Thursday, March 17, 2005

It makes the whole world kin

The latest volume in the Yale University Press excellent and invaluable series, Annals of Communism, is entitled The History of the Gulag – From Collectivization to the Great Terror. This, like all the other volumes, is a collection of priceless documents with learned and detailed explanation.

Not a cheery subject, you might say, but the fact is that people have always found bleak amusement in the horrors of communism. Almost as soon as I started reading the tome I came across the following document:
Excerpt from Order no. 208 by the GULAG of the NKVD USSR

25 December 1938


The bureau of complaints of the GULAG conducted an investigation, and an inspection team has found an inadmissible level of red tape in reviewing complaints by citizens and convicts addressed to the GULAG.

At the time of the investigation, 4,000 new complaints were registered, including 125 complaints sent for review by the central party and government organs. The majority of these complaints arrived during the past twenty days. However, the inspection team noticed the entirely unacceptable failure to process complaints received in July, August, and September 1938. Though facing such a high volume of complaints and statements (more than 20,000 each month), the GULAG apparatus still lacks procedures regulating the review of, and response to, these complaints. As a result, incoming complaints are often left unanswered, which leads to a large number of duplicate complaints ….
[Perhaps I should explain that GULAG was the labour camp administration and NKVD the name of the secret police in the thirties.]

One ought to be fair to the GULAG complaints section. The months listed in the document probably saw the highest number of arrests and procedures against individuals and groups in the entire history of the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, it is a little difficult to have consistent procedures that would deal with complaints if the people who should be putting these into place keep being arrested and packed of to prisons and camps themselves. Indeed, on wonders how long the members of the inspection team or the authors of the document managed to survive.

But what a joy it is to know that in 1938, at the height of the Stalinist purge, red tape and lack of procedures that would deal with complaints and statements ranked so high in problems to be addressed by one section of the Soviet officialdom.

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