Academic journal article Kritika

No Total Totality: Forced Labor, Stalinism, and De-Stalinization

Academic journal article Kritika

No Total Totality: Forced Labor, Stalinism, and De-Stalinization

Article excerpt

Alan Barenberg, Gulag Town, Company Town: Forced Labor and Its Legacy in Vorkuta. 331 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014. ISBN-13 9780300179446. $65.00.

Anatolii I. Shirokov, Dal'stroi v sotsial'no-ekonomicheskom razvitii SeveroVostokaSSSR (1930-1950-egg.) (Dal 'stroi in the Socioeconomic Development of the Northeastern USSR [1930-1950s]). 654 pp. Moscow: Rosspen, 2014. ISBN-13 978-5824318944.

Aleksei V. Zakharchenko, NKVD iformirovanieaviapromyshlennogo kompleksa v Povolzh 'e, 1940-1943 (The NKVD and the Formation of the Aviation Industrial Complex in the Volga Region, 1940-43). 480 pp. Samara: Institut rossiiskoi istorii Rossiiskoi akademii nauk, Povolzhskii filial, 2013. ISBN 978-5934246588.

Recent historical writing about the Soviet Union includes notable, muchneeded, and diligent works dedicated to the consolidation, development, and expansion of the prison camp system, as well as the role that it played in the Soviet Union's transition from a dictatorship to an "ordinary" authoritarian regime. Researchers have made use of new sources to produce valuable work examining the deep internal conditions leading to the expansion of the I Gulag. (1) The books under review are vivid examples of this historiographical trend. Descriptions of the camps and their economic structures, as well as summaries of statistical evidence about the number of prisoners and industrial output--characteristic of earlier Gulag research--are not completely absent from these new works, but they have taken on a secondary role. To a much greater degree, the authors focus on the practices of administering the camp economy and realizing departmental interests; the evolution of inmate society; and implicit or explicit signs of crisis in the Stalinist system of forced labor.

Alan Barenberg dedicates his brilliantly written book to the largest division of the Gulag: the camp complex of Vorkuta, in the northern European part of the USSR. The region, ill-suited for habitation but rich in resources (primarily coal), was the ideal place for a Stalinist camp. Vorkuta became the symbol of the camp system for these and many other reasons. After the camp was eliminated, it became an informative example of how the Gulag's economic and social structures evolved and were maintained. Equally emblematic is Anatolii I. Shirokov's subject of study: the notorious Dal'stroi Trust, which mined gold from the rich deposits on the Kolyma river basin in the northeastern USSR. Over a quarter-century (1932-56), the basin yielded 1,200 tons of gold and huge amounts of other nonferrous metals. Around 850,000 prisoners passed through the camps at Kolyma from 1932 to 1953, of whom 120,000 died (482, 638). Aleksei Zakharchenko focuses his study on a lesser-known and smaller, though no less significant, site of Stalinist forced labor. The famous airplane factories near Kuibyshev, which were constructed by prisoners in extreme conditions in compressed time frames, played a significant role in the war with Nazi Germany, supplying the front with a large portion of its Soviet planes.

Despite thematic differences, each of these three works analyzes the same phenomenon: the formation, development, and expansion of major production complexes under the direction of the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, later Ministry of Internal Affairs (NKVD-MVD USSR). (2)

I am grateful to Liudmila Novikova, Victoria Frede, Paul Werth, and Rhiannon Dowling for their valuable comments and skillful translation. This article was prepared within the framework of a subsidy granted to the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) by the government of the Russian Federation for the implementation of the Global Competitiveness Program.

The authors examine two models of Gulag expansion: the first through camp colonization of distant and hard-to-reach parts of the country; and the second through the use of forced labor in populated regions of substantial economic value. …

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