Europe of the Dictators (Online)


  • Why were so many European countries ruled by dictators between the global conflicts of the twentieth century and how did this affect the lives of their peoples? Why did Europe descend into a second hugely destructive world war in 1939, just twenty years after the end of the first world war in 1918? This course aims to answer these vital questions.

Between the two world wars most countries in continental Europe experienced dictatorial rule, either of the left (Communism) or of the right (Fascism). This course analyses why the inter-war years were a period of such political extremism. It will investigate the distinctive features of Soviet Communist ideology and the impact of Lenin and Stalin on the USSR. The course will also analyse the so-called Fascist regimes of Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany and assess how and why their policies led to the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe. Finally, the course will compare and contrast Communist and Fascist rule to evaluate how far continental Europe between the wars can be called an age of totalitarian dictatorship.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

1. Origins of dictatorship: World War One and its impact

  • The legacy of World War One
  • The collapse of empires
  • The peace process: Part one - aims, ideals and organisation
  • The peace process: Part two - problems and issues
  • The Versailles Treaty
  • The League of Nations

2. The Russian revolutions and the rise of Lenin, 1917–24

  • The collapse of tsardom and the February revolution
  • The Provisional Government
  • The rise of the Bolsheviks and the October revolution
  • Bolshevik dictatorship and civil war
  • Building for the future? The NEP controversy
  • Lenin’s role and legacy

3. Mussolini and the establishment of fascist dictatorship in Italy, 1918–29

  • The collapse of liberal Italy
  • The role of Mussolini
  • The road to dictatorship
  • Mussolini’s core policies, domestic and foreign
  • Mussolini: The man and the image

4. Germany and the Weimar Republic, 1918–33

  • The birth of the Republic, 1918-19
  • Weimar politics and culture
  • The years of crisis, 1920-23
  • Stresemann and the ‘Golden Years’, 1923-9
  • The impact of the Great Depression

5. Stalin and the foundations of Stalinism, 1924–9

  • The problem of succession
  • Stalin and the struggle for power
  • Key domestic policies: Agriculture
  • Key domestic policies: Industry
  • Stalin’s impact and legacy

6. Hitler and the establishment of Nazi dictatorship, 1923–34

  • The birth of the Nazi Party
  • The takeover of power
  • The road to dictatorship
  • Key domestic policies: The economy
  • Key domestic policies: The racial question

7. The dictatorships in action: Italy, Germany and the USSR in the 1930s – the politics of persuasion?

  • Enlightening the people: The role of propaganda
  • The importance of film
  • A model vision? The idealised individual
  • Fit to rule? The power of sport and the health of the nation
  • Looking to the future: The importance of youth
  • The role of women and the gender divide

8. The dictatorships in action: Italy, Germany and the USSR in the 1930s – the politics of fear?

  • The politics of terror
  • Purging Russia
  • ‘Purifying’ Germany
  • The popular experience
  • The Italian case

9. The gathering storm? Foreign policy and international relations in the 1930s

  • The years of hope: Peacemaking in the early 1930s
  • A growing divide: Western tensions and Italian foreign policy
  • The Spanish Civil War
  • Appeasement and Nazi foreign policy
  • The road to war

10. Comparing interwar dictatorships

  • The role and nature of ideology
  • The role of the leader
  • Remembering the dictators
  • The value of comparison

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Description Costs
Course Fee £350.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Kate Watson

Kate Watson is a Senior Associate Tutor for Oxford University Department for Continuing Education (OUDCE), and previously an Associate Lecturer and Moderator for the Open University. She is currently researching politics and identity in Georgian England.

Course aims

This course aims to analyse why so many countries between the two world wars, but especially Russia, Italy and Germany, were ruled by dictatorial regimes, and to investigate both the nature of those societies and their relationship with the rest of Europe and the world.

Course Objectives

  • Assess the reasons for the establishment of dictatorial regimes.
  • Understand and evaluate how those societies were ruled and their impact on the lives of their peoples.
  • Analyse the foreign policies of the dictatorships.
  • Evaluate the common and distinctive features of dictatorial rule in the countries studied.
  • Develop a range of historical skills by evaluating primary and secondary sources, and the historiography of the period.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • The reasons that certain countries came under dictatorial rule.
  • The common and distinctive features of life under dictatorial rule in the societies studied.
  • The causes of the Second World War.
  • The conclusions of recent research on European dictatorships.

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • To be able to analyse and evaluate a range of explanations for, and interpretations of, dictatorial rule in Europe between the wars.
  • To write critical, balanced and informed assessment of key historical issues and communicate their ideas successfully.
  • The ability to evaluate and interpret primary sources.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.