The Gulag Archipelago

The Gulag Archipelago
Gulag Archipelago.jpg
AuthorAleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Original titleАрхипела́г ГУЛА́Г
TranslatorGeneviève Johannet, José Johannet, Nikita Struve (French)
Thomas P. Whitney (English)
CountryFrance
LanguageRussian
PublisherÉditions du Seuil
Publication date
1973
Published in English
1974
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN0-06-013914-5
802879
365/.45/0947
LC ClassHV9713 .S6413 1974

The Gulag Archipelago (Russian: Архипела́г ГУЛА́Г, Arkhipelág GULÁG) is a three-volume, non-fiction text written between 1958 and 1968 by Russian writer and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It was first published in 1973, followed by an English translation the following year. It covers life in what is often known as the gulag, the Communist Soviet forced labour camp system, through a narrative constructed from various sources including reports, interviews, statements, diaries, legal documents, and Solzhenitsyn's own experience as a gulag prisoner. In Russian, the term GULAG (ГУЛАГ) is an acronym for Main Directorate of Camps (Главное управление лагерей).

Following its publication, the book initially circulated in samizdat underground publication in the Soviet Union until its appearance in the literary journal Novy Mir in 1989, in which a third of the work was published in three issues.[1] Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, The Gulag Archipelago has been officially published in Russia. An abridged fiftieth anniversary edition was released on 1 November 2018 with a new foreword by Jordan Peterson.[2]

Structure

Structurally, the text comprises seven sections divided (in most printed editions) into three volumes: parts 1–2, parts 3–4, and parts 5–7. At one level, the Gulag Archipelago traces the history of the system of forced labor camps that existed in the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1956. Solzhenitsyn begins with V. I. Lenin's original decrees which were made shortly after the October Revolution; they established the legal and practical framework for a series of camps where political prisoners and ordinary criminals would be sentenced to forced labor.Note 1 The book then describes and discusses the waves of purges and the assembling of show trials in the context of the development of the greater Gulag system; Solzhenitsyn gives particular attention to its purposive legal and bureaucratic development.

The narrative ends in 1956 at the time of Nikita Khrushchev's Secret Speech ("On the Personality Cult and its Consequences"). Khrushchev gave the speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, denouncing Stalin's personality cult, his autocratic power, and the surveillance that pervaded the Stalin era. Although Khrushchev's speech was not published in the Soviet Union for a long time, it was a break with the most atrocious practices of the Gulag system.

Despite the efforts by Solzhenitsyn and others to confront the legacy of the Gulag, the realities of the camps remained a taboo subject until the 1980s. Solzhenitsyn was also aware that although many practices had been stopped, the basic structure of the system had survived and it could be revived and expanded by future leaders. While Khrushchev, the Communist Party, and the Soviet Union's supporters in the West viewed the Gulag as a deviation of Stalin, Solzhenitsyn and many among the opposition tended to view it as a systemic fault of Soviet political culture – an inevitable outcome of the Bolshevik political project.

Parallel to this historical and legal narrative, Solzhenitsyn follows the typical course of a zek (a slang term for an inmate), derived from the widely used abbreviation "z/k" for "zakliuchennyi" (prisoner) through the Gulag, starting with arrest, show trial, and initial internment; transport to the "archipelago"; the treatment of prisoners and their general living conditions; slave labor gangs and the technical prison camp system; camp rebellions and strikes (see Kengir uprising); the practice of internal exile following the completion of the original prison sentence; and the ultimate (but not guaranteed) release of the prisoner. Along the way, Solzhenitsyn's examination details the trivial and commonplace events of an average prisoner's life, as well as specific and noteworthy events during the history of the Gulag system, including revolts and uprisings.

Solzhenitsyn also states:

Macbeth's self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare's evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology. Ideology – that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others' eyes.... That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations... Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.

— The Gulag Archipelago, Chapter 4, p. 173[3]

There had been works about the Soviet prison/camp system before, and its existence had been known to the Western public since the 1930s. However, never before had the general reading public been brought face to face with the horrors of the Gulag in this way. The controversy surrounding this text, in particular, was largely due to the way Solzhenitsyn definitively and painstakingly laid the theoretical, legal, and practical origins of the Gulag system at Lenin's feet, not Stalin's. According to Solzhenitsyn's testimony, Stalin merely amplified a concentration camp system that was already in place. This is significant, as many Western intellectuals viewed the Soviet concentration camp system as a "Stalinist aberration".[4]

Other Languages
العربية: أرخبيل غولاغ
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Архіпэляг ГУЛАГ
български: Архипелаг Гулаг
한국어: 수용소 군도
hrvatski: Arhipelag Gulag
Bahasa Indonesia: Kepulauan Gulag
Nederlands: De Goelag Archipel
日本語: 収容所群島
português: Arquipélago Gulag
Simple English: The Gulag Archipelago
українська: Архіпелаг ГУЛАГ
Tiếng Việt: Quần đảo Gulag