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

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Annals of Communism, Yale’s acclaimed series, adds another major documentary history to its list. More than 100 documents from the Russian archives are translated, and interspersed with Russian historian Khlevniuk’s extensive analysis. The result is a fascinatingly detailed depiction of that horrific symbol of the 20th century, the Soviet prison camp system.”—Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly
Annals of Communism, Yale's acclaimed series, adds another major documentary history to its list. More than 100 documents from the Russian archives are translated, and interspersed with Russian historian Khlevniuk's extensive analysis. The result is a fascinatingly detailed depiction of that horrific symbol of the 20th century, the Soviet prison camp system. Khlevniuk argues that the gulag as it developed from 1929 was a new creation, a specifically Stalinist invention. He weaves together personal accounts by victims with the far more numerous documents written by Soviet bureaucrats. The documents provide surprises and revelations. In the early years, prisoners petitioned and went on strike for improvements in their conditions, sometimes successfully. Officials wrote innumerable memoranda documenting the abysmal food supplies and sanitary conditions and the excessive brutalities of camp guards. At the same time, production derived from forced labor became a major element of the Soviet economy. Attempts to ameliorate the camp situation were thwarted by the ineptitude of the Soviet bureaucracy and the severe crises of the 1930s. Khlevniuk demonstrates how every tightening of the overall political situation, such as the onset of forced collectivization and then the Great Terror, led to a worsening of conditions within the camps. Ultimately, the camps were "almost [the] direct reflection" of the Soviet system and the outcome of decisions made by Stalin and a small group around him. This is an excellent companion to Anne Applebaum's Pulitzer-winning Gulag: A History. 39 illus. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
The "Annals of Communism" series is Yale University Press's invaluable publishing enterprise that makes available previously unopened documents from the Soviet state and party archives on key topics, and this is the 16th volume in the series. So much has been written about Stalin's terror and the gulag, yet to read the secret internal documents chills as almost nothing else. Khlevniuk, one of Russia's most seasoned historians, has sifted through an immense quantity of material and then deftly winnowed it to clusters of documents revealing the origins of the camps, the gruesome impact of the early 1930s famine, the stabilization of the system, and its rapid swelling during the height of the terror. He provides brief, dispassionate, and very helpful commentaries on each section. Although, as Khlevniuk notes, much remains to be known, if ever it can be, so much has already been learned from these cold, bureaucratic memos and lists.
Library Journal
The Soviet Union's labor camp system, the gulag (Chief Administration for Camps of the OGPU-NKVD) dates from 1920 to 1956; for those who endured its punishments, the acronym became an adjective describing the entire system. Recent books by Anne Applebaum (Gulag: A History), Catherine Merridale (Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia), and indeed any book about Stalin's methods of governance are based on Solzhenitsyn's emotional portrayal of this system in The Gulag Archipelago. Khlevniuk (senior researcher, State Archive of the Russian Federation in Moscow) brilliantly uses Soviet-era archives to create a scholarly portrait of the gulag, focusing on the camps created from the 1929 collectivization of the kulaks to the beginning of World War II as essentially different from what went before-a crystallization of the system. Khlevniuk in no way discounts the suffering of those incarcerated but aims to show how in the 1930s the gulag became a part of social policy. His balanced if cold-eyed look at the data adds immeasurably to our knowledge of this era, but he also draws a link to contemporary society that other authors have not: "In the long run, the punitive organs in the Stalinist state strongly affected the development of state institutions and the formation of civil society first in the USSR and now in today's Russia. Russian citizens continue to perceive the state as a hostile force, the embodiment of arbitrariness and violence." Recommended for academic libraries and public libraries with active, contemporary Russian history collections.-Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300092844
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 9/27/2004
  • Series: Annals of Communism Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Oleg V. Khlevniuk is senior researcher at the State Archive of the Russian Federation, Moscow.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Ch. 1 Origins of the Stalinist Gulag 9
Ch. 2 Famine 54
Ch. 3 Stabilization of the system 83
Ch. 4 The great terror 140
Ch. 5 Beria's "reforms" 186
Ch. 6 Mobilization and repression 236
Ch. 7 The victims 287
Conclusion : the price of terror 328
List of selected camps and projects of the OGPU-NKVD 358
Excerpts from the criminal codes of the RSFSR and the Constitution of the USSR 364
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2004

    These are not honest researchers, but propagandists

    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.

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