Template:Soviet Union sidebar The Gulag (Template:Lang-rus; acronym of Russian Главное управление лагерей "main administration of the camps", usually translated "Chief Directorate of Camps") was the government agency that administered and controlled the main Soviet forced-labor camp system during the period of Joseph Stalin ruling over the country from the 1930s up until the 1950s.
The first such camps were created in 1918 and the term is widely used to describe any forced-labor camp in the USSR. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of extrajudicial punishment (the NKVD was the Soviet secret police). The Gulag is recognized as a major instrument of political repression in the Soviet Union, based on Article 58 (RSFSR Penal Code). The term is also sometimes used to describe the camps themselves, particularly in the West.
"GULAG" was the acronym for Template:Lang (Glavnoye upravleniye lagerey), the "Main Camp Administration". It was the short form of the official name Гла́вное управле́ние исправи́тельно-трудовы́х лагере́й и коло́ний (Glavnoye upravleniye ispravityelno-trudovykh lagerey i koloniy), the "Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Labor Settlements". It was administered first by the GPU, later by the NKVD and in the final years by the MVD, the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The first corrective labour camps after the revolution were established in 1918 (Solovki) and legalized by a decree "On creation of the forced-labor camps" on April 15, 1919. The internment system grew rapidly, reaching population of 100,000 in the 1920s and from the very beginning it had a very high mortality rate.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature, who survived eight years of Gulag incarceration, gave the term its international repute with the publication of The Gulag Archipelago in 1973. The author likened the scattered camps to "a chain of islands" and as an eyewitness described the Gulag as a system where people were worked to death. Some scholars support this view, though it is controversial, considering that with the exception of the war years, a very large majority of people who entered the Gulag left alive. In March 1940, there were 53 Gulag camp directorates (colloquially referred to as simply "camps") and 423 labor colonies in the USSR. Today's major industrial cities of the Russian Arctic, such as Norilsk, Vorkuta, and Magadan, were originally camps built by prisoners and run by ex-prisoners.
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