Lenin’s creation of a network of concentration camps: the Gulag
In April 1919 Lenin signed a decree to create a concentration camp system copied by the Tsarist Katorga, which in 1916 numbered almost 20,000 inmates, according to figures published by Stephen G. Wheatcroft. The new network of concentration camps was named Glávnoie upravlenie ispravítelno-trudovyj lagueréi i koloni (Directorate-General for Labor Camps).
It was the birth of the Gulag, the largest Soviet system of repression.
The first of those camps had been established in 1918 at Solovki, on the Solovetsky islands of the Black Sea. Again the figures of the communist dictatorship ended up far exceeding those of tsarism in a short time: at the end of 1920 there were already 84 camps with some 50,000 political prisoners.
In October 1923 there were already 315 camps with 70,000 prisoners. Those detained there were used in forced labor as slave labor. The prison population had very high death rates, due to the harsh conditions in these brutal detention centers, where prisoners were often starved or killed by their guardians.
Lenin encouraged mass execution of strikers
The strikes were also bloodied down. On March 16, 1919, Cheka stormed the Putilov factory, where its workers had gone on strike six days earlier, accusing the Bolshevik government of having become a dictatorship:
900 workers were arrested, and 200 executed without trial. Violent repression, imprisonment, hostage-taking and mass murder were the methods most used by the Bolsheviks to quell these strikes, both in the factories and in the fields.
On January 29, 1920, in the face of strikes by workers in the Urals region, Lenin sent a telegram to Vladimir Smirnov encouraging the use of mass murder against strikers:
“I am surprised that you take the matter so lightly and do not immediately execute a large number of strikers for the crime of sabotage.”
These methods were even used to quell the protests of workers when they were forced to work on Sunday, as happened in Tula, a malaise that the Bolsheviks simply attributed to a “counter-revolutionary conspiracy forged by Polish spies.” It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of rebel workers and peasants were executed between 1918 and 1922.
The mass execution of prisoners of war
In the late 1920s Lenin approved of the mass murder of 50,000 “white” and civilian prisoners in Crimea, shot or by hanging, in one of the largest massacres of the Russian Civil War. The victims of this crime had surrendered, according to Robert Gellately, after the Bolshevik promise that there would be an amnesty for them if they surrendered.
Lenin used hunger for political purposes: from 3.9 million to 7.75 million dead
One of the most dramatic episodes of Lenin’s dictatorship was the Russian famine of 1921 and 1922, which affected some 27 million people and killed between 3 and 5 million, and which was caused, in large part, by the mass requisitions of grain ordered by the Bolsheviks, the so-called Prodrazvyorstka (copied and expanded by the Communists, like other things, from the Razvyorstka, the requisition of tsarist grain in the First World War). The requisitioned grain was often used for export.
This extermination through hunger was not accidental or that the Bolshevik dictatorship tried to avoid: it was done intentionally and even sought with it an anti-religious purpose, as Lenin wrote in a letter from Lenin to the Politburo on March 19, 1922:
“Now and only now, when people consume themselves in famine-stricken areas and hundreds, if not thousands, of corpses lie on the roads, we can (and therefore must) pursue the removal of church property with the most energy frenzied and ruthless and do not hesitate to quell the least opposition. (…) We must pursue the elimination of church property by any means necessary to secure a fund of several hundred million gold rubles (do not forget the immense wealth of some monasteries and lauras). (…) All considerations indicate that we will not do it later, because at no other time, apart from desperate hunger, will it give us that state of mind among the general mass of peasants that would guarantee the sympathy of this group, or, at least , would assure us the neutralization of this group in the sense that victory in the fight for the elimination of church property, unquestionably and completely, will be on our side.”
This use of famines as a method of achieving political objectives had already been advanced by Lenin in 1891, when he refused to collaborate with a campaign to help the hungry in the city of Samara. According to Lenin, hunger has “numerous positive consequences”, since “it destroys not only faith in the Tsar, but also in God” (quoted by Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek and Jean-Louis Margolin in “Le livre noir du communisme”, 1997).