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Mark Harrison: Current Research

What I do, from the ESRC Festival of Social Science, 2012. Youtube (2' 43"), uploaded 19 December 2012.

Work in Progress

  • The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia, vol. 7. The Soviet Economy and the Approach of War, 1937-1939 (with R. W. Davies, Oleg Khlevniuk, and S. G. Wheatcroft). In preparation for publication by Palgrave MacMillan.

The series completed by this volume provides an original, authoritative account of the Soviet economy's industrial transformation between 1929 and 1939. The first volume of the series was published by R. W. Davies in 1980. The most recent volume (before this one) covered the “good years” (in economic terms) of 1934 to 1936. The present volume has a darker tone: beginning from the Great Terror, it ends with the Hitler-Stalin pact and the outbreak of World War II in Europe.

A new estimate of the Soviet population loss in World War II, by Russian historian Igor’ Ivlev, is 42 million. This is 15-16 million more than the previous estimate of 26-27 million. The latter, by Russian demographers Andreev, Darskii, and Khar’kova, has been widely accepted for a quarter of a century. I examine the new estimate, show its place in the Soviet demographic accounts side by side with the old one, contrast their sources and methods, and find that the new figure is without foundation. The previous figure stands. On existing knowledge, the Soviet war dead were 26-27 million.

  • The Soviet Economy, 1917-1991: Its Life and Afterlife. CAGE Working Paper no. 327. University of Warwick. This version 1 May, 2017. The paper contributes to a Symposium on The Hundredth Anniversary of the Russian Revolution to be published in The Independent Review in 2017.

In terms of economic development, Russia before and after the Soviet era was just an average economy. If the Soviet era is distinguished, it was not by economic growth or its contribution to human development, but by the use of the economy to build national power over many decades. In this respect, the Soviet economy was a success. It was also a tough and unequal environment in which to be born, live, and grow old. The Soviet focus on building national capabilities did improve opportunities for many citizens. Most important were the education of women and the increased survival of children. The Soviet economy was designed for the age of mass production and mass armies. That age has gone, but the idea of the Soviet economy lives on, fed by nostalgia and nationalism.

  • Secrecy and State Capacity: a Look Behind the Iron Curtain. CAGE Working Paper no. 312, University of Warwick. First draft: 21 December 2016. This version: 1 June 2017. To be presented at the World Conference of Comparative Economics, St Petersburg, 15-17 June 2017. Earlier versions were presented to the WEast (Workshop of the Eastern European Economic History Initiative) meeting, London, 3 April 2017, the International Workshop on Cultures of Secrecy in Soviet Life, Zurich, 25 January 2017, and, much abbreviated and under another title, to a Roundtable on Secrecy and Fact in Soviet Life at the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies Convention, Philadelphia, 20 November 2015.

The paper reviews two decades of research on the political economy of secrecy, based on the records of former Soviet state and party archives. Secrecy was an element of Soviet state capacity, particularly its capacity for decisiveness, free of the pressures and demands for accountability that might have arisen from a better informed citizenry. But secrecy was double-edged. Its uses also incurred substantial costs that weakened the capacity of the Soviet state to direct and decide. The paper details the costs of secrecy associated with “conspirative” government business processes, adverse selection of management personnel, everyday abuses of authority, and an uninformed leadership.

  • If You Do Not Change Your Behaviour: Managing Threats to State Security in Lithuania under Soviet Rule. CAGE Working Paper no. 247, University of Warwick. First draft 25 October 2015. This is a paper to a panel on “Identifying the Enemy: Secret Policing and Censorship in a Frontline Soviet Republic” at the annual convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, Philadelphia, 20 November 2015. Preliminary versions were presented (under a slightly different title) to the Department of Economic History of the London School of Economics on 19 March 2015, the History Faculty of the University of Vilnius on 15 May 2015, and the CAGE Conference on Institutions and Social Norms in Economic Development at the University of Warwick on 11 July 2015.

In Soviet Lithuania (and elsewhere) from the 1950s to the 1980s, the KGB applied a form of "zero-tolerance" policing, or profilaktika, to incipient threats to state security. Petty deviation from socio-political norms was regarded as a person's first step towards more serious state crimes, and as a bad example for others. As long as petty violators could be classed as confused or misled rather than motivated by anti-Soviet conviction, their mistakes would be corrected by a KGB warning or "preventive discussion." Successful prevention avoided the costly removal of the subject from society. This represented a complete contrast to the Stalin years, when prevention relied largely on eliminating the subject from society. Preventive discussions were widely practised in many different circumstances. KGB internal evaluations concluded that these discussions were extremely effective in preventing further violations. This was the front line of the Soviet police state; it was perhaps the largest programme for personally targeted behaviour modification anywhere in the world at that time outside the education sector. It was also a front line of the Cold War because the foreign adversary was seen as the most important source of misleading or confusing influence. My work in progress aims to understand the origins and operation of profilaktika, including how and to whom it was applied, how it worked on the individual subject, and its wider influence on the Soviet Union’s social and political order.

Mark Harrison

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