Although the stated goal of the camp is to rehabilitate its political prisoners into citizens of a collective Soviet society, the camp fails to instill and cultivate these values. As opposed to a collective atmosphere, the life of a Zek is defined by competition. On an individual level, the men compete to meet their basic needs—including access to food, warmth, and supplies—placing one’s survival over the ideal of working toward a collective environment. The same competition occurs on the group level, as the work gangs compete for job assignments, tools, and supplies to complete their jobs. The very structure of the work camp is flawed, as Zeks pay off the guards in order to attain assignments and privileges, which aligns with a capitalist system, as opposed to the communist ideal. This environment of competition for survival makes the camp a particularly hostile place to live and a profound critique of the methods the Stalinist regime uses to try to impose a Soviet ideal.
A sense of camaraderie does develop among the members of gang 104. As the group works, the hierarchy within the group is leveled to a certain extent. Pavlo and Tyurin, who are the leaders of the gang, work alongside the men, and although they are strict, they establish a sense of camaraderie. Shukhov suggests that prisoners will not work for a boss who is distant and acts superior to his gang, but will work hard for a foreman that they admire. This sense of camaraderie is heightened when Tyurin tells his story, which depicts the way he is connected to the men he oversees through their shared experience of injustice. Shukhov describes the gang as a family during this scene. This sense of camaraderie that occurs during work, however, unfolds on an individual, as opposed to an ideological level, based not so much on the desire to work for the good of the whole, but based on the merits of the individual. This too works against the Soviet ideal, where the state is valued over the individual. In the end, the Zeks work hard to have their own needs met and to meet the needs of the individuals they respect, as opposed to working for an ideological cause.
The only moment of true camaraderie comes at the end of the novel after Alyoshka talks to Shukhov about turning away from the material world toward the spiritual. “Of all earthly and mortal things,” Alyoshka says, “Our Lord commanded us only to pray for our daily bread.” Unable to think in spiritual terms because of the struggle for physical sustenance, Shukhov asks Alyoshka if he is talking about their daily rations. Alyoshka, however, is talking about bread that feeds the spirit. Shukhov is touched in some way by their conversation, and offers Alyoshka a biscuit without expecting anything in return—a true act of camaraderie. Through this action, it becomes clear that true camaraderie can occur by moving away from the material world toward the spiritual. This change, however, remains particularly difficult in an environment where your life hinges on the attainment of resources. And it is further ironic that the Soviets were extremely hostile to religion in general—the religion that inspired Alyoshka and Shukov’s camaraderie. The conditions of the camp prevent camaraderie, and in a larger sense, make collectivization impossible, as the individual’s fight for survival through attainment of the material remains the primary and necessary focus.
Competition vs. Camaraderie ThemeTracker
Competition vs. Camaraderie Quotes in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
The thoughts of a prisoner—they’re not free either. They kept returning to the same things. A single idea keeps stirring. Would they feel that piece of bread in the mattress? Would he have any luck at the sick bay that evening? Would they put Buynovsky in the cells? And how did Tsezar get his hands on that warm vest. He’d probably greased a palm or two in the warehouse for people’s private belongings? How else?
Writing now was like dropping stones in some deep, bottomless pool. They drop; they sink—but there is no answer. You couldn't write and describe the squad you were working with…just now he had a good deal more to talk about with Kildigs the Lett than his family at home.
Why, you might wonder, should prisoners wear themselves out, working hard, ten years on end, in the camps? You might think they’d say: No thank you, and that’s all. We’ll drag ourselves through the day till evening, and then the night is ours.
But that didn't work. To outsmart you they thought up work squads—but not squads like the ones outside the camps, where every man is paid his separate wage. Everything was arranged in the camp that the prisoners egged one another on. It was like this: either you all got a bit extra or you all croaked.
It was a family, the squad.
Who’s a Zek’s main enemy? Another Zek. If only they weren’t at odds with one another—ah, what a difference that’d make.