Cover of Secret Leviathan by Mark Harrison
Secret Leviathan
Secrecy and State Capacity under Soviet Communism
Mark Harrison


June 2023
372 pages.

Hardcover now $32.50 (50% off)

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503628892
Ebook ISBN: 9781503635845

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Winner of the 2023 Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title, sponsored by the American Library Association.

The Soviet Union was one of the most secretive states that ever existed. Defended by a complex apparatus of rules and checks administered by the secret police, the Soviet state had seemingly unprecedented capabilities based on its near monopoly of productive capital, monolithic authority, and secretive decision making. But behind the scenes, Soviet secrecy was double-edged: it raised transaction costs, incentivized indecision, compromised the effectiveness of government officials, eroded citizens' trust in institutions and in each other, and led to a secretive society and an uninformed elite. The result is what this book calls the secrecy/capacity tradeoff: a bargain in which the Soviet state accepted the reduction of state capacity as the cost of ensuring its own survival.

This book is the first comprehensive, analytical, multi-faceted history of Soviet secrecy in the English language. Harrison combines quantitative and qualitative evidence to evaluate the impact of secrecy on Soviet state capacity from the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Based on multiple years of research in once-secret Soviet-era archives, this book addresses two gaps in history and social science: one the core role of secrecy in building and stabilizing the communist states of the twentieth century; the other the corrosive effects of secrecy on the capabilities of authoritarian states.

About the author

Mark Harrison is Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick.

"How does a state organize itself when it lacks the support of its people? What are its strengths? Its weaknesses? These are fundamental questions in the world we face today and there is no better place to understand the answers to them than in Mark Harrison's profound analysis of the Soviet Union."

—James Robinson, University of Chicago

"It is difficult not to wonder today how Vladimir Putin has taken complete control of Russian institutions and convinced the Russian people and elites to go along with his kleptocratic regime and adventurism. This wonderful book provides an original and insightful answer: the Soviet Union created a highly distorted type of state, the Secret Leviathan, whose suppression of facts has not only had huge economic costs, but has destroyed political foundations of accountability and empowered the security services.These dynamics have paved the way to the current Russian quagmire. A must-read for anybody who wants to understand Soviet history and the current Russian regime."

—Daron Acemoglu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"The level of secrecy in the Soviet regime has amazed even scholars studying the Soviet Union. National security, as it is commonly called, was not a recent phenomenon in Soviet Russia, as Harrison details in this volume.... Secret Leviathan is a must for all academic libraries. Essential."

—C. C. Lovett, CHOICE

"Harrison has written a valuable and detailed study of how the extreme Soviet secrecy operated and developed, and how it harmed the economic performance of the country."


slund, EH.Net

"[T]he insights that Secret Leviathan provides into the nature of the Soviet system make it a very important study in Soviet history. Moreover, given Harrison's skill as both a historian and social science theorist, this book has implications for the study of authoritarian regimes well beyond the Soviet context. Historians and social scientists alike should take note."

—Kaspar Pucek, Europe-Asia Studies