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Death and Redemption:
The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society
Steven A. Barnes

Winner of the 2013 Herbert Baxter Adams Prize, American Historical Association
Winner of the 2011 Baker-Burton Award, European History Section of the Southern Historical Association
Shortlisted for the 2013 Central Eurasian Studies Society Book Award

Paperback | 2011 | $47.95 | £39.95 | ISBN: 9780691151120
368 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 2 halftones. 1 table.
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Steven A. Barnes
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Death and Redemption offers a fundamental reinterpretation of the role of the Gulag--the Soviet Union's vast system of forced-labor camps, internal exile, and prisons--in Soviet society. Soviet authorities undoubtedly had the means to exterminate all the prisoners who passed through the Gulag, but unlike the Nazis they did not conceive of their concentration camps as instruments of genocide. In this provocative book, Steven Barnes argues that the Gulag must be understood primarily as a penal institution where prisoners were given one final chance to reintegrate into Soviet society. Millions whom authorities deemed "reeducated" through brutal forced labor were allowed to leave. Millions more who "failed" never got out alive.

Drawing on newly opened archives in Russia and Kazakhstan as well as memoirs by actual prisoners, Barnes shows how the Gulag was integral to the Soviet goal of building a utopian socialist society. He takes readers into the Gulag itself, focusing on one outpost of the Gulag system in the Karaganda region of Kazakhstan, a location that featured the full panoply of Soviet detention institutions. Barnes traces the Gulag experience from its beginnings after the 1917 Russian Revolution to its decline following the 1953 death of Stalin.

Death and Redemption reveals how the Gulag defined the border between those who would reenter Soviet society and those who would be excluded through death.


"Death and Redemption is a well-written and provocatively argued book that all serious students of Soviet history will need to read and contemplate. Drawing from a wide variety of Russian and Kazakh archives and displaying a firm command of the available primary and secondary sources, Barnes has clearly done his research and done it well. Barnes's focus on ideology is new and refreshing. . . . [T]his book is a major achievement. . . . Steven Barnes's monograph is quite simply the best introduction to the Gulag currently available."--Brian LaPierre, Russian Review

"Barnes's Death and Redemption performs a timely and important service. . . . In taking on the Gulag, perhaps the nadir of the Soviet experience, without ideological rancor, Barnes has made a significant contribution to Soviet history, and provided the interested general reader with a fascinating experience."--John Bokina, European Legacy

"Steven Barnes' historical study of the Gulag practices of its prisoners' 're-education' and rehabilitation is a compelling contribution to the vast and continually expanding body of scholarly literature on the Stalinist era. . . . I ought to conclude this review with commending and thanking the author for tackling a very difficult subject in a scholarly, objective and thought-provoking manner."--Elena Katz, Europe-Asia Studies

"[T]his is an important book that should be widely read. Whether or not one fundamentally agrees with its interpretation of the Gulag and its place in Soviet society, this is a well-researched, original, and sophisticated work that challenges many long-held assumptions."--Alan Barenberg, Modern History

"Steven A. Barnes does a wonderful job describing how the gulag, created to isolate, purify, and reeducate criminal and political prisoners, failed as an institution."--Kate Brown, Slavic Review

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
CHAPTER 1: The Origins, Functions, and Institutions of the Gulag 7
CHAPTER 2: Reclaiming the Margins and the Marginal: Gulag Practices in Karaganda, 1930s 28
CHAPTER 3: Categorizing Prisoners: The Identities of the Gulag 79
CHAPTER 4: Armageddon and the Gulag, 1939-1945 107
CHAPTER 5: A New Circle of Hell: The Postwar Gulag and the Rise of the Special Camps 155
CHAPTER 6: The Crash of the Gulag: Releases and Uprisings in the Post-Stalin Era 201
Notes 259
References 329
Index 341

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