claim again and again that the goal has not been achieved yet, and scapegoat dissidents ("fifth columns") and foreign powers. A typical example is Communism. Communism seeks to eventually wither away the state... but to achieve this goal, the state must be strengthened to get everyone involved and in line. One can easily conclude from this obvious contradiction that, in fact, the state will never wither away under Communist rule - doing so is directly against the political system that the USSR and its satellite states built. The Communist ideal society will never be built - to the sole benefit of the ruling elite.
Furthermore, the ideology should be all-encompassing. It must give as many answers and leave as little details of daily life unregulated as possible. Communism, Nazism, Chavismo and theocratic regimes do a very good job at this, having a very clear set of rules that plan how society as a whole and every individual should behave and intruding into such personal matters such as reproduction, religion and choice of job. In effect, each of these ideologies have an inherent, de facto, code of morality within.
In conclusion, every totalitarian state must have an ideology that guides daily life as much as possible, and that sets a goal that can never be fulfilled. Within this basic restrictions, you can get as far as your imagination allows. If possible, though, tie the state's ideology to the nation's historical and cultural context for extra realism.
The first thing that comes into mind when thinking about totalitarian regimes are one-party states. However, while many one-party states are indeed totalitarian, a regime can be totalitarian without being a one-party state. Yet, in any case, to build a successful totalitarian state, political power must be fully monopolized. Here are some ways to do so.
1. Puppet parties
No other state seems to take the concept of a multi-party totalitarian state as far as Turkmenistan does. After all, the ruling party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT) controls only 55 of the 125 seats of the Assembly or Mejilis.
Explaining in detail the Turkmen electoral and political system might warrant a Dispatch of its own. However, the key point to be raised here is that, while in theory the opposition controls 70 of the 125 seats, there is no genuine opposition whatsoever. All legal "opposition" parties in Turkmenistan have been created by President Burdimuhamedov himself and, needless to say, never oppose his policies. Despite the DPT commanding a minority of seats, the lack of political pluralism is extremely transparent to the informed observer. Furthermore, 48 independents seat on the Mejilis, and as expected from a totalitarian state, they are all progovernment. The use of progovernment independents may, again, need another full guide, but the concept is applied to different degrees by some authoritarian regimes (the best example is Belarus) and several Communist states.
The PRC, North Korea and several Eastern Bloc states also have theoretical multi-party systems, but they all had/have a privileged "vanguard party" recognized in the Constitution and operate more like true one-party states. In North Korea, all political parties form a single progovernment coalition.
2. Absolute ruler
The party system may be schewed altogether in favor of an absolute ruler with total control of the political system, as is the case in Saudi Arabia. However, this model can hardly be put into work outside of monarchies. Not only the ruler needs particularly strong reasoning behind his/her legitimacy, but also a non-party entity grouping the ruling elite. Monarchies provide both through the royal family.
Eritrea is a special case. Under the country's de facto perpetual martial law, Eritrea's Constitution was never implemented - not only Eritrea is a one-party state, but it also has no functioning legislature whatsoever, so in practice the country is openly ruled entirely by the executive (see below). Legitimacy is (or was) provided through the threat of Ethiopian military aggression, while the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFJD), the country's sole political party, groups the political elite.
3. Unelected institutions
Borderline totalitarian systems can also have a degree of genuine competition between different political parties or groups. However, in this case, institutions under firm control of the ruling elite must limit the power of such competing groups so that the victory of any barely genuine opposition is rendered absolutely meaningless. Iran and Venezuela, especially the former, fall here.
Iran's political system is complex, but it is carefully designed to deny elected governments any real power. The Supreme Leader has no fixed term and it is appointed by the popularly elected Assembly of Experts. The Supreme Leader then appoints the head of the judiciary and six members of the Council of Guardians; the other six members of the Council of Guardians are nominated by the head of the judiciary and confirmed by parliament. The Guardian Council must approve all candidates for elections and all laws before they are passed. So, looking carefully...
The Supreme Leader controls the powerful Guardian Council, as he elects six members and the other six are nominated by the head of the judiciary - who is in turn appointed by the Supreme Leader.
The Guardian Council, subservient to the Supreme Leader, blocks all unapproved candidates from elections and must approve all laws for them to take effect, subverting what otherwise seems a semidemocratic system.
While competition between hard-line and reformist candidates is genuine, in practice all allowed candidates are loyal to the Supreme Leader, and furthermore absolutely powerless. If any law challenges the regime, it will be blocked by the Guardian Council.
The Assembly of Experts is meaningless, as candidates are elected under a system where only those who are loyal to the Supreme Leader may stand for election.
Venezuela's system is shaky compared to that of Iran, but follows the same basic principle. Presidential elections are tightly controlled. Then, after the opposition won legislative elections, Maduro supplanted the opposition-controlled National Assembly by creating a fully loyal National Constituent Assembly. Theoretically tasked with writing a new Constitution, in practice the National Constituent Assembly carries the functions of the elected parliament, making the opposition's majority in the latter worthless.
4. One-party states
Finally, the most direct and typical monopolization of power is running a true or de facto one-party state, where one party is granted a special legal status that openly allows it to rule indefinitely, even if other parties exist at all. Communist states fall in this category, including all surviving ones. The world's remaining one-party states are the PRC, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, North Korea, Eritrea and Western Sahara (the RASD). All but the latter are totalitarian states, and 5 out of 7 are Communist states. Historically, one-party totalitarian regimes used to be more common. To name a few: Nazi Germany, Francoist Spain, Fascist Italy, Turkmenistan under Niyazov, and basically all Eastern Bloc states. Justification of this political system is based on ideology, so their legitimacy is tied to advancing ideological goals. Ultimately though, since the state's goal should never be achieved, support for the ruling one-party state depends on citizens' wellbeing and thus to the nation's economic performance.
Ruling from the executive
Needless to say, totalitarian regimes must feature no separation of powers at all - that is, the country must be ruled entirely from the executive, with different degrees of power concentration in the leader's hands: from absolute (North Korea, Stalinist USSR, Nazi Germany, Turkmenistan, Eritrea) to mild (Vietnam, Laos, the PRC immediately prior to Xi Jinping). In the latter case, the party's ruling elite is supreme.
Regardless, totalitarian states often need a way to create a legislature that is theoretically the highest organ of power, but in practice powerless (Communist states are particularly good at this). Here are some of the more common techniques. Keep in mind that some states apply more than one at the same time:
1. Replacement by another organ
Enter the Politburo, a staple of Communist regimes, modern ones included. This small body carries out legislative functions during most of the year, and parliament then only meets twice for ordinary sessions. At its core, the Politburo is fully intended to shift as much power away from the legislature as possible, by concentrating power in hands of a small group of people - invariably members of the ruling elite. In fact, by declaring the parliament the "highest organ of state power" (as for example in Cuba or the USSR), all power is vested on the Politburo (since it has the same powers), skipping the formal government as well.
Turkmenistan, at several points of its post-independence history, has also applied the same idea through the People's Council, an enormous body comprised of the president, members of parliament, regional officials and others. The People's Council is directly designed as the highest representative body, and by including the parliament alongside all kinds of government-controlled officials, it dilutes legislative powers to the point that it effectively acts as a mere rubber-stamp.
Then again, Venezuela took the idea of a "replacement by another organ" literally by supplanting the elected parliament with a loyal body that carries out its functions.
2. Parallel party-state structures
Much like the Politburo, this concept was pioneered by Communist states, especially the USSR, and it is often combined with the replacement organ tactic. The idea of a parallel party-state structure (where the party must be dominant) is actually pretty simple: party organs take all decisions behind the scenes, and are then rushed through the formal government to get rubber-stamp approval. Effectively, this relegates the formal government to a small role and shifts all power to the ruling elite. Of course, for this to work, formal government channels must also be under firm control - but they should be regardless if any of the methods of monopolizing power is applied.
3. No elected legislature
The easiest way of keeping the legislature meaningless is... not having a legislature in the first place! Either literally (Eritrea's parliament has not met since 2002 at the time of writing) or by having an advisory parliament or one that is appointed entirely by the executive, as in many absolute monarchies. Again, this method is so transparent for both domestic and international observers that it needs a very strong source of legitimacy.
4. Unelected institutions
In more "open" totalitarian states, the very same unelected institutions designed to keep elected governments under control will, by definition, concentrate all power in the executive, as the legislature is generally an elected institution. As seen above, Iran's elected parliament is stacked with loyalists, but also the executive (the Supreme Leader) is entitled to block any and all legislation coming from it through the Guardian Council.
A totalitarian state aims to be invulnerable to any and all internal challenge. Not only the political system must be throughoutly controlled, but also every detail of society, in accordance to the state's ideology. Of course, this is no easy task, and requires a carefully built repressive apparatus willing to and capable of crushing any and all dissent.
No other method of social control has ever been as effective as the one pioneered by the USSR and then perfected by the PRC in the modern era. An enormous, all-encompassing bureaucracy allows for deep state interference in almost everything imaginable.
For example, just to travel around the USSR, Soviet citizens needed an internal passport, work book, housing papers, medical documentation, records of military service, special documents for travel to border regions, vacation passes, and written travel authorizations. During the Cold War era, to marry or divorce in the PRC, citizens required approval from a communist party secretary appointed at their workplace.
In sum, the basic concept of bureaucratic social control is introducing government-controlled processes ("paperwork") needed to complete as many life decisions as possible, such as travelling or marrying in the examples above, to get or leave a job or any educational institution, and so on.
The need for constant bureaucratic approval, which can be easily arbitrarily denied, leaves citizens at the mercy of the state. Bureaucracy greatly simplifies and amplifies repressive tactics in many ways. For example, having your ethnicity explicitly shown in official documents (as in the USSR) makes discrimination so much easier and much less explicit at the same time. Bureaucracy can also be given oversight over publications so that unwanted content is easily censored.
The PRC has perfected this system in the modern era by introducing technology into the mix. The state's reach can be expanded exponentially simply through digitalization. Nowadays, police in Xinjiang use a special app that records every detail of the lives of Muslim minorities living there - police can then send the information to their superiors if anything mildly "suspicious" is found, such as higher-than-usual electricity consumption. Likewise, the infamous Great Firewall is much more effective at automatically removing sensitive material on highly specific grounds than Soviet bureaucracy ever was.
Corruption is a very overlooked form of social and political control. Often shown as a hindrance that weakens the state's economic performance, in practice it can be a very effective pseudo-repressive method, at the obvious expense of the population's life standards. Corruption can steer resources to reward a loyal elite or be used as a weapon to purge undesirable officials.
Turkmenistan is hardly an advanced totalitarian state, yet this Central Asian kleptocracy really showcases corruption's entire potential. The Turkmen leadership allows, encourages, and requires officials to take bribes. Corruption makes money flow from citizens to officials, from officials to their superiors, and finally to the ruling predatory elite (which, needless to say, is de facto protected from prosecution). Regular purges and corruption reinforce one another in Turkmenistan: officials are easily fired and jailed on corruption charges the second they fall out of favor, while regular shuffles increase official corruption, because bureaucrats and local leaders try to make as much money as possible during what they know is going to be a short stay in their positions.
3. Brute force
Many modern, advanced totalitarian states show some restraint when it comes to brute force; state terror instead comes mostly from sheer intimidation. An event like the Tiananmen Square Protests in the PRC is an embarassment to the state.
Regardless, some totalitarianisms continue to use brute force as a key form of social control, often in more creative ways than just "shoot protesters". Eritrea ties all its able-bodied citizens to compulsory, indefinite military service, which in practice is intended to transform the country into a gigantic slave labor force. In Cuba, so-called "acts of repudiation" (supposedly spontaneous mob attacks against dissidents) regularly intimidate the regime's critics.
4. Classifying your citizens
Classifying your citizens is another very effective form of intimidation, as effectively signals a group of citizens (those who oppose the government) for abuse.
North Korea is infamous for classifying its citizens in a semihereditary caste-like system, the songbun. Songbun marks the educational opportunities of North Korean citizens, and also whether they are able to join the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) or even if they are able to access certain stores to buy goods.
Other Communist states, following the model of the USSR, implemented a different form of classifying their citizens: the internal passport. This passport contained information such as the holder's social background, past jobs and why they were left, and any problems with the law. A single mistake, political or not, effectively left a black mark in your internal passport that followed you forever.
Not only this system has already been implemented in the PRC, but it has been perfected and turned into a draconian Social Credit System that uses the latest surveillance technology to record each of your actions (political or not) and updates a score that reflects your "trust-worthiness". A low score implies penalties such as greatly reduced Internet speed or bans from certain public places or from travelling. This underscores just how much control the state needs in the first place before implementing such a system, but in practice it is a brutal and extremely effective way of managing the actions of each and every citizen of the PRC - exactly what the totalitarian state aims to achieve.
Surveillance is key for social control in any authoritarian system. The scope, exact methods, and technological capacity varies from state to state, and a fair deal of creativity is possible. Ultimately, the only condition is that the state must be informed about the basic activities and, if possible, the political orientation of each citizen.
Nothing says mass surveillance state like the PRC's nationwide system of surveillance cameras with facial recognition technology that are placed just about everywhere. The PRC has also gone as far as to monitor children's brain activity in schools to check their attention in political indoctrination classes. While no state can match the PRC's capabilities and willingness to absolutely control every citizen, electronic surveillance of communications is widespread in all but the world's poorest dictatorships. Even in Cuba, famous for its slow and expensive internet, it is common for emails to arrive censored or with the attachments removed.
Another whole kettle of fish is the use of informers. This technique can take many different forms and it is widespread in countries such as North Korea and Turkmenistan. In the latter, the total lack of independent information means that most of the population relies on gossip by informed elders to get any news - gossip which is collected by the security services and stored. Informers can be organized as committees at the neighbourhood level, each in charge of a particular building, as in the USSR, North Korea or Karimov's Uzbekistan.
It should go without saying that the total control of a totalitarian state must extend to the economy as well. The problem is that such a tight grip is a hindrance to economic development. Do not expect your nation under totalitarian rule to have very high living standards (unless it has oil and a small population or something). However, some degree of well-being must exist if you do not want the population to rebel.
1. Planned Command Economy
As obsolete as it is, a planned economy with no private enterprise whatsoever represents the highest degree of economic control possible. Under a planned economy, the state decides what every citizen will earn, what products will be available and at what price, if vacations are allowed... through state power over availability and production of goods, prices, salaries and the labor market. Totalitarianism and a lack of private enterprise are hence ideal partners.
However, do expect the state's economic performance to be weak, partly due to the economic calculation problem. Time after time nations with Norway-level living standard and planned command economies pop up in NationStates, but this is completely unrealistic. While the benefits of a planned economy can not be denied (enormous but only short-term improvement, unusually high levels of income equality, significantly better life standards than similar low-middle income nations, macroeconomic stability) constant misallocation of resources prevents economic development in the long run, and the market value of such an economy fluctuates wildly. Under such an economy, stagnant growth and shortages are often routine, but can be turned into an advantage if the state is totalitarian - shortages provide new forms of control (for example, withholding food from key populations, as in Soviet Ukraine in the 1930s). Similarly, rationing is not necessarily a failure for a totalitarian state, and may even be implemented where it is not needed for purely economic reasons. While it does noticeably weaken popular opinion on the regime (which must be taken into account) it is essentially another layer of control over the population, as they depend on the state to get rationed goods.
Stepping into PMT territory, AI might help (but will not fully solve) with the economic calculation problem, but this requires enormous amounts of information about the population, which in a democratic society is prone to abuse, whereas in a totalitarian one political motives and infighting will eventually take precedence over the AI. So, overall, in any case, expect your command economy to be extremely inefficient, and unless your nation has vast amounts of valuable resources (oil, unobtainium) and a relatively small population (<10 million) do not expect it to be wealthy.
2. Market Socialism
"Market socialism" here refers to the economic system pioneered by the PRC and also used in Vietnam and Laos. Essentially, it aims to achieve a certain degree of effectiveness by allowing private enterprise, all while keeping the state's control over the economy.
Market socialism is unsurprisingly most effective and advanced in the PRC. For political reasons, the public sector still comprises a significant percentage (40%) of the its economy, but most importantly, the line between public and private enterprise is blurred. Aside from state ownership, public companies behave like private ones at all effects. Meanwhile, major private companies must have deep ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to be rewarded with generous subsidies and legal advantages which are key to commercial success. Hence, all major businesses must be politically pliant and comply with censorship orders and other CCP demands. The PRC, unlike the USSR, has also invested a lot in technology, knowing that, aside from the economic benefit (and avoiding disastrous technological lag), there is a political one: the new technology can then be applied to surveillance and integrated into the repressive apparatus. Ever wondered why Chinese mobile phones have advanced facial recognition technology?
Then again, the PRC has an advantage that no other state has: a population of 1.4 billion. This is an enormous market. International companies are much more willing to comply with the PRC's political demands because, else, they will be blocked from accessing >18% of the world's population. This will not work in a state like Vietnam, but otherwise, the basics of market socialism still apply and do allow for considerable economic growth. Widespread corruption, lack of transparency and the precedence of political motives over economic ones often drag down socialist market economies; regardless, the model is substantially more effective than any command economy and will allow for a moderately wealthy nation, especially if valuable natural resources are involved.
Finally, there is the option of concentrating all wealth in hands of the ruling elite. Many modern authoritarian states like Russia have large state-owned sectors, and a private sector almost entirely dominated by the ruling elite. Stepping into totalitarian territory, Saudi Arabia follows a similar model.
In extreme cases, like Turkmenistan, a kleptocracy develops (other kleptocratic examples: Tajikistan, Equatorial Guinea). Commonly, as is the case in Turkmenistan and even in Saudi Arabia, the ruling elite that dominates private enterprise is the leader's family. In kleptocracies, nepotism and the plundering of state resources are rampant. Needless to say, this is not a very efficient economic model. In fact, it creates extreme inequality and keeps most of the population poor. It works in Turkmenistan because of widespread political apathy. In the PRC, where the population is more politically aware for cultural, political and economical reasons, this model would not last long.
Having vast amounts of a particular resource favors the development of a kleptocracy. For one, it allows for some wealth to seep into the population and moderate short-term economic growth, and also large state revenues for the elites to embezzle. Most kleptocracies in the world thus develop in oil-rich countries, where the economy is barely diversified at all and rather depends on exporting a single product. In Turkmenistan, such product is natural gas. Obviously, with an economy so heavily dependent on a single export, long-term stability is impossible, but rather these nations experience extreme boom and bust (especially bust) cycles.
Access to information: the Internet
Once presented as a new golden era for free speech, the Internet has not proven to be even half as resilient as expected in the face of a totalitarian regime willing to control its content. However, the Internet is necessary to keep a modern economy going, and the technical means required to impose politically motivated blocking are costly and complex. Here are some ways to keep your citizens away from "harmful" information in the digital era:
Of course. Censoring the Internet is an obvious option, but it actually requires a lot of technical resources, specific legislative tactics, and planning your national telecommunications infrastructure. I will actually start explaining these conditions and then coming up with an example (that of the PRC, because it could not be anything else).
To begin with, are ISPs and your communications infrastructure fully state-owned? If so, blocking, filtering and removing content becomes so much easier. If not, a common legislative weapon is making the businesses behind them responsible for blocking, and making them liable to harsh penalties for any mistakes or if they refuse to comply.
How widespread is the blocking going to be? Considering that you are building a totalitarian state, it is likely that international social media, search engines, blogging platforms and news sources are unavailable. However, this will not stop demand for these services, so your state will need to create national counterparts of all (PRC, Cuba) or at least some (North Korea and its email system) of them. Even Russia has its own search engine (Yandex), its own mail system (mail.ru), and its own social media (Vkontakte).
Finally, censorship can easily be dodged with a VPN, so you will need a way to deal with them. They are key for businesses and the government, so blocking them all is not an option. Instead, options include blocking only those VPNs that provide access to censored content or simply criminalizing access to banned websites.
The PRC is home to the world's most advanced censorship system. Its infamous Great Firewall requires enormous resources to maintain (the equivalent of billions of dollars and >50,000 employees), but it is extremely effective at deleting or blocking content in highly specific grounds while minimizing overblocking. This is possible because, in the PRC, the entire telecommunications' service is state-owned, and the telecommunications' industry is dominated by state-owned enterprises. The state's level of control is shown in full display in its ability to shut down popular applications in specific areas of the country or its ability to disconnect certain individuals from the Internet (and the PRC has 1.4 billion citizens). The country's international Internet gateway is centralized too, allowing authorities to cut cross-border services at will.
The Great Firewall uses both automatic methods and human employees to detect and erase sensitive content from domestic audiences. Service providers are banned from setting up VPNs without licensing. Companies such as China Telecom route VPN traffic through a special, company-owned server that immediately blocks all unapproved users, that is, everyone that is not an employee. A technique called deep packet inspection (DPI), also implemented in other countries, blocks all requests containing certain keywords, irrespective of the site visited. Furthermore, every ISP implements its own method of filtering that might differ from that of other ISPs operating in the country.
The example of the PRC showcases how extremely complex an advanced Internet censorship system can be. It is definitely out of the scope of states that can not afford the expense or have the technical means to do it. Or, simply, a state may be unwilling to waste these many resources in such a system.
When mass censoring the Internet it is not an option, it may be enough to just manipulate its content. An idea started and fully implemented in Putin's Russia (which is not a totalitarian state), totalitarian countries such as Iran have developed its own techniques to hide away critical content and corrupt online discussions. There are so many possibilities here, so only some examples will be given:
Paid online commentators: the state can pay online commentators to post progovernment messages and/or attack its critics.
Hashtag poisoning: an "undesirable" but popular Twitter hashtag can be filled with spammy, irrelevant or hate speech messages by automated accounts.
Licensing: popular blogs and news services may need a license from the state to operate.
Liability: websites may be liable for content posted in them, which may prompt websites to block the comments' section, among others.
No net neutrality: in Iran, users accessing solely domestic (progovernment) websites receive cheaper Internet.
Throttling: the state may artificially increase traffic and slow down Internet speeds in sensitive times, to the point where even images can not be shared.
Manipulation and censorship are often implemented together as they reinforce one another and overall make it very difficult for the Internet to remain pluralistic.
For old-style Sovietized dictatorships (Cuba, North Korea) or poor states with few resources to control the Internet (Eritrea, Turkmenistan) denying the population access to the Internet is a cheap way to limit citizen's access to information. All these countries, however, share something in common: their economies are barely connected to the global order (as will happen if your state runs a planned command economy with no private enterprise), and are thus necessarily isolated and not particularly wealthy.
Sovietized totalitarianisms deserve their own mention because they are not only keen on denying their citizens access to the global Internet, but also on developing their own national intranets. Such is the case of North Korea's Kwangmyong and Cuba's Nauta. Both intranets host their own search engines and email services, as well webpages that mimick Google Maps, Wikipedia, and other popular services. They even have their own operating systems, frequently based on Linux (because it is an open source): North Korea has developed the RedStar OS (versions 2.0 and 3.0 are currently available on the global Internet, little is known of version 4.0) and Cuba has developed Nova.
In states with low living standards, denying the population access to the global Internet is relatively easy and usually done through a mix of state-owned control of the telecommunications industry and artificially high prices that are out of reach for the majority of the population. In these states, Internet speed tends to be intentionally slow too. For example, in Turkmenistan, the monthly cost of a local internet connection is as much as a quarter of the average salary in the country, while connection speeds are only 0.4-2 Mbps (for reference, the US average in 2020 was 26.7 Mbps).
In any case, a totalitarian state that denies their citizens access to the global Internet often implements extremely shaky censorship, because mass censoring something that most of the population does not even have access to is a waste of resources and also what you were trying to avoid in the first place.
Finally, temporary full Internet shutdowns deserve mention. Often enacted in times of unrest, they require a high degree of state control over telecommunications' infrastructure, and are simple, shaky methods of curtailing the flow of undesired information. Keep in mind, though, that economic damage from shutdowns is significant, and also tends to spread panic as citizens are unable to communicate with their relatives and friends to check if they are OK.
Always think of the consequences of your policies. Always. I can not stress this enough. It applies to any nation you RP, but especially in a totalitarian one. A command economy will not make your country wealthy - it may introduce near-full employment, high levels of equality and generous welfare, but also shortages and stagnant growth. Resorting to anonymous denunciations (a favorite of Stalin's USSR) will result in high numbers of political prisoners and/or executions, prison overcrowding, broken families, widespread terror and negative popular perspective on the regime. A conscription system like Eritrea's will essentially destroy your nation's education system, as children see no other future than indefinite military service and teachers are often untrained conscripts. And so on.
Also, try to pick and adapt the options in this guide according to the cultural and historical context of your state. I did note above how the modern Turkmen model would not work in the PRC, where the population is better educated and politically aware, and there is not a single large resource to embezzle funds in large amounts. Are citizens politically aware? If so, they are much more likely to scrutinize the government's actions as well as participate in protests. Are citizens well educated? If so, propaganda must be handled with extra care to mantain a degree of believability. Does the country have a history of war and foreign aggression? If so, it is more likely to be militaristic and have autocratic tendencies. Does the population live in poverty? And, most importantly, how does that affect your nation?
In conclusion, what a totalitarian state fundamentally needs is to monopolize all power and eliminate all checks and balances while theoretically directing a nation through an ideology that sets an unachievable goal. It seems simple, but actually requires an enormous amount of careful planning, especially when building a repressive apparatus for social control. Furthermore, be wary of unintended consequences of your policies, and also of the effects the nation's history and social context have.
Hope this massive guide helped you building a realistic totalitarian state or, at least, inform you of the common characteristics every totalitarian state shares. If so, please share and upvote so that the NationStates community can have some of this knownledge too.
10th August 2019: Fixed some small spelling errors and added punctuation to make it easier to read.
15th August 2019: Fixed some punctuation, spelling and awkward wording. Conclusion has been expanded so that it is actually meaningful.
4th September 2019: Added a much-needed index and navigation tools.
20th September 2019: Expanded and improved some sections, removed ideologically charged & unproved statements.
4th February 2020: Expanded and improved some sections, fixed wording and punctuation.
13th August 2020: Added some detail, minor grammar fixes.
10th December 2020: Added a comment on Turkmenistan's internet costs and speed, as example of government denial of internet service.
3rd April 2021: Fixed a spotted and recurrent spelling mistake.