ADVANTAGES

Nove was more critical than most reviewers of Conquest’s lumping together of all different kinds of repression. It is necessary, Nove argued, to separate the hard, forced labor camps for political and criminal prisoners from labor colonies for petty thieves and minor criminals. Nove also underlined the wide differences between the labor settlements for exiled kulaks and deported people. As several economists had done before him, Nove completely refuted Conquest’s attempts to estimate the number of prisoners in the Gulag, and showed Conquest’s results to be unrealistic and faulty. We know that the IRD and American Cold War think tanks had arrived at a figure of 12–14 million prisoners in the Gulag as the number to use in propaganda. The economists thought that, at most, 3–4 million Soviet citizens might have been incarcerated. When the archives finally opened in 1992, the calculations made within the Western intelligence community in the 1950s, and by economic historians such as Naum Jasny and Alec Nove, turned out to correspond fairly well with Soviet realities in Stalin’s time. What remains to be researched is no longer the actual extent of the Gulag, but the shaping of Western perceptions of the communist superpower.

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