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ArticleName Special contingent in the USSR coal industry in the 1930s–50s
DOI 10.17580/gzh.2022.09.16
ArticleAuthor Kuznetsov V. B.

NUST MISIS, Moscow, Russia:

V. B. Kuznetsov, Candidate of Historical Sciences,


The article discusses forced labor of the special contingent in the coal industry in the USSR in 1930–1950. The author defines the special contingent (which is a slang word for prisoners of a special category) as a part of the population of the USSR, which existed under tightened inspection from the side of NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) and was subjected to forced and hard manual labor. Historiography offers two views of the subject. The special contingent started from deportation of peasants in the framework of the dekulakization campaign in 1930. The author gives the size of the special settlers by the nationalities and social status categories. The manpower of the coal industry in the 1930s and 1940s is also specified. It was 471208 people in 1940. The special contingent was off the official statistics, and NKVD kept its own record of human resources. The issue of the deported Germans, their number and labor is addressed. For instance, in 1949 almost 100 thousand Germans worked in the coal sector. The special contingent had a certain internal structure categorized into criminal prisoners, deported Germans, prisoners of war, former rich peasants (kulaks), etc. The author emphasizes that contribution made by the special contingent to the total coal production was immense in some coal mining regions and reached 60–70 % in the overall coal output in the 1930s. The author illustrates the severe living and working conditions of the special contingent under absolute indifference, hostility and suppression of the outrage upon justice on the part of all agencies of authority. Sometimes the situation got little better. Ex-managers of mines accentuated that the special settlers always worked with full dedication and heroically even in the worst conditions. Seven special settlers became the Heroes of the Social Labor. The article raises a point on the general contribution of the special settlers in production. In 1950 the size of the manpower in the whole industry in the USSR was 18 million people, while the size of the special contingent was under 2 million people. Their contribution to the overall production was 10–11 %. The system of the GULAG collapsed sweepingly in the late 1940s–early 1 950s. The author lays emphasis on the lessons learnt from the phenomenon of the special settlements, particularly, on the scale of the inter-ethnic relationship in modern Russia. As one of the conclusions says, without the forced labor, the coal industry, that loco of economy, had no chance to meet the challenges the USSR faced that time.

keywords Special contingent, use, coal industry, special settlers, deportation, industrialization, repressions

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