(Continued from Part 4, The Day, Nov. 22).
In my previous article I pointed out that I no longer use the term “Stalinism,” which is widely used in both Ukraine and the West. As I reread that article, I decided that I should explain my rejection of this term.
At the same time, I reread the article by Professor Andrea Graziosi of the University of Naples, which appeared in Ukrainskyi istorychnyi zhurnal [Ukrainian Historical Journal] (no. 3, 2005), and focused on the following thought: “Stanislav Kulchytsky established the preconditions of the genocide from a different angle, portraying the famine (at both the general Soviet level and the Ukrainian level) as ideologically motivated genocide that resulted from decisions made in 1929.”
Combining these two thoughts, I realized that I cannot confine myself to revealing only the socioeconomic and national dimensions of the genocide, as I planned on doing from the start. I must single out a third, ideological, dimension. Its analysis should start not with the year 1929, when the collectivization of agriculture was already in full swing, but with 1917, when Lenin threw the idea of building a “commune state” into Russian society, which was then in revolutionary turmoil.
In doing so, I do not mean to add new touches to the concept of the Holodomor as an act of genocide, but only to enhance the concept’s structural integrity. The cause-and- effect relationships between the Holodomor and the entire picture of “socialist construction” should be outlined in such a way as to make this concept logically impeccable and clear to readers. This means that the explanation of the concept should begin with the ideological dimension of the genocide.
ON THE NATURE OF SOVIET POWER
In 2003 I completed my book entitled Rosiiska revoliutsiia 1917 roku: novyi pohliad [The Russian Revolution of 1917: a New Perspective]. It was published by the Institute of Ukrainian History in two languages, Ukrainian and Russian, the original and the translation in one volume. The limited edition was distributed among experts, including members of the scholarly council on the history of revolutions at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
In the book I speak of only one revolution of 1917, not the February or October revolution, but a single Russian revolution with its specific ramifications in the empire’s peripheral national territories — Ukraine and others. Yet this is not what my new angle on those events is about. The greatest authority on Russian history in the West, Richard Pipes, published his two-volume work, The Russian Revolution, in New York already in 1990. His book quite naturally analyzes the Russian revolution as an uninterrupted process. In 1994 the association “Russian Political Encyclopedia” translated and published these two volumes under their original title, Russkaia revolutsiia [The Russian Revolution]. However, even after this, few people in Russia and Ukraine abandoned the idea of two separate revolutions. Only the terminology has changed, with the Great October Socialist Revolution now being called the October Coup.
The novelty of my approach, which has not won any recognition either, lies in analyzing the historical phenomenon commonly known as Soviet power. I believe that it was the political regime with this inaccurate name that provided Russian communism with a margin of strength that enabled it to survive for three generations. The essence of Lenin’s approach was in dividing seized power — integral and centralized — into two halves, only one of which had its face turned to the people, thereby creating an impression of government by the people, or democracy. The population formed soviets, or councils, with their executive committees, in keeping with the norms of democratic constitutions, but did so under the strict control of partkoms, or party committees, which recommended their own candidates for deputies from the “bloc of communists and independents.” Party committees, which represented the second face of power, were elected only by members of the state party. Thanks to the principle of “democratic centralism,” which was at the core of all sociopolitical structures in the country, the membership of the executive bodies of the monopolistic party was first determined by the hierarchically superior link before being formally endorsed in “elections.”
Executive committees of soviets possessed real administrative power. Party committees were not involved in the process of administration unless necessary, but had a monopoly over political decisions and appointments. Thus, Soviet power was dual in nature, i.e., it was constructed as a symbiosis of separately existing systems of power: party committees, all the way up to the Central Committee of Lenin’s party, and executive committees of the soviets, all the way up to the Council of People’s Commissars (Radnarkom) of the USSR. The communist dictatorship was collective by definition, because “democratic centralism” could centralize power only to the level of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik).
The relationships among Politburo members, i.e., party chiefs, could not possibly be regulated by the constitution because the party was above the soviets and society. Nor were they regulated by the party’s charter with its make-believe democracy — the principle of “democratic centralism.” However, these chiefs were not endowed with power by royal lineage or religion, as is the case in traditional monarchical societies. As a result, the relationship among them, as though in a pride of lions, was one of constant struggle until one of them emerged victorious. The victor concentrated in his hands absolute power over the party and society. Nobody could stop him from implementing decisions aimed at the extermination of millions of people in order to preserve absolute personal power. This was the power that Stalin secured during the brutal six-year struggle (1923-1928) within the Politburo. Soviet power...
Why can’t our conscience register the profound meaning of some of Stalin’s documents that are directly linked to the Holodomor? In my previous articles I provided one such example, and I will have an opportunity to provide one more in my upcoming articles. The answer is this: in Soviet textbooks the history of the USSR was far removed from reality. Unlike us, Stalin was not a disciple of the Soviet school. He stood at the cradle of what was called Soviet power and was well aware of its soft and vulnerable spots. By contrast, for us the idea of Soviet power was more or less in sync with the image that had been created by propaganda. Meanwhile, those who hated it did so blindly.
When I say “us,” I mean my generation, including the General Secretary and members of the CC CPSU, and the deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, all those who in 1988 embraced the slogan “Full power to the Soviets” and blithely destroyed the system of power created by Lenin. They could not anticipate the outcome: the totalitarian state collapsed and society reestablished its sovereignty over the state, the sovereignty it had won in March and lost in November 1917.
I finally realized the nature of Soviet power only after Mikhail Gorbachev’s constitutional reform, when this power was deprived of the dictatorship of party committees and became fundamentally different. Only after this was I able to bring clarity to the problem of its genesis. To understand how the Holodomor became possible, we must understand how this power emerged and what goals it pursued.
SLOGANS OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION
The term “Stalinism” entered into common usage here after the first de-Stalinization, Khrushchev’s, i.e., from the latter half of the 1950s. Official historiographers insisted that the Bolshevik revolution was specifically the popular revolution of 1917. According to them, the Kremlin worked to implement the demands of the revolution and pursued a liberalized policy in the economic sphere (New Economic Policy) and national relations (indigenization). But then Stalin came along and spoiled everything.
The reality was different. The history of the USSR was written by the victors, and it does not correspond to the truth. Focusing on the exploration of “blank spots” in history (including the Holodomor) historians have accomplished a great deal. However, on some key issues we (Western historians as well) are still captive to the stereotypes of Soviet historiography.
The truth is that the uninterrupted chain of critical events that began in the world in 1914, i.e., from the start of World War I, mutated in Bolshevik-controlled Russia (from the spring of 1918) and Ukraine (from early 1919). Subsequent events in the countries that came under communist control developed differently from the civilized world (now customary parlance for us). There is no denying that the history of the USSR and the Central and Eastern European countries was rich in its own way. There was room in it for heroism and terror, for epochal accomplishments and so-called blank spots that concealed some horrible crimes committed by political regimes. However, the Soviet system was a specific and, what is more, mutated civilization that was deprived of the mainstay that has supported mankind since the beginning of time — private enterprise. Despite the network of Sovietological institutions, the Western world did not have a very good understanding of what was happening here. Moreover, nobody could deny the communist empire the right to exist. On the contrary, it claimed that in the future mankind would follow Soviet patterns of development. Some political analysts even believed that the two worlds would converge by combining the positive features of capitalism and socialism. However, the “commune state” created by Lenin and Stalin crumbled suddenly and quite unexpectedly.
I cannot comprehend how two contradictory ideas can coexist in the public consciousness: the idea of Bolshevism as the offspring of the 1917 revolution and the idea of communism as an experiment that the Bolsheviks carried out in the former Russian empire. I agree only with the latter. I must add, however, that this experiment had nothing in common with Marxism or Marxist ideas that were widespread among the Russian social democrats of both Menshevik and Bolshevik leanings. Heavily saturated with Marxist terminology, the concept of a “commune state” originated in only one head — Lenin’s. For 20 years it was being brought to life by forceful means and with persistence that could have been put to better use elsewhere. The communist construction, which out of tactical considerations was renamed Soviet construction after 1921, was a veritable revolution as far as the profundity of transformations is concerned (“revolution from the top,” as Stalin referred to it). Indeed, Bolshevik experimenters changed the appearance of the countries they occupied and built an alternative to the existing civilization. However, contrary to what Soviet historiography claims, the Bolsheviks’ mutated civilization had nothing in common with the slogans of the Russian revolution.
The revolution that started in Petrograd on March 8, 1917, was unlike any other social cataclysm known in history. It saw the formation of a democratic camp in the form of liberal and socialist party blocs. The term “socialism” should be understood in its original meaning, which has nothing in common with later interpretations: Lenin’s (socialism as the first phase of communism) and Hitler’s (National Socialism).
The liberal bloc was less radical, while the socialist bloc was more so, but both agreed on the need to lead the country toward the Constituent Assembly. Aside from the political parties, however, there emerged another participant of the revolutionary events — a camp of popular masses represented by the soviets.
On the fifth day of the revolutionary events, leaders of the workers’ group at the Central Military and Industrial Committee went from prison straight into the residence of the State Duma — Tavria Palace. They still remembered the experience of the 1905 revolution, when, unprompted by the parties, workers formed soviets to organize the leadership of political strikes on the scale of a raion of a whole town. This is why the leaders proposed that striking groups immediately send their city council deputies to the palace. On the night of that same day, March 12, the organ of the revolution was created: the executive committee of the Petrograd Council of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies, which controlled the actions of tens of thousands of striking workers and armed soldiers in the streets of Petrograd. Soon after that, soviets (or soldiers’ committees in frontline areas) started to form all across the empire. Each of them functioned independently of the others, and no hierarchically structured Soviet organization emerged at the time. The composition of the soviets was changeable because soldiers’ and workers’ committees could recall and replace their deputies at any time.
Although the political parties differed in terms of the level of their radicalism, they acted within a single system of coordinates — a democratic one. Unlike them, the soviets demanded the immediate expropriation of property from landowners and the bourgeoisie. This revolution was not only about eliminating institutions of the previous government, as was the case in all revolutions known to historians; it was about eliminating social classes. The soviets’ extremist demands stemmed from the sharp social contradiction inherent in Russia, which was further exacerbated by the burden of the war that was unprecedented in its scale.
The soviet camp showed its strength from the first days of the revolution. Who forced Tsar Nikolai II to abdicate his throne on March 15, 1917? The tsar acted on advice from the leaders of the major parties in the State Duma, the front commanders, and General Mikhail Alekseev, chief of staff of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief (he was also the Supreme Commander-in-Chief). But who forced the tsar’s closest allies to recommend that he surrender power?
In the Soviet period, the industrial proletariat was positioned at the forefront of the revolutionary events of 1917. Assembled in large groups by virtue of industrial conditions, the proletariat could act in a coordinated manner and proved this in 1905. However, tsarism proved that it could also handle a proletarian revolution. By contrast, production conditions in the countryside did not facilitate coordinated action among the peasants. Throughout the centuries the peasants had cultivated a hatred for landowners, but they were scattered and did not pose a serious threat to the political system with the class of landowners at its core and an autocrat at its head. All of a sudden, from 1914 the empire itself started to unite scattered peasants into military companies and battalions, putting weapons in their hands. Rear garrisons formed in large cities. In each of them instructors from the standing army trained thousands of mobilized peasants. When the uprising began in Petrograd, the rear garrison in Petrograd faced a dilemma: either to head to the frontline or turn their weapons against the leadership. Wherever there were clusters of mobilized peasants (workers were mostly employed at defense enterprises), they immediately made their choice. It was after this that front commanders realized that the tsar had to be deposed.
In keeping with the inertia that stems from the unjustifiable division of the 1917 revolution into two separate revolutions, the February revolution is mechanically called a bourgeois-democratic revolution. However, the bourgeoisie was represented in the revolution only by liberal democrats, primarily the Cadets. The overwhelming majority of workers and peasants (including mobilized ones) were influenced by social-democratic parties that emerged from the underground and acted in concert with the liberals. The overwhelming majority of the Russian working class (including workers in the Ukrainian provinces) supported the Menshevik Party that headed the trade union movement and shared the positions of European social democracy, which was aimed at reconciling the interests of workers and owners of capital through negotiations. The Socialist Revolutionaries were especially influential among the masses of mobilized peasants. They also wanted to end the revolution by passing laws in a legitimate fashion, i.e., through the Constituent Assembly. These parties also had a decisive influence on the soviets, thereby restraining the anarchical and destructive soviet camp. Both parties viewed the soviets as temporary organizations designed to prevent the mobilization of counterrevolutionary forces.
On April 16 Lenin arrived in Petrograd from Switzerland. On the following day he addressed the participants of the all-Russian meeting of the Soviets of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies. His speech contained 10 theses that were published in Pravda on April 20 under the title “On the Tasks of the Proletariat in This Revolution.” This document, known as the “April Theses,” excluded the Bolsheviks from the democratic camp that united the liberals and socialists, and placed them apart in the revolution.
Lenin proposed the slogan “All power to the Soviets!” His strategy was to establish control of the soviets from within, overthrow the liberal democratic government, and replace it with his own government in a soviet shell. He did not directly reject the idea of convening the Constituent Assembly because it was supported by the people. Yet he rejected this idea in a camouflaged form: Lenin insisted on creating a soviet republic instead of a parliamentary republic, thereby denying the people’s sovereign right to form the governing bodies. He realized that the Bolsheviks had no chance of winning a majority of mandates in the Constituent Assembly. Winning a majority in the soviets was more realistic. The doctrinal extremism of the Bolsheviks, who supported the abolition of private ownership of production, meshed to some extent with the grassroots extremism of the soviets that were demanding the expropriation of property from the bourgeoisie and the landowners. Concealed behind the talk of the advantages of a soviet republic over a parliamentary republic was the Bolsheviks’ desire to force their way into power and not share it with other political forces.
In practice the slogan “All power to the Soviets!” meant the establishment of a single-party dictatorship. The Bolshevik Party’s plan was, first of all, to oust all the other parties from the soviets and, second, merge with the soviets, which were becoming the power on all levels of state administration and local self-government. By merging with Lenin’s party, the soviets lost their independence, but formally remained separate organizational structures. By preserving the outer shell of the soviets and labeling their own dictatorial rule as Soviet (which was to be necessarily capitalized), the Bolsheviks gained an opportunity to control the masses.
The first five of Lenin’s “April Theses” were designed to bring the Bolsheviks to power. They were clear and specific. The remaining theses were formulated in camouflaged wording. This part outlined the action plan that had to be carried out once the dictatorship was established. Lenin spoke of renaming the party as the Communist Party, adopting a communist program, and building a commune state. Thus, the ghost of the communist revolution was hovering over the country already in April 1917, but nobody could see it clearly at the time. None of the Bolshevik party members could even picture the long-term effects of the abolition of private ownership of production.
In the first post-revolutionary months the Bolsheviks’ successes were more than modest. Their own slogans could not win them popular support. For this reason, in August 1917 Lenin temporarily shelved his communist slogans and armed himself with soviet slogans. In particular, in place of the slogan that called for turning the imperialist war into a civil war, the Bolsheviks supported the popular demand for a separate peace. Instead of their demand to convert landowners’ estates into sovkhoz soviet farms, they adopted the peasant slogan for the “black redistribution,” i.e., an egalitarian distribution of all lands. Having always spoken out for a centralized state, the Bolsheviks supported the demand to federalize Russia.
In the popular imagination the Bolsheviks’ powerful propaganda machinery created an image of an opposition party that would bring the soviet slogans to life once it was in power. For the first time, in September the Petrograd, Moscow, and Kyiv soviets adopted resolutions proposed by the Bolsheviks. The Petrograd soviet was chaired by Leon Trotsky. The Bolsheviks used this soviet to prepare an all-Russian Congress of Soviets and seized power in the capital while it was assembling. At the time of the coup they did not have a majority in the soviets, but simply ignored the soviets beyond their control.
The elections to the Constituent Assembly revealed the true level of the Bolsheviks’ popularity. As we know, they obtained 25% of the popular vote in Russia and 10% in Ukraine. Yet this no longer mattered, for Lenin already had power in his hands. December 1917 saw the creation of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counterrevolution and Sabotage. The Bolsheviks labeled as counterrevolutionaries everyone who did not side with them. Now voters were expected to elect the membership of soviet government bodies from among candidates recommended by Bolshevik party committees.
The Bolsheviks’ October coup was carried out under soviet, not communist, slogans. In fact, Lenin’s party wormed itself into power disguised as something else.
Having consolidated their power and spread it from the capital to the periphery, in the spring of 1918 the Bolsheviks started their own, communist, revolution. In May 1918 Lenin formulated the party’s goal as follows: “We have to organize anew the deepest fundamentals of the lives of hundreds of millions of people.” He spoke about proclaiming the nation’s economy as public (in reality — state-owned) property; he discussed collectivization (in reality — nationalization) of small production facilities, the elimination of money, and the building of a centralized planned economy on the ruins of the market economy. Such revolutions were unprecedented in the world, but in terms of the methods employed it was a “reform from the top,” which was common in Russia since the days of Peter the Great.
“GETTING RID OF THE PEASANTS”
Countless political forces were embroiled in the Russian revolution, but all of them were split between two sharply differing trends: democratic and soviet. It would be a big stretch to call the latter a workers and peasants’ party, because the soviets united a relatively small percentage of workers and peasants — the embittered, lowest social class that was willing to expropriate and distribute everything. The spontaneous and unorganized soviet trend triumphed in the revolution for one reason: dissolved in this trend was the Bolshevik Party, hardened in clandestine struggle, disciplined, and centralized.
The soviets’ victory was in fact the soviets’ immediate defeat. In reality, the Bolshevik Party won, and its make-believe “dissolution” in the masses was only a means for establishing control of the soviets. Immediately after the October coup the Bolsheviks started to combine demagoguery and populism with state terror. Repressions against political parties turned out to be repressions against all deputies in the soviets, who did not belong to Lenin’s party. As a result, the soviets stopped functioning as an independent factor of political life. Almost at the same time, in January 1918, Lenin’s government disbanded the Constituent Assembly. This symbolized the defeat of the democratic trend in the Russian revolution.
After the 1917 revolution exhausted its potential and wound down, the Bolsheviks remained in possession of the battlefield. They immediately unleashed their revolution, targeting owners and private ownership. With the help of the masses, who unwittingly thought they were continuing their revolution, Lenin’s party managed to squelch the resistance of big owners during the Civil War. The party secured the peasants’ backing because it had carried out Lenin’s promises from August 1917: landowners’ property was distributed in Russia on an egalitarian basis. However, the “commune state,” which the Bolsheviks started to build in the spring of 1918, was incompatible with the existence of dozens of millions of small owners. The Bolsheviks immediately started to have problems with the peasants.
Without hesitation Lenin placed on the agenda the question of changing the social status of those whom he disparagingly called the “petty bourgeoisie,” i.e., small manufacturers and farmers. He stated openly: “The major goal of the revolution now is to fight against these two remaining classes. In order to get rid of them, we have to use methods other than those used in the struggle against the big landowners and capitalists” (Vladimir Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 44, p. 38). He therefore insisted on finding other methods, but the goal was nonetheless to “get rid of them.”
The program approved by the party congress in March 1919 underscored the Bolsheviks’ view that the organization of soviet farms and the support of all kinds of public farming associations, all the way to a commune, was the only possible way to increase the productivity of farming work, which was seen as an absolute necessity. However, “labor productivity” was part of the camouflage. In reality, this was about establishing government control over agriculture.
Before the program was approved, in January 1919 Moscow hosted the Congress of Land Departments, Poor Peasants’ Committees, and Communes, which passed the resolution “On the Collectivization of Farming.” Commenting on it, the newspaper Pravda expressed the hope that the development of these new forms would “inevitably lead to a single communist organization of all agriculture.”
The Kremlin started to implement the new land policy in newly- conquered Ukraine, where landowners still owned the land. The Bolsheviks transferred a large part of the landowners’ lands not to the peasants but to sugar plants and distilleries for the organization of soviet farms, or to those who wished to form communes. In response, the peasants rose up in an armed struggle against the Soviet government. The Red Army, most of which consisted of peasant companies, lost its defense capability. The White Guard quickly occupied Ukraine and Anton Denikin advanced on Moscow.
After Lenin defused the threat of the White Guard, he never again returned to his old slogan calling for the immediate collectivization of the countryside. To maintain the food supply to the army and cities, the Soviet government had to conduct requisitions of food. Peasants refused to sow crops under such conditions, which threatened to disrupt the harvest of the following year. To preclude this threat, Lenin decided to impose a sowing plan on each peasant household. The 8th All-Russian Congress of Soviets in December 1920 passed a law to create a network of sowing committees. The imposition of mandatory sowing plans returned the countryside to the days of serfdom, the only difference being that the place of the land and serf owner was now occupied by the “government of workers and peasants.”
The peasants were reluctant to shoulder the burden of food requisitions. In the winter months of 1920- 1921 Ukraine and the central chernozem oblast of Russia, where the government’s pressure on peasants was the greatest, turned into an arena of mass uprisings. On Lenin’s proposal, the 10th Congress of the Communist Party was forced to replace the requisition principle in the relations between the city and the countryside with taxes. This first step away from the accelerated construction of communism gave rise to others. The government abandoned the idea of abolishing money, reintroduced free trade in agricultural products after the payment of a food tax, and allowed private enterprise. Heavy industry remained under state ownership, but an artificial partition — cost accounting — was introduced between the state budget and the budgets of state enterprises. In this way a new economic policy (NEP) materialized within the space of several months.
Embarking on the transition to the NEP, Lenin admitted that the policy of the accelerated construction of communism did not justify hopes. Not wanting to tarnish the doctrine, in March 1921, i.e., after the transition to the NEP, Lenin labeled the communist transformations of 1918-1920 as “war communism.” The chief replaced the necessary condemnation of the communist storm, which had brought so much suffering onto the population, with a statement about the storm itself having been necessitated by the conditions of the war. As a result, in all Soviet encyclopedias “War Communism” was now described as a system of temporary, extraordinary economic measures necessitated in view of the Civil War and foreign intervention.
The NEP should not be overestimated. The market in which economic entities found themselves was cut off from the world market, i.e., it was artificial. Only the government’s relations with peasant farms, which preserved private ownership of production facilities (with the exception of land), were still based on market-economy principles.
After his defeat of the opposition within the Politburo, Stalin resumed the communist storm that Lenin had suspended in 1921. It was necessary to create a socioeconomic groundwork for a totalitarian political regime. The lessons of Lenin’s failed storm were taken into account.
In the urban setting, within the working class, the depth of reforms was limited. In particular, the money-for-goods exchange was preserved. The trust-based cost accounting of the NEP period was replaced by improved (in the sense of being more government-controlled) cost accounting of enterprises. The working class preserved the right to freely choose the place of employment. All of this significantly simplified the Kremlin’s task of keeping consolidated groups of workers under its control. State party leaders even enlisted the workers’ cooperation in creating heavy industry, primarily enterprises of the military-industrial complex and their infrastructure. Evidence of this was the genuine enthusiasm with which workers participated in new construction projects of the first Five-Year Plans.
Implementing the communist storm in the countryside proved much harder than in the cities. After all, real market relations had been preserved in the countryside. A market is about selling and buying commodities based on mutual agreement, and the peasants were not going to freely surrender to the government the role of determining the price of their agricultural products. When the government-imposed price seemed altogether unacceptable, the peasants refused to sell grain. This led to grain-procurement crises.
On its part the government wanted to finance the tremendous industrialization program at the expense of the peasantry. It simply had no other financial resources. The Soviet government’s refusal to recognize the debts of the tsarist and interim governments deprived it of the possibility to secure long-term loans in the West. The equipment needed for construction projects was purchased on the terms of signature loans.
Only one thing could guarantee the extraction of the greatest possible resources from the countryside: the peasant had to be transformed from an owner, who independently decided what to do with his produce, into a hired laborer in collective farms placed under the constant control of soviet and party organs. The state had to divest the peasant of his property and equalize his social status with that of the urban proletariat. As evidenced by the experience of the 1919 collectivization, this could not be accomplished without resorting to colossal coercive pressure.
Thus, the pervasive collectivization of agriculture had to be accompanied by repressions. In turn, repressions led to resistance on the peasants’ part. This created a vicious circle. In this situation the “workers and peasants’” state had to use all available forms of repressions against the peasants. Only one person could decide on what kind of repressions to use: the person who had usurped power in the state party and, by inference, in the state.
We have begun to grasp the fact that the collectivization of agriculture was impossible without repressions. Why did Stalin opt for the most horrible form of repressions, terror by famine, and what territory was affected and when? These questions will be answered in my upcoming articles.