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Kornilova O.V. “A glorious road the Chekists are building”: the construction of the Moscow–Minsk highway in 1936

Published in journal "History magazine: researches", 2014-6 in rubric "Social history", pages 660-676.

Resume: The second Five-Year Plan for the development of the USSR national economy was directed at accelerating the country’s industrialisation, stipulating among else the wide-scale construction of transport highways of regional significance and the installation of the highest quality roads – highways. Under the conditions of severe scarcity of all kinds of resources – financial, material-technical, workforce – the country’s leaders made the resolution to utilise GULAG prisoners in the construction of roads. The order of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs No. 0012 from 10 January 1936 “About the replacement of the civilian labour engaged in highway construction with prisoners” added this branch of the national economy to the People’s Commissariat’s scope of activity. The GULAG delivered prisoners to work sites and the General directorate of highway roads was established to provide engineer and technical work assistance to the People’s Commissariat – the first directorate to only have production activities. On 5 February 1936 began the installation of the first Soviet highways Moscow–Minks and Moscow–Kiev, for which the Vyazem and Kaluga correctional labour camps of the People’s Commissariat were organised. From the several road projects submitted for Stalin’s review, the one which corresponded to the government’s resources and needs was chosen. It was projected that the highway’s roadbed would be built from scratch in 1936 and in 1937 the asphalt pavement would be laid. The Vyazem camp for these works engaged 12,000 prisoners in April, 44,000 in July, and 56,000 in October. Moreover, thousands of collective farmers worked on the road construction site, organised in a public work order – “the population’s labour participation”. The creation of these roads was perceived abroad as the strengthening of Soviet Union’s expansionist policy.

Keywords: Gulag, Stalinism, Vyazem camp, highway, Moscow–Minsk highway, correctional labour camps, People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs’ Genera, prisoners, road construction, forced labour

DOI: 10.7256/2222-1972.2014.6.14902

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