Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Vatlin on state-sponsored violence in the USSR

We missed this one in 2016. Agents of Terror: Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin's Secret Police by Alexander Vatlin, Moscow State University has been edited and translated by Seth Bernstein and published by the University of Wisconsin Press. From the press:
Agents of TerrorIn the Great Terror of 1937–38 more than a million Soviet citizens were arrested or killed for political crimes they didn't commit. What kind of people carried out this violent purge, and what motivated them? This book opens up the world of the Soviet perpetrator for the first time. Focusing on Kuntsevo, the Moscow suburb where Stalin had a dacha, Alexander Vatlin shows how Stalinism rewarded local officials for inventing enemies. 
Agents of Terror reveals stunning, detailed evidence from archives available for a limited time in the 1990s. Going beyond the central figures of the terror, Vatlin takes readers into the offices and interrogation rooms of secret police at the district level. Spurred at times by ambition, and at times by fear for their own lives, agents rushed to fulfill quotas for arresting “enemies of the people”—even when it meant fabricating the evidence. Vatlin pulls back the curtain on a Kafkaesque system, forcing readers to reassess notions of historical agency and moral responsibility in Stalin-era crimes.
Praise for the book: 

“Groundbreaking. In the first detailed description of Stalin’s mass terror, Vatlin unfolds the day-to-day working of the Soviet political police who carried out orders to select, arrest, interrogate, and often murder their fellow citizens. An absorbing, heartrending account.” -David Shearer

“Although the literature on the Great Terror has improved markedly over the past twenty-five years, only a handful of case studies consider how the purges took place at the grassroots level. Thankfully, Alexander Vatlin’s pathbreaking work has now become available to English-speaking audiences. One can only hope that Agents of Terror will inspire more research on the purge’s perpetrators and victims as well as on the broader sociology of this brutal period.” -David Brandenberger

“A sensationally significant, detailed microhistory of Stalin’s Great Terror, based on the criminal files of NKVD agents who were arrested as scapegoats at the end of the terror—what some historians have called the purge of the purgers.” -Lynne Viola

Further information is available here.

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