Tag Archives: Soviet Union

Wartime Deaths Due to Soviet Repression

Bellow is the reproduction of a text first published on my blog Crappy Town. It tries to establish the number of Soviet citizens that died as a result of repression by the Soviet state between July 1941 and May 1945 when the USSR was at war with Germany during the Second World War. It is part of my emerging working paper that tries to break down the 25 million losses of the Soviet Union in the Soviet-German War between its different causes.

Wartime Deaths Due to Soviet Repression

The Soviet Union under Stalin was a highly repressive state that engaged in repression of its citizens on a vast scale. Its repression was deadly and resulted in numerous deaths, even when the state had not explicitly set out to make repression lethal and to cause the death of those repressed. What is more, the four years of the Great Patriotic War were characterized by a sharp increase in the scale repression and the occurrence of deaths due to repression relative to most peacetime years under Stalin, including the immediate pre-war time.

The Gulag

Archival data shows the gulag administration in the years 1941 through 1945 presided over the deaths of 1.02 million inmates of whom 622 thousand prisoners in labor camps of the gulag, 312 thousand in labor colonies of the gulag and 85 thousand in prisons. The total number of deaths the gulag was responsible for in this time frame may be even higher on the account of deaths among former inmates who died after their release but as a consequence of the conditions they had been subjected to during their imprisonment.[19]

During the war mortality among the inmates of the gulag increased sharply so that one half of those who perished in the gulag did so in the war years, particularly between 1941 and 1943 and mainly of malnutrition related causes. German invasion of the USSR caused food shortages everywhere in the Soviet Union, however, malnutrition and the consequent mortality in the gulag was much more severe than among free Soviet citizens in the unoccupied USSR.

The most proximate cause of the crisis for the inmates of the gulag was that they were being kept imprisoned, mostly unjustly, with little aces to food, not that the Germans had invaded the Soviet Union and caused a general shortage of food. Had the regime released the inmates it was unable to feed they would have stood a far better chance of surviving than they did in the camps. This would have only benefited the war effort as a gulag inmate was only half as productive as a free laborer.

Internal Exile and the Labor Army

Another major category of Soviet citizens who suffered lethal repression at the hands of the Soviet regime during the war were deportees in internal exile. Deportees were usually stripped of their civic freedoms, lost most of their property and were often dumped in some of the most inhospitable parts of the Soviet Union, condemned to live in “special settlements” they would often first yet have to build. Besides working in the exile colonies themselves they were lent out to industries as unfree labor, or, during the war, could find themselves conscripted into the Labor Army. The exile groups experienced a far higher rate of mortality compared to the rest of the Soviet population, particularly in the first several years of their exile, after which their circumstances usually gradually improved.

Under Stalin the Soviet Union internally exiled just over 6 million people of whom 2 million during the war itself, 383 thousand immediately preceding the war in 1940-41, as well as 700 thousand in the second half of the 1930s. Russian demographer D.M. Ediev estimates that until 1952 between 700 thousand and 1 million people had died as a consequence of deportations, however, the question here is how many of these perished during the four years of the war itself.[20]

Ediev calculates the total excess mortality among the 1383 thousand exiled Soviet Germans and Finns who were mainly deported 1941 was 248 thousand. Similarly the excess mortality among the 1025 thousand deported Karachais, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingushetians, Balkars, Crimean Tatars and Meshketian Turks who were deported in 1943 and 1944 was 226 thousand. Nearly three quarters of the 380 thousand who were exiled in 1940 and first half of 1941 were former Polish citizens, who were therefore subject to an amnesty of August 17th 1941 and June 30th 1943.[21] Since their banishment was much shorter their losses would have been considerably smaller than those of the the Soviet Germans and Finns who were deported in the second half of 1941. Combined, until 1952 the exile groups deported from 1940 to 1944 may have experienced about 500 thousand excess deaths.

Given that deportees were most likely to die in the first few years of their exile it is probable just under half of these 500,000 deaths occurred during the war itself. Along with the excess losses of the more “settled” exiles deported in the 1930s the total figure of wartime deaths among exile groups in special settlements and the Labor Army may be around 300 thousand.


It is well documented that 1941 through 1945 civilian courts in the USSR sentenced to death 22,572 people for criminal offenses and 42,149 people for political offenses.[22] Additionally, as has been discussed in section 2, during the war some 135 thousand Red Army soldiers may have been executed after a court martial.

Furthermore during the initial stage of the war the NKVD carried out prison massacres against inmates of Soviet prisons in the western USSR. Due to the speed of the initial German advance across USSR territory and the existing demands on the Soviet transportation system the Soviet authorities found it impossible to evacuate the prisons lying in the path of the Germans in time. Rather than leave them to the enemy the center ordered local NKVD guards to evacuate only some categories of prisoners, release others and execute still others.

Consequentially the NKVD massacred about 8,789 inmates in prisons in Ukraine and 530 in Belarus, an additional 940 prisoners during the evacuations from these prisons, and an unknown number in the prisons in Baltic republics.[23] The number executed in such circumstances is therefore not fully certain, however, the losses among the prisoner population that were sustained in this way are counted in the 85 thousand wartime losses among the prison population anyway.

Altogether, in the course of the war about 210 thousand Soviet citizens were outright executed or massacred by the Soviet security apparatus.


Altogether during the Soviet-German war of 1941-45 there were around 1.5 million deaths of Soviet citizens due to repression of the Soviet authorities. 1 million deaths among the captive population in the gulag and the prisons, 200 thousand condemned to death and executed of whom 65 thousand civilians and 135 thousand military, as well as roughly 300 thousand internal exiles who perished during the war as a consequence of deportations and conscription into the labor army.

Table of Contents

19. Michael Haynes and Rumy Hasan, A Century of State Murder? Death and Policy in Twentieth-Century Russia (London: Pluto Press, 2003) 214-215.

20. For the size, time and composition of individual deportation operations see Pavel Polian, Against Their Will: The History and Geography of Forced Migrations in the USSR (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2004) 327-333. For the figures on mortality see Dalkhat Ediev, Demograficheskie Poteri Deportirovannyh Narodov SSSR (Stavropol’: StGAU “AGRUS”, 2003) 302-303.

21. Polian, 2004, 119.

22. Stephen Wheatcroft “Victims of Stalinism and the Soviet Secret Police: The Comparability and Reliability of the Archival Data — Not the Last Word”. Europe-Asia Studies Vol. 51, No. 2 (1999): 337-338.

23. Aleksandr Gur’yanov and Aleksandr Kokurin “Èvakuacija tjurem. 1941”. Rossijskij istoricheskij zhurnal “Karta” No.6 (1994): 16-27.

~ Marko

Away with Suvorov

Having gone through Bionic Mosquito’s The Chief Culprit post forum-style, and offered comment to individual statements I would also like to offer commentary on his post and his musings as a whole.

In his article Mosquito spends almost the entire text talking about hardware. The reader is supposed to be convinced of the immense power of the USSR’s Red Army on the account it could field twenty thousand tanks and fifteen thousand aircraft — more than the entire rest of the world combined. But to the contrary what Mosquito seems to believe this is no indication the Soviet Union considered itself remotely ready for war. As anyone who has ever operated heavy machinery may attest to, an experienced operator will be many more times more efficient than his counterpart without experience. The USSR may have had thousands of aircraft and tanks, but did it have operators to match?

In July 1941 the Soviet Union was in a possession of an armed force that was lush with advanced weaponry, but that was still suffering from extremely severe deficiencies when it came to organization, leadership and training. To address these it was involved in hurried training programs and was actually still in the midst of an extremely ambitious program of reorganization and reform that would not be complete until mid 1942.

Through most of the 1930s — that is up until the disturbance of the purges — the Soviet Union held a technological lead in combat aircraft and tanks over all the other great powers. On the eve of the war its air and tank fleets were no longer state of the art as they were mostly made up of designs from the mid 1930s (such as the I-16 fighter and the T-26 tank). Nonetheless in well-trained hands these would have been perfectly respectable weapons. The quality and quantity of its weaponry was never a Soviet weak point but on the contrary something the Soviet system excelled at providing.

The Achilles heel of the Soviet armed forces was its unsettledness. The Soviet Union went about its build up of the Red Army in the same radical manner it went about everything else —  at a breakneck speed and expecting the maximum results in the shortest amount of time. As a result it took only a short while for its army to look impressive on paper, but underneath it suffered from critical imbalances and shortcomings.
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A Hand to Mosquito


A libertarian blogger Bionic Mosquito is doing a review of The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II from the pen of Viktor Suvorov, a clownish Cold War era Soviet defector who cut out a living for himself telling his Western hosts whatever he thought they would enjoy hearing about his country of birth. Since the topic covered by the book is one I know a little bit about I figure it would be appropriate to help out a libertarian blogger with his reading and offer a few corrections and explanations.

A.) Bionic Mosquito writes:

“The narrative – peddled both by the Soviets during and after the Second World War, as well as by many in the west – is that the Red Army was totally unprepared for war.  Hitler overwhelmed a clearly inferior Soviet army with his surprise attack on June 22, 1941.”

Actually that is not the prevailing narrative. Immediately after the war Stalin explained the cause of early Soviet defeats in such terms. According to the Soviet dictator the Soviet Union, as well as the United States and Britain were peace loving countries and as such failed to prepare for the war to the extend Germany and Japan did. As a consequence they suffered a series of early defeats in 1940 and 1941 in France, Hong Kong, Singapore, Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and the western USSR. Such an explanation served to relativise the disaster the Soviets suffered in 1941 by placing it in the context of other rather less catastrophic and dreadful setbacks suffered by the other allied nations, and in this way deflect the blame for the horrible losses and destruction the Soviet people had sustained in the war, much of it needlessly.

It was an explanation that was seemingly accepted by Murray Rothbard who in For a New Liberty spoke of an “unwarlike Stalin” who had “allowed the Russian army to fall into disrepair”. This was not accepted for long even in the Soviet Union. Instead the common wisdom after Khruschev’s rise to power presupposed an innovative and powerful pre-war Red Army on the ascent, which was prevented from effectively defending the country by the person of Stalin who first gutted it in the Great Officer Purge and then tied its hands in 1941 and left it exposed to a German surprise attack when he in the face of all facts refused to believe the German invasion was imminent. This view was also accepted by many in the West who had a somewhat favorable view of the Soviet Union or its people. Those with an unfavorable view on the other hand mostly explained the cause of German success and Soviet setbacks in 1941 in terms of Soviet or Russian inferiority vis-a-vis the Germans.

Whether they played up the Soviet lack of sophistication that supposedly made the Red Army unable to make its greater numbers count against the Germans, or else the fateful interference of Stalin in a few key matters, no one actually subscribed to the idea the Red Army on the eve of war was inherently puny or in disrepair. They scarcely could have for the level of Soviet investment in their armed forces before the war was staggering and as such impossible to ignore, discount or shrug off. Indeed the Soviet defense budget rose steadily throughout the 1930s. Where it accounted for 3.4% of the national budget in 1933 and 9.1% the next year, it climbed to 16.1% in 1936, and on to fully 25.6% of the total in 1939.[1]
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Wenzel on (some other) Soviet Union

Watching the video of Robert Wenzel’s recent Soviet Union-themed lecture I did not think what I was listening to was an unusual talk on the subject. In fact I felt it was fairly standard fare. And that, for me, was the surprising thing. Having come to expect piercing insight and unconventional wisdom from libertarians, it felt unusual to sit through a presentation on the USSR, 90 percent of which could have seemingly been given by a Buckleyite Cold Warrior.

The part of the talk that could not have come from a cheerleader for the Cold War is the introductory part where Wenzel dismisses the American nationalists’ idea that Reagan’s arms buildup spent the USSR into bankruptcy. It also turns out to be the only major point of Wenzel’s speech he can substantiate, albeit you could easily miss this in the disorganized introduction. After making the initial claim it takes him fully four minutes to finally come around to providing information on the size of the Soviet military spending in the 1980s to counter the Reaganite assumptions. In the mean time he gets bogged down on talking about the likes of corruption of capitalism in America which is perhaps a topic he is more familiar with.

The name of Wenzel’s talk is ‘An Examination of Key Factors in the Collapse the USSR’, but what he actually gives is a gallop through the entire Soviet period, from beginning to end. He justifies this with the claim the tale of the USSR is one of a 70-year long collapse. Since he devotes his hour to talking about the entire Soviet history this means, he can not go into depth on any aspect of it just on the account of the time constraints, however, it may also mask the objective inability to speak on anything in depth due to a lack of knowledge as such.

It is safe to say that 70 years is a long time for an entity to be collapsing. A story of such a “collapse” therefore is by necessity a though sell, which Wenzel fails to do. It is one thing to claim the Soviet economic system prevented Russia and most of the other constituent Soviet republics from developing, in the pertinent timeframe, to the level they could have attained otherwise. It is quite another to instead paint a caricature of “no good time all bad” from “start to finish” like Wenzel does. Surely in a country of 200 million with a 70 years long existence a few million people managed to experience a few relatively good years? In fact are there not in the former Soviet space, tens of millions of pensioners who insist they had not just a few good years in the USSR, but whole decades?

It is important to maintain perspective and to grasp that while the USSR was, in economic terms, quite the failure it was only such compared to the West. The country which may have looked shoddy to Western eyes, nonetheless appeared to visitors from the third world as advanced and as capable of offering comfortable lives. At the relative Soviet heyday in the 1970s RSFSR citizens could enjoy the purchasing power of up to 40% of that of Americans. Albeit far bellow the true potential of Russia, such a standard of living was nonetheless unattainable for the greater part of the world population.
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Commentating on Stone’s Untold History of the States


Oliver Stone is an independent thinker, an opponent of American imperialism, and has spoken favorably about the Ron Paul campaign. So when he released his new history-themed documentary series it was a given it would cause a measure of interest among libertarians. Sure enough, once part one of the series was released both mostly positive and mostly negative reactions by visible libertarians followed. Here is my take on the first part of his series “World War Two” touching upon several points I found worthwhile to comment on.

  • The film begins with a shot of Stone himself, he is sitting in an armchair and explaining his motivation for shooting this film. He does so in the most patronizing, sage-like voice he can muster. What is more, the entire film has Stone speak in this oh so wise and kindly tone and pedestrian tempo as if it being narrated by an all-knowing Papa Frost. One serious thumb down here. The last thing anyone needs from their history program is to patronize them.
  • One mayor goal the film seems to task itself with is to tell more about the Soviet role in bringing about the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII. This rubbed at least one prominent libertarian, namely Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com the wrong way. By the end of his piece on the Untold History, Raimondo had accused Stone of having revealed his “Trotskyist sympathies”.

    I believe that is uncalled for. I do not know a whole lot about Stone’s politics (other than that he strikes me as a fairly amorphous progressive). As far as I know he may indeed lean toward comrade Trotsky. However, it is impossible to establish this on the basis of his fairly innocent portrayal of WWII Soviet Union.

    The way Stone portrays the Soviet Union is not different from how it was portrayed in the United States during WWII, when Americans temporarily thought of Soviets as their friends. If viewing WWII-era USSR with somewhat sympathetic eyes means Stone is at least a Trot, then so were tens of millions of Americans who were gripped by news of ongoing Russian struggles at Moscow and Stalingrad and ate up stories about Soviet generals, society and weapons brought to them by such Trotskyste powerhouses as Reader’s Digest.*

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