The Red Harvest

Andrew Wodoslawsky


       The Russian Revolution of 1917 gave power to the tenets of communism. The ideology of soviet-style communism gave rise to decrees that regularly shook the lives of the hundreds of millions of people in the Soviet Union. The Soviet State used the policies of collectivization, dekulakization, and grain requisitioning to try to break the nationalist feeling and movement in the Ukrainian SSR.

       The Soviet government's actions before the period of collectivization and dekulakization indicate a conscious hostility towards Ukrainian national identity. Some of the first signs of this hostility from the Bolsheviks are evident from the period of national revolution in Ukraine after the fall of the Czarist regime. After the proclamation of independence of Ukraine from Russia in 1918 by the Ukrainian Central Council, the first temporary government after the fall of la regime l'ancienne, the Bolsheviks invaded the new Ukrainian Republic; they immediately began to suppress Ukrainian language schools and cultural institutions. In fact, the first Cheka (political police and predecessor to the KGB) chief in Kyiv, Latsis, was said to have "shot people for speaking Ukrainian in the streets".1 From that very first invasion, policy and attitudes about the nature of the proposed Soviet Ukraine arose. Of particular interest is the attitude about an autonomous Ukrainian communist party, which in the words of Stalin's chief subordinate Yakov Sverdlov, was "undesirable'.2 Thus, it is clear that there was active hostility toward the Ukrainian national identity from the very beginning of Bolshevik rule in Ukraine.

       The aggressive attitude toward "Ukrainianism" did not change in the years of the first five-year plan, 1928-1933, as evident by the destruction of the religious community the suppression of the Ukrainian language, and the liquidation of the intelligentsia. The Bolsheviks first liquidated the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, killing two metropolitans, 26 archbishops and bishops, 1,500 priests, 54 deacons and some 20,000 lay members of the parish councils. Not only was life destroyed, but 90% of Church buildings were either destroyed or convened into warehouses, museums, barns, dance halls, and so on.3 Among those destroyed were historical gems such as the Golden Domed Cathedral of St. Michael, Kyiv, a magnificent church dating from the 11th century. As for language, Russian was introduced as mandatory in every Ukrainian school. The propaganda machine was mobilized to present Russian as superior in every way, as "Lenin's language; the language of advanced revolutionary proletarians".4 In addition, those that didn't know Russian were deliberately blocked from advancing in their careers.5 Lastly, the intelligentsia was attacked. In as early as 1929, the OGPU (political police) were bringing charges of Ukrainian nationalistic plotting against small groups, and public attach were made on some of the most distinguished academics. In July, mass arrests took place of some 5,000 members of the fictional underground Union for the Liberation of Ukraine (SVU). In spring 1930, forty-five alleged members of the SVU were arrested and given staged trials in the Kharkov Opera House. This group was made of political figures of extinct political parties, scholars, critics, writers, linguists, some students, lawyers, and priests. Many more university students were arrested, and the Ukrainian Academy of Science was officially closed down6 Thus, it is obvious that the Soviet State was hostile towards prominent figures in Ukrainian society and culture.

       Dekulakization was the most obvious attempt to destroy the Ukrainian nationalistic base. Having destroyed the Ukraine's most vocal and educated citizens, the regime then looked toward the bearers of the Ukrainian culture and the key contributors to the economy: the agrarian class typically known as "the peasantry". Considering that 90% of Ukrainians were peasants during the 20's, 7 their culture was more than representative of the nation. Stalin knew this well: "The nationality problem is, in its very essence, a problem of the peasantry".8 Here he both admits that nationality is an issue, and that Ukraine is primarily a peasant-nation. Given this, an attack on the peasants would translate directly into an attack on the nation. Now, dekulakization was a direct attack on the peasantry. The word 'kulak' (kurkul in Ukrainian) originally referred loosely to peasants who had more then enough land to sustain themselves, produced a surplus, and perhaps had hired help9 Initially, 'kulak' (plural) were classified into three groups; those deemed "actively hostile", those deemed "most economically strong",m and those deemed "loyal". 11 The sentences ranged from execution of the heads and exile for the rest of the household, for the first group, 12 to relocation to lands with poor soil for the third group 13 . The planned number of kulaky in the USSR that had to he 'dekulakized' was 5-6 million, according to the Politburo in 1929. 14 However, once dekulakization was under way, the extent of the arrests, executions, and deportations went beyond what was expected. After the planned persecutions of the three groups were carried out, persecuting agents (know as the 'thousanders'15) looked for more victims, and then the actual economic state of a peasant became irrelevant for the purposes of deciding whether they should be dekulakizecL Robert Conquest writes in The Harvest of Sorrow:

That the term 'kulak' began to be used in a sense far wider than even the Party's economic definition substantiates the point; while this becomes even clearer with the forrealization of the category 'subkulak', a term without any real social content even by Stalinist standards, but merely rather unconvincingly masquerading as such. 16

An activist noted of a typical kulak: "He has a sick wife, five children and not a crmnb of bread in the house. And that's what we call a kulak! The kids are in rags and tatters. They all look like ghosts".17 Even Soviet agencies began admiring that the 'kulaky' deported in March of 1931 "had very limited property" i.e. they were poor. 18 To add insult to injury, it is know that the average 'kulak' s' income was lower then the activist' s that was arresting him as a representative of the wealthy class.19 The sentences for the original groups were augmented, so that few, of even the third group, were left unexiled.20 In the end, some areas had dekulakized 14-20% of the households in their area, while the allotted number had 'only' been 4-5% of households. In all, at least 10 million souls were exiled to the frozen wastes of Siberia and the Arctic from Ukraine and Russia alone.21 Of these, at least 2.4 million were Ukrainian.22 Another 300,000 to 500,000 'kulaky' in Ukraine alone were executed.23 Therefore, since the peasants made the Ukrainian nation, and the State consciously attacked the peasantry with dekulakization, (while knowing the formed the policy then, was a conscious attempt to destroy the cultural and national base of Ukraine.

       Collectivization and the grain requisitioning policies were the final pans of the war on Ukrainianism. To fully understand the reasons for collectivization and grain requisitioning, and how they lead to the famine of 1932-33, one must examine the history of grain collection. In the Revolutionary War, grain collection was centralized in Moscow and done by force. Afterwards, there was a need to pacify the rebellious peasantry, so Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP), in essence, a free market for agricultural product, with a set tax. This system did not meet the demand of the ever-increasing industrial population and the army, due to the simple reason that the government provided little incentive for the farmers to sell to it. Miron Dolot writes: "For example, in 1927-28, in the USSR as a whole, free market prices of grain stood 60% above the government prices, and a year later they increased to 100%, and even to 170% in Ukraine".24 When industrialization was adopted in the first Five-Year Plan, the state desperately needed to increase its income of food, since agricultural product were the only commodity that the Soviet Union could sell in exchange for the foreign currency needed to buy heavy machinery. In response to the demand, the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR decreed a system of contracting grain in 1928,25 then in 1929, a system where grain collection agencies could collect grain from both contracted and uncontracted farmers.26 The peasant reaction to the collections was violent. The number of "registered kulak terrorist acts" in Ukraine alone from fourfold from 1927 to 1929, with 1,262 acts reported in the later year.27 Forced collectivization of agriculture and the "liquidation of the kulaks as a class" were announced on December 27, 1929,28 the later partly in response to the peasant rebellions. The mass collectivization was carried out by a variable army, including 74,500 party members, 10,500 industrial workers, and some 20,000 temporaries, Anyone who resisted collectivization was labeled a 'kulak' and executed or exiled.29 Such was the speed of collectivization that, by January 20, 1932, 70% of all homesteads and 73.5% of all land had been collectivized, despite a 'breathing spell' in the summer 1930.30 The point of collectivization is described in a report on the famine by The Stockholm Institute:

The essence of collectivization was that private farms would be consolidated so that an entire group of farmers would go out and plant and harvest as a group. It was much easier to control the crop under these circumstances. You bring the crop into a single threshing room. There is an official saying, "We want X quantity of the given crop; this is your obligation to the state." And the official stands there until that amount is threshed, and then he takes it.31

The greater degree of command and control over the collectivized peasantry allowed the "thousanders" to collect the entire 1932 quota of 6.6 millions tones of grain, the entirety of the product after harvesting,32 as well as the meat, milk, butter and wool of the peasants.33 Simultaneously, the Russia- directed puppet government of Ukraine SSR put forth additional measures to secure agricultural product. For example, the summer of 1932 saw watchtowers and guard posts erected in the fields to prevent anyone from trying to take grain or produce for themselves. In addition, draconian laws were enacted, which made everything imaginable "socialist property". Miron Dolor writes: "To glean the already harvested fields, to fish in the riven, to pick up a fallen dry twig in the forest, or even to collect dry weeds along the roads for fuel was an unpardonable crime equal to state treason".34 The punishment for trying to find food became punishable by death, by firing squad or exile to the arctic. Their personal food stores confiscated or used up, and the products of their labour taken by the state, the peasants starved to death in the millions. Thus, since collectivization and grain requisitioning were both planned, and the result was lethal to the Ukrainian peasants; it was a deliberate attack on the Ukrainian nation.

       In conclusion, history shows the policies of collectivization, dekulakization, and grain collection each had the malicious intent of destroying Ukrainian nationalism. The victims of this and other attempts at nation-killing cry out for recognition and justice. Let them not cry in vain.

Works Cited

  1. Conquest, Robert. The Harvest of Sorrow. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

  2. Dolot, Miron. Who Killed Them and Why? Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1984

  3. Dushnyk, Walter. 50 Years Ago: The Famine Holocaust in Ukraine. Toronto: Wo~d Congress of Free Ukrainians, 1983.

  4. International Commission of Inquiry into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine. The Stockholm Institute of Public and International law. 1990

  5. Mace, James E. "The man-made famine of 1932-33: what happened and why". The Gieat Famine in Ukraine: the Unknown Holocaust. Jersey City: Ukminian National Association, 1983.

  6. Plyushch, Vasyl. Genocide of the Ukrainian People: The artificial Famine in the Years 1932-33. Munich: Ukrainisches Institut far Bildungspolitik, 1973.


  1. Conquest 35

  2. Conquest 35

  3. Dolot 19

  4. Dolot 20

  5. Dolot 20

  6. Conquest 217, 218

  7. Dolor 12

  8. Mace 36

  9. Conquest 74, 75

  10. Dushnyk 19

  11. Conquest 121

  12. Conquest 121

  13. Dushnyk 19

  14. Conquest 121

  15. Mace 27

  16. Conquest 119

  17. Conquest 118

  18. Conquest 119

  19. Conquest 118

  20. Conquest 123

  21. Conquest 126, 127

  22. Pluyshch 19

  23. International Commission of Inquiry Into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine 77

  24. Dolot 7

  25. Dolor 7

  26. Dolot 8

  27. Mace 28

  28. Mace 26

  29. Plyushch 14

  30. Plyushch 15, 16

  31. International Commission of Inquiry Into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine 120

  32. Plyushch 16

  33. International Commission of Inquiry Into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine 68

  34. Dolot 24