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The devil is in the (statistical) details: Why does the quantitative history of Russian Civil War incarceration still matter in 2021?

Mikhail Nakonechnyi
p. 205-222

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The ‘war of numbers’ reignited
Barriers for research: Patchy evidence and politicized distortions
The Reds: Lenin’s concentration camps
The Whites: The prisons and internment camps of counterrevolution
Conclusion: ‘The devil is in the (statistical) details’

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The ‘war of numbers’ reignited

For decades, omnipresent state censorship obscured every aspect of Soviet repressions between 1917, the October Revolution, and 1953, the death of Joseph Stalin. By the early 1930s, the quantitative data on the subject had turned into a highly classified state secret. The authorities thwarted any independent research efforts within the country. The Soviet academic community and the general population were kept in the dark. Even the inadvertent leak of a single digit into the public domain guaranteed prosecution.

In the West, the inaccessibility of penal archives before 1991 elicited an outright ‘war of numbers’ among scholars. The ‘war’ took the shape of a politicized, divisive and increasingly vituperative debate on the scope and demographic consequences of Soviet repression. The scant source base, predominately anecdotal in nature, forced scholars to adduce wildly contradictory estimates on the size of the prison population, the ratio between ‘politic...

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Mikhail Nakonechnyi, « The devil is in the (statistical) details: Why does the quantitative history of Russian Civil War incarceration still matter in 2021? »Cahiers du monde russe, 63/1 | 2022, 205-222.

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Mikhail Nakonechnyi, « The devil is in the (statistical) details: Why does the quantitative history of Russian Civil War incarceration still matter in 2021? »Cahiers du monde russe [En ligne], 63/1 | 2022, mis en ligne le 02 janvier 2025, consulté le 20 mai 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/monderusse/13133 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/monderusse.13133

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Auteur

Mikhail Nakonechnyi

Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland
mikhail.nakonechnyi[at]helsinki.fi

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© École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris.

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