After Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, Joseph Stalin was able to outcompete his rivals and become dictator of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In 1929, Stalin began his rule through the creation of a series of five-year plans, during which he attempted to jump start industrialization in the Soviet Union and take control of the peasant-run agriculture through forced government collectivization.
Though Stalin was faced with backlash from millions of farmers, he did not budge; anyone who opposed him was either imprisoned or killed. Through the millions of arrests of these “kulak” individuals, who were in the ay of Stalin’s Marxist ideology, a massive labor shortage was created. In order to combat this labor shortage and stay afloat on the world stage, Stalin utilized and mainstreamed Lenin’s Gulag, Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Labor Settlements, to create a forced labor supply and venue.
The total Gulag network, including thousands of camps and exiled settlements, stretched over the entire Soviet Union, from Aktyubinsk to Yakutsk, and not a single major population center was without its own local camps. In between when the camps became mainstream in 1929 and Stalin’s death in 1953, over 25 illion people, or 15 percent of the population, were imprisoned. Though Stalin’s Gulag does not get as much coverage in the western world as other mass killings such as the Holocaust, millions more died at the hands of Stalin than Hitler.
Although Stalin intended to use the Gulag system to promote state-run industrialization, the mass arrest of kulaks left the Soviet Union in a widespread agricultural labor shortage and subsequent famines; while Stalin’s utilization of Gulag prisoners as forced labor was meant to solve the state’s labor shortage, it strained the economic system of the Soviet Union and erpetuated a moral disaster. Stalin intended to use the Gulag system to promote state-run agriculture and to grow industrial output throughout the Soviet Union, however, the mass arrests of kulaks left the state lacking a large portion of its previous labor force.
The Soviet government did not care for the wellbeing of those who diverged in ideology and saw these people as enemies to get rid of or as “weeds” to Soviet society. As described by a local Soviet official at the time, “The individual peasant-he’s an enemy of Soviet power, and so he can be treated however one wants. ” These “kulaks” included any armer or peasant resisted or got in the way of Stalin’s collectivization.
In 1930 to 1932, two million kulaks were arrested under article 58 of the criminal code for counter- revolutionary activity, and when many others deserted their farms and ran away it was a first priority for all police officers to catch these runaways. Political arrests such as the rebellious kulaks, able but unemployed citizens, and those without proper identification documents made up 20 to 25 percent of arrests in the Soviet Union. The rest were arrested for non-political reasons including theft or crimes of violence, furthermore, if one as friends or family with a criminal, they were often arrested as well.
Through these millions of arrests, a large portion of working kulaks and peasants were subtracted from the free labor force and imprisoned, which led to an agricultural labor shortage crisis throughout the Soviet Union, and subsequent famine, with Siberian livestock decreasing by 66 percent and grain harvest decreasing by 45 percent over three years of famine. As described in a letter written to Stalin from communist officials in the Berezovsky district of the Soviet Union on March 26, 1932, “Since last November… a fourth of the opulation of our agricultural district have sold out and fled in an attempt to escape certain death from hunger.
Only the congestion of the railways and the prohibition of selling tickets have allowed us to break the blight of peasants. At the present time, our district does not have any preserves to feed starving kolkhozians [peasants]. ” As shown by this letter written to Stalin, the government was fully aware of the famine that was occurring, but like many other aspects of Stalin’s rule, changes were not made to improve the quality of life for his citizens. Through arresting millions of “counter-revolutionary” ndividuals, which Stalin thought would cleanse and purify the Soviet Union, he brought famine and starvation to his people.
Stalin planned to exploit the prisoners and for the Gulag forced labor system to be a major benefactor for the Soviet economy, but his plan did not turn out economically feasible, with the Gulag system costing more to maintain than what it was producing through its forced labor. Estimates show that prisoners were only half as productive as free workers, whether it be because of the poor working conditions, the unhealthy rations incapable of supporting physical labor, or their lack of orale to work for the state who arrested them.
Prisoners’ rations primarily consisted of flour, which was brought regularly to special settlements, or exiled siberian house arrest, and to prisons and was mixed with sawdust and other substitutes like birch bark. Most special settlers did not cook the flour, instead eating it raw, which made them prone to getting parasites and diarrhea. On top of the unproductiveness of the workers included the expenses of maintaining the Gulag camps such as the salaries of the guards, police officers, and medical professionals. Alexei Loginov, former deputy commander of the
Norilsk camps, which were north of the Arctic circle justified the use of prisoner labor in a 1992 interview: “If we had sent civilians, we would first have had to build houses for them to live in. And how could civilians live there? With prisoners it is easy- all you need is a barrack, a stove with a chimney, and they survive. ” As recounted by Loginov, the Soviet Union spent as little as it could on everything related to the Gulag system. Still, it was very expensive to transport the prisoners, the food, and the supplies around the network.
Furthermore, because of both the risoners’ poor labor production and the draining maintenance costs of the Gulag network, the system was reduced significantly after Stalin died. This shows that even the Soviet government knew how draining the Gulag was to the economy; Stalin was the only one keeping the Gulag alive. Not enough regard was given for the wellbeing of prisoners as they were seen as enemies of Soviet Society, and many prisoners and special settlers were left to fend for themselves in a dystopian fight for survival.
An elderly peasant woman once spent her summers collecting poplar bark on Nazino Island, and she recalls what her amily was met with when they found Nazino Island rife with exiled special settlers. The woman remembers a guard named Kostia Venikovo, who left Nazino Island one day, leaving the girl he was sleeping with all alone on an island full of starving violent men, “People caught the girl, tied her to a poplar tree, cut off her breasts, her muscles, everything they could eat..
When Kostia came back, she was still alive. He tried to save her, but she had lost too much blood. ” Also known as Cannibal Island for the cannibalism that commonly took place, the special settlement on Nazino Island was ignored for almost six decades. The traumatic events that took place on the island promoted a serious collective psychopathology for the detainees, many were noted to roam the island “mad”, or covered in blood.
The cannibalistic events that took place on Nazino Island did not take place in all camps, but a shared theme among the camps was the brutal neglect for prisoner safety, with statistics showing that around 11. 7 percent of all prisoners died from physical and mental exhaustion, cold, and hunger. As described by a health professional at the time, children in the Gulag system suffered greatly from malnutrition, “The expression on their faces even hough they are only 5, 6, or 7 years old is totally apathetic, these children look like old people.
They hardly move and they have no desire to play. ” Stalin’s Gulag ravaged Soviet society, as the millions of people who had lived in the camps were traumatized, with those who were not arrested definitely knowing someone who was. Stalin psychologically broke most of Soviet society through human right violations, left the Soviet economy in the gutter after he died, and reduced Soviet culture and life to an absolute dependence on the centralized state because Stalin took verything away from his people, and the consequences of his terrible rule still exist today.
The exact numbers of how many people Stalin imprisoned or shot can never be truly known, as poor records were kept, with most still existing classified today. The Gulag is not remembered as being genocide, but because of how Stalin focussed on keeping those who opposed him powerless, the Gulag could definitely be categorized as such. Stalin taught a lesson to the world of what not to do, as the economic and moral disaster that took place frightens many away from ever trusting the idea of a totalitarian regime again.