The History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the Great Terrorby Oleg V. Khlevniuk, O. V. Khlevniuk
Pub. Date: 09/27/2004
Publisher: Yale University Press
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
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.
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Conquest, who unsurprisingly wrote the foreword endorsing this book, is not an honest or reliable witness. Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, has explained how Conquest reached his figures: ¿Robert Conquest¿s The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine (New York, 1986) argues that the `dekulakization¿ of the early 1930s led to the deaths of 6,500,000 people. But this estimate is arrived at by extremely dubious methods, ranging from reliance on hearsay evidence through double counting to the consistent employment of the highest possible figures in estimates made by other historians.¿ Far too many people have relied on Conquest's dubious and dishonest estimates to reach even more ludicrous conclusions. For example, the American historian Charles Maier stated that Stalin was responsible for more deaths than Hitler. But as Professor Evans observed, Maier could only reach this conclusion by accepting ¿Conquest¿s implausible and inflated estimates without question, while omitting deaths caused by Nazi aggression in the East (which also, apart from military and exterminatory action, led to famines and deportations). The number of deaths caused by Nazism¿s eastward drive may itself have been as many as 20 million.¿ (Richard Evans, In Hitler¿s shadow, Tauris, 1989, page 170.) In fact, to reach his judgement of comparative responsibility, Maier simply omitted all the 50 million people killed in the world war that Hitler started. If you want a more honest account of the Soviet Union's history, you could try reading E. H. Carr's History of Soviet Russia, and Ian Grey's superb biography, Stalin: man of history.