The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost. Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was like in the camps and links them to the larger history of the Soviet Union. Immediately recognized as a landmark and long-overdue work of scholarship, Gulag is an essential book for anyone who wishes to understand the history of the twentieth century.
- National Book Critics Circle Awards
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
- Pulitzer Prize
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion. By the gulag's peak years in the early 1950s, there were camps in every part of the country, and slave labor was used not only for mining and heavy industries but for producing every kind of consumer product (chairs, lamps, toys, those ubiquitous fur hats) and some of the country's most important science and engineering (Sergei Korolev, the architect of the Soviet space program, began his work in a special prison laboratory). Applebaum details camp life, including strategies for survival; the experiences of women and children in the camps; sexual relationships and marriages between prisoners; and rebellions, strikes and escapes. There is almost too much dark irony to bear in this tragic, gripping account. Applebaum's lucid prose and painstaking consideration of the competing theories about aspects of camp life and policy are always compelling. She includes an appendix in which she discusses the various ways of calculating how many died in the camps, and throughout the book she thoughtfully reflects on why the gulag does not loom as large in the Western imagination as, for instance, the Holocaust.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 08, 2004
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Excerpt from Gulag by Anne Applebaum
But your spine has been smashed,
My beautiful, pitiful era,
And with an inane smile
You look back, cruel and weak,
Like an animal past its prime,
At the prints of your own paws.
--Osip Mandelstam, "Vek"1
One of my goals is to destroy the myth that the cruelest era of repression began in 1936-37. I think that in future, statistics will show that the wave of arrests, sentences and exile had already begun at the beginning of 1918, even before the official declaration, that autumn, of the "Red Terror." From that moment, the wave simply grew larger and larger, until the death of Stalin . . .
--Dmitrii Likhachev, Vospominaniya2
In the year 1917, two waves of revolution rolled across Russia, sweeping Imperial Russian society aside as if it were destroying so many houses of cards. After Czar Nicholas II abdicated in February, events proved extremely difficult for anyone to halt or control. Alexander Kerensky, the leader of the first post-revolutionary Provisional Government, later wrote that, in the void following the collapse of the old regime, "all existing political and tactical programs, however bold and well conceived, appeared hanging aimlessly and uselessly in space."3
But although the Provisional Government was weak, although popular dissatisfaction was widespread, although anger at the carnage caused by the First World War ran high, few expected power to fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks, one of several radical socialist parties agitating for even more rapid change. Abroad, the Bolsheviks were scarcely known. One apocryphal tale illustrates foreign attitudes very well: in 1917, so the story goes, a bureaucrat rushed into the office of the Austrian Foreign Minister, shouting, "Your Excellency, there has been a revolution in Russia!" The minister snorted. "Who could make a revolution in Russia? Surely not harmless Herr Trotsky, down at the Caf? Central?"
If the nature of the Bolsheviks was mysterious, their leader, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov--the man the world would come to know by his revolutionary pseudonym, "Lenin"--was even more so. During his many years as an ?migr? revolutionary, Lenin had been recognized for his brilliance, but also disliked for his intemperance and his factionalism. He picked frequent fights with other socialist leaders, and had a penchant for turning minor disagreements over seemingly irrelevant matters of dogma into major arguments.4
In the first months following the February Revolution, Lenin was very far from holding a position of unchallenged authority, even within his own Party. As late as mid-October 1917, a handful of leading Bolsheviks continued to oppose his plan to carry out a coup d'�tat against the Provisional Government, arguing that the Party was unprepared to take power, and that it did not yet have popular support. He won the argument, however, and on October 25 the coup took place. Under the influence of Lenin's agitation, a mob sacked the Winter Palace. The Bolsheviks arrested the ministers of the Provisional Government. Within hours, Lenin had become the leader of the country he renamed Soviet Russia.
Yet although Lenin had succeeded in taking power, his Bolshevik critics had not been entirely wrong. The Bolsheviks were indeed wildly unprepared. As a result, most of their early decisions, including the creation of the one-party state, were taken to suit the needs of the moment. Their popular support was indeed weak, and almost immediately they began to wage a bloody civil war, simply in order to stay in power. From 1918, when the White Army of the old regime regrouped to fight the new Red Army--led by Lenin's comrade, "Herr Trotsky" from the "Caf? Central"--some of the most brutal fighting ever seen in Europe raged across the Russian countryside. Nor did all of the violence take place in battlefields. The Bolsheviks went out of their way to quash intellectual and political opposition in any form it took, attacking not only the representatives of the old regime but also other socialists: Mensheviks, Anarchists, Social Revolutionaries. The new Soviet state would not know relative peace until 1921.5