Vladimir Bukovsky's testimony 

on slave labor in the USSR 

to the Subcommittee on International Trade of the Committee on Finance.

United States Senate 99th Congress First Session, 

July 9, 1985. 

 

 

Enforcement of U.S. Prohibitions on the Importation of Goods Produced by Convict Labor.

 

Senator Danforth: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Next, we have Mr. Tom Kahn, assistant to the president, AFL-CIO; Mr. Paul Kamenar, executive legal director, Washington Legal Foundation; and Prof. Vladimir Bukovsky, Department of Psychology, Stanford University. 

 

STATEMENT OF VLADIMIR BUKOVSKY, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY, STANFORD UNIVERSITY, STANFORD, CA. 

 

Mr. Bukovsky: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My name is Vladimir Bukovsky, and previous to being released in 1976, I have spentabout 11 1/2 years in different Soviet labor camps. So, I would like to expand on a point made by Tom Kahn, and to change an old tradi- tion of interpreting forced labor only as the work of prisoners in Gulags. Such interpretations always return us to the most difficult problems, namely, what products and goods exported from the Soviet Union to the United States are manufactured by the prisoners or to what extent the prisoners' labor contributed to the manufacturing of such goods and products. Consequently, our discussions - our conclusions - become uncertain, especially when we go into discussions of such controversial programs as the number of prisoners in the Soviet Union or what part does the prisoners' labor play in the Soviet economy. This information is a closely guarded secret in the Soviet Union, and therefore, our discussions are usually reduced to speculations. Besides, in doing so, we leave out a large amount of the Soviet population and a larger problem of the Soviet life - the so-called free labor, taking it for granted that it is indeed free. We can return to the question of prisoners' labor later in the discussion. However, in my view, it presents only a more extreme example of usual Soviet practice. Forced labor is defined in American law and specifically in the Tariff Act of 1930, provision 307 - this is the law we are concerned about right now - as all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its nonperformance and for which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily. Given the definition, I am quite prepared to prove that any labor in the Soviet Union is a forced labor. The Soviet constitution adopted in 1977, in which article 60 states, and I quote:

 

It is the duty of and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen of the Soviet Union to work consciously in his chosen socially useful occupation and strictly to observe labor discipline. Evasion of socially useful work is incompatible with the principles of socialist society.

 

For those who still might be under the impression that the Soviet able-bodied citizen is free to choose his occupation and offer himself voluntarily, article 14 of the Soviet Constitution explains that, I quote:

 

The State exercises control over the measure of labor and of consumption in accordance with the principle of socialism: from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.

Needless to say, the state also determines what is socially useful work in the Soviet Union. Thus, if you have been unfortunate to be born in the countryside with your parents being workers in the kolkhoz - a collective farm - it is deemed to be socially useful if you remain a kolkhoznik, as well as your children and grandchildren and so on until communism is finally built in the Soviet Union. For unless you render a particularly useful service to the Communist Party, you will never be given an internal passport with a special police permission to change your place of living. And it is a crimi- nal offense to do so without such permission under article 198 of the Criminal Code.

The Soviet Union is not a welfare state. There are no unemployment benefits or welfare payments. The "honorary" duty described in the constitution is exacted under the threat of criminal punishment. Thus, article 209, with a sign 1, of the Penal Code of the Russian Federation, which was later merged with article 209 in 1975, offers up to 2 years of imprisonment for the unemployed or to anybody who refuses to accept a "socially useful" job suggested by the authorities. A repeated offense is punishable by up to 3 years of imprisonment.

 

Mr. Chairman, there is no way to establish how many people are punished annually under this law or what proportion of the Soviet labor force is directly affected by other legislative restrictions-the restricted right to change their place of work, place of living, et cetera. In my view, the very existence of such law and the practice is sufficient for us to claim that all labor in the Soviet Union is forced labor. In this context, conditions under which Soviet prisoners are forced to work in the Gulag is just an illustration of the Soviet ideology, not an exception. For if the labor as such in the Soviet Union is forced labor, the labor of prisoners is slave labor. And the latter constitutes an integral part of the former. The living principle of socialism is: Those who do not work do not eat. And it is not merely a figure of speech. It is a law.

 

Let us imagine a person who refuses to work in the Soviet Union. There are, for example, some religious groups which regard the Soviet power as the power of the devil and refuse to work in any state-owned enterprise. Such a person after being duly convicted under article 209 of the Penal Code would be transported to one of many thousands of corrective labor camps. Here, again, the question of honorable duty will appear in front of him, inevitable as death. And article 37 of the Corrective Labor Code of the Russian Federation says every convict is obliged to work. Under article 53 of the same code, refusal to report for work is an offense punishable by up to 1 year of isolation, by a reduced ration of food, by withdrawal of privileges to buy or receive any type of food, et cetera. Even in a punishment cell, where cold, hunger, lack of light, prohibition to smoke or to read, make the life of a prisoner quite miserable, he is still obliged to work and to fulfill his quota or his food ration will be further reduced, according to article 56 of the Corrective Labor Code. The lowest ration - the notorious 9B norm of the Secret Minister of Interior Instruction 0025 - provides hot food only every next day, while on the alternative days, a prisoner is given only a piece of bread and water. Once, I had managed to copy this ration, it consists of, and I quote:

 

7.5 ounces of rye bread, 1.8 ounces of fish, 0.3 ounces of flour, 0.18 ounces of fat, 7.5 ounces of potatoes, 6.0 ounces of vegetables, usually cabbage, 1.5 ounces of groat, and 0.6 ounces of salt.

 

Senator Danforth: I am going to have to interrupt you, Mr. Bukovsky, but your testimony will be included in the record.

 

Mr. Bukovsky: OK.

 

[The prepared statement of Mr. Bukovsky follows:]

 

TESTIMONY BY VlADIMIR BUKOVSKY

 

Mr. Chairman, My name is Vladimir Bukovsky. Before being expelled by the Soviet authorities in December 1976 in an exchange of prisoners, I have served more than 11 years in different prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals as a political prisoner for human rights activity. Currently, I am a researcher at Department of Psychology, Stanford University in California.

I would like to expand the point raised by Tom Kahn of the AFL-CIO, and to start by challenging an old tradition of interpreting "forced labor" only as a work of prisoners in GULAG. Such narrow interpretation always returns us to endless dis- cussion of the most difficult questions, namely, what products and goods exported from the Soviet Union to the United States are manufactured by the prisoners, or, to what extent the prisoner's labor contributes to manufacturing of such goods and products? Consequently, our conclusions become uncertain, particularly when we go into a discussion of such controversial problems as the number of prisoners in the Soviet Union, or, what part does the prisoner's labor play in the Soviet economy?

 

This information is a closely guarded secret in the USSR and, therefore, our dis- cussions are usually reduced to speculations. Besides, in doing so, we leave out a larger group of the Soviet population and a larger problem of the Soviet life-a so called "free labor", taking it for granted that it is indeed free.

 

We can return to the question of prisoners' labor later in the discussion. However, in my view, it represents only a more extreme example of the usual Soviet practice. "Forced labor" is defined in American law, specifically in the Tariff Act of 1930, provision 307, as:

 

"All work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its non-performance and for which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily".

 

Given this definition, I am quite prepared to prove that any labor in the Soviet Union is a forced labor. Thus, Soviet Constitution, (adopted in 1977) in its Article 60 states:

 

"It is the duty of, and a matter of honor for, every able-bodied citizen of the USSR to work conscientiously in his chosen, socially-useful occupation, and strictly to observe labor discipline. Evasion of socially useful work is incompatible with the principles of socialist society".

 

For those, who still might be under the impression that the Soviet able-bodied citizen is free to choose his occupation and "offer himself voluntarily", article 14 of the Soviet Constitution explains that:

 

"The State exercises control over the measure of labor and of consumption in accordance with the principle of socialism: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work".

 

Needless to say, the State also determines what is "socially useful" work in the USSR. Thus, if you have had a misfortune to be born in a countryside while your parents were working in a kolkhoz (collective farm), it is deemed to be socially useful if you remain a kolkhoznik too, as well as your children and and grandchildren, and so on, till communism is finally built in the USSR. For, unless you render a particularly useful service to the Communist Party, you will never be given an internal passport with a special police permission to c ange your place of living. And it is a criminal offense to do so without such a permission (Article 198 of the Penal Code of Russian Federation).

 

Soviet Union is not a welfare state, there is no unemployment benefit or welfare payments. The "honorable duty" described in the Constitution is exacted under the threat of criminal punishment. Thus, Article 209 of the Penal Code of the Russian Federation (and equivalent Articles in the Penal Codes of other Republics), offers up to 2 years of imprisonment to an unemployed, or to anybody who refuses to accept a socially useful job suggested by the authorities. A repeated "offence" is punishable by up to 3 years of imprisonment.

 

Mr. Chairman, there is no way to establish how many people are punished annually under this law, or what proportion of the Soviet labor force is directly affected by other legislation restricting the right to change their place of work, place of living, etc. In my view, the very existance of such law and practce is sufficient for us to claim that all labor in the USSR is a forced labor.

 

In this context, conditions under which Soviet prisoners are forced to work in the GULAG is just an illustration of the Soviet reality, not an exception. For, if the labor as such is a forced labor, the labor of prisoners is a slave labor. And the latter constitutes an integral part of the former.

 

The leading principle of socialism is: "Those who do not work-do not eat". And it is not merely a figure of speech. It is a law.

 

Let us imagine a person who refuses to work in the Soviet Union. There are, for example, some religious groups, which regard the Soviet power as a power of Devil, and refuse to work in any state-owned enterprise. Such person, after being duly convicted under Article 209 of the Penal Code, would be transported to one of many thousands corrective labor camps. Here again, the question of "honorable duty" will appear in front of him, inevitable as the death. Under Article 37 of the Corrective Labor Code of the Russian Federation "every convict is obliged to work."

 

Under article 53 of the same Code refusal to report for work is an offense punishable by up to one year of isolation, by a reduced ration of food, by withdrawal of different privileges, etc. 

Even in a punishment cell, where cold, hunger, lack of light, prohibition to smoke or to read make life of a prisoner quite miserable, he is still obliged to work and to fulfill his output norm, or his food ration will be further reduced (Article 56).

 

The lowest ration, the notorious 9 B norm of a secret Ministry of Interior instruction 0025, provides hot food only every next day, while at the alternate days a prisoner is given only a piece of rye bread and water. Once I had managed to copy this norm. It consists of: 13.5 oz of Rye Bread; 1.8 oz of fish; 0.3 oz of flour; 0.08 oz of fat; 7.5 oz of potato; 6.0 oz of vegetables (usually of cabbage); 1.5 oz of groats and 0.6 oz of salt. Fish, cabbage and potato are usually rotten and unfit for the human consumption.

 

The purpose of this torture is not just to break people down spiritually, but also to increase productivity of each prisoner. The production norms are established arbitory, and are increased whenever the authorities want it. Thus, according to the testimonies by Eduard Kuznetsov at the International Sakharov Hearings in Washington, D.C. in 1979, the norms of production in the labor camp for political prisoners "Sosnovka" (Mordovskaya ASSR) has been increased 5 times between 1972 and 1979, although the technology and equipment did not change at all.

There are some products of prisoners' labor which go directly for export. Thus, in political camps in Mordovia in 1970s the prisoners were known to manufacture spare parts for the Soviet cars made for export.

 

In 1979 a consignment of timber was received in West Germany from the Soviet Union as a part of a usual deal under a long-term agreement between the two countries. This consignment has contained hidden in it a note from a prisoner Akhmetov serving his term in Krasnoyarsk District. Apparently, his job was to load this- timber and, knowing it is destined for export, he secretly placed his appeal to the West among the timber. The matter has got some publicity in the German press.

 

Mr. Chairman, such examples are numerous, but I believe it is much more impor- tant to understand that any product received, from the Soviet Union was manufac- tured at least with some help from the prisoners' labor. Quite often, the prisoners are forced to produce either raw materials, or to take part in the initial stages of production, thus contributing to the process. It is impossible to determine where the prisoners' work and the work of the so-called "free labor" differentiated. Sometimes both categories of workers are used in the same construction site, and many products of prisoners' labor are used subsequently by the free labor", and visa versa. The prisoners are still quite widely used in mining industry and in timber production. Or, to make another example, in 1972-73 I was in a camp 35 in Perm District (North Urals). The production in our camp was, in fact, (or a shop), of a bigger factory situated in Sverdlovsk with no prisoners' working there. It was a tool factory and we were providing a middle section of the production process. These tools were sub- sequently used by all major Soviet engineering enterprises. Thus, it could be said that any product of the Soviet engineering is produced with the help of prisoners labor.

 

Furthermore, there was a new provision introduced into the Soviet legislation in the early 60s, under which those convicted to up to 3 years of imprisonment, or those who were released on parole after serving half of their terms, should be shipped to the construction sites of the "peoples economy". Since then, this practice became quite common, with millions of such ex-prisoners working in all branches of the Soviet economy, particularly in the chemical industry and construction. There are indications, for example, that the anhydrous ammonia plant in the Ukraine (not far from Odessa) which produces the product exported to the United States, also uses this type of labor.

 

These people are subject to all kinds of coersion, restriction and limitation, viola- tion of which may lead to lifting of the suspension imposed upon their sentences. In other words, if these people will try to change their place of work or living they will be sent back to the camps to serve the entire term.

 

Why does the Soviet Union use the prisoners' labor in its industry? There are sev- eral reasons for it. First, the Soviet economy is what is called an extensive economy with a chronocal shortage of labor. Second, many branches of the Soviet economy have particular difficulty to attract the free labor because of its geographic location, harmful effects on the laborer's health, or low payment. Third, and probably more important for our discussion, only the cheap labor can make some products able to stand the competition in the world's market because of their low prices. Fourth, as I indicated above, the productivity of prisoners can be arbitrarily regulated by assorted punishments, or by a threat of death of starvation. 

 

Naturally, the increased demand for these products on the world's market will automatically lead to increase in the use of prisoners' labor, and therefore, to an increase in prison camps population.

 

Finally, let me briefly assess the results of possible US embargo on the Soviet imports into this country. For the reasons given before, I believe such action will lead to a decrease in the use for forced labor. I also believe that such action might force the Soviet authorities to consider broader economic changes and reforms in labor laws. This would be definitely a step in the right direction, and an important message from America to Russian people-a message of concern about the latter's well-being and freedom.

 

Senator Danforth: I would like to ask you one question, if I could. As I am told, you have personal experience being a prisoner, and I wonder if you could share with the committee your personal experience with forced labor.

 

Mr. Bukovsky: I have described the rules, and I can, of course, give many examples of my own life in these places. Although I have only been in prison - what? - only  8 1/2 years ago I was released. There are many new, more fresh examples I have brought to you to show you some of the materials from the Soviet Union.

 

Senator Danforth: You were in prison? Is that correct? 

 

Mr. Bukovsky: Yes.

 

Senator Danforth: Where was that?

 

Mr. Bukovsky: I was in prison several times - four times to be exact. I have been in different camps, some of them in the European part of the Soviet Union; some of them in the Northern Ural Mountains; also in some prisons and mental institutions.

 

Senator Danforth: And during your incarceration, were you put to work in various manufacturing or mining capacities?

 

Mr. Bukovsky: Yes, certainly. It is a requirement as I said, and the prisoner cannot refuse to work without being severely punished. At one point, I was forced to manufacture furniture in the Voronnezh District, south from Moscow. At another point, our camp - a political camp situated north in the Urals in the Perm District - was actually a part of a production line for a big enterprise situated in Sverdlovsk. We were manufacturing the tools which were subsequently used by any parts of the Soviet industry.

 

Senator Danforth: Tubes?

 

Mr. Bukovsky: Tools. Different tools.

 

Senator Danforth: Yes. Now, the International Trade Commission had on its - it had a list of five different products which it originally believed were produced by prison labor. Do you have any knowledge of any of these? Tea, for example?

 

Mr. Bukovsky: Yes, I do. I was very interested to listen to that discussion about the tea production because it so happens that, in 1969, when I was in a camp in Voronnezh District, a consignment of prisoners from Georgia came to us. About 25 prisoners were transported from Georgia to our camp. All of them previously worked on tea production, and they were thoroughly displeased by this change in their lives. They were actually sent to our camp as a measure of punishment because their previous work on the tea plantations was much more pleasant for them, and the climate was, of course, more appropriate to them so they were sent up north as a punishment. According to their explanations, they were collecting tea from the plantations and the subsequent processing of the tea was not given to them. It was for somebody outside of the camp. The explanation why they were chosen by this camp was given this task of plucking up tea leaves and others was rather peculiar. They said that in the closely guarded prison camp, it is safer for them to deal with the high quality tea. It has less chance of being stolen and sold in the black market, although some percent of it still is stolen by the prisoners, but it would be limited. While if it was so-called free labor, the amount of the tea stolen would be unlimited. Therefore, they were dealing with high quality tea, and they believed at least part of it was going for export.

 

Senator Danforth: For export? How about refined oil products?

 

Mr. Bukovsky: I have no knowledge about that although I have heard from other prisoners that some of them have been working in related fields. The most common product produced by prisoners, particularly in Siberia and the northern parts of the country, is timber. In 1979, a consignment of timber was received in West Germany which contained a hidden note among the timber from a prisoner serving his term in Krasnoyarsk District. In this note, he described the conditions under which the prisoners have to work and appealed in general to the West to help them. He apparently was working on the loading of that consignment, and he knew that it goes westward.

 

Senator Danforth: How about tractor generators?

 

Mr. Bukovsky: I don't know much about tractor generators. I know that in the Mordovia District, where we have a compound of camps for political prisoners, in 1970's the prisoners were manufac- turing the spare parts for Soviet cars, which are going for export.

 

Senator Danforth: And how about gold ore?

 

Mr. Bukovsky: The gold ore - I have only very old knowledge - old dated knowledge of that. I have met people who were working in the Kalyma District in the 1950's. At that time, they had a huge number of prisoners working in that area, but I have no evidence of a later date production of gold.

 

Senator Danforth: How about agricultural machinery?

 

Mr. Bukovsky: Yes. There were indications of that, particularly in the Urals. The Ural is one of the areas of heavy industry and engineering manufacture, and there were a sufficient number of people who were working in that area, in different branches of industry, all of them related to production of different machinery. It should be said that the prisoners' work is indeed an integral part of the Soviet economy. For example, some of them are working in the iron cast factories, in the smeltering factories, and of course, the metal produced by them will be widely used in different branches of the Soviet economy-all of them practically.

 

Senator Danforth: Were the people that you knew in prison largely political prisoners, or were they people who were convicted of a variety of crimes-stealing or assault? Were they the kind of - In other words, were they the kind of prisoners that I would find at the State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, MO?

 

Mr. Bukovsky: They were in both categories. Usually those convicted under the - what is described in the Soviet Penal Code - as especially dangerous state criminals. That is a euphemism for political prisoners in the Soviet legislation, since they don't recognize the existence of political prisoners. This category of prisoners will be kept separately - in separate jails and in separate camps. However, when transported from camp to camp or from prison to camp, these prisoners also share the same trains and the same cars on the trains, and they can exchange information. Also, several categories of political prisoners in the Soviet Union are now excluded from that chapter. They have to serve their term with the common criminals. For example, those who are sentenced under article 190 - 1-2-3 or the religious activists who are convicted under article 142 are routinely sent to the corrective labor camps together with the common criminals. I, for example, served in 1967 to 1970 in the camp for common criminals.

 

Senator Danforth: I mean, is there a distinction between the use of prison labor in the Soviet Union and the use of prison labor in the United States - say, for example, to make road signs or license plates? Is there a difference?

 

Mr. Bukovsky: Well, there is a difference. The prisoners in the Soviet Union are used as cheap labor in the branches of economy which have difficulty in attracting free labor. For example, because of low payment or because of the difficult geographical location, or because of the harmful nature of the industrial process. Also, the Soviet Union uses prisoners' labor in certain areas where the productivity is impossible to raise by anything except very high incentives. And with prisoners, it is easier, as I said, because they can increase this productivity by different assorted measures of punishment. For example, in testifying to the international Sakharov hearings in 1979, my friend Kuznitzov indicated that the productiv- ity in the camp in Mordovia where he served Was increased 5 times in 5 years artificially because the Soviets wanted more product. So, that is another reason. So, I am sure that the labor in American institutions would be regulated by strict law-labor law-and there would be people who would be responsible for observing the provi- sions of this law, while in the Soviet Union all kinds of codes are violated when it comes to the labor of a prisoner. So, first of all, it is done for cheap production; it is cheap labor. It makes the goods produced by them compatible and viable in the international market. It is done for economic reasons where, otherwise, the labor might be paid much higher or conditions might be observed which are difficult for technological processes.

Link to source: https://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/HRG99-357.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1GTCjoKvMMyxNVdiWC3jMyvJwB5G_eVqtNL1sZTzaRR7SATEijoTdDlJ8

To learn about 21st century slavery, click here to watch a talk by Adrian Zenz, a Senior Fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

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Bukovsky at AFT/AFL

Vladimir Bukovsky talks about freedom and captivity with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Labor in February 1977.

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Vladimir Bukovsky heads discussion at an American Enterprise Institute dinner in his honor in June 1979.

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Bukovsky FT Interview

Vladimir Bukovsky predicts Russia's disintegration in  a 1993 Financial Times interview.