Enemies of the people

“We’ve been instructed to round up twelve enemies of the people. With the engineer, the doctor woman and the old moron professor, we’ve only gotten ten. Take any two people from the apartments on the first floor, whoever you can get…” from Baldaev’s Drawings from the Gulag

This is an impressive exercise:

In the 1920s Stalin started pushing for the fast industrialization of the Soviet Union, and this involved the mass re-locations of enemies and other prisoners to an expanding number of Gulags. i.e. the system of forced labour camps throughout the Soviet Union. The Gulag played a central role in the Soviet economy, mining one-third of all the Soviet Union’s gold, and much of its coal and timber.

The Gulag is one of the darkest episodes in recent human history. To consolidate its power and push for industrialization, the Soviet regime killed and sent millions to forced labour camps scattered across the Soviet Union(1).

In a working paper first published in 2018, Pierre-Louis Vézina and Gerhard Toews look at the long-run consequences of this monstrous re-location episode. Using data from Memorial, an organization in Moscow devoted to the memory of the Soviet Union’s totalitarian history, they found that areas around camps with a larger share of enemies among prisoners are more prosperous today, as captured by night lights per capita, firm productivity, wages, and education levels.

In this paper we look at the long-run consequences of this relocation policy on local development outcomes. We first highlight the prevalence of enemies of the people as Gulag prisoners. Enemies were the educated elite, targeted by the authorities for they posed a threat to the propaganda-dependent regime. We show that this massive and forced allocation of human capital had persistent effects. Sixty years after the death of Stalin and the demise of the Gulag, areas around camps which had a higher share of enemies are richer, as captured by night lights per capita, and are home to firms with higher levels of labor productivity, that pay higher wages to more educated workers. We show that these productivity effects are strongest for firms in sectors that existed in nearby camps during the Gulag-era, hereby highlighting the transmission not only of human capital but also of industry-specific knowledge. Our paper can thus be seen as a natural experiment that identifies the long-run persistence of skills and its effect on growth. But most importantly it highlights how atrocious acts by mad individuals, here for example the destruction of human capital during Soviet times, can shape the development path of countries over many generations.

Toews, G., and Vézina, P.-L. (2018). Enemies of the people (Working Paper).

Se non è vero, è ben trovato!

By the way, enemies of the people were the millions of intellectuals, artists, businessmen, politicians, professors, landowners, scientists, and affluent peasants that were thought a threat to the Soviet regime and were sent to the Gulag. The idea of the Gulag and of the targeting of enemies of the people can be traced back to Lenin. In a speech in 1917, he proclaimed that: “All leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party, a party filled with enemies of the people, are hereby to be considered outlaws, and are to be arrested immediately and brought before the revolutionary court… No mercy for these enemies of the people, the enemies of socialism, the enemies of the working people! War to the death against the rich and their hangers-on, the bourgeois intellectuals; war on the rogues, the idlers and the rowdies!” (as quoted in Op. Cit.)

The idea of enemies of the people seems recurrent. The phrase has long been used by dictators and revolutionaries, from Robespierre to Fidel Castro, to describe political opponents. And it’s back in the political sphere today.

You decide who the enemy is.


(1) Danzig Baldaev, Drawings from the GULAG (+ featured Image)

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