Custodians: Commandants of the Special Settlements of Western Siberia in the Inter-War Period

Keywords: protective system, special settlement, Western Siberia, commandants, disciplinarity, deviant behaviour


The latest papers on the activities of the protective bodies of the Stalin era demonstrates a gap between the scale and depth of the study of the institutional aspects of the system itself, with a major focus on objects, the target groups of repression, and the degree of development of activity (behavioural practices of the corps of specific implementers of the state’s repressive policy). Thus, while the circle of initiators and the upper and middle links of the punitive system are part of scholarly research, the numerous nomenclature workers of the lower level and direct executors of directives remain outside analysis. The above is also true about the personnel of penitentiary institutions. During early Stalinism, the establishment of the largest segment of the system of isolation and forced labor (i. e., the special peasant settlements) required strict deadlines and the recruitment of commandants. Being a part of the GULAG apparatus, the commandant corps, whose basic functions were similar to those of camp workers (supervision, punishment, and organisation of industrial and everyday internal activities), occupied lower positions in the hierarchy of protective organisations. They had limited opportunities for promotion, tighter control over their activities by the local party nomenclature, and a multitude of conflicts with the latter. Based on the available sources and literature, the author reconstructs the basic aspects of the activity, everyday life, and nomenclature of the commandant corps of special settlements in Western Siberia. In addition to specific historical methods, the work refers to concepts developed by R. K. Merton and M. Foucault (functionality, disciplinarity, deviant behaviour) and the use of a database containing brief biographies of commandant office employees. These help us to identify the conditions, incentives, and motivation of their activities, and the typology of normative and deviant behaviour. It is concluded that the commandant corps was both an embodiment and a hostage of the Stalinist management model, in which the line between norm and deviance was blurred. The functioning of the special settlements system was ensured by high mobility, personnel “dropout”, and the ability of commandants to adapt their activities in extreme conditions.

Author Biography

Sergey Krasilnikov

Dr. Hab. (History), Leading Researcher, Institute of History, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

8, Nikolaev Str., 630090, Novosibirsk, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0001-8366-6083


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How to Cite
Krasilnikov, S. (2022). Custodians: Commandants of the Special Settlements of Western Siberia in the Inter-War Period. Quaestio Rossica, 10(1), 221–237.
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