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Part I
Chapter 4

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.

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Part I
Chapter 6

Part One
Stalinist Centralism and the Ukraine

 p18  Chapter V

The Failure of a Mission:
V. Molotov and L. Kaganovich
at the Third All‑Ukrainian Party Conference

If the Party was worried about the impending catastrophe in the Ukraine, this was not because of forced collectivization and brutal centralization, but because of the inability of the Ukrainian Party organization either to apply the correct policy in that republic or to fulfill the plans for collectivization and grain delivery. It was decided, therefore, to find the members of the organization guilty of misapplication of Party policy in the Communist Party of the Ukraine. They, as well as the recalcitrant peasants who would not obey them, were to be blamed for the catastrophic decline in food production.

The leaders of the CP(b)U were by no means inclined to accept the harshness of collectivization and they felt uneasy in acting as the main executors of this policy. They saw that the failure of collectivization was not due to sabotage by the kulaks and nationalists. It may be said that in this matter they had their own point of view, which differed from the official view of the All‑Union CP(b). This difference led to a major conflict between the CP(b)U and the All‑Union CP(b). Documentary evidence of this conflict is scanty, yet on the basis of analysis of records of the Third Party Conference of the CP(b)U in 1932, it is possible to gain an insight into this internal strife.

The Third All‑Ukrainian Party Conference was convened on July 6, 1932. The first report was delivered by S. Kosior, the Secretary of the CP(b)U. All the delegates were anxious to hear two guests from Moscow, Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars V. Molotov and L. Kaganovich, member of the Politburo and Second (after Stalin) Secretary of the Central Committee of the All‑Union CP(b). They, however, reserved to themselves the privilege of being the last two speakers, after the general discussion. This meant, of course, that while the views of all the other speakers were open to discussion, the pronouncements of Molotov and Kaganovich had to be accepted as final verdicts, against which there was no appeal. Such an agenda, obviously dictated by the visitors, was a slap in the face for the Ukrainian Communists.

In his introductory speech, Kosior clearly said that

some comrades are inclined to explain the difficulties in the spring sowing campaign by the magnitude of the plans for grain deliveries, which they consider unrealistic . . . Many say that our pace and our plans are too strenuous . . . Everything is blamed on the plans . . . This criticism comes from the Central Committee of the CP(b)U and from the districts.1

p19 The effect of the pre‑arranged agenda, and of Kosior's speech, was contrary to what Molotov and Kaganovich might have expected. Instead of browbeating the Ukrainian Communists, they infuriated them by their tactics, which were insulting to the CP(b)U.

Skrypnyk was the next to speak after Kosior. He told the conference that he had just returned from a trip during which he had visited three districts and scores of villages. Stressing that "our situation is difficult," that "we have breaches in grain collection," that "we have failed to collect 70 million poods of grain from the peasants," he admitted that "we are now experiencing great difficulties in providing food." This latter phrase was the Soviet euphemism for "famine." "I was in a district," Skrypnyk declared, "where there were great provisioning difficulties. It was in the village of Novo-Krasne, in the Oknyansk district, in Moldavia." Then, citing several other examples, Skrypnyk told the conference that the peasants blamed the government for the present state of affairs. They had told him that their farms had been "swept clean."

Probing into the real causes of the disaster, Skrypnyk, cautiously suggested that perhaps the fault lay not so much with the people as with the system itself:

Instead of the question what is the cause of our failures [in production], a different question is being posed here, namely: who is the cause of our breakdown? This is not the correct way to formulate the question. We must explain the reason for our failure, and not substitute for it the philistine and petty bourgeois question — who is to blame? We are people. We live and we struggle; our faults must have their reasons.2

With these words Skrypnyk decisively refused the insinuation that the men who were in charge of collectivization in the UK were to blame for its failure. The reason, in his opinion, could not be attributed to human failure; it lay deeper, in the political and economic plan of the entire scheme. Skrypnyk left it to Molotov and Kaganovich to draw their own conclusions.

The next speaker was V. Zatonsky, People's Commissar of Workers' and Peasants' Inspection. While making a general admission that "since there are serious breakdowns . . . our work must have been bad," he claimed that "no one could accuse us of an incorrect political line . . . We stood and still stand on the ground of the general Party line."3

O. Shlikhter, Ukrainian Commissar of Agriculture, and Director of the Marx and Lenin Scientific Research Institutes, spoke about the class struggle, about the opposition of the kulaks, and about the loss of Party vigilance. "However," he concluded his speech, "that is not the question. Reasons for the loss of the harvest must be sought . . . elsewhere. The basic reason is poor economics, absence of correct organization of labor."4 Consequently he devoted more time in his speech to the economic problems involved in collectivization.

 p20  The highlight of the conference was the speech by the head of the Soviet Ukrainian government, Vlas Chubar.5 He pointed to three chief reasons which, in his opinion, had led to the catastrophe in Ukrainian agriculture. The first he called "kolkhoz gigantism," an obsession of many high and low officials engaged in the supervision of collectivization. The plans for giant collectivization farms, he claimed, were the dreams of phantasists, and did not correspond to the economic realities of the country. From the point of view of the peasant, such large kolkhozes were, at the present time, he said, wasteful and unprofitable.6 The second reason was the acceptance by kolkhoz managers of unrealistic plans, and their attempts to realize them later by illegal and ruinous methods. "It is wrong," said Chubar, "to accept an order [from above] regardless of its practicability, and then to try to distort Party policy, to destroy revolutionary law and order, to ruin the economy of the kolkhozes, justifying all this by orders from above. This is what has happened."7 The third reason was connected with the exodus of young and industrious peasants from the villages. Here Chubar mentioned several incidents to prove his point. He said that in the district of Holoprystansk, the collective planners had found that they were 3,503 men short and, as a result, could not fulfill their plans.

The head of the Soviet Ukrainian government, himself the son of a peasant from the district of Dnepropetrovsk, a former leader of the Bolshevik revolution in the Putilov Works in Leningrad and in 1923 Lenin's choice as the head of the Soviet Ukrainian government, was not afraid to make this disclosure before the emissaries from the Kremlin. Instead of accepting their veiled charges that he and the Ukrainian Communists were to blame, he challenged Molotov and Kaganovich to see conditions as they really were. His answer to them was clear. Neither the peasants nor the Ukrainian government but the unrealistic plans of Moscow were to blame for the failure of collectivization.

Just how serious this failure, as reviewed by the Third Party Conference, was for the entire Soviet industrial development may be seen from an alarm sounded by a Pravda editorial on the occasion of the Conference, about the effects of the "agricultural shortages" in the Donbas.8 However, the plea of all the Ukrainian Communists for an understanding of the real economic situation in the Ukraine was firmly rejected by Stalin's two envoys. Speaking after the discussion, they  p21 ignored the explanations given by the Ukrainians. Molotov declared that recent difficulties were the result of errors committed by the Ukrainian Party organization. "We must admit," he said emphatically, "that the Ukrainian Bolsheviks have failed to cope with the task [put before them]." He branded the attempts to blame "external" circumstances and "unrealistic" plans for the failure of collectivization as "anti-Bolshevik."9 Both Molotov and Kaganovich gave the Ukrainian Communists clearly to understand that Party policy concerning collectivization could not change and that Moscow expected them to submit to it without hope of any concessions: "There will be no concessions or vacillations in the problem of fulfillment of the tasks set by the Party and the Soviet government."10 These were Molotov's last words. The resolution adopted at the Third Party Conference was obviously dictated by Molotov and Kaganovich.11 It dealt with strictly economic, not political, matters. Yet the disagreement, which the resolution tried to resolve, was not confined to agriculture.

Listening to the speeches and discussions at the Third Conference, Stalin's envoys must have been struck by a certain degree of unity and stubbornness evinced by the Ukrainian Communist leaders. This must have appeared very ominous to them. As yet, Molotov and Kaganovich had not expressed their views on the united Ukrainian front. All they had been told to do was to convince the Ukrainians that there would be no relaxation of collectivization by Moscow. But the insight they gained into the minds of the Ukrainian Communists must have alarmed them considerably. Returning to Moscow they were no doubt ready to report to their chief that a new, strongly deviationist trend was starting within the CP(b)U. The future held many imponderables, but the feeling of tension between Kharkov and Moscow remained acute. Having realized that there would be no concessions from Moscow, the Ukrainian delegates to the Third Party Conference were faced with a terrifying alternative: either to become the instruments of Moscow's tyranny over their people, or to perish.

The Author's Notes:

1 "Iz doklada S. Kosiora na III vseukrainskoi partiinoi konferentsii" (From the Report of S. Kosior at the Third All‑Ukrainian Party Conference), Pravda, July 9, 1932.

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2 Visti, July 11, 1932.

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3 Visti, July 17, 1932.

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4 Ibid.

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5 Ibid.

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6 Twenty years later, in 1950, the idea of "super-kolkhozes" was revived by Nikita Khrushchev, who was then the dictator of the Ukraine. (See Pravda, February 19, 1950, also Bolshevik, No. 10, 1948 and No. 3, 1949.)

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7 There is reason to believe that Chubar's opinion remained unchanged. When he visited the Uman district in Kiev province in 1932 he was approached by an old peasant whose body was swollen with hunger, with a request to send him some grain. "And where is your grain?" Chubar was reported to have said. "They took it from me," answered the old man. "And why did you let them?" inquired Chubar in the presence of all the officials. This incident was reported by the secretary of the Uman district Party Committee, Herashchenko, to a person who later became an emigre.

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8 Pravda, July 7, 1932.

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9 Pravda, July 14, 1932.

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10 Ibid.

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11 Pravda, July 15, 1932.

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