In: Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung 2012. Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, pp. 11-26.
The coexistence of utopian ideas and oppression in the early Soviet Union has been frequently described. In these descriptions, the practices of criminal punishment have usually been characterised as terrorising, inhumane acts – without considering the underlying dream of a society without the need for prisons. Thus, writers who expressed praise for sites and practices of criminal justice have been held to be cynical. The present contribution does not aim to redeem those texts, but wants to pursue the lost dimension of a pedagogical vision which equally shaped the camps and their depiction in literature. Pivotal to this vision was the betterment or re-education of the delinquents – a concept which found its most concise expression in the term perekovka (re-forging). In order to illustrate the fascination which this idea held, especially for intellectuals, the different contexts of its creation and proliferation will be reconstructed: the coexistence and conflict of different orientations in the criminal justice system; the blurry borders between camps and non-camps and their unification through the discourse of discipline; and finally the parallels of Chekists and writers as “engineers of the human soul”.