Le Menzogne sulla storia dell’ Unione Sovietica-Mentiras sobre la historia de la Union Sovietica-Lies concerning the history of the Soviet Unionies concerning the history of the Soviet Union
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Another person who is always associated with books and articles on the supposed millions who lost their lives or liberty in the Soviet Union is the Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn became famous throughout the capitalist world towards the end of 1960 with his book, The Gulag Archipelago. He himself had been sentenced in 1946 to 8 years in a labour camp for counter-revolutionary activity in the form of distribution of anti-Soviet propaganda. According to Solzhenitsyn, the fight against Nazi Germany in the Second World War could have been avoided if the Soviet government had reached a compromise with Hitler. Solzhenitsyn also accused the Soviet government and Stalin of being even worse than Hitler from the point of view, according to him, of the dreadful effects of the war on the people of the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn did not hide his Nazi sympathies. He was condemned as a traitor.
Solzhenitsyn began in 1962 to publish books in the Soviet Union with the consent and help of Nikita Khrushchev. The first book he published was A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, concerning the life of a prisoner. Khrushchev used Solzhenitsyn’s texts to combat Stalin’s socialist heritage. In 1970 Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for literature with his book The Gulag Archipelago. His books then began to be published in large quantities in capitalist countries, their author having become one of the most valuable instruments of imperialism in combating the socialism of the Soviet Union. His texts on the labour camps were added to the propaganda on the millions who were supposed to have died in the Soviet Union and were presented by the capitalist mass media as though they were true. In 1974, Solzhenitsyn renounced his Soviet citizenship and emigrated to Switzerland and then the US. At that time he was considered by the capitalist press to be the greatest fighter for freedom and democracy. His Nazi sympathies were buried so as not to interfere with the propaganda war against socialism.
In the US, Solzhenitsyn was frequently invited to speak at important meetings. He was, for example, the main speaker at the AFL-CIO union congress in 1975, and on 15 July 1975 he was invited to give a lecture on the world situation to the US Senate! His lectures amount to violent and provocative agitation, arguing and propagandising for the most reactionary positions. Among other things he agitated for Vietnam to be attacked again after its victory over the US. And more: after 40 years of fascism in Portugal, when left-wing army officers took power in the people’s revolution of 1974, Solzhenitsyn began to propagandise in favour of US military intervention in Portugal which, according to him, would join the Warsaw Pact if the US did not intervene! In his lectures, Solzhenitsyn always bemoaned the liberation of Portugal’s African colonies.
But it is clear that the main thrust of Solzhenitsyn’s speeches was always the dirty war against socialism – from the alleged execution of several million people in the Soviet Union to the tens of thousands of Americans supposedly imprisoned and enslaved, according to Solzhenitsyn, in North Vietnam! This idea of Solzhenitsyn’s of Americans being used as slave labour in North Vietnam gave rise to the Rambo films on the Vietnam war. American journalists who dared write in favour of peace between the US and the Soviet Union were accused by Solzhenitsyn in his speeches of being potential traitors. Solzhenitsyn also propagandised in favour of increasing US military capacity against the Soviet Union, which he claimed was more powerful in ‘tanks and aeroplanes, by five to seven times, than the US’ as well as in atomic weapons which ‘in short’ he alleged were ‘two, three or even five times’ more powerful in the Soviet Union than those held by the US. Solzhenitsyn’s lectures on the Soviet Union represented the voice of the extreme right. But he himself went even further to the right in his public support of fascism.
Support for Franco’s fascism
After Franco died in 1975, the Spanish fascist regime began to lose control of the political situation and at the beginning of 1976, events in Spain captured world public opinion. There were strikes and demonstrations to demand democracy and freedom, and Franco’s heir, King Juan Carlos, was obliged very cautiously to introduce some liberalisation in order to calm down the social agitation.
At this most important moment in Spanish political history, Alexander Solzhenitsyn appears in Madrid and gives an interview to the programme Directísimo one Saturday night, the 20th of March, at peak viewing time (see the Spanish newspapers, ABC and Ya of 21 March 1976). Solzhenitsyn, who had been provided with the questions in advance, used the occasion to make all kinds of reactionary statements. His intention was not to support the King’s so-called liberalisation measures. On the contrary, Solzhenitsyn warned against democratic reform. In his television interview he declared that 110 million Russians had died the victims of socialism, and he compared ‘the slavery to which Soviet people were subjected to the freedom enjoyed in Spain’. Solzhenitsyn also accused ‘progressive circles’ of ‘Utopians’ of considering Spain to be a dictatorship. By ‘progressive’, he meant anyone in the democratic opposition – were they liberals, social-democrats or communists. ‘Last autumn,’ said Solzhenitsyn, ‘world public opinion was worried about the fate of Spanish terrorists [i.e., Spanish anti-fascists sentenced to death by the Franco regime]. All the time progressive public opinion demands democratic political reform while supporting acts of terrorism’. ‘Those who seek rapid democratic reform, do they realise what will happen tomorrow or the day after? In Spain there may be democracy tomorrow, but after tomorrow will it be able to avoid falling from democracy into totalitarianism?’ To cautious inquiries by the journalists as to whether such statements could not be seen as support for regimes in countries where there was no liberty, Solzhenitsyn replied: ‘I only know one place where there is no liberty and that is Russia.’ Solzhenitsyn’s statements on Spanish television were a direct support to Spanish fascism, an ideology he supports to this day. This is one of the reasons why Solzhenitsyn began to disappear from public view in his 18 years of exile in the US, and one of the reasons he began to get less than total support from capitalist governments. For the capitalists it was a gift from Heaven to be able to use a man like Solzhenitsyn in their dirty war against socialism, but everything has its limits. In the new capitalist Russia, what determines the support of the west for political groups is purely and simply the ability of doing good business with high profits under the wing of such groups. Fascism as an alternative political regime for Russia is not considered to be good for business. For this reason Solzhenitsyn’s political plans for Russia are a dead letter as far as Western support is concerned. What Solzhenitsyn wants for Russia’s political future is a return to the authoritarian regime of the Tsars, hand-in-hand with the traditional Russian Orthodox Church! Even the most arrogant imperialists are not interested in supporting political stupidity of this magnitude. To find anyone who supports Solzhenitsyn in the West one has to search among the dumbheads of the extreme right.
Nazis, the police and the fascists
So these are the most worthy purveyors of the bourgeois myths concerning the millions who are supposed to have died and been imprisoned in the Soviet Union: the Nazi William Hearst, the secret agent Robert Conquest and the fascist Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Conquest played the leading role, since it was his information that was used by the capitalist mass media the world over, and was even the basis for setting up whole schools in certain universities. Conquest’s work is without a doubt a first-class piece of police disinformation. In the 1970s, Conquest received a great deal of help from Solzhenitsyn and a series of secondary characters like Andrei Sakharov and Roy Medvedev. In addition there appeared here and there all over the world a number of people who dedicated themselves to speculating about the number of deed and incarcerated and were always paid in gold by the bourgeois press. But the truth of the matter was finally exposed and has revealed the true face of these falsifiers of history. Gorbachev’s orders to open the party’s secret archives to historical investigation had consequences nobody could have foreseen.
The archives demonstrate the propaganda lies
The speculation about the millions who died in the Soviet Union is part of the dirty propaganda war against the Soviet Union and for this very reason the denials and explanations given by the Society were never taken seriously and never found any space in the capitalist press. They were, on the contrary, ignored, while the ‘specialists’ bought by capital were given as much space as they wanted in order to spread their fictions. And what fictions they were! What the millions of dead and imprisoned claimed by Conquest and other ‘critics’ had in common was that they were the result of false statistical approximations and evaluation methods lacking any scientific basis.
Fraudulent methods give rise to millions of dead
Conquest, Solzhenitsyn, Medvedev and others used statistics published by the Soviet Union, for instance, national population censuses, to which they added a supposed population increase without taking account of the situation in the country. In this way they reached their conclusions as to how many people there ought to have been in the country at the end of given years. The people who were missing were claimed to have died or been incarcerated because of socialism. The method is simple but also completely fraudulent. This type of ‘revelation’ of such important political events would never have been accepted if the ‘revelation’ in question concerned the western world. In such a case it is certain that professors and historians would have protested against such fabrications. But since it was the Soviet Union that was the object of the fabrications, they were acceptable. One of the reasons is certainly that professors and historians place their professional advancement well ahead of their professional integrity.
In numbers, what were the final conclusions of the ‘critics’? According to Robert Conquest (in an estimate he made in 1961) 6 million people died of starvation in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s. This number Conquest increased to 14 million in 1986. As regards what he says about the gulag labour camps, there were detained there, according to Conquest, 5 million prisoners in 1937 before the purges of the party, the army and the state apparatus began. After the start of the purges then, according to Conquest, during 1937-38, there would have been an additional 7 million prisoners, making the total 12 million prisoners in the labour camps in 1939! And these 12 million of Conquest’s would only have been the political prisoners! In the labour camps there were also common criminals, who, according to Conquest, would have far outnumbered the political prisoners. This means, according to Conquest, that there would have been 25-30 million prisoners in the labour camps of the Soviet Union.
Again according to Conquest, a million political prisoners were executed between 1937 and 1939, and another 2 million died of hunger. The final tally resulting from the purges of 1937-39, then, according to Conquest, was 9 million, of whom 3 million would have died in prison. These figures were immediately subjected to ‘statistical adjustment’ by Conquest to enable him to reach the conclusion that the Bolsheviks had killed no fewer than 12 million political prisoners between 1930 and 1953. Adding these figures to the numbers said to have died in the famine of the 1930s, Conquest arrived at the conclusion that the Bolsheviks killed 26 million people. In one of his last statistical manipulations, Conquest claimed that in 1950 there had been 12 million political prisoners in the Soviet Union.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn used more or less the same statistical methods as Conquest. But by using these pseudo-scientific methods on the basis of different premises, he arrived at even more extreme conclusions. Solzhenitsyn accepted Conquest’s estimate of 6 million deaths arising from the famine of 1932-33. Nevertheless, as far as the purges of 1936-39 were concerned, he believed that at least 1 million people died each year. Solzhenitsyn sums up by telling us that from the collectivisation of agriculture to the death of Stalin in 1953, the communists killed 66 million people in the Soviet Union. On top of that he holds the Soviet government responsible for the death of the 44 million Russians he claims were killed in the Second World War. Solzhenitsyn’s conclusion is that ‘110 million Russians fell, victims of socialism’. As far as prisoners were concerned, Solzhenitsyn tells us that the number of people in labour camps in 1953 was 25 million.
Gorbachev opens the archives
The collection of fantasy figures set out above, the product of extremely well paid fabrication, appeared in the bourgeois press in the 1960s, always presented as true facts ascertained through the application of scientific method.
Behind these fabrications lurked the western secret services, mainly the CIA and MI5. The impact of the mass media on public opinion is so great that the figures are even today believed to be true by large sections of the population of Western countries.
This shameful situation has worsened. In the Soviet Union itself, where Solzhenitsyn and other well-known ‘critics’ such as Andrei Sakharov and Roy Medvedev could find nobody to support their many fantasies, a significant change took place in 1990. In the new ‘free press’ opened up under Gorbachev, everything opposed to socialism was hailed as positive, with disastrous results. Unprecedented speculative inflation began to take place in the numbers of those who were alleged to have died or been imprisoned under socialism, now all mixed up into a single group of tens of millions of ‘victims’ of the communists.
The hysteria of Gorbachev’s new free press brought to the fore the lies of Conquest and Solzhenitsyn. At the same time Gorbachev opened up the archives of the Central Committee to historical research, a demand of the free press. The opening up of the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party is really the central issue in this tangled tale, this for two reasons: partly because in the archives can be found the facts that can shed light on the truth. But even more important is the fact that those speculating wildly on the number of people killed and imprisoned in the Soviet Union had all been claiming for years that the day the archives were opened up the figures they were citing would be confirmed. Every one of these speculators in the dead and incarcerated claimed that this would be the case: Conquest, Sakharov, Medvedev, and all the rest. But when the archives were opened up and research reports based on the actual documents began to be published a very strange thing happened. Suddenly both Gorbachev’s free press nor the speculators in dead and incarcerated completely lost interest in the archives.
The results of the research carried out on the archives of the Central Committee by Russian historians Zemskov, Dougin and Xlevnjuk, which began to appear in scientific journals as from 1990, went entirely unremarked. The reports containing the results of this historical research went completely against the inflationary current as regards the numbers who were being claimed by the ‘free press’ to have died or been incarcerated. Therefore their contents remained unpublicised. The reports were published in low-circulation scientific journals practically unknown to the public at large. Reports of the results of scientific research could hardly compete with the press hysteria, so the lies of Conquest and Solzhenitsyn continued to gain the support of many sectors of the former Soviet Union’s population. In the West also, the reports of the Russian researchers on the penal system under Stalin were totally ignored on the front pages of newspapers, and by TV news broadcasts. Why?
What the Russian research shows
The research on the Soviet penal system is set out in a report nearly 9,000 pages long. The authors of this report are many, but the best-known of them are the Russian historians V N Zemskov, A N Dougin and O V Xlevjnik. Their work began to be published in 1990 and by 1993 had nearly been finished and published almost in its entirety. The reports came to the knowledge of the West as a result of collaboration between researchers of different Western countries. The two works with which the present author is familiar are: the one which appeared in the French journal l’Histoire in September 1993, written by Nicholas Werth, the chief researcher of the French scientific research centre, CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), and the work published in the US journal American Historical Review by J Arch Getty, a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, in collaboration with G T Rettersporn, a CRNS researcher, and the Russian researcher, V AN Zemskov, from the Institute of Russian History (part of the Russian Academy of Science). Today books have appeared on the matter written by the above-named researchers or by others from the same research team. Before going any further, I want to make clear, so that no confusion arises in the future, that none of the scientists involved in this research has a socialist world outlook. On the contrary their outlook is bourgeois and anti-socialist. Indeed many of them are quite reactionary. This is said so that the reader should not imagine that what is to be set out below is the product of some ‘communist conspiracy’. What has happened is that the above-named researchers have thoroughly exposed the lies of Conquest, Solzhenitsyn, Medvedev and others, which they have done purely by reason of the fact that they place their professional integrity in first place and will not allow themselves to be bought for propaganda purposes.
The results of the Russian research answer a very large number of questions about the Soviet penal system. For us it is the Stalin era that is of greatest interest, and it is there we find cause for debate. We will pose a number of very specific questions and we will seek out our replies in the journals l’Histoire and the American Historical Review. This will be the best way of brining into the debate some of the most important aspects of the Soviet penal system. The questions are the following:
1. What did the Soviet penal system consist of?
2. How many prisoners were there – both political and non-political?
3. How many people died in the labour camps?
4. How many people were condemned to death in the years before 1953, especially in the purges of 1937-38?
5. How long, on average, were the prison sentences?
After answering these five questions, we will discuss the punishments imposed on the two groups which are most frequently mentioned in connection with prisoners and deaths in the Soviet Union, namely the kulaks convicted in 1930 and the counter-revolutionaries convicted in 1936-38.
Labour camps in the penal system
Let us start with the question of the nature of the Soviet penal system. After 1930 the Soviet penal system included prisons, labour camps, the labour colonies of the gulag, special open zones and obligation to pay fines. Whoever was remanded into custody was generally sent to a normal prison while investigations took place to establish whether he might be innocent, and could thus be set free, or whether he should go on trial. An accused person on trial could either be found innocent (and set free) or guilty. If found guilty he could be sentenced to pay a fine, to a term of imprisonment or, more unusually, to face execution. A fine could be a given percentage of his wages for a given period of time. Those sentenced to prison terms could be put in different kinds of prison depending on the type of offence involved.
To the gulag labour camps were sent those who had committed serious offences (homicide, robbery, rape, economic crimes, etc.) as well as a large proportion of those convicted of counter-revolutionary activities. Other criminals sentenced to terms longer than 3 years could also be sent to labour camps. After spending some time in a labour camp, a prisoner might be moved to a labour colony or to a special open zone.
The labour camps were very large areas where the prisoners lived and worked under close supervision. For them to work and not to be a burden on society was obviously necessary. No healthy person got by without working. It is possible that these days people may think this was a terrible thing, but this is the way it was. The number of labour camps in existence in 1940 was 53.
There were 425 gulag labour colonies. These were much smaller units than the labour camps, with a freer regime and less supervision. To these were sent prisoners with shorter prison terms – people who had committed less serious criminal or political offences. They worked in freedom in factories or on the land and formed part of civil society. In most cases the whole of the wages he earned from his labour belonged to the prisoner, who in this respect was treated the same as any other worker.
The special open zones were generally agricultural areas for those who had been exiled, such as the kulaks who had been expropriated during collectivisation. Other people found guilty of minor criminal or political offences might also serve their terms in these areas.
454,000 is not 9 million
The second question concerned how many political prisoners there were, and how many common criminals. This question includes those imprisoned in labour camps, gulag colonies and the prisons (though it should be remembered that in the labour colonies there was, in the majority of cases, only partial loss of liberty). The Table below shows the data which appeared in the American Historical Review, data which encompass a period of 20 years beginning in 1934, when the penal system was unified under a central administration, until 1953, the year Stalin died.
Table – The American Historical Review
USSR Custodial Population 1934-1953
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From the above Table, there are a series of conclusions which need to be drawn. To start with we can compare its data to those given by Robert Conquest. The latter claims that in 1939 there were 9 million political prisoners in the labour camps and that 3 million others had died in the period 1937-1939. Let the reader not forget that Conquest is here talking only about political prisoners! Apart from these, says Conquest, there were also common criminals who, according to him, were much greater in number than the political prisoners! In 1950 there were, according to Conquest, 12 million political prisoners! Armed with the true facts, we can readily see what a fraudster Conquest really is. Not one of his figures corresponds even remotely to the truth. In 1939 there was a total in all the camps, colonies and prisons of close to 2 million prisoners. Of these 454,000 had committed political crimes, not 9 million as Conquest asserts. Those who died in labour camps between 1937 and 1939 numbered about 160,000, not 3 million as Conquest asserts. In 1950 there were 578,000 political prisoners in labour camps, not 12 million. Let the reader not forget that Robert Conquest to this day remains one of the major sources for right-wing propaganda against communism. Among right-wing pseudo-intellectuals, Robert Conquest is a godlike figure. As for the figures cited by Alexander Solzhenitsyn – 60 million alleged to have died in labour camps – there is no need for comment. The absurdity of such an allegation is manifest. Only a sick mind could promote such delusions.
Let us now leave these fraudsters in order that we may ourselves concretely analyse the statistics relating to the gulag. The first question to be asked is what view we should take about the sheer quantity of people caught up in the penal system? What is the meaning of the figure of 2.5 million? Every person that is put in prison is living proof that society was still insufficiently developed to give every citizen everything he needed for a full life. From this point of view, the 2.5 million do represent a criticism of the society.
The internal and external threat
The number of people caught up in the penal system requires to be properly explained. The Soviet Union was a country which had only recently overthrown feudalism, and its social heritage in matters of human rights was often a burden on society. In an antiquated system like the tsardom, workers were condemned to live in deep poverty, and human life had little value. Robbery and violent crime was punished by unrestrained violence. Revolts against the monarchy usually ended in massacres, death sentences and extremely long prison sentences. These social relations, and the habits of mind associated with them, take a long time to change, a fact which influenced the developed of society in the Soviet Union as well as attitudes towards criminals.
Another factor to be taken into account is that the Soviet Union, a country which in the 1930s had close to 160-170 million inhabitants, was seriously threatened by foreign powers. As a result of the great political changes which took place in Europe in the 1930s, there was a major threat of war from the direction of Nazi German, a threat to the survival of the Slav people, and the western bloc also harbouring interventionist ambitions. This situation was summed up by Stalin in 1931 in the following words:“We are 50-100 years behind the advanced countries. We have to close that gap in 10 years. Either we do it or we will be wiped out.” Ten years later, on 22 June 1941, the Soviet Union was invaded by Nazi Germany and its allies. Soviet society was forced to make great efforts in the decade from 1930-1940, when the major part of its resources was dedicated to its defence preparations for the forthcoming war against the Nazis. Because of this, people worked hard while producing little by way of personal benefits. The introduction of the 7-hour day was withdrawn in 1937, and in 1939 practically every Sunday was a work day. In a difficult period such as this, with a great war hanging over the development of society for two decades (the 1930s and 1940s), a war which was to cost the Soviet Union 25 million deaths with half the country burnt to a cinder, crime did tend to increase as people tried to help themselves to what life could not otherwise offer them.
During this very difficult time, the Soviet Union held a maximum number of 2.5 million people in its prison system, i.e., 2.4% of the adult population. How can we evaluate this figure? Is it a lot or a little? Let us compare.
More prisoners in the US
In the United States of America, for example, a country of 252 million inhabitants (in 1996), the richest country in the world, which consumes 60% of the world resources, how many people are in prison? What is the situation in the US, a country not threatened by any war and where there are no deep social changes affecting economic stability?
In a rather small news item appearing in the newspapers of August 1997, the FLT-AP news agency reported that in the US there had never previously been so many people in the prison system as the 5.5 million held in 1996. This represents an increase of 200,0000 people since 1995 and means that the number of criminals in the US equals 2.8% of the adult population. These data are available to all those who are part of the North American department of justice. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Home page, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/ ). The number of convicts in the US today is 3 million higher than the maximum number ever held in the Soviet Union! In the Soviet Union there was a maximum of 2.4% of the adult population in prison for their crimes – in the US the figure is 2.8%, and rising! According to a press release put out by the US department of justice on 18 January 1998, the number of convicts in the US in 1997 rose by 96,100.
As far as the Soviet labour camps were concerned, it is true that the regime was harsh and difficult for the prisoners, but what is the situation today in the prisons of the US, which are rife with violence, drugs, prostitution, sexual slavery (290,000 rapes a year in US prisons). Nobody feels safe in US prisons! And this today, and in a society richer than ever before!