History in Review
One Day We Will Live Without Fear
Everyday Lives Under the Soviet Police State
By Mark Harrison
Hoover Institution Press, 2016
Reviewed by Anna Dogole - February 29, 2016
Living life under the thumb of a police state is unimaginable for most Americans. Did people living in the Soviet police state always self-censor their speech, or where there times when people thought it was safe to speak freely? And if they did say what they thought - what were the possible repercussions? Did children really turn their parents in for not following the rules? Do people living in a police state live in constant fear? What was the day to day reality for people living in this situation? In One Day We Will Live Without Fear: Everyday Lives Under the Soviet Police State economics professor, Mark Harrison gives readers an eye opening view of what life was like for ordinary citizens living in the Soviet Union from the 1930s - 1970s.
At times this book is downright scary - as it was for many of the people who grew up during the Soviet reign, but surprisingly, it is also a story filled with joy and humor and even the ludicrous. The stories in this remarkable book are derived from official police state documents that detail investigations into the lives and actions of ordinary people who, unfortunately, came to the attention of the police state. Through these stories we see how the system of denouncement is used and abused and how the 'state' goes to great lengths to investigate each announcement, no matter how obviously false it is - and the impact that these denouncements have on the people involved. We see what life was like under Stalin's reign of terror, and how the actions of the police softened after his death. We also see how people gamed the system, from selling nonexistent potatoes to using the 'system' to get rid of annoying people - even if they never did anything wrong.
From beginning to end, One Day We Will Live Without Fear is a fascinating book to read. Rather than following one person or a single theme, this book is instead made up of random stories that highlight an eclectic group of people and circumstances that brought them to the attention of the secret police. Their stories are told via witness testimonies, interrogation reports, their own writings, and a variety of other sources. Within each chapter the stories tend to stick to a very general theme, such as a chapter that shows how the secret police moved away from murder as a form of control to controlling the population through intimidation and fear. Another chapter concentrates on the few Soviets who were allowed to travel to other countries and the problems that they encountered along the way - and back home. At first these do not appear to be at all connected, and as the author states in the book's introduction, he picked the stories that he did because they 'grabbed' his attention, not because they fit any a specific avenue of inquiry. However, after reading this book, the stories are connected. They not only show how people managed to function in such a brutal system, but also how they learned to play 'the game' using the very same rules that the state had imposed. This does not mean that things were good, or that the 'state' never won. Simply it shows that while on the whole things were stacked against the average citizen, on occasion, ordinary people could have a little influence on the state and, if luck was on their side, they could even achieve a little victory or two against the forces that opposed them.
This book will appeal to readers across a wide spectrum, from general readers looking for something unique and interesting to read to academics seeking insights into how the secret police operated and the impact that their actions had on ordinary citizens. The stories in this collection are short and easy to read, making it perfect to use for supplemental readings in general history, political science, or sociology classes. It is also ideal for commuters looking for something to read in between stops. For more advanced students and academics, the author has included detailed endnotes and a list of references that can be used to study this subject in more detail.
Shush! Growing Up Jewish Under Stalin, by Emil Draitser.
An intimate and often humorous memoir about a young Jewish boy growing up in Odessa during the 1940 and 50s, while the Soviet Union was under the iron grip of Stalin.
Andrei Sakharov: The Conscience of Humanity, edited by Sidney D. Drell & George P. Shultz.
A collection of essays that provide keen insights in the history, life, work, and legacy of Andrei Sakharov - scientist, dissident, human rights activist, and more...
Questions or Comments? Send an email to:
Copyright © History in Review 2016 - All Rights Reserved