To most Western observers Soviet penal policy means Stalin's labor camps, and what is known about the camps comes from the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In our admiration of Solzhenitsyn's portrayal of the camps, however, we ought not to accept on faith his version of Soviet penal history. Solzhenitsyn treats Soviet penal practice before 1929 simply as a stage in the development of the camps. He finds the roots of Stalin's camps in Lenin's Russia, and from those roots, he argues, the camps developed steadily and inevitably. To be sure, with hindsight one can plausibly regard the civil war camps as precedent for the later ones and the camps of Solovki during the 1920s as the embryo from which the Stalinist camps grew. But to look only at these developments is to take a selective or partial view of early Soviet penal history, for the civil war period contained the embryo of another penal policy, a progressive policy, which differed radically from that practiced by the Cheka and OGPU. And it was this progressive policy, not the Cheka's approach, which gained the predominant position during the NEP years.