The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn [Book Summary – Review]


The Gulag Archipelago of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has an interesting place in the history of literature. While viewed as a vitally significant document of the terrible acts perpetrated by the government under Stalin, it is also a wonderful piece of literature that is both daunting and highly poetic. Thus, Solzhenitsyn’s work is not the medium non-fictional narrative of life in a prison camp – it is too an effort to catch the bleak nonsense and desperate humanity.

The metaphor of Stalin’s gulag network of a chain of islands (also known as an archipelago) distinguished from the rest of Russia and out of sight is the central literary tool Solzhenitsyn uses. This permits Solzhenitsyn to take an anthropological approach and explain to the reader what life on these odd and crude islands was like.

In this summary, you will be taken to Solzhenitsyn’s ideas and tales about the gulag system that brings poverty to millions.


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Chapter 1 – It was the Archipelago that rose with the October Revolution, and these expanded from Solovki prison and took firm root after World War II.


What was unlike the archipelago, they were the gulags or obligatory labor camps of the Soviet Union – a series of islands in their own right that expanded across the country. Although these islands are concealed to most of the world, any spirit who gets in one would find out that they are very actual.

In the Gulag Archipelago, there were thousands of islands spread crosswise through the Russian homeland, from the Bering Strait in the east to the Bosporus in the west. However, by you, tickets will not be found for these destinations being sold at any tour agency.

Although the first hills of the Gulag Archipelago originated in 1918, the year of the Great October Socialist Revolution managed by Vladimir Lenin, the truth of these magical islands continues a secret to all.

Lenin would continue to gain control of the Soviet government by saying “decisive, brutal measures” to “tighten discipline” just months after the revolution. And so, the islands started to shape.

Those who would not discover gulags especially surprising are those familiar with Communist politics. After all, it was called by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who wrote in their Communist Manifestos, to overthrow the old bourgeois system of coercion. Instead, it’s a novel system of repression for the working class. Since the old system involved prisons, it made sense for this novel system to come with a novel type of prison.



The Gulag Archipelago was exhibited on September 5, 1918, when the following decree was issued: “Protect the Soviet Republic from class adversaries by isolating it in gathering camps.”

Reliable to its name, the original gulag in the Archipelago seemed on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, where an ancient monastery was converted into a prison camp. The model where all future camps would get the hints was this first camp, the Solovki gulag.

From there, the place where the Archipelago grew was in the dense taiga forests and the arid lands of the tundra – mostly what rabbits, deer, foxes, and wolves call home. Presently, what would seem as curious acquaintances to the inhabitants of these rapidly sprouting islands was these animals.

While the fundamentals of the Gulag Archipelago can be followed back to before World War I, the transformation of these islands into the huge workforce to join came after World War II.

After World War II, faced by the Soviet Union with an urgent economic concern to grow and build, what could be a more proper workforce than all the manpower sitting in the gulags to take on this duty? Not only did you have to give them money, but they also had no family to take care of them, so they could simply move from place to place. You also didn’t need to worry about housing, schools, hospitals, or even nutrition and bathing.


Chapter 2 – You reach the Archipelago when you are captured by the Organs.


Questions asked by millions of Russians before being sent to an island in the archipelago; “Me? For what?” these were. However, if there is any, a few have ever been answered.

Before they realized what was occurring, escorting them through the front door of their new home occurred- now their past lives however memories.

It was worked by all those in the Gulag Archipelago, and in doing so they would most likely die. The capture that put them there was another thing they all had common ground.

The employees in the organization managing the gulags were identified as Organ. Whether you were at your facility floor job or on the operating table in the hospital, it was these human-beings who captured you.

Organs can be hidden like any person: a religious hajji, a bicycler, a taxi driver, a bank clerk, or a movie theater executive. They could appear up at any moment – but arresting people at night had their advantages because it was simpler for someone to get lost in the dark. It didn’t matter day or night, alone or in a crowd – If you are wanted by the Organs, you would be taken.

It didn’t matter that being guilty was not a crime. If the Organs had a leading philosophy, they were fighting the inner enemy. This was anyone who dared to resist the dictatorship of the proletariat.

However, two things that mean nothing to Organs; criminal or innocence because their major concern was the capture quotas they had to bond. However, if they got someone to admit a crime – even if the crime was made up by them – it was a job great done for the Organs.



Since there was no such thing as a deficiency of rivals for Stalin, he assumed the Organs to make a definite number of arrests. What was particularly liked to see by Stalin was people from religious organizations as any religious activity was considered “counter-revolutionary propaganda”. Even religious instruction was seen as a political crime, and those arrested under these circumstances were known as tenners – meaning they received a maximum of ten years in prison.

However, only some of the arrests made by the Organs were religious perpetrators.

Besides independent and prominent thinkers were targeted, those who once owned a small private job place – wrongly suspected of collecting gold. Others were just blamed for owning an illegal radio receiver.


Chapter 3 – It was severity and torment that accompanied inquiries in the Gulag.


It is the application of torture that has experienced its ups and downs during the history of Russia.

In the reign of the seventeenth-century Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, it was admitted as a useful tool while it was admitted as a barbaric practice by his successor, Peter the Great. It was similarly banned at the end of the eighteenth century, during the reign of Catherine the Great. However, in twentieth-century Russia, under the flag of socialism, torture has turned back with revenge.

Many false charges and fabricated legal cases imposed by the Soviet authorities can be seen as a reversion to middle ages standards.

Violence and torture by the Organs were perpetrated for questioning, however, these queries were never part of an investigation or a way to get to the lowest part of the crime. Rather, they had to weaken human-beings like a state where they would confess any kind of accusation against them.

The “queried” ones may be a professor who often quotes Lenin and Marx but frequently does not mention Stalin. Or a young woman who goes to watch a movie in the company of strangers.

Well, what were the torture methods used like standard practice by the Organs?

Initially, there were psychological tactics such as humiliation, intimidation, persuasion, and sleep deprivation to make the defendant more vulnerable before speaking the offensive language.



Next, physical violence, that was applied, were: cigarette burns, placing the arrested in a bedbug-infested box, pressing the heads with iron handcuffs, kindly crushing the testicles, lowering into an acid barrel – the whole of this in addition to regular hunger practice and beating.

All of this was done notwithstanding the illegal torture following Article 136 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. It declared that “The interrogator does not have the right to take the statement or admission of a defendant by coercion or threat.”

When the defendant takes up this issue and desires to view the law, the interrogators will be told by the interrogators that it should not fall into the hands of the defendants or that there is no copy of it.

When there was a question as to why barbaric acts were perpetrated, always the Communist ideology which can return has been to; the entire bourgeois class must be annihilated.


Chapter 4 – They were sealed steel ships sailing between the ports of the Archipelago.


What do you think you will get if you make a map of Russia and put a pin at each railway intersection, railway terminal, and state capital? That’s true – an exact map of all the ports of the Gulag Archipelago.

Like you might have guessed, the ships that would go to these island ports and leave the prisoners were not boats, but trains with sealed arrestee cars.

If you discover yourself as a passenger in one of these captive cars, you’ll be shocked how many passengers you have in your compartment: 15, 20, maybe 30, or more, all rivaling for area and oxygen in a car with no chairs or windows.

The reason the cars were developed with the floor, ceiling, and walls reinforced was to keep all these people that way. Prisoners had no opportunity of escaping as every compartment was greatly tested for possible holes or weaknesses.

And to be more precise, the reason the platforms were built was for the guards armed with machine guns to keep an eye on the arrestee.

If you saw one of these trains from the outside, it would be considered by you that the train was carrying rations or some kind of non-human cargo because of the absence of windows. Of course, you will never be doubtful of terrible facts.

The reason for particular attention is paid to the burden of prisoners was for normal citizens who do not accidentally encounter the unpleasant appearance of these people who are treated like cattle.



Of course, although the general citizens knew that frequent arrests were made, they would still be appalled to see thousands of prisoners being treated this way. Therefore, loading every time happened at night.

Care was also taken to keep the detainees in a situation of continual terror. This was accomplished by cutting the arrestees’ hair, usually stroking possible escape routes and counting routinely.

Then there was a water rejection. Inmates would not have access to water for days to avoid having to deal with toilet issues. Although it was not a torture method, a practical worry: Once they are given water, they will have to urinate once. If they have water twice, they are going to go twice. This problem can be bypassed completely by not permitting water at all.

How long does their imprisonment have to be dealt with by the prisoners in these overcharged cars? The trip can take a few days or a few weeks, as it depends on the arrival point.


Chapter 5 – People whose lives were spent through job, hunger, and death were the natives of the Archipelago.


When you came to your first camp, you formally turned to a citizen of the Gulag Archipelago. You were reborn into a new occurrence as an arrestee, and this will possibly be your id card for the rest of your vita.

However, before death came, the daily routine of the Archipelago’s individuals just worked, each day from morning to evening.

Contingent upon your island, you may have worked in a quarry, a mine excavating for coal, copper or lead, or perhaps a factory doing ore smelting and metal casting.

Next, some people worked on the railroad, digging tunnels, or asphalting ways via the mons. The most conventional gulag craftsmanship was woodcutting while others were doing agricultural work.

Whatever your duty, work started before sunrise and finished at sundown.

There wasn’t even a thing except for work. It was a life full of hunger and deficiency. It wasn’t truly life, on the contrary, slow death.



Things that consisted of a bowl with some water were the little foods out there, and if you’re fortunate, there could be a few small potatoes or maybe some cabbage, beet tops, vetch, or bran.

When it came to the clothing of the citizen Archipelago, you had the clothes you came with – at least the things they allowed you to keep. After a week of practice, when street clothes unavoidably crumble, a peacock was given to arrestees, and it would not take long for your clothes to be so inconsistent that the original color of your dresses was no longer noticeable.

A few hours not working would be spent in barracks.  The insects every time to strive were found in whether in a tent or a hole in the ground.

There were very few things that distinguished vita in the Gulag from an animal. And while death was a permanent existence, the arrestees all comprehended that this was the single way they could be freed early. With so many deaths around, there was even a special brigade whose work was to gather corpses and dig common tombs.


Chapter 6 – Faithful communists, women, and even kids were ashore in the Archipelago.


When investigating the lives of distinctive human-beings stranded on the islands of the Gulag Archipelago, three strange but not unfamiliar groups show up; women, kids, and those loyal to the Communist cause.

The loyal communists were brought forward especially because they had trouble coping with the gulag life.

Among these faithful human-beings were former interrogators, prosecutors, judges, and camp officials. At times there have been theorists and dogmatists who defended the system that guided them to the rigid existence of the gulag. This fall from grace was a shock their hearts could not stand.

They would try in vain to rationalize their mischance, desperate to hold onto their beloved homeland. A horrifying error had been made. They were in jail somehow, with all these criminals who deserved to be there, of course, not them. The fact that no one deserved to be there was what they couldn’t admit.

Later, there were women of the Archipelago who were regularly abused.

When a woman first came, she would be removed naked for lice examination and her underarm and pubic hair shaved. Later, she and other fresh arrived women would be shown naked in the aisles so camp staff could decide which woman they desired.



If a woman refuses to sleep with staff, she will be pushed to do further work, which will inevitably cause them to crawl back and surrender. While only the old and “unattractive” could avoid the advance of the staff, other women had no defense against unwanted men in their bunk beds.

By you, although it might not be expected the Gulag Archipelago to be a place for children, there were a lot: in 1927, the percentage of all arrestees who were between the ages of 16 and 24 was 48.

These kids were not always taken from their parents. Orphans or juvenile delinquents who lost their families during World War II and were sent to labor camps made up many of them. If you’re over 12 years old, you can gain yourself eight years on the Archipelago for stealing the Potatoes, whereas getting cucumbers is five years of hard work.

In the town of Tallinn, the boy who was doomed to a jail camp in 1945 was just six-years-old.


Chapter 7 – All the labor in the jail camp was valueless. The just thing that was produced in the Archipelago was degenerate spirits.


Observing that arrestees work 12 hours a day and receive no pay, you may be questioning how efficient and productive the Gulag Archipelago is at uncovering things like construction materials and agriculture.

The answer is that the work done in the gulags is unvalued.

Yes, it assisted its political aim for Stalin – to intimidate the nation and to “tighten discipline” as expected. However, contrarily, they were all idle.

The arrestees were not talented workers, doing abrasive jobs that no one else would desire, in isolated areas where no one else would voluntarily live. They also lacked the type of encouragement to do the good work capitalism provided.

The thing that the arrestees were good at was to neglect their job and make errors. They did very well at separating spades, trashing cranes, and ravaging their shoes. Badly made bricks broken and thin layers of paint were uncovered immediately, while fence posts ensured to fall off, door knobs would unavoidably shatter, and legs of tables and chairs would always break.

Degenerate spirits were the just thing the Archipelago trustily produced.

Their downfall was just a matter of time, as even the quintessential human thinkable could not stand the tackle to survive in the gulag. Think about what you would do if you were starvation and an insufficient amount of bread was thrown on the ground. It was adequate for just one of the three arrestees, so your desire to survive meant fighting for a piece of dirty bread with your fellow prisoners. Whomever you were before the gulag, you beat and hurt your next-door-neighbor to live a little longer.



Normally, although some tried to avoid the Darwinian tackle of the Archipelago, it was the geography and Stalin’s society that made this nearly infeasible.

Even if you could get out of the camp, there was truly no area to go. By you, the barren wasteland of the Tundra or the infinite, hospitable taiga will be encountered across. If you were fortunate enough to discover a house nearby, the citizens ensured that they would deliver you for the beautiful reward of being in Stalin’s beautiful blessing.


Chapter 8 – There were devoted fugitives and those who desired to speak about the vita of the Archipelago.


As the possibility of a thriving escape is low, no more than a shrug will be done by the staff when someone gets lost from the camp. According to them, an arrestee was cured with less intervention than a stray cow wandering outside the farm.

Eventually, by us, the escaped arrestees haven’t been heard, so, there is no way of comprehending how many individuals died or reached safety in the wild. If they survive, they wouldn’t tell their tales, because doing so might resonate with them.

However, there were the arrestees who decided to escape one way or another.

In the first year of vita on the Archipelago, a lot of time was spent by most people thinking about the escape, however, the devoted escapes thought of nothing more. It would be in their thoughts at each awake hour and haunt their dreams at night.



It was spent on the Archipelago during the daytime in preparation for the escape, by devoted escapes. Death was their main preparation, as this attempt would most likely kill them. Everyone had seen the corpse-filled with at least one bullet retreating to the camp. Sometimes, a fugitive’s body would be so filled with bullets that only his head would be brought back and displayed as a warning of what would happen to anyone else attempting to escape.

There was always the possibility to get hit for a small misstep. Even guards could be punished immediately if they wrongly sympathize with an arrestee. But what if an arrestee was killed by a guard? There was no penalty for this to the guard.

Some of the captives were also determined to document the Gulag Archipelago experience and make a record for future generations.

By the writer, eight years were spent in prison camps, during which time he wrote a poem that he would read to himself once a month. Those words weren’t forgotten by him.

While many writers were in the Archipelago, to create surviving manuscripts have been succeeded by a few. While some lost their pages, others died before they could end a significant job.


Chapter 9 – Those “released” into exile from the archipelago were prisoners, and with the death of Stalin, the Archipelago was once again submerged.


There have been prisons in our culture for a long time. But even before the dungeon cells and labor camps, there was another penalty: banishment – the forced expulsion of the clannish.

Thanks to the works of authors such as Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Lenin, it is known what Russian exile was like until the days of Tsarism by us. The exile conditions were tolerable as described by Tolstoy. For Lenin, who was exiled to Siberia in 1897, the absence of forced labor did not mean that he could write his political essays.

In Stalin’s time, there was banishment and it was an internal exile for the surviving arrestee who awaited them when they were “released”.

Essentially another country between the Gulag Archipelago and the Soviet homeland, it was this banishment situation; The people who stayed here in the Archipelago were sent to live their rest of the years. Usually, this country of inland exile was located in the taiga steppes, inhabited by small colonies, surrounded only by hard and barren pastures and where zero edible growth.



However, each tale has an end, and they never go back to anything since the Gulag Archipelago once rose from zero.

This decline began with the death of Josef Stalin on March 5, 1953. Soon most of the citizens of the Archipelago were released back to the community – which created problems for them.

After all this time accustomed to being to the life of the Gulag – they waited to die – now, leaving everything behind and readjust were waiting for them: find a job, residence permission, bread cards… Then something unimagined happened and it was reunification with relatives and friends, sons, and daughters.

It was hoped that their stories would always be told by the natives of the Archipelago. During history, also by us, it can be seen that the truth finally emerged for all to see. However, few inhabitants of the Gulag Archipelago would have the courage to estimate that this truth will see the light in their lives.


The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Book Review


Under Stalin’s rule, a huge system of prison labor camps was managed by the Soviet Russian government, covering the whole country, like a series of small islands. This way it can be named the Gulag Archipelago. In the tough, ruthless atmosphere of these prison camps, hundreds of thousands of people who were wrongfully detained for fabricated crimes were housed. These people were sentenced to torment, starvation, limitless labor, and wretched imprisonment, and many would be dead before the system dropped following the death of Josef Stalin.



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