The Gulag Archipelago

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The Gulag Archipelago (Russian: Архипелаг ГУЛАГ, Arkhipelag GULAG) is a book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn based on the Soviet forced labor and concentration camp system. The three-volume book is a massive narrative relying on eyewitness testimony and primary research material, as well as the author's own experiences as a prisoner in a Gulag labor camp. Written between 1958 and 1968 (dates given at the end of the book), it was published in the West in 1973, thereafter circulating in samizdat (underground publication) form in the Soviet Union until its official publication in 1989.

GULag or Gulág is an acronym for the Russian term Glavnoye Upravleniye ispravitelno-trudovyh Lagerey (Главное Управление Исправительно-трудовых Лагерей), or "Chief Administration of Corrective Labour Camps", the bureaucratic name of the Soviet concentration camp main governing board, and by metonymy, the camp system itself. The original Russian title of the book is Arkhipelag GULag, the rhyme supporting the underlying metaphor deployed throughout the work. The word archipelago compares the system of labor camps spread across the Soviet Union with a vast "chain of islands", known only to those who were fated to visit them.

Since the Soviet Union's collapse and the formation of the Russian Federation, The Gulag Archipelago is included in the high school program in Russia as mandatory reading.[1]


Structure and factual basis

Structurally, the text is made up of seven sections divided (in most printed editions) into three volumes: parts 1–2, parts 3–4, and parts 5–7. At one level, the Gulag Archipelago traces the history of the Soviet concentration camp and forced labour system from 1918 to 1956, starting with V.I. Lenin's original decrees shortly after the October Revolution establishing the legal and practical frame for a slave labor economy, and a punitive concentration camp system. It describes and discusses the waves of purges, assembling the show trials in context of the development of the greater GULag system with particular attention to the legal and bureaucratic development.

The legal and historical narrative ends in 1956, the time of Nikita Khrushchev's Secret Speech at the 20th Party Congress of 1956 denouncing Stalin's personality cult, his autocratic power, and the surveillance that pervaded the Stalin era. Though the speech was not published in the USSR for a long time, it was a break with the most atrocious practices of the concentration camp system; Solzhenitsyn was aware, however, that the outlines of the GULag system had survived and could be revived and expanded by future leaders.

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