Zhang 1Calvin ZhangPittaluga9th Literature24 January 2018How Stalin’s Gulags Hurt the Soviet Union In their heyday under Stalin’s rule, there were 476 prison camps spread throughout the Soviet Union. Over their lifetime, more than 25 million people had been imprisoned within this system at least once (heritage.org). These camps, more commonly known as gulags, were designed to extract natural resources, improve the Soviet economy using free labor, and punish any citizen that stepped out of line. However, they instead crippled the country by incarcerating so many people for inconsequential reasons. These prisoners would have benefited the country much more had they not been used as slave labor. The Soviet Union’s gulags negatively impacted the country by arresting citizens who would have helped the country develop. Nearly anybody could have been arrested, even if they were an integral part of their communities. For example, Dmitry S. Likhachev mentioned in his memoir that, “the most interesting man in the library cell was the lead of the Petrograd Boy Scouts, Count Vladimir Mikhailovich Shuvalov” (Applebaum 9). People like Vladimir Shuvalov could have mentored young adults as they became men. Instead, they spent their time working as free labor. In another memoir, Kazimierz Zarod recounts a similar story of his time spent in the prisons, “the commandant had organized a ‘band’ of musicians. Some were professionals, otherZhang 2amateur, but together they made quite good music… Having played until the end of the column had passed through the gate, the musicians abandoned their instruments and, tacking themselves onto the end of the column, joined the workers walking into the forest” (Applebaum 54). These musicians could have made the Soviet Union famous for its music and trained the next generation of professionals. Instead, like Shuvalov, their talent and experience were instead wasted. Due to the fact that nearly anyone could be sent to the gulags, the Soviet Union shot itself in the foot by imprisoning so many citizens that could have improved the country had they been free. The Soviet prisons even hurt people who were not arrested. Many of the prisoners who were were arrested in ways that restricted the freedoms for innocent citizens. For example, Dmitry Likhachev “like many of his contemporaries, he was arrested in 1928 for taking part in an academic discussion circle” (Applebaum 1). How could any student learn and develop in the Soviet Union when they could be arrested for a thing as basic as gathering to discuss schoolwork? Citizens in the Soviet Union could not express basic human rights, like the right to gather or to free speech and press because of threat of being sent to the gulags. The story of Hava Volvovich, a newspaper editor, demonstrates this perfectly. “She began speaking openly and critically about the damage being done to Ukrainian peasants … and as a result was arrested in 1937. She remained in the camps for sixteen years, until 1953” (Applebaum 95). Freedoms to speech and press were effectively abolished during this time because ordinary citizens could be jailed for decades for speaking out against the government. The stories of these people show how Zhang 3many things people could be jailed for. The gulags affected all citizens of the Soviet Union, hurting those arrested along with reducing the rights and freedoms of normal citizens. Although one of the goals of the gulags were to improve the Soviet Union through free labor, they had the opposite effect of hurting the country’s economic output in the long run. The usage of free labor removed the need for technological advances. In an interview with heritage.org, Anne Applebaum, an expert on the gulags, stated that, “with so much cheap labor available, the Soviet economy took far longer to be mechanized. Problems were solved by calling for more workers” (heritage.org). In that era, why would somebody bother to invest money into developing a logging machine when a dozen prisoners could do the same job? In addition, the prisoners were cheaper to maintain, as there would always be more to replace any that died. Although it may have been less costly in the short term, the mindset of gulag work wound up hurting the Soviet Union by devaluing technological advancements. To reinforce this, “much of the achievements hailed by Stalin were made possible not by new skills, ideas or equipments but by a callous disregard for the human beings forced to do the work” (Shepley 40). Due to this disregard for prisoners, many died which further hurt the Soviet Union. It would be difficult for a citizen to return to their daily lives and benefit the country after being sentenced to a prison camp, but it would also be much harder for them to contribute anything if they were dead. The Soviet leadership intended for these gulags to help the economy, but instead, they had the opposite effect by hampering technological development and killed many citizens who could have driven these innovations. The Soviet prison camps were designed to benefit the country but instead had the opposite effect. Many of those who were imprisoned could have benefited the country better had they been free. In addition, the vast number of actions which could incriminate citizens hurt their ability toZhang 4 perform their jobs properly. Even worse, the gulags prevented technological innovations because they prioritized human labor as the main way to get work done.