Death and Redemption

Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society

STEVEN A. BARNES
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7pgms
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  • Book Info
    Death and Redemption
    Book Description:

    Death and Redemptionoffers a fundamental reinterpretation of the role of the Gulag--the Soviet Union's vast system of forced-labor camps, internal exile, and prisons--in Soviet society. Soviet authorities undoubtedly had the means to exterminate all the prisoners who passed through the Gulag, but unlike the Nazis they did not conceive of their concentration camps as instruments of genocide. In this provocative book, Steven Barnes argues that the Gulag must be understood primarily as a penal institution where prisoners were given one final chance to reintegrate into Soviet society. Millions whom authorities deemed "reeducated" through brutal forced labor were allowed to leave. Millions more who "failed" never got out alive.

    Drawing on newly opened archives in Russia and Kazakhstan as well as memoirs by actual prisoners, Barnes shows how the Gulag was integral to the Soviet goal of building a utopian socialist society. He takes readers into the Gulag itself, focusing on one outpost of the Gulag system in the Karaganda region of Kazakhstan, a location that featured the full panoply of Soviet detention institutions. Barnes traces the Gulag experience from its beginnings after the 1917 Russian Revolution to its decline following the 1953 death of Stalin.

    Death and Redemptionreveals how the Gulag defined the border between those who would reenter Soviet society and those who would be excluded through death.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3861-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    IN ONE OF THE TELLING EPISODES of his history of the Gulag, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn relates the tale of a prisoner ship convoy headed for the Dalstroi goldfields of the notorious Kolyma. As the convoy approached Magadan, the ships got stuck in the icy waters of the Kolyma River. The prisoners were forced to disembark and walk across the frozen river to the shore. Solzhenitsyn continues:

    Nonetheless, continuing to play out the farce of correction, in other words, pretending they had brought not simply bones with which to pave the gold-bearing Kolyma but temporarily isolated Soviet citizens who would yet return...

  6. Chapter 1 THE ORIGINS, FUNCTIONS, AND INSTITUTIONS OF THE GULAG
    (pp. 7-27)

    WHILE EARLY STUDENTS of Soviet history certainly identified terror as perhaps the definitive characteristic of the Soviet polity, their abiding conviction that a sentence in the Gulag representeddeathinhibited serious study oflifewithin the Gulag. Even for those few scholars who sought methodically to understand life in the Gulag, the camp was little more than a site of exploitation and inevitable death. While terror, and the Gulag as an integral part of that terror, found itself at the center of early conceptualizations of the Soviet experience, the prisoner was thoroughly marginalized from understandings of the revolutionary transformation of...

  7. Chapter 2 RECLAIMING THE MARGINS AND THE MARGINAL: GULAG PRACTICES IN KARAGANDA, 1930s
    (pp. 28-78)

    IN SPRING 1938, at the age of twenty-two, Militsa Stefanskaia arrived at Karlag, the large agricultural corrective labor camp centered in the steppe of Kazakhstan’s Karaganda region. Stefanskaia was born to a Smolensk intelligentsia family. Her father leaned politically toward the Bolsheviks and joined the Red Army shortly after the October Revolution. In the early 1920s, her family moved to Moscow, where her father and grandfather worked in the young Soviet government. On the night of November 1, 1937, Stefanskaia, an employee of a medical institute library, was arrested. She spent seven months in prison, and after a few interrogations...

  8. Chapter 3 CATEGORIZING PRISONERS: THE IDENTITIES OF THE GULAG
    (pp. 79-106)

    THE SOVIET REGIME EXPENDED tremendous energy in its effort to learn who its prisoners were. While it herded millions of people into the Gulag, often as members of mass collectives, it created a separate personal file on each prisoner held in camps, colonies, and prisons, and frequently kept individual files on exiles as well. In their attempt to “know” their prisoners, Gulag authorities gathered several types of information that could be used for individual evaluation along with the generalization and categorization of the inmate population. Each individual file typically contained an identity questionnaire, a copy of the prisoner’s conviction (usually...

  9. Chapter 4 ARMAGEDDON AND THE GULAG, 1939–1945
    (pp. 107-154)

    IN APRIL 1943 a tremendous flood hit the Dzhartass dam, a key element in Karlag’s irrigation system.¹ As the Sherubai-Nura River pounded the dam with rising water and icy floodplain runoff, the left floodgate became clogged with ice, endangering the dam’s integrity. Its collapse would strip Karlag’s vast agricultural area of irrigation, and threaten the vegetable supply to the city of Karaganda and the surrounding areas. The assistant director of the Karlag administration, Katerinenko, called in explosives experts from Karaganda to break up the ice from under the floodgate. They refused, stating, “We will not go under the flood gate...

  10. Chapter 5 A NEW CIRCLE OF HELL: THE POSTWAR GULAG AND THE RISE OF THE SPECIAL CAMPS
    (pp. 155-200)

    THE GULAG PLAYED AN INTEGRAL ROLE in the construction of the Soviet system during the 1930s, and was bound to play a similar one in the reconstruction and reconfiguration of the postwar system. The Gulag followed hard on the heels of the Red Army as it conquered Nazi forces, reclaiming the occupied territories and making new claims throughout Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union emerged triumphant from the war it had so much dreaded and so long expected. Victory, however, came at a tremendous price. Millions and millions of Soviet people died. Millions of others experienced non-Soviet social systems, saw parts...

  11. Chapter 6 THE CRASH OF THE GULAG: RELEASES AND UPRISINGS IN THE POST-STALIN ERA
    (pp. 201-253)

    ON JUNE 26, 1954, at 3:28 a.m., a brief radio message warned the prisoners of the Kengir division of the Steplag concentration camp that an assault was about to begin.¹ For forty days, the prisoners had controlled the camp division, located just outside the city of Dzhezkazgan. A mere two minutes after the first radio announcement, five armed tanks followed by armed military personnel entered the camp zone to suppress the longest uprising and mass strike in Gulag history. The tanks fired blanks, and physically crushed the zone’s barricades, trenches, and barracks during the assault. One tank ran over the...

  12. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 254-258)

    THE GULAG WAS THOROUGHLY INTEGRATED into the fabric of the Soviet Union, touching the lives of nearly every Soviet citizen whether directly or through the fate of a friend, colleague, or family member. Millions of prisoners were held in a variety of forced labor concentration camps, prisons, and internal exile. The Gulag served as the Soviet penal system. On the one hand, the Gulag held the types of prisoners incarcerated in virtually any country—robbers, rapists, murderers, and thieves. But the Gulag was also a system of detention for political opponents of the regime, potential political opponents of the regime,...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 259-328)
  14. REFERENCES
    (pp. 329-340)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 341-352)