Friday, July 1, 2011

Chavez’s Cancer: Why Dictators Do not Name Successors

Hugo Chavez’s announcement that he has cancer will terminate his ascent towards dictatorship even if he survives. Dictators cannot appear to be mortal. They cannot name successors, unless the successor is a personal extension, such as a son.

Preparing the groundwork for a successor-son takes time and absolute power as the Kim dynasty in North Korea can attest. The more common approach is to name no successor and let the fight begin after your death.

Stalin wrote the game book on modern dictatorship. He removed immediately, and usually permanently, anyone even rumored as his successor. Stalin understood that dictator remains in power only as long as his subordinates do not coalesce into a coalition strong enough to unseat him.

The naming of a successor facilitates the formation of a coalition around the successor and that is the end of the dictator.

There is one other factor: Dictators do not have dynamic and forceful deputies around them. Instead, they prefer Yes Men. Nonentities are less likely to attract coalition followers. In Stalin’s case, the result was a USSR run by party hacks for almost fifty years.

In the Soviet and Chinese communist cases, the party dictatorship survived the deaths of their “Great Leaders” (Lenin, Stalin, Mao) because of its dominant position. But in each case, a power struggle ensued within the party. Power struggles fought without rules are the consequence of the dying leader not specifying a successor. Only Lenin wrote a political testament, but it concluded that only he was suited to run the country.

Chavez’s run towards a personal dictatorship is over. He has not built a strong party. He is surrounded by non-entities, who have already begun jockeying to replace him. Worst of all: Unlike Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, he has not had time to eliminate other parties and elections. The coming election will either pit an ailing Chavez or a Chavez non-entity against a real opponent in the midst of a collapsing economy.

There is again reason to be bullish on Venezuela.


  1. More often than not, those who follow the footprints of their super predecessors end up crucified or burried in the same grave hole. That being said, what an honnor is to be Christlike.

  2. Locutionator Express discusses the Axis of Evil, and the role played by dictators in the endeavor to break the back of the U.S. I, too, wonder about
    Hugo Chavez' successor.

  3. Um, as far as I know Chavez was elected, and does not hold all executive power.

    How does the definition of dictator then hold?

    Honestly, with sloppy almost caricaturesque polemics like this piece, it's no wonder Robert C. Allen work on Soviet Industrialization seems so much more academically rigorous by comparison (Myself having read both your respective books).