Stalin’s Gulag is amongst the most overlooked events, specifically genocide, in the history of humankind. The ruthless dictator killed close to 50 million people.
GULAG is an acronym for the Soviet bureaucratic institution Glavnoe Upravlenie ispravitel’no-trudovykh LAGerei, Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps, that operated the Soviet system of forced labor camps (Introduction: Stalin’s Gulag). Eventually, Gulag became the general term pertaining to the entire system of penal labor camps (Introduction: Stalin’s Gulag). The Gulag system was first established under Vladimir Lenin as a progressive alternate to prison during the early Bolshevik revolution years.
The system reached its peak after 1929 during the rule of Joseph Stalin of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR), who used it to maintain the Soviet state by keeping its populace under an everlasting state of terror. He implemented this system to, in essence, get rid of a population of about 20 million people under his rule. This large amount of people ranged from criminal prisoners to politicians, and even innocent people caught in bad situations (Online Exhibit).
Joseph Stalin came into power during the years 1926-1930, when he assumed the position of supreme leader of the Soviet Union. After Stalin achieved complete power, he set Russia on a devastating path that would ultimately lead to millions of deaths. The first of his acts were the Five Year Plans. Stalin increased the quota of which farmers had to turn in to the state and made them collectivize their lands. A great famine ensued and up to 14.5 million Soviet peasants died.
The next event Stalin carried out was the Great Purge, where he deported, exiled, and imprisoned at least 9.5 million people, five million of which were sent to the Gulag and perished. Stalin personally ordered the trials of about 44,000 people and signed thousands of death warrants (Killer File: Joseph Stalin). Through this act, he rid the Communist Party of all the people who had brought him to power, as well as purged the military leadership (Joseph Stalin: Soviet Premier). Those who were not killed were, ironically, the unluckiest. They would have to suffer the harsh life of Stalin’s Gulag.
The Gulag held many types of prisoners. It served as the Soviet’s main penal system. People would spend their sentences here, and not in ordinary prisons. Among the camp population would be criminals such as robbers, rapists, thieves, and murderers. If one was to so much as steal a pound of potatoes, he or she could be sentenced up to ten years in the Gulag. This was the case for Maria Tchebotareva. During the massive 1932-1933 famine, the peasant mother allegedly stole three pounds of rye from her former field-confiscated by the state as part of collectivization.