Gulag Town, Company Town: Forced Labor and Its Legacy in Vorkuta

Yale University Press
Free sample

DIV This insightful volume offers a radical reassessment of the infamous “Gulag Archipelago” by exploring the history of Vorkuta, an arctic coal-mining outpost originally established in the 1930s as a prison camp complex. Author Alan Barenberg’s eye-opening study reveals Vorkuta as an active urban center with a substantial nonprisoner population where the borders separating camp and city were contested and permeable, enabling prisoners to establish social connections that would eventually aid them in their transitions to civilian life. With this book, Barenberg makes an important historical contribution to our understanding of forced labor in the Soviet Union and its enduring legacy./div
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Additional Information

Publisher
Yale University Press
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Published on
Aug 26, 2014
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9780300206821
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Modern / 20th Century
History / Russia & the Former Soviet Union
Social Science / Penology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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A vast network of prison camps was an essential part of the Stalinist system. Conditions in the camps were brutal, life expectancy short. At their peak, they housed millions, and hardly an individual in the Soviet Union remained untouched by their tentacles. Michael Jakobson's is the first study to examine the most crucial period in the history of the camps: from the October Revolution of 1917, when the tsarist prison system was destroyed to October 1934, when all places of confinement were consolidated under one agency -- the infamous GULAG.

The prison camps served the Soviet government in many ways: to isolate opponents and frighten the population into submission, to increase labor productivity through the arrest of "inefficient" workers, and to provide labor for factories, mines, lumbering, and construction projects.

Jakobson focuses on the structure and interrelations of prison agencies, the Bolshevik views of crime and punishment and inmate reeducation, and prison self-sufficiency. He also describes how political conditions and competition among prison agencies contributed to an unprecedented expansion of the system. Finally, he disputes the official claim of 1931 that the system was profitable -- a claim long accepted by former inmates and Western researchers and used to explain the proliferation of the camps and their population.

Did Marxism or the Bolshevik Revolution or Leninism inexorably lead to the GULAG system? Were its origins truly evil or merely banal? Jakobson's important book probes the official record to cast new light on a system that for a time supported but ultimately helped destroy the now fallen Soviet colossus.

The searing accounts of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Evgeniia Ginsberg and Varlam Shalamov opened the world's eyes to the terrors of the Soviet Gulag. But not until now has there been a memoir of life inside the camps written from the perspective of an actual employee of the Secret police. In this riveting memoir, superbly translated by Deborah Kaple, Fyodor Mochulsky describes being sent to work as a boss at the forced labor camp of Pechorlag in the frozen tundra north of the Arctic Circle. Only twenty-two years old, he had but a vague idea of the true nature of the Gulag. What he discovered was a world of unimaginable suffering and death, a world where men were starved, beaten, worked to death, or simply executed. Mochulsky details the horrific conditions in the camps and the challenges facing all those involved, from prisoners to guards. He depicts the power struggles within the camps between the secret police and the communist party, between the political prisoners (most of whom had been arrested for the generic crime of "counter-revolutionary activities") and the criminal convicts. And because Mochulsky writes of what he witnessed with the detachment of the engineer that he was, readers can easily understand how a system that destroyed millions of lives could be run by ordinary Soviet citizens who believed they were advancing the cause of socialism. Mochulsky remained a communist party member his entire life--he would later become a diplomat--but was deeply troubled by the gap between socialist theory and the Soviet reality of slave labor and mass murder. This unprecedented memoir takes readers into that reality and sheds new light on one of the most harrowing tragedies of the 20th century.
Even before its dissolution in 1991, the Soviet Union was engaged in an ambivalent struggle to come to terms with its violent and repressive history. Following the death of Stalin in 1953, entrenched officials attempted to distance themselves from the late dictator without questioning the underlying legitimacy of the Soviet system. At the same time, the Gulag victims to society opened questions about the nature, reality, and mentality of the system that remain contentious to this day.

The Gulag Survivor is the first book to examine at length and in-depth the post-camp experience of Stalin's victims and their fate in post-Soviet Russia. As such, it is an essential companion to the classic work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Based on extensive interviews, memoirs, official records, and recently opened archives, The Gulag Survivor describes what survivors experienced when they returned to society, how officials helped or hindered them, and how issues surrounding the existence of the returnees evolved from the fifties up to the present.

Adler establishes the social and historical context of the first wave of returnees who were "liberated" into exile in Stalin's time. She reviews diverse aspects of return including camp culture, family reunion, and the psychological consequences of the Gulag. Adler then focuses on the enduring belief in the Communist Party among some survivors and the association between returnees and the growing dissident movement. She concludes by examining how issues surrounding the survivors reemerged in the eighties and nineties and the impact they had on the failing Soviet system. Written and researched while Russian archives were most available and while there were still survivors to tell their stories, The Gulag Survivor is a groundbreaking and essential work in modern Russian history. It will be read by historians, political scientists, Slavic scholars, and sociologists.

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