Moving force of Soviet Industrialization

Tens of thousands of labor camp prisoners became the
secret fuel of the Soviet Five-Year Plans and such giant
projects as construction of the White Sea – Baltic Sea Canal,
the Moscow River – Volga River Canal, the dam and
power station at Dneprostroi, and the industrial center at

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During the period of July 1929 - January 1, 1934, the number of prisoners incarcerated in labor camps increased 23 fold [Sistema ispravitel’no-trudovyjkh lagerei v SSSR. 1923-1960, p.35]

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  Letter from Ordzhonikidze to Stalin, March 20, 1936 [Revelations from the Russian Archives, p.162 ]

 Realm of camp life: a prisoner’s workbook, 1952. The book belonged to Kaia, Lev Isaakovich, managing engineer from the carbide plant in Grozny, arrested in 1942 (Article58), accused of anti-revolutionary sabotage and collaboration with the German secret service. Sentenced to 10 years. Rehabilitated in 1957. 
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Official publications and periodicals represented slavory as a tool of reeducation changing people minds, turning them into dedicated builders of Communism. The newspapers below were distributed within labor camps only.
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"Severnyi Gorniak" (The Northern Miner), Komi region [HU OSA 300-85-42] "Perekovka" (Reshaping), Volgodon Canal construction [HU OSA 317, collection of Miklos Kun]


White Sea – Baltic Sea Canal was one of the first "great construction projects of Communism", which relied exclusively on the labour of prisoners.

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At Stalin's instructions work should be fast and inexpensive. Over 100,000 prisoners equipped with pick-axes, wheelbarrows and hatchets - dug a 227-kilometre long canal linking the Baltic and the White Sea in 20 months between 1931 and 1933. Tens of thousands died in the process. Sailing on the steamship Anokhin for the inauguration of the canal, Stalin concluded to his disappointment that the canal was too narrow and not deep enough for his liking and ordered a bigger one to be built. The blueprints were ready by 1936 but the project was never implemented.

Ice-bound for half the year and too small for maritime vessels, the White Sea Canal never served any significant economic or strategic function.

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Photo by Tomasz Kizny
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Published in 1934, destroyed in 1937, reprinted in 1998, this book was ordered by the OGPU to praise the success of "corrective labor" practices during the construction of the Canal. It was edited by Maxim Gorky and written by well-known soviet writers ot the time. The book constitutes stories written after multiple field trips, written at the time, when construction was under way. It is symbolic, that many of the heroes of the book and its authors alike did not survive the purges of 1937-1938.

New dimensions of construction projects demanded more man-power, more "enemies of the people". This lead to a new round of prosecutions, political trials, and mass arrests..

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