The Gulag Accounts

The Gulag Accounts

the rise of prodemocracy "groups of students, women, [and] human rights activists." Local elec- tions are scheduled this year and parliamen- tary balloting is set for 1998. But the Phnom Penh government's performance has been so poor that Jeldres fears that "a crisis of legiti- macy may be brewing." The Gulag Accounts"Forced Labour under Stalin: The Archive Revelations" R. W. Davies, in New Left Review (Nov.-Dec. 1995), 6 Meard St., London, England W1V 3HR. Ever si...

Share:
Read Time:
3m 18sec


INPEC’s public support has since vanished.

The "marriage of convenience" (as the prince described it to his shocked supporters) "played right into the hands of the CPP’s hard-bitten cadres, who control most of the governmental apparatus to this day," Jeldres points out. The "marriage" keeps international aid flowing to the government and gives it international recognition.

In "postcommunist" Cambodia, graft and corruption are barely concealed, Jeldres says. Prince Ranariddh himself reportedly received a $1.8-million small plane from a Sino-Thai businessman suspected of drug trafficking. Many FUNCINPEC officials have learned to imitate the CPP style, making "heavy-handed efforts to stifle critics in the press, parliament, and civil society." Meanwhile, the Khmer Rouge—the anti-Vietnamese communists who killed two to three million Cambodians between 1975 and ’78, when they ruled the country—have set up a government-in-exile in western Cambodia and are continuing to wage a guerrilla war.

Jeldres is encouraged by the rise of prodemocracy "groups of students, women, [and] human rights activists." Local elections are scheduled this year and parliamentary balloting is set for 1998. But the Phnom Penh government’s performance has been so poor that Jeldres fears that "a crisis of legitimacy may be brewing."


The Gulag Accounts

"Forced Labour under Stalin: The Archive Revelations" by R. W. Davies, in New Left Review (Nov.–Dec. 1995), 6 Meard St., London, England W1V 3HR.


Ever since the early 1930s, Western Sovietologists have been trying to estimate the number of people imprisoned in the labor camps and colonies of Joseph Stalin’s Gulag (the Russian acronym for the laborcamp system), as well as the number of "excess deaths" in the country resulting from famine, abnormal levels of disease, and executions. Robert Conquest, author of The Great Terror (1968), calculated that nine million people (excluding criminals) were confined in Soviet labor camps and colonies at the end of 1938. He estimated that, between 1930 and ’38, there were 17 million "excess deaths," seven million of them due to the 1933 famine in the Ukraine (which resulted from Stalin’s forced collectivization of the farms and seizure of the grain produced). Estimates by other scholars varied, with Jerry Hough of Duke University going so far as to claim that the deaths in the Great Purge of 1937–39 were "only" in "the 75,000–200,000 range."

The debate is politically loaded. Whether the gruesome numbers are high or low bears on such questions as whether Stalin was more, or less, of a murderous tyrant than Adolf Hitler, and whether American Cold Warriors exaggerated Stalin’s crimes in order to "demonize" the Soviet Union.

R. W. Davies, author of Soviet History in the Gorbachev Revolution (1989), contends that data made available from the Soviet archives in recent years demonstrate that Hough’s figures "are far too low," but also show that Conquest’s overall figures for the 1930s "are far too high."

It appears from the new archival data, Davies says, that some 10–11 million people were killed in the 1930s, directly or indirectly, by the Communists, with the famine of 1933 being the largest single cause. But there is still disagreement, he notes, about how many died in that disaster. On the basis of newly released Soviet data on birth and death registrations, one specialist puts the famine deaths at four to five million. Other scholars, in the belief that many infants were born and died outside the official recognition system, contend that the famine toll may have been as high as eight million.

A "reasonably comprehensive" picture of the Stalinist forced-labor system, with its prisons, labor camps, labor colonies (for those with lesser sentences), and special settlements (for exiles), can now be drawn, Davies writes. The total number of prisoners, he says, was about 2.5 million in 1933,

2.9 million in 1939, 3.3 million in 1941, and nearly 5.5 million in 1953. After Stalin’s death that year, the system began to be dismantled. By 1954, the number in the Gulag had been reduced to four million, and, by 1959, to fewer than one million. Stalinism, if not communism, had begun to come to an end.


142 WQ Spring 1996



More From This Issue