The Scar

Ihor Vytvyts'kyi


One sometimes hears from strangers, and even from one's own, that there is too much ado about the recent fifty year anniversary of the famine in Ukraine. They say that half a century has passed, that much has happened in the world, and that the significance of the event should not be exaggerated. Truly, quite a lot has happened and we intend to exaggerate none of it. For us, the famine in Ukraine of 1932-33 remains as the gravest tragedy in the history of our people. The famine and the terror that engendered it destroyed almost one quarter of our population, and with it, the majority of our national potential. We have yet to recognize the magnitude of the scar that this pogrom left on our national organism, and what a major factor it will continue to prove to be in the further development of our history.

Of course, the Soviet Union remains mute about all of these events. Them, no one either speaks or writes about them, as if nothing had ever happened. Those events are usually covered up with glib phrases about the difficulties encountered by collectivization. It is, therefore, not at all strange that the younger generation knows little about the nature of these "difficulties." What is less easy to understand is that, until recently, the free world was also mute about this genocide. There were, obviously, some reasons for this. First of all, there was a lack of interest on the part of the general media and information centres, and second, our own lack of rigour in cornbatting this.

Now that the general level of interest has been raised, the number of researchers in the field has also increased, both Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian. Some basic academic studies about this apocalyptic era have been published and will be published in the near future. Since the approach to a subject usually has an important bearing on the conclusions reached by a study, researchers of the famine in Ukraine should bear in mind that it was not an isolated phenomenon that arose unexpectedly as a result of the policy of collectivization, but was a direct result of the nationalities policy of the Bolshevik regime in Ukraine. We know that three famines occurred under this regime: in 1921-22; in 1932-33 and in 1946-47. Of these, the famine in the 1930s, which raged in Ukraine, the Kuban, and the lower Volga valley region was the most destructive. Around seven million Ukrainian people perished in it.

Inasmuch as we are dealing with a state system in which everything proceeds "according to plan," the question arises: on what level was this famine operation carried out. It is generally associated with a restructuring of society according to communist principle. This plan included the wholesale collectivization of agriculture and the liquidation of the kulaks (wealthier landowners) as a class. In the official history of the Communist Party it is described as follows: "toward the end of 1929, together with the policy of expansion of local and soviet (county) collective farms, Soviet authorities adopted an abrupt shift in policy to liquidation". The following slogan was to serve as a guide: "On the basis of a general collectivization, we liquidate the kulak as a class."

It should be added that the kulaks were liquidated, not through inclusion in the collective farms, but literally eliminated by deportation and execution. In early 1932 there were none left in Ukraine. The survivors were living out their lives in exile. Those who were dying of hunger were the middle income-farmers and small-holding peasants -- both private operators and members of collective farms. These, obviously, were not liquidated "as a class," but as Ukrainian farmers. The official propaganda completely ignored this fact and continuously attacked them for being kulak lackeys and class enemies.

Meanwhile, collectivization progressed at an increased tempo and was arrived at according to schedule. This we learn from the official history of the Communist Party: "1931 saw a new growth in the collective farm movement. In the main grain producing districts, more than 80% of farms had been collectivized. Collectivization here had basically been completed." Thus, collectivization was being successfully implemented.

But if this is the case, then who were the people who were dying of hunger in Ukraine in 1932 and 19337 Could it have been the kulaks who had somehow survived? Where had the millions of them come from, if dekulakization and collectivization had been completed? Thus, it is apparent that in Ukraine, although collectivization and the famine appear to be connected, in fact they are two completely separate phenomena. In Ukraine, collectivization was merely a cover for a pogrom by famine. Who would believe that to collectivize the countryside it was necessary to starve millions of proletarian peasantry?

The reasons for collectivization am widely known. It was an element of the Party's social and economic policy. However, there was one single cause for the famine, and it was, so to speak, outside of the ideological programme. The cause of the famine was the decision to destroy a basic stratum of a nation that the Kremlin considered an enemy.

In terms of a general policy, this famine can be considered to be one of the central achievements of the Bolshevik regime's nationality policy. It would have been difficult to plan for assimilation and merger of peoples if, fifty years ago, this essential "preparation" had not been carried out. In an article published in November 1929, Stalin called 1929 the year of "the great breakthrough." So it certainly was. It was in that year that the experimental New Economic Policy (NEP) agricultural policies were rolled back; the year that the provisions of the first Five Year Plan (adopted in mid-1928); the year that the policy of wholesale collectivization and dekulakization was adopted; the year that rationing cards for food were introduced, despite a lack of any apparent reason to do so.

The preparation for this breakthrough had occurred two years previously at the 15th Communist Party Congress, at which a resolution was adopted to step up collectivization and to attack the kulaks. Two years later, a campaign was launched that was called "the socialist advance on the village." This campaign had the following objectives: 1. the liquidation of kulaks; 2. general collectivization; and 3. requisitioning of grain, (which amounted to the stealing of grain). Let us examine each of these in turn.

A hatred of the peasantry is a general characteristic of all theoreticians and practitioners of communism. The peasantry, one of the most conservative of social classes, simply does not fit into their idea of a "progressive" society. The Kremlin leadership felt a particular detestation for the Ukrainian peasantry. The Proletars 'ka Pravda of 22 January 1930, wrote that collectivization had two goals: "The destruction of Ukrainian nationalism and of private farms." On the subject of kulaks, Lenin pronounced them to be rabid enemies of Soviet rule and threatened to deal with them.

However, it should be mentioned that even in 1929 there was no obvious class of kulaks in Ukraine. This term was simply attached to those middle-income farmers who had retained the so-called working norm of 8 to 10 desiatyny (21.3 to 26.7 acres) of land. Some of them used parts of the estates of landowners distributed by the Soviet authorities. The deciding factor for persecution was their independence. They were farmers who produced more than for their own needs.

In accordance with Stalin's directives, they were divided up into three categories, not according to possessions, but political orientation. The first category included all active opponents of the regime; the second included the less active; third category included all others. They were all subject to expropriation and deportation, but those of the first category were simply to be executed. Practically speaking, who belonged to which category depended on the decision of the organs of the OGPU, and the cadres who took part in the dekulakization actions. In this instance, Russia gave Ukraine some "brotherly assistance" and sent some 25,000 "official" cadres of the Party. In cooperation with local komnezams (committees of landless peasants), they often "outperformed" the norms of the plan to the point that many "sub-kulaks," were included in the first category. This was the fate of those who were seen to abet the kulaks in some fashion, or attempted to shelter them. They occasionally included the politically suspect, be they middle-income farmers or simple paupers.

Since it had been decided to liquidate the kulaks as a class, their status as class enemy was confirmed. Propaganda levelled a campaign of intense hatred against them. The press and other propaganda organs spared no black ink in their efforts to portray them as some sort of vampire. "The cursed kulak" was the usual epithet hurled at those destined for elimination. In 1930, dekulakization began, "according to plan ," with forced expropriations. The official Party history describes how this expropriation and material ruination of the kulaks was effected. After the financial came the physical. Shootings, arrests and deportations began. First to go were the men, followed by the women and children. They were taken north and transported like cattle in freight cars. Those who did not die on the way were left in the barren wastelands of the north and were instructed to set up "special work colonies." The figure arrived at by various researchers for the number of deportees from Ukraine ranges from half to two million. How many died during this operation was obviously not arrived at, but the many victims included, of course, children.

In his book Ave Diktator, Iu. Horlis-Hors'kyi writes: "During the winter of 1929-30 in Vologda, Arkhangelsk, Kotlas, Murmansk, Kem and in their peripheries, almost all children deported from Ukraine aged from 8 to 9 years old, died of cold and starvation ?' He goes on to write that "The total number of women and children reached two million four hundred thousand."

In January of 1933, in his address to the Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU on the results of the first Five Year Plan, Stalin said:

"The Party has fought to the point that the kulaks as a class have been decimated, although not completely eradicated, and the peasantry has been freed from the kulak cabal and exploitation. The rule of the Soviets has been bolstered by a solid rural economic base, the base of collectivized agriculture."

This was said at a time when the famine in Ukraine had reached its worst extremes. The obvious inference in this speech is, that because the kulaks had not been completely killed off, this remained to be done. And thus, the killing proceeded. However, those being killed off at this point were no longer the kulaks, but simple peasants and a majority of collective farm workers.

Right alongside dekulakization came collectivization. Initially, a collective farm was seen only as a farmers' cooperative. It now became a landholding collective, that is, an actual state-run business. As long as creation of these collective farms proceeded according to the principle of voluntary membership, their number increased very slowly, and in 1928, constituted a very small percentage of the total number of farms.

In 1929, it was decided to speed the process and "in accordance with the advice of comrade Stalin;' wholesale collectivization began. In the ensuing months, millions of private farms were included in the collective farm system through various methods of coercion. Obviously, thus kind of haste not only created opposition among the peasantry, it also caused considerable losses in agricultural production. This forced the regime to slow down the pace of collectivization. The blame for excessive haste and for pressure exerted on the unwilling was placed squarely on the shoulders of the lower echelon, which, so to speak, had been "overly zealous?'

In March 1930, Stalin wrote an article, entitled Dizzy with Success, in which he underlined the importance of voluntary participation in collectives and called for a more gradual transition from farmers' collectives to full communal and collective farms. In April of that year, Stalin wrote another article, entitled "An answer to the comrades in collective farms," in which he again chided those who violated the "Leninist principle of voluntary participation". In addition, the Central Committee of the CPSU adopted a resolution concerning "The struggle against the warping of the Party line in the collective farm movement." This resolution demanded that forcible inclusion in collective farms be brought to a halt and that those individuals who wished to leave collective farms be allowed to do so.

Obviously, these pronouncements brought about a rapid exodus from the hastily assembled collective farms. It also brought collectivization to a standstill, and caused a fair degree of chaos in agricultural production. This convinced the regime to make another about-face and to get back on the old track. As a result, the break in collectivization lasted only a short while, but the confusion continued.

In late June 1930, the 16th Party Congress took place. According to Stalin, this Congress were down in history as the "congress of increased socialist advance on the entire front, the liquidation of kulaks as a class, and the institution of total collectivization." Thus one phase of collectivization came to an end, and the second began. In this second phase, there was no further mention of infringements against voluntary participation. Collectivization was brought into effect with crass coercion and outright participation of the organs of the OGPU, in direct contravention to various principles.

Dekulakization and collectivization were only indirectly related to the emergence of famine. The direct cause of the famine was the stealing of grain from the peasants who produced it. This robbery continued until it ate into the last stores of food. It bears mentioning, that famine struck those who produced the food, those who had the entire product of their labour confiscated. The urban population did not die of hunger.

This robbery was officially known as "grain consignment" (khlibozahotivlia). During various stages of Bolshevik rule it varied in magnitude and sported various names. During the revolution it had been known as prodrzv'orstka, then as prodnaloh and finally as khlibozahotivlia. The norms for these consignments were set in Moscow under the watchful eye of "the father of all workers."

In 1931 and 1932 production norms were set without regard to the actual conditions of agricultural production, and without regard to the chaos and losses caused by dekulakization and collectivization. They were set as if agriculture was proceeding normally. Conditions were such, that much of arable land lay fallow and often, grain would stand and dry out in the fields because there was no one to harvest it.

The memoirs of the Soviet author Vasili Grossman entitled Vs'o techot (Forever Flowing) and published outside the Soviet Union, include a character who reminisces about the past and says: "After the dekulakization, the seeded fields diminished as did the yield. But reports of new norms were issued as if life without kulaks was in full bloom." Later, the character says: And the village received news of the new consignment, one that you could not ful~l in ten years. In the village council, even those who never drank a drop of liquor now overdrank out of fear. Maybe Moscow staked its greatest hopes on Ukraine. But for Ukraine it also harboured the greatest malice. The word going around was quite simple -- if you didn't produce, you were a kulak they hadn't. killed off.

The rapid growth of this larceny began back in 1931. From a speech delivered in February 1933, by the general secretary of the Ukrainian CP, Stanislav Kossior, we learn that, in the four months of the main harvest in 1931, almost two and a half times as much grain was collected as had been for the harvest in 1930. As a result of this kind of "policy", a famine began in 1932. Regardless of this, the robbery did not cease.

The general quantity of the harvest and the relevant quotas for grain consignment were set in tree Bolshevik fashion. The numbers were set so high that they bore no relation to the reality of agricultural potential. And thus, although the harvest of 1932 in Ukraine was satisfactory, the general norm was set at 50% higher than the expected yield. And so, the norms for grain requisition were set according to this figure. Two thirds of the harvested grain was collected by the state organs themselves. The rest, which had to be set aside for seed left an amount insufficient to feed the hungry peasants. However, in order to ful~l the norms, the organs began stealing even the remaining seed grain, leaving the victims with literally nothing at all.

Obviously, this shock campaign was carried out under direct pressure from above. Already in early July 1932, Molotov and Kaganovich arrived in Kharkiv for a special conference. They informed the Ukrainian CP leadership that Moscow considered the fulfilment of the grain consignment plan to be of the gravest importance, and gave the necessary warnings. Thus, the final phase of the "socialist advance on the village" began. It was carried out under the watchful eye of the armies of the OGPU. Another 25,000 activists arrived from the brotherly RSFSR to assist the locals in this action, perhaps because Moscow could not entirely trust the latter.

And so it happened that bands of robbers, calling themselves "shock brigades?' went from village to village and raked out the last remnants of food the hungry peasants had hidden as if they were stolen goods. In his article, "Tridtsatiletie goloda" (The Thirtieth Anniversary of the Famine), published in Novoe Russkoe Slovo on 29 March 1963, Yuri Mishalov writes:

The grain consignment brigades went from house to house for four months looking for grain hidden by the collective farmers. With sharpened metal prods they searched the ground, the walls, the trunks. In small sacks and parcels they collected single kilograms of grain in the village square, then loaded up the wagons with all of the tidbits torn from the lips of the hungry and took it "by Red transport" to the state silos bursting with grain.

The reader will notice, that Mishalov speaks of collective farm members in this instance.

Throughout all of this, strict legality was observed. In the summer of 1932 the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of the People's Commissars of the USSR issued a proclamation on 7 August, under which everything on a collective farm was designated as socialist property, and theft of anything therefrom could be punished by "the highest measure of state punishment;' which included shooting. In order to ensure a full and practical enforcement of this law, surveillance towers were erected in the fields of collective farms whence armed guards made certain that no heedless "thieves" could make off with anything edible. However, driven to the edge, the people paid no heed; such "thieving" occurred. Then came the punishment foretold.

The directives from the centre were followed by those of the government of the Ukrainian SSR and of the Ukrainian CP. Such was the resolution of 20 November 1932, which ordered the cessation of distribution of rewards to collective farmers in the form of grain for the performance of workdays, until the grain consignment norms were met. A similar resolution of 6 December 1932, involved the "black slate;' according to which 86 grain producing districts in Ukraine were cited as districts that did not meet the norms of grain consignment. In order to make the position of the government quite clear, the introduction made reference to the necessity of such measures "in the face of the disgraceful disruption of the grain consignment campaign by counter-revolutionary elements." The punishment for these crimes was a whole series of repressive measures, which basically created a cordon of famine around these districts. In this same resolution it was ordered that "all supply of foodstuffs to this districts is to be halted; state and cooperative stores are to be closed and the goods from them to be shipped out. Trade, heretofore carried on by collective and private farms, in goods of general necessity is to be prohibited..." This, so to speak, dots the "I".

For a person accustomed to thinking in normal human terms, these "punitive ukases" will appear completely incomprehensible, for there was already a famine in the villages. These measures did not concern increasing the consignment of grain, but simply intensified the famine. They inflicted a punishment by hunger on the starving collective farmers. However, it is futile to look for explanations in the framework of some form of social or economic plan. This was a planned pogrom by famine.

At the outset of 1933, the inevitable came about -- famine permeated the countryside. Obviously, the norms for grain consignment for 1932 had not been met, because it was impossible to meet them under the prevailing conditions. Firstly, because they had been set inordinately high; secondly, because the disorder brought about by the campaigns of dekulakization and collectivization remained; and thirdly, because a starving collective farm worker is not a very good worker.

However, the "leader of the toilers" and his advisors acted as if they neither saw nor heard anything. In his speech at the Plenum of the CC of the CPSU, 11 January 1933, Stalin said:

Thus there was more grain produced in 1932 than in 1931. However, regardless of this fact, the collection of grain consignments encountered greater difficulties 1932 than in the previous year.

Kossior, appearing before the Plenum of the CC of the Ukrainian CP in February 1933, cried:

How are we to explain this incredible and unheard of fact in all of Ukrainian history -- a failure in delivery of a grain consignment? In recent years we had never reached such low levels in grain consignment.

There you have it. Famine raged in the countryside, chaos ruled agriculture, and the First Secretary of the Ukrainian CP was at a loss to explain it all.

And yet, a reason was found. "The wise Party" and its leadership found the necessary explanations and the culpable. The guilty, obviously, had to be "enemy counter-revolutionary elements" outside of the Party, and those who had managed to infiltrate it. This had already been discussed in the resolution of the CC Ukrainian CP of 20 November 1932. It had also been discussed in the resolutions of the CC CPSU of 14 December 1932, and of 24 January 1933, in which it was stated that "Petliurite and other bourgeois nationalistic elements" were involved. And so the next campaign was launched against "Petliurite and bourgeois nationalist elements." This time they were considered guilty of disrupting grain consignments.

The man sent to Ukraine to lead this campaign was Pavel Petrovich Postyshev, a proven Party man and a trusty of "the father of the toilers." Despite the fact that he was only given the posts of second secretary of the Ukrainian CP and secretary of the Kharkiv provincial commissariat, his powers were far-reaching. His special mission was to liquidate the threat of "bourgeois nationalism" engendered by the interval of "Ukrainianization," or national rebirth, that had taken place in the 1920s. Postyshev engaged himself in his task immediately after arriving in Ukraine with his staff of assistants. Under his direction, a full-scale purge of the Party apparat, administration, and collective farm system took place. Exhaustive details of the scale of these repressions have been provided by various researchers of this field. Suffice it to say that most of the membership of the basic cadres of the regime, the Ukrainian Communist Party, were purged, and two-thirds of the Ukrainian Komsomol w
ere expelled.

Alongside the purges came arrests and executions. Particular pressure was focussed on the Minister of Education, Mykola Skrypnyk, whom Moscow considered to be the patron of the nationalist diversion. Removed from his post a month after the arrival of Postyshev and hounded continuously, he committed suicide in July 1933. In that same year, the famous writer Mykola Khvyl'ovyi, considered as one of the more striking figures of this brief period of renaissance, also committed suicide.

In his public appearances, Postyshev did not mince words: "Beat them down, this nationalist rabble who have grown so loose and insolent here, and have felt so good about themselves." The general secretary Kossior also did not relent. In his aforementioned speech of February 1933, he threatened:

Flush out from all collective farms, Machine and Tractor Stations (MTS), and zemorhany country political organs all kulak, Petliurite, Makhnovite and other counter-revolutionary elements...

Two years later, Postyshev would claim: "In 1933, we demolished the class enemy who attempted to exploit the collective farms for his anti-Soviet ends and to blow them up from within."

As an aside, both of them, Postyshev and Kossior met the same fate their victims did. After a few years, both of them were demoted and liquidated according to all of the practices of mob rule. Postyshev was transferred to a lesser post in the RSFSR in 1937 and then disappeared without a trace, while Kossior was executed in 1939 after he "confessed" of having spied for Poland.

The pogrom that passed over Ukraine under Postyshev had a twofold objective. The first was a pogrom of the upper echelons of society through various overt methods, and the second was the covert one, the pogrom of the lower echelon by famine in the countryside.

In the winter and spring of 1933, when the famine in Ukraine was reaching its severest extremes, the Party. aces remained mute about it. They were obviously maintaining the Party line, which still holds on this subject to this day. The lone exception was the speech delivered by Postyshev's predecessor, R. Terekhov, who dared raise the subject of the famine with Stalin. As a result, Stalin ridiculed him, then demoted him and had him sent into exile.

It was difficult not to notice the peasants who were starving to death. Everyone who lived or passed through Ukraine at the time noticed them. This includes those witnesses who had come from abroad. Quite a number of testimonies of eyewitnesses of this horror, both Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian, have been preserved. The following are but a few examples of the testimonies of non-Ukrainians.

In the aforementioned article by Iurii Mishalov in the Novoe Russkoe Slovo, we find:

Some travelled to border towns in Ukraine, and from there they walked some distance until they reached the RSFSR, where they could survive on potatoes. Those originally in the RSFSR travelled to get closer to Moscow and then, either on foot or by tram, made it into the city itself. Here, there lay piles of grain and bread, and of whatever sort you could wish for, obtainable without lining up for them. It was simply difficult to believe, amidst the wealth of Moscow, that somewhere entire families, homesteads and villages were dying of starvation. Hundreds and thousands of corpses began piling up in the cities and near railway lines.

In his autobiographical novel Smert' (Death) the Russian writer V. Tendriakov wrote:

In the Vokhrov district centre, in the large square near the station, the dekulakized peasants, run out of Ukraine, lay down and died. You would get used to seeing corpses there in the morning. The wagon would arrive, and Abram, a worker from the hospital stables, would be loading up the corpses. Not all of them died. Many of them wandered through the dusty streets, dragging their bloodless blue feet, swollen with dropsy and stared at every passerby with pleading eyes.

To the above it should be added that the peasants were run out of Ukraine by nothing other than the famine.

The Polish newspaper, Gwiazda Polarna published a memoir of Ludwika ed Genocide in Ukraine. The author concludes her memoir as follows:

I saw corpses that lay in the city streets. I saw women and children dying. I saw the famine that was killing the people like flies, in a country famous for the arability of its land; a country that had been the breadbasket of Europe. This tragedy of the Ukrainian people had been planned from above and had been carried out with precision. Will the guilty be punished? When?

An interesting commentary is provided by the English journalist Whiting Williams, whose report, entitled "My trip through a Russia devastated by famine;' was published in the journal Answers in 24 July 1934. He wrote in reference to the fall of 1933:

I saw with my own eyes in Soviet Ukraine, arable land, and field upon field of unharvested crops that had been left to rot. There were some districts in which you could travel for an entire day through a field of blackened wheat, and only find small oases of places where it had been harvested. This because of the great number of farmers who had either died of starvation or had been deported the previous year, as I was continuously told when I asked about the incredible waste.

To this might be added that workers and soldiers were sent to the countryside to harvest the crops, but they obviously could not cope with a harvest of such size.

A large number of similar testimonies have been preserved, and on the basis of these, one can begin to imagine the barbarity of murder on such a massive scale. The phenomenon of artificially induced famine is rare in the history of the human race. In ancient times, it was used in war, during sieges. But for this to be carried out in one's own country, against one's own population -- this had never happened before. The uniqueness of this phenomenon is the reason why many researchers have been unable to fully grasp it, and have offered various interpretations of it that do not always square with reality. Some researchers, unable to arrive at a convincing explanation, provide only conjecture.

There are many theories about the causes of the famine. The most widely accepted is the theory of opposition. That is, that the famine came as a result of repressions instituted by the authorities in response to peasant opposition to collectivization. In various publications and pronouncements, the fanatical and rabid opposition of the peasantry is dwelled upon. In 1932-33 there was no longer any fanatical opposition because there was nobody left to offer it. In 1932, and more so in 1933, collectivization had been virtually completed. Those who could have presented some opposition had been repressed and starved into submission. They were no longer capable of doing so.

Opposition, if there was any at the time, came against the stealing of the last stores and remnants of grain, not against collectivization. Resistance to collectivization had come earlier. Here and there it had become extreme, but for the most part it had remained passive. Obviously, no one was eager to hand over their property to an irresponsible collective headed by a pauper who had had little managerial experience. It is almost redundant to say that such opposition was futile in the face of the repression unleashed by the Soviet authorities.

The phenomenon of mass murder by famine, although not entirely unique in history, will lead some to wonder: on what values do the culture and civilization of the human race rest? When such events are examined on this level, questions inevitably arise that are impossible to answer. In terms of direct causation, one can say that the Ukrainian peasantry met the fate it did because it fell to the talons of a ruthless predator and had no one to defend it. To find an answer to the questions of how and why they found themselves in these talons, and how it was that they were defenceless and disarmed, one must look into history.

What is particularly strange is that this genocide was carried out on the territory of the formally sovereign Ukrainian SSR. Can one imagine such an occurrence in a truly sovereign state? Those who survived this pogrom by famine and ended up in the free world, consider it to be a matter of honour and conscience to speak of this famine and submit their testimony. They initiated the research which continues, and will continue, in order that the scars of those horrific years are not lost in our memories, and in order that our memories are not choked with weeds.