‘Death solves problems – no man, no problems’

Joseph Stalin was born on December 21st, 1879 and died on March 5th, 1953. He was the leader of the Soviet Union from mid 1920’s till his death in 1953. He was also the general secretary of the communist party of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1953. After Lenin’s untimely death, there were many issues left to resolve, even though the financial crisis had been taken care of like the path to socialism, democracy and the leadership of the party.

These issues led to major controversies and a fight for power as there were conflicting feelings between all the important personnel, for the next 5 years. Eventually, in the 1920’s Stalin prevailed over Leon Trotsky and rose to power. Stalin often claimed his principles were based on Marxism and Leninism, but his policies were made into a new category called Stalinism. He was a staunch Communist, and during his rule, the rich became richer and the poor became poorer, leading to rebellious feelings among the lower classes of society.

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Stalin replaced the New Economic Plan of the 1920’s with the Five- Year Plans in 1928. He would also confiscate grain which led to famine. Stalin also helped defeat Nazi Germany in World War Two, after which he developed the USSR into one of the two Superpowers of the world. Stalin’s rule was marked by its state terror, deportation, political repression, death, the GULAG and the purges. Stalin, as the head of the Politburo, wanted to purge the party of “opportunists” and “counter- revolutionary infiltrators”.

The guilty were removed from the Party or in more severe cases deported to GULAG labour camps or executed after a trial by NKVD troikas. The purges were commenced with the murder of Sergei Kirov, an important rival of Stalin, although they were supposed to have been good friends. Thinking that he maybe next in line, Stalin ordered the purging of the party, with the motive to seek out and destroy any alleged spies or counter revolutionaries. Soon the purges spread to all parts of society, the GULAG camps had many categories, such as labour camps, women camps.

Very flimsy pretexts were used to declare a person “Enemy of the People” and this started the public harassment, abuse, interrogation, torture and deportation. Around 1. 5 million people were deported to Siberia and other Central Asian countries. The GULAG was a special department of the police for operating the penal system of forced labour camps. The GULAG camps housed all criminals but they had been set up for political prisoners. Each of these prisoners were assigned separate economical tasks including making the most of all available natural resources, claiming remote areas.

The conditions were very harsh and the characteristics of these camps were extreme production quota, malnutrition, harsh elements of nature, bad hygiene facilities, medical problems, brutal treatment by camp guards and officials and improper living conditions, which led to high casualty rates, sometimes as high as 80%. Logging and mining were the most common activities but also the most severe. One person had to complete a quota of almost 29,000 pounds a day in a Gulag mine.

Sometimes there were cases of tufta, more work being reported than done either through bribes or sexual favours. Failure to meet quota resulted in loss of necessary provisions which in turn led to a failure to meet production rates and this vicious cycle nearly always resulted in death due to starvation. The first labour camp in 1928 had around 300,000 prisoners, but by 1938, there were almost 8 million people imprisoned in these camps. The Kolyma camps were by far the worst of all the camps.

Situated in the midst of the Arctic Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk in the northeastern region of the USSR, the temperatures would drop to as low as -60i?? C. DALSTROY was an agency formed by the government for the organization of the exploiting of this area. The prisoners were taken in ocean going convict ships with 12,000 prisoners in one ship. Kolyma was a site for gold and platinum, and the slaves had to mine for these two precious metals, not even using machines or any implements but bonfires, ice and their bare hands.

The purges finally decreased around the end of 1938, as Stalin finally realized how shaken up Russian society and administration had become due to this horror, with key people missing which had an adverse effect on industry. But the purges were continued in a more subtle and reduced manner during the Second World War. The victims of the Purges claimed they never ended. Historian Robert Conquest said that from 1929-1953 a grand total of 20 million people died out of which around 3 million were victims of the Kolyma Camps alone, and 7 million in the famine of 1932-1933.

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