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Bill Thayer

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Part I
Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Stalinist Rule in the Ukraine
by Hryhory Kostiuk

published in the U. S. A. by
Frederick A. Praeger, Inc.
New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part I
Chapter 5

Part One
Stalinist Centralism and the Ukraine

 p13  Chapter IV

The Drabove Incident

In spite of the "successes" of the Party and the GPU‑NKVD in dealing with the peasants, the Soviet dictator was alarmed by the resistance and by the means used to crush it.

In order to pour oil on troubled waters and to appease the enraged peasants, Stalin published his "Dizziness from Success" article in Pravda on March 2, 1930. Soviet historians attempt to interpret this statement as a radical change in the policy of collectivization. Subsequent events show, however, that no such change occurred. The policy remained just as ruthless and uncompromising as it had been before Stalin's speech. All that happened as a result of this speech was the removal of several thousand minor Communist executives who were thus made public scapegoats. This tactic was employed by Stalin on other occasions with the same purpose: minor officials were removed to create the illusion that justice had been done and that from then on there would be no further abuse of law and order. In reality, however, the men who replaced those who had grown "dizzy from success" pursued the old policy, and it became even more brutal as time went on.

The pronouncements by Lenin1 and Stalin2 that the enrollment of peasants in the kolkhozes should be voluntary remained in the realm of theory. The practice of collectivization differed sharply from the principles originally enunciated by Lenin. For it must not be assumed that the peasants were ready to capitulate before the first wave of terror which spread over the Ukraine in 1929‑30. The struggle against collectivization went on, and the reprisals which followed were aimed at annihilating the remnants of the resistance.

The Soviet press of 1932 is full of accounts which testify to the violence of the struggle in the villages.3 As an example of the indiscriminate terror used by the government against the peasants at that time we may recall the so‑called Drabove Incident (Drabovshchyna). It concerned a trial of Party and government  p14 officials of the Drabove district, in the province of Poltava, which took place in July 1932.

At the beginning of 1932 the government policy of expropriation and exploitation of the peasants in the Drabove district reached catastrophic proportions. The Central Committee of the CP(b)U and the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukraine were deluged with complaints from collective farmers about the outbreak of famine and the flight of the peasants from the district. In response to these mass complaints a special government commission was sent to the area to investigate the state of affairs and to conduct an enquiry. The commission found that the economic life of the district was completely dislocated and laid the blame on several Party and government officials of the district, whom it charged with criminal neglect of duty and other malpractices. Following the recommendations laid down in the commission's report, the Soviet of People's Commissars requested the State Procurator to place all those accused of breaking the law under arrest, and to try them in the public courts. As a result, 30 men were arrested; among them were the secretary of the District Party Committee, Bodok, the chairman of the District Executive Committee, Shirokov, the chairman of the Central Commission of Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, Shopenko, the chairman of the District Trade Union Council, Nevvazhai, and other officials taking part in the campaign for grain deliveries.

The public trial was held in Drabove. The accused were found guilty of "conspiring with the kulaks" in antigovernment activities and drew two- or three-year sentences. There is ample evidence to suggest that the conditions prevailing in the Drabove district were characteristic of many parts of the country.4

Although the Drabove trial had an obvious propaganda value, since it helped to brand the "criminals" responsible for the catastrophic state of Ukrainian agriculture, it revealed indirectly the processes of collectivization as well as the attempt on the part of the Soviet Ukrainian government to expose the worst abuses. An article by Ya. Tumarkin, "Letters from a Trial," published in the Party organ Visti,5 gives the following list of offenses committed by the accused:

1) They had concealed and ignored the complaints of the peasants about the lawlessness practised during the grain deliveries.

2) They had suppressed all complaints and self-criticism with threats and violence.

3) They had tolerated the rule of force, lawlessness, and terror.

4) They had made kulaks out of middle and poor peasants, and even Party members.

5) Ignoring the actual situation, they had been guided by the slogan "Take grain wherever it is easier to take." They did this without regard to the means used, or to the one from whom the grain was taken.

 p15  6) According to the testimony of district officials (Bodok, Shirokov, and Shopenko) the kolkhozes had been deprived of seed.

7) Criminals had been used for terrorization and plundering in the villages.

It is little wonder that under such conditions agricultural production in the Ukraine showed a rapid decline. Some figures for the years 1930‑32 may be found in the report which Postyshev delivered before the Twelfth Congress of the CP(b)U, in 1934. According to Postyshev, grain deliveries in 1930 were satisfactory. Up to December 400 million poods of grain were delivered to the state. The annual plan was 95 per cent fulfilled. In 1931 the degree of collectivization of agriculture progressed from 38 per cent to 65 per cent. The number of machine‑and-tractor stations rose from 47 in 1930 to 300, and the number of tractors from 15,000 to 25,000. But in spite of these technological and administrative advances the plan for grain deliveries was only 74 per cent fulfilled. In 1932 collectivization embraced 70 per cent of the farms in the country. The number of MTS rose to 445, and the number of tractors to 35,000. However, grain deliveries sharply decreased. In comparison with the 400 million poods obtained in 1930, and the 300 million poods in 1931, only 195 million poods of grain were delivered to the state in 1932.6 The above figures speak for themselves. The country was on the brink of economic disaster. The first signs of famine became evident in the Ukraine early in 1932. The peasants were leaving their homes en masse and moving to industrial cities in search of employment. Those who remained died by the thousand.7 Hungry  p16 children left their homes in search of food. Everyone who lived in the Soviet Union at that time saw hundreds of thousands of those unfortunate five to ten year old children flooding the cities and railway stations of the country. One was particularly struck by the five or six year old children who resembled skeletons, were pale as death, emaciated, and, as Arthur Koestler noted with horror, "looked like embryos out of alcohol bottles."8 These children begged for bread at all the crossroads and in all the railway stations of the USSR. An eyewitness account of the "waifs" (bezprizornye) appeared in Trotsky's Bulletin of the Opposition.9

The peasants are leaving their children in the cities; the young people leave their villages and travel as stowaways to the North and East. Many bezprizornye have appeared in Moscow. The majority of them are Ukrainians.

The American journalist, Mark Khinoy, visiting the USSR in 1934, saw the last stages of the tragedy suffered by the children in the Ukraine. He wrote:

The situation was better in the Volga regions and in Siberia. However, the Ukraine presents a picture of utter desolation. There is no plenty, no cheerfulness, everywhere there are bezprizornye children. One cannot see them in Moscow, but in Kharkov, and especially in Dnepropetrovsk, there are whole bands of them. They are the remnants of the 1932 famine.10

At the time of the worst plight of the Ukrainian peasantry Stalin made the following statement on the achievements of collectivization:

What, in fact, has changed during this time? First of all, we have liquidated unemployment, consequently we have destroyed the force which oppressed the "labor market." Secondly, we have uprooted the stratification of the village and as a result of this we have overcome the mass poverty which drove the peasants from the villages to the cities. Lastly, we have provided the villages with tens of thousands of tractors and machines, we have crushed the kulaks, organized kolkhozes, and given the peasants an opportunity to live and work like human beings. Now the village can no longer be called the peasant's stepmother, and because of this the peasant has begun to settle down in the village; there is no longer any "flight of the peasants from the village to the city," no waste of manpower.11

Terrible as it was, the year 1932 was only a prelude to the mass starvation of the peasants in the following year.

The Soviet Ukrainian press carried limited reports of the economic disaster in the Ukraine. The spring of 1932 exposed the inability of the government to cope with the sending of grain.12 This became especially obvious in the cultivation  p17  of the large areas of sugar beet. The correspondent of Visti, having surveyed the problem in the Izyum district, reported that: "Only 25 per cent of the peasants reported for work . . . More than one hundred hectares of sugar-beet were ruined because they were not weeded a single time . . . 20 hectares of beetroot, 15 hectares of tomatoes, carrots, and watermelon were lost." Another correspondent reported that in the district of Znamenka, Kiev province, "by July 1, out of 7,086 only 812 hectares (36 per cent) have been weeded."13a

Alarmed by this state of affairs, the Central Committee of the CP(b)U issued instructions to supply the regions which were suffering most from the famine with some bread and fish.14 These foodstuffs were to be given exclusively to those who were actually working in the fields. However, the district and kolkhoz officials often handed the food out to all peasants and villagers suffering from the famine.15 This, admitted a correspondent, was considered a crime and a "waste of bread and fish."16

It would be possible to cite many such reports, revealing the hunger and distress of the Ukrainian peasants. But even then, it would be difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the suffering caused by collectivization.

The Author's Notes:

1 V. Lenin, Sochineniya (Works), Vol. XXIV, pp167‑168 and 579.

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2 J. Stalin, "Politichesky otchet tsentralnogo komiteta" (Political Report of the Central Committee) and "Otvet tovarishcham kolkhoznikam" (Answer to the Comrade Kolkhozniks) in Sochineniya (Collected Works), Moscow, 1949, Vol. 10, pp305‑306, and Vol. 12, pp203‑206.

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3 In addition to the reports in Pravda, Visti (Visti VUTsVK — News of the All-Ukrainian Central Executive Committee, hereafter referred to as Visti), Komunist, Radyanska Ukraina, and Chervony shlyakh (The Red Pathway), see The Resolutions of the Third Party Conference of the CP(b)U in Pravda, July 15, 1932, and Visti, July 11, 1932. The records of this conference also contain speeches by Skrypnyk, Chubar, Zatonsky, and Shlikhter. From June 2 to July 2, 1932, Visti printed regular reports on the "Drabove affair."

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4 Cf. The Resolutions of the Third Party Conference of the CP(b)U, Visti, July 11, 1932, in which similar practices are mentioned in several regions of Moldavia.

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5 Ya. Tumarkin, "Lysty z protsesu" (Letters from a Trial), Visti, July 2, 1932.

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6 "Sovetskaya Ukraina na novom podeme; Politichesky otchet TsK KP(b)U na XII sezde KP(b)U; doklad t. P. P. Postysheva" (The Soviet Ukraine in a New Advance: Political Report of the CC of the CP(b)U at the Twelfth Congress of the CP(b)U: Report of Comrade P. P. Postyshev), Pravda, January 24, 1934; also: Visti, January 24, 1934.

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7 Reports of famine in the Ukraine were systematically carried by Sotsialistichesky vestnik. Its leading articles (e.g. No. 13, June 25, 1932), special reports (e.g. A. Yugov, "Golod na Ukraine," No. 12, 1932) and regular columns (e.g. "Po Rossii") contained a great deal of factual information. The column "Across Russia" (No. 11, 1932, p23) reports:

The railroad stations of the Ukraine, the Don region, the North Caucasus and other formerly rich agricultural areas are over-crowded with hungry peasants from the neighboring villages, who beg travellers for a "crumb of bread." One sees the horrible figures of women with famine-stricken children in their arms . . . At present great crowds of peasants surge into the towns, drawn by rumors of free markets, hoping to buy something or to beg. Even in Kharkov there is a multitude of peasants, begging for bread. However, they are caught and sent away by the militia.

In the same column in No. 14, July 23, 1932, we read:

I have just returned from Odessa. Conditions there, as well as the general food situation in the Ukraine, are beyond description. There the famine is real with all its attributes — the bark of trees and pig‑weeds eaten as a substitute for bread. A veritable migration of people is taking place, carried by the railroads. I cannot vouch for figures, but eyewitnesses maintain that almost three million people are on the move. They are travelling with their families and small children; thousands of them crowd all the stations. In carriages and on the stations — all around there are so many hungry eyes that although one feels hungry, one does not take out a piece of black bread from one's bag.

A few years later, A. Ciliga reported after his escape from Soviet prisons (Sotsialistichesky vestnik, No. 11, 1936):

In 1932‑33 the country was literally starving . . . In the villages of the Ukraine, the North Caucasus and Central Asia cannibalism was, if not an extensive, at least a widely spread phenomenon.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Cf. Koestler's article in The God that Failed, New York, Harper, 1949.

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9 Byulleten oppozitsii, No. 29‑30, September 1932.

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10 "Po Rossii," Sotsialistichesky vestnik, No. 19, October 1934.

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11 Stalin, Sochineniya, XIII, GIPL, Moscow, 1951, pp51‑80.

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12 Cf. Chubar's speech at the Third Party Conference of the CP(b)U, Visti, July 11, 1932.

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13 Visti, July 5, 1932.

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14 Visti, July 28, 1932.

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15 Report from Vinnitsa, Visti, July 5, 1932.

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16 Ibid.

Thayer's Note:

a Sic. But 812 is only 11.4% of 7086. Now 36 percent of 7086 is 2551; and the number of which 812 is 36 percent is 2256. Neither result suggests any plausible emendation.

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