A powerful persuasive map documenting the extent of the Soviet Gulag system, produced with the quiet support of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Gulag was created under Lenin almost immediately after the Revolution, taking its name from an acronym of the Russian phrase for “Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps.” Though estimates of its scale vary, it grew to include hundreds of camps housing millions of criminals, political prisoners and prisoners of war. All lived under extremely rough conditions, marked by poor food, hard labor, and high mortality. After the Second World War, the size and brutality of the Gulag provided much ammunition for the propaganda efforts of Cold Warriors in America and abroad.
Offered here are is a rare Italian-language poster attacking the Gulag. The central feature is a thematic map of the Soviet Union, projected in a manner that exaggerates its east-west extent and, by implication, the size of the Gulag. Areas occupied by camps are named and highlighted in red, with those under local control indicated by a hammer and sickle and those under centralized control by a small circle. The message is augmented by an inset with wrenching photographs of starving ““Gulag” Children,” along with photostats of Gulag identity cards. The map is flanked by long text notes describing the Gulag’s size—“if consolidated, would make a submerged empire the size of Western Europe”—and its staggering brutality, with an “average mortality rate… exceed[ing] 12% a year.” Whatever the horrors of the Gulag, this figure is grossly exaggerated, with the exception of the years of the Second World War.
The map can be traced to one in Sprawiedliwość Sowiecka (Rome, 1945), an expose by Polish officers Sylvester Mora and Pierre Zwierniak. That work was an early attempt to describe the Soviet gulag system, of particular interest for its use of prisoners’ first-hand accounts and attempts to quantify the use of slave labor. The map first appeared in America when Isaac Don Levine, editor of the anti-Communist magazine Plain Talk, included a revised, English-language version of the map in the May, 1947 issue.
According to P.J. Mode, “The publication of the Plain Talk map gained some prominent press coverage and led the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to make a formal proposal that UNESCO conduct an international investigation of forced labor.” When the proposal went nowhere, the AFL undertook a propaganda campaign through its Free Trade Union Committee, a CIA front organization. The Committee commissioned Don Levine to publish an updated version of his map, which duly appeared in 1951. It was widely distributed, and arrangements were made to publish European versions in French, German, Italian and possibly other languages.
Not in OCLC or Persuasive Maps: The PJ Mode Collection (but background from item 1337).