Dictators, Repression and the Median Citizen: An “Eliminations Model” of Stalin’s Terror (Data from the NKVD Archives)
This paper sheds light on dictatorial behavior as exemplified by the mass terror campaigns of Stalin. Dictatorships – unlike democracies where politicians choose platforms in view of voter preferences – may attempt to trim their constituency and thus ensure regime survival via the large scale elimination of citizens. We formalize this idea in a simple model and use it to examine Stalin’s three large scale terror campaigns with data from the NKVD state archives that are accessible after more than 60 years of secrecy. Our model traces the stylized facts of Stalin’s terror and identifies parameters such as the ability to correctly identify regime enemies, the actual or perceived number of enemies in the population, and how secure the dictators power base is, as crucial for the patterns and scale of repression.
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