Princeton University Shield Princeton University

Deborah Kaple

Department of Sociology
228 Corwin Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544

How Did Communism Work? How Does The Communist Legacy Affect Post-Communist Nations?

I am interested in the organization and the organizational foundations of communist rule, and the effects of communist rule on those countries that are shedding or have shed their communist past. How did a system with such obvious political and economic dysfunctions work for so long? How did its ideas become codified in expected behaviors? What are the lasting legacies of living under such a system?

In my book Dream of a Red Factory, I investigated the origins of China’s communist system, and found that the Chinese copied the Soviet model of “High Stalinism” as their blueprint for communism. What kind of impact did the adoption of such a repressive period of Soviet history have on China, and how did this inform their version of communism?

Having worked as a specialist on socialist economies at Wharton Econometrics for several years prior to graduate school, I am fascinated at how the command economy tends to allow giant state-run projects to develop.  I worked on this by studying the building of the Baikal-Amur Railroad, an immense Soviet project for building a second rail line across Siberia. Another way to look at the importance of the command economy on society is the development of the Soviet GULAG, the very large system of slave labor camps. My most recent book, Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir, is a translation of a memoir written by a Stalin-era GULAG camp boss. In this, our first memoir from the GULAG boss perspective, we can better understand that age-old question: in what ways did the communist system with its centrally planned economy lend itself to the formation of such an intricately developed system of slave labor?

I also teach classes that examine the American immigrant experience, using fiction, poetry and essays written by immigrants, and I have done work on  arts policy in the United States.  I write fiction and non-fiction as well, and have been published in several literary journals, almanacs and magazines.

Selected Publications: 

Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Dream of a Red Factory: High Stalinism in China.  New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1994.

“Soviet Assistance and Civilian Cooperation in China,” in Odd Arne Westad, ed., Brothers in Arms: The Rise and Fall of the Sino-Soviet Alliance, 1948-1963. Washington, D.C.: Stanford University Press, 1999.

“The BAM: Labor, migration and prospects for settlement,” in Soviet Geography 27, (1986).

“Current Data Resources on Non-Profit Arts Organizations,” American Behavioral Scientist, Volume 45, No. 10, June 2002.

“Origins of Government, Government Systems, and the American Case,” The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge, 2nd Edition. New York: New York Times, 2006.

Editor, World Encyclopedia of Political Systems and Parties, New York: Facts on File Publications, 1999.

“Flint,” a short story, in The London Magazine, October/November 2007.

“Toni Morrison’s Atelier,” in J.I. Merritt, ed., The Best of PAW. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Alumni Weekly, 2000.