I have blogged a lot about the Kulaks as a description of the middle class, and as a warning of our political "betters" that believe that the middle class is a disruption of their attempts for political power. Poor people that are dependent on the government for survival will do whatever they have to to keep themselves there including giving up their freedoms for the illusions of safety and security.
The GULAG was an administration body that watched over the camps;
eventually its name would be used for these camps retrospectively. After
Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin was able to take control of the government, and began to form the gulag system. On June 27, 1929 the Politburo created a system of self-supporting camps that would eventually replace the existing prisons around the country.
These prisons were meant to receive inmates that received a prison
sentence that exceeded three years. Prisoners that had a shorter prison
sentence than three years were to remain in the prison system that was
still under the purview of the NKVD.
The purpose of these new camps was to colonize the remote and
inhospitable environments throughout the Soviet Union. These changes
took place around the same time that Stalin started to institute
collectivization and rapid industrial development. Collectivization resulted in a large scale purge of peasants and so-called Kulaks.
The Kulaks were supposedly wealthy (comparatively to other Soviet
peasants) and were considered to be capitalists by the state, and by
extension enemies of socialism. By late 1929 Stalin started a program
known as "dekulakization".
Stalin demanded that the kulak class be completely wiped out. This
resulted in the imprisonment and execution of Soviet peasants. The term
"Kulak" would also become associated with anyone who opposed or even
seem unsatisfied with the Soviet government. This resulted in 60,000
people being sent to the camps and another 154,000 exiled in a mere four
months. This was only the beginning of the dekulakization process. In
1931 alone 1,803,392 people were exiled.
Although these massive relocation processes were successful in getting a
large potential free forced labor work force where they needed to be,
that is about all it was successful at doing. The "special settlers", as
the Soviet government referred to them, all lived on starvation level
rations, and many people starved to death in the camps, and anyone who
was healthy enough to escape tried to do just that. This resulted in the
government having to give rations to a group of people they were
getting hardly any use out of, and was just costing the Soviet
government money. The Unified State Political Administration (OGPU)
quickly realized the problem, and began to reform the dekulakization
process. To help prevent the mass escapes the OGPU
started to recruit people within the colony to help stop people who
attempted to leave, and set up ambushes around known popular escape
routes. The OGPU
also attempted to raise the living conditions in these camps that would
not encourage people to actively try and escape, and Kulaks were
promised that they would regain their rights after five years. Even
these revisions ultimately failed to resolve the problem, and the
dekulakization process was a failure in providing the government with a
steady forced labor force. These prisoners were also lucky to be in the
gulag in the early 1930s. Prisoners were relatively well off compared to
what the prisoners would have to go through in the final years of the
The Gulag (/ - /; Russian: ГУЛАГ, IPA: [ɡʊˈlak] ( listen); acronym of Glavnoye Upravleniye Lagerej,
"Main Camps' Administration" or "Chief Administration of [Corrective
Labor] Camps") was the government agency in charge of the Soviet forced labor camp system that was created under Vladimir Lenin and reached its peak during Joseph Stalin's
rule from the 1930s to the 1950s. The term is also commonly used in
English language to refer to any forced-labor camp in the Soviet Union,
including camps that existed in post-Stalin times. The camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners. Large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of extrajudicial punishment. The Gulag is recognized as a major instrument of political repression in the Soviet Union.
The agency's full name was the Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Settlements (Glavnoye upravleniye ispravityelno-trudovykh lagerey i koloniy). It was administered first by the State Political Administration (GPU), later by the NKVD and in the final years by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). The Solovki prison camp, the first corrective labor camp
constructed after the revolution, was established in 1918 and legalized
by a decree "On the creation of the forced-labor camps" on April 15,
1919. The internment system grew rapidly, reaching a population of
100,000 in the 1920s. According to Nicolas Werth, author of The Black Book of Communism,
the yearly mortality rate in the Soviet concentration camps strongly
varied reaching 5% (1933) and 20% (1942–1943) while dropping
considerably in the post-war years at about 1–3% per year at the
beginning of the 1950s.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, who survived eight years of Gulag incarceration, gave the term its international repute with the publication of The Gulag Archipelago
in 1973. The author likened the scattered camps to "a chain of islands"
and as an eyewitness he described the Gulag as a system where people
were worked to death. Some scholars support this view,
though this claim is controversial, given that the vast majority of
people who entered the Gulag came out alive, with the exception of the
war years. Although one writer, citing pre-1991 materials, claims that most prisoners in the gulag were killed, Natalya Reshetovskaya, the wife of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, said in her memoirs that The Gulag Archipelago was based on "campfire folklore" as opposed to objective facts. Similarly, historian Stephen G. Wheatcroft asserts that it is essentially a "literary and political work". Numerous other accounts from survivors state otherwise and the Mitrokhin Archive claimed that these memoirs were part of a KGB campaign, orchestrated by Yuri Andropov in 1974, to discredit Solzhenitsyn.However, this archive itself has its veracity in doubt; among other, more practical issues, by the same token with which Vasili Mitrokhin
claimed the Soviet government would obviously be interested in
discrediting Solzhenitsyn, Western governments would have as much
interest in lending him credence.
In March 1940, there were 53 Gulag camp directorates (colloquially
referred to as simply "camps") and 423 labor colonies in the Soviet
Union. Today's major industrial cities of the Russian Arctic, such as Norilsk, Vorkuta and Magadan, were originally camps built by prisoners and run by ex prisoners.
What I Saw and Learned in the Kolyma Camps
1. The extraordinary fragility of human nature, of civilization. A
human being would turn into a beast after three weeks of hard work,
cold, starvation and beatings.
2. The cold was the principal means of corrupting the soul; in the
Central Asian camps people must have held out longer — it was warmer
3. I learned that friendship and solidarity never arise in difficult,
truly severe conditions — when life is at stake. Friendship arises in
difficult but bearable conditions (in the hospital, but not in the
4. I learned that spite is the last human emotion to survive. A starving
man has only enough flesh to feel spite — he is indifferent to
5. I learned the difference between prison, which strengthens character, and work camps, which corrupt the human soul.
6. I learned that Stalin's «triumphs» were possible because he slew
innocent people: had there been an organized movement, even one-tenth in
number, but organized, it would have swept Stalin away in two days.
7. I learned that humans became human because they are physically
stronger, tougher than any animal — no horse endures work in the Far
8. I saw that the only group that retained a bit of their humanity,
despite the starvation and abuse, were the religious, the sectarians,
almost all of them — and the majority of the priests.
9. The first ones to be corrupted, the most susceptible, are the party members and military men.
10. I saw what a forcible argument a simple slap could be for an intellectual.
11. That people distinguish between camp chiefs according to the power of their punches, to their enthusiasm for beatings.
12. A beating is almost irresistible as an argument («Method number three»).
13. I learned the truth about the preparations for the cryptic trials from masters of the craft.
14. I learned why in prison you get political news (arrests, etc.) sooner than on the outside.
15. That prison (and camp) rumours always turn out to be anything but slop.
16. I learned that one can live on spite alone.
17. I learned that one can live on indifference.
18. I learned why a man lives neither on hope — there are no hopes at
all, nor on will — what will?, but only on the instinct of
self-preservation, the same as a tree, a rock, an animal.
19. I'm proud that at the very beginning, back in 1937, I decided to
never become a foreman if my decision could lead to another man's death,
if my will would be forced to serve the authorities oppressing other
people, prisoners like myself.
20. My body and spirit proved to be stronger in this great trial than I
thought, and I am proud to have betrayed no one, to have sent no one to
death nor to the camp, to have denounced no one.
21. I'm proud to have made no requests until 1955.
22. I saw the so called «Beria amnesty» there and then — it was something to see.
23. I saw that women are more honest and selfless than men — there was
not a single husband at Kolyma who came after his wife. But wives did
come; many did (Faina Rabinovitch, Krivoshey's wife).
24. I saw the amazing northerner families (civilians, former prisoners)
with their letters to their «lawful husbands and wives» etc.
25. I saw «the first Soviet Rockefellers», underground millionaires, and heard their confessions.
26. I saw the hard laborers, and also the large E and B contingents, the Berlag camp.
27. I learned that one can achieve a lot (a hospital, a work transfer),
but at the risk of life — at the cost of a beating and the isolation
28. I saw an isolation cell carved out in rock, and spent one night in it myself.
29. The lust for power, for unpunished murder is great — from big shots
down to regular police operatives with rifles (Seroshapka and his ilk).
30. I learned the unrestrained Russian lust to denounce, to complain.
31. I learned that world should be divided not into good and bad people
but into cowards and non-cowards. 95% of cowards are capable of any
meanness, lethal meanness, after light threatening.
32. I am convinced: the camp is a negative experience — entirely. If one
spent but an hour there — it would be an hour of moral corruption. The
camp has never given anything to anyone — and never could. Everyone,
both prisoners and civilians, are corrupted by the camp.
33. In every region there was a work camp, there was one at every major
construction site. Millions, tens of millions of prisoners.
34. Repressions touched not only the ruling elite but all levels of
society — in every village, at every plant, in every family either
relatives or friends were repressed.
35. I consider the best time of my life to be the months spent in the
cell of Butyrki prison, where I managed to strengthen the spirit of
those who were weak and where everyone spoke freely.
36. I learned to «plan» one day ahead, no further.
37. I learned that kingpins are not human.
38. That there are no criminals at the camp, there are your present (and
future) neighbors caught behind the line of the law and not those who
39. I learned how terrible the ego of a boy, of a youth is: better steal
than ask. This and their boasting throws youth to the bottom.
40. Women didn't play a big role in my life — camp is the reason.
41. The discernment of character is a useless ability — I am unable to change my ways for any scum that comes along.
42. The last in the row, which are hated by everyone — by guards and
inmates alike — are those dropping behind, the sick, the weak, those
incapable of running in the cold.
43. I learned what power is and what a man with a gun means.
44. That the scale is shifted, and this is what is most typical in a work camp.
45. That passing from a prisoner condition to civilian is very hard, and nearly impossible without a long adaptation period.
46. That a writer must be a stranger — in the subjects he describes. And
if he knows the matter well — he will write in such a way that no one
would understand him.