SOVIET GULAG HAUNTING LEGACY
Some 18 million people worked in the Soviet Gulag as slave labour.
Millions perished or were subjected to horrific abuse.
The Soviet Gulag's haunting legacy
Paul Mitchinson, Saturday Post, Jun 14, 2003
book review of GULAG: A HISTORY by Anne Applebaum
Doubleday, 720 pp., $53
Eighteen million men and women were cast into the concentration camps of the Soviet Gulag. They carved canals, highways and railroads through the Russian wilderness, mined gold, uranium and lead, and even designed military aircraft and rockets. Millions of them perished. Russia's modern economy is built, quite literally, on the bones of slaves.
But until recently, our knowledge of the Gulag came largely from a handful of survivor accounts smuggled out of the Soviet Union decades ago. They were products of their time. During the Cold War, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, laced with moral outrage and bitter sarcasm, was used more often as an ideological cudgel than a historical resource.
Now, more than a decade after the fall of Communism, English-speaking audiences can finally look soberly, if not dispassionately, on the long history of forced labour in the Soviet Union. In Gulag: A History, the accomplished journalist Anne Applebaum writes that she has tried to avoid the "emotions and the politics which have long surrounded the historiography of the Soviet concentration camps." Her book is a major achievement on every level -- in research, in judgment, in style.
Soviet prison-labour camps might have been born as an "emergency measure in the heat of the civil war" raging in Russia from 1918 to 1921, but Applebaum admits they had considerable "prior appeal." From their earliest days, Lenin's Bolsheviks took delight in forcing Russia's former "exploiting classes" to work. With the end of the civil war, the brutality of the camps flourished. On the northern Solovetsky Islands, Applebaum observes, between one-quarter and one-half of camp inmates may have died each year throughout the 1920s. Prisoners were deliberately crippled, starved or tortured. Some were tied overnight to posts, where mosquitoes would swarm them for hours. Others, perhaps the lucky ones, were executed, seemingly at random.
Soviet authorities were appalled -- not by the suffering of the inmates, though, but by the camps' unprofitability. Throughout the 1930s, economic considerations would transform the camps into the defining symbol of Stalin's rule. Mortality rates in the Gulag probably declined under Stalin. His industrialization campaign could only succeed if its hardest workers -- the swelling ranks of the Gulag -- were fed enough to survive.
And yet, even though the Gulag was not an automatic death sentence, its reality was misery enough. Applebaum distills the essence of the camp experience through memoirs, documents and interviews. What kinds of fabricated charges might lead to an arrest? How long might one expect to languish in a Soviet prison? What kinds of assaults and outrages might occur on the journey from prison to work camp? And how did inmates survive the camps' starvation-level rations, the casual brutality of the camp guards, the special hell reserved for women and children?
Official plans rarely conformed to lived reality. Though prison inmates regularly wallowed in their own filth, Soviet regulations specified that latrine buckets should be 55-60 centimetres high for men, 30-35 centimetres for women, with a capacity of .75 litres per person.
Exactingly detailed formulas governed the feeding of prisoners, but, as Applebaum notes, these rations were "not a reliable guide to what prisoners actually ate." One 1940 camp inspection determined that the entire lunch for a labouring convict consisted of water, 130 grams of grain and 100 grams of black bread. The camp cook reported that there had been no deliveries of fish, meat or vegetables.
For many recent historians, the worst depravities of Stalinism were a result of such institutional "chaos," rather than any so-called "master plan." Applebaum neatly dismisses such nonsense. "One can have no doubt that the Gulag bosses in Moscow knew -- really and truly knew -- what life was like in the camps: it is all there [in official reports], in language no less frank than that used by Solzhenitsyn." Camp guards were traditionally the dregs of society, often former convicts themselves, carefully indoctrinated in the Soviet ideology of class hatred. The results were not only foreseeable; they were inevitable. "In the end," Applebaum writes, "nobody forced guards to rescue the young and murder the old. Nobody forced camp commanders to kill off the sick. Nobody forced the Gulag bosses in Moscow to ignore the implications of inspectors' reports. Yet such decisions were made openly, every day, by guards and administrators apparently convinced they had the right to make them."...
RUSSIA 1917 TO 1939
CANADA FORCED LABOUR CAMPS?
COMMUNISM'S TRUE BELIEVERS
MY JOURNEY THROUGH FAMINE STRICKEN RUSSIA, 1933
EXPERIENCES IN RUSSIA, 1931, A DIARY
SOVIET UNION FAMINE EXPOSURE, 1930-1933
NO ESCAPE FOR GULAG PRISONERS
COZY DAYS IN STALIN'S KREMLIN
RISE OF GODFATHERS
GOOD KING WENCESLAS PLEASE LOOK OUT
SPYING FOR STALIN WAS BAD, RIGHT?
POLICE STATE OF UNION
CANADA COPS UNLEASHED
COLD WAR, WARM WAR
SOVIET DEFECTOR IGOR GOUZENKO
RUSSIA IS HELL'S INFERNO
CANADA'S RED TRUDEAU
STALIN'S LIAR IN NEW YORK
MCCARTHY GLIMPSED VISCIOUS TRUTH
REIGN OF TERROR AGAINST MCCARTHY
SUPERMAN A SOVIET - CLARK KENT A COMMIE
COMMUNISTS COINED "MCCARTHYISM"
GOLDSTEIN IS NOT TROTSKY
COMMUNISM CUBAN STYLE
ORWELL'S "CRYPTO-COMMIE" LIST
COMMUNIST CRIMES EXPOSED
ORWELL'S PUBLISHING PROBLEMS
WORDS OF WARNING TO AMERICA
LENIN BEHIND ENVIRONMENTALISTS
STALIN: KOBA THE DREAD II
STALIN: KOBA THE DREAD I
WOLVES IN WOLVES' CLOTHING
CANADA'S SOVIET SCHOOL
Go to 7.Systems of Thought and The Party Tells 'Why'
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