History of the Soviet Union

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Communism’s Traumatic Transition: foreshadow of the Soviet Union?

The predictions of both Marx and Lenin of a violent and oppressive transitional period that a society must endure while changing from an imperial capitalist society towards a fully-realized communist society seem to be an appropriate prediction for what the Soviet Union would become during the 20th Century. Just as the two most famous socialists predicted, the proletariat revolution would eventually turn into a dictatorship of the proletariat to oppress the wealthy minority of capitalists. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union’s scope of oppression was dramatically widened to include more than just the owners of the means of production.

As seen in his work, the transition from Capitalism to Communism, Lenin knew there would be some violence and oppression if the proletariat’s rise did occur. Much like his predecessor Karl Marx, Lenin saw this unpleasant stage through a very Machiavellian type perspective; it was nothing more than an unfortunate but necessary means to the desirable end of a fully-realized communist society. The transition was also prescribed to be a temporary period during which the true democracy of the proletariat would be achieved. While Lenin probably didn’t imagine anything nearly as deadly and oppressive as the Soviet Union, he knew there would be some inevitable turbulence along the proletariat’s rise to power.

Thanks to the tyrannical nature of Joseph Stalin’s reign, what was supposed to be a mere transitional period of state oppression became the status-quo for a  consistent oppression of personal liberties for over half a century by the Soviet Union. Unlike the originally imagined transitional period of Lenin and Marx, the Soviet Union oppressed anybody thought to be the slightest enemy to the communist party, not just the wealthy elites.

Instead of strengthening the proletariat against the oppression of the state, the proletariat suffered the restrictions of state-sponsored purges from paranoid leaders fixated on rooting out any opposition. What was supposed to be a means to an end became an end in itself as the proletariat surrendered their own rights by allowing the rights of the wealthy minority to be sacrificed. Once state sponsored oppression was allowed against the former wealthy elites, it was continually expanded to include nearly any type of dissent until nobody was free from the potential incarceration by the state.

 

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A famous vacation spot for criminals in Bukhara

Photo from the early 20th century displaying a guard at Zindan, a Russian prison in central Asia, and several inmates looking out from inside the cell.

Photo from the early 20th century displaying a guard at Zindan, a Russian prison in central Asia, and several inmates looking out from inside the cell.

Although the Soviet Union traditionally claims superiority when it comes to jailing and exiling people in deplorable conditions, this photo places the Emirate of Bukhara as a notable competitor. Perhaps only a mere footnote compared to the notorious purges of Joseph Stalin, the prison at Zindan certainly doesn’t seem any more appealing than a Soviet gulag in the Siberian wilderness.

 

Also unlike the massive scale of Stalin’s purges, the prison at Zindan was only built to incarcerate a maximum of 40 inmates at once. It was literally built underground into the dirt and required a ladder to enter inside the earthen walls. The most common crimes were outstanding debt or religious in nature. As a semi-independent protectorate of Imperial Russia, Bukhara’s culture was heavily Persian-based and thus the Islamic religion was much more prevalent than in the rest of Russia. That being said, such a draconian, dungeon-style confinement system for religious infractions indicates that the people in Bukhara took their religion really seriously.

An interesting point about Zindan is the relatively small number of inmates it was designed to accommodate. It seems that either the crime rate was very low in Bukhara, or Zindan was reserved for only the worst offenders. Considering the commonality of crimes such as debt, it seems there would have been a different, much worse place for offenses such as murder. Many would-be offenders were probably deterred by the dreaded aspect of having to live at a place such as Zindan. This would explain why it was only built to hold 40 people because the population was likely in no hurry to do anything that may land them inside.

Even though Zindan was no Siberian Gulag, the effects upon the population were probably very similar. Some may call these methods overly excessive and tyrannical, while others may consider them necessary instruments for a stable society. We all know which observation Stalin would have sided with, what about you comrads?