The strikes that have shaken the entire Soviet concentrationary system during the past few years are a new phenomenon, and yet, in certain respects, they recall the phase of the development of the camps that came to an end in 1935-6. It will be recalled that political prisoners—or at least those who had been involved in communist opposition groups—had formerly enjoyed certain advantages over common-law criminals and taken advantage of them to carry on intense political activity in the camps that were set up specially for privileged political prisoners.
From 1936 until a short time ago, the situation was the reverse. The special rights of the political prisoners were withdrawn and certain privileges were granted to the “common-laws.” Imprisonment in “isolators” became the severest form of detention. The camps themselves came to resemble extermination camps. The death-rate was very high … Any attempt at resistance was nipped in the bud, owing to the terror practiced by the administration, on the one hand, and by the “common-laws,” on the other. Furthermore, the prisoners who were sent to the camps in the late 1930’s no longer came, for the most part, from the ranks of the opposition, but were officials and experts of the regime itself. The entire political life of the camps was thus swept away....
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