This paper explores the volatile relationship between the political prisoners and the common criminals in the Soviet GULAG. Lenin's theories on crime and punishment shaped the early Soviet penal system; he implemented policies which favored the common criminals and repressed the political prisoners. He deemed that the criminals, as "social allies" of the working class, were more likely to become good Soviet citizens than the political prisoners, considered "counterrevolutionaries" and "enemies of the state." In the decade after the Bolshevik revolution, the prison administration empowered the criminals in the GULAG by giving them access to the life-saving jobs and goods in the labor camps, while gradually withdrawing the political prisoners' access to the same. From the 1930s to shortly after the end of World War II, the strong criminal fraternity in the GULAG robbed, beat, and killed the political prisoners, while the GULAG administration refused to intervene. Using the testimony of former political prisoners and GULAG personnel, as well as secondary sources, I identify the policies that led to the criminals' "reign of terror," I address theories regarding if and why the administration permitted such violence and disorder in the camps, and I demonstrate that the political prisoners responded to their situation in a range of ways, from holding their tormentors in contempt to forming a tentative friendships with individual criminals who could offer them their protection and a way to survive the camps.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair/Advisor

Solonari, Vladimir


Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities





Access Status

Open Access

Release Date