Models of Russian Gulags Continue to Exist

In Melanie Kirkpatrick’s book Escape from North Korea, Kirkpatrick writes of various North Korean defectors and refugees, including those who have escaped from North Korean labor camps in Russia. In 1967, North Korea and the Soviet Union formed an agreement where North Korea would supply workers for the Russian timber industry. In return, the two nations divided the profit from the sold lumber. These labor camps are located in Siberia and eastern Russia, which use to be home to the labor camps of the Soviet gulag. Kirkpatrick writes: “The North Koreans who toil there today have in some locations taken the place of the political prisoners banished to the camps by the old Soviet dictators.” In these labor camps, several journalists who have seen the camps describe long working hours and sever conditions, prompting many Russian human rights activists to protest these conditions the North Korean laborers undergo. Considering the fall of the Soviet Union, it is hard to imagine that such camps continue to exist. The modern existence of these camps is similar to Stalin’s modern popularity in Russia. It is shocking that such a relentless dictator and Soviet gulags continue to exist in a country that endured such pain under Stalin and in Stalin’s gulags. It therefore makes me question to what extent the Soviet Union truly fell. The Soviet government may have fallen, but Stalin popularity in Russia today and the aforementioned labor camps reveal that remnants of Soviet culture continue to live on.

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Stalin remains popular in his homeland

Just just saw this article from the BBC, about the growing popularity of Stalin in the Republic of Georgia, where he was from.  Given that we just studied Stalin, I thought you all might find it interesting.  Post your reactions or questions in the comments.


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Stalin Takes the Place of the Bourgeoisie

After reading about Stalin’s rise to power and his style of ruling the USSR, I could not help but wonder if he essentially replaced the bourgeoisie as the new “exploiting” party.  In Stalin’s Soviet society, the proletariat appeared to have a lesser say in government affairs than they did under the previous Russian monarchy.  Stalin even stated that political power does not ultimately come from the people but from government officials through his quote, “The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election, the people who count the votes do.”  In consequence, the Russian people replaced a monarch that was imposing beneficial reforms and listened to the voices of his people for a controlling dictator.  Additionally, Stalin industrializes Russia just as the bourgeois would have, and imposes tough demands on the working people that they cannot meet under his Five Year Plans.  In the process of industrialization, Stalin harms the poor peasant through collectivization measures and nearly brings Russia back to the days of peasant communes that the rural laborers fought so hard to eradicate from Russian society in the years prior to Stalin’s ascendancy to political dominance.  I cannot help but question whether or not the Russian people made any gains as a result of the 1917 Revolution, because while Stalin is responsible for Russia’s large-scale industrialization, he is also responsible for food shortages and and increased government control of all aspects of daily life in the USSR.  Do you feel that Stalin benefited our harmed Russia?  Was Stalin just exploiting Russians in a different way than the previous ruling class did, or did he fulfill the requirements of a socialist state in the sense that he served his people’s needs?

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Russian Revolution Historiography

After reading about the historiography of the Russian Revolution, I realized that choosing one theory to side with about the origins of the Russian revolution was difficult compared to siding with the different theories presented for other revolutions such as the American and French Revolution.  Firstly, the Orthodox Soviet view of the Russian Revolution took a Leninist view.  This means this view endorsed the fundamental idea that good leaders such as Lenin pushed along the revolution and the start of communism.  In contrast with this view, the revisionist view argues that leadership is not what caused communism, but instead the people were radical, therefore supporting radical changes.  Radical people like Lenin were put into power based on popular support, rather than their superior leadership skills.  The traditional Western view argues against the revisionist view and states that communism for Russia was tragedy because it was not what the people wanted.  Instead, leaders like Lenin forced communism upon an unwilling country.  Lastly, the libertarian view is that a want for communism was what the majority of people wanted at first, but leaders like Lenin and Stalin corrupted this ideal idea of communism and turned it into a dictatorship.

Although it is hard for me to take a stance as to how I believe the Russian Revolution started, I think the libertarian view is the most accurate because it combines the ideas of the revisionist view, the orthodox view, and the western view.  Firstly, the libertarian view takes on the revisionist view that radical people wanted radical changes such as communism.  This is supported in one of our readings as it states, “Inspired by Lenin’s slogans, crowds of workers, soldiers, and sailors took to the streets of Petrograd in July to wrest power from the Provisional Government.”  Secondly, the libertarian view supports in the orthodox soviet view in stressing the importance of influential leaders in progressing communism.  Lastly, the libertarian view somewhat supports the western view by agreeing that overtime, communism became a tragedy for Russia because the popular uprisings became a dictatorship.  The orthodox and western ideas are supported in our reading as it states, “State power, far from “withering away” after the revolution as Karl Marx had predicted, instead grew in strength.  Stalin’s personal dictatorship found reflection in the adulation that surrounded him.”  Based the on how the libertarian view combines the other three views on the Russian Revolution, I see this view as the most fitting and accurate.  Although this view makes the most sense to me, what is your stance?  Which view of the revolution is the most accurate in your opinion?

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The Power of The Mass

What defines a government? How does a certain person or group rise to power? The Petrograd Soviet rose to power and created a government, simply because of support.  What is most impressive is that they did this without being stopped, and without overthrowing the government at the time.  I thought it very interesting, impressive, inspiring and, honestly, quite funny that the Petrograd Soviet simply created and actually ran a government.  I think of a government as something so stiff and formal, and in this case it seemed pretty casual.  It was just a mass of people that had support from the working class and soliders, from whom they attained power and popularity.  This is why i thought about how people come to power, (without help of a system/government) and whether it was simply based off of popularity and/or support.  It also made me think about today’s government: if we, as a majority of americans, didn’t like the government, or the rulers, hypothetically, we could just start our own government … couldn’t we?  This question led to my thoughts of inspiration: how can I apply this idea into my life?  How powerful are the masses in any given situation?  I believe the answer to that question is that the masses have unlimited potential, if used for power, they can be unstoppable.  However, I would love to hear some other thoughts and opinions these topics to further my thoughts, so please comment.

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Stalin and Robespierre

The other day in class, someone mentioned that Stalin was similar to Robespierre in that the two men were radical leaders who used their positions to gain power. Robespierre was the leader of the radical Mountain, while Stalin was the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. After reading the section about Stalin’s rule, I realized that the two radical leaders were similar not only because of their leadership roles, but also because they each created a sort of  “Terror”. We saw in the Sherman reading “Dictatorship in Russia: Stalin’s Purges” that Stalin could have had any number of reasons for his “Terror” (referred to as his “purges”), but many of the reasons relate to Stalin’s desire to eliminate enemies of himself and of the Communistic government structure. Stalin executed or imprisoned people that he believed could lead to his downfall. Looking at the radical phase of the French Revolution from 1793-1794, Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety essentially did the same thing in executing, imprisoning, or trying enemies of the nation of France. While Robespierre’s Reign of Terror is very similar to Stalin’s purges, there remains one major difference between the two leaders: Robespierre was executed because people believed he was becoming too tyrannical, whereas Stalin remained in power. My question is: Why exactly was Robespierre organized against and executed while Stalin lived, even though their situations were similar? Is it because of the ideals of the time period, the rulers themselves, or perhaps another factor?

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Who gives the government power?

During the discussion of the Russian Revolution, it seems as if after the civil war there were always two different government bodies that were in power. One of the groups would be the official leader, while the other group would have the masses behind them. An example of this is the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet. Even though, the Provisional Government held the official power because the Petrograd Soviet had the masses of workers and soldiers they as well had power over Russia. This similar scenario happened again during the reign of Stalin, New Economic Policy (NEP) and the Communist Part of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Although, during this time there was a president who held the official power Stalin was really the one running the country, the President was just a figure without true power.

This began to make me wonder if what would happen if dual powers happened in the US. For example, imagine that all the masses of people no longer wanted to follow the president, so they come together and make the People’s Unit of United States, taking away all of the power for the president even though, legally the president still holds the power.

Is government only a illusion and it is really just people willingly listening to set off laws?

And if people wanted, how easily could they change the government they have?

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I’m a Communist

Over the past few weeks as we have been studying Marx’s Communist Manifesto, I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to live in a Communist Society. In class, we had a discussion about whether or not Communism could ever potentially succeed. There were several arguments and different ways to look at it, but in the end, I think Julie and I were the only people who thought that Communism might actually be able to work. I was kind of surprised that no one else agreed. If you look back to the few places where Communism was enforced, it failed. But was it the Communism itself that failed or the insane leaders who took charge and killed millions of people? I think one of the reasons that nobody agreed with us is because they are scared of Communism and the terror associated with it. In theory, Communism could be really successful. As Marx explained many times, eventually, the proletariat will overthrow the bourgeoisie and Capitalism will end. It is inevitable. Anyway, what do you think? Will we ever live in a functioning Communist society?

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Iron Felix

I was in Washington DC this past weekend and visited the International Spy Museum. One portion of the museum was dedicated to the Stalin regime and the 1917 Russian Revolution. A major portion of this exhibit was related to Felix Dzerzhinsky, who was considered the first Soviet spymaster. He established the Cheka, the first Soviet secret police and intelligence organization. Ruthlessly effective, this organization began with 23 employees but within two years, expanded to 37,000. The Cheka became notorious for torture and mass execution of “enemies of the state.” It was very cool to see first hand the artifacts and mindset that carried out the Red Terror. Interestingly enough, Dzerzhinsky died of a heart failure soon after a passionate speech to the Bolshevik Central Committee, but there is some speculation that he died closer to the time of an argument with Joseph Stalin. In this hypothetical, did the intelligence and espionage at his fingertips make “Iron Felix” a powerful threat that needed to be eliminated? It would be interesting to have a more open discussion of this power in class.

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Capitalism in America today

Now that we’ve read about communism in Marx and Engels, what, if anything, applies to capitalism in America today.  As food for thought, here are a couple of recent articles from the (admittedly liberal) New York Times:

Do these articles show that Marx and Engels are correct in their analysis of capitalism, or are the articles irrelevant?   Feel free to post and discuss links from conservative sources, such as the Wall Street Journal, in rebuttal.

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