Working in conjunction with colleague Inga Zaksauskiene of Vilnius University, economic historian and Hoover research fellow Mark Harrison recently published an article entitled “Counter-intelligence in a Command Economy” in the latest edition of the Economic History Review. Drawing from the Lietuvos ypatingasis archyvas (Lithuanian Special Archive) at Hoover and the KGB archives in Vilnius, Zaksauskiene and Harrison provide the first in-depth description of the KGB as a market regulator in the Soviet economy of the 1960s and 1970s. A version of the project was presented at the 2013 Hoover Workshop on Totalitarian Regimes, for which Harrison, along with economic historian Paul Gregory, is an organizer.
The archives examined by Harrison and Zaksauskiene reveal that the KGB’s deployment to Soviet workplaces and factories in the post-Stalinist area was a strategy developed not to control means of production and economic output but to enforce a monopoly of information and guard against subversion. Whereas Stalin employed terror and purges to gain loyalty and promote economic production, Soviet bureaucrats charged with economic decision making after Stalin’s death in 1953 turned to more subtle means of control: using secret police to infiltrate industries. Accordingly, “the KGB secretly supervised the economy’s places of work and employees and intervened so as to forestall threats to the security of the regime and suppress hostile disruptions of the economy.” The archives at Hoover and Vilnius made it clear that the KGB agents assigned to workplaces and factories were concerned with catching spies, enforcing conformity to Soviet ideology, repelling sabotage, carrying out surveillance, and managing informers. Documents and notes from the Lithuanian collections prove that these KGB regulators infiltrated a wide range of workplaces in Soviet society, from banks and airports to power plants and shipyards. In amassing this information, Harrison and Zaksauskiene question to what degree security regulation on behalf of the KGB “affected the growth, slowdown, and collapse of the Soviet economy, and whether it was a factor in the varied outcomes of command economies from Europe to East Asia and Cuba.”
The full text of “Counter-intelligence in a Command Economy” is available online.