The Wailing of the Pharisees: How Ukraine Turns “Hard Times” Into Holiday Times – Part II

Ukrainian film director Alexander Dovzhenko depicted scenes of povery and despair in the countryside.

A continuation of summarizing the Ivan Yarmosh post from PolitNavigator.

We left off yesterday, about 4 photos down.  This photo shows the settlement (пгтПосёлок городского типа) of Chubarovka, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, 1932.  Year 4 of the 5-Year Plan.  The peasants were forced to “loan” grain to the government 8 times.

In his novel “Vir” (in Russian:  Vodovorot), Ukrainian writer Grigor Tiutiunnik wrote about these grain — in essence — requisitions.  The dramatic conflict is depicted as a struggle between those (kulaks) who care only for themselves; and those (activists) who care about the survival of Soviet society as a whole.  Oksen Gamalia, Chairperson of the Peasant Cooperative, accuses a fellow peasant of selfishness:  “You want your own barn to be full of grain, and you want to have 4 pairs of boots; but I want ALL OF US to have a developed metallurgical industry.  Because if the capitalist countries attack us, we won’t be able to defend ourselves with your boots and your meat pies.”

The Soviet Union stood practically alone against all the armies of Europe.

Tiutiunnik, as a Soviet writer, depicts the kulaks, such as the characters Tadik Shamray and his father, as the bad guys.  Whereas the ideologists of contemporary Ukraine have turned things around, so that the kulaks are now the “good guys”.  They are the industrious ones, the fledging capitalists.

Tiutiunnik had it more right, though.  The local peasants themselves referred to the kulaks as “cannibals” and “spiders”.  People who exploited and lived off of, the labor of others.

NO! This is NOT what real hunger looks like.

In fact, it was the kulaks who carried out one of the main crimes of the era:  the massive slaughter of cattle.  They decided they would rather slaughter the herds, than take the animals with them into the collective farms.  The collectivization process itself was highly flawed and unprofessional.  Kulaks responded with theft and sabotage.  Mother Nature herself frowned on the enterprise, with poor weather conditions and a bad harvest.  Everything combined together to create a perfect storm – and FAMINE.

The next photo down shows a group of “kolkhozniki” crowding into a courtroom, Vinnitskaya Oblast, 1931, where former members of the village soviet are on trial for massive screw-ups during the collectivization campaign.

Followed by a photo of a “Work Inspector” questioning a kulak.

Ordinary People in the West also Suffered

During these same years that many Soviet villages were suffering from hunger, Western nations such as the U.S., France and Great Britain, were attempting to smother the Soviet Union via trade embargos and sanctions.  Even of such vital imports as gold, other minerals. and lumber.

Nature and Government combined to drive American farmers off their land.

The West itself was stuck in the Great Depression, which began in the year 1929.  The next 3 photos down show scenes of American life and poverty during the Great Depression.

At this point, the government of the Soviet Union was faced with a stark choice:  They either had to give up the idea of industrialization and capitulate to the West; OR continue the industrialization program by exporting the one product that was not under embargo:  Grain.

Stalin had placed all his hopes on the next harvest.  Mother Nature did not cooperate:  Hopes were dashed.  Drought was the main culprit.  The Soviets needed to import grain instead of export it.  They might have tried to purchase foreign grain for gold – but gold was under embargo, so that was not a possibility.  The Soviet government did not possess a reserve of foreign currency.  A belated attempt was made to import emergency grain from Persia.  But it was too little, too late.  Famine struck hard.  These were the “hard times” years of 1932-1933.  What the contemporary Ukrainian government, along with Western ideologists, call the “Holodomor”.

The kulaks, ideological opponents of Soviet power, saw their chance to help bring down the government.  They egged on the famine, by destroying grain.  Stanislav Kosior, Head of the Ukrainian Communist Party, wrote to Stalin:  “We have information that very many kolkhozniks and individual farmers, under the influence of panic, have hoarded their grain, and at the same time are going hungry.  More than 50 such cases are known to us, just in Dnipropetrovk Oblast alone….”

Next photo down shows an armed Komsomol member guarding a seed-storage barn.

The Soviet government responded to these threats with a very harsh decree….

[to be continued]


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20 Responses to The Wailing of the Pharisees: How Ukraine Turns “Hard Times” Into Holiday Times – Part II

  1. PaulR says:

    Most historians say that by 1930 the term ‘kulak’ was meaningless, as there was no stratum of ‘rich’ peasants any more.


    • yalensis says:

      Dear Paul:
      Was it just a relative term, at that point?


      • PaulR says:

        As I understand it, the dynamic was this: the Bolsheviks never really understood the countryside, and insisted on applying Marxist class designations to it: rich peasant, medium peasant, poor peasant, etc. That also had a political purpose. After the revolution, the Bolsheviks had almost no support in the countryside, so they tried to generate some by divide and rule. This meant designating some people ‘kulaks’ and some ‘poor peasants’, and saying to the latter that they should attack the former and take their stuff. The hope was that the ‘poor peasants’ would then support the Bolsheviks. The terminology and way of looking at things then stuck. When collectivization came around, it wasn’t just the better-off peasants who hid their grain, killed their pigs, etc. All sorts were doing it. The results were disastrous, but the Party couldn’t admit that it was its policies that were at fault. So a scapegoat had to be found, which meant an ‘enemy of the people’, some deliberate saboteur, and this was the ‘kulaks’. The fact that there wasn’t really such a thing didn’t matter. Orders went out, ’round up kulaks’, so kulaks had to be found, and of course they were. What made someone a ‘kulak’? – maybe, as you suggest, it was a relative thing: a kulak had two pigs, whereas others had one. Or perhaps it was just because somebody in authority didn’t like that person, or he was deemed politically unreliable for whatever reason (maybe too much education or something).I’m not an expert in Soviet peasant history, so I couldn’t say for sure. It was, of course, utterly senseless, except in terms of excusing the catastrophic consequences of collectivization and further justifying the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.


        • Lyttenburgh says:

          After the revolution, the Bolsheviks had almost no support in the countryside, so they tried to generate some by divide and rule. This meant designating some people ‘kulaks’ and some ‘poor peasants’, and saying to the latter that they should attack the former and take their stuff. The hope was that the ‘poor peasants’ would then support the Bolsheviks. The terminology and way of looking at things then stuck.

          Not entirely true. Paul, are you seriously going to claim right now that there were NO rich and NO poor peasants in Russian village? Have you ever heard about Stolypin’s reforms, or about how roughly since 1861 abolition of the serfdom Russian village had been undergoing the process of “stratification”? Finally – ever heard about this “Decree about the Land” accepted by the bloody Bolsheviks?

          Claiming that the Reds had “almost no support in the countryside” is objectively untrue. My own family supported them from the day one of the October Revolution. Father of my grand-grandfather was one of ComBed’s (Committee of the Poor) who was tasked with grain procurement for the cities AND as the de-facto ruling council of the village. One day they went to a neighbouring village. Next day a cart with their bodies came back. It was 1918, central Ural, Artyomovskiy’s region. They left my grand-grand father ALexander Gerogievitch, then a teenager, an orphan. I don’t know if those who did this were “unjustly repressed”. But if they did – they don’t have my sympathy.

          On the other side of my family, two elder cousins of Alexander Georgievitch’s future wife volunteered as nusrses in the Red partisan unit. They fought till the Civil War’s end and met it in Vladivostok. After the was they’ve returned to their village with husbands which they’d “acuqired” while fighting the Whites and intervention forces.

          No one from my big extended family had been repressed. No. One.

          “When collectivization came around, it wasn’t just the better-off peasants who hid their grain, killed their pigs, etc. All sorts were doing it. “

          Right – there were also serednyaks and the so-called “podkulatchniks”. Kulaks were rich and influential to browbeat others to do their bidding. Are you by any chance, Paul, excuse what they’ve done? Or try to “justiy” it?

          “The results were disastrous, but the Party couldn’t admit that it was its policies that were at fault. So a scapegoat had to be found, which meant an ‘enemy of the people’, some deliberate saboteur, and this was the ‘kulaks’. The fact that there wasn’t really such a thing didn’t matter.”

          From the day on of the October Revolution Lenin called kulaks “the class enemies”. No one invented the term “tu suit the Collectivization purposes”. During the NEP they were only tolerated. If they deluded themselves that there will be Capitalism: Elecatric Bugaloo in the Land of Soviets they had no one but themselves to blame. And, yes – actively sabotaging your own and other’s households, doing everything in your power to cause a famine while stockpiling the grain – this males you the enemy of the people.

          ” It was, of course, utterly senseless, except in terms of excusing the catastrophic consequences of collectivization and further justifying the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.”

          Oh, so it was bloody Bolsheviks who’ve “triggered” brave and honest kulaks to massacre cattle and attack (yes, attack – like with arms and force) new kolhozes!? Who knew that!


          • yalensis says:

            Lots of good points, Lyttenburgh. Not surprisingly, I agree with you more than I agree with Paul. Paul is correct that the collectivization process itself was a bureaucratic nightmare, and that many people were unnecessarily harmed. I think everybody agrees on that. Even fervent Stalinists. Even Stalin himself. Which is why the Party scaled it back at a certain point. (Stalin’s “Giddy With Success” speech, which was mocked by Trotsky at the time — Trotsky in exile being still a fervent supporter of collectivization.)
            I think people can also agree that the term “kulak” had broadened beyond the technical definition to include political opponents of the Soviet government and Communists. Even some very poor peasants might be opposed to the government and work to overthrow it, so they were also called “kulaks”, or at least “helpers of kulaks”.

            Still, I think it is incorrect to say that the Bolsheviks had NO support in the countryside. They had tons of support. And tons of enemies too. Hey, it’s CLASS STRUGGLE, baby! Class struggle is like a war, there are 2 sides, and each side tries to destroy the other.
            Again, Lenin and the other Bolsheviks had a very GOOD understanding of the countryside. They knew exactly who their friends were, and who their enemies. And they never made any bones about who they wanted to crush.
            Even historians who are not Marxists, I think they could benefit from a CLASS analysis
            Instead of looking at things in an abstract, “civil society” and essentially class-neutral way.
            Once you accept that class struggle is behind everything that happens in the world, then it really simplifies historical analysis, quite a lot.


    • Lyttenburgh says:

      I don’t know about these “most historians”, but the term kulak was still legitimate by 1930. V.I. Lenin described kulaks as “bloodsuckers, vampires, plunderers of the people and profiteers, who fatten on famine” – and, really, I can hardly argue with that. SovNarCom in 1929 defined “kulaks” as the people who:

      – used hired labor (i.e of batraks)
      – owned a mill, a creamery, other processing equipment, or a complex machine with a mechanical motor
      – systematically rented out agricultural equipment or facilities.
      – were involvement in trade, money-lending, commercial brokerage, or “other sources of non-labor income”.

      In 1930 dekulakization only began. It was a slow, painful process with several waves of confiscations of their cattle, farming implements, excess of grain etc.


  2. Lyttenburgh says:

    It is a strange thing – mystifying! – that one ceratain Adik Hitler wrote in his slghtly worse than “Atlas Shrugged” (yeah, I know it’s hard to imagine something more dense and worse than “Atlas Shrugged”) excuse of a book, what he has in mind with:

    a) Lebensraum in the Eastern Europe.
    b) The multitude of the people living here.

    It was in mid 1920s. When Adik came to power he slightly editied his magnum opus – but didn’t change anything about the fate of “untermenchen” from the East, and then basically drowe it down everyone’s throat who was currently under his control. So, quite a large number of people knew what is coming even before it began.

    What Stalin (personally) and the Communist Party of the USSR in general (as “Klyati Moscali” and Jews) are accused of by the Ukrainian svidomites and cheerleading westerners is that the Holodomor was basically the same thing. They are not discouraged by the lack of any written evidence that anyone really planned to “punish” or to “eradicate” the Ukrainians as the people – they all put on their tinfoil hats and claim that this is the proof itself – bloody regime was covering its tracks. And all who argues against this flawless logic is a Holodomor denialist and agent of Putin. La-la-la! СУГС!

    By pure coimcidences most loudly cries about “Holodomor” and “genocide” sound from the Best Ukrajina of Lviv, Ternopil and former Stanislawow voivodate (now – Ivano-Frankivsk) which at the time of these events were under blessed rule of much beloved in the West Poland.


    • yalensis says:

      And once again, it’s the people who don’t know, or pretend not to know, about the CLASS STRUGGLE, who come up with these a-historical howlers. About Commies seeking to exterminate Ukrainians as Ukrainians. What a load of B.S.!
      Commies set out to exterminate KULAKS, not Ukrainians.
      There IS a difference.

      So once again, boys and girls, here is the difference between Communists and Nazis:

      Communists judge you by which side of the class struggle you are on. They honestly don’t give a flying rat’s patootie about your nationality or ethnicity.
      Whereas, Nazis judge you by your DNA. If you got the wrong chromosomes, you better run for it, because here they come with their gas ovens and their big eugenics project!


  3. davidt says:

    For all intents and purposes, I know nothing about this, though I have always held the impression that the Bolsheviks had limited support from the peasants, though how this splits, in terms of percentages, I have no idea. Does anyone? Presumably, these percentages varied over the years and circumstances. I have also thought that it is very likely that in times of famine that the authorities were often trying to collect produce that just didn’t exist. It beggars belief that in the stressed society that Stalin had set up that there wasn’t a great deal of exaggeration about the amount of produce out there. For what it is worth, I also have the impression that the city versus country divide in Russia is more marked, even today, than it is in many Western countries. This seems to be an interesting topic for discussion at least to me. A related topic of interest is whether the privatization of land, after the break up of the Soviet Union, was handled any better, or even differently, than that of other state owned property. I did read that it was handled better and saw a suggestion that this was possibly due to advice from an influential German(?). At the end of the day, collectivization didn’t work out very well whatever the appeal it held early on. One of the relative successes of the post-Soviet period has been the significant increase in agricultural production over the Soviet period. Many “experts”, such as Charles Bausman, are optimistic that Russian agriculture can improve a great deal more. I hope they are right for if they are not then the future of Russia is problematic. Sergey Karaganov reckons that Russia survived by the skin of its teeth during the 90’s, so it’s absolutely critical that the Russian economy becomes competitive with the modern Western and Asian economies. This doesn’t mean that it has do everything in an identical fashion, or with identical values, but it must be competitive.


    • yalensis says:

      Dear David:
      These are all good points and interesting questions. A lot of interesting material for historians to study.
      Problem is, that in the West, historical faculties have been so skewed by anti-Soviet dogma, that it is hard to trust Western historians on any of these matters.
      Dogmatically, Western historians could not entertain even the notion that collectivization process could have had some positive attributes. Since they regarded private property as a good in and of itself; and collective property as inherently bad. Hence, their works are filled with exagerrations and outright falsehoods about what happened in the 1930’s. A lot of them also promote the idea of the “Holodomor” as some kind of ethnic cleansing, which it most certainly was NOT.

      Western historians also practice the famous “double-standard”. They extol the virtues of the kulaks and private property in the Soviet Union, but they look around them and are blind to the predations of big agri-business in their own countries.


      • davidt says:

        I wouldn’t get too carried away with the double standards of Western scholars- at least, I certainly wouldn’t ignore their opinions as a matter of course. If you re-read some of your comments critically, I think you would agree that some are very sweeping assertions. (That is not to say that there is no truth in what you say.) A few years ago, I read an account of a meeting of Putin with a group of teachers/scholars. Putin made two points very clearly. First, as a non-expert, he would have no problems with whatever they wrote/decided about Stalin. And second, he was very concerned that Western scholars shouldn’t determine the history of that period by themselves. The comments of people like Madeleine Albright, on the dead children of Iraq, and Hillary Clinton, on the death of Gaddafi, are obviously callous. What also unsettles me is the feeling that some people that I have read recently are also indifferent to the deaths of so many innocent people in the Soviet Union- and to the suffering of people on the other side (of history) more generally. That is why I reacted to comments about “bullets in the back of heads” elsewhere.


        • yalensis says:

          Dear David:

          Thank you again for being the voice of reason and humanism in an otherwise cruel and heartless blogospere!

          As always, you make good points, and of course you are correct that one should not make sweeping assertions. Which I agree I have a tendency to do, sometimes. (Only “sometimes”, though !) 🙂

          I also agree that people should try to be more humanistic and not froth at the mouth while threatening to put caps into the backs of other people necks, and so on. God knows, I am still wearing internet-war bruises from defending Trotsky against a whole army of would-be ice-pick wielders. In fact, I just came from a brutal war on Disqus, where I believe I encountered my old friend You-Know-Who, but wearing a different name now.
          Commenters who say things like, “Well, Communists are evil, except that Stalin was a good guy, because he put an ice pick in the skull of that Cosmopolitan, Member of the Tribe, Trotsky.”

          But even these would-be murderous internet trolls do not excite my ire the way certain Professors do. You are lucky that you dwell in the exact sciences. Oh Lordy if you could have encountered some of the flaks who infest the Ivy Halls of Academe in Russian Studies Departments. I have encountered not a few of these clones myself while acquiring my degree in a related field (=Linguistics). They all talk and write the same stuff. And many of them, such as Viola, are still basically fighting the Cold War. They STILL get grants to write “pure historical” research about, say, anti-communist peasant revolts, which research is supposed to help the grant-payers to figure out how to overthrow the Soviet government.
          I guess you could call it inertia.

          Although there is that apocryphal story about the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (here is one of their typical productions) – their acronym, not unfittingly, is AAASS, and according to the story (I wasn’t there), when they held their annual convention in 1989, I believe it was, Yeltsin had just shot up the Duma, and the host began the conference by announcing to all the delegates: “The Cold War is over. We won!”

          Followed by thunderous applause of the delegates, as if he had just belted out “Vesti la giubba”.

          And mind you, I am not saying these Russian history profs don’t do valid research or stick to the protocols of their craft. I am sure most of them are honest researchers and don’t make shit up.
          (Unlike, say, Solzhenitsyn, who made shit up egregiously.)
          I’m just saying that they cherry-pick their topics, in order to get the grant money and have their thesis accepted by the committee.
          For example, just as a thought experiment: Try to imagine, back in 1984, Viola appearing before her thesis advisor and announcing: “I want to write my thesis about the successes of the Soviet collectivization program, and how it improved the lives of the majority of peasants in the countryside.”
          The odds of that topic being accepted and supported by grant money for the next 5 years?
          About identical to those of Schrödinger’s cat walking away unscathed with all the tuna.


          • yalensis says:

            P.S. – the AAASS piece that I linked, which was Simon Pirani’s doctoral thesis – didn’t mean to imply it was bad thesis. Quite the contrary. Is very well researched and written.
            Pirani is a valid scholar who received an excellent education.
            He currently works as a researcher in the natural gas field for the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
            But once again, dubious that Pirani could keep his current job, if he was to sit down at his computer and write something like: “Ukraine MUST STOP stealing gas!”


          • davidt says:

            Yeh, I daresay you are right to be cynical and I would probably be surprised if I were to look carefully. On the other hand, the future is probably more important than the past and Russia has to be careful not to make too many bad calls “going forward”. I often joke that I would like to come back in 50 years time to see what happens. Probably the most important thing in the World just now is the development in China, so that at one level nothing else matters very much. (Thus, I tell myself that Russia should be OK.) I always felt lucky to be in Mathematics partly for the reasons you identify, though “politics” can still play a, admittedly minor, part. (I think that it is sensible to have concerns regarding the validity of the mathematical models used in climate change but…)


  4. PaulR says:

    The peasantry overwhelming voted for the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries in the 1917 elections for the Constituent Assembly. There was some support for the Bolsheviks there, but it was a small minority.
    Probably the primary Western scholar on Soviet peasantry is the University of Toronto’s Lynne Viola. In her book ‘Peasant Rebels under Stalin’, she notes that the revolution led to a great social levelling of the peasantry as the Stolypin reforms were undone. By the 1920s, 95% of land was under the control of village communes (mir), and the number of peasants classified as ‘rich’ (which may not have meant very much) was only 3%, substantially down from before 1917. The peasantry had become quite homogenous, and was unified in its opposition to collectivization. It wasn’t just ‘kulaks’ who slaughtered livestock, hoarded grain, etc. It was the peasantry as a whole. Viola writes: ‘The phrase “We have no kulaks here” was heard throughout the countryside as every peasant learnt that the kulak label, instead of dividing them, served as the great equalizer once it was clear that it was in peasant interests as a whole that were on the line and that anyone could be a kulak’.
    Viola states that there were ‘some 3,000 riots with over two million participants in 1930’. She writes of ‘the unity exhibited by the peasantry during collectivization’ – although ‘the state established pockets of the support in the villages’, nearly all of the peasants resisted collectivization. It is absurd, therefore, to speak of those hoarding grain etc as ‘enemies of the people’. They were the people. If there was an ‘enemy of the people’, it was the Communist Party.


    • yalensis says:

      The 1917 Constituent Assembly elections is a good, hard data point. Maybe the only one we have. The Bolsheviks knew they were not, and never claimed to be, a party for peasants. They represented the urban industrial Working Class, and really nobody else. Which is why, initially, they formed a governing coalition with the SR’s. Unfortunately, that coalition fell apart very early on, due to various reasons.

      As for Professor Lynne Viola:

      [Viola] is currently working on a book exploring issues related to the topic of perpetrators of Stalin’s terror. She is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Social Science Research Council, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, Connaught, IREX, John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation the Mellon Fund and the Killam Fund. In 2011, she was appointed a University Professorship and in 2014, she was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

      Let’s be brutally honest here. Nobody is going to get any grant money (let alone tenure) in any American or Canadian Russian Studies Faculty who does not toe a certain ideological line. There is not going to be a diversity of viewpoints on key issues such as “Stalinist Terror”, “Gulag”, or “collectivization”. Even the word “kolkhoz” is not to be spoken inside the Ivy Walls without a demonstrative sneer.

      And by the way, 2 million peasants rioting against collectivization? Well, that’s a lot of peasants, obviously. But what about the 150 million Soviet peasants who didn’t riot and didn’t resist? Maybe they had different opinions. But Western scholars will only cherry-pick the people and events which suit their narrative.


    • Lyttenburgh says:

      I’d really like to know what kind of sources did this esteemed professor smoke read to get such emotionally charged quote and unbelievably fitting her narrative numbers.

      Btw – I’m currently doing, well, you might call it a “mega post” (or “opus”) in the first part of which I will talk about kulaks, and in the second – about kollektivization.


      • yalensis says:

        Mega post, is we? It must be catching.
        I started this kulak thing as a single post, then it was to be a 2-parter, and now it’s a 4-parter, which I will hopefully finish tomorrow.
        And unlike you, I’m not even being original, I’m just repeating and paraphrasing the work of another!
        Still, even in that, there is a certain infection of Victor Hug-itis.


  5. Cortes says:

    Lest we forget….

    Obviously the regimes of Sun Yat Sen and Chiang Kai Shek were without sin, famine wise.

    Sticking with the food shortages in the developing USSR, do accounts exist in “western ” sources which corroborate Soviet accounts (other than by barking mad fellow travelers)? Perhaps Fitzroy McLean, whose “Eastern Approaches” gives a view of the show trials in 1938, may have provided more honest details of life in the USSR to his buddy Tito? Serbian archives must be ripe for trawling.


    • yalensis says:

      Well, here is that piece which I linked above, in Part III of my opus. I wish I could find the original English, but I can’t.
      So, this is a Russian translation of a supposedly “confidential report” of an American specialist who travelled the Soviet countryside in 1935, reporting back his findings to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The Russian version was stuck in some Kremlin archives, waiting to be discovered during the Yeltsin era.

      Full disclosure: I haven’t finished reading this piece yet, just skimmed it quickly.
      But apparently the Soviet countryside had bounced back pretty well in the 3 years following the famine. I mean, nobody was gorging on caviar, or anything like that. But people were doing okay, according to this American. And he wasn’t a commie stooge or fellow traveller, I reckon.


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