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Circumstances Do Not Dictate, People Do: Conflicting Views on the History of Communism

Carnegie boxing Stalin (mocked-up)

As for the cause of Russia’s mortality spike in the transition years, the research attributing it to mass privatization (Stuckler and McKee 2009) has been widely disseminated; less well known is that it has also been thoroughly criticized (Earle 2009; Earle and Gehlbach 2010; Brown, Earle, and Telegdy 2010; Battacharya, Gathmann, and Miller 2013; see also reply by Stuckler and McKee 2010). In the last years of the Soviet Union Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign temporarily prevented millions of Russians from drinking themselves to death. However, it did not alter their desire to drink. Their deaths were postponed and so stored up and waiting to happen when alcohol became cheaper again and more easily available. Thus, the increase in Russian deaths during transition is more plausibly attributed to an increase in the availability and collapse in the price of alcohol.

I’ll conclude on the subject of atrocity. UE writes: “I do not hope to defend anyone's atrocities, though I am happy to refute some of the absurd exaggerations that sometimes pervade these debates … the important thing is that we examine the history of both systems in context, rather than lazily parading the kill count of the other side to try and shut down debate.” I noticed that the UE blog goes further, wishing to move debate on from “disingenuous ‘Black Book of Communism’-style kill count porn” (the "Black Book" reference is to Courtois et al. 1999).

This shocked me. Is there room for debate over the scale, causes, and significance of the excess deaths that arose around the world from communist policies? Absolutely. Should any figure in the Black Book of Communism be above discussion? Of course not. But kill count porn? The demand for these people to be remembered and their suffering acknowledged comes from the victims themselves. “We were forgotten. For our broken lives. For our executed fathers. No one apologized. If we don’t preserve the historical memory, we shall continue to make the same mistakes” (Fekla Andreeva, resettled as a child with her “kulak” family, whose father was executed in the Great Terror, cited by Reshetova 2013; see also Gregory 2013).

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References

Applebaum, Anne. 2012. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56. London: Allen Lane.

Bhattacharya, Jay, Christina Gathmann, and Grant Miller. 2013. 'Gorbachev’s Anti-Alcohol Campaign and Russia's Mortality Crisis'. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 5(2): 232-60.

Broadberry, Stephen, and Mark Harrison. 2005. 'The Economics of World War I: an Overview'. In The Economics of World War I: 3-40. Edited by Stephen Broadberry and Mark Harrison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, J. David, John S. Earle, and Álmos Telegdy. 2010. 'Employment and Wage Effects of Privatisation: Evidence from Hungary, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine.' Economic Journal 120, no. 545: 683-708.

Chen, S. and Kung, J. (2011), ‘The Tragedy of the Nomenklatura: Career Incentives and Political Radicalism during China’s Great Leap Famine’, American Political Science Review, 105(1): 27-45.

Collingham, Lizzie. 2010. The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food. London: Allen Lane.

Courtois, Stephane, Mark Kramer, Jonathan Murphy, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, and Jean-Louis Margolin. 1999. The Black Book of Communism. Ed Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Davies, R. W., and Stephen Wheatcroft. 2003. The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia, vol. 5: The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Davies, R. W., Oleg Khlevniuk, E. A. Rees, Liudmila P. Kosheleva, and Larisa A. Rogovaia, eds. 2003. The Stalin-Kaganovich Correspondence, 1931-36. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Earle, John S. 2009.'Mass Privatisation and Mortality'. The Lancet 373 (April 11), p. 1247

Earle, John S., and Scott Gehlbach. 2010. 'Did Mass Privatisation Really Increase Post-Communist Mortality?' The Lancet 375 (January 30), p. 372.

Gregory, Paul R. 2013. Women of the Gulag. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press.

Harrison, Mark. 2008. 'The Dictator and Defense'. In Guns and Rubles: the Defense Industry in the Stalinist State, pp. 1-30. Edited by Mark Harrison. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Harrison, Mark. 2009. Credibility Crunch: A Comment on The Shock Doctrine. University of Warwick. Department of Economics.

Harrison, Mark. 2010.'Industry and the Economy'. In The Soviet Union at War, 1941-1945, pp. 15-44. Edited by David R. Stone. Barnsley: Pen & Sword.

Harrison, Mark. 2013. 'Communism and Economic Modernization'. In The Oxford Handbook in the History of Communism. Edited by Stephen A. Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Khlevniuk, Oleg. 1995.' The Objectives of the Great Terror, 1937-38'. In Soviet History, 1917-1953: Essays in Honour of R. W. Davies: 158-76. Edited by J. M. Cooper, Maureen Perrie, and E. A. Rees. New York, NY: St Martin's.

Markevich, Andrei, and Mark Harrison. 2011. 'Great War, Civil War, and Recovery: Russia’s National Income, 1913 to 1928'. Journal of Economic History 71:3, pp. 672-703.

Moynihan Commission. 1997. Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy. Senate Document 105-2 Pursuant to Public Law 236, 103rd Congress. Washington, United States Government Printing Office.

North, Douglass C., John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast. 2011. Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Reshetova, Natalia. 2013. Women of the Gulag. Hoover Digest no. 3, 108-115.

Simonov, Nikolai S. 1996. "Strengthen the Defence of the Land of the Soviets: the 1927 War Alarm and its Consequences." Europe-Asia Studies 48(8): 1355-64.

Stuckler, David, Lawrence King, and Martin McKee. 2009. 'Mass Privatisation and the Post-Communist Mortality Crisis: a Cross-National Analysis'. The Lancet no. 373 (January 31, 2009): 399-407.

Stuckler, David, Lawrence King, and Martin McKee. 2010. 'Did Mass Privatisation Really Increase Post-Communist Mortality? – Authors’ Reply'. The Lancet 375 (January 30, 2010), pp 372-74.

Velikanova, Olga. 2013. Popular Perceptions of Soviet Politics in the 1920s: Disenchantment of the Dreamers. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Yang Jisheng. 2012. Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao’s Great Famine. London: Allen Lane.


Professor Mark HarrisonProfessor Mark Harrison has spent much of the past five years working with archives of the KGB of Soviet Lithuania held at the Hoover Institution Archive. This work is in a paper he has coming out soon in the Journal of Economic History and in other work in progress or under review.