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Mass Repression and Political Loyalty: Evidence from Stalin’s ‘Terror by Hunger’

  • ARTURAS ROZENAS (a1) and YURI M. ZHUKOV (a2)

Abstract

States use repression to enforce obedience, but repression—especially if it is violent, massive, and indiscriminate—often incites opposition. Why does repression have such disparate effects? We address this question by studying the political legacy of Stalin’s coercive agricultural policy and collective punishment campaign in Ukraine, which led to the death by starvation of over three million people in 1932–34. Using rich micro-level data on eight decades of local political behavior, we find that communities exposed to Stalin’s “terror by hunger” behaved more loyally toward Moscow when the regime could credibly threaten retribution in response to opposition. In times when this threat of retribution abated, the famine-ridden communities showed more opposition to Moscow, both short- and long-term. Thus, repression can both deter and inflame opposition, depending on the political opportunity structure in which post-repression behavior unfolds.

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Corresponding author

*Arturas Rozenas, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics, New York University, arturas.rozenas@nyu.edu.
Yuri M. Zhukov, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Michigan, zhukov@umich.edu.

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We greatly benefited from comments and discussions with Therese Anders, Volha Charnysh, Anita Gohdes, Evgeny Finkel, Omar Garcia Ponce, Stephen Kotkin, Leonid Peisakhin, Carly Wayne, Oleh Wolowyna, Thomas Zeitzoff, participants of workshops at Columbia University, George Washington University, University of Konstanz, University of Southern California, NEWEPS-9 at Princeton University, University of California–Merced, Arizona State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, NYU–Abu Dhabi, University of Wisconsin, and Yale University. We also thank Oleh Wolowyna and Natalya Levchuk for famine mortality and USSR census data, Alexander Kupatadze and Thomas Zeitzoff for sharing survey data, Anastasiia Vlasenko for research assistance, and Roya Talibova and Sergey Sanovich for assistance in obtaining data on Soviet army personnel records and elections. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/XKMNAO.

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