Type: History
Pages: 8 | Words: 2192
Reading Time: 10 Minutes

Gulag: A History, (as well published as Gulag: A History of the Soviet Camps), is a book based on real life events and covers the account of the Soviet Gulag system. Doubleday published Anne Applebaum’s book in 2003 and a year later won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction as well as the Duff Cooper Prize. In the past, the book has been a nominee for the National Book Critics Circle prize as well as for the National Book Award. In Gulag: A History Applebaum traces the past of the Gulag, the government agency, from its early stages at the Solovki penitentiary camp along with the building of the White Sea Canal all throughout its fiery expansion in the Great Terror as well as the World War II. Furthermore, it follows its shrinking after the demise of Stalin and its ultimate fall in the 1980s.

Gulag as Personifying the Evil of Soviet Communism

The Gulag was the huge collection of Soviet prison camps that detained millions of political as well as criminal inmates. A structure of oppression and castigation terrified the entire Russian society; it personified the most evil inclinations of Soviet communism. A huge segment of the book is dedicated to looking at lives as well as casualties of the prisoners at the camp, together with their apprehension, questioning, court process, transportation, the facts of the severities of their working along with living conditions, the hardships of hunger and maladies and their conditions at the time of their deaths. The account draws profoundly on the Soviet-era records as well as on the memoirs and writings of those who survived the prison camp. Applebaum thoroughly reconstructs what days were like in the prison camps and connects them to the wider Soviet Union’s history.

But Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A History is a foremost book that makes an attempt at giving a thorough and rather wide-ranging account of the origin, reason, mechanism, and reality of this oppressive system on the basis of both on the chronicles of those who lived through the system and on the now-accessible records in Russia. The book opening parts are dedicated to the explanation of how the foremost penitentiary camps were set up in 1918, on isles in the White Sea in northern Russia. The inmates were predominantly non-Bolshevik socialists. Before long, the evident tsarist approach of incarceration was substituted with the atrocious brutality that turned out to be the trademark of the Gulag system in times to come. Initially, the Bolsheviks, nonetheless, attempted to make the camps a display case of civilized handling, but the prisons in the isles were before long after shut down to stop visitors from witnessing the truth of how the camps were run.

The foremost large exercise that was given exposure was slave labor; this was done during the construction of the White Sea Canal. However, this was never to be done yet again, in particular following the falling of the inland waterway into abandonment due to the pitiable and archaic way in which it was built. In fact, the Soviet Union headship did not wish for awareness in regards to the Gulag. Its reason was not based on propaganda but instead on their desire for mass labor under more and more appalling state of affairs. Applebaum gives an account of the arrest procedures in addition to the first convictions. In order to obtain confessions, the authorities kept the detainees wide awake during daytime and nighttime, made them stand in the extended hours of questioning, beat them, tortured them, and dehumanized them.

Penitentiary cells were habitually congested with no space for seating or sleeping. Then the time came for the convicted prisoners to be transported to the camps, they were stuffed into cattle cars that were devoid of sanitary facilities, bad aeration, and scanty food provisions. The voyage to the target camps in these pitiable circumstances would take weeks and at times even months to end. The prisons who survived the hard trip (countless died during the journey) over and over again got themselves dumped in bare deserts of tundra, marsh lands, thick woods, wastelands, or the chilly vastness of the Arctic Circle state. They would be forced to rummage or hunt for foodstuff and, without any apparatus, construct shelters to protect themselves from the extreme conditions.

The prisoners’ living conditions were pitiable, their food scarce, their clothing inadequate, their handling cruel, and their health requirements non-existent. This was due to the reason that it was economical to ship in more prisoners rather than keep the ones they had healthy. As if it was not enough, they were forced to labor clearing lumber regions, mining for minerals, metals, or valuable stones, or building new manufacturing metropolitans out of the unproductive land. One of the most horrendous camps was the Kolyma gold mines in eastern Siberia. Prisoners would be transported by railway to the Pacific and then crowded into virtually dilapidated ships for the sea expedition further north. The fatality rates from the sea voyage and the cruel circumstances of the gold fields were particularly towering.

Applebaum estimated that over 200,000 prisoners passed away from 1949-53 while laboring on the mistaken Danube-Black Sea Canal.

The Gulag as the Full-grown Camp-industrial Complex

This particular project was abandoned midway after Stalin died in 1953, and as such, numerous people had been killed through exposure, malady, dangerous gear, starvation, mishaps, consumption, overburden, and other ways in the process of digging what at the end was a useless huge gully. By the latter years of the 1930s, the Gulag system had grown into what Applebaum calls a full-grown camp-industrial complex. The Gulag’s laborers were used in many civic works schemes like railways, bridges, and buildings constructions, logging and mining functions, and the manufacture of everything ranging from toys to aircrafts. Nevertheless, in line with Stalin’s purpose for the Gulag to be a profitable venture, the prisoners were fitted to toil where they were deemed best.

Even though the slaves died in huge numbers, in the Soviet nomenclature, people never died, it is just that the `units of labor’ were no longer on hand for allotment. All through during the time of the Gulag, the prisoners-turned-laborers totaled tens of millions at any particular time. It was approximated that a sum of not less than fifty million prisons labored in the system. Applebaum gives a more conservative estimate of the number of laborers at not less than 33 million and that more than 3 million of were killed. As huge as those figures appear, they do not sufficiently express the full effects of the Gulag on the Soviet society. Applebaum posits that no statistics reveal the total effects of Stalin’s oppressions on the life as well as wellbeing of entire family units.

Even considering that, a fundamental the existence of the system was to make profits, and that Stalin held it was lucrative, from its start to its ending it cost more to run than it generated. Even Beria, the Soviet secret police chief, was terrified of challenging Stalin’s baseless conviction in the Gulag’s productivity. For example, he never dared show him a 1950 account that pointed out the Gulag’s huge fiscal losses. The system continued to run for more than a quarter of a century on the basis of Stalin’s illusionary believe that “free” work force translate to cheaper production and hence profitability. He never even considered the huge price in lives it cost. There are many ghastly details concerning Gulag in Applebaum’s book that cam be narrated for instance the mob rape of female workers by both managers and fellow laborers that were so atrocious that a number of them not just died, but Applebaum express the assaults a thing out of `Dante’s Hell’. In the summertime, an unruly worker in Siberia would be beaten and tied nude to a tree and their bare flesh would exposed to millions of vampire like mosquitoes.

Since the Gulag was meant to be money-spinning venture, its provision of slave labor depended on seizing huge numbers of citizens from the street, work, or residence. The people were characteristically detained on the pretext of taking part in some kind of anti-Soviet protest. Accordingly, the vast bulk of the Gulag’s laborers were not guilty of any identifiable crime. A person who sought after their house or a resentful co-worker or a former lover could incarcerate one on phony allegations of `agitation’. The archetypal condemnation was 10 years. Citizens were characteristically detained with no warning hence had no chance for them (or anyone) to challenge their vanishing into the secret police’s administration. People were tortured to confess to invented anti-Soviet protest, which served no practical purpose. Applebaum posits that Stalin might have wanted, having served in the Czarist secret police, he desired to see people admit to being traitors.

After the death of Stalin, many surviving prisoners were serving a Gulag term challenged to have their records cleaned as well as to be remunerated for their toil. Countless of them were awarded certificates that their cases were `closed for lack of evidence’. This amounted to a pardon. Typically, a woman who labored for 18 years and whose spouse was killed in a camp, was awarded a certificate along with what amounted to two months of salary her and her spouse’s years of forced hard labor.

Regrettably, Applebaum starts the book with the conjecture that only the political left kept a fondness for Stalinism. She credits Senator McCarthy with possessing the correct thoughts about Stalin. She posits that his point did not get across to the public owing to his conduct, which brought him into disrepute. This is a jumbled account of happenings during and after Stalin’s tenure. His slave labor system in the Soviet Union was public knowledge. When the cold war exploded, many a politicians and scribes reprimanded the Soviet establishment. Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, George Orwell, as well as Arthur Koestler charged the terrorist autocracy in the Soviet Union. Fellow travelers definitely were in existence. However, the circumstances were multifarious and dynamic. It is a pity that she repeated a mistake has remained extremely extensive since the collapse of communism.

Nevertheless, after she takes her first step, she takes the reader through a mesmerizing and compelling story concerning the Gulag camp system. In the past few years, the heap of evidence has turn out to be enormous as numerous memoirs and other compilations appear. A few writers have even been allowed into the police records. Even though not much of the book contains that which has not yet surfaced in the Russian media, the author has interviewed a number of survivors of the system and has meticulously scrutinized current pertinent publications. The result is a marvelous synopsis of the absent state of our information.

She points out to the significance of financial motives in the politburo’s strategy. The foremost camps were set in the hostile wastelands of the Russian North, Eastern Siberia and other places where natural assets awaited utilization and where cheap laborers were unwilling to inhabit. This was an enormous process requiring a massive structure of workforce as well as establishments. On top of all this was the OGPU (KGB’s precursor), later to be integrated in the NKVD. Succeeding police heads from Yagoda, Yezhov to Beria polished the measures so that the Gulag can operate usually as an essential part of the Soviet institutional complex.

Even as the author is right in underlining economics, Applebaum could have put more attention to politics. Stalin’s misinformation and half-truths had left no doubt as regards who was in charge of Soviet politics. The outcome was that the immense layers of the Soviet society, which was being hurt by national policies, were precisely aware whom to hold responsible. His crusade of oppression, thus, had a rational beginning. Undoubtedly, the arrests were random considering that the police arrested millions who held no resent in opposition to Stalin or his rule. However this was so owing to the reason that the Soviet Union, the police included, was badly knowledgeable and prepared more than the Nazi in Germany; and the NKVD was obliged to satisfy the proportions set in the Kremlin in spite of of a persons culpability or otherwise. However, Stalin actually had many enemies, which included ex-Bolshevik oppositionists, nationalists, church leaders, ex-Mensheviks, kulaks, as well as businessmen.

Extraditing all to Turkey, like in 1929, was unreasonable. It was neither safe to abandon them unmanned in isolated towns of the Soviet Union. Since not even Stalin saw the point of collective killing, the Gulag was his next option. The author correctly posits that the state of affairs in the camp was intended to be cruel but tolerable. The main issue was that the police was crooked and the food rations and drugs set aside for the prisoners ended up being drained off at every stage of transportation to the camps. Moscow was not aware of this problem; however, they would not give a toss for the human catastrophe or for conservative ethics. Historians have brought to light the nature of Stalin’s administration, but few persecutors have faced trial. It would be hard to put all guilty officers on trial, although Applebaum correctly points out that more could have been done and can still be done.

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