THE TER­ROR OF THE GU­LAGS

JOSEPH STALIN SO SO­VIET UNION, 1922-1952 20 MIL­LION KILLED

World of Knowledge (Australia) - - History -

It was con­ceived in or­der to trans­form hu­man mat­ter into a ddocile, ex­hausted, ill-smelling mmass of in­di­vid­u­als liv­ing only for ththem­selves and think­ing of noth­ing elselse but how to ap­pease the con­stant to­tor­ture of hunger… con­cerned with nonoth­ing apart from evad­ing kicks, co­cold and ill-treat­ment.”

Jac­ques Rossi knows all too well ththe re­al­ity of life in a Gu­lag, de­scrib­ing jusjust some of its day-to-day hor­rors in his mem­oir, The Gu­lag Handbook. Ththe artist spent 19 years in one of Jo­joseph Stalin’s labour camps, af­ter susuf­fer­ing at the hands of the So­viet dic­dic­ta­tor’s in­fa­mous ‘purges’, largesc­scale op­er­a­tions that saw the im­im­pris­on­ment, ex­ile or mur­der of “een­e­mies of the work­ing class”.

In Stalin-speak, this could be anany­one ob­struct­ing his path to abab­so­lute power: fel­low Com­mu­nist Pa­party mem­bers, army per­son­nel, pr­priests, mu­si­cians, teach­ers and other mmem­bers of the in­tel­lec­tual classes. Fu­full tri­als were non-ex­is­tent. In­stead, St­stalin en­forced a form of in­stant justice know as a Troika. Un­der a troika, just three peo­ple – a mem­ber of the state po­lice, a lo­cal Com­mu­nist Party sec­re­tary and a state procu­ra­tor – had the author­ity to is­sue quick ver­dicts of death, ex­ile or ban­ish­ment into prison camps.

Af­ter be­ing of­fi­cially en­dorsed by Stalin in April 1930, Gu­lags quickly be­came a way for the So­viet ruler to both re­move ‘en­e­mies’ from nor­mal so­ci­ety (in 1939, the camp pop­u­la­tion stood at 1.6 mil­lion) and to cheaply in­crease the coun­try’s in­dus­trial out­put. Un­til the start of World War Two, the Gu­lags were pro­vid­ing 76% of the na­tion’s tin, 60% of its gold and 25% of its tim­ber. It’s thanks to pris­on­ers that ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture projects such as the White Sea-baltic Canal and the Baikal-amur main rail­road line were built. But it was slav­ery, in a dif­fer­ent name.

Within mo­ments of ar­riv­ing at the Gu­lag, pris­on­ers were in no doubt of the bru­tal, hu­mil­i­at­ing life await­ing them. “First we were made to strip naked and were shoved into some roof­less en­clo­sures made out of planks,” re­mem­bers fe­male in­mate Evfrosiniia Ker­snovskaia. “Be­low our feet lay frozen ex­cre­ment. An en­clo­sure mea­sured three square feet and each held three to four shiv­er­ing and fright­ened men and women.”

In­side the camp, hunger and dis­ease were ram­pant, but in­mates were still made to work 20-hour days. Fe­males of­ten en­dured de­grad­ing strip searches from guards. “I was so shocked about it at first, I re­fused,” said one woman anony­mously. “Sol­diers kept my hands be­hind my back, an­other forced my legs apart.”

The de­cline of the Gu­lag sys­tem co­in­cided with the start of World War Two, when more men were needed for the bat­tle­field. When Stalin died in 1953, the Gu­lag pop­u­la­tion shrank sharply, but con­tin­ued to ex­ist, al­beit on a small scale, dur­ing the Gor­bachev pe­riod in the late-80s. In­cred­i­bly, though, a 2015 poll in Rus­sia showed that 45% of peo­ple still be­lieve Stalin’s ac­tions were “to some ex­tent” jus­ti­fied. >

“WHO’ S GO­ING TO RE­MEM­BER ALLTHISRIFF-RAFFINTENOR TWENTYYEARS’TIME?” JOSEPH STALIN, ON THE VIC­TIMS OF HIS‘ P URGES’

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