Joseph Stalin was already a powerful man by 1923. But he could not rule for himself yet. After December 1922, he had to share power with Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoview. Vladimir Lenin got his second stroke in December and was forced to leave state matters to Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoview. Because of the civil war and the isolation of the USSR, Lenin introduced a market economy called NEP. Stalin supported the NEP against the Left Opposition led by Leon Trotsky. He got support from Nicolai Bukharin, who represented the right-wing of the communist party!
Lenin tried to fight Stalin, because the sick Soviet leader knew how brutal Stalin behaved in Georgia. The Georgian Affair and Stalin's great Russian chauvinism had opened his eye's to the danger. Lenin wanted Stalin removed as general secretary. This he wrote in his last letters also known as Lenin's Testament. Unfortunate for Lenin, he got a third stroke in May 1923, which left him muteness and paralysed. Stalin's allies made sure that the final letters were not made public to all party members. Only members of the Politburo and those in the Central Committee were giving an edited version!
The Left Opposition lost the struggle and was expelled from the party in 1927. Stalin then removed Kamenev and Zinoview, who had turned against him a year earlier. Both men would later capitulated before Stalin and were re-allowed entry in the All Union Communist Party. Two years later, Stalin removed Nicolai Bukharin from the Politburo. With Bukharin gone, the Politburo was now fully under Stalinist control!
After removing both the left-wing and right-wing opposition, Stalin started with his brutal industrial plans. The economy of the USSR from 1922 till 1929 was state-capitalist, but Stalin knew this was bad propaganda. So he began with forced collectivisations, betraying his state-capitalist principals he held since 1921. Trotsky ( from exile in Turkey ) opposed the forced collectivisations. It led to desperate resistance by the peasants, notably the massive slaughter of livestock. Also it was accompanied by a systematic underdevelopment of investments, in agriculture as much as in the service sector ( stockpiling, transportation, distribution ) and a fluctuating price policy. Stalin's collectivisations would led to a human made famine in Ukraine, which would kill 8 million farmers!
By 1930 the old czarist labour camps were growing fast. After the expulsion of anti-Stalinist Bolsheviks, Stalin started with dogmatic laws that could arrest many people if they were not loyal to what he called: ''MARXISM-LENINISM''. Until 1924 nobody spoke of something like ''Marxism-Leninism'', it was Stalin who made it a state dogma. Who criticized Stalin was called a ''counter-revolutionary'' or a ''trotskyist''. Article 58 of the Russian SFSR Penal Code was put in force on 25 February 1927, to arrest those suspected of ''counter-revolutionary'' activities. Thanks to this article, the now Stalinist government started to arrest all critical members of Soviet society. It was Article 58 that allowed the arrest of anti-Stalinist communists!
The labour camps were soon expanded and put under NKVD administration. The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs ( NKVD ) used to a part of the government, that dealt with police matters. Stalin fused the NKVD and the Soviet secret police into one mighty all-union security force. NKVD soldiers were among the most cruel and sadistic of all Stalin's henchmen. Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda was their first leader, but Stalin did not liked his work. At the start of the Great Terror, Yagoda was arrested and executed, although he was a loyal Stalinist. Next leader was Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov, a cruel man who would order the execution of many old Bolsheviks on Stalin's orders!
In 1934, the Great Terror started and the camps flooded with people called ''trotskyist fascists''. By now more then 500.000 Soviet workers were jailed in the Gulag. Compare that to the 30.000 that were imprisoned in 1927. Between 1934 and 1953, 600.000 communist party members would die because of Stalin. Famous victims of the Great Terror were Lev Kamenev, Grigory Zinoview and 2/3 of all Soviet leaders!
Yezhov served his master well. But the paranoid Stalin feared the popularity of the NKVD leader among the party members. When they praised Yezhov with the same respect as they did with Stalin, the paranoid dictator became very suspicions. On 22 August 1938 a Georgian Stalinist was appointed deputy of Yezhov. This man became the Heinrich Himmler of the Stalinist Reich, his name was Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria!
Beria and Yezhov did not liked each other. Both men fought for popularity and Beria finally won. Although both cruel and dogmatic Stalinist, it was Beria who won the struggle. Stalin made him NKVD leader and ordered the arrest and execution of his loyal Yezhov. After a typical show-trial, the man who loved Stalin as a god, was told he would be executed for ''crime against the Soviet people''. Like a baby he was weeping and begging for mercy. But the cruel guards took him to a special execution chamber and shot him. In a twist of irony it was an execution chamber, Yezhov had build only a few years ago as NKVD leader!
Supporters of the Left Opposition who were not murdered during the Great Terror were send to the Gulag camps. Since they belonged to the ''traitor'' Trotsky, the sadistic NKVD guards gave them ''special'' treatment in the form of daily torture and beatings. From March 1938, the guards would take a group of 30 to 40 trotskyists out of a camp. After a short walk they were executed. This was done almost every day until the June 1941 German invasion, when slave workers were needed. It is said that one large group sang The Internationale, while the NKVD marched them towards their death. Dutch revolutionary socialist and anti-Stalinist leader; Henk Sneevliet did the same thing when he and his group were about to be executed by the Nazi's in April 1942!
If communism is all about terror, then why did Stalin ordered his NKVD to give the supporters of Trotsky extra cruel treatment? Although the NKVD was cruel to most prisoners, the trotskyists were treated extra cruel. The anticommunists have no answer, because they are blinded by their own dogmatic believe, that Stalin was a communist and that all communists are killers. The supporters of the Left Opposition were seen as dangerous to Stalin and he was right to fear them. Because they were the true Bolsheviks, this is why they had to be murdered!
Stalin realized that the Gulag camps could also be used as forced labour camps. Before 1930 the prison guards had opposed this, but these guards were gone and replaced by sadistic NKVD guards. Stalin told Beria that he wanted to use the prisoners as slave workers, so the NKVD put the prisoners to work under cruel and harsh conditions. Right before the war, forced labour provided 46.5% of the nation's nickel, 76% of its tin, 40% of its cobalt, 40.5% of its chrome-iron ore, 60% of its gold, and 25.3% of its timber. The NKVD build special factories were slave workers would work almost 17 hours a day!
By January 1941, more then 300.000 out of 1,6 million Gulag prisoners were now slave workers. Working conditions were so bad that many died. The NKVD guards limited the food rations in order to boost production. This policy remained until 1948. When the Germans invaded, some prisoners were recruited into the Red Army. But most were kept inside the camps. A few camps were captured by the Germans, who used it for propaganda. The Germans however behaved very cruel and showed no regards for the needs of the population. So most people in Belarus and Ukraine choose to oppose the Germans. Only in 1944 did Hitler allowed the formation of the Russian Liberation Army ( POA ), made up of former soldiers and prisoners ''liberated'' from the Gulag!
But before the Germans came, the Stalinist government carried out mass arrests in the Baltic states. These republics were forced into the USSR. Baltic people who opposed the ''Great Stalin'' were soon arrested and put on transport towards the Gulag. When the Germans invaded the western Soviet republics, the Kremlin left the camps to deal for themselves. Food and medicines were not longer send. This resulted in the death of almost 500.000 prisoners between 1941 and 1943. Only when the war turned towards a Soviet victory, did the government looked at the camps. Most Gulag camps were forced to survive by themselves for almost two years, win-out government support!
When the Germans invaded, not all camps could be evacuated in time. In panic the NKVD gaurds started to execute prisoners. In the first weeks after June 1941, it is said that over 100.000 prisoners were killed by panicking NKVD guards. But they failed to kill all prisoners and some camps were ''liberated'' by the German Army. Had the German not been racist, they could have used the prisoners against the Red Army. Many hated Stalin and the communist ideology. But Adolf Hilter failed to see this, his own racism prevented him from seeing the opportunity to recruit many Russians prisoners to his side!
After the war more then 2,5 million people were now living in the Gulag camps. They NKVD had build almost 476 camps and more then 2.000 colonies with slave workers. The death-toll was catastrophic. Between 14 and 20 million Soviet workers died because of Stalinist barbarism between 1930 and 1953. Few members of the original Left Opposition survived the end of the Gulag camps around 1960. By order of Nikita Khrushchev the Gulag camps were closed, but many prisoners were forced to say because they had no to place to live. The last forced labour camp was closed in the 1980's, this camps was called Perm 36. Today it is a memorial site for the victims of Joseph Stalin and his criminal empire that killed Lenin's dream of a union of socialist soviet republics!
Forced labour remains a part of the Russian Federation. Capitalist enterprises benefit from slave workers because they are very cheap. Some members of the feminist group; Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years of forced labour, because they entered a Russian Orthodox Church and denounced the regime of Vladimir Putin. We revolutionary socialists oppose forced labour and call for an end to the current labour camps in Russia!