The Bureaucratic Politics of Authoritarian Repression: Intra-Agency Reform and Surveillance Capacity in Communist Poland
Forthcoming, Political Science Research and Methods
Posted: 25 Jan 2019 Last revised: 22 Aug 2023
Date Written: August 14, 2023
Coercive institutions are central to authoritarian rule. But their internal structures are poorly understood. Bureaucratic reorganizations within security institutions are an overlooked source of variation in authoritarian coercive capacity. Careerist security officers engage in yardstick competition to secure promotions or more favorable assignments. When intra-agency reforms interact with these career concerns, they cause changes in coercive capacity or repression. These changes are common but not predicted by the current literature, because they do not reflect the threat environment or popular grievances. In this paper, I test the effects of intra-agency reforms on surveillance capacity. I exploit a rare source of exogenous variation in the structure of the secret police in communist Poland. An administrative unit reform led to proliferation of security administrations in some districts but not others. Difference-in-differences models find that when a district was split and more units were created, the creation of more higher-level posts within the security service caused a statistically significant increase in the number of informants, relative to districts that were not divided. The reform's effects were large. They substantially altered the agency's coercive capacity during a period of institutional stability. Common but previously overlooked internal dynamics of coercive agencies have important consequences for repression and authoritarian rule.
Keywords: authoritarianism, democratization, repression, coercive institutions, poland, public administration, surveillance, communism
JEL Classification: N44, D73, D74, P20, P26, P37
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation