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All in the Family: The Economics of Interpersonal Relationships in the Gulag

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  1. Solzhenitsyn's text continually persuades the reader that the prisoners within the camp have established social networks and hierarchies.
  2. The result of meager food rations and long hours of labor is the development of tightly controlled mutualisms and dependencies among the zeks.
  3. Solzhenitsyn successfully comments both on the atrocious conditions existent in the Siberian labor camps and on the failure of Soviet policy at large.

The synopsis on the back cover of Alexander Solzhenistyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich claims that it is ?the harrowing account of one day in the life of a man who has conceded to all things evil with patience, dignity, and enduring strength.? Like so many others, the author of this quote reads the work as an analysis of how virtuous and strong characters function despite the horrid conditions they face. A close reading of the interpersonal relationships in the text suggests that these characters behave in natural ways predictable from their ambient conditions. Alexander Solzhenitsyn's depiction of the camps focuses on the organization of a kinship society among the workers and how camp conditions naturally lead to such an organization. The familial relationships of the prisoners within the camp, on the whole, develop in response to economic and financial constraints; Solzhenitsyn uses the inconsistency of this group behavior with the Communist Manifesto to imply the failure of implementing Marxism in the Soviet Union.

[...] As previously detailed, the ?family' of the gulag that seems to work so well for the prisoners operates in the same plane of labor-value exchange that Marx held as the source of woe. Indeed, Marxist Communism would ideally abolish the family: ?Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists. On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain? (Section II). Solzhenitsyn realizes that the Soviet regime has not realized the aim of dismantling the bourgeois family because they have not undermined proletarian conditions of undernutrition and overwork. [...]


[...] At the front of his mind is how adaptive and successful other prisoner's bargaining strategies are, while considerations of their personalities are secondary. In sum, the conditions of the prison, by imposing a harsh economic reality on the prisoner, actually encourage him to organize into cooperative units and to perceive others as necessary for his own survival in such a way as to create pseudo-kinship groups. Solzhenitsyn's depiction of the makeshift families in the gulag seems to respond to Marxist concerns about the organization of the bourgeois family. [...]

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