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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Ukraine under the Soviets
by Clarence Manning

published by
Bookman Associates
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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Chapter 16

 p131  Chapter Fifteen

The Thirties

With the completion of the compulsory collectivization, the ending of the famine and the destruction of the Ukrainian cultural renaissance, the country entered a new phase. The position in which it found itself was almost the opposite of the twenties. As, at the end of Militant Communism, the land was ruined and exhausted, so it was again. The number of domestic animals had dropped almost to the level of the earlier period, agriculture had been rendered prostrate, and material well-being had disappeared as the peasants were forced to labor on the collective farms.

On the other hand, there was none of that excitement and desire for work that had accompanied the introduction and development of the New Economic Policy, when the relaxation of the restrictions and the end of the lawlessness of Militant Communism had restored the possibility of profit to the people and when they could hope to see the results of their own labor.

More than that, the earlier period had been marked by the belief of the Ukrainian Communists that they could find an independent place in the Communist International. Then there was a conflict between those who wished a development of Ukrainian ideals and traditions, a union of the old and the new, and those who adopted a strictly Russian point of view. Now there was only one dominating force — the Russian. It had been made clear that there was to be no open antagonism. The Russian point of view was the only one that could hope to find acceptance in Communism, the Communist International had become a mere adjunct of the Russian Communist Party, all Ukrainian sympathies and expressions were banned, and the Ukrainian spirit was forced on the  p132 defensive and compelled to fight a rearguard action for maintaining its existence.

Step by step, Stalin and the Russian Communist Party was changing the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics into a Russian empire with its non‑Russian dependencies and, despite the Constitution of the Union and of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, it was becoming ever more and more clear that the latter was to be treated merely as a geographical colony of the new Russian-dominated union, with no attention to its wishes or its needs.

This had been evident from almost the first days of the Five Year Plan. Whatever might have been the original blueprint of this, it early became evident that the Soviet Union could only carry out its work of industrialization and collectivization, if everything were forced into a single plan. In connection with this, the various republic commissariats had been reduced to All‑Union commissariats and all independent power of judgment or planning had been removed from the local organs. If it were a question of developing a mine, of building a new factory, of introducing a new and more profitable crop, of constructing a new road or railroad, the authorities of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic had to refer the matter to Moscow and receive the permission to act from the central authorities of the Union. How could it be otherwise?

The central government had assumed the responsibility for the development of the country and it could not carry this on, if the local communities or republics had the power to meet any but the most primitive needs without consultation and permission. Moscow had decided how industry was to be developed, which branches were to be built in the RSFSR, which in Ukraine, which in the other republics. That plan was almost absolute and, warned by the fate of the fallen Communist leaders, the new successors were ultra-cautious in venturing to express an opinion.

The OGPU had been remodelled into the NKVD, the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, but this was placed under the same Yagoda who had been the head of the OGPU and he merely assumed greater powers and greater responsibilities for the safeguarding of the Soviet order.

 p133  The crying need of the Ukrainians was for consumer goods. Odesa and Kharkiv requested that they might be given the power to build textile mills to supply the needs of the local population. The request was denied, for the authorities had decided that the textile industry was to be concentrated in the RSFSR. The iron and steel cities requested that they might be given the permission to build factories to complete the fabrication of certain delicate types of machinery. The request was refused because it was to be only in the Moscow area that such articles were to be made. It was to be the task of Ukraine to furnish the raw material, the iron ore from Kryvy Rih, the coal of the Donbas, and to prepare the semi-finished pig‑iron and other forms of semi-fabricated material that were needed by the central plants.

The plan not only provided for construction. It went even further and specified the exact amount of products that were to be turned out by each individual plant. While it was possible to secure some profits from the over-fulfilment of the plan, regardless of the effect that this might have upon the plan as a whole, any under-fulfilment was treated as a gross failure of obligation to the state.

This led, in turn, to additional restrictions on the freedom of the workers. Punishments were ordered for tardiness, for absence from employment even for a single day without a satisfactory reason, for an attempt to change the place of employment. These regulations were not the product of the governing bodies of the republics but of the Union authorities themselves and they were transmitted from Moscow to the national republics through the liaison between the All‑Union commissariats and their subordinate organs.

It was the same with agriculture. Moscow knew what each collective farm, each kolkhoz, each sovkhoz was to furnish, and woe to the group that failed. The famine had been the result and that had been used to break the spirit of resistance of the Ukrainian villagers. The government specified the acreage that was to be devoted to wheat, to barley, to all of the crops that could be raised and it did no good if the local agronomists pointed out new  p134 methods, new possibilities. Their actions were interpreted as merely a defiance of the central government, a new case of wrecking or of sabotage and were treated accordingly. In the first rush of collectivization, the network of agricultural centres that had been developed in Ukraine during the twenties as a responsible answer to the local appreciation of the problem was wiped out and most of their leaders paid the penalty for their temerity in standing by their own studies and their own achievements.

There were only the slightest concessions finally made to the peasants. They were allowed to sell a certain amount of the surplus grain to the government at a somewhat higher price. The individual families were allowed to possess about an acre of land on which they could raise their own produce, provide their winter food as a result of their own labors and they were allowed to sell their own produce in what may best be described as a legalized black market, but this meant merely the privilege to sell themselves in some of the larger local centres, and to many of these they were allowed to go only if they secured the appropriate permits from the heads of the collective farms and the local representatives of the NKVD.

Even these slight concessions, while they could not bring prosperity to the peasants on the collective farms, rendered it possible for them to keep body and soul together despite the steadily dropping standard of living and the almost complete lack of consumer goods which were furnished in quantity only to the inhabitants of the more favored regions, as Moscow and Leningrad. At the same time, the peasants felt, even more bitterly, the fact that the new conditions of living prevented almost all those home manufactures which in the earlier period had enabled them to compensate in some degree for the lack of proper articles of industry.

There was thus a growing material impoverishment of the village communities and a loss of the old spontaneity and gaiety that had marked Ukraine even under the hardest conditions of the past. Attempts were made to utilize this for forcing peasants to leave the villages and join the industrial masses in the cities and work in the new plants. Others were encouraged to leave the  p135 country for less populated districts in the east, while, on the slightest suspicions, whole families were deported, separated and exiled, and their places taken by people from other Soviet republics who were brought in to destroy the racial unity that formerly existed in the villages.

To appreciate the difficulties of the peasants on the collective farms, we must remember that the involved bureaucratic system had ample opportunities for extorting the grain for little or no payment. Thus the Motor Transport Stations which controlled all the machinery were supported by payments from the collective farms of grain and other products in kind and this usually approached 21.5% of the total yield, while the Stations took over 23% of the crop for the government. Another 15% was retained by the kolhosp for sowing and for various insurance funds that were prescribed by law and another 18% was kept for fodder and for the compensation of the full-time administrators. Thus, there was barely a quarter of the produce left to be distributed among the working population and this was the variable quantity since all of the payments and collections were based not on the actual harvest but on the harvest as planned by the central authorities. Thus, in the case of a bad harvest, the share allotted for distribution was the part that was cut and the government, so far as possible was provided with its expected supply.

This amount was divided among the individuals and families on the basis of the labor days which they had worked. In the beginning a labor day meant labor for a day, no matter how many hours of labor were required, but even before World War II, this simple definition was replaced by a specification that it covered a definite amount of work and it might very easily happen that a slow or poor workman would have to work more than one day to make a labor day. Thus, there was the possibility of still further exploitation of the workmen, who could not know accurately until the end of the year on what they could count.

There was also distributed, likewise in proportion to labor days, a certain sum of money which the kolhosp received from the government in return for the sale of grain over the amount collected  p136 for the tax in kind. This was a negligible sum and the average member rarely received more than one ruble per labor day. This sum was, of course, insufficient to provide for the goods which the family needed to purchase, and since their share of the grain was rarely sufficient to feed them, their situation became hopeless, while of other products the individual received about one litre of oil, fifty kilograms of potatoes, thirty-five kilograms of fruit, and five-tenths kilograms of meat and fat.

The real significance of these figures is shown in the prices that were charged in the state stores. There a kilogram of bread cost ninety kopecks, ten eggs brought eight rubles, a kilogram of beef twenty-four rubles, and a pair of boots four hundred and fifty rubles, while a farmer's suit of clothes cost five hundred rubles.

It made the peasant really dependent upon his individual plot of land if he was to secure any necessities. This was far too small and its use was bound with many restrictions. Thus, no family was allowed to hold more than one cow and two calves, one sow, up to ten goats, an undefined number of chickens and up to twenty beehives. In the beginning it was possible for the peasant to secure a certain amount of food for these animals from the common store. He was allowed to retain the manure and it was thus possible for him to improve his own individual plot and thus to secure larger returns. It was a liberal application of such principles that had rendered possible the general improvement which was noticeable during the years 1934‑6, when the government was endeavoring to make the system of collective farms workable.

It can be easily seen that the system of allowing individual incomes was based on a principle opposite that of the New Economic Policy, for it would require scarcely a legislative enactment to reduce these amounts while the New Economic Policy presented a norm of profit to the workers. Yet with each year, once the government was convinced of its success, it found it possible in various ways to tap this new source of income for its own purposes.

The favorite method was by taxation. Thus, by 1939 if we should assume that the average family received in cash four hundred  p137 and eighty karbovantsy, they would be required to pay twenty‑two and a half karb. in taxes, twenty in rent, 50 as a special tax and they would be required to volunteer to take at least two hundred in government bonds.

Even this did not cover the total payments to the government. With its usual love of double-talk and subterfuge, the government, which controlled every branch of human activity in the USSR, talked of the establishment of socialism and levied indirect taxes on all transactions so that the actual cost to the villagers of any manufactured article was about three times what it cost the government as producer. The whole subject was carefully veiled as a state secret to protect the Soviet Union against capitalist intrigues but the unfortunate population were the unwilling contributors to this new order of life.

Under such conditions it is extremely difficult to pierce the veil of percentages as to cost and production and give a reliable estimate as to the amount of money received for the government or the relation­ship between the sums spent in maintaining the operation of the Moscow-controlled factories in Ukraine and the amount spent upon the needs of the population either individually, as families or as citizens of the UkSSR or of the UkSSR as a governmental unity within the Soviet sphere. From those figures which the Soviet has let out, it is possible to see that the yearly budget of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic has run from 2½‑5% of the budget of the USSR while the population has been at least 18% of the total population.

With the villages compelled to yield the last pound of grain, etc., that could be extracted by force, and receiving in return almost no manufactured goods, the position of the city workmen and the intelligentsia was little better. The wages of the workmen were always insufficient, the housing conditions were hardly endurable, and the only point of betterment was that the larger places and some of the plants especially favored by the regime received more manufactured goods of a poor quality and at a high price which the fortunate people might be able to secure.  p138 They could also, if they still had preserved any valuables, dispose of them through the Torgsin stores which sold imported wares for foreign currency and precious metals.

Of course, neither in city or village did any of these restrictions apply to the more important Communists who possessed their own stores at which the government supplied them with the necessary articles to allow them to live in comfort and luxury as a welcome investment for the regime. The line of demarcation between the poor and the rich, the ordinary people and the Communists, became steadily greater, until it was often wider than it had been in the old tsarist Russian empire.

All these measures which had been adopted in Moscow were in theory supposed to apply to all sections of the USSR equally, but it was not long before the natives of Ukraine realized that however impartial the laws might seem, they were not sufficiently flexible to take account of local and republican differences. The central regime was interested in advancing and developing the Moscow industrial area and it expended on this in various grandiose efforts, as the Moscow subway, enormous sums of money. It is safe to say that the expenditures in that one area alone equalled the entire budget and money spent by the central government in the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. It classified Ukraine as one of the regions where the supply of manufactured goods was less necessary.

The crushing of the Ukrainian Communists, the suicide of Khvylovy and Skrypnyk, no less than the complete altering of the land code of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the substitution of the new policy of collectivization, showed perfectly well where the real power of the USSR lay in the thirties and it was accompanied by such acts as the introduction of Russian as the standard language of instruction of the army. This was followed by the formal transfer of the Ukrainian divisions to the Red Army and a number of other acts which completed the subordination of the UkSSR. Already in 1930, during difficulties on the Soviet-Manchuria borders, the Red Army had not hesitated to  p139 greet the Communist Party with news of its victories and allowed this even to take precedence over a notice to the Soviet government which had hitherto claimed to be predominant.

To regularize all these changes of practice, Stalin ordered a new constitution and this was approved on December 5, 1936. It was a marvel of inconsistencies, for it was drawn up to express all of the old slogans and the modern facts.

Here was, in Article 17, the old talk of the right of free withdrawal of any Union Republic from the USSR but there was also a provision that the Supreme Soviet could annul any action of any Union Republic contrary to its wishes. There was a careful definition of the three classes of Commissariats but when the book is read critically it is easily seen that the only subjects within the competence of the Union Republics were Education, Local Industry, Communal Economy and Social Security and their decisions could legally be upset by Moscow. Article 15 provided for almost full independence, subject to Article 14, which made the Presidium of the Moscow Communist Party and of the USSR the almost undisputed master of the Union Republics, and Art. XIII, read in conjunction with this, made it possible for the Presidium to amend or any change any article of the entire Constitution.

Along with all the democratic phrases in many articles was the confirmation of the unified state budget and the provision that any act of any subordinate Soviet could be easily nullified.

At the moment the democratic nations of the west were so preoccupied with the threat offered by the Nazis that they were thinking only of efforts to make a common popular front with the Soviets. They found a convenient possibility in the new Constitution and they were little disposed to pay any attention to all those phrases which formally and almost explicitly nullified all that they wished to see.

Thus, the legal basis was provided for the extension of the power of the Moscow government. Once the new Constitution was adopted and in force, the last rights of the Union Republics were nullified de jure as well as de facto and the central government was  p140 given a fresh hand in its work of bending all the Union Republics to its will. The stamp of state approval was set upon the new system of administration and with that accomplished, there was small reason why the regime should not go further with its work of russification and unification.

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