Initial Conditions – Testing the Concept of Dictatorship Via Purges

Complexity theory is a way of viewing the big picture of a complicated, interdependent process, and most interesting human historical, social, and political processes qualify as examples. At the core of complexity theory lies the insight that such processes are not simply “complicated,” i.e., made up of lots of parts, but “complex,” i.e., made up of parts that interact and adapt to each other’s behavior (e.g., the distinction between a real car and a cartoon “transformer”). While the implications of this for, say, a democratic society that decides to commit aggression to build an empire may be intuitive, it can be difficult actually to pin down the evidence of how political behavior can, say, undergo the phenomenon of counter-intuitive group behavior arising from a particular type of individual behavior or how the various organs of a government can co-adapt and evolve in some new direction.


Soviet dissident Valeriy Chalidze has an interesting example:


Проводится несколько репетиций (1929-1931 гг.): дело вредителей в промышленности (промпартия), дело вредителей в снабжении, дело буржуазных националистов на Украине («Союз вызволения Украины»), дело союзного бюро меньшевиков. Успех превзошёл все ожидания. На каждый «недостаток» в хозяйстве и политике Сталин дал толпе свой тип вредителя, за каждым таким вредителем — своя социальная группа, которую можно ненавидеть, к каждой такой социальной группе можно пристегнуть часть коммунистов. Многое в этих репетициях делается открыто напоказ: чего бояться — дерзкие враги сами признаются. Стадо ликует, жажда зрелищ удовлетворена судебными историями в газетах.


Stalin, Chalidze’s argument goes, wanted to overthrow the whole communist party and replace it with his personal dictatorship, so he started with a series of attacks on small groups (e.g., kulaks or industrialists), destroying each “for the good of the Party,” with the essential connivance of everyone else. The big consequences of the purges of the 1930’s began with the tiny initial conditions of a dress rehearsal political campaign against a minor opponent.


In complex systems such as politics, many revolutions are launched and many opportunities are lost because the potential significance of initial conditions are overlooked.