September 16, 1982

September 16, 1982 | Backgrounder on Russia

Slave Labor and the Soviet Pipeline


(Archived document, may contain errors)

211 September 16, 1982 SLAVE LABOR AND THE SOVIET PIPELINE I INTRODUCTION August 8, 1942: The U.S. State Department learns that Germany plans to Itresolve, once and for all, the Jewish question in Europe.'I U.S. di plomats react skeptica1ly.l The message is nevertheless forwarded to London, where David Allen of the British Foreign Office takes a cautious view of the matter, demanding more evidence. He writes: Itwe have no confirmation of this report from other sourc e s, although we have of course received numerous reports of large scale massacres of Jews, particularly in Poland.It And while officials in the West were demanding irrefutable evidence, in the East the gas ovens had already been operating for more than fou r months. Jews, moreover, were being used extensively as slave laborers all over Germany.2 The Allies failed not only in imaginatively piecing together the available evidence, they lacked ~ympathy The State Department reaction is in United States National Archives 862-4016, Race Problems, Germany, 2234.

Martin Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies Allies Responded to the News of Hitler's Mass Murder (New York Rinehart, and Winston, 1982), p. 27.

Op. cit., p. 341 The failures, shared by all the Allies, were tho se of imagination, of response, of Intelligence, of piecing together and evaluat ing what was known, of coordination, of initiative, and. even at times of sympathy Another finely documented account of the Allies' response to information about the Jewish h o locaust is Walter Laquer's The Terrible Secret: An Investigation into the Suppression of Information About Hitler's A Devastating Account of How the Holt 3 Final Solution London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980). 2 Four decades later, evidence once again mo u nts ties in the East which once again are being greeted or dismissed in the West. This time the culDrit is of inhumani skeptically the Soviet Union labor-on the Siberian gas pipeline an estimated $45 billion project financed to a great extent with Western low-interest rate credits-indeed, as low as 7.5 per~ent Economic and strategic considerations aside, humanitarian considerations alone demand that the West cease collaborations on this project and insist on a thorough, scrupulous investigation of all the e vidence of gross human rights violations in this enterprise It is believed to be using forced labor=-perhaps slave WORKING IN SIBERIA In his 1976 book The Russians, New York Times correspondent Hedrick Smith cites a friend from Leningrad People know that t he real dirty work [in Siberia] is done by convict labor young Komsomol [young Communists] brigades are pres sured into going out there, and that older workers go for the lllong rublelf (the high pay bonuses They know that most of the Yet even high wages h ave failed to attract workers to Siberia for long; Smith reports that Itliving conditions are so severe that in the Sixties nearly a million more people moved out of Siberia than moved in, despite graduated pay bonuses designed to hold people there lt6 Th at much of Siberian work is less than voluntary is confirmed by The Washington Posts Robert G. Kaiser, in his 1976 book Russia The People and the Power The Siberians are pioneers, though not always by choice.

Thousands of them (and the parents of thousands more) arrived in Siberia in prison cars, sentenced there by czarist or communist courts, or swept to the east in some great purge or forced relocation. Exile to Siberia is still common today I The situation has not improved. According to Soviet census re ports, there are fewer workers in 1982 to do heavy jobs and The estimate of $45 billion is by Roger W. Robinson of Chase Manhattan Banks Eastern European division.

Congressional Record, Volume 128, No 65, May 25, 1982.

Hedrick Smith, The Russians (New Yor k: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Company, 1976 p. 334 Cited by Senator Jake Garn (R-Utah) in op. cit p. 333 Books, 19761, p. 4 Robert G. Kaiser, Russia: The People and the Power (New York: Pocket 3 there will be still fewer during the next decade. Of f icial Sovie, staLements report around 2 million unfilled job vacancies in November 1980, and Soviet Party Chief Leonid Brezhnev has said that up to 400,000 additional workers will be needed in the next few years to develop new oil and gas fields in wester n Siberia.

The Soviet economy, moreover, is in even worse shape now than it was a decade ago--massive grain imports and military adventures having further aggravated it. The Soviet government thus is unable to provide the proper food and clothing required for work in bitter cold weather.

Robert Kaiser describes the climate in one relatively populated region of Siberia which he saw along the Trans-Siberian railroad More than half the region is north of the 60th parallel farther.north than Juneau, Alaska. There are barely three months of a year without snow and ice, and the brief summer is hot and mosquito-infested. Yet most of the vast natural riches of Siberia lie beneath the permafrost and summer swamps of those far-northern reaches.

Hedrick Smith explains what this cold. means to the lab orers Man, it turns out, is more durable than machines. In December and January, when work at diamond mines or on construction sites slows to a crawl, workmen can take no more than half an hour outside without heading for the warm-up shed 58 below because machinery breaks down and steel rods snap like twigs in the extreme cold.g But they have to give up entirely at What this means is that work involving manual labor could go on If past experience in the Soviet construction camps is an indica tion, it does g o on SLAVE LABOR IN TBE USSR The use of slave labor from the very beginning of the Soviet Union has been documented by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag Archipelago, published in the 1970s. His very long list of slave labor projects includes the Trans-S i berian railroad tracks, the construction of the pipeline from Sakhalin to the mainland and timber cutting for export and import, which he estimates to have constituted half the Archipelago Solzhenitsyn describes life on some of the more brutal projects Ib id 9

9. G p. 3

29. I 4 Who other than the Archipelago natives [forced labor ers] would have grubbed out stumps in winter? Or hauled on their backs the boxes of mined ore in the open gold fields of the Kolyma? Or have dragged cut timber a 'half-mile from the Koin River through deep snow on Finnish timber-sledge runners, harnessed up in pairs in a horse collar (the collar bows upholstered with tatters of rotten clothing to make them softer and the horse collar worn over one shoulder)?1 These practices did n ot end with Stalin. Peter Reddaway senior lecturer in Political Science at the London School of Economics, speaking on behalf of the International Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the U.S.S.R., on February 26, 1973 condemned the West for. bein g indifferent to the fate of the estimated million prisoners in the thousand or so forced-labor camps of the Soviet Union.ll least 3 million prisoners, by conservative estimates Today, this number has grown to at A few years ago, prisoners started building the Baykal-Amur railroad in conditions similar to those facing the workers who must lay the Siberian pipeline. Russian human rights activist Mikhail Makarenko, a former Gulag inmate, testified before the U.S. Senate on June 18, 1982, that "people are work i ng in a temperature 50 degrees below zero without any safety on higher elevations, on walls and so on.1112 It is alarming to look at the map of the labor camps (Map 11) by the Sovi,et dissident Avraham Shifrin, also a former Gulag inmate. Obviously, camp i nmates could be forced to help build the pipeline. Will they? Some experts are convinced of it notably Yuri Belov, director of the International Society for Human Rights, located in Frankfurt, West Germany. He wrote a letter published by the New York Time s on September 1, 1982 During the past two years, a great number of new hard-labor camps have been set up along the route of the pipeline.Il Dr. Kronid Lubarsky, editor of U.S.S.R. News Briefs, a physicist and former political prisoner currently living in M unich, questions whether there is sufficient solid evidence or Belovls statement. Yet Lubarsky, in a September 7, 1982, tele lo l1 Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Parts 111-IV (New York Harper and Row, 1975), pp. 591-594 The Forced Labour C amps on the USSR Today: An Unrecognized Example of Modern Inhumanity," published by the International Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the USSR, February 26, 1973.

Transcript of Proceedings, Oversight Hearing on the Proposed Trans-Siberian Natu ral Gas Pipeline before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Subcommittee on International Finance and Monetary Policy, June 18, 1982, p. 51 l2 phone conversation with The Heritage Foundation, noted that Itin the area of the pipeline ther e are indeed a lot of camps. They were not constructed specifically for the pipeline, however; the Soviets ordinarily use on such construction projects not ordinary prisoners but people conditionally released from camps It Lubar sky does not dispute the us e of the term Itslave laborersIt; on the contrary, in the interview he stated that he is 'Iabsolutely sure that slave labor is used in building.the Siberian pipeline is used in all heavy construction work in all branches of Soviet economy It Lubarsky' s vi e w is supported by Professor Makhmet Kulmagambe tov, a Soviet political prisoner who emigrated to the West in December 1979 In a statement sent from Munich on August 27 1982, to Senator William Armstrong (R-Colorado he writes It In March 1972 I was transfe rred to the birthplace of Soviet gasoline, Vuktyl, where there were also condi tionally released prisoners used for labor after, from 1975 to 1977 I worked in.the city of Ukhta.

In Ust'-Ukhta, near KS=lO, there was a 'construction town' where only conditio nally-released prisoners lived. When I talked to them, many of them told me that their working and living conditions were so hard that it would have been better to return to camp. Some of them were taken back to labor camps forcibly for not having fulfill e d 'their assigned work quotas in the cities of Ukhta and Surwt there was continuous traffic I of large trucks carrying prisoners to work on the construction of gas pipelines There Kulmagambetov explains that ltconditionally released1! prisoners remain, in fact, prisoners serving their terms. He says that they should be called Wnescorted" prisoners. He saw many of them working on gas pipeline construction To be sure, no eyewitness who personally has worked on the Siberian pipeline has appeared to be cross-e x amined by Congress As David Satter, former corresp,ondent in Moscow for the Financial Times, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on June 29, '1982 There is unlikely ever to be conclusive evidence that the Soviet Union is using forced labor on the West Siberi an pipeline, but all circumstantial evidence suggests that the inmates of Soviet labor camps will play their part in supplying Siberian gas to the West.

For years, it must be recalled, circumstantial evidence pointed to the existence of Nazi extermination camps evidence was widely ignored.

This GUEST WORKERS" IN THE SOVIET UNION Soviet prisoners are not the only forced laborers likely to be working on the pipeline So are foreigners, especially from Vietnam 6 In a "Foreign Report marked "confidential, the B ritish journal The Economist revealed on September 17, 1981, that Bre zhnev and Le Duan, the Secretary General of Vietnam's ruling Com munist Party, had met about a week earlier and discussed their growing economic difficulties. Among the likely topics wa s !la new means by which the Vietnamese government is planning to offset its massive debt to the Soviet bloc large numbers of Vietnamese 'guest workers!.'I The two nations in fact, in July had signed an agreement "on the movement of citizens of Vietnam and the Soviet Union between the two coun tries That agreement is intended to offset the 3 billion Vietnamese debt, of which $1.4 billion is in convertible curren cies and $1.6 billion in nonconvertible currencies like rubles.

Interest costs to Vietnam were $25 million in 1976, soaring to about $240 million in 1981.

Planning staff, the Soviets were embarrassed by the publicity that the agreement received tions that Vietnamese slave labor would be used in Siberia on the pipeline project. Yet the denials reveal more by what they leave out than by what they say for Oil and Gas Construction, for example, stated in August 1982 that prisoners could not work on the pipeline because the project a word about the great masses of unskilled labor required to clear the gr o und for the pipeline It is widely understood that the Vietnamese, for example, can ill afford to deplete their own small pool of skilled laborers and technicians by sending them to the Soviet Union. This leads to only one conclusion: the work ers which Ha noi must send to the USSR are destined for unskilled work, the hard labor needed before the Western built and financed pipe-laying machinery can be used.

The evidence that Vietnamese are going to the USSR comes from many quarters the provision of According to a member of the U.S..State Department's Policy Moscow immediately denied the allega I Boris Scherbin, the Soviet Minister I needs highly skilled and experienced ~pecia1ists.l~ He said not I I I Netherlands. On November 4, 1981, the London Dally Telegr a ph reports that the Vietnamese community in Amsterdam is becoming alarmed by reports of month long house-to-house raids in South Vietnam, round ing up people to go to work in the Soviet Union California. On August 27, 1981, a woman from Ho Chi Minh City ( S aigon) writes to a friend in San Diego l3 Daily Report, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 25 August 1982, Vol 111, No. 165, p. CC6. 7 When this letter reaches you, my.husband will no demanded that he and a number of his friends leave the country for l abor in the Soviet Union and Czechoslova kia, to pay back the debts those brother nations have helped us _(sic) during the time we fought the U.S. and their puppets.Ir She adds there is little chance that I will ever be able to meet my beloved husband aga i n longer be home. Just a few days ago, the State has Paris. January 18, 1982, a Vietnamese man reports to hi's cousins living in France that their son Dung "has sent words to [them] that he had heard that the government will send the people in reedu catio n camps to Siberia.Ir Texas. On April 1, 1982, a family from Dalat in Vietnam writes to their American friends that "the government is conducting a census survey of youth and dividing them in categories Belonging to category B are youth whose families were connected with the old regime, and they would be sent as laborers to Russia.Il their son Trinh, who belongs to that category.

The couple is worried for Tokyo.' On April 19, 1982, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri cites Japanese government and foreign diploma tic sources in Japan that Hanoi has already sent about 10,000 workers to the Soviet Union as a means of covering a deficit in its foreign cur rency reserves.

Maryland. On May 1, 1982, Mrs. Le Hoang An, head of the Association for Vietnamese Human Rights, in Paris, wrote to the Vietnamese Information Bureau in the U.S. that information received in April from Vietnam, Thailand and China indicates that approximately .16,000 Vietnamese were forced to go to [Warsaw Bloc] countries During the first quarter of 1 982, 2,496 workers were sent to Russia in two Russian freighters, the OBDORST and the DOUDINKA; the aircraft carrier MINSK and the destroyer DENSKOUCHT transported 3,200 workers and docked at the OKHOTSK Naval Base on March 26 1982.

On June 18, 1982, Professor Doan Van Toai, a former official of the Communist National Liberation Front in South Vietnam who served in the Ministry of Finance after the fall of Saigon author of The Vietnamese Gulag and currently lecturer at the Fletcher S chool of Law and Diplomacy, listed nine Vietnamese who had already been sent to the Soviet Union in 19

80. He stated that the letters he and others have received from Vietnam "have said that the Vietnamese workers who were exported to the Soviet 8 Union ha ve not been allowed to write or contact their family outside the Soviet Union.!114 In September 1982, however, a letter did manage to get through It was from a North Vietnamese to a relative in the West and came to the attention of Le Thi Anh, director of the Vietnamese Information Bureau in Washington D.C. The letter writer states that he is doing Ian exhausting job in a snowy and cold climate," has a salary that barely allows him to buy food, and that he finds his work very hard and his Russian superviso rs very harsh and arrogant. Whether or not he went to this cold region voluntarily is beside the point; it is clear that at present he is doing forced labor'and is unable to return home.

Ideal, in an article entitled "Secret Information from Castro at the Popular Assembly published in February 1980, reports Castro as saying that Evidence is also coming from Cuba. A Miami-based newspaper, if the Soviets do not have the manpower to exploit their timber, if they let us have some of that wood even if it is loc a ted in Siberia and in Siberia it is better because it is not so warm we will send our work brigade in Siberia to yield all the wood products that we need. If we have some tens of thousands of workers and fighters in our international brigades abroad now, i f we have now 1200 teachers in Nicaragua if at one point we had 36,000 men in Angola, if at one time we sent 12,000 men in Ethiopia, if we have con struction workers in Angola, the Republic of Guinea Libya, Iraq, if we had them in Vietnam too, why don't w e have ten thousand men to produce wood in Siberia?

And make it possible to lay the Siberian pipeline?

CONCLUSION Is the Soviet Union using forced labor in the construction The evidence is difficult to ignore. of the Siberian pipeline?

The official TASS reply broadcast on Moscow radio as reported in the August 14, 1982, issue of London's Economist, is that there are no political prisoners working on the Siberian pipeline since the Soviet- Union has no political prisoners. It ly worded statement actually f alls far short of being a denial It merely says that the Soviet Union has no !tpolitical prisoners ergo there can be no !'political prisoners" working on the pipe line. is almost universally believed in the West by experts of almost every political persua s ion. With the premise of the TASS state ment meaningless, the conclusion is also empty of meaning. Why did not TASS state categorically that there is no prison labor or forced labor working on the pipeline This careful Yet the fact that the Soviet Union h as political prisoners Many of those pipeline l4 Transcript, op. cit p. 28. 9 laborers-probably most of the unskilled-could hardly be there of their free will given the harsh conditions and the extremely low pay.

On August 25, 1982, Tass reported that the Urengoy-Petrovsk trunkline of the Siberian pipeline had been laid earlier than planned and that work is continuing rapidly on the Urengoy-Pomary Uzhgorod I1export-oriented1l pipeline. Says TASS, broadcasting a report from the Communist Party newspaper Pra v da, "the railwaymen and river transport workers have already sent 2,700 km of pipes to the pipeline builders. Due to the shock work of the builders more than 500 km of pipes were welded into a single line by mid-August and 250 km of pipes were laid.1115 m e an by Ilshock work?I1 What does Pravda According to Soviet analyst Stanislav Levchenko, who used to work for Soviet information organizations before he defected to the U.S. in 1979, the Soviet press in the past few weeks has been publishing editorials and interviews with law-enforcement offi cials. The purpose, explains Levchenko, surely is to crack down on alcoholics and other llcriminalslt who are not model Soviet citi zens. He points out that in the past such people have been sent to be l'rehabilitatedf 1 in labor camps. Will this expected crack down be a means of filling the Siberian prison camps? And will these new inmates soon find themselves building the Siberian gas pipeline? Certainly these questions merit answers. Since Western money and equipment are building the pipeline, these questions deserve investigation by Western governments, human rights organizations, academics, and journalists.

But what are.Western governments doing about the allega tions? It is remarkable that even in the United Kingdom , under the Tory leadership of Margaret Thatcher, only a sole voice in Parliament is demanding investigation of slave labor on the Siberian pipeline, that of David Atkinson. True, West German and French governments have pledged to look into allegations th a t slave labor is being used to build the Siberian pipeline. But whether this will result in a I1whitewash1l (as columnist William Safire charged on August 26, 1982, in the New York Times) is cer tainly an open question, given the commercial interests invo lved.

Careful monitoring of the investigations would be highly desir able. Already once in this century, West European officials remained blinded or indifferent to reports of atrocities from the East. Will history be repeated?

In the U.S., there is a risi ng chorus of outrage at the possibility of slave labor being used in Siberia. Senator Arm strong has launched his own investigation, vowing to collect l5 Daily Report, op. cit p. CC5. 10 every shred of credible evidence" on this issue. He has intro duced a n amendment to H.J. Res. 520 calling on the State Depart ment to investigate these charges. Congress in turn, should convene hearings and start searching for witnesses To remain silent or passive on this matter is to become an accomplice to the inhumaniti es.

Nor can the United Nations ignore the charges of Soviet use of slave labor.

U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar complained that the organization was becoming ineffective. If he is sincere about making the U.N. more relevant as a defender of human rights and dignity, he will mobilize U.N. resources to investigate the charges of slave labor being used to build the pipeline The task of investigating the use of slave labor in the USSR, however, will be considerably more difficult now after the S oviet authorities forced, on September 8, 1982, the end of the so-called Helsinki group In a recent speech assessing the world body Unless Moscow is fully cleared of these charges no Western state, company, or organization should participate in any way in constructing the Siberian natural gas pipeline. In this matter the burden of proof is on Moscow. Though much of it is circum stantial, the evidence is compelling enough--as it should have been regarding Nazi extermination camps in 1942 and 1943-for the We st to conclude, until it is proved otherwise, that slave labor is building the pipeline.

Juliana Geran Pilon, Ph.D.

Policy. Analyst Source: U.S. Department of Commerce Source Avraham Shifrin, The First Guidebook .to :Prisons and Concentration Camps'of'the Soviet Union New York: Bantam Books,1982 I

About the Author

Related Issues: Russia