Gulag: Russian Prison Camps

Pages: 5 (1633 words) Published: November 27, 2010
History: Western Civilization
Class: T&Th 2:15

Mrs. Rivera
Western Civilization
Prisons are used to incarcerate real criminals, to show them a lesson of what they have done. They make examples of people who disobey the law and show that to the rest of the population. Also giving justice against criminals, which may have caused harm or hardships on law-abiding citizens. This is the modern perception of a prison, although some are still incarcerated for the wrong reasons, and millions of criminals still roam free, there is yet to be a solution. Russian Gulag camps turned the modern idea of incarceration around, they did not incarcerate for the good of the people. They prosecuted and incarcerated for the good of the government.

The madness of these camps began in 1918 when Lenin’s Red Terror initiative was beginning to take place. He had ordered his police to arrest “Kulaks” which were wealthy peasants, also merchants, priests, and Anti-Soviet officials deemed as ‘unreliables’. After Lenin’s death, Stalin came to power and put this initiative into effect and in overdrive. He was out to get anyone who was against the government. And with the majority of the people he could do so by saying not only are they anti-government but they are against the people as well. Their main goal of rounding up the Kulaks was to attain all land so there could be collectivized agriculture to control the food supply. The goal shifted with using the camps as a means to industrialize Russia, to create an economic stimulus. They would use the prisoners in camps to do service projects such as build canals, roads, mining gold, copper, coal and logging. The economic stimulus, that some hoped would occur, did not happen, due to the lack of effort from the prisoners; product of extremely harsh conditions. The constructive building is a shadow of the devastation these camps caused. Prisoners of the Gulags consisted of many types of “criminals”. I use this term because these Gulags were intended to put away whomever the government sought fit. There were real criminals; murderers, rapists, robbers. And people who smiled at someone’s bad joke or took a few potatoes to feed their family. The former and also the political prisoners all shared close to equal sentencing lengths. This combination and disappearance of class distinction lead to violence in the camps, fighting for food, and warmth. Violence was another struggle for survival of prisoners. Lenin originally started the camps in 1918 and by 1920, there were 107 registered camps. Stalin had control of the USSR’s public officials, the NKVD, which he used to take control of farms and enormous acreage in far remote places of Russia. Many of these camps were setup in the most barren and coldest parts of the continent. Prisoners were given very little food rations and claustrophobic living quarters. Subzero temperatures, sometimes all year round, which were the cause of deaths and inability to work. The camps varied in size, one prisoner describes the camp “was in the form of a rectangle about 220 x 90 meters, surrounded by a wooden fence, 2.5 meters high… a barrier inside the camp 3 meters from the fence” this barrier was their threshold where the guards from above were allowed to open fire. There is no exact source of population in the camps while assumptions are usually highly exaggerated, and the government never released any factual evidence. But an educated guess would be around 8 million. There was an endless supply of prisoners to fill cells. People were arrested for things that undermine the meaning of ‘criminal’. The immense number of prisoner deaths was not due to gas chambers or genocide like the future events of the holocaust, it was the cold, malnutrition, and exhaustion that caused deaths. This could attribute to the lack of worldly opinion of these camps. All the press in the USSR was controlled by Stalin and communist factions, and they were not actually...

Bibliography: Vol. 55, No. 4 (Dec., 1983),
The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 59, No. 5 (Oct., 1951), pp. 405-419
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series C (Applied Statistics), Vol. 44, No. 3 (1995), pp. 307-321
Published by: Blackwell Publishing for the Royal Statistical Society
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