Talk:Gulag

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Please correct[edit]

This section tells: "Outdated historical estimates of the GULAG population" and gives references to Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, Steven Rosefielde, etc. How come? I am looking in book "Beria" by Antonov-Ovseyenko (1999, Russian edition, page 203). He quotes an NKVD document dated 18 January 1945 and tells that according to this document:

...average number of prisoners [in Gulag] was 17.6 million in 1942, which many times exceeds the "declassified" official (forged) data frequently published in press

He then tells about 13 millions in 1943 (many prisoners were sent to fight in WWII), etc. Hence the views by Antonov-Ovseyenko are not outdated. He refers to the recent (published in the beginning of 1990s) data by NKVD/KGB as fake because they contradict other data from the same organization. Now, looking at Rosenfielde (e.g. here, published in 1996), he tells almost the same: the "recent" data by KGB are internally inconsistent and therefore can not be trusted. Obviously, nothing is "outdated".

This must be fixed because the title claims something which is not in quoted sources. My very best wishes (talk) 11:22, 13 July 2012 (UTC)

In the same article, Rosenfielde states that per capita GULAG population in the USSR (600 to 100,000) was similar to current prisoner population. Do you imply that current population of Russian prison in about 10 millions?
Antonov-Ovseenko made many mistakes, for example, he misinterpreted census data. Rosefielde (op. cit.) and Ellman (Michael Ellman. On Sources: A Note. Soviet Studies, Vol. 44, No. 5 (1992), pp. 913-915) discuss his mistakes in details. Btw, Ellman (Michael Ellman. Soviet Repression Statistics: Some Comments. Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 54, No. 7 (Nov., 2002), pp. 1151-1172) explain the origin of Antonov-Ovseenko's mistake: "confusing monthly average with annual figures and hence producing estimates 12 times too high".
Therefore, nothing is needed to be fixed. Not only A-O's data are obsolete, they have been demonstrated to be wrong.--Paul Siebert (talk) 17:20, 13 July 2012 (UTC)
You are missing the point. Antonov-Ovseenko and Rosenfielde published their work after release of "new data" by the KGB in the beginning of 1990s. They criticize these KGB-provided data as a forgery (Ovseenko) or inconsistent (Rosenfielde). Hence, their work can not be described as "outdated". There is obviously a dispute among historians about this. Hence, this should be described as a dispute per NPOV. Some believe in such numbers (refs); others believe that other numbers are more correct (refs). It is actually a decision by a wikipedian to claim that one of the sides was "outdated" (although they published their work later !). Therefore, this is WP:SYN and violation of WP:NPOV. Speaking about article by Ellman, his claim you quoted appears as a single sentence in a short footnote, and it is not clear what exactly and how he trying to reboot. But even if he does, this should be described accordingly per NOR and NPOV.My very best wishes (talk) 20:38, 13 July 2012 (UTC)
Ellman notes about this Antonov's mistake along with his other wrong numerical estimates, which had been noted by other authors (e.g., Wheatcroft (1996) and Rosefielde (1997)). That means that numerical estimates made by this author are questionable in general.--Paul Siebert (talk) 04:53, 14 July 2012 (UTC)


This is illegitimate POV edit. This column of the Table was reserved for "Methodology", not "Criticism" of the author. In that particular case, the Methodology was simply reading an NKVD document that show such and such numbers (based on the book I quoted in the beginning of the thread), so it must be indicated as such. My very best wishes (talk) 21:33, 13 July 2012 (UTC)
And just to quote Rosienfelde:

"The counterargume to the authenticity of the NKVD documents has been elaborated by Laqueur. He and others point out that the KGB and military archives remain completely closed, together with most of the NKVD records, except those suspiciously available in the Central State Archive of the October Revolution of the USSR (TsGAOR), now part of the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF), and he infers that they are disinformative, being either fabrications or incomplete."l This allegation is supported by statements of various senior officials that the scale of mass killings by the NKVD was many times greater than the documents purport, and by suggestions as to where the missing millions may be concealed.... Although no summary judgment on this important matter is yet possible, it can be conclusively shown, contrary to the claims of Getty, Rittersporn & Zemskov and of Wheatcroft, that the documents are seriously internally inconsistent."...

Hence this should be described accordingly. My very best wishes (talk) 02:56, 14 July 2012 (UTC)
According to sources quoted by Rosenfelde,

"The NKVD custodial contingent in the 1937 census was 2.75 million (Conquest, 1991a), which is 56.5% greater than the combined Gulag camp and colony populations, respectively 820 881 and 375 488 for 1 January 1937 reported in Getty, Rittersporn & Zemskov, 1993, p. 1048.

My very best wishes (talk) 03:12, 14 July 2012 (UTC)
This column explains how the figures were obtained. Ellman provides the description of this procedure, and, if you believe Ellman represents minority or fringe views, please, explain why.
Regarding Rosefielde, he tries to reject GRZ's data based on earlier work by Conquest. However, Conquest himself conceded later than the data provided by Getty, Rittersporn and Zemskov are generally accepted by all scholars, including him himself (see Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 49, No. 7 (Nov., 1997), pp. 1317-1319, the ref #11 in the article). --Paul Siebert (talk) 04:18, 14 July 2012 (UTC)
As clear from quoted sources, the most recent KGB-released data: (a) contradict previous estimates and other documents from the same organization; (b) can not be independently corroborated because the archives remain closed for researchers (and were never opened); (c) considered a fabrication or "inconsistent" by Antonov-Ovseenko and many other researchers quoted in review by Rosenfielde; (d) the inconsistencies include other NKVD documents, the number of guards (which would be significantly greater than the number of prisoners), the number of people who yearly passed through Gulag (approximately equal to the number of prisoners in Gulag, as noted by Applebaum) and probably other things. This all should be properly described per NPOV. My very best wishes (talk) 13:25, 14 July 2012 (UTC)
Let's separate two questions: validity of Antonov-Ovseenko's data, and reliability of archival information. Look at the table 1 from the source you quote. The author says "Entries in bold type either have been proven erroneous or have been strongly disconfirmed by the composite body of information". If you look at the figures obtained from Antonov-Ovseenko, they all are in bold. Therefore, Antonov-Ovseenko cannot be used as a source of reliable figures, even according to Rosefielde. There is no need to cite his opinion (which seems to be based on his old research) as some fresh piece of information.
Regarding the second question, Rosefielde's article is not the last word in the dispute. For more recent sources, see Conquest (1998). Wheatcroft (1997), Ellman (2002). They all agree that archival data provide valuable information, which forced them to reexamine their old high estimates downward ("The estimates I arrived at on Kolyma were indeed excessive, and as with other early estimates on the whole terror period, now that more is known they must indeed be subjected to major amendment", Conquest98, "It seems to be widely thought that this shows that earlier 'high' estimates of the scale of the terror were exaggerated." Ellman02).
--Paul Siebert (talk) 17:17, 14 July 2012 (UTC)
The claim by Antonov-Ovseenko is based on archival information. He simply quotes an NKVD document, which is signed and dated by an NKVD official (see above). Could you please provide any refs that challenge this particular claim by Antonov-Ovseenko? Ellman and others dispute something else. No one is talking about "last word". I am talking about NPOV, we must describe what sources tell (see quotations above), including Ellman, Conqest and so on. The "disproved" (bold) is OR and POV that must be removed.My very best wishes (talk) 18:01, 14 July 2012 (UTC)
I cannot provide a reference that challenge this particular claim, however, I provided the references that challenge a very similar claim, and the references that challenge Antonov-Ovseenko's numerical estimates in general. Taken together, that is quite sufficient. In addition, do you have any proof that the book published by Antonov-Ovseenko presents his recent results? Frequently, such books are just a collection of previous works by the same author. Thus, Rosefielde's "Red Holocaust", despite being published recently, is composed mostly on the articles published by the same authors earlier in peer-reviewed journals, so it contain not much fresh information.
In addition, the articles cited by me describe in details the sources for the estimates, and the procedures of those estimates. Can you please explain what concrete data were used by Antonov-Ovseenko, and what concrete procedure did he use for his estimates? Since we have a serious ground to suspect that he made the same mistake as he did previously, it is desirable to make sure he used some new methodology, which is devoid of above mentioned drawbacks.--Paul Siebert (talk) 18:44, 14 July 2012 (UTC)
Obviously, scholars will believe their own scholarship. As to "outdated", that is, at best, a POV given the widespread forgery of statistics, not recording the staggering death toll of those who died en route to the GULAG, et al. As an example, I have posted my letter to Wheatcroft below. VєсrumЬа TALK 16:19, 17 August 2012 (UTC)

My (unanswered) letter to Wheatcroft[edit]

In the spirit of transparency, below is the complete content of my Email to Dr. Wheatcroft from over a year ago.

Dear Dr. Wheatcroft:
 
I’m writing to you today with questions regarding the Soviet Gulag—GULAG as well as in the wider sense including all camps, settlements, and prisons.
By way of background, my parents arrived in the U.S. in November, 1951 as WWII refugees. My mother escaped deportation to Siberia having been warned not to go home—her family was deported for 15 years, some re-arrested and deported for an additional 5 for a total of 20 years. My parents hid in the woods living off the land until the situation changed unexpectedly with the Nazi invasion a week later. They eventually fled Latvia to escape Soviet reoccupation—both had been listed for subsequent deportation. As Soviet bombs sank ships of fleeing refugees, my mother bundled her scarf over her face to not witness those perishing around them.
I’ve read your viewpoint on Soviet archives with regard to the Gulag, that (my paraphrase) there is no reason for archives to lie: lies would require coordination on the part of multiple reporting individuals/groups, and lies would only make the circumstances of those individuals/groups in charge at the time more difficult, e.g., insufficient supplies, work quotas not in line with camp population, etc. You’ve also made clear that information produced for public consumption is not reliable.
It is only in our Western sensibilities that “secret” implies “reliable.” For example, declassified NKVD (now FSB) documents cataloging Estonian deportations indicate:
  • individuals transported in passenger cars “equipped for people traveling in summer”;
  • each car carried only 30 passengers, not 40 or 50 as Estonians allege;
  • every echelon of deportees included an ambulance railroad car with a doctor, paramedic, and two nurses;
whereas actual circumstances were of individuals packed standing into cattle cars and taken away with no consideration as to their welfare; the bodies of those who perished on the journey dumped in ditches along the tracks. In the case of my cousin’s husband:
  • packed standing room only in a cattle car with other men, destined for a camp north of the Arctic circle;
  • by the time the train reached its destination, two thirds of the men traveling in the same car as himself had perished;
  • by the time they were force-marched to their destination, that is, arrived at the camp and processed, he was the only one left alive of those who had been in the same railroad car, that is, assuming 50 men to start, a 98% mortality rate during inmate transport;
  • the rest being transported fared no better than his compatriots, only a handful of an entire train-full of deportees arrived at the camp alive.
To my first questions regarding the Gulag:
  1. Where do archives record those that perished en route?
  2. What is the level of your confidence that data on all who perished (both en route and once there) is complete?
  3. In cases of deductions such as “given numbers A and B we can estimate the total life extinguished, C,” how do we assess our confidence interval if “C” is smaller than earlier alleged?
To your point that fabricating records would only make things more difficult, that is, that there is a systemic bias toward the correct reporting of total inmates, I would counter that the only systemic bias is to meet or exceed production quotas and report production appropriately in the hope of securing ones’ own continued personal survival.
Given there were at least two official euphemisms for death by starvation to be counted as medical conditions, given countless personal accounts of survival such as those of my own relatives who stole animal feed in pockets sewn into their clothes to have enough food to not starve, I propose, instead, an incentive to under-report the Gulag population:
  • ensures a surfeit of workers to meet production quotas;
  • deaths by starvation which do get reported are labeled death from natural medical causes—no “red flags” (no pun intended) raised; at any rate, there is a steady influx of replenishing replacements;
  • no incentive to report all deaths—if the population is under-reported, inmate deaths become superfluous and require no paperwork, only burial in mass graves for sanitary purposes; there is the additional convenience that troublesome individuals can be made to disappear with no record of their fate;
  • the only “incentive” in this model is meeting production quotas, whether of manufacture or agriculture or animal husbandry; in this context, the motivation to keep livestock alive far outweighs keeping people alive: every dead person decreases demand on supplies; meanwhile, every dead sheep is a reported decrease in production relative to quota.
As a microcosm, consider the inmate population figures reported by the Office of Railway Construction for 1939: 94,773 prisoners at the beginning of the year, 69,569 at year-end. However, prisoners were reported as having worked an impossible 135,148,918 man-days—consistent with an average prisoner population four-and-a-half times larger [sic. should be "as large"] working every day of the year. Given the precise accounting of population, we would presume an error in reporting productivity. However, given man-days were the “engine” that drove productivity—that is, directly correlated to that which cannot be falsified, such as kilometers of track laid, that rather points to man-days being the more reliable, the population figures much less so.
Ultimately, the Gulag was a system with disincentives to fully report population or to keep that population alive. When one lives in constant terror, indeed the certain knowledge born of that terror that regardless of their position or status in the hierarchy any moment might be their last—the next knock at the door will be someone coming to arrest you and take you away to your end—our ascribing motivation and projecting conduct is an abstract exercise in logic at best. One cannot truly comprehend what can only be understood through personal experience.
I would propose to you that there is a divide which Western scholarship is culturally and intellectually unprepared, indeed, incapable, of bridging between its—your—“outside-in” view and the experiences of those viewing the world of Stalin’s terror from the “inside” out. My experience from talking to family and other Siberia survivors is that we cannot even begin to imagine their daily lives—my aunt, for example, being beaten until her shoes ran full of her own blood after being accused of stealing a paltry amount of sugar. I commend the efforts of scholars to reach an objective accounting of Stalin’s atrocities. But any scholarship which seeks “objectivity” by distancing itself from subjective experience is not the path to the final reckoning. You would see Soviet archives as having the potential to be revelatory. The experiences of those in the system demonstrate that the archives are yet another layer of propaganda serving the dual imperatives of politics and personal survival under Stalin’s terror. If history serves to perpetuate the state, archives serve to perpetuate those in charge. Propaganda is a blending of truths, half-truths, and lies. We cannot ascribe credibility to Soviet archives in the absence of external, non-archival, confirmation—Soviet “secrecy” implies neither truth nor completeness.
Given the availability of archival materials in the post-Soviet era, I realize I must echo all those now anachronistic Cold War nationalist conspiracy-theorists perched atop their soap-box at Speaker’s Corner shouting at passers-by that whatever the Soviets put to paper, wherever and whenever they did so, is a lie. Admittedly, my view of current Western scholarship might do well to be more sanguine. Still, what I have witnessed in the post-Soviet era is a growing trend in scholarship to value Soviet archives über alles: I see archives being used to marginalize personal accounts, even denigrate other scholars (e.g., speculations of misplaced decimal points)—whereas personal accounts should be our touchstones by which we validate archival information. And so to my last question:
Countless individual stories tell of survival and death in the Gulag in circumstances beyond our comprehension; should our expectation of the quantitative human loss Stalin’s terror wrought be any more circumscribed?
My apologies for my intrusion and that, on reflection, this is surely neither the first such (lengthy) correspondence you have received nor the last! My thanks in advance for your indulgence.
Please consider my questions rhetorical, not a request for response. (Of course, I would be thrilled to hear back!)
 
Sincerely yours,
...

This is not intended to open a debate on my personal perspectives on the GULAG (or more generally "gulag"). However, the issues with "which" numbers out of inconsistent numbers to believe in the archives—or if anything recorded is accurate—are real. We can only report what scholars have concluded and the basis for their conclusions. Picking one "over" another or denouncing figures higher than those which appear to ameliorate the horror as "outdated" is pushing one's personal POV or the POV of a particular scholar. VєсrumЬа TALK 15:38, 16 August 2012 (UTC)

On my assertion regarding railroad workers/prisoners and man-days:
  • 135,148,918 man days reported
  • 95,773 inmates, beginning of year
  • 69,569 inmates, end of year
  • = 82,171 inmates, average, during year
  1. 365 days in the year yields => 29,992,415 available man days based on population
  2. => reported man days were 4.5[06103226] times total available, or 3.5 times more
  3. 135,148,918 man days divided by 365 days in the year yields an actual average daily population of 370,271 inmates
Since you can't fake the outputs of man day productivity (track laid, repaired, switches installed, repaired,...) the correct inmate population must be 370,000 not 82,000. VєсrumЬа TALK 15:57, 16 August 2012 (UTC)

"Prison-Industrial Complex" as comparable? Really?[edit]

Nowhere outside of Marxist propaganda, is the US prison system considered as brutal and terrible as the Gulag. The phrase "Prison-Industrial Complex" itself is a loaded terminology that insinuates prisoners are incarcerated not because they are an obvious danger to civilized society, but due to the evils of capitalism. Sure, there are debatable issues here, but the whole idea of including "Prison-Industrial Complex" in the "See Also" section smacks of denial through relativization-- a tactic that apologists for the horrors of the USSR are typically fond of. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 99.117.214.153 (talk) 15:38, 26 September 2013 (UTC)

The Acronym for GULag is TMI[edit]

"GULag" was the acronym for Гла́вное управле́ние лагере́й и коло́ний (Glavnoye upravleniye lagerey i koloniy)...

Is this necessary on the English-language version of the wiki? If you were to Google this, you'd either find the English wikipedia or Russian-language sites. It's cool that someone's got the acronym down, but the exact Russian and the romanization seem superfluous next to the translation. It adds no real value to anyone outside the Russian-speaking circle, and those in that circle can already read the Russian version... 184.88.40.136 (talk) 20:40, 24 November 2013 (UTC)

Gulag paintings of Nikolai Getman[edit]

Perhaps someone can look into this? [1], [2] The paintings are by former prisoner Nikolai Getman. Wikipedian Andrei Lomize wrote: "I have sent an email twice to Jamestown foundation (see my talk page [3]); they allowed using the pictures. Then I forwarded everything to OTRS twice, and they finally gave a permission. In any case, OTRS received my emails, and the reply to the second (last) email was positive." See here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Deletion_requests/Image:Punishment_By_Mosquitoes.jpg Tobby72 (talk) 23:07, 13 December 2013 (UTC)

Let's improve, not edit war (revert of revert)[edit]

I'm restoring, with some changes, the statement regarding the continuing practice of prison labor. Too much and too pointy to insert into the article as reference, I've condensed the source below:

"... In their geography, architecture and internal organisation, today’s prison colonies resemble the gulag archipelago. Throughout history, Russia’s expansive territory and the decision to locate colonies far from urban centres has meant that a prison sentence was as much exile as imprisonment. Inmates are mostly housed in barracks in open camps unlike the closed prisons in America or western Europe. This system, going back to tsarist times, is conducive to industrial-scale production—as well as the formation of prison gangs. ... Today roughly 43% of men and 60% of women incarcerated in Russia work some or all the time. Ilya Shablinksy, a member of the presidential human-rights council, ... saw evidence of women working up to 14 hours a day and having just one day off a month. Conditions at the colony approached those of “slave labour”. Also echoing the days of the gulag, when camp authorities relied on criminals to watch over the “politicals,” some inmates are given the job of instilling fear and maintaining order. In effect, says Laura Piacentini of Strathclyde University in Scotland, certain classes of prisoners are “involved in the administration of their own punishment.” Although the justice ministry nominally disbanded prisoner-discipline brigades as part of reforms in 2009, the practice continues. ... The process of reform ... worked in part: since 2010 the country’s prison population has fallen by 17.5%. ... But prisons are still divided between the “red”, run by prison authorities, and the “black”, de facto administered by inmates. Out of habit, prison bosses often think such informal mechanisms maintain order in a neglected and underfunded system. Svetlana Bakhmina, a lawyer... , remembers that when she first arrived, the prison authorities sent her straight to a solitary punishment cell for ten days. They wanted to “put me in my place, tell me who is boss here,” she says. “I understood that I had few possibilities to argue.” Information about prison conditions rarely reaches the public. Most prisoners re-enter society as marginalised citizens. ... At least on the surface, the state has been forced to respond. Prison officials have announced they will raise inmates’ wages and lower working hours. Deeper change would require reform of the police and the courts, which is unlikely to happen in the near future."— Preceding unsigned comment added by Vecrumba (talkcontribs)
I have nothing against mentioning the continuing practice, but the sentence in question was patently false and of course not supported by reference cited. The newly added text on the issue is perfectly acceptable IMO. - Altenmann >t 22:25, 29 December 2013 (UTC)