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The GULAG: an LGBTQ+ Goldsmith’s Review

 
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Elliot Leavy

This week, LGBT+ Goldsmiths twitter account finally put to rest pernicious rumours regarding one of the most shocking injustices of the 20th century: the Gulag. The anonymous historian took to the social media platform and set the record straight, teaching us how the camps were more akin to Butlins-Bognor then to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Not only is this case further confirmation that our higher education systems have indeed been highjacked by Marxist ideologues, but, more importantly, it is gravely offensive to the estimated millions who suffered and died due to the this inhumane, shameful system.

 “  Drawings from the GULAG  ” by Danzig Baldaev, a retired Soviet prison guard or Butlins-Bognor? Who knows?

Drawings from the GULAG” by Danzig Baldaev, a retired Soviet prison guard or Butlins-Bognor? Who knows?

The tweets, which come from “the official twitter of the LGBTQ+ Society of Goldsmiths”, are nothing short of astonishing, and cannot be seen as anything more than an either a dismal reflection of the university’s prowess as an educational institution, or an contemptible attempt to rewrite history. It becomes clear within a few seconds of their reading that something is clearly rotten in Denmark (Or Goldsmiths).

Now why the author in question is so mortified by the legacy of the Gulag, I don’t imagine we will ever know. Who knows the pressures of compiling decades-long histories of misery into bitesized tweets. Perhaps this is where his or her rage stems from, our fast-food culture can be beleaguering. Fortunately, with a little bit more effort getting into the nitty-gritty, it is possible to help LGBT+ Goldsmiths out of the metaphorical Gulag of ignorance and into a understanding of what living inside the literal Gulag meant.

Now to begin, it is always good to check the sources. The tweets seem to have relied on for their information from The Espresso Stalinist, a blog written by a self proclaimed “working class, self-taught, unrepentant Marxist-Leninist; a writer and activist, lover of coffee”, and of the Gulag apparently. The Espresso Stalinist is so unrepentant he uses a picture of Doctor Doom, a fictional comic book villain, as his avatar. We shall address him as such from now on.

 The caption reads: “After we’ll fuck this scoundrel’s ass through, he’ll be quick to remember how he sabotaged Soviet regime and party with his university cybernetics researches!”

The caption reads: “After we’ll fuck this scoundrel’s ass through, he’ll be quick to remember how he sabotaged Soviet regime and party with his university cybernetics researches!”

It is difficult to know where to approach all of this from, the tweet’s fever pitch and aggressive tone alludes to support for Stalinist detainment and genocide. His or her source, Doctor Doom, labels this system (one which lead to countless cases of crimes against humanity) as “progressive”, and the thread’s initial tweet seems to suggest that the sending of ‘bigots’ to the Gulag was a mercy move, a “compassionate non-violent course of action”. Who deems who is and who is not a bigot isn’t made entirely clear. But by reading through Doctor Doom’s treasure trove of sources for more than minute, it becomes evident that back then it was anyone who disagreed with the newly installed Communist regime.

 The caption reads: By the order of the prosecutor general Vyshinsky, any methods were considered “good” to get the confession. NKVD staff used brutal tortures with pump, soldering iron, bottle (shoved into vagina and anus), rats (placed in the heated bucket under victim’s bare buttocks) etc.

The caption reads: By the order of the prosecutor general Vyshinsky, any methods were considered “good” to get the confession. NKVD staff used brutal tortures with pump, soldering iron, bottle (shoved into vagina and anus), rats (placed in the heated bucket under victim’s bare buttocks) etc.

One source often cited in Doctor Doom’s library is the writings of John D. Littlepage, a US mining expert, Soviet Deputy Commissar and recipient of the Order of the Red Banner of Labour – an order of the Soviet Union established to honour great deeds and services to the Soviet state and society in the fields of production, science, culture, literature, the arts, education, health.

Writing in In Search of Soviet Gold, a ten year account of his years working for the Soviet Union, Littlepage remarks that “Ordinary criminals, such as murderers and thieves, are mixed up indiscriminately in forced labor camps with members of the various disfavored groups”, these groups included “kulaks, nomads, ex-priests, and the like”. The honourary Soviet goes on to write that, ”In fact, the authorities seem to have a more friendly feeling for ordinary criminals than for social groups which have opposed their various reforms. They treat a brutal murderer, as a rule, with more consideration than a small farmer who didn’t want to turn his domestic animals and house and garden into a common pool with his neighbors to make a collective farm”. Thought crime in the Gulag then (and according to LGBT+ Goldsmiths today), was worse than murder. How progressive.

 The caption reads: “Enemy” girls and women were locked in cells with thugs for one night and more. In addition to 3rd grade interrogation, women were put into thug cells where they were brutally humiliated and gang raped. Afterwards most of victims committed suicide (hanged themselves, cut their veins, ate soil etc.)…

The caption reads: “Enemy” girls and women were locked in cells with thugs for one night and more. In addition to 3rd grade interrogation, women were put into thug cells where they were brutally humiliated and gang raped. Afterwards most of victims committed suicide (hanged themselves, cut their veins, ate soil etc.)…

Another tweet talks of how those in the Gulag never spent more then ten years there. “The Soviets did away with life sentences and the longest sentence was ten years. Capital punishment was reserved for the most heinous, serious crimes”. The next tweet delves deeper, explaining what these most heinous, serious crimes were and exalting how the “penal system was a rehabillitary one and self-supporting, a far cry from the Western, capitalist notion of prison”. The aim, the author tweets, “was to correct and change the ways of “criminals”. If it couldn’t be done in 10 years, it couldn’t be done at all”. Doctor Doom’s sources go on to back this up.

Citing Jerome Davis’ interpretation of the principles of the penal code, the Soviet model was a humanitarian affair. Based on the idea that: “Wrongs are the results of long centuries of acculturation in a capitalistic society.” Davis then wraps up his list with two, less humanitarian viewpoints: “Society should attempt to change the attitude of “wrong-doers” by every method known to modern pedagogical and medical science.” and “Those who cannot be “reformed” should be eliminated from society for its protection.” The Soviets had more compassion then they knew how to deal with apparently.

Yet despite all of this, it is difficult to imagine how being eliminated could be construed as compassionate or progressive. Perhaps, after ten years of torture imprisoned in some of the bleakest areas on the planet, it could be argued that death might be a nice change of scene. Each to their own.

 The caption reads: “Sending stiff to permanent Arctic Ocean settlement” – drowning of frozen inmate corpses in river ice holes (to avoid grave digging in permafrost).

The caption reads: “Sending stiff to permanent Arctic Ocean settlement” – drowning of frozen inmate corpses in river ice holes (to avoid grave digging in permafrost).

The thread in question goes on to bizarrely refer to the existence of regular classes, book clubs, newspaper editorial teams, sports, theatre and performance groups at the labor camps. It sounds like fun for the whole family, a fact apparently overlooked by the Gulag authorities at the time, or at least ignored during the mass separation of newborns from their mothers. Nor, referring once more to Doctor Doom’s own sources, when they scattered ‘unruly’ family members across the country with no means to ever return.

Now, there is no reference to what classes nor which books were available to the prisoners. The tweets also fail to mention if the plays & performances were anything other than propagandist agitprop theatre. If they took a moment to guarantee that there wasn’t any audience participation involved, then maybe it would be easier to be on side – as it currently stands, it is impossible.

The prisoners, moreover, had the right to subscribe to any of the periodicals appearing in the USSR. As to the foreign papers, we were allowed only the central organs of the Communist Party, the Rote Fahne, l’ Humanite and the Daily Worker, and then only one copy per floor of the prison…. 
— Ciliga, Ante, The Russian Enigma.

However, there is one source by the Marxist literary scholar Kenneth Neill Cameron that puts the entire matter to bed. Arguing against the idea that 90 percent of the millions imprisoned in the labor camps perished, Cameron declares: “But this does not make any sense, for the camps were, after all, labor camps–lumbering, road building, Canal construction, mining, farming, and so on–and there would be no point in having 90 percent of the workers perish if the state wanted to get the work done”. That’s that then.

I could go on, but you can read Doctor Doom’s sources in their entirety if you would like to see the madness in his Marxist-Leninist method of interpretation. “Conditions had been similar to those of a holiday resort. True, some people had died, but then, others had died outside the camps” wisely muses one, “great precautions were taken against suicide” celebrates another.

 “To plug the yap”, a punishment of “enemy of the people” for being “habitually rude” towards prison camp authorities and second shadow power – “pakhans” (kingpins), “thieves in law”.

“To plug the yap”, a punishment of “enemy of the people” for being “habitually rude” towards prison camp authorities and second shadow power – “pakhans” (kingpins), “thieves in law”.

But to those who may critique the featured “Drawings from the GULAG” by Danzig Baldaev as one sided, it only takes five minutes to learn that each and every of those gruesome episodes have also been described in the memoirs of many other survivors, completely independent from one another. They speak of the same atrocities, crimes and injustices, differing simply due to the fact that no inmate could see the entire system like Baldaev, an ex-Soviet prison guard, could. We will never know why Baldaev, who was not a victim of this brutal Marxist death machine, spoke up. Indeed, he worked together with the butchers and was allowed to retire honourably to die from old age. If anything, this makes the source even more worthwhile.

The Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote that the belief in the Big Lie, and the permissiveness of a population to allow such heinous scenarios to exist, was down to the failings of the individual psyche. He insisted that “non-participation in lies”— the refusal to spout official slogans, repeat mendacities, or denounce colleagues—was the sine qua non for both self-respect and for the return of something resembling normal civic life. Only when the flower of the nation had jettisoned the Lie could “breathing and consciousness return”.

Solzhenitsyn was a man who fought less for democracy, which he hoped would come in due time, than for an end to ideocratic despotism which not only oppressed men’s bodies but demanded of them their souls as well. Today, it is the opposite, and we are fortunate enough to be in a position wherein we must fight to keep what democracy we already have. So when it comes to Stalinist statements of the kind made by LGBT+ Goldsmiths, our sine qua non is simply to tell to those who seek to police our speech, deny atrocities for political gain and frankly don’t do their homework, to jog on – not send them to the Gulag.