© Erik Moberg
A dictatorship is a state which – in principle – is run by one single individual, the dictator. In practice it is however seldom, perhaps never, like this. Around the dictator there is a group of persons who give him advice in different matters and who may have a considerable influence even in other ways. The size of this group could vary and it could also be structured in different ways. Differences like these may give rise to different types of dictatorships. A dictatorship is however not only characterized by the ruling group but also by the absence of precise and respected rules for the governing. Since the dictator himself, together with his group, governs, no such rules are needed. And if any rules like that should happen to be present, there should be no need for respecting them anyway. Since the dictator is dictator he is not responsible to anyone, he decides himself.
The dictatorship is by far the most common type of state in the history of the world. During long periods there have not been any other kinds of states at all. The representative democracy appeared, as I have already said several times, very late in the history of states; the direct democracies that there have been are since long disappeared; and the oligarchies have never been many. For the rest and all through we are dealing with dictatorships.
If we look at the sequences of states described in chapter 2 the pattern becomes still clearer. Practically all states in the sequences there called side-lines are dictatorships. The Chinese states have all the time been dictatorships and in India and Japan the dictatorial continuity was not broken until the twentieth century. The states in the American side-line – the Inca Empire and the Aztecs’ state – were dictatorships as well. Early, significant exceptions from the dictatorship rule therefore occurred only in the sequence which I called the main course – for instance the Athenian direct democracy and the Roman Republic. But these early exceptions did not break the general tendency. After them followed, in the main course, still another long row of dictatorships. First came the Roman Empire, then the Byzantine Empire, and then a number of European states run by dictators entitled King.
Then, taking a long jump forwards, there appeared in the twentieth century after a long period of more general democratization, the modern dictatorships among which Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and communist China were among the most horrible dictatorships ever. And even if Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union are gone, all have not disappeared. In spite of the very considerable liberalization China must still be considered a dictatorship, and in Russia the dictatorial features have never totally disappeared and even seem, at present, to be growing. A number of new dictatorships have also appeared after the Second World War. Furthermore today’s Burma (although seemingly evolving towards democracy), Cambodia, North Korea and Iran are dictatorships as well as a lot of African countries. Some countries such as Iraq and Pakistan finally, actually in some kind of transitional state between democracy and dictatorship, are difficult to judge. And the question about the future in the Arab countries after the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia at the turn of the year 2010/11 is similarly open.
And so we have the modern Latin American dictatorships which however, in important respects, differ from most other dictatorships. This whole topic is in fact so atypical – and so closely related to a certain kind of democracy – that it could not be treated until after, or perhaps within, chapter 10 about democratic politics. I have chosen the latter and the Latin American dictatorships will then be dealt with as democratic failures – as democracies run off the rails.
But this chapter is about the great main bundle of dictatorships. Since they have been so many, and present in all times, they must of course, in some respects, differ from each other. But, since they have all been just dictatorships, there must also be important similarities. A systematic disclosure of these differences and similarities therefore should be an important and interesting task, but it has hardly been a priority in political science even if the interest has started growing. An example of this new interest, perhaps the most flagrant one, is Ronald Wintrobe’s volume “The Political Economy of Dictatorship”, 350 pages thick. Even if Wintrobe is an economist, not a political scientist, the subject matter nevertheless belongs to political science. I sympathize with Wintrobe’s methodological points of departure but still his book, as I see it, is of limited value. The expression “much cry, but little wool” is uncommonly fitting. The “cry” consists in masses of mathematical formulas – differential- and integral-calculus – spread all over the pages (a misbehavior which has become more common in parts of the social sciences in later years). And the lack of “wool” becomes evident in the really meager final, concluding chapter. In spite of Wintrobe’s frequent references to historical facts one gets the impression that his understanding of them is superficial. The fundamental difference between dictatorships before and after the industrial revolution is, for instance, not mentioned and not recognized. Rather, the pure formalism takes over and steers. There are also clear oddities. Thus, as an example, Wintrobe writes that he has been unable to find any female dictators in the historical past, except possibly Indira Gandhi for a short period. And still there have been lots of female dictators which will become evident below. My devoting here a whole paragraph to Wintrobe’s book does not only depend on its representing a growing interest. It has also been exorbitantly praised by individuals as well-known in parts of social science as Barry Weingast and Dennis Mueller.
The discussion about dictatorships and their properties which I will undertake in this chapter is thus another one than Wintrobe’s. As the chapter proceeds I will point out distinctions which I find interesting from a theoretical point of view. In the final section I will then present a classification of dictatorships departing from these distinctions.
Since the dictator is the absolute governor of the dictatorship it seems reasonable to start the discussion about the properties of dictatorships by examining the incentives of the dictator. What does he want, what characterizes his decisions? In the section “Modifications of the basic model” in the theory chapter I suggested an incentive, namely that a dictator – or in that case a war lord – wished to become as rich as possible, and therefore tried to acquire many subjects which could be intensely taxed. But this incentive is not only simple, it is obviously too simple. It is easy to agree with Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew K. Brezezinski when they, in their book “Totalitarian Dictatorship & Autocracy” write:
For whereas tyranny was conducted for the benefit of the tyrant, as Aristotle pointed out, it is not very realistic to make that kind of egoism the basis of an interpretation of totalitarian dictatorship. Whatever Lenin’s new type of state was, it was not conducted in the personal interest of Lenin.
But then, how complicated are the incentives of dictators? How far, and in which directions, do we have to distance ourselves from the simple idea in the theory chapter? Is it really possible to generalize about dictators’ incentives? At first this may undeniably seem difficult, but I believe that it could be easier than it seems. Even if the outwardly perceptible manifestations of dictators’ ambitions vary enormously there are, I contend, traits beneath which are more uniform. But let me start with the easily discernible, outer characteristics.
Some dictators such as the pharaohs of Egypt have considered themselves as gods, or at least as intermediaries to gods, and in this respect they are not the only ones. A number of dictators in Mesopotamia behaved in the same way. And similar patterns have characterized many other dictatorships as well. In the Roman Empire a number of emperors were declared gods – albeit, in this case, after having died. The Chinese emperors were, during long periods, regarded as “Sons of Heaven” which again entails a godly, or at least un-earthly, origin. The Arab word “caliph”, which means “successor” or “substitute”, originally stood for “the successor of God’s representative” but later on, more pretentiously, for “God’s substitute”. The sun-god religion of the Incas was, in reality, a deification of the ruling dynasty’s first ancestor. The dictators of the Aztecs considered themselves gods. Kings claiming divine right to rule are almost countless. There are however also dictators having aspired for completely other things than godliness, and thereby we get to the differences in the outer appearances. Sargon II in Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylonia, Xerxes in the Persian Empire, the emperors of the Byzantine Empire, Charlemagne, the Great Mughals of the Mughal Empire, Peter the Great and Louis XIV all wished to create luxuriously decorated great palaces, or even entire cities. Dûr-Sharrukin, Babylon, Persepolis, Constantinople, Aachen, Agra, Sankt Petersburg and Versailles testify eminently to this. Colossal, lavish opulence of various kinds, as well as big harems for the more intimate pleasures of the dictator, could also be included in the requisites. But still other dictators, for instance Charles XII of Sweden and Napoleon Bonaparte, seem to have been more ascetically inclined and mainly devoted themselves to war-waging. Then there are dictators, such as for instance Hitler, who have been absorbed by an enormous ambitiousness or hubris and thus have strived for being remembered as the Greatest in the history of the world. And the dictators Lenin and Mao Zedong seem to have been driven by the ambition to spread certain social philosophies or social systems.
So these are some of the most common, easily identifiable incentives, and then there are of course also combinations of them. The pharaohs of Egypt’s New Kingdom did not only consider themselves gods – they eagerly fought wars as well. Peter the Great did not only build his capital but also was a first rate warrior. But irrespective of these combinations, and of the exactitude of the short characterizations given above, the great variation is the essential point here. At first sight the incentives of the dictators in world history really seem very different. And so it may be, but it may also be, at least to some extent, a delusion. It is thus most likely that at least some of the dictators who, in one way or another, have laid claim to divinity, have done so in order to enhance their own power – and that consequently the claims, in fact, have been intended pretences. A grandson to the Mesopotamian king Sargon of Akkad found it for instance necessary, for solving a political crisis, to present himself as a god. And with Egyptian pharaohs it may, according to some information, have been similarly. But still there remains a most considerable variation. In spite of this variation, and behind it, there is however, I contend, an important common factor. All of the incentives are such that they, for their fulfillment, require far-going exploitation of a lot of people, the subjects of the dictatorships.
The pharaohs were not just any religious or pious individuals, they wished to have pyramids. Lenin and Mao Zedong were no common social philosophers, they also wished to implement their ideas by means of resource-requiring violence. The hubris or ambitiousness of dictators have not been of the same kind as the ambitions of for instance artists or scientists – they have always been of a kind requiring great material resources and violence for their fulfillment. So, irrespective of all easily discernible variations, and irrespective of the intensity or seriousness of these variations, dictators incentives have always been such that they, for their fulfillment, require exploitation of subjects. The dictator needs his subjects. The subjects are necessary since it is only by means of them that the dictator can realize his ambitions.
Friedrich and Brzezinski wrote that “Hitler was not primarily interested in the German people and was basically motivated by his totalitarian mission, as he conceived it; for this the German people was merely the tool.” This seems correct, and even if Hitler was an unusually atrocious dictator, the same holds, according to the reasoning conducted here, for many other dictators as well, maybe even for most of them. Their peoples were their tools.
The reasoning thus leads to the following main hypothesis. Dictators’ incentives have always, in all dictatorships and in all times, been such that extensive exploitation of many subjects has been necessary for their fulfillment. The dictators have therefore tried to exploit their subjects as much as possible, and also to increase the number of subjects. This hypothesis is obviously closely related to the one advanced in the theory chapter, which also emphasized the utilization of the subjects. The difference just is that the pursuit of richness was the only aim of the utilization mentioned there, whereas, as we have now seen, it may be used for other purposes as well. Furthermore, for the utilization of the subjects the dictators may have used different methods. The conditions may have varied with the geographical location and the period of time. And the dictators themselves have of course differed most considerably with respect to intelligence, temperament, and so forth, and therefore acted differently. For these reasons, and in spite of the main hypothesis’ emphasizing of dictators’ similarities, different dictatorships have had different properties.
The main hypothesis is thus fundamental, but still there may be dictators who are not captured by it. It is even easy to point at mechanisms giving rise to such dictators. Thus it is quite common that the dictatorship is inherited within the family of the founder (see the section “The power shifts” below). And under conditions like that dictators with really strange incentives, or even perhaps almost lacking incentives, may obviously appear. There is no scarcity of dictators with limited intelligence, or else badly or bizarrely equipped.
The most interesting deviations from the pattern described are however not the handicapped dictators, but those, if such ones have existed, who have had all forces and capabilities and who used these resources wholeheartedly for something totally different than the hitherto mentioned purposes, for instance for the best of their subjects. What in particular deserves attention – for the sake of contrast – are dictators with an altruistic inclination. Have there been any such ones? Have there existed any dictators who have not considered their subjects essentially as means for their own ends, but who have really cared for them for other reasons? Logically this is of course not excluded and trying to find such dictators is of great interest. First this is of course interesting for the very simple reason that it is always nice to be able to register the presence of decent people. But it is also interesting from a theoretical point of view. Precisely since we have used an assumption about self-interest as our starting pointit is important keep the eyes open for possible, existing counter-examples. The theory must not be too simple. After having discussed various aspects of dictatorships I will therefore, in the final section of this chapter, raise the issue about dictators’ incentives anew. Above all I will then focus on altruistic dictators, if there are any.
Specifying a creational mechanism for dictatorships is not difficult. The second invisible hand described in the theory chapter may bring at least small, dictatorial, stationary monopolies of violence into being. In the theory chapter I also explained how a tribal leader could make himself an absolute leader. Furthermore I pointed to the incentives of the monopolist to enlarge his territory by conquests. The basic model thus indicates a possible mechanism for the emergence of dictatorships. But is the model also correct? Have the processes actually been like that when dictatorships of the real world have emerged?
A first comment is that the basic model is relevant only for the transition from a stateless or anarchistic situation to dictatorship, or the transition from a simple tribal society, possibly with some kind of simple, direct democracy, to dictatorship. But obviously dictatorships have been created in other ways as well, for instance by the transformation of other kinds of fully developed states. Processes like that must of course be dealt with in the discussion here, but let us start with the simple transition from anarchy or primitive tribal society to dictatorship.
It then seems likely that all, or practically all, of those early dictatorships mentioned earlier in this chapter and in chapter 2, emerged, or at least could have emerged, in the way described. And the reason for the reservation “could have emerged” is not the presence of any obvious, manifest counter-evidence but rather that the details sometimes are unknown. The origin of the two states Upper and Lower Egypt, which together were to constitute the Old Kingdom, is for instance unclear, and the same is true for the background of several other early states, as for instance the Sumerian city-states. We do however also know about cases where the traces are clearer and where the mechanism described seems likely. This is so, for instance, for the first Chinese states Shang, Zhou and Qin, for the Persian Empire originating from the Medes tribe, and for Rome which was created by a tribe at the Tiber, and which, at its very earliest, was a dictatorship. A much later example is the kingdom of Charlemagne, the origin of which was created by a German tribe, the Franks. Going forwards in time it then seems likely that the early European, dictatorial kingdoms mentioned in chapter 2, that is Portugal, and Aragon and Castile which were to unite into Spain, and early England, had similar backgrounds. For none of these dictatorships the emergency mechanism is mysterious. The same is the case with the French kingdom which was created by the uniting of a number of very small states, with a stage of feudalism in between. Also Russia was created by the unification of smaller areas run by their chiefs even if there was no feudalism included here. It would be easy to give more examples than the ones already mentioned.
But dictatorships do not only emerge out of primitive societies of various kinds. Also highly developed societies may be turned into dictatorships. An early, outstanding example of passage from oligarchy to dictatorship is, of course, the transition of the Roman state from the Republic to the Empire – this occurred, as was described in chapter 2, after the long republican period which, in its turn, had followed the very short, initial, dictatorial, period already mentioned. A much later example is the transition from one type of dictatorship – Russia of the tsars – to another type of dictatorship – the Soviet Union. This transition was a long, drawn-out process including hunger revolts, the degeneration of the tsar regime and even the beginning of a process towards European style democratization and liberalization. And then, in connection with the set-backs during the World War One, Vladimir Lenin succeeded in getting the upper hand by means of the so called October Revolution in 1917. After a civil war lasting until 1920 the new dictatorship was then established. In Italy Benito Mussolini, added by his fascists, made himself dictator in 1926. Still later, as another example, the German representative democracy of the interwar period, the Weimar Republic, was transformed into the dictatorship of the Hitler period. In this case the general elections of 1931, which made the Nazi party biggest in the parliament, was of crucial importance. But since the party did not achieve a majority of its own this was however not enough. Using violence and threats of various kinds Hitler could however complement the electoral success and in 1934 the process was brought to an end – thus a transition from democracy to dictatorship by means of, at least to some extent, democratic means. And some years later the Spanish representative democracy was turned into a dictatorship as a consequence of the civil war 1936-9. Here it was a professional soldier, the general Franco, who, using violence, made himself dictator.
The last four examples – Russia, Italy, Germany and Spain – are interesting since they belong to the modern age, the age after the industrial revolution. The transitions occurred in societies which were much more developed than those less modern societies we have previously considered. And that means that the conditions for establishing a dictatorship were different. What should be changed was more consolidated and therefore the organization for achieving the change also had to be more elaborated. It was not, as it could be in older times, enough for the aspiring dictator just to murder the incumbent one. The organization required could however be of different kinds.
In Russia, Italy and Germany grass root level parties were created. These parties then recruited more and more members, made themselves known by aggressive behavior and then, finally, overtook the ruling. Certainly the processes were somewhat different in the three cases but even so a main characteristic is that they all started from below. And this is perfectly compatible with the logic of collective action. At least from that point of view nothing is difficult to explain. At first a small group of similar minded individuals may have formed the embryo for a party, and within that group someone may have been a natural leader already from the beginning, or made himself leader later on. Similar processes, leading to what may be called party dictatorships, have also taken place later on in other places, for instance in North Korea at the end of the 1940s, in China in 1949, at Cuba in 1959 and in Iraq, with its Baath party and Saddam Hussein, in 1979. The parties operating in this kind of processes are however not necessarily created for the purpose of founding a dictatorship. A variety is that liberation movements created in colonies during the colonial era continued as dominating parties in their respective countries after the achievement of independence. Such a party could then continue by founding a dictatorship. That happened in for instance Algeria, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.
In Spain the organization was however of another kind. In a developed country there is usually, beside all public administrations and authorities, all companies, and so forth, also a military apparatus with all its equipment, all its employees, and among the latter in particular the career officers. And such a situation is always potentially dangerous since the military disposes of the most important means of violence. If some high officer, or group of officers, wants to take hold of the ruling power, and if the rest of the soldiers are loyal with them, their odds are good. In Spain there was a situation almost like this. The future dictator, Francisco Franco, was a professional solder, and together with parts of the army he tried to overthrow the republic and its democratically elected government. He did however not succeed immediately, partly because he did not have the full support of the armed forces. Rather a long, horrible civil war came to pass (1936–9), a war in which foreign forced intervened on both sides. At last Franco however succeeded. The result was what may be called a military dictatorship, and such ones there have been many. To them belong, among other ones, the Latin American dictatorships, but about them I will, as I have already mentioned, write more in chapter 10. There are however more ones, and often the coups have been successful without any long civil wars. Modern examples are Egypt which was turned into a military dictatorship by the professional soldier Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956, Burma which was similarly transformed by the country’s Chief of Army in 1962, and Libya where the colonel Muammar Gadaffi seized power in a military coup in 1969. And in these cases there is neither anything that is difficult to explain – everything is compatible with the logic of collective action. The necessary organization – the military apparatus – has been in place from the beginning, built up by former governments. If a party dictatorship grows from below a military dictatorship is, on the contrary, pushed on from above.
So these are two main processes by which modern dictatorships may be created even if other ways should not be excluded. What is important is that there hardly is anything mysterious involved. Explanations compatible with the logic of collective action are never difficult to find. Transitions from oligarchy or representative democracy certainly require, for making the explanation complete, that the emergence of the oligarchy or the democracy also is explained, but those explanations will not be presented until the chapters 8 and 9 respectively. Here, in this chapter, I take these steps for given for focusing on the transition to dictatorship.
Before continuing I shall however make a further comment on the distinction between party and military dictatorships. The distinction, as explained above, is related to the way in which the dictatorship is created. After being created the two types of dictatorships may however become more and more similar. That a dictatorship which is created by a party very soon also have to acquire a military apparatus of its own is obvious – without such one the new dictatorship would in all likelihood not survive for long. An example of a quick militarization is the Russian revolutionaries’ creation of the Red Army as early as in January 1918. That a party dictatorship, beside its party, very soon will dispose of a significant military apparatus should therefore not be surprising. Less expected is however, perhaps, the appearances of parties in military dictatorships.
An interesting example is Egypt. After the establishment of the dictatorship a later dictator, Anwar Sadat, in 1978 founded the National Democratic Party. This party has, as it seems, two main functions. The one is that it is included in, and amplifies, the dictatorship’s aspired for democratic façade. The other is that it constitutes a demarcated and controllable institution for the careers of the functionaries of the dictatorship. Even in military dictatorships parties may thus be valuable.
The essential conclusion of this section is that dictatorships easily emerge from anarchistic conditions or from direct democracies, and that all kinds of societies, as it seems, sometimes and quite easily may be turned into dictatorships. Dictatorships have also, totally independent of each other, appeared in many parts of the world in all times. There has not been any early prototype dictatorship serving as inspiration for followers, and neither has there been any need for such a prototype. The dictatorship is therefore, and in this sense, the most “natural” kind of state.
The problem of succession is, in a dictatorship as in every stately monopoly of violence, of greatest importance, but also complicated and peculiar. Characteristic for dictatorships is that the succession is much less regulated by rules, and in particular by formal rules, than in other kinds of states. But some rules, even if implicit, and often also ignored, have nevertheless almost always existed. This section is about the more regular forms for power shifts in dictatorships. But certainly power has often also been shifted in other ways, for instance by murdering the incumbent dictator. Shifts like that will however be dealt with later on, in the section “Threats against the dictator”.
Let us, following our earlier way of reasoning, start by looking at the succession problem from the point of view of the incumbent dictator. Let us furthermore assume that this dictator is extremely egoistic – he thinks about nothing but himself and his own interests. Even such a dictator, interestingly enough, has all the reason to consider the succession problem seriously, and to handle it in a credible way. If namely the subjects – when the dictator approaches the end of his life or becomes regarded as threatened in some other way – suspect that the succession is not properly arranged, this may be enough for triggering disturbances and disorder in the state. Facing the arriving uncertainty a growing number of people may then conclude that it is better to forestall than to be forestalled and thus start breaking formerly respected norms and rules, whichever they may be. And this may happen irrespective of whether the subjects have appreciated the dictator or not. Therefore, in order to avoid unrest and perhaps chaos, it is in the interest of even the most egoistic and self centered dictator to address the succession problem convincingly. To the extent that he succeeds with this he has also contributed to the stability, important for himself, in his dictatorship. An interesting example of the mechanisms described is provided the consequences following the murder of Philip of Macedonia by one of his body guards in the year -336. Since no one expected that Philip’s son Alexander, then only twenty years old, should take over, uprisings started off everywhere in the realm created by Philip. Alexander, however, proved himself master of the situation and did not only pacify his father’s territory but also continued in order to become known as “the Great”. But had Alexander not been the one he was, he obviously could have failed. And therefore the disorder erupting after the murder of Philip clearly demonstrates the importance of orderly succession.
In reality there has almost always also been some kind of rule or principle for the succession and part of the reason may be an understanding of the mechanisms just described, even if other explanations are imaginable as well. The dictator may, for instance, have been equipped with somewhat more empathy than hitherto assumed and in fact cared about his family and offspring. However that may be more or less clear rules of succession have been quite common and in the following I will consider two basic models. In the first one, the family model, the successor comes from the dictator’s own family, and in the other one, the party model, from the dictator’s party. Beside these two main models there have also been some other courses of action.
The family model is by far the most common in the history of the world. In its most widespread variety it means that one of the dictator’s children – for instance the eldest son, or the eldest child, or the child considered most suitable by the dictator – takes over. The dictatorship is thus inherited and thereby so called dynasties are brought into being. World history is full of well-known such dynasties. In Egypt’s Kingdoms a long row of dynasties ruled – somewhere about 30 depending on how one counts. In early Assyria members of the same family ruled for more than two hundred years. The names of the Chinese states are those of their main dynasties. The English and Scottish dynasties Tudor and Stuart are well-known. On the European main land the House of Habsburg is one important dynasty. And many, many more examples could be given. The ones mentioned should however suffice for conveying an impression about the spread of the family model.
But then, which is the reason for this extensive spread of the model? For a start it is quite simple, and, as I have already noted, some dictators may also have wished to favor their own family for pure sentimental reasons. But more important is probably that the family model is the model giving least influence to persons outside the dictator’s own circle. If, for instance, the dictator himself should select his successor from a group of confidents – a model which has been used – this immediately opens the door for various kinds of influences from outside. The dictator is no longer as much of a dictator. So perhaps it is its combination of simplicity and closeness which explains the spread of the family model.
But irrespective of the reasons for the spread of the model the political consequences have been enormous – and this, of course, depends on the links between higher politics and family life, and sometimes even amorous affairs, established by the model. About -1350 the rulers of Egypt and Babylonia improved the relations between their countries using the diplomatic means of their time – the Egyptians gave gold to the Babylonians who countered by sending princesses to pharaoh’s harem. In the year -1261 history’s first known peace treaty – between Egypt’s New Kingdom and its enemy the Hittites – was agreed upon, after which Egypt’s pharaoh confirmed the treaty by marrying an Hittite princess in -1246, and then still another one in -1235. About -600 Babylonia and Media enforced their at that time existing alliance by means of a marriage between the Babylonian king’s son Nebuchadnezzar – the future great king – and the daughter Amytis of the king of Media; and after that the two states together crushed the Assyrian Empire. But marriages, or invitations to marriages, were not only used for enforcing the links with allies, but also for appeasing enemies. Thus an emperor in Chinese Han, trying to make the hostile neighbors in north-west stop their aggressions, bestowed them with a princess – in that case without success however. New and bigger states could also be created by marriages as when Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married in 1469. Thereby the Spanish kingdom – which was to become a veritable super power in its own time – had come into existence. And – with the risk of being repetitive – almost countless examples like these could be given.
But the mixture of great politics and family life does not stop with matters as simple as marriages. In a world in which the dictators own their countries, and fight each, there are greater games than that. The Spanish super power which was created by means of a marriage should later on dwindle because of a family conflict about a will, a conflict which led to the war of the Spanish succession (1701–14). This was not, as its name perhaps may lead one to guess, a Spanish civil war, but a major European war, or even, according to some historians, the first world war of modern age. The French king Louis XIV was married to one daughter to the Spanish king who died in 1700 and the Habsburg emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to another one. Both therefore hoped to be able to place some younger member of their own family on the Spanish throne. But the Spanish king, in his will, had given the whole of Spain, including all its non-European territories, to the grandson of Louis XIV, thereby leaving the Habsburgs without anything. And thereby the field was open for that great war which led, among much else, to the splitting of the Spanish great power.
Before leaving the family model it may be interesting to mention some variations on the theme. Families may look differently and dictators with many wives are, for instance, quite common in history. And that, as well as other family constellations, may, of course, entail problems. Which child should inherit the throne? In the Egyptian Kingdoms problems like these seem to have been frequent and it occurred that pharaohs married their sisters in order to strengthen the position of the own family. In the Persian Empire the ruling dictator choose – when the rules were followed – his own favorite. Chinese Han adopted the rule that, if an emperor died before his wife, the widow should choose the successor from the family of the deceased. But several widows, in Han as well as later on, circumvented this rule by appointing a weak successor from the family of the former emperor and a strong man, who in reality even if not formally took over, from her own family. In the Inca Empire the rules were utterly strange. The emperor or dictator could have many wives, but he had to have one of his full sisters as his principal wife. The one of the sons with this wife who the emperor considered most fitting was appointed successor. These rules were based on the idea that the emperor was a god, and that the divinity was upheld by the bloodline. Even the rules of inheritance were interesting. Nothing of a dead emperor’s very large possessions could be inherited. They were rather assembled at a cult place where his mummy was placed as well. Every new emperor therefore had to accumulate anew the very large and expensive belongings necessary for his dignity. It has in fact been argued that these inheritance rules were the main reason for the ever new conquests by the Inca state. Perhaps it was so. Anyway the result was a very harsh exploitation of the subjects and in that sense in accordance with our main hypothesis about the dictator’s incentives. The Inca rules were thus fairly strict even if bizarre. In the Mughal Empire they were on the contrary almost nonexistent even if the family model, on the whole, was implicitly adopted. If an emperor unexpectedly died a fight between the throne pretenders inevitably ensued. When for instance a dictator had died in 1627 both Shah Jahan – he who built Taj Mahal – and his brother claimed the throne. Shah Jahan triumphed and thereafter executed all his male relatives. The next power shift, even if of a quite different kind, was also, in its own way, interesting. Shah Jahan’s son captured his father, put him into prison, and made himself dictator.
Above I wrote about the political influence of the Chinese emperor widows, and in relation to that it may be appropriate to say something about female dictators. Such ones there have been many, in particular within the family model. In Egypt’s New Kingdom Hatshepsut, daughter to the former pharaoh, was queen from -1490 to -1468. The last ruler of Egypt was also a woman, namely Cleopatra (-69 – -12). When she, together with her lover Mark Antony, had committed suicide Egypt was made part of the Roman state. Zenobia who ruled the country Palmyra – about the same as today’s Syria – from 240 to 274 was a remarkable, dynamic dictator. When her husband, the former dictator, had died, she overtook the power and started a revolt against the Roman Empire. In the beginning she was successful and conquered Egypt, where she made herself dictator. Finally, however, she was defeated by the Romans. In Chinese Tang a woman, the formidable Wu, took the throne from her sickly husband. She ruled iron-fistedly from 690 to 705 – for instance by continuously exchanging ministers, or even by executing them – but in the end she was forced to abdicate. A later vigorous and charismatic Chinese dictator was the empress dowager Cixi, who ruled China until her death in 1908. Still well-known female dictators are Catherine II, “the Great”, of Russia (1729–96), the Tudor queens Mary I, “Bloody Mary”, (1516–58) and Elizabeth I (1533–1603), and the Stuart queen Mary II (1662–94). The list could easily have been made longer.
Another example of the family model – or rather a failed family model – is the Caliphate. Muhammad’s death in 632 came as a surprise and the appointment of his successor, the first caliph, therefore became tumultuous. After some more caliphs Muhammad’s cousin and son in law, Ali, became the fourth one. After that, when Ali had been murdered in 661 and followed by another caliph, a conflict broke out in the Muslim world. Ali’s supporters hold that caliphs should be recruited from Muhammad’s family, and thereby they disqualified not only Ali’s successor but also the three first caliphs as well as all the following ones. These adherents to the family model were to be called Shiites. The other ones, those not sympathizing with the Shiites, were the Sunnis. In this way, what was to become a main conflict in the Muslim world, started. The conflict has more elements than the succession issue, but it was with that one it began.
The family model has thus been most important in world history, but lost, essentially, its significance in the societal transformations following the industrial revolution. It is however not completely gone. There are remains in some Arab countries which still have their dynasties. Possibly the explanation is that the dictators of these countries, with their great oil resources, are able to live well without suppressing their subjects all that much. But these are reminiscences, even if some efforts to enliven the model also have been undertaken. North Korea, in which shifts from father to son have occurred twice, the first time in 1994 and the second time 2011, is one example. In Burma there have been similar tendencies, at least before the present, potential democratization, and the same was true for Libya before the death of Gadaffi in 2012. But in spite of this the family model has in all likelihood finished its role. As main model it has been substituted for by the party model.
Let us start with Benito Mussolini’s Italy and Adolf Hitler’s Germany. In these states the dictator was also the leader of the only political party permitted – the National Fascist Party and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party respectively. There were however no shifts of power. The Italian and German dictatorships were short-lived and expired together with their leaders in the Second World War. In the communist dictatorships – and then in particular in Soviet Union and China – which also use the party model, a considerable number of power shifts have however taken place. Common for all of these shifts is that the new dictator, or in some cases a small interim group, always has come from the top level of the only permitted party. Formal rules have hardly been followed and brutal violence has been common.
In the Soviet Union, after the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, Joseph Stalin finally triumphed in a brutal fight against Leon Trotsky. Then, after Stalin’s death in March 1953, a new, intensive fight for power followed. An early ingredient in this fight was a trial against one of the main candidates, the former chief of the secret police (more about this secret police follows in the section “Communication routes, intelligence systems and police” below) Lavrentiy Beria. Those remaining after that were Georgy Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin and, at first waiting in the coulisses, Nikita Khrushchev. The last one finally won and immediately engaged in efforts to consolidate his own position – primarily by criticizing his predecessor Stalin intensively at the twentieth party congress in 1956. In particular he condemned the so called cult of personality during Stalin’s reign. After that he ruled absolutely until 1964 when he, himself, was outmaneuvered, but not executed – he lived in the Soviet Union, arrested in his own home, until he died in 1971. The ones who expelled him, once again a small group, were Leonid Brezhnev, Alexei Kosygin, Nikolai Podgorny and the, in the very top level of Soviet politics since long active, perpetual survivor Anastas Mikoyan. But this group, in the same way as earlier groups of a similar kind, only became an interim solution. Brezhnev forced the other ones out and thereafter ruled as dictator until his death in 1982. After him followed in order, and until the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Tjernenko and Mikhail Gorbachev. These later power shifts were more peaceful than the earlier ones, and perhaps even rules were followed to some extent. Possibly the institution which announced the leaders appointed – the executive committee of the communist party, the Politburo – also had certain amount of real influence.
Characteristic for the party model thus is that the new leader always comes from the only party permitted, and that there is no obvious, in advance generally agreed upon, successor. Rather a fight for power ensues, a fight between some main aspirants which is often settled quite brutally. In these respects the Chinese patterns are similar to the Soviet ones. During Mao Zedong’s last years a rival power group – the Gang of Four – appeared. The members of the group were however imprisoned and sentenced to death by the dictator taking over after Mao’s death in 1976, Hua Guofeng. Later on the death sentences were changed to life time imprisonment. And Hua Guofeng, after only two years, was forced out by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Before that Deng Xiaoping had since long been the central man in the party and, after having taken over, he acted as dictator until his death in 1997. It was Deng Xiaoping who introduced the market liberalizing reforms and he also restructured the state’s ruling institutions in some respects. But even so it is still a party dictatorship.
Before leaving the party model I shall take up an important similarity between this model and the family model. The families were always limited – only very few individuals in the states concerned could belong to them – and furthermore those in power often tried to control in-marrying so that no unfitting individuals were included. The parties at issue here were, and are, similarly controlled. They were, as we have seen – or at least became in due time – the only party permitted in their respective state. And in addition to that the membership was restricted. There was always some kind of adoption procedure in which the wheat was sifted from the chaff, it was a privilege to belong to the party. Correspondingly a member, as a punishment for some real or alleged impropriety, could be expelled. The party constituted an elite and was used for strengthening, in this elite, attitudes and behavior regarded as desirable. At most the members of the party could amount to about 10 percent of the population, but often the figures were essentially lower. For the Soviet Union, at about the middle of the twentieth century, the figure 2–3 percent of the grown up population has been mentioned.
What I call other courses of action can, to a large extent, be described as mixtures. In ancient Egypt, for instance, deviations from the principle of inheritance sometimes took place. Dictators could, if they thought that fitting, go outside the own family for finding a suitable successor, and sometimes also did so. In the Roman Empire adoptions were not unusual – Marcus Aurelius was for instance adopted by the emperor he succeeded. There were also, in the Empire, occasional shifts between, or mixtures of, different methods. During some periods the Senate, still formally existing as a reminiscence from the Republic, had some influence, at least as a confirming instance; during other periods the army was quite influential and appointed, in principle and among its own officers, the dictator; and during still other periods the family model prevailed. Turning then to European kingdoms there have been some elements of election, or at least some kind of approval afterwards from some smaller group or assembly, when new kings have taken power. In Sweden, for instance, such a principle was introduced as early as about 1350, in a law promulgated by the king Magnus IV. After that the principle has been more or less adhered to. During long periods it has not been followed at all, during other ones the election or approval has been limited to the introduction of new dynasties. The House of Vasa was for instance established when Gustav Eriksson was elected king, Gustav I of Sweden, by an assembly of leading men in 1523. In a similar way the first Russian tsar of the House of Romanov was elected in 1613 – a house or dynasty to which the later dictator Peter the Great belonged. Peter, being dissatisfied with his own son, did however abolish the inheritance principle and declared that every tsar was free to appoint his own successor. For safety he thereafter also killed the son.
What is important, in point of principle, among these other courses of action are the elements of election. Here groups or assemblies of one kind or another have acted, for instance the Roman senate, the Swedish assembly of leading men, or perhaps groups of leaders of some other kinds. The emergence of these groups must be explained, and the explanations must be compatible with the logic of collective action. I will return to these issues in chapters 8 and 9.
At last the modern military dictatorships discussed in the former section ”The emergence of dictatorships” have to be commented on in this context as well. Their only principle of succession seems to be that the new dictator should be a professional soldier. The Spanish example is hardly interesting since there never was a succession – after Franco’s death in 1975 the transformation into a modern democracy was, on the whole, quiet and peaceful. In Burma several power shifts have taken place and, even if they have been rowdy, the new dictator has all the times been a military officer. In Egypt the dictators have also, continuously, been military officers. After Nasser came Anwar Sadat, and after him Hosni Mubarak. The transitions also seem to have been quite orderly. Sadat, for sure, was murdered, but he was not replaced by the murderers. They were on the contrary punished by the surviving and continuing military regime. In the spring of 2011, the Arab spring, this succession pattern however came to an end. Mubarak was forced away. For the time being the country is governed by a group of high officers, elections have been held, and the future is uncertain (see further the section “Flight, inner exile and rebellion” below).
Let us start from the previously assumed main hypothesis that the dictator runs the dictatorship completely for the sake of his own interest. If so he should reasonably strive for acquiring as large and as valuable resources of various kinds as possible. The more he has, or can lay his hands on by taxing, conquests, and the like, the further he can advance his own ambitions whether they consist in building pyramids, waging wars, or whatever. As we saw in the preceding chapter three main methods have, during the course of history, been available for increasing richness, namely first claims, plundering and conquests, second foreign trade, and third development of the own economy. All of these methods have also been extensively used even if their relative importance has changed over time. If one should draw a dividing line somewhere it is natural to do that at the time for the industrial revolution. This revolution not only led to enormous technological changes, its capitalistic production methods also fitted dictatorships badly, and, finally the possibilities to become rich by means of claims or conquests were, at about its time, drastically reduced. So even if the dividing line obviously not is sharp, I will distinguish between the conditions before and after the industrial revolution.
The first method at a dictator’s disposal for increasing his resources, that is claims, plundering and conquest was, as has been made obvious in several places above, utterly common, or even the main method, during a long period in the beginning of the history of states. Since I have already described this method in some detail I may however leave it aside here. And the same holds for foreign trade which I dealt with in the preceding chapter. I will rather turn directly to those efforts which dictators undertook, before the industrial revolution, for improving their own economies. These efforts were in many cases considerable.
I mentioned in chapter 2 that the Assyrian dictators, in spite of their brutality and intensive war-waging, also ordered the building of extensive irrigation systems for favoring the agriculture. More generally it may be stated that the Mesopotamian dictators all the time built and extended canals, dams and dykes and also continuously tried to keep them functioning. The same applies to a great extent to the Egyptian and Chinese dictators. Many more examples could be mentioned. In the Indian Maurya Empire great investments in different kinds of infrastructure were made. And, taking a long jump forwards, Russia’s Peter the Great undertook far-reaching, and to a large extent successful, efforts for developing, as far as possible at that time, the Russian economy. He travelled himself, for purposes of study, to England and Holland, and also employed a large number of experts from these countries who, in Russia, helped modernizing the country. Mining and metallurgy were developed, as well the textile industry and in particular the weapon industry, commercial companies were founded, and so forth.
Many dictators thus tried intensively, with the resources available, to develop their own economies, and possibly Peter the Great went furthest of all of them – extreme he was anyway. But there were also dictators who behaved quite differently, who relied totally on plundering, conquests and foreign trade, and who did not care at all about their own economies. The Indian Great Mughals are strong candidates for an extremist position in that respect – the investments in infrastructure seem to have been virtually non-existent, all building activities were concentrated on the fantastic monumental buildings.
With the industrial revolution the pattern described began to change. Let us start by looking at the method “claims, conquest and plundering”. Certainly it was tried in some cases even in the twentieth century, and then by dictatorships. A first interesting example is the Japanese aggression in Manchuria in the 1930:th. At first the Japanese army operated on its own without its government’s sanctioning. Then Japan – through a military coup, including the murdering of the prime minister – was transformed from a kind of “half democracy”, a representative democracy in its bud, to a military dictatorship, and the expansionist policy continued. Other examples are Mussolini’s occupation of Ethiopia in 1936, and Hitler’s large-scale attack eastwards – operation Barbarossa – in 1941. All of these conquering efforts were at least partially economically motivated, but all also failed. Japan, Italy and Germany were the great losers of the Second World War. So even if great conquest have been tried far into modern times, and perhaps not should be excluded in the future, a long time has anyway passed since such operations were successful. Going then to the time after the Second World War, when one of the victory powers, the Soviet Union, occupied the whole of Eastern Europe, the motives were hardly economical. The ambitions to create a military buffer zone towards West, and to spread communism, were probably more important. Anyway Eastern Europe rather, and gradually, turned into an economic burden for the Soviet Union. China’s occupation of Tibet 1950 was neither, in all likelihood, undertaken for economic reasons. The time for making oneself rich by conquests seems, on the whole, gone.
The two other methods for creating richness, that is by foreign trade and, above all, by developing the own economy are, however, more interesting. As I wrote in the preceding chapter there was, until the industrial revolution, hardly anything in the economic institutions developed which was unacceptable from the point of view of a dictator. But then things changed. Dictators could not accept the institutions of the free markets, such as they were after the revolution, but at the same time they wished, of course, to enjoy the fruits of industrialization. So they had to go their own ways. Here I will say something about how this was done in the Soviet Union, in Nazi Germany and in communist China.
From an economic point of view these countries were very different at the time of the establishment of the dictatorship. The Soviet Union was, even if basically an agricultural economy, still industrialized to some minor extent. In Germany the situation was very different. The country was, when the Nazis took over, not only industrialized but a leading industrial country, or perhaps even the leading industrial country in the world. Enterprises such as Krupp, Mercedes, IG Farben, Siemens, Porsche, and so forth, are well-known. China finally, was practically nothing but an agricultural country. It is interesting to compare with the Soviet Union. In 1950 China’s population was four times larger than that of the Soviet Union in 1920, but its national product per capita only half as big. The conditions of departure were thus very different in the three countries. In the Soviet Union there was a certain, even if minor, industry to start from when the large industrialization was launched; in Germany an already existing and very advanced industry could be utilized from the very beginning; and in China, finally, a completely new industry had to be created from scratch. Because of these differences I will start with the Soviet Union and China, and then take Germany after that.
In both the Soviet Union and China targets for the production of various goods were specified in Five-Year Plans. The first Soviet plan was issued in 1928 and the main purpose was to industrialize the country. The first Chinese plan appeared in 1953 and the objective was not only industrialization but also a far-reaching restructuring of agriculture. In both countries private enterprises were, for all practical purposes, forbidden and in both countries agriculture was almost entirely nationalized. From this also followed, with respect to foreign trade, that both countries continued the old tradition of state-trading. The states, the dictatorships, traded themselves since no private actors were allowed. But the really interesting thing, of course, is the development of the own economy.
An important question is about the use of prices and money in these economies. With the possible exception for China at the very first time after the establishment of the communist dictatorship – a China which at that time was quite similar to the storage redistribution economies of older times – prices and money were extensively used. Superficially it thus looked in the same way as in contemporary democratic countries – but why were there prices and money at all, which were their functions? Obviously the prices did not have the same function as in free market economies, they were not the result of supply and demand, and they did not steer production and consumption. Had something like that been the case it would immediately have collided with the plans. And clearly it was neither a sophisticated system à la Lange – that is a system like the one described in the section “The idea about a demand steered unmixed state economy” in the preceding chapter. Lange’s ideas never became anything more than an intellectual exercise, even if they left some impressions in Tito’s Yugoslavia (more about that in chapter 11) and in Hungary. But if so, what were the prices and the money for?
Part of the answer is that the prices and the money facilitated the distribution of the production as described in the section “Dictatorship and planned economy” in the preceding chapter. Furthermore the prices were used for making the fulfillment of the plans easier. In the Soviet Union there were for instance separate price systems for exchanges between manufacturing enterprises, for common consumption goods, and for agriculture. Within these areas the prices were determined independently of costs, or of supply and demand, in such a way that the realization of the goals should be more likely. And whatever may be said about this, it was probably better than if no prices at all had been used. An interesting example of the use of prices and money for steering – namely the Soviet taxing system – will be described in the next section.
Prices thus were important for steering in certain contexts, but they could never become more than that. Since we are dealing with planned economies the goals for the production to a large extent had to be specified in physical terms, and so it was. This was however not without problems. If, for using an often quoted example, a nail producing industry had a goal given in tons, it was much easier to meet this by producing a smaller number of very big nails than a larger number of small nails.
But possibly this example may seem to crude – does the dictatorship really have to behave that casually when determining its production goals? Would it not be possible to specify the size of the nails as well? Well, yes, but the problem is still there. One problem is that, for every added specification, the number of goods increases as well as their number of properties, and therefore the planning bureaucracy also becomes more unwieldy. Another one that the specifications must be very precise and go very far if all possibilities for unwanted manufacturing evasions should be eliminated. Basically there are, therefore, no other reliable incentives than those of a market economy – the ones consisting in entrepreneurs wanting to make profits by satisfying the clients. But this is exactly what cannot be fully accepted by a dictatorship.
But even if the planning systems in the Soviet Union and in China thus were similar, they also had some interesting, special traits. One such is the deviation from total state planning in the Soviet Union which consisted in the small, private plots at the large state kolkhozes for collective farming. The owners were allowed to handle these plots as they wished, and the productivity was drastically higher than in the rest of the agriculture. Another peculiarity is the use in China of large, country-wide campaigns for inciting the masses to something, for instance to harder working. The most outstanding example is “The Great Leap Forward” 1950–60. This campaign included, as typical for China at that time, small-scale production entities – for instance small back-yard iron smelters. The result was however no success, but rather a most horrible catastrophe. Not only were the farmers forced to use inefficient production methods, in at least one of the years the agriculture also suffered from unsuitable weather. When the tax functionaries had taken their part of the production there remained, for the farmers and their families, often much less than needed for survival. It has been estimated that something between 20 and 30 million people died from starvation.
The economies of the two countries were thus noticeably inefficient. The breakdown of the Soviet Union was to a large extent the result of its badly functioning economy. The failure of the Chinese economic methods was indicated by the “Great Leap Forward” example above. More emphatically, and more generally, the failure has been demonstrated by the market economy reforms of later years, reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping. The result, as we know, is a virtual economic explosion.
And so the economy of Nazi Germany remains. Here there are both similarities and differences in relation to the Soviet Union and China. A similarity is that the German dictatorship, in the same way as the Soviet and Chinese ones, introduced planning. Thus a German Four Year Plan, with the motto “guns rather than butter”, was promulgated in 1936. The intention was to eradicate unemployment and to prepare for war. But the plan differed from the communist ones in one important respect, and at least superficially, since private enterprises were allowed to continue their activities. But even if the companies with their names, and their earlier officers, remained, party functionaries with considerable authority were nevertheless installed in strategically important company leaderships. Under the surface the German system therefore, in spite of everything, was more similar to the communist systems than one at first, perhaps, would have guessed. To this it should be added that the German industry already from the start had a composition making it suitable for the intended production and thus easily adapted to the new requirements. Leading German industries competed, for instance, for the orders for the gas chambers of the concentration camps. About the effectiveness it is difficult to have an opinion. The dictatorial economy was in function for a very short time and to a large extent engaged in production of weapons and other war materials. Perhaps it was, during its short time, effective in doing just this. But if so that is a very particular measure of efficiency.
In the preceding section I discussed the total economy of the dictatorships, the total result of their productive efforts. But since the dictator, according to our main hypothesis, wants, for his own disposal, as much as possible of this result or at least a very large part of it, there have to be instruments for that. And this leads to the taxation. In most dictatorships it has been harsh even though the forms have varied.
Starting with the early, moneyless storage-redistribution economies – among those are for instance all the first river states – the taxes, obviously, were in kind, for instance goods of various sorts. The methods for paying these taxes may however have varied, and perhaps they were not paid at all. Many of the subjects could have been slaves, or at least have been forced to perform specified productive tasks occasionally, and if so it was the dictator, or his underlings, who gave the orders and therefore also, primarily, got hold of the results of the work. Thereafter these functionaries could supply the subjects with what was necessary for their subsistence. Systems of this general character were common for a long time. Even slavery was common, and not only in dictatorships, but also in those few states of other kinds that existed. The first more complicated societies, which were not based on slavery, were in fact those of Medieval Europe. But even if the importance of forced labor gradually, and generally speaking, has diminished, dictatorships have continued utilizing it. The labor camps in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union are clear-cut examples, and the method has also been used in the military dictatorship of Burma.
In the beginning there were thus only taxes in kind, forced labor and slavery, but later on important innovations were introduced. In chapter 5 I described how the dictator Croesus introduced money thereby hoping, in all likelihood, to be able to simplify and increase the taxing at the same time. Another example of the same thing, that is of the value of money for the one taxing, is given by the development in Europe following the decline of feudalism. An important prerequisite for feudalism was, as we saw in the section “Western Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire” in chapter 2, the lack of money. But when money gradually came back not only did feudalism disappear, the rulers also discovered that the taxing could be made harsher and more spread out and penetrating. And the result of the taxation, the taxes collected, could also be used more flexibly. Instead of being dependent on a number of knights, contracted by means of barter deals, the rulers could freely buy mercenaries on the market. If there is a difference between the antique rulers and their medieval counterparts it is that the former, themselves, initiated the introduction of money while the latter, rather, got as a gift. Anyway money, even in dictatorships, for long times has been a good servant for extensive and efficient taxation. Samuel Finer writes that “Wherever and whenever possible, governments have preferred to take the taxes in cash.” This, on the whole, seems correct, but as we soon will see, Stalin’s Soviet Union was an exception.
Before that however, and since I have just taken up medieval Europe, it should also be mentioned that dictators could acquire monetary incomes by other means than taxation. The selling of various kinds of privileges, for instance charters to cities making them independent in important respects, monopoly rights to guilds, and so forth, thus gave rise to substantial incomes for dictators at this time. Not exactly taxing, but important incomes for the dictator nevertheless. And the technique with state monopolies has also been used in totally other places, and at other times, than in medieval Europe. The Chinese states claimed, for instance, monopoly rights for the production of iron and salt. And these monopolies were enforced by prohibiting ordinary people to produce the goods mentioned. Producing salt by evaporating water in one’s own pan was thus, for instance, criminal.
And so we may turn to the Soviet Union, and thereby also advance long forwards in time. By means of an innovation the dictator, Stalin, succeeded in obtaining a, perhaps, unprecedented level of taxation. For understating how ingenious this system was it may be fitting, just for comparing, to start with an ordinary progressive system of the kind existing, or having existed, in a number of modern, western democracies. In such a system people, as we know, have to use proportionally more of their incomes for taxes the higher the incomes are, and therefore the income differences after the taxing become smaller than those before. Irrespective of all possible advantages of such a system it results easily in reduced incentives for work. If someone, after having worked a full day, wants to earn a bit more, and therefore thinks about carrying out some available extra work, that is perhaps not all that tempting if that extra work is taxed more than the ordinary work. But Stalin had a solution to this problem which roughly looked like this. By means of competitions and the like – among others the system with so called working heroes or “Stakhanovites” – the state could form an idea about the maximum amount of work obtainable from every individual. Then the individual worker did not receive any payment at all until having – almost – reached the limit of his or her capacity. After that, however, the worker got everything paid in money. In that way an equality after taxing, similar to the one in a progressive system, was achieved, but with amplified incentives for work rather than diminished. And neither was the tax basis reduced as in a progressive system. So the resulting tax level became extraordinarily high.
Taxing in dictatorships has thus always, or at least almost always, been harsh, even if the degree of harshness as well as the methods of taxation have varied. And this is important for the classification of dictatorships. In the theory chapter I introduced, we remember, a distinction between repressive and non-repressive dictatorships, and the nature of the taxation is, of course, of great importance for the labeling in this respect. An example of a non-repressive dictatorship is the early Roman Empire in which the taxation was moderate or even mild. But this was so only during a short time. In due time the taxation was to increase, and finally even to become unsupportable. The Empire thereby turned from having been non-repressive to getting repressive. Most dictatorships have however, as it seems, been repressive from the very beginning. An extreme example is the Mughal Empire. There the taxation level was not only extraordinarily high – the punishments for tax evasion were also utterly brutal. Enforced selling of wives, children and cattle, as well as torture and other corporal punishments were included in the arsenal. Perhaps it is fitting to conclude this section by quoting Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–83), the minister of finance of Louis XIV, one of the dictators of world history most devoted to luxury, lavishness and grandeur. The art of taxation, argued Colbert, consisted in “so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.”
A dictatorship is a large and complicated apparatus. The territory is often large. In older times when claims and conquests were important sources of income it was furthermore often expanding. And within the territory taxes should be collected, order should be upheld, and so on. Obviously the dictator himself could not carry out all of these tasks. He had to dispose of an administration of some kind, and such ones there have always also been. There must be functionaries able to implement the wishes and orders of the dictator, not only in the capital but also in other places of the dictatorship. The creation of an administration for these purposes is however not easy – the problems involved are substantial. The administration, from the point of view of dictator, is there for solving his problems but it consists, necessarily, of human beings with their own goals and ambitions. In a dictatorship those ambitions may become not only strong but also dangerous for the dictator. The functionaries in the administration may use their positions for challenging or threatening the dictator. So even if the administration is the dictator’s instrument it is nevertheless also a potential threat and we must deal with both these aspects here. And thereby we also begin approaching a theme which will be further developed in later sections, namely the threats, coming from within the dictatorship, directed at the dictator himself. Here in this section, I will however concentrate on the first aspect, the one about the administration’s main function. And for that purpose it is expedient to make a distinction between top-steered administrations and feudal ones.
Top-steered administrations are of the same kind as the hierarchies described in the theory chapter. The dictator steers from the top and under him there are functionaries in successively smaller and smaller regions. A division into regions like this is probably always present, but in addition to that there may also be divisions into subject areas. But irrespective of this the steering, as noted in the theory chapter, is never without problems.
A first problem is that orders going downwards and information going upwards may be, not only misunderstood, but also consciously distorted by functionaries with their own interests. It seems, in fact, most likely that the functionaries in a dictatorship may have interests of their own which are not only stronger, but also more in conflict with those of the top, than the functionaries in, for instance, an ordinary administration in a representative democracy. An extreme example of information adjustment comes from China during “the Great Leap Forward”. At the then occurring crop-failure harvests more than double the size of the real ones were reported upwards. Independently of the motives in this particular case dictators, in many times and in many places, have searched for ways of avoiding problems like these. One problem is that functionaries have been able to build power positions of their own and for hindering this some dictators have used rotation systems – the functionaries were moved around at intervals not too long. This method was used by, for instance, Rome’s first Emperor Augustus, in Chinese Tang and in the Mughal Empire. As an interesting contrast it may be mentioned that the top positions in the extensive administrations of the Egyptian Kingdoms were inherited, and the same was true for the Aztecs’ state and for the Inca Empire. I have however not succeeded in finding any information about the consequences of these arrangements.
Another problem which I also described in the theory chapter, and which in fact is a consequence of the first one, is that top-steered administrations work worse the larger they are so that, finally, they do not work at all. Even this problem is particularly pertinent for dictatorships. During the long period when claims and conquests were important sources of income the territories of the dictatorships, as we have seen, often expanded. And that expansion necessarily led to larger and larger administrations more and more difficult to control. In the end such an administration, as was explained in the theory chapter, could become totally uncontrollable.
The magnitude of these problems does however not only depend on strength of the functionaries’ own ambitions and the largeness of the dictatorship. Of great importance, as well, are the ambitions of the dictator himself. How much does he want to control? How much does he want to interfere with the lives of his subjects? How harsh will he tax? The further he wants to go in these respects, the more difficult the administrative problems are likely to become? For the discussion of these problems it may therefore be in order to make a distinction between hard and soft top-steering.
The dictator aiming for hard top-steering may try to handle his administrative problems by making the administration “denser”, that is by making the regions, if we are talking about a regional administration, smaller and more numerous, by engaging more bureaucrats, and by giving them more extensive, and more precisely formulated tasks. But even if such measures could facilitate the carrying out of a repressive policy, the drawbacks are also obvious. Thus the communication problems I have talked about – and which originated from misunderstandings and conscious distortions – easily become greater when the number of functionaries increases. Still there are indications that the method described has been used. Thus repressive China, during long periods, had a very large bureaucracy while that of the initially mild Roman Empire was much smaller. In relation to the population Chinese Han had four times as many administrative functionaries as the Roman Empire at the same time. The Kingdom of Charlemagne, in which the top-steering certainly not was hard, had almost no administration at all.
But even if there thus are examples of soft top-steering they nevertheless seem to be exceptions. Most dictatorships have been top-steered in the hard way and have also aimed at that. I have already mentioned the obvious example of China during long periods, and there are many more ones. The Akkadian and Assyrian Empires were of that kind from the very beginning, and continued like that as long as they existed. The Inca Empire and the Mughal Empire also belong to this category. The two later states were also interesting with respect to another important, administrative similarity. In the Inca state the down-going order chains ended with commanders over small groups of individual families, and in the Mughal state with commanders over the individual villages. All the states mentioned were thus top-steered in the hard way, and many more, all through into modern times, could be mentioned. The big dictatorships of the twentieth century – Germany, the Soviet Union and China – were, of course, extreme in this respect.
In these later states the top-steering was furthermore elaborated in an interesting way. They were, as we know, one-party-states and the party, the only one permitted, was of utmost importance in various contexts. Of particular interest here is the relation between this party and the common administration, and in connection with that also the organization of the party in relevant aspects.
Starting with the later aspect the parties were hierarchically organized just as top-steered administrations in general. Hitherto, when describing such hierarchies, as in the theory chapter, I have only talked about the vertical communication, whether orders downwards or information upwards. But obviously the functionaries in such an organization also can communicate with each other horizontally – for instance within the same section, or between different sections at the same level – and certainly such communication often also takes place. In a hierarchical party organization horizontal communication like that may however be purposely impeded, or perhaps even forbidden. If so an important reason could be the leadership’s wish to strengthen its control of the organization, but the aim to make the organization secret by concealing it from the surrounding environment may also be crucial. For both of these reasons it may in fact be imperative to hinder horizontal communication, in particular at the organization’s lower levels. At the communist parties’ lowest level there were thus cells with just a few members who knew each other well, but who’s contacts with members of other cells were limited or non-existent. The success was however not always complete. In Nazi Germany Gestapo (see below) did for instance manage to identify and eradicate a great number of the cells of the forbidden and hostile communist party. When talking about cells it is, by the way, also interesting notice there similarities with the just mentioned families and villages at the lowest levels of the Inca and Mughal Empires respectively.
Going then to the relation between the common administration and the party hierarchy it should be noted that these, often, were very close to each other or even grown together. In the Soviet Union all high functionaries were also party members and this group, or class, of persons, often called the “Nomenklatura”, enjoyed special, far-reaching favors. Their residences and country houses – so called “Dachas” – were often grandiose and luxuriously arranged and furnished. At the higher levels of the hierarchy it was however also more difficult than at lower ones to restrict the horizontal communication. The members of the nomenklatura could easily come to know each other in a way which was dangerous for the dictator – or which, at least, he easily could consider as dangerous. As we will see later on in this chapter that, in turn, could entail extensive purges. At last it should be mentioned that even in the modern military dictatorships different hierarchies could be mixed up with each other, and then, in particular, the military hierarchies merge into the civilian ones.
A top-steered administration is thus afflicted with considerable, difficult to handle problems. The other main type of administration, the feudal, lacks some of the problems of the top-steered type but has, on the other side, some weaknesses of its own. Basic in this model, which may be described schematically as in figure 4, is the separation of central and regional power. In the regions of the dictatorship there are local chiefs enjoying considerable freedom. A common arrangement is that they are allowed to do whatever they want with their regions and subjects as long as they pay the taxes agreed upon to the dictator in the top. It is because of this that the lines between the dictator and the regional chiefs in the figure are broken rather than continuous – they do not represent orders as in the top-steered model. This does not preclude, however, that the regional chief may top-steer their regions, which, in that case, is represented by the continuous lines in the figure.
It is easy to imagine the advantages and disadvantages with the feudal model. If the central dictator essentially is interested in the tax incomes, and believes that he will receive them, and for the rest is able to tolerate differences of various kinds, such as cultural ones, it may work well. Yet, to my knowledge, there are not many dictatorships in history which, from the beginning and consciously have considered this model the best one and therefore settled for it. Much more common is that they have been forced into it. But the Persian Empire was an early dictatorship which adopted the feudal model from the beginning, and the Caliphate a latter one. So let us have a look at the Persians.
The first dictator there, Cyrus, purposely behaved as a liberator in the conquered new areas (see chapter 2). He tried to gain the loyalty of the new subjects by encouraging their own local traditions, cultures and religious beliefs rather than frightening them into obedience. And this tactic also included his substituting his own regional chiefs for the former despised dictators. But the tasks given the new chiefs by Cyrus were limited. Basically they consisted in paying the taxes agreed upon. This system was then continued by Cambyses and Darius, the third dictator, institutionalized the system formally by dividing the empire into a good twenty so called satrapies, that is a kind of regional states. And thereby the Empire got its feudal structure. The next dictator, Xerxes, differed however from his predecessors’ policy in this respect – and not only in that one actually – and initiated a transformation towards top-steering.
The feudalism of the Persian Empire was thus voluntary, but which were the conditions in all the other more common cases when a dictator was forced into the feudal model? Which forces were then active? For understanding this I think it helps to consider feudalism as a result of mutual agreements, as something which, at least implicitly, has the character of a contract. From the dictator in the top the regional chief gets more or less far-reaching rights to govern his region as he likes, and in exchange for that the dictator gets guaranteed tax incomes from the region.
But what makes the two parties interested in a mutual agreement like this? Why does not the dictator himself take all the power in the regions rather than sharing it with the local chiefs? And why do not these latter break away completely for founding their own states, rather than staying within the larger entity? As for the dictator the reason may be that he lacks the military resources, or the power, necessary for conquering the regions completely, but it may also be difficulties with the top-steering of the kinds I have already described. And the regional chief may consider it better, for defense purposes, to be a member of a larger state than to found a small one of his own – the whole group of regions within the dictatorship may in fact be functioning as a defense alliance. But at the same time as this reasoning shows wherein the mutual interests may consist it also indicates an instability inherent in the system, a delicate balance mechanism. If the conditions change it may tip in the one direction or the other – either by the dictator taking over some or all regions, or by some or all local chiefs breaking away completely. Both processes are common in the history of the world.
Perhaps I shall also, for the sake of clarity and before continuing, say that the European, medieval feudalism, which plays such an important role in this book, in particular for the explanation of the birth of the representative democracy in chapter 9, is a special case of the feudalism just described. What is special is the nature of the obligation of the regional chief towards the dictator. In the European case this obligation consisted in supplying the dictator, when asked to do so, with a fully equipped knight and horse, and nothing but that. This particular kind of feudalism, which was widely spread in Europe during the Middle Age, has hardly existed in other places, possibly with the exception of the Japanese samurais who were a kind of correspondence to the European knights.
The more general kind of feudalism has however existed in many places at different times in world history and for different reasons. A first possibility is that it was a necessary step towards the fully established top-steering. Egypt’s Old Kingdom thus had clear feudal traits, and so even, to some extent, the Middle Kingdom. In the New Kingdom the administration was however centralized – the development was in the direction of top-steering. In China the conditions were similar. The two first states, Shang and Zhou, were clearly feudal, while a hard top-steering was introduced in Qin. It may however be the case that the top in a top-steered dictatorship shows signs of weakness and that, therefore, a process towards feudalism is forced through – the power balance tips in favor of the regions. Periods of weakness within the dynasties or states – from Han to Qing – and even the more complete break-downs between the dynasties, had, in several cases, reasons like these. Great land owners have always been important in imperial China and when they have succeeded in advancing their interests a certain amount of feudalism, greater or smaller, has resulted.
The Chinese conditions are however more interesting and more complicated than that. The landowners did not always succeed in upholding their interests even if they were relatively strong. A weak dictator sometimes could be aided by his administration. The Chinese class of bureaucrats or administrators was not only very large and well educated, but also very uniformly educated. This class, the so called mandarins, was therefore politically important. Sometimes when the dictator was weak these mandarins could – being loyal with the dictator or at least with the dictatorship – take over. If so, the state was still steered from the top, but by the mandarins rather than by the dictator. A similar pattern sometimes prevailed also in the Roman Empire. For their administration the Romans to a large extent used the army rather than civilian bureaucrats, and during periods with weak emperors the army could take over the role of the emperor, or even appoint a new emperor among their own. The Roman army thus could play a role similar to the one of the Chinese mandarins.
So far I have concentrated on the normal, routine aspects of dictatorships. I started with the incentives of the dictator, continued with the taxation and after that came to the necessary administration. But this is not the whole picture. Dictatorships and dictators are usually threatened in various ways. Some threats are directed against the territory of the dictatorship and those threats may come from within or from the outside. They may come from hostile neighbor states wishing to attack or conquer the dictatorship, or from rebellious subjects within the dictatorship. Threats like these, and countermeasures for dealing with them, are treated in this section. Threats directed at the dictator himself will be dealt with in the next section.
The exploitation of the subjects with taxation as an important part is a basic problem. The taxation is, as we have seen, extensive in most dictatorship even if the degree of extensiveness may vary and thereby also the consequences. There are, as I have written several times, cases where the subjects, in spite of high taxes, consider themselves favored by the policies of the dictator and therefore prefer remaining within his territory to leaving it. Dictatorships like that have existed and there have even been those with low taxes. An example is the early Roman Empire with its pax romana, which was appreciated by many subjects. Rebellions were rare and it was even, in the Empire, a severe punishment to be expelled from it. But this is an exception. As a rule the taxation in dictatorships has, rather, been harsh or even very harsh.
But even if the exploitation of the subjects is a basic problem, there are other problems as well. During the long period we are here considering dictatorships have often, as we have seen, been expansive with the purpose of increasing the material resources by means of conquests. But irrespective of the purpose of the expansion it has often entailed problems. If it has been vast enough the state has almost necessarily become multi-cultural and multi-lingual and thus heterogeneous, and this heterogeneity has often formed a fertile ground for separatist tendencies or insurrections threatening the unity. Even if there are dictatorships which have not had any severe problems like this – examples are the early Persian Empire, the early Roman Empire and the Caliphate – they are exceptions. For most dictators the heterogeneity has on the contrary, and in particular in combination with the harsh taxation, contributed to instability, especially in the peripheral parts of the dictatorships’ territories.
The subjects’ possibilities for fleeing out of the dictatorship – to leave it – have however always been severely restricted. In older times this was difficult for pure, technical reasons. Since the territories of the dictatorships often were large the escape routes, with some reservation for the subjects in the peripheral parts, were impassibly long. And in later times with better communication techniques the dictators have kept the subjects locked in by means of fences or other obstacles at the borders. The Soviet Empire with the Berlin Wall (1961–89) as the most known and visible part of such a fence is one example, and North Korea of our own days another one. In a similar way the Chinese communist regime, after having taken power in 1949, closed the border to Hong Kong, at that time British. In spite of this the dictatorship did however allow some emigration. Visas were given to individuals who, due to age or weakness, only constituted a burden for the regime anyway.
Flight has thus often been difficult or impossible and the alternatives remaining therefore inner exile and rebellion. The former means that people, often agricultural workers, leave their common, ordered labor for taking to the roads, possibly as brigands. Behavior like that occurred even in the otherwise, and mainly, so stable early Roman Empire. When the farmers in Egypt – by then the granary of the Empire – about the year 170 were forced to produce more grains than they were able to they departed, in this way, from their habitual occupations. More examples, from the western part of the later Empire as well as from Byzantium, could be mentioned. Even in other dictatorships, and at other times, inner exile was used as a protest strategy. A very large inner exile movement did, for instance, contribute to the fall of Chinese Tang.
Rebellion is a more severe and sharper, and perhaps also more desperate, reaction than inner exile, and the history of the repressive dictatorships is full of rebellions. Sometimes, but far from always, they have resulted in greater or smaller concessions by the dictator. A rebellion in the Assyrian Empire made, for instance, and quite unusually, the dictator Sargon II take away some of the subjects’ burdens. In the Chinese states large-scale peasant rebellions, usually without any concessions but rather brutally suppressed, have been almost perpetually recurring. In France of 1789 the storming of the Bastille on the 14 July was a typical rebellion. The background was, among others, high taxes in combination with crop failure resulting in increased prices for bread. This rebellion however, in contrast to most other ones, was not suppressed, but rather incited concessions – at least occasional ones (more about this in chapter 9). Advancing further in time – to the Soviet Empire – there were several rebellions, above all the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the so called Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the strikes at the Polish ship yards in 1970. All of them were suppressed even if there were, in the last case, at least some verbal concessions. In all cases part of the background was economic oppression, but national separation efforts of the kind mentioned above were also important. Both Hungary and Czechoslovakia lay at the border of the dictatorship and therefore, possibly, hoped for help from West, but if so in vain. The threat of nuclear war definitely excluded any support like that.
But the time for rebellions has not come to an end. Since the end of 2010 a revolutionary wave of protests goes through North Africa and the Middle East. It all started in Tunisia in December 2010 when the street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, protesting against the harassments and humiliations of the authorities he had suffered, set himself on fire. This became the igniting spark. Large scale, intensive protests followed first in Tunisia, the so called Jasmine Revolution, and after that in, among other countries, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. The protesters were to a large extent recruited from the youth, a youth which, in the countries concerned, constitutes large shares of the total populations. Of crucial importance for the spreading of the protests were the new, electronic, social media. Facebook and Twitter made their higher politics debut. The protests were not only about – perhaps even not essentially – the material conditions. Requests for liberalization in a more general sense were also of great importance. When writing this (spring 2012) the revolutionary processes are still ongoing, and nowhere is a stable and peaceful order yet reached. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya the former dictators are overthrown – in Libya even killed. In Tunisia and Egypt the development has then gone further. Elections for constituent assemblies, resulting in moderate Muslim majorities, have been held in 2011–12. The result is however not fully accepted in any of the two countries and the future is still uncertain. Perhaps we will see the fundamental mechanism of change described in the theory chapter working in one of the countries, or perhaps both, but still we do not know. In other countries involved in the Arab Spring, in Yemen and Bahrain, and in particular in Syria, violent and atrocious suppressions have taken place or are going on.
Inner exile and rebellion thus have been constant problems for the dictators of the world, but in addition to this there are also threats from the outside. Always – or at least almost always – there have been such threats. A possible exception is Egypt’s Old Kingdom, and possibly also the Middle Kingdom, at least during its first phase. Since these states were protected by vast deserts they had no significant enemies. But for the rest – as illustrated in chapter 2 – it has been different. External enemies have just about always been present.
But even if there have been enemies like that the dividing line between them and inner rebels has, nevertheless, in many cases been fuzzy. The sharp borderline between West and East which, together with the presence of nuclear weapons, made interventions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia impossible is a late phenomenon. Earlier in history when matters were more unclear it was quite common that outside enemies and inner rebels cooperated. Rebellious minorities, in particular in the peripheral parts of a dictatorship, could be stimulated by outside enemies considering themselves to weak for attacking alone. The Assyrian Empire was, for instance, during its great power time, suffering from indirect attacks of this kind. In other cases it even happened that outside enemies, after having shifted side, made remarkable careers in the state they had formerly attacked. Thus a number of individuals from German tribes were promoted to very high positions in the late Roman Empire. In China (as we saw in chapter 2) it even happened that earlier enemies, during two long periods, took over the ruling of the whole empire, namely first the Mongols and then the Manchu people. For succeeding with this they had however to adopt the Chinese way of ruling. The basic features of the Chinese dictatorship were not changed by these visiting actors.
Thus, the distinction between inner and outer threats has not always been all that clear. The one may imperceptibly convert into the other, in particular in the dictatorship’s peripheral parts. But whatever it is, the consequence for the dictator is that he must protect the territory he considers being his. The following sections deal with this subject. The first one is about the physical means for controlling the territory.
I have already mentioned that the Nile was an important communication route which the Egyptian pharaohs could use for quickly moving police or military units to rebellion areas. In the late Assyrian Empire not only a widely dispersed road network was built – an extensive, internal communication system including written messages carried by human couriers and signal fires, beacons, was also developed. In the Persian Empire this system was further elaborated. Among others metal mirrors were used for signaling. Going then to the early Roman Empire the Mediterranean, constituting at that time a Roman inland sea, made sea transports to many parts of the dictatorship’s vast territory possible. In addition to that there was built, in the European parts of the territory, a dense, extended road network of a quality easily surpassing everything having existed until then. Legions, that is entities consisting essentially of infantry soldiers, were placed not only along the borders but also in the interior of the territory, and could easily be moved to places where they were needed. The great canals in China described in chapter 2 obviously had several purposes, but one of them was facilitating transports of the troupes necessary for the control of the country. And the Inca Empire also had an impressive road network. Along the length of the country there were two main roads, the one close to the coast and the other one higher up in the Andes, and these two roads were connected by a number of transversal roads. Only military troops and the very important human couriers were allowed to use the roads – there were no horses. The messages of the couriers were not written – there was no written language – but rather formulated by means of an ingenious system with knots on colored cords. On a main cord a number of side cords were attached, and on these side cords knots were knitted according to specified rules. And, for taking a final example, the Mughal Empire had well developed road and intelligence systems.
Particularly interesting from the point of view of control are the defense wall built around cities for long periods. Even if these walls were built for solving problems, they could also turn into being problems of themselves. An example is the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia. According to some interesting information the first dictator there, Sargon, had the walls encircling the cities within his rapidly expanding state erased. When these cities had been independent city-states they had needed the walls for their protection but in Sargon’s larger empire they could serve separatism and were therefore not wanted. In the same way, and for the same reason, the creator of China and its first dictator, Shi Huangdi, erased some of the walls at that time protecting many Chinese cities.
But even for dictators ruling over vast territories the walls could, now and then, be an asset, and China, again, provides examples. Within the walls the cities were planned in a way facilitating the control of the subjects. The streets or roads were straight, and perpendicular to each other, so that all buildings became rectangular. The guards patrolling the streets thus got a perfect view through the area. Furthermore curfew was upheld during the nights, between exactly specified hours, and all doors were locked and opened from the outside, by the guards having the keys. Thus, as it seems, an effective system of control at the dictator’s disposal. And similar systems were used in other cities in other dictatorships, for instance in ancient Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus valley (mentioned in chapter 2), in Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, in the Mughal Empire and in the Japanese Tokugawa Shogunate.
But even if the control systems were well developed in many early dictatorships they were, nevertheless, more extensive, more penetrating and more brutal, in later dictatorships, and then in particular in the big dictatorships of the twentieth century. In Germany the paramilitary organization SA (Sturmabteilung), or the “brown-shirts”, were important in particular during the Nazis’ rise to power. They acted, at least formally, as a kind of order keeping police at the Nazis’ propaganda meetings, but also, in reality, worked up the agitation by provoking quarrels with adversaries, especially social democrats and communists. But SA could also be used for directly upsetting the prevailing order. The organization was thus fully active at Hitler’s failed coup d’état in Munich in 1923, the so called “beer hall putsch.” When Hitler had reached power in 1934 the organization, having essentially finished its role, was substituted for by SS (Schutzstaffel). In the beginning this was a body guard for Hitler, but soon, led by Heinrich Himmler, it grew into a large police organization with obvious military characteristics. Thus SS came, in due time, to administer the very extensive concentration camp activities. But the organization was not only engaged in what might be called the inner order, it also actively took part in fighting at war fronts – then in the form of the special entity Waffen-SS. The activities of SS, and of SA before that, were outwardly manifest and easily recognized – their personnel wore easily identified uniforms. At the side of SS, and in due time merged into SS, there was however also a secret police, namely Gestapo (Geheime Staats-polizei), led by Reinhard Heydrich. This police was eventually to acquire very substantial entitlements. It could thus, without being observed from the outside, and without being scrutinized by any higher authority, on its own investigate, and sentence, in cases of treason, espionage and sabotage directed against Germany or the Nazi party. In particular the organization could completely on its own, and without any further investigation, arrest anyone, whosoever, for placing him or her in so called protective custody (Schutzhaft). In this way thousands of people disappeared to the concentration camps.
In the Soviet Union there was created at a very early stage an organization which could be called a political police – a police which above all should suppress threatening ideas and opinions, more or less deviating from those of the leaders, that is, especially, Lenin’s. This police, created as early as in 1917, was in fact the first of all institutions which were to be established by the regime – the Red Army was not founded until 1918. Under various labels this police was then to remain all the time until the fall of the Soviet Union. At first, using the pronunciation of its abbreviation, it was called “Cheka”. In a later period it was called KGB (an abbreviation for Committee for State Security in Russian). During the reign of Joseph Stalin this police executed utterly extensive purges and, powerful as it was, was also purged itself. More about this follows in the section “Threats against the dictator” below.
Even if dictatorships usually lack rules for the ruling itself there may be other kinds of rules. I have for instance already dealt with rules for power shifts. In many dictatorships there have also been various kinds of ceremonials and rituals, for instance related to the dictator’s public appearances, which have been strictly adhered to. This section is however not about these mattes, but about the legal systems of various kinds directly affecting the subjects. The reason for my talking about legal systems rather than about judicial systems is that the distinction is important, especially when dealing with dictatorships. The term judicial system easily leads to thoughts about justice in a modern, civilized sense, and the occurrence of that kind of justice in dictatorships is rare. Their laws are often of a very different kind, or perhaps even non-existent.
From the point of view of the dictator it is easy to understand the existence of laws as well as the non-existence. That some dictators considered it in perfect order to punish behavior they did not approve of, without the support of any rules at all, is hardly strange – perhaps it was also quite a natural step of development since the creation of laws reasonably could take some time. But neither are the efforts of the Babylonian dictator Hammurabi difficult to understand. He was, as mentioned in chapter 2, a pioneering law-maker, and it seems quite clear that laws can contribute to order. It may, from the dictator’s point of view, be much better if the subjects are well aware of what is, and what is not, permitted, than if they, in these respects, are badly informed. That many dictators after Hammurabi have introduced legal systems specifying punishments for unwanted acts is, therefore, not surprising.
For getting some perspective on the legal systems of dictatorships it may be suitable to start with an extreme case, namely the system in the Chinese states. This system is, at first, old – the essential parts were in place already during Qin and Han, and even if some important revisions were made later on, especially during Tang, the basic principles nevertheless remained the same at least until the fall of the Empire in the beginning of the twentieth century. The crimes punished most severely were activities directed against the state such as treason and rebellion. Other crimes were related to the family life. Failing to observe the required period of mourning after the death of a family member was for instance criminal. The punishments for different crimes included branding of the forehead, cutting off of the nose, cutting off of the feet, castration and death. The latest, the execution, could be effectuated by throwing the victim into boiling water.
Important in this system was also the principle of collective responsibility. All members of smaller groups – especially families – were considered responsible for all actions of all other members. And not only that. Informing was required, and the one failing to inform was severely punished. Furthermore there was no equality before the law. Society’s upper levels, for instance great land owners, were more or less unaffected by the system described. Still another ingredient was related to the principle of proven guilt. This principle was upheld in the sense that proof was considered necessary for condemnation, but it was also the case that confession was considered proof, and that confession could be obtained by means of torture. Trials often, in fact, seem to have started by brutally assaulting the one suspected.
If anything positive should be said about this whole system it is that the rules were very exact, and also rigorously followed. It is, as we know, often emphasized that a good legal system should make predictions possible, which means that those affected should be able, in advance, to foresee the legal effects of their actions, if any. The Chinese legal system has been credited with this kind of predictability. And, for continuing with what was possibly positive, appealing was institutionalized. Furthermore death sentences could not be pronounced in lower instances – at least not from Tang and afterwards – and should also be examined several times. But in the end, and bearing in mind that confessions always could be achieved through cruel torture, one must still wonder about the value of these positive aspects.
The Chinese legal system has thus for a very long period been utterly repressive. Taking into account that we are here dealing with an extreme dictatorship this should not be surprising. But even other dictatorships have had similar systems. In the Persian Empire – which was, as we have seen, less centralized and repressive in other respects – the punishments for actions not allowed could be utterly cruel. The arsenal included measures such as impalement, crucifying and the cutting off of nose, ears and tongue. And the principle of collective responsibility was upheld in for instance the Japanese Tokugawa Shogunate and in the Mughal Empire. Even in Soviet law a stipulation about collective responsibility for some crimes was introduced in 1934.
A very special kind of law, present only in dictatorships, is the Muslim so called Sharia law. The origin is the maxims in the Quran and other early sources about a good and righteous life. This origin thus is a kind of correspondence to Christianity’s Ten Commandments. And in the same way as in the Christian case the area of application is quite limited, essentially it is about family life. In the Muslim case the religious maxims have however also become law. What is sinful is also criminal. But within this general framework there are variations. There are various interpretations of the origins, and there are also different ideas about what to do in all of those areas where the origins are not applicable. That this later problem has become increasingly difficult as time has passed and social life has become complex is hardly surprising.
That dictatorships have had legal systems of the kinds so far described is not strange – after all they are dictatorships. But there have also been dictatorships with quite different legal systems. One such system, the so called Roman law, was developed in the Roman Empire, and another one in the France of Napoleon Bonaparte. These legal systems were not only developed in dictatorships, they were also, each of them in relation to the general ideas in their own times, to a large extent civilized and predecessors to the modern state of justice. The systems did not only include – using common juridical terminology – criminal law but also a considerable and important civil law, in France called Code civil. And this is interesting. In which way could this be valuable for the dictator?
If we start by looking at the Roman system it is at first important to recognize that it had – beside the “civilized” parts – also “Chinese” parts. There was thus no equality before the law – the higher social strata were clearly privileged. Ordinary subjects, on the contrary, and after summary trials including torture for achieving the confessions needed, could be sentenced to being burned alive, to crucifying or to be given as prey to wild animals, often exposed to large masses of spectators. But within a legal system with parts like these there was thus also developed a civil law which was not only advanced, but which also was destined to serve as an ideal for much of the civil law development in large parts of the world later on – above all in the democracies which were to emerge more than a thousand years later. And this is not easy to explain. How could the dictators – and this question applies not only to the Romans but also to Napoleon – be interested in a civil law like this?
I can imagine two hypothetical answers to this question, answers which do not necessarily exclude each other. The one is that it may be an irritating problem – even for a dictator – if there are unsolved conflicts between subjects out there in society. This may lead to quarrels, and if there are many conflicts, or if the parties are strong, for instance great land owners, this may become threatening. And therefore the dictator could have an interest in participating in the solving of the conflicts, which could be done by means of civil law. The other answer is already hinted at in this first answer. It could also have been the case that the criminal law, essentially, was intended for the large masses, the real subjects – in the Roman Empire called humiliores – whereas the civil law was intended for the upper class, for instance big landowners – honestiores. In this way the two answers may complement each other. The conditions in the Roman Empire seem quite compatible with this idea.
The legal systems in the modern dictatorships are, at least at a first glance, somewhat different. Germany, as we know, was in contrast to Russia and China a modern, developed country when converted to dictatorship. At this time Germany therefore had an extensive, Western legal system, and important parts of this system was preserved during the Nazi time, and thereafter. But even if this is true in a formal sense the reality was different, at least for activities which had, or could be claimed to have, some kind of political significance. Hitler made this perfectly clear in 1938 when, after an acquitting verdict, he declared that “this is the last time a German court is going to declare someone innocent whom I have declared guilty.” Rule of law was thus overthrown in the modern dictatorships, but in spite of this the values of the modern state of justice were used for camouflaging purges. They were presented as results of justice done. As we will see in the following show trials were common in both the Soviet Union and communist China.
It is, of course, of greatest interest for a dictator to keep himself informed about, and if possible also to steer, the subjects’ opinions about his ruling. Since he, according to our main hypothesis, uses the subjects for his purposes, and in some cases may go very far in that respect, dissatisfaction may obviously easily arise. If this gets strong, and spreads in wide circles, the problems for the dictator may be considerable. The countermeasures at his disposal are of three kinds. At first he can try to keep informed about the actual state of opinions, and its changes; secondly he can try to suppress or counter opinions unfavorable for him; and thirdly, he can actively try to foster new ideas and opinions he considers beneficial. The two last kinds of countermeasures may of course overlap, and in modern times in particular it has often been so. The fostering of a new opinion may go hand in hand with the erasing of an old one, and by use of the same means. But it needs not be so. In the following I will try to keep the two things apart when appropriate.
But even if dictators in all times have had reasons for dealing with public opinions the technical conditions for the relevant activities have changed radically in well known ways. The invention and spreading of the book printing technique – in China about the year 1000 and in Europe some 400 years later – and thereafter the modern, printed paper, made it possible for the subjects to form and spread ideas harmful for the dictator, but also, for the dictator, to follow what was going on, and to indoctrinate the subjects himself. After that further steps followed with the radio technique development, and, still more with the appearance of modern electronic devices such as mobile phones and the Internet. An interesting, current example of the importance of the new media is the suppression in China of the Internet information about the Arab revolts. Generally speaking the new media have affected the dictators in different directions. They have made it easier for the subjects to communicate with each other, and thereby to promote their ideas, but they have also made it easier for the functionaries of the dictatorship to trace communication between the subjects, and they may also have made indoctrination of the subjects easier.
Dictators’ interest in opinions is thus an old phenomenon. I start with the efforts to register what was going on in the depths of the masses. Naturally dictators have always tried to use the functionaries in their administrations for this purpose, but, as I have already mentioned, this source of information may in many cases have been quite unreliable. Other institutions may therefore have been important complements. The assemblies in medieval, feudal Europe which I have also mentioned, and which consisted at first of vassals or knights and later on perhaps of estates, may, apart from the other functions, also have served as sources of information for the dictator. He met them often, they knew what was happening in the regions, and since these dictatorships probably were relatively mild the disinformation need not either have been all that serious. On the whole the vassals may have been cooperative. And there are similar phenomena in the modern world. Modern Egypt, until the fall of Mubarak, was a show democracy including a show parliament. This parliament may very well have functioned as source of information in the same way as the feudal, medieval assemblies. And there are more modern dictatorships with assemblies of this or similar kinds, as for instance North Korea.
In addition to these comparatively open and regular methods for collecting information there are also other ones. Assyria had a well developed spy- and security organization. The Indian Maurya Empire had a far-reaching secret police and a well developed intelligence organization. In the state’s “government manual” – the Arthashastra – spies disguised as recluses, householders, merchants, ascetics, students, mendicant women and prostitutes were advocated. The later Gupta Empire had a well developed inner intelligence system as well. And the Byzantine dictator had at his disposal a numerous, omnipresent secret police labeled – most fittingly – the curiosi. At least it may be mentioned that a Caliph in Bagdad, Harun al-Rashid, disguised, strolled around on the streets in the evenings for listening and finding out for himself what was going on.
Then we get to the suppression of opinions not welcomed. Again the Assyrian dictators are early pioneers. Their empire was, we remember, large and therefore also heterogeneous. Groups of subjects with a common background, in point of culture or language, could revolt or even try to break away from the Empire, and for hindering this the dictator, around -750, undertook great reallocations of people. In some cases those affected could amount to some ten thousands of individuals, but it also occurred that more than a hundred thousand were involved in one single operation. In the Inca Empire large groups of subjects were also, as mentioned in chapter 2, replaced for the same reason.
Mass-deportations in dictatorships are thus not anything new, and the same holds for the destruction of displeasing literature. Long before Pol Pot’s book burnings during the nineteen seventieths and those in Nazi Germany in 1933, the creator of the Chinese state, Shi Huangdi, established himself in the trade. He considered the philosopher and religion founder Confucius dangerous and therefore, in -213, that is about 250 years after the philosopher’s death, ordered that all of his writings should be burned. And that was not enough for the dictator – all writings all through, except those dealing with medicine, agriculture and soothsaying, which were considered matters of practical importance, should be burned. Furthermore, in the process, 460 Confucians were put to death – according to some information, though contested, by being buried alive. The Confucians were thus persecuted in early China and so were the Christians in the early Roman Empire. This Roman persecution reached its climax in 303 when the dictator Diocletian ordered that all Christian writings should be burned, all churches erased, and all Christian principals arrested and killed. Ironically, however, not only Christianity in Rome, but also Confucianism in China, were to be restored to places of honor and even almost to become state ideologies.
A later example is the so called St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France 1572. The French protestants, the Huguenots, were in conflict with the Catholics, supported by the dictator Catherine de’ Medici. The massacre started at her instigation and when it was over many thousand (estimations vary from 5000 to 30 000) Huguenots, all over France, had been killed. Going forward in time we find many more examples. During the collectivization of the Soviet agriculture in the years around 1930 Stalin removed those relatively affluent farmers, the Kulaks, who were opposed to the transformation. The estimations of the number hit, either by being killed or by deportation to labor camps, are uncertain and differing, but it might very well have been several millions. A still later example of crushing of unwelcome ideas is the massacre at the Tiananmen Square in China in 1989. Students fighting for a democratization of the Chinese society had assembled on the square and the dictatorship, led by Deng Xiaoping, attacked the demonstrators with tanks. The assessments of the number killed vary between 500 and 2500.
The repression of unwanted opinions has thus in many cases been most brutal. But not always, and paradoxically the modern dictatorships have sometimes been quite mild. An interesting, but not unique, case is the folk music singer Wolf Biermann. He was born in Hamburg in 1936 but, having become a convinced communist, emigrated to East Germany in 1953. Disappointed about the conditions there he however began to write and perform songs directed against the regime. The latter finally solved its problem by giving Biermann, in 1976, permission to leave the country for various engagements in the West and, after that, refusing to let him in again. Thus a very mild form of expulsion. The reason for this mildness probably was that Biermann was a well-known artist, and that modern dictators sometimes care more about comparisons with the world around and about international opinions than earlier colleagues. Perhaps the Soviet regime had wished to treat the physicist and political opponent Andrei Sakharov (1921–89) similarly, had it not been for the fact that Sakharov was in possession of so much strategically important information. So, instead of that, he was deported to the closed city Gorky from which he was not released, by Gorbachev, until 1986.
And so, at last, we get to the active indoctrination of the subjects and I start with the milder methods. Dictatorships trying to gain the support of the masses by popular undertakings – bread and circuses – are not uncommon. In the Roman Empire bread, oil and bacon were, periodically, freely distributed to parts of the population and gladiator games were important. Later examples of “circuses” are Hitler’s Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 and the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. If we then turn to real campaigns, more or less intensively conducted, the already mentioned elevations of Christianity and Confucianism to, almost state ideologies, in Rome and China respectively, are interesting examples.
Large scale, aggressive indoctrination is however a different kind of matter, essentially belonging to later times. One reason is that the technical means for the indoctrination have improved, another one that the modern dictatorships have been founded by parties rather than by families. From their very beginnings these parties were vehicles for, and were kept together by, ideologies such as nazism, communism and fascism. But even so the aggressive indoctrination was accomplished in various ways. In the Soviet Union the show trials already mentioned were for instance important. The late dictatorships also tried to mold their subjects from their very youths, not only through the schools but also with specialized youth organizations. Examples are Hitler-Youth (Hitler-Jugend) in Germany and Komsomol (the Communist Union of Youth) in the Soviet Union. And even science was affected. In the Soviet Union the plant physiologist Trofim Lysenko, who held that acquired traits could be inherited, was supported by the regime for a long time. His ideas were considered a strong, scientific support for the Soviet ideology. In Nazi Germany “Jewish physics”, as represented by for instance Albert Einstein, was abolished.
At last the most remarkable “Hundred Flowers Campaign” in communist China 1956–7 should be mentioned. Mao Zedong, believing that no more than 3 per cent of Chinese intellectuals – that is persons educated above a certain level – were against Marxism, started the campaign convinced that it would support the dictatorship. But when the results began to show up in the spring of 1957 the campaign was instantly interrupted and substituted for by the so called “Anti-Rightist Campaign” 1957–8. Some 500 000 educated individuals were removed from their jobs, labeled “enemies of the people” and substituted for by functionaries less suited for the tasks.
We have already seen that mass-deportations of people within large dictatorships, aiming at reducing the risks for uprisings, have occurred at many times in world history. There are however also cases in which substantial population groups have been ousted or even annihilated. In such cases one talks about “ethnic cleansing” and somewhere I have to write about that. A dictatorship chapter not dealing with this subject is just unreasonable. But where should it be dealt with? Here, or somewhere else? The problem is the nature of the incentives for the cleansing. Does the dictator consider the unwanted population group as a threat against the dictatorship? Or does the cleansing rather constitute a part of his own, personal incentives? Or does the dictator perhaps believe that the cleansing will add to his popularity? Or are incentives like these perhaps combined in some way? I do not know, and so I address the subject here.
The most important example, of course, is the annihilation of Jews and Romani in Nazi Germany. Germany is, as far as I have been able to find out, the only country in world history which has, for reasons of so called “scientific racism”, undertaken the extermination of parts of its own population. The “Holocaust”, the large scale persecution of Jews, was initiated by the so called “night of broken glass” (Kristallnacht) between November 9 and 10 in 1938. Some hundred human beings were murdered, tens of thousands arrested and sent to concentration camps, and large number of synagogues and shops vandalized. When these activities were brought to an end by Germany’s defeat in the Second World War about 6 million Jews had been killed and, according to some estimates, almost a million Romani.
But even if this is the great example, there are other ones as well – smaller, that is true, but with important similarities as well. For taking just one more example most of Poland’s Jews, in humiliating forms and at great personal expenses, were driven out of the country after the six-day war between Israel and Egypt in 1967 – the war provided a fitting alleged reason. Even in Nazi Germany, before the Holocaust, an expulsion of all Jews – to, among other places, Madagascar – was thought about, but this “solution” was soon considered impracticable. And so the “final solution” was embarked upon.
The preceding section dealt with threats such as uprisings, separatism and the like against the dictatorship itself, threats being caused by the repression of the subjects. The threats which will be discussed in this section are rather directed against the very individual of the dictator, and usually have completely different grounds. Since the dictator, according to our main hypothesis, manages the dictatorship for his own sake and for achieving things he considers valuable, for instance richness, it is hardly surprising the other ones may wish to take his place. A rather common way of trying to realize this is to murder the incumbent dictator, even if there are also examples of other, less bloody, kinds of coups. Probably dictators have been murdered more frequently than “members” of any other “professional group”. Certainly governmental leaders of other kinds of states have also been murdered as for instance Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Olof Palme, but such murders are much less common, and the motives are also very different – the murderers’ motives, whatever they have been, have never been the ambition to replace the one murdered. When a dictator is murdered that ambition is however often the important one – the murderer wants to become dictator himself.
Threats like these may have different origins, they may come from persons in the immediate neighborhood of the dictator – for instance from his family, from his closest advisors and confidents, or from functionaries and other power holders throughout the country. Keeping himself informed about all possible threats like these, and countering them when discovered, are perpetual problems for the dictator. But complete success in these efforts is hardly possible, so other strategies have been used as well. One possibility is hiding. Shi Huangdi, the hard-fisted dictator of Qin around -220, used a vast complex of different palaces, between which he moved on covered roads, so that no outsider should know where he was. The dictator Chandragupta in the Maurya Empire changed his bedroom every night for fear of assassination. Another possibility, common in particular in China, was the use of eunuchs as the emperor’s confidents. Since these could not form families of their own they were considered relatively safe, but it may also be noted that the Chinese eunuchs, at least during long periods, were allowed to adopt children. So in the end it is difficult to form an opinion about how it all worked. It seems, however, as if the dictator murders were comparatively few in China – at least within the long dynasties, those which have given the states their names. Furthermore, and for protecting himself, a dictator can form a personal, guarding force. That was for instance done by the first Roman Emperor Augustus and those after him continued the tradition. This force, the so called Praetorian Guard, consisted of 9000 men stationed around the central parts of today’s Italy. The guard’s soldiers had higher wages, and shorter terms of service, than ordinary legionaries. It was thus a kind of elite force and it was not only used for protecting the emperor but also for suppressing rebellions in the ordinary units.
But the precautionary measures of dictators may also be more active than the ones hitherto mentioned. Dictators have now and then actively taken hold of persons they have had suspicions against, and suspicions like that have certainly been frequent. A dictator is, it is easy to imagine, and from the beginning, almost necessarily quite a lonely person, and therefore also likely to become suspicious. But when the suspicions grow, so does, most probably, the loneliness, and therefore the suspicions still more. The suspiciousness may therefore, quiet independently of whether it was justified from the beginning or not, escalate rapidly in a self-enforcing process. And that has happened many times with extensive purges as results. Thus the Roman emperors Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero, on very weak grounds, executed not only persons suspected for planning murders, but also their whole families. Another interesting example comes, in spite of what I just wrote about China above, from Chinese Ming. The dynasty’s first dictator decapitated his prime minister in 1380, suspecting him for conspiracy. But that was not enough. He went on by killing another 40 000 persons. These examples, by the way, point to still a motive for murdering a dictator, another motive than the ones already mentioned. The examples clearly show that individuals around a dictator are living risky lives, and therefore it may be prudent to pre-empt. Better murder the dictator than to become murdered oneself.
Even in the late, large party-dictatorships extensive purges took place, and even if there were several motives for them a main motive was the elimination of competitors dangerous for the dictator. I have already mentioned the military police SA of the German Nazis and this organization, led by Ernst Röhm, rapidly grew into a very significant power. In 1934, the year in which Hitler definitely had established himself as dictator, it had become an army of 600 000 men and Hitler considered Röhm a threatening rival. So, in the operation called the “night of the long knives”, Röhm and a number of other leaders in the organization were captured, and after that all killed. After this, as mentioned above, SA was to be substituted for by SS.
In the Soviet Union, at the end of the 1930:th, extensive purges within the party’s own ranks were also carried out, even if more brutal, and in a sense also more refined, than those in Germany. It all started in 1934 by the murder of a friend of Stalin, and one of the first revolutionaries, Sergey Kirov. Who was behind the murder is unclear, but for Stalin it anyway served as a pretext for a number of trials against high level party functionaries, the so called Moscow trials. And these differed in one important respect from the more openly, brutal purges in Germany. On the surface the trials had the character of perfect justice done. The charges were about anti-state and anti-party activities, and all those prosecuted, seemingly in full possession of their senses and without any signs of having been tortured or otherwise mal-treated, confessed unconditionally and were put to death. Out of the total 139 members of the Central Committee – the second highest organ of the party – at least 98 were killed. Similarly large parts of the corps of officers were sentenced and killed – the most well known among them the marshal Tukhachevsky. By these means Stalin got rid of all thinkable, potential rivals. But not only high ranking individuals were affected by this terror. All together some 300 000 persons were killed and about seven millions were deported to labor camps.
Even in communist China there were purges similar to those in Germany and the Soviet Union. The so called Cultural Revolution, initiated in 1966, was a remarkable, multi-facetted phenomenon, which, among others and in particular in the beginning, aimed at eradicating “revisionist” thinking. And had this been the only aim the portrayal of the revolution had belonged to the former section “Control and steering of public opinion”. Gradually, however, the revolution became more and more directed against party functionaries, and high ones, and thus got the character of a real purge. The revolution started by the ordering of some 15 million students from non-scholarly families – the so called Red Guards – to attack, at first, “intellectuals” in general, and then, increasingly, party functionaries. The result was a chaos so extensive – almost civil war – that Mao Zedong finally considered it necessary to engage the regular military forces – the People’s Liberation Army – for restoring the order. By then about 60 per cent of the party functionaries had been ousted and the result became clearly visible at the meetings of the party’s Congress and Central Committee in 1969. The delegates in military uniform were then many more than earlier – in the Party Congress they constituted two thirds.
A dictatorship can end come to an end in various ways. It may be crushed by external enemies in its heyday as for instance the Aztecs’ state, Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany. Or the fall may be the result of internal power struggles, or of the ascendance to the throne, by inheritance, of some incompetent or degenerated individual. Processes like these are hardly surprising. More interesting are those cases in which the dictatorship, in spite of a fully competent dictator, suffers from a gradually proceeding, internal disintegration. And this, in turn, may take different forms. A late example is the fall of the Soviet Empire, which was caused by a badly working, stagnating economy in combination with enormous expenses for three main purposes. The first one was the upholding of a military apparatus roughly corresponding to that of the other superpower, the United States, the second to support the equally badly working economies of the East European satellite countries, and the third one the upholding of an acceptable standard of living for the own population. These three, simultaneous tasks finally became overwhelming and the empire collapsed. Economic difficulties have also contributed to the Arab Spring and to the fall of the dictators in at least Tunisia and Egypt, even if other factors as well have been important. Thus the demand for freedom, a freedom of the same kind as in democratic countries around, has been important. So far, however, only a few dictators have fallen, and the future of the dictatorships still remains uncertain. But some of them may disappear, as well as other ones for similar reasons. Possibly Cuba and North Korea are the next ones.
In the historical past there is however another, completely different, mechanism of decline and fall which has worked again and again. It is in fact so common so that there seems to be something almost fated in the process, something that almost necessarily must occur. A dictator who wishes to increase his resources as much as possible often tries, as we have seen, to expand his territory, and thereby his tax base, by means of claims and conquests. But when the territory becomes larger it also becomes increasingly more difficult to control. The distance from the central part of territory to the outer border becomes longer and longer, which entails longer lines of supply and more severe communication problems. It becomes increasingly more difficult to detect and suppress revolts within the area, partly because the administrative systems necessarily have to expand and therefore also work less and less well for the reasons mentioned earlier in this chapter and in the section “Hierarchies” in chapter 3. The quest for larger resources therefore makes the defense of the outer borders, and the maintenance of order within the territory, increasingly difficult. And there are no simple solutions. Further expansion for increasing the resources only make matters worse. Consequently the dictatorship falls.
Mechanisms of this and similar kinds are thus common. They were operating in the Roman Empire about which Edward Gibbon wrote the great work “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. In this case however, and interestingly enough, the problems were recognized at an early stage. The emperor Hadrian (76–138) considered the empire to large and even abandoned some eastern provinces conquered by his predecessor Trajan. The emperors following Hadrian basically accepted his idea, but then it was too late. The Western Roman Empire collapsed as a result of a combination of inner disintegration and attacks from the outside. And the same was the case with a number of earlier as well as later dictatorships. Sargon’s Akkadian Empire finally fell because of attacks from the outside, but prior to that it was seriously weakened by power struggles and an ill-functioning internal administration. The rapid founding of Hammurabi’s Babylonia entailed severe hardships for those conquered and thereby also threatening discontent. Certainly there were outer enemies – Hittites, Hurrians and Kassites – but they were not the real cause of Babylonia’s fall. When the empire, after the death of Hammurabi, crumbled the reasons were rather inner splitting and weakness. The Assyrian empire exploited it subjects with utter harshness and in the peripheral provinces the revolts were almost perpetual. So the empire nurtured, within itself, the seed for its own departure. And, for taking just a few more examples, Chinese Han, and the much larger Tang, fell because, among other things, military commanders in the provinces, whom the central government could not control, took over. The states therefore disintegrated and were dissolved. And the weakening of the Inca Empire, for taking a last example, did probably not depend on superior strength, if any, of external enemies, but rather on too long internal supply lines.
All of these examples show that the inner consolidation, even if ultimately perhaps unachievable, nevertheless is of utmost importance. Some impending dictators, such as Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, neglected it almost completely. Other ones, on the contrary, understanding its importance, made considerable consolidation efforts from the very beginning. Among these are the first pharaohs of the eighteenth dynasty in the beginning of Egypt’s New Kingdom, who strived for establishing themselves firmly within their own state before starting conquests in the outer world. Other members of this group of dictators are Hammurabi, in spite of what was just said above, the founder of the Assyrian Empire Tiglathpileser III, the Persian king Darius and the Roman emperors Hadrian and Diocletian.
The perspective adopted here perhaps also throws a new, interesting light on the remarkable stability of Egypt’s Old Kingdom. So far I have only said the state was easy to control and impossible to attack from the outside because of the surrounding vast deserts. One may, however, also turn the reasoning upside down and say that the Egyptian dictators themselves, and again because of the vast deserts, could not engage in any outward expansions. And this could have been favorable. Had expansionism been possible the dictators may have been hit by the problems of the expanding state much earlier.
In the reasoning in the preceding sections of this chapter I have, now and then, indicated differences between dictatorships which could be used for a more systematic classification. There are, in particular, three differences which I have in mind. The first difference is the one between early and late dictatorships, and then I put the borderline, which in reality obviously not is sharp, around the time for the industrial revolution. The second difference is the one between repressive and non-repressive dictatorships. This difference is related to the conditions under which the subjects are living, not to the situation for the more or less extensive upper strata, but still, of course, it is not sharp. There may, beside each other, be groups of subjects satisfied with the regime and groups dissatisfied, for instance for being persecuted or discriminated against. But this does not mean that the distinction is meaningless as a starting point for a discussion. Finally we have differences which are related to mechanisms of power shifts and founding. Here I differentiate between dynastic dictatorships, party dictatorships and military dictatorships.
By putting these differences together we get the classification shown in diagram 3. For a start the whole diagram is of interest. The coloring of some cells in grey is related to the conclusions of the discussion which is to follow. The explanations will follow in due order, especially in the final summary.
Let us at first have a look at the difference between early and late dictatorships. This distinction is important for several reasons. First the late dictatorships are unable fully to use the kind of liberal, market economy which has proved so successful in the surrounding democratic countries, but for the early dictatorships there was no economic system conflict of this kind. Second, and that is perhaps almost the same, the world around the late dictatorships is very different from that of the early ones. For the late dictatorships this world contains industrialized, democratic countries with a widely spread high standard of living, with which the dictatorships’ subjects can compare their own situation. Certainly the surrounding world could sometimes look tempting even for the subjects of earlier dictatorships, but if so probably only for occasional reasons rather than because of systematically working factors as for the late dictatorships. And in addition to this the technical development, epitomized by the emergence of Internet, has made comparisons much easier. But countering all of this, and thirdly, the technical possibilities for supervising and controlling the subjects are also much greater in the late dictatorships than in the early ones. And the same holds true for the facilities available for keeping the subjects hemmed in.
After this we can look a bit more closely at the early dictatorships. Of what kinds have they been? Obviously there have been lots of dynastic dictatorships. But have there also been any party dictatorships, or military dictatorships? As I wrote above the mandarins in China, or the army in the Roman Empire, occasionally could take over the dictator’s role if, for instance, he was weak. These two powerful strata thus seem to have similarities with later days’ parties. So the question is if we are dealing with party dictatorships when these groups took over. And, and considering particularly the Roman Empire but also some other early dictatorships, are we dealing with military dictatorships when high militaries made themselves dictators?
My answers to these questions are however in the negative. Even if there are some similarities with the modern correspondences there are also considerable differences. If we first look at the question about parties it is a fact that those parties which gave rise to the modern dictatorships always were founded prior to the dictatorship at issue, and usually also with the purpose of creating that dictatorship. With the Chinese mandarins and the Roman army that was not so. The mandarin class emerged and grew in a dictatorship already established. And the Roman army, even if it existed before the dictatorship, was not created for the purpose of creating the dictatorship. So we are hardly dealing with party dictatorships. And the answer to the second question, the one about military dictatorship, is also in the negative. The Roman Empire and other early dictatorships run by military dictators were not military dictatorships in a modern sense. The modern military dictatorships differ from early dictatorships governed by military officers in at least three ways. First, the modern military dictatorships are founded in societies where the military profession is just one among many specialized professions – but with the early dictatorships run by militaries it was not so, they were rather societies militarized all through. Second, the militaries who founded early dictatorships almost always had a dynastic purpose – with the modern ones it is hardly ever so. And thirdly, when modern military dictatorships are founded, they often take the place of a democratic regime, with the early ones it was never so.
Among the early dictatorships there were thus very few military and party dictatorships – perhaps they were even almost non-existent. But there is at least one exception, and an interesting one. The reasons for considering the Caliphate a party dictatorship are thus, I contend, strong. In the same way as modern party dictatorships the Caliphate was, to a large extent, created from below. It was supported by a large mass of loyal believers and the leaders, first Muhammad and after him the following caliphs, were a kind of party leaders. The movement also had, in the same way as modern political parties, an ideology, in this case the Islamic religion. Furthermore it was obviously not a dynastic dictatorship – the caliphs were not recruited from the same family, even if the Shiites wished to have it so. And neither was it a military dictatorship. It had not been imposed from above in the way characteristic for a military dictatorship. So for these reasons I classify the Caliphate as an early party dictatorship. Possibly the same could be said about the likewise Muslim Ottoman empire.
The upshot thus is that almost all early dictatorships were dynastic but that there is at least one exception, namely the Caliphate which was a party dictatorship.
Turning then to the late dictatorships there are obviously many party as well as military ones. Several examples are already mentioned. But there are also dynastic dictatorships. The Arab kingdoms, Saudi Arabia for instance, are of this kind. That these dictatorships are at all possible depends reasonably, at least to some extent, on their vast oil resources. Thanks to them they are not subject to normal economic conditions. The whole issue about the superiority of free market economy to the planned economy lacks relevance for them. In spite of the existence of several dictatorships of this kind they therefore, nevertheless, have to be considered exceptions, a kind of anomalies.
The main conclusion thus is that almost all dictatorships before the industrial revolution were dynastic, while after that revolution, the main types rather were military and party dictatorships.
After this we turn to the question about repressiveness and non-repressiveness. I start again with the early dictatorships. That, among them, there have been innumerable repressive ones should by now be obvious. The interesting question therefore is about the existence of non-repressive ones. Have there been any such ones? A way of bringing that question to a head is to ask for the existence of altruistic dictators. Since it is in the nature of a dictatorship to be shaped by its dictator, dictatorships with altruistic dictators are probably also non-repressive.
An early candidate is the ruler Urukagina in the Sumerian city-state Lagash around -2350, but about him not much is known. More is known about Asoka who ruled the Indian Maurya Empire from about -270 until -232. This Asoka, sometimes called the Great, started off as a successful warrior, but later on, after having been confronted with the human suffering caused by the fighting, went through a personal crisis. That made him a Buddhist and he started advocating, and even writing about, tolerance and non-violence. For all of this he has become well-known, but still it is not evident that he should be described as an altruistic dictator. Certainly he travelled widely in his empire and kept himself informed about the subjects’ conditions, but nevertheless he was rather a philosopher and wisdom teacher. He was clearly paternalistic and practical, material undertakings in an altruistic spirit are difficult to find. Another much later dictator of the same kind was Marcus Aurelius. During most of his rule he was occupied by military defense operations at the north-eastern border of the empire, but still he managed to become himself, by his writing, an important stoical philosopher.
To the extent that Asoka and Marcus Aurelius did anything for their subjects, it was thus as philosophers, not by undertaking practical measures. And even if this perhaps was not all that bad, it was not very significant either. But there are more interesting dictators. During the fourteenth century, as we saw in chapter 2, Portugal emerged as an important Great Power. A remarkable ruler in the beginning of this period was Denis of Portugal (1261–1325), who had inherited the throne after his father. Denis tried to avoid wars, solved conflicts with the church, and considered it his main task to organize the state. He developed the Portuguese criminal law and civil law. He travelled around the countryside for detecting and cure injustices, redistributed land, improved the infra structure and initiated the creation of farmer communities. He founded what was to become the great Portuguese fleet, as well as several shipyards. He developed mining and foreign trade. He founded the University of Lisbon. He also had intellectual and literary interests of his own and wrote several books himself. Of all dictators I have read about while writing this book this Denis, sometimes called the “righteous” and sometimes the “farmer king”, is, I think, the one who most of all, most unequivocally, stands out as an altruistic dictator. But there may have been more of the same kind. A clear candidate is Henry IV of France and Navarre (1553–1610). He succeeded in bringing to an end the earlier mentioned conflicts between Huguenots and Catholics, and he undertook important measures for the development of agriculture, commerce and communications. He wanted, as he put it himself, “there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.”
The hitherto discussed dictators have in one way or another – practically or philosophically – directly and explicitly cared about their subjects. But beside them there remains an important group, perhaps the most important. These are the dictators who, even if they have had substantial interests of their own, nevertheless have done much good for their subjects as well. I have already mentioned the three first dictators of the Persian Empire who undoubtedly seem to have been of this kind. A later dictator in this category – perhaps the greatest of them all – was Augustus (-63–14), the first emperor of the Roman Empire. He did not expand the territory any further, and he laid the ground for what was to become pax romana.
And dictators like these there have been several ones. During Qing China was ruled, as we have seen, by emperors from the Manchu people in the north-west. A number of these were not only very capable in general, during their period China also benefitted from an inner stability, and development, which surpassed almost everything experienced before or after. The most remarkable of all of these emperors was Kangxi, the fourth in his dynasty, with the extremely long governing period 1661–1722. Since he entered the throne at the early age of eight he had for sure stand-ins, especially his grand-mother, during his first years, but still he ruled for a long time. Even if he waged wars for expanding the territory he also improved the inner conditions significantly. The top-steered administration was made more efficient. Differing from most other Chinese emperors, who usually stuck to their palaces, he travelled much and often in the empire for learning about the conditions of the ordinary subjects. His own way of living was also, at least when compared with other Chinese emperors’, unpretentious. In his harem he had for instance only 300 women, which may be compared with 3000, or at another occasion even 6000, during Han. The subjects’ tax burden was, for being Chinese, moderate. Intellectual pluralism was encouraged. Canals, irrigation systems, schools and hospitals were developed. Samuel Finer concludes his presentation of Qing and Kangxi as follows: “ … China was much happier under the [Qing] than under the Han or under any previous dynasty, and as happy, if not happier, than any other state in the whole world.”
Above I have mentioned Peter the Great several times, and then mainly positively. The reader may therefore well wonder if Peter belongs to the same category as Augustus and Kangxi. But so it was not. For certain he was eminently skilful but his efforts essentially aimed at winning wars, and it was also in those pursuits he was most successful. After having lost against Charles XII of Sweden at Narva in 1700 he modernized the army and was soon rewarded. He got his revenge at Poltava in 1709 whereby Russia became a Great Power. But the large masses in this empire, the peasants in villenage, were all the time exploited with extreme austerity by the society’s upper strata. Peter the Great had many capabilities, but he was not his subjects’ benefactor.
Summing up the dictators of the early, dynastic dictatorships have thus been quite different, and thereby also their states. There have been states in which the subjects have lived quite well, as measured by the standards of their own time, states in which the conditions have been atrocious, and states in between these extremes. But all early dictatorships were not dynastic – at least the Caliphate was a party dictatorship. And I think it was a non-repressive one.
Then we turn to the late dictatorships. Among these the party and military dictatorships have almost always been repressive, possibly with the exception for a euphoric first stage. During a considerable part of Nazi Germany’s short time – at least until about 1940 – the enthusiasm for Hitler was thus firm and spread. In the long run such an enthusiasm can however hardly remain intact, among others depending on dictatorships’ necessarily badly functioning economies. Normally these dictatorships are therefore repressive. The Soviet Union and Communist China up to Deng Xiaoping are clear examples. Today’s China, as I have already written, and according to my contention, is in an unstable transitional phase. The question about the repressiveness is therefore not only difficult to answer, perhaps it is also irrelevant. The question, clearly, is mainly intended for relatively stable dictatorships.
When discussing late dictatorships the concept of totalitarian dictatorship should also be addressed. In their book “Totalitarian Dictatorship & Autocracy” Friedrich and Brzezinski writes that the totalitarian dictatorship captures, and intends to shape, the subject, the complete individual, in all respects, all through into the soul’s innermost, according to one and single mould. Furthermore they argue that this is an historical innovation, something which has never existed prior to the big dictatorships of the twentieth century. This seems reasonable, but if so the reason is that the necessary technical facilities have not been there before. If one rather looks at the ambitions, they have been there several times earlier, for instance in the Assyrian Empire, in Qin and in the Inca Empire. But for purely technical reasons totalitarian dictatorships are thus late phenomena, and the main examples, of course, are the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Communist China.
The modern dictatorships have thus, on the whole, been repressive ones. But are there also any non-repressive ones? A possible example is Turkey under the former professional military officer Mustafa Kemal (1881–1938). Kemal, who in his early career, among others, had participated in the massacre of 1,5 million Armenians in 1915–16, later, with the name Kemal Atatürk (father of the Turks), became the Turkish chief of state. Was this regime, it may be asked, a non-repressive military dictatorship? Under Atatürk's reign Turkey was secularized and modernized in various respects. Communications were developed, the finances of the state put in order, new laws of a western kind were introduced and the economy grew. But in spite of all this there are remaining questions. One of these is how much of a dictator Atatürk really was. In 1923 he was democratically elected as president, but after that he managed, by partially non-democratic means, to remain in power until his death in 1938. Another question is about the citizens’/subjects’ opinions about the reforms. Did they like them or not? Here I can only put these questions. Clear, however, is that Atatürk’s Turkey is interesting in the discussion about dictatorships.
Other possible non-repressive, modern dictatorships are the dynastic Arabian kingdoms. At least some of these dictatorships have oil resources making it possible to satisfy much of their subjects’ material needs. For a long time this has also seemed to enough. But when the freedom issue became acute in the Arab spring in 2011 the oil country Bahrain disclosed itself as a repressive dictatorship.
The discussion may now be summarized. Practically all early dictatorships were dynastic, and among them there were repressive as well as non-repressive ones. There were however also exceptions and I have especially classified the Caliphate as a non-repressive party dictatorship. The late dictatorships have mainly been party or military dictatorships, and all of these have also – possibly excluding euphoric initial periods – been repressive. Among the late dictatorships there are however also some dynastic ones. The issue about their repressiveness is still to some extent open – there may be repressive as well as non-repressive ones. What we know for sure is that Bahrain is a repressive dictatorship. These conclusions are summarized by means of the grey cells in diagram 3 above. These cells are, according to the discussion here, empty.
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