GULAG by Anne Applebaum

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GULAG by Anne Applebaum

In 1973, when Alexander Solzhenitsyn launched the first volume of his monumental GULAG ARCHIPELAGO, an oral history of Soviet concentration camps, he expressed concern that a proper history of the camps might never be written, that those who do not wish to recall would destroy all the documents "down to the very last one."
As it happened, however, the documents were not destroyed; they remained locked away in files and archives. Nor did Solzhenitsyn foresee the coming of Mikhail Gorbachev and the advent of glasnost, his policy of openness, much less the unfettered availability of Gulag information and the flood of memoirs by camp survivors.
It was an American Sovietologist-turned-journalist, Anne Applebaum, now a Washington Post columnist, who embraced the unexpected opportunity to undertake this vast and daunting project from which whole universities of ordinary researchers might have slunk away in dismay.
Lenin himself, the founding father of Russian communism, established the first 84 camps of the Soviet Gulag almost immediately after the Russian Revolution, basing their design on tsarist precedents. Lenin's successor, Josef Stalin, presided over the Gulag's development into the far-reaching "archipelago" of which Solzhenitsyn wrote.
Transport to the camps was no less nightmarish in many cases than the camps themselves. Prisoners en route to distant camps are said to have frozen to death even before they were loaded into the cattle cars, where they would sometimes remain crowded together for more than a month. Memoirs tell of trains being stopped to take off corpses, which were thrown into ditches.
The struggle for survival was part of daily life in the camps, the struggle for bits of food, edible but often revolting, and for enough water to sustain life. In many camps, hardened criminals were part of the general population of politicals and other "enemies" who had committed no crime other than happening to have been born into the family of a relatively successful farmer. The criminals stole, murdered and raped as they pleased, often with the passive approval of the guards.
The Gulag's growth continued throughout World War II and into the early 1950s, by which time there were 476 distinct camp complexes comprising thousands of individual camps. The number of prisoners in each camp ranged from hundreds to thousands. From 1929, when the Gulag began its major expansion, until 1953, when Stalin died, some 18 million people passed through the camp system. More than three million of them perished.
Comparatively few of the Gulag prisoners (zeks) had been criminals in the conventional sense of the word. Some of them were arrested because a neighbor had heard them pass along an unfortunate joke or laugh at one, some because they had been seen engaging in "suspicious" behavior, and others were reported for having been ten minutes late for work or owning four cows in a village where other families owned only one. Some were members of a population category --- Poles, Balts, Chechens, Tartars, etc. --- that had suddenly fallen into disfavor. Immigrants were always suspect, as were ordinary Soviet citizens with foreign connections --- stamp collectors, Esperanto enthusiasts, anyone having relatives abroad, or a returned POW. In short, the smallest statistical possibility of guilt was sufficient cause for arrest and conviction.
In 1937, the secret police launched an all-out campaign to extirpate a Polish spy ring allegedly operating in the Soviet Union. The secret police arrest order, which included virtually everyone of Polish background living on Soviet soil, specified that investigation was to begin at the time of arrest, not before, as a means of expediting the process.
This transposition of procedural steps, Applebaum explains, meant the arrestees themselves would be forced to provide the evidence upon which the case against them would be built. More bluntly, she says, they were to be beaten or otherwise tortured until they "confessed" the role they had played in the apparently fictitious spy ring. Their testimony naturally implicated others, who were also arrested and similarly forced to confess whatever acts of espionage they could imagine having committed.
One of the larger questions with which Applebaum grapples is whether the Gulag system developed haphazardly, through simple accretion in response to a need for additional space for prisoners, or as part of an elaborate plan. Was it intended primarily as storage space for undesirable elements in Soviet society, or as an apparatus for collecting slave laborers and putting them to work on projects, such as the White Sea Canal and the opening of the Siberian north?
Scholars disagree, and evidence seems to support both sides. On the one hand, Peter the Great, whom Stalin obsessively admired, used serfs and prison labor to accomplish enormous construction projects at relatively little expense. Planned or not, the Gulag became immensely important as a source of virtually free labor. A Soviet historian has identified a correlation between the successful economic activity of the camps and the number of prisoners sent to them. His book also points out that sentences for petty crime became much harsher at a time when more prison laborers were urgently needed. Another example: In March 1934 the head of the secret police, G.G. Yagoda, wrote to subordinates in Ukraine ordering them to produce 15,000-20,000 prisoners, all fit to work, to help complete work on the Moscow-Volga Canal.
As pure history, GULAG is a major achievement. It also fulfills the moral imperative to expose, document, and record in service to the collective memory the fate of so many millions of human beings torn from their families who suffered and died in hostile places far from their homes. Fittingly, Applebaum's book is dedicated to her predecessors who described what had happened and thereby made possible this monumental work.


Peter worthington recently (Dec17, T.O. Sun) wrote a piece about the Ukranian famine- which he blamed all on Stalin. I sent a letter/editor protesting the FACT the USSR was a VICTIM of the democratic allies' post war trickery when the west created the Iron Curtain/Cold War by dividing Germany etc then blamed the entire post war mess/situation on Stalin and the Revolution. I say worthington KNOWS that the allies wanted to ruin the USSR and exploited the incessant bad press Stalin and USSR was getting (glibly ignoring the fact the '32-33  Russian famine was only a decade after USSR was born itself in the holocaust of WW1, the Revolution and Civil War etc. if anything, StaLIN HARDLY HAD time TO SCHEME AGAINST HIS OWN...Khruschev, who was Ukranian, never blamed the Great Depression era famine disaster on Stalin, and he would have known!)

In other words, I suggested Worthington explain how such a massive fraud as the COLD WAR could be visted on US, caused by the west  yet blamed on poor old USSR which lost 20 million people in WW2. And! Before looking back to chaotic era when USSR still was taking form, maybe the truth about post war Marshal Plan and how the anti communist ruling elites of the western allies were horrified that the population of the west was SYMPATHETIC TO USSR and would not have gone along with a HOT WAR so the fraudsters necessarily resorted to 'Cold War' which eventually destroyed the USSR after bankrupting it.

All the crap about the gulags might just be another 911 or KAL 007 shootdown, or JFK murder, or October Surprise, or the $700 billion bank bailout, or the $9 trillion spent by profitable companies propping up the Dow Jones etc....

I mean, who can believe the lying bastards anymore. Harper is going to get his majority (and the Canadian people aren't stupid, though harper plainly despises us)