I’m going to use this opportunity to speak to the Soviet side of Eric’s wonderful book, and to the way his research helps us to better understand the Soviet Union. Yesterday, in Eric’s comment on Alison’s thought-provoking essay, he said he tried to explain the policies of his subjects using a kind of rational cost-benefit analysis. It’s almost a cliché that the Soviet leadership did many things that—from a purely economic point of view—proved highly irrational. Although building socialism (the very goal of the regime) was tantamount to industrialization, Soviet citizenship policies did not do much to advance the goal of economic growth. Security concerns consistently trumped the needs of economic modernization.
Eric writes that, in the Soviet period, “the old regime formula of ‘attract and hold’ had been reduced to ‘hold.’” (179) At the same time, the two regimes pursued “hold” in different ways and for different reasons. The imperial regime believed it had a shortage of labor, while the Soviet regime did not. The Soviet Union’s “hold” was not motivated by a desire to maintain a valuable labor force. As we all know, the party leadership behaved (especially in the 1930s) as if it had an endless supply of labor. The Soviet agricultural labor force never recovered from collectivization and dekulakization. During the Great Terror, the regime shot three quarters of a million people, many of them able-bodied and skilled workers, the very kind the economy desperately needed. The Soviet regime was not holding in people because it valued laborers. Rather, “hold” (it seems) was about maintaining secrecy and security.