I started, as usual, with a perfectly innocent question: “How bad was life in Russia for a “regular” person under Stalin?” Pretty bad, I presumed, let me find some numbers.
I figured a particularly damning number would be what percent of the population was in the gulag system at the close of the Great Purge? In 1940 Russia had a population of about 192 million. Of these, 1.3 million were incarcerated. (page 1019) The percentage of the population incarcerated was .67%.
How does that compare with our own marvelous, progressive nation, say in 2010? In 2010, the population of the US was 308 million. Of these, 2.3 million were incarcerated in 2010. The percentage of the population incarcerated was .74%.
Have you ever had blinking cursor syndrome? This occurs when a fact is difficult to absorb and all motor activity shuts down temporarily so your brain can try to process the fact. During this interval you stare at the blinking cursor. It is difficult to absorb the fact that the US has a higher percentage of citizens incarcerated than Stalin at the close of the Great Purge.
This is not only disturbing fact but also a rather important fact. It raises still more questions. What the heck is going on in the United States? But wait, our incarcerated are criminals, not political prisoners. Obviously, many of Russia’s incarcerated were also “regular” criminals-murderers, rapists and robbers. How many were political prisoners? There is no way to know. Surely Stalin justified jailing political prisoners on the grounds that they were a threat to the safety and stability of society.
But we don’t have political prisoners. Do we? Sure, the percent of jailed people of color is quite disproportionate to white people, but doesn’t that just mean they are committing more crimes? Or is something political going on? There it is again, blinking cursor syndrome.