Second Quiz Q&A-1 and Soviet Gulag Killing Capacity

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Second Quiz Q&A-1 and Soviet Gulag Killing Capacity

Post by johnkarls »

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Gulags
From: Bill Vogel
Date: Mon, March 5, 2012 8:39 am
To: John Karls

John seven million deaths a year in the gulags is excessive. The appendix of Anne Applebaum's 2003 book Gulag: A History has NKVD figures on the annual numbers of prisoners in gulag camps and colonies from 1930 through 1953. The highest annual population is 2,561,351 in 1950. She gives figures from other (non-bureaucratic) sources as to gulag populations, and goes on to death figures, from purposeful famines, from expulsions of ethnic groups (Balts, Tatars, etc), from gulag prisoners in transit, from the Great Terror, and on and on. The total from all these of course is much higher than the total of deaths in the gulags alone. The total deaths she says is "a matter of pure conjecture". But nowhere have I seen anything approaching your 200 million plus figure (7 million a year for more than 30 years) for deaths in the gulags alone much less from all the death sources combined. Respectfully submitted. Your fact checker, Bill V., who is a survivor of a confined, strapped down passage through Magadan.

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Re: Gulags
From: John Karls
Date: Mon, March 5, 2012 5:30 pm
To: Bill Vogel

Dear Bill,

We've had this discussion several times in the past.

As you probably recall, I have read half a dozen Stalin biographies and will dig out the particulars again if you like.

There was unanimous (or nearly unanimous) agreement on the killing capacity of the Gulags.

Indeed, several (if not most) of the biographies mention the 1937 census (1) which was only able to find 130 million people rather than the 180 million that had been commonly thought to exist (meaning that Stalin's packing off to the Gulags for liquidation the peasants who had opposed collectivization (and other Stalin enemies) had resulted in 50 million MORE deaths than anyone had realized even taking into account what was known about the Gulags up to that point, or 50 million divided by 13 years (1924-1937) = 4 million/year of MORE Gulag killing capacity than had commonly been supposed), and (2) which resulted in the census takers themselves being packed off to the Gulags as subversives.

A question for you since you apparently have read Anne Applebaum's book = why does she put so much faith in the Soviet Government's official figures??? Particularly after Stalin's violent reaction to the truth adduced by the census takers???

Nice to hear from you!!! I hope all is well with you and your family!!!

Your friend,

John K.

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Elaboration on Gulag Killing Capacity

Post by BillV »

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: [Fwd: Re: Gulags]
From: John Karls
Date: Tue, March 6, 2012 5:24 am
To: Bill Vogel

Dear Bill,

After dashing off such a quick e-mail last evening when your incoming message was encountered, it seemed that a more elaborate reaction was in order.

The first point is definitional.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s at the height of the Cold War, every American knew what “being sent to Siberia” meant because the phrase was so pervasive in American culture and was frequently the punch line for jokes by late-night-TV comics. The phrase was understood by Americans to mean a death sentence of the most horrible kind imaginable from a combination of over-work and starvation/freezing.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, popularized the term “Gulag” in the West in 1973 with the publication of his “The Gulag Archipelago” which described the system as work/death camps that were scattered throughout Siberia like “a chain of islands.”

Two footnotes.

First, like the Imperial Japanese military in World War II, the Soviets believed that rather than just execute enemies of the State, the State would (and should) benefit more by working its enemies to death. [See, for example, any of the many historical books on “The Bataan Death March” -- though, in defense of the indefensible vis-à-vis the Japanese, Japan had never signed the Geneva Accords regarding prisoners of war because Japanese culture believed that a soldier should fall on his sword (commit Hara-Kiri) rather than surrender so, of course, any “scum ball” who refused to do the honorable thing should be treated as the “scum ball” s/he was!!!]

Second, Siberia was not the only place where forced-labor camps were the norm. When Stalin encountered during his first decade of rule nearly-universal opposition from the peasants to his policy of transforming all agriculture into communist “collectives,” he found that the USSR as a whole was starving because of how many peasants had been banished to work in Siberia’s mines until they starved/froze.

Accordingly, in typical Soviet central-planning fashion, he decided that it would be necessary to forcibly move 15 million city dwellers to Kazakhstan in order to farm an area which was fertile but sparsely populated for lack of appropriate irrigation. [However, at the last moment, he only ordered 10 million city dwellers to be forcibly sent to become Kazakh farmers because he remembered that in his home Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR as in USSR) of Georgia, there were 5 million Greeks who had fled the old Greek capital of Constantinople (aka Istanbul) during the World War I era and settled in Georgia -- and Stalin “solved” Georgia’s Greek “problem”!!!]

Nevertheless, Stalin’s forced-labor camps in Kazakhstan were different from the Siberian forced-labor camps because Stalin was not trying to kill the Kazakh transplants while extracting work from them. That is why the term “Gulag” for Solzhenitsyn and the West referred solely to Siberia.

One might well wonder about the Soviet view of labor from the way Lenin/Stalin treated it. The following passage regarding the formation of the Gulags comes from Cambridge University’s long-time Soviet expert, Prof. Orlando Figes, who authored many books on the Soviet Union (the following, from his “A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924” at p. 723):

“At the heart of this ‘barracks communism’ was the Bolsheviks’ fear of the working class as an independent and increasingly rebellious force. Significantly from about this time the Bolsheviks began to talk of the ‘workforce’ (rabochaia silla or rabsila for short) rather than the ‘working class’ (rabochii klass). The shift implied the transformation of the workers from an active agent of the revolution into a passive object of the party-state. The rabsila was not a class, nor even an assortment of individuals, but simply a mass. The word for a worker (rabochii) was returning to its origins: the word for a slave (rab). Here was the root of the Gulag system -- the mentality of dragooning long lines of half-starved and ragged peasants onto building sites and into factories. Trotsky epitomized this when he said that the labour armies were made up of a ‘peasant raw material’ (muzbitskoe syr’ie). It was the idea that human labour, far from being the creative force which Marx had extolled, was in fact no more than a raw commodity which the state could use up to ‘build socialism’. This perversion was implicit in the system from the start. Gorky had foreseen this in 1917 when he wrote that ‘the working class is for Lenin what ore is for a metal worker’.”

So yes, as mentioned in my e-mail of last evening, the 1937 census after 13 years of Stalin rule did find that Stalin had killed 50 million more people (or 4 million more people/year) than anyone had imagined even taking into account what was known up to that time about the Siberian work/death camps.

And yes, Stalin did have a violent reaction to the news, immediately condemning to Siberia the census takers themselves as subversives.

Accordingly, there is no real mystery about why there has emerged since Glasnost such a difference of opinion about how many people were killed in Siberia’s work/death camps.

First, Stalin’s own figures (which became publicly available as a result of Glasnost) should be taken as suspect because of his violent reaction to the 1937 census figures showing he had been killing 4 million more people/year than anyone had imagined and, therefore, killing 4 million more people/year than shown by Stalin’s own figures.

But more importantly, even if Stalin’s own figures could be believed, they are still highly misleading.

Siberia’s work/death camps in which virtually everyone was worked to death appear in retrospect to have come in many different varieties based on the severity of the crime, and based on whether there had been an actual trial which was very rare or merely an order from solely a governmental official or from a “troika” (an order from a governmental official on which two additional officials signed off).

Apparently, Stalin’s secret definition of a Gulag according to Soviet documents made public as a result of Glasnost (as opposed to Solzhenitsyn’s use of the term and the common American perception of its meaning) meant only those work/death camps which contained hard-core criminals who had received an actual trial.

Accordingly, Soviet apologists do not appear to be challenging the fact that 7 million people per year died of starvation/freezing while working in Siberian work/death camps to which they had been banished.

Instead, Soviet apologists only appear to be pointing out that of the 7 million people per year who died of starvation/freezing in what both Solzhenitsyn and Americans have understood for 40 years and counting to be Gulags, only a fraction of those 7 million people per year who really did starve/freeze in Siberia did so in work/death camps that were technically “Gulags” under Stalin’s secret definition.

Such attempts by Soviet apologists appear intended only to mislead.

I hope that helps to explain the imbroglio.

My best to Donna and the rest of your family!!!

Your friend,

John K.

PS: You’ll note that the Figes passage regarding the formation of the Gulags by Lenin claims that he was motivated by creating inhuman work gangs of peasants. However, as mentioned in my original e-mail, Lenin did have the immediate problem while struggling for the success of his revolution, of needing to kill off first the aristocracy and the intelligentsia. However, Figes can be forgiven for his error because Lenin’s instrument for killing was quickly turned on the peasants who comprised virtually all of the USSR’s population at that time.

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