January 7, 2018

What Really Happened in the Ukrainian Countryside?

The Bolshevik's Error of Not Winning the Peasants to Communism

Part Five of a series of six articles exposing the fraudulent film Harvest of Despair and the equally fraudulent book Harvest of Sorrow, originally published in Challenge - Desafio, newspaper of the Progressive Labor Party, in 1987. 

Earlier articles in this series have discussed the anti- Communist lies in the book Harvest of Sorrow and the film Harvest of Despair, and have shown the fascist, anti-working class reasons for these lies. This article discusses what really happened during the collectivization movement in the USSR during the `30s, and what communists and workers today can learn from it. 

The analysis and criticism of the Bolshevik concept of socialism and the "forces of production" which are outlined here have been discussed in greater depth in several PL Magazine articles in the last few years. All recent research by the most careful bourgeois scholars has born out the conclusions of this article. 1 We in PLP are struggling to make a communist revolution and build a classless, egalitarian society free of capitalist exploitation. So we have to carefully study the efforts of the communists who have gone before us. together with our own experience in class struggle, the lessons of the successes and failures of communists of the past are our guideposts. We want to imitate what Marx, Engels, the Bolsheviks, Chinese communists, and others did correctly, and learn from their mistakes. During our short history of 20 years, the PLP has issued four major documents, representing our collective attempt to unmask and defeat capitalist ideas which have held back the communist movement, prevented the creation of a classless society and turned the working-class-led Soviet Union and China into fascist, capitalist dictatorships. The most recent of these PLP documents is Road to Revolution IV. The analysis that follows takes as its standpoint the concept of communism outlined in this document.

Whatever deaths from starvation and malnutrition occurred in the Ukraine and in other parts of the Soviet Union at that time were related to the attempt to collectivize agriculture. The leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Stalin, and the overwhelming majority of Soviet workers as a whole believed that rapid industrialization and collectivization of agriculture -- voluntary if possible, but forced if necessary -- was essential to the building of socialism.

Most capitalist observers of the USSR thought so, too. In fact, this is the premise of Conquest's book, the Ukrainian nationalist film, and most ferocious anti-Communists today. They all believe that the peasants could never have been won to collectivizing agriculture voluntarily. 

The anti-Communists also refuse to admit that the working class was overwhelmingly won to communism. But time and again the most thorough bourgeois, anti-Communist researchers themselves have shown that the Soviet working class overwhelmingly supported communism. Hundreds of thousands of the most experienced Soviet workers volunteered to go to the countryside in 1929-30 to lead the collectivization movement. 

The available evidence indicates that the majority of worker- communists voluntarily enlisted out of a sense of civil duty: 

:"...the vast majority of workers who volunteered ... believed that collectivization was a task of the utmost urgency and that it was a patriotic duty to participate in the revolutionary struggle developing in the countryside.". Of the workers who volunteered to lead the collectivization campaign, called "25,000ers," more came from the Ukraine than from any other area.

The workers sent to the countryside to lead the collectivization encountered much peasant hostility. The policies followed during the period of the NEP (New Economic Policy) had guaranteed that capitalist, not communist, ideas had been built in the countryside. There were very few communists in the villages, and many of them were from the ranks of the better-off peasants. Many worker organizers were killed or driven off by angry peasants. 

The experience of both China and North Vietnam in the mid- 50s shows that masses of peasants can be won to collectivization: 
"In fact, the movement to collectivize agriculture in China was undertaken by the masses, led by rank-and-file, mainly peasant, communists. It began without the authorization or even the knowledge of the Party leadership, a large part of which actively opposed it as `leftism.' Mao did jump on the bandwagon and supported it, but his writings in Volume Five of the Selected Works make it clear that many leading CP'ers were frightened by it. Even Mao held back the movement by insisting that agricultural co-ops only be formed where production could be increased thereby. He did state that there were many peasants who were `politically conscious enough to take the socialist road and ... really willing to join,' and was clearly puzzled why there were any middle peasants who are economically better off, like this! (Selected Works, Vol 5, p. 193). 

-- "The Bolsheviks and the Peasantry," PL Magazine, Fall 1979, p. 79. 

Communism, Not Socialism

The Bolsheviks' fundamental error was in believing that communism had to be attained by passing through a stage called "socialism." They thought that during this stage certain capitalist practices had to be retained and even developed in order to achieve a state of material abundance. Only then would the "material basis" for a communist society exist, they thought. This erroneous idea originated with Marx and Engels. 

The "right-wing" -- those forces within the working-class movement who broke the least with capitalist ideas, naturally never took issue with this aspect of Marx's thought. But even the left of the Party - those who were closest to the working class, most suspicious of capitalism, and most determined to bring about a truly classless, egalitarian society, never saw through Marx's and Engels'' erroneous notion. Lenin, leader of the left in the working- class movement worldwide, wrote in Pages From a Diary, one of his last works (1922), that it would be "fatal" for the Bolsheviks to try to inculcate communist ideas in the countryside. The peasants were so politically backward and the material basis for communism -- a working class produced by capitalist productive forces -- was lacking. 

Stalin and the other Bolshevik leaders who succeeded Lenin retained this idea. In other words, they believed that the economy must be built before the masses of peasants and workers could be won to communist ideas. The result was that they had little peasant support for the collectivization effort. 

This notion of the "material preconditions" for communism led the Bolsheviks to lay too much stress on industrialization. In a 1931 speech Stalin stated that the USSR had "ten years" to industrialize or "go under" in battle with the capitalists. Here as elsewhere Stalin reflected the Bolshevik leadership's thinking. No communist -- indeed, no capitalist either -- thought that a non- industrialized country, even if led by the working class, cold survive attack by highly-industrialized imperialists. The Bolsheviks equated socialism with an industrialized economy, just as they believed communism could not arrive until abundance of material goods proved a communist society could "out-produce" capitalism. At best, communism was a function of how many consumer goods were available. At worst, workers and others had to be bribed to accept communism. These were more or less the poles of communist thinking at the time. 

This was most obviously wrong with respect to the Soviet workers themselves. During the first enthusiasm of the First Five-Year Plan -- the period which some Soviet researchers now accurately call the Soviet "Cultural Revolution" -- thousands of workers and intellectuals tried to press for the immediate institution of communist ideas without going through a lengthy "socialist" stage. Advanced peasants joined communes, in which all property was pooled and all paid equally. Workers formed "communes" in factories -- work groups in which all were paid equally, regardless of skill. Intellectuals pushed for a sharp struggle against all forms of bourgeois ideas in culture (the Proletkult movement, very similar in essential respects to the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s).

In the real world, millions of communists had fought and died for a society of equality and justice ruled by the working class, not for a higher standard of living. Naturally Lenin, Stalin and the Bolshevik leaders knew this. However, in practice the party lacked confidence that the masses of workers and peasants in their millions could be won to these ideas. They thought these ideas could only be fully grasped and accepted by a revolutionary elite. They thought most workers' loyalty to communism could not be won without holding out to them the "carrot" of a higher living standard. 

So the Party leadership put a damper on all egalitarian ideas. Like Mao 25 years later, Stalin and the other leaders stressed that only those ideas were good which led to immediately increases in production. This meant advancing various "bonus" and "piece-work" systems and the Stakhanovite movement in industry. 

This was not a "sell-out," which implies the abandonment of a good line. It was the logical extension of the line about "material preconditions" which led to the Five-Year Plans and forced collectivization, which was believed necessary because (1) in the short run, workers in the cities needed food, which was being hoarded by rich peasants {kulaks), holding out for high prices and thus exploiting the working class; and (2) in the long run, collectivization would permit larger harvests, which could be taken by the State to fund the industrialization movement. Meanwhile, (3) the peasantry, now working for a wage on collective farms, would be transformed from small business-men, each with his own farm, into workers, working for a wage. 

Once the farms were collectivized, it meant the retention of private plots where, since they were not won to communist ideas, peasants could grow crops for their own profit. In the military, it meant reversion to traditional capitalists ranks and authoritarianism, and reliance upon military "technique" rather than on people's war.

In every sphere of life, the Bolsheviks' conception that elements of capitalist individualism had to be retained and even promoted led away from communism. Once put into practice, these ideas prepared the ground for a full-scale reversion to capitalism: at first, state capitalism, developing more and more fully after the mid-50s, and then full-blown private-ownership capitalism after 1989. 

Politics of the Collectivization Movement

The "25,000ers" and other workers sent to help the peasants collectivize did have many allies among the poorer peasants, who were enthusiastic about the movement. But most peasants were not won to the ideas, and many were actively hostile. 

Collectivization and communism were generally opposed by the "kulaks" (in Ukrainian, "kurkuls"), the wealthiest peasants, and by the clergy of the Orthodox church. These elements tended to be in the leadership of the peasant villages. But the Bolsheviks had not built a base for communist ideas in the villages which could have isolated the priests, "kulaks," and other anti-Communist forces. 

Under the "New Economic Policy" (NEP) of the 20s, the Bolsheviks had encouraged the rebuilding of capitalist relations of production in order to immediately stimulate economic growth. This was a response to the immense destruction caused by the Civil War (1918-22) which followed the Revolution of 1917.

The result was that, throughout the 20s, capitalists ideas were built. The Bolsheviks' huge base among the working class helped them overcome this in the cities. But in the villages, where 80% of the population lived, they had few members. Many village communists were peasants who had done well under the capitalist NEP, were hostile to collectivization, and helped to undermine it. 

Supporting the Party were the "Committees of Poor Peasants" formed during the Civil War in 1918. They had continued, through obviously they were weakened during NEP, which helped the better-off peasants at the expense, of course, of the poor. During the collectivization movement they were an invaluable source of support for communist ideas. But they were not enough.

IN a word: by 1929 the capitalist forces in the villages had not been isolated. Many or most peasants still supported capitalist ideas. They still thought they could make it "by themselves," with their own land, rather than together in collectives. Naturally the "kulaks," priests, and other village leaders fought communist ideas. The Party's ideas found much support -- from poor peasants, from peasant women, whose position in traditional village life was especially hard, from thousands of workers whose roots were in the villages and who knew "kulak" and priest oppression at first hand. The work of recent bourgeois researchers confirms this, thought the fanatical anti-Communists deny it.

Nevertheless, the "25,000ers" faced bitter opposition. Because the Party's emphasis was on economics rather than on politics, they found their job was, in the final analysis, to force collectivization on an unwilling peasantry rather than win the peasants to communism. Because of the need for grain collections to pay for rapid industrialization, the "25,000ers" were themselves commanded to succeed. 

"As regards methods, one cannot say, without incurring the risk of over-simplification, that coercion was the only method used to achieve the purpose. In the sphere of collectivization the Party never abandoned the voluntary principle and actually attempted to adopt various methods congruent with it, apart from using coercion... But the logic of the situation developed contrary to the Party's intention and coercion turned out to be the major element in it." 9 

How Revolutionaries Learn from the Stalin Period


1. In an earlier article we saw that the best recent research indicates a "population deficit" in the USSR for the entire period between 1926 and 1939 of 9 million at most, and that a large proportion of these were births that failed to take place -- i.e. a result of a decline in the birth rate -- not actual deaths of living people. Assuming the mortality (death) and fertility (birth) rates that the most expert bourgeois population researchers think reasonable, actual excess deaths during these 13 years from all causes were probably in the 3.2 to 5.5 million range. Perhaps a million or so could be attributed to the time of the famine (1932-33), and most of these to deaths from epidemic diseases, often aggravated by malnutrition. See the first article in this series for the details. 

2. The memoires of the Soviet émigrés Lev Kopelev and Petr Grigorenko, who were young Communist Party worker activists in the collectivization movement, testify that they too were convinced at the time that forced collectivization was justified. By the 1960s, when they wrote their memoires, they had become thoroughly anti-Communist and pro- capitalist, and blamed Stalin for everything. 

3. Lynne Viola, "The "25,000ers": A Study in a Soviet Recruitment Campaign During the First Five Year Plan," Russian History / Histoire Russe (Irvine, CA), 10, Pt. 1 (1983), pp. 26-7; most from the Ukraine, p. 29. A shorter version is Lynne Viola, "The Twenty-Five Thousanders," in The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History (Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1985), 40, 120-123. Other good articles on worker participation in collectivization by Viola are: "Notes on the Background of Soviet Collectivization: Metal Worker Brigades in the Countryside, Autumn 1929," Soviet Studies, 36 (April 1984), 205-222; "The Case of Krasnyi Meliorator, or How the Kulak Grows into Socialism," Soviet Studies, 38 (October, 1986), 508-529. For evidence on peasant women's support for collectivization (and on the role of women generally), see Lynne Viola, "Bab'y Bunty and Peasant Women's Protest During Collectivization," The Russian Review, 45 (1986), 40- 1. 

4. See Lewis Siegelbaum, "Production Collectives and Communes and the `Imperatives' of Soviet Industrialization, 1929-1931," Slavic Review, 45 (Spring 1986), 65-84. Also, the articles by Fitzpatrick and Hough in Cultural Revolution in Russia, 1928-1931, ed. Sheila Fitzpatrick (Bloomington, IN: Indiana U.P., 1978). 

5. See "The Soviet Army: The Retreat from Revolution," PL Magazine, 12 (Summer, 1979), 10- 29. 

6. The Civil War was the attempt by the anti-Communist Russian forces, or "Whites," to overthrow the Revolution with the aid of the forces of both sides in World War I. France, England, the US, Japan, Germany, Poland, and other nations actually sent armies to fight the Bolsheviks and aid the "Whites." Anti-Communist, racist "anarchist" forces and the Ukrainian nationalists also fought the Bolsheviks. 

7. On the "Poor Peasant Committees," see James E. Mace, "Komitety Nazamozhnykh Selyan [Ukrainian for "Committees of Poor Peasants"] and the Structure of Soviet Rule in the Ukrainian Countryside, 1920- 1933," Soviet Studies, 35 (October, 1983), 487-503. One of the chief perpetrators of the "Ukrainian holocaust" fraud, Mace is a ferocious anti-Communist. As such, he completely misinterprets his evidence, all of which shows that the Bolsheviks had a large base among poor peasants. None of his evaluations of the evidence should be accepted, since they usually go directly contrary to the evidence he himself is using. This is very common among anti-Communist researchers who actually do some research, and shows the power of ideological prejudices and preconceptions -- in this case, anti-Communism -- to overpower one's ability to read evidence which is right in front of you! For a lot of examples of this, see "The Name and the Game of the Anti- Stalinists," PL Magazine, 10, No. 4 (September, 1975), pp. 56-79. 

8. For recent research on collectivization, see the articles cited in these notes, and in the PL Magazine article, "The Bolsheviks and the Peasantry," PL Magazine, 12, No. 4 (Fall 1979), p. 68- 79.

9. Y. Taniuchi, "A Note on the Ural- Siberian Method," Soviet Studies (October 1981), p. 542