Russian Prison/Labor Camps
Following the Bolshevik takeover of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Soviets dismantled the broad spy networks of the czarist secret police, the Okhrana, but the new government kept all essential functions of that organization in place, replacing the czarists with Bolsheviks and changing the name to Cheka. The official name of the organization was the Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Sabotage and Criminal Offenses by Officials. The Russian people suffered as much under the oppressive Cheka as it had from the brutal Okhrana. The Cheka's main objective was to track down and liquidate all those who opposed Vladimir Lenin and the Communist state. In many respects, the Cheka proved to be even more terrible than the Okhrana. Its first director, Felix Dzerzhinsky, one of Joseph Stalin's closest allies, was utterly ruthless, a spymaster who unflinchingly ordered assassinations and mass murders.
The Soviet system of forced labor camps was first established in 1919 under the Cheka. It was not until the early 1930s that the camp population reached significant numbers. By 1934 the GULAG, or Main Directorate for Corrective Labor Camps had several million inmates. Prisoners included murderers, thieves, and other common criminals--along with political and religious dissenters. The GULAG, whose camps were located mainly in remote regions of Siberia and the Far North, made significant contributions to the Soviet economy in the period of Joseph Stalin. GULAG prisoners constructed the White Sea-Baltic Canal, the Moscow-Volga Canal, the Baikal-Amur main railroad line, numerous hydroelectric stations, and strategic roads and industrial enterprises in remote regions. GULAG manpower was also used for much of the country's lumbering and for the mining of coal, copper, and gold.
Secret Police like the KGB and other factions helped to keep a tight grip on Russia's labor c...