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Bill Thayer

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Part I
Chapter 5

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 7

Part One
Stalinist Centralism and the Ukraine

 p22  Chapter VI

The Deepening Crisis:
From the Third Party Conference to the Resolution of the Central Committee of the All‑Union CP(b) on January 24, 1933

The Third All‑Ukrainian Party Conference brought no improvement in the economic situation of Ukrainian agriculture. It reiterated the existing Party line and left the same targets to be met by the country in grain deliveries. Instead of easing the tension, the conference led to further contraction. On August 7, 1932, a decree was issued which imposed the possible penalty of death by execution on all peasants misappropriating farm property or stealing food.1

Because of the widespread famine, peasants were often tempted to cut down handfuls of unripened crops, and, having dried and ground them, to prepare a mixture of grain, tree-bark and other vegetation, to satisfy their hunger. This desperate action by the starving peasants was interpreted as criminal, since it damaged the harvest. It was to remedy this, that the Soviet government issued the decree of August 7, which may have helped in saving the crops for deliveries to the state, but scarcely relieved the famine. The crisis in agriculture was not averted; on the contrary, production fell and the hungry peasants remained unfed. The Soviet Ukrainian press — Visti, Komunist, Selyanyn Kharkivshchyny, Proletarka pravda, Bilshovyk Ukrainy, Radyanska Ukraina — published several accounts of the distress and hardship from which the country suffered.

According to the Visti correspondent:

The weeding of sugar beet stopped in many districts. In the district of Khrystynovka only 36.1 per cent of the sugar-beet acreage was weeded; and in the district of Bratslav, 54.8 per cent; Makhnovka, 58 per cent.

On the Chubar kolkhoz in Ivanov in the district of Novo-Ukrainsky 92 of 200 hectares of sugar-beet acreage were lost due to the negligence of the kolkhoz management, which failed to ensure the necessary care of the land. The remaining hectares of the plantation became so overgrown with weeds that it was difficult to see how they could produce any harvest.2

p23 A month later the same newspaper carried reports of the yield of the sugar-beet harvest. Instead of the planned production of 100 centners per hectare, the yield was often less than half that amount. "In most cases," reported Visti, "20 to 25 centners per hectare are obtained."3

On October 18 Visti reported that deliveries of sugar beet to the refineries were lagging behind, especially in the Vinnitsa district. Most peasants were too weak to dig or to work in the field. In some cases the beets could not be brought to the factories because of lack of transportation. As a result, on October 20, which was the deadline for sugar-beet deliveries to the state, "only 55.9 per cent of the sugar-beet acreage was harvested."4

Press reports on the figures for grain deliveries are scantier. There are the usual directives and tirades about the urgency of the grain collection campaign, interspersed with threats of punitive action against sabotage and theft. Most revealing in regard to the famine are government orders allowing the peasants to take no more than 10 to 15 per cent of the newly harvested crops for their own use.5 Often the amount the starving peasants claimed was much larger, and it seems that the local authorities were powerless to stop them, or rather condoned this action in order to relieve the famine.

Thus Visti, for September 1, 1932, contains the following account:

In Holovchnytsi artel in the district of Zhmerinka 11 hectares of wheat and 8 hectares of rye were harvested and all the grain was immediately distributed among the peasants.

According to this report, similar violations occurred in the district of Derazhnya. There,

in the Zorya kolkhoz 60 per cent of the threshed grain was given to the peasants, and in the Sivach artel the entire harvest was turned over to them . . . In the Lenin's Memory artel the grain was earmarked for distribution among the peasants before it was ripe.

Visti's correspondent also notes that the chairmen of the kolkhozes ignored government orders to advance grain to the peasants only in proportion to their quotas of "work-days";​a food was apparently distributed to all who needed it. The government, alarmed at these "misappropriations of state property," took measures to subdue the starving, declaring that their actions were "directed against the state."6

Local Party officials were probably conspiring in this scheme, since this was the only way to get the famished peasants to return to work. Otherwise the local  p24 Party bosses would themselves suffer because of non‑fulfillment of set targets of production.

It is small wonder that, under such conditions, in spite of the presence in the villages of hundreds of overseers,7 the yield of crops for 1932 was well below what was expected. Up to October 20, only 82.9 per cent of the total acreage was seeded for winter crops.8 The figures for grain collection, as given by the press, were as follows:9

Up to October 5 39.0 per cent
Up to November 1 40.7 per cent
Up to November 26 60.8 per cent
Up to December 1 63.0 per cent
Up to December 6 65.0 per cent
Up to December 18 68.8 per cent
Up to December 26 71.8 per cent

This was all that the Ukrainian peasantry could deliver. Frequently, it was also deprived of the minimum food supplies for the winter and of seed for the next year.10

There is evidence to suggest that, as a result of the Third Party Conference, the CP(b)U found itself in a state of internal confusion. It was suffering from the most serious consequence in Soviet reality — loss of confidence in the Kremlin. Two forces which were manifest in the CP(b)U from the day of its creation, headed toward a new conflict at the end of 1932. One of the forces was that of the native Ukrainian Communists who were convinced of the value of their own contribution to the growth of their country; the other was that of the Russian, "centralist and bureaucratic" elements which were often resented by the first group as aliens. In the contest between these tendencies, historical circumstances dictated which of them held the upper hand. In 1932, the tension expressed itself in the following series of events which, for the sake of convenience may be classified in two columns. The first shows the gains of the native, Ukrainian Communists:

1) The triumphant celebration of the 60th birthday of Skrypnyk, "the undying Bolshevik, one of the best representatives of the old Lenin guard, one of the best fighters and builders of the Soviet Socialist Ukraine."11 All this — with no mention of Stalin.

2) The clearly demonstrative decision of the Ukrainian Economic Council on July 14, 1932 (six days after the Third Party Conference), modifying the decree of the Soviet of People's Commissars of the USSR dated June 29, 1932, concerning  p25 the deliveries of butter in the Ukraine. According to this modification, the original target of 16,400 tons of butter was reduced to 11,214 tons.12

3) Chubar's speech at the Komsomol conference in Kharkov, pleading for more freedom and decentralization.13

4) The surge of local pride in the construction in the Ukraine of Dniprelstan — the first giant power station in the USSR.14

5) A series of decrees, issued by the Soviet Ukrainian government and the Central Committee of the CP(b)U, some of them granting greater cultural facilities to the villages,15 others expressing concern with local party organizations16 and with the deliveries of foodstuffs by the peasants.17

On the other hand, several measures taken by the CP(b)U showed that it was still fulfilling drastic orders from above:

1) The directive "to organize immediately the return of grain distributed [to the peasants], and to direct it toward the fulfillment of grain deliveries."18

2) The sanctioning of the complete surrender of the seed supplies of the kolkhozes.19

3) Threats to arrest and liquidate lower officials of the kolkhozes.20

This divergence in decisions and actions of the Ukrainian Communists is the primary indication of the struggle between Moscow and Kharkov which was raging at that time. There was no doubt that, like all similar conflicts in the past, this divergence of views would lead to open conflict. There is reason to believe that Stalin, through his private informers, was gathering "evidence" against the top Ukrainian Communists, who were desperately trying to cope with the chaotic situation and yet were powerless to act.

 p26  The first intimation of impending battle was given in the decision on the purge of the Party, adopted by the Central Committee of the All‑Union CP(b) on December 10, 1932. On January 7, 1933, Pravda printed an article entitled "The Ukraine — the Deciding Factor in Grain Collection." It complained that up to December 25, the grain collection in the Ukraine decreased every five days. The republic was then one of the laggards in the fulfillment of the annual plan. Further, the article laid the blame on the Party organization in the Ukraine, which enabled the "class enemy to get organized." This was a clear sign that heads were going to roll.

The decision to precipitate the existing crisis was taken by Moscow. In January 1933, the curtain went up on a new act of the tragedy being directed by the Communist rulers in the Ukraine.

The Author's Notes:

1 "Ob okhrane imushchestva gosudarstvennykh predpriyatii, kolkhozov i kooperatsii i ukrepleniya obshchestvennoi sotsialisticheskoi sobstvennosti. Postanovleniye TsIK i SNK SSSR ot 7 avgusta 1932 g." (Concerning the Protection of Property of the State Establishments, the Kolkhozes and Cooperatives and the Strengthening of Public Socialist Property: Resolution of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR, August 7, 1932), Pravda, August 8, 1932; reprinted in Osnovnye direktivy partii i pravitelstva po khoz. stroitelstvu (Basic Directives of the Party and Government on Economic Construction), Moscow, 1934, pp39‑40.

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2 Visti, September 9, 1932.

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3 Visti, October 14, 1932.

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4 Visti, October 24, 1932.

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5 Visti, September 1, 1932.

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6 Khataevich's speech before the Stalin artel in the Novo-Ukrainka village soviet, Visti, December 9, 1932.

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7 According to Short History of the CPSU, 17,000 Party workers were sent to the villages (p303).

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8 Visti, October 24, 1932.

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9 The above data are collected from reports published in Visti between October 28 and December 30, 1932.

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10 Cf. Postyshev's speech in Pravda, June 22, 1933.

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11 Visti, January 26, 1932.

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12 Visti, July 17, 1932.

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13 Visti, September 10, 1932.

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14 The Ukrainian name Dniprelstan was later changed to Dniprobud (synonymous with the Russian Dneprostroi) and still later to Dneproges, which was used in Russian and Ukrainian newspapers.

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15 Visti, June 28, 1932; Visti, July 11, 1932.

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16 "Do vsikh oblkomiv i raykomiv KP(b)U vid TsK KP(b)U" (To all Provincial and District Committees of the CP(b)U from the CC of the CP(b)U), Visti, October 26, 1932.

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17 Visti, December 17, 1932; Visti, December 20, 1932.

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18 Visti, November 23, 1932.

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19 Terekhov, secretary of the Central Committee and the Kharkov Provincial Committee of the CP(b)U, made the following remark at the meeting of the rank-and‑file Party members in Kharkov on November 23, 1932: "The seed supplies may be taken in the course of grain deliveries. This must be done prudently. We must not forget about the sowing campaign and its difficulties. Our approach to seed supplies must be flexible. At the moment we cannot put down in writing that the seed supplies must not be touched, but we also cannot say that they must be taken." (Postyshev's speech at the plenum of the CC CP(b)U, Pravda, June 22, 1932).

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20 Visti, December 23, 1932. According to the resolution of the CC CP(b)U, the following Party workers were removed from their posts for negligence of duty: Shklyar and Kasiyan (province of Dnepropetrovsk); A. A. Bolyukevuch, I. I. Lavtsov, M. P. Leshchenko, K. Novikov, L. Ya. Mykhailyk; see also resolution of the Council of People's Commissars of the UkSSR, Visti, January 5, 1932.º

Thayer's Note:

a The author puts "work-days" in quotes because the expression meant something rather different from "days worked"; and of course, that official definition was not to the farmer's advantage. See Manning, Ukraine under the Soviets, p135.

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Page updated: 27 Jan 23