Current Institutional Affiliation
Center Associate, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2005
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of Chicago
Smuggling Across the Soviet Borders: Contraband Trade and the Struggle Against It, 1918-1933

I propose to write a socioeconomic history of smuggling in the Soviet Union during the period 1918-1930 as a popular everyday practice of survival, enrichment, and resistance, while placing the contraband trade in the context of the Soviet Union's political and commercial relations with its neighbors. The work will draw on previously unstudied archival materials held at the national and regional archives in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. In addition to reconstructing a significant social and economic phenomenon in its own right, a study of smuggling would shed light on major theoretical questions in Soviet history while contributing to several important subfields of the discipline. Smuggling posed a political and ideological as well as an economic challenge to the Soviet government because it undermined the state monopoly on foreign trade, proclaimed in 1918, which Lenin considered a necessary condition for socialism. It was also considered a security threat, and government rhetoric and policy conflated contraband with espionage, subversion, and banditry. While borderland inhabitants may have considered cross-border trade a legitimate activity, the Soviet government viewed it as a challenge to its power, and sought to inhibit smuggling via a combination of force, incentives, and propaganda. A study of the government's struggle against contraband would thus contribute to our understanding of the Soviet state's control over its citizens - and borders - in the years after the Revolution. Scrutinizing the decision-making process involved will help to determine the extent to which authorities' decisions were driven by political, ideological, and economic considerations, a major problem of Soviet political history. My study will also contribute to a number of interdisciplinary and comparative fields, including transnational history, comparative border studies, and studies of the shadow economy, crime, and resistance practices across time and space.