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Over the course of several decades, the Soviet labor camp system drew into its orbit tens of millions of people -- political prisoners and their families, common criminals, prisoners of war, internal exiles, local officials, and prison camp personnel. This study sheds new light on the operation of the camp system, both internally and as an integral part of a totalitarian regime that "institutionalized violence as a universal means of attaining its goals." In Galina Ivanova's unflinching account -- all the more powerful for its austerity -- the Gulag is the ultimate manifestation of a more pervasive and lasting distortion of the values of legality, labor, and life that burdens Russia to the present day.
The new vision for the Gulag faced many obstacles. Reeducation proved difficult to quantify, a serious liability in a statistics-obsessed state. The entrenched habits of Gulag officials and the prisoner-guard power dynamic mitigated the effect of the post-Stalin reforms. And the Soviet public never fully accepted the new policies of leniency and the humane treatment of criminals. In the late 1950s, they joined with a coalition of party officials, criminologists, procurators, newspaper reporters, and some penal administrators to rally around the slogan "The camp is not a resort" and succeeded in reimposing harsher conditions for inmates. By the mid-1960s the Soviet Gulag had emerged as a hybrid system forged from the old Stalinist system, the vision promoted by Khrushchev and others in the mid-1950s, and the ensuing counterreform movement. This new penal equilibrium largely persisted until the fall of the Soviet Union.
Doroshevich’s book was enormously popular when it first appeared, and it continues to be published in Russia, as a historical record of the striking barbarity of late nineteenth century penal practices. Despite this popularity, it has never before been translated into English, and Doroshevich remains largely unknown outside Russia. This translation introduces English-language readers to an important writer and original stylist who defined journalistic practice during the years leading up to the 1917 Revolution, by way of a book which helps explain the causes for that revolution.