Deborah Kaple *91
What is Communism? How did the Sino-Soviet Friendship in the 1950s work? What effect does the communist legacy have on post-communist nations?
I am a comparative historical sociologist working on the Cold War, in particular on the USSR and the PRC. 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? Why is Communist China so successful, when others have failed? What are the lasting legacies of living under such a system? These are some of the questions we raise in my seminar, Sociology 308, Communism and Beyond: China and Russia.
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. I am interested in knowing what kind of impact the adoption of such a repressive period of Soviet history had on China, and how it informed the Chinese version of communism.
Having worked as a specialist on socialist economies at Wharton Econometrics for a few years prior to graduate school, I have long been fascinated at how the command economy tends to allow giant state-run projects to develop. In this vein, I studied the building of the Baikal-Amur Railroad, an immense Soviet project to construct a second rail line across Siberia, and I have investigated the Soviet Gulag, Stalin’s far-reaching system of slave labor camps. One important question that frequently came up in my Freshman Seminar on Stalin’s Gulag was: did the communist system with its centrally planned economy lend itself to the formation of slave labor camps, or was this a Stalinist aberration of the socialist model? This interest led me to translate and annotate the only available memoir written by a Stalin-era Gulag camp boss, which is at the heart of my book Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir.
As a Cold War specialist focusing on the Soviet Union and China, I have a special interest in understanding the mechanics of how one nation reaches out to help another nation develop. This has led me to study the Soviet advisors whom Stalin and Khrushchev sent to China in the 1950s. I have published articles about the Soviet Advisors Program in China, such as “Agents of Change: Soviet Advisors and High Stalinist Management in China, 1949-1960,” in Journal of Cold War Studies, “Soviet and Chinese Comrades Look Back at the Friendship Decade,” in Modern China Studies, and “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. I was also the guest editor of an excellent new collection of articles on the Sino-Soviet Friendship in Modern China Studies called “The Forgotten Decade: A Retrospective Look at the 1950s.”
My current book project is called A Failed Friendship: China and the Soviet Union, 1949-59. It recounts the years of Sino-Soviet Friendship, during which the Soviets sent thousands of advisors, large sums of money, blueprints and even whole factories to help the Chinese comrades to build communism, and the Friendship’s sudden demise. Somehow at the end of the decade, their friendship fell apart, and the two communist giants then spent 30 years as avowed enemies, even shooting at each other across their common border. The question is how and why did this happen? Scholars on all sides have put forth many explanations as to what happened, but none of them completely satisfy. Using archival materials from Russia and China, memoirs, interviews and many years of immersion into this period, this book attempts to shed new light on this famous communist friendship and why it failed.
“Agents of Change: Soviet Advisors and High Stalinist Management in China, 1949-1960,” Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1, Winter 2016, pp. 1-26
“Soviet and Chinese Comrades Look Back at the Friendship Decade,” Modern China Studies, Guest Editor Deborah Kaple, Special Issue on China and the USSR, “The Forgotten Decade: A Retrospective Look at the 1950s,” 2015.
Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir. New York & London: Oxford University Press, 2011.
“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.
Dream of a Red Factory: High Stalinism in China. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Socialist Economic Development: The Transportation Bottleneck in China. China Transport Division, The World Bank, Washington, DC, 1990
“The BAM: Labor, migration and prospects for settlement,” Soviet Geography 27, 1986.