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The History of the Gulag

The History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the Great Terror

Oleg V. Khlevniuk
Translated by Vadim A. Staklo
With editorial assistance and commentary by David J. Nordlander
Foreword by Robert Conquest
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 464
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vkt98
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  • Book Info
    The History of the Gulag
    Book Description:

    The human cost of the Gulag, the Soviet labor camp system in which millions of people were imprisoned between 1920 and 1956, was staggering. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and others after him have written movingly about the Gulag, yet never has there been a thorough historical study of this unique and tragic episode in Soviet history. This groundbreaking book presents the first comprehensive, historically accurate account of the camp system. Russian historian Oleg Khlevniuk has mined the contents of extensive archives, including long-suppressed state and Communist Party documents, to uncover the secrets of the Gulag and how it became a central component of Soviet ideology and social policy.

    Khlevniuk argues persuasively that the Stalinist penal camps created in the 1930s were essentially different from previous camps. He shows that political motivations and paranoia about potential enemies contributed no more to the expansion of the Gulag than the economic incentive of slave labor did. And he offers powerful evidence that the Great Terror was planned centrally and targeted against particular categories of the population. Khlevniuk makes a signal contribution to Soviet history with this exceptionally informed and balanced view of the Gulag.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16064-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Robert Conquest

    What a long, extraordinary process digging into the deepest secrets of the Gulag has been. Now, here is its history, fully, factually, and humanly effected for the present day by Oleg Khlevniuk.

    Dozens of firsthand accounts were available by the late 1940s from such clear and meticulous witnesses as Eleanor Lipper, Vladimir Petrov, and the anonymous Poles in theDark Side of the Moon, edited by T. S. Eliot. In 1946, David Dallin and Boris Nikolaevsky produced their wide-ranging and broadly documentedForced Labor in the Soviet Union, covering 125 camps and camp clusters. But thisHistory of the Gulag,...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Map of Gulag Sites, 1929–1941
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The Stalinist penal system was formed and entrenched during the 1930s—more precisely, between 1929 and 1941. Although its foundations had been laid earlier, the years 1929–30 were an important turning point, when the accelerated and intensive formation of Stalinist state structures, including the Gulag, began. The opening of war with Germany in 1941 logically ends this period.

    Despite the apparent homogeneity of the prewar decade, historians have identified several distinct stages within it. For the most part, the history of the Gulag, and of repressive policy in general, follows that periodization. Key events of the late 1920s–early...

  8. CHAPTER 1 Origins of the Stalinist Gulag
    (pp. 9-53)

    On 27 June 1929 the Politburo, aiming to conserve state resources, decided to create a network of self-supporting camps to replace the existing system of prisons. The OGPU concentration camps, renamed corrective labor camps by this resolution, were to receive all inmates sentenced to three or more years. The result was the creation of new camps—in addition to the Solovetsky Camp of Special Designation (SLON)—capable of holding altogether 50,000 inmates. The task of the camps was to colonize remote regions of the country and to “develop mineral deposits using convict labor.” People sentenced to less than three years...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Famine
    (pp. 54-82)

    Between the First and the Second Five-Year plans, in late 1932–33, the Stalinist system suffered shocks that resulted in the escalation of terror and a further growth of the system of camps and special settlements. By that time, the social and political crisis resulting from Stalin’s “great leap” had peaked. The 1932 harvest was very poor. Forced state procurements in 1932 caused severe famine in the main grain-producing parts of the country: the Ukraine, Northern Caucasus, Volga, and Central Black Soil regions. Ruthless collectivization led to mass deaths among Kazakh peasants, as well as their flight to bordering regions....

  10. CHAPTER 3 Stabilization of the System
    (pp. 83-139)

    The gradual eradication of famine and the relative improvement of social and political circumstances in late 1933–34 affected even the Gulag. Increased state supplies and in-house agricultural production helped to overcome hunger and mass deaths in the camps. Between 1934 and the autumn of 1936 the Stalinist repressive system and the Gulag stabilized to some degree. Despite surges in terror, especially after Kirov’s murder, repression did not reach the scale of the brutally repressive dekulakization nor the subsequent Great Terror. Attention to camp economic functions, as well as certain political concessions to the special settlers of the first wave...

  11. CHAPTER 4 The Great Terror
    (pp. 140-185)

    Never in Stalin’s time was state terror small-scale or insignificant. The years 1937–38, however, saw an upsurge in the extent and cruelty of state repression. “Great Terror”—the term applied to those years, coined by Robert Conquest—has been accepted and used by generations of historians. New archival documents related to state repression in 1937–38 have not altered our understanding of the period, but they have clarified the essence and mechanisms of the Great Terror. It is now understood that the seemingly chaotic mass repressions were in fact a series of centrally directed punitive actions against various groups...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Beria’s “Reforms”
    (pp. 186-235)

    On 17 November 1938 the Politburo adopted a resolution, “On arrests, procuratorial supervision, and investigative procedure,” that terminated the punitive actions of the Great Terror in the same centralized fashion as they were started. “The mass operations engaged in crushing and eradicating hostile elements, carried out by organs of the NKVD during 1937–38 and involving a simplified procedure of conducting investigations and trials, could not help but lead to a host of major deficiencies and distortions in the work of the NKVD and the Procuracy.”¹ In other words, having forbidden further mass operations and deportations, the leaders of the...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Mobilization and Repression
    (pp. 236-286)

    From the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 to the German invasion of Russia on 22 June 1941, Soviet punitive policy was significantly influenced by new territorial acquisitions (western Ukraine, western Belorussia, Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, the Baltic states) and the war with Finland, as well as accelerated military preparations. These factors influenced the character and goals of terror and also stimulated the expansion of the NKVD economy.

    Though not officially at war, the Soviet Union got actively involved in the territorial reshaping of Europe. One of the main concerns of the Stalinist leadership was a swift purge of...

  14. CHAPTER 7 The Victims
    (pp. 287-327)

    Contrary to expectations, Soviet archives do not contain systematic, complete, ready-to-use information on the number of those convicted and imprisoned. Now that the archives are partially open, historians can review many important documents, but elements of the new historical picture being created on the basis of these documents are still lacking. Some documents were lost (the prewar Gulag archives), while access to others is still restricted (the FSB archives). Many events were never registered and remain known only to their participants.

    Documents from the archives do allow us to trace the dynamics of repression and the growth of the Gulag...

  15. Conclusion: The Price of Terror
    (pp. 328-344)

    As of 1 January 1941, there were 1,500,000 prisoners in NKVD corrective labor camps, almost 429,000 prisoners in labor colonies, and about 488,000 in prisons. In June, on the eve of the German invasion, there were about 1,500,000 people in labor and special settlements. Considering the growth in the number of prisoners in early 1941, it is possible to state that when the war started, there were about 4,000,000 people in all Gulag divisions. Another large group of people—possibly 2,000,000—were engaged in corrective labor, with a major part of their salaries being withheld by the state, and were...

  16. Brief Biographies
    (pp. 345-357)
  17. List of Selected Camps and Projects of the OGPU-NKVD
    (pp. 358-363)
  18. Excerpts from the Criminal Codes of the RSFSR and the Constitution of the USSR
    (pp. 364-368)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 369-394)
  20. Index of Documents
    (pp. 395-402)
  21. General Index
    (pp. 403-418)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 419-419)