Chapter 16 – Part 1 The propaganda war: Preserving “the natural order of things”
by Peter Cohen
The propaganda war against Communism began in the 19th century, but the text below deals mainly with the period from the Russian Revolution onward. It is based on two premises:
- Given the historical record as reflected in previous chapters, anyone who endorses the capitalist system is disqualified from all discussion of human welfare or human suffering.
- The decisive factor for evaluation of a society is the condition of the working class, i.e. the majority of the population who actually produce the goods and services that are required for society’s survival and development.
In the eyes of the rulers of the capitalist system, abolishing capitalist production/property relations is an unforgivable crime because it involves assigning priority to the needs of the working class. It eliminates opportunities to exploit workers for private profit and accumulate capital at the expense of the rest of society. This is the crime that was committed by the citizens of the Soviet Union under the leadership of the Communist Party.
The dreadful felony was compounded by the Soviet government’s announced intention of supporting colonial peoples in their struggles to free themselves from exploitation by imperialists. If successful, such struggles would result in a substantial or total reduction in the flow of profits to the imperial centers, a possibility which naturally inspired horror in the hearts of the ruling classes.
The Soviet Union was the first society in the history of the world that was based on a conscious decision to use the product of the labor of the majority of its citizens for their own benefit. This was not a new idea, of course. As Abraham Lincoln said (cited in Leo Huberman, Man’s Worldly Goods, 1936):
No good thing has been or can be enjoyed by us without having first cost labor. And inasmuch as good things are produced by labor, it follows that all such things of right belong to those whose labor has produced them. But it has so happened, in all ages of the world, that some have labored, and others have without labor enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong and should not continue. To secure to each laborer the whole product of his labor, or as nearly as possible, is a worthy object of any good government.
Although capitalists obviously regard the abolition of exploitation of human beings for profit as a crime, they cannot openly condemn it as such. They cannot admit publicly that it is their interests and their interests alone which are at stake, because if they did it would be difficult to mobilize popular support for their policies. That is why they pretend that class conflict does not exist, and even that social classes do not exist.
Ever since the Roman Empire, the preferred communications tactic has been to persuade the ruled that the interests of the rulers are identical with the interests of society in general. In 1917 the Russian people raised the curtain on this farce and displayed the reality of class conflict for everyone to see. The military response by the rulers of the West was immediate, as noted previously. In the propaganda offensive that accompanied and followed the armed attack, the global class conflict was almost immediately transformed into a messianic struggle between the forces of good and evil, a holy war in which the fate of Western civilization hung in the balance.
This pretense remained the central theme of anti-Communism propaganda, shared by Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler and other Fascist leaders, and post-war leaders of The Free World such as Dwight D. Eisenhower after the temporary alliance with the Soviet Union against Hitler-Germany had been abandoned.
The following is from Eisenhower’s inaugural address in 1953 (my comments and added emphasis are italicized):
Give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong, and allow all our words and actions to be governed thereby, and by the laws of this land. (A reasonable request.)
We sense with all our faculties that forces of good and evil are massed and armed and opposed as rarely before in history… This fact defines the meaning of this day. We are summoned by this honored and historic ceremony [the inauguration] to witness more than the act of one citizen swearing his oath of service, in the presence of God. We are called as a people to give testimony in the sight of the world to our faith that the future shall belong to the free (i.e. the owners of the capitalist system)…
In the swift rush of great events, we find ourselves groping to know the full sense and meaning of these times in which we live. In our quest of understanding, we beseech God’s guidance… How far have we come in man’s long pilgrimage from darkness toward light? Are we nearing the light – a day of freedom and of peace for all mankind? Or are the shadows of another night closing in upon us?
At such a time in history, we who are free must proclaim anew our faith. This faith is the abiding creed of our fathers. It is our faith in the deathless dignity of man, governed by eternal moral and natural laws.
This faith defines our full view of life. It establishes, beyond debate, those gifts of the Creator that are man’s inalienable rights, and that make all men equal in His sight.
The enemies of this faith (Communists) know no god but force, no devotion but its use. They tutor men in treason. They feed upon the hunger of others. Whatever defies them, they torture, especially the truth (sic!).
Here, then, is joined no argument between slightly differing philosophies. This conflict strikes directly at the faith of our fathers and the lives of our sons. No principle or treasure that we hold, from the spiritual knowledge of our free schools and churches to the creative magic of free labor and capital, nothing lies safely beyond the reach of this struggle.
Freedom is pitted against slavery; lightness against the dark…destiny has laid upon our country the responsibility of the free world’s leadership…So it is proper that we assure our friends once again that, in the discharge of this responsibility, we Americans know and we observe the difference between world leadership and imperialism… Honoring the identity and the special heritage of each nation in the world, we shall never use our strength to try to impress upon another people our own cherished political and economic institutions.
Recognizing economic health as an indispensable basis of military strength and the free world’s peace, we shall strive to foster everywhere, and to practice ourselves, policies that encourage productivity and profitable trade (for whom?). For the impoverishment of any single people in the world means danger to the well-being of all other peoples.
From the inaugural address in 1957:
In the heart of Europe, Germany still (sic!) stands tragically divided. So is the whole continent divided. And so, too, is all the world… The divisive force is International Communism and the power that it controls. (Eisenhower neglects to inform his listeners that Germany was divided by the US.)
The designs of that power, dark in purpose, are clear in practice. It strives to seal forever the fate of those it has enslaved. It strives to break the ties that unite the free. And it strives to capture – to exploit for its own greater power – all forces of change in the world, especially the needs of the hungry and the hopes of the oppressed. (To date, the needs of the hungry have not been fulfilled.)
Only in respecting the hopes and cultures of others (sic!) will we practice the equality of all nations. Only as we show willingness and wisdom in giving counsel – in receiving counsel – and in sharing burdens, will we wisely perform the work of peace.
(No reference is made to recruitment and reinstatement of Nazis in Germany, aid to the French in Indochina and US involvement in war to secure mineral riches of Southeast Asia, 1954 coup and start of bloodshed in Guatemala, continuous revision of plans for nuclear strikes on USSR…)
We honor, no less in this divided world than in a less tormented time, the people of Russia (sic!). We do not dread, rather do we welcome, their progress in education and industry. We wish them success in their demands for more intellectual freedom, greater security before their own laws, fuller enjoyment of the rewards of their own toil. For as such things come to pass, the more certain will be the coming of that day when our peoples may freely meet in friendship. (Which they were presumably to gain with the help of Baltic and Ukrainian Nazis infiltrated into their country by the US and the UK.)
May the light of freedom, coming to all darkened lands, flame brightly – until at last the darkness is no more. (More darkness was to come – see previous chapters, e.g. Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia…)
Violating “the natural order of things”
But freedom and slavery, light and dark, good and evil become subordinate elements to the supreme argument, as advanced by Simon Sebag Montefiore in Stalin – The Court of the Red Tsar (2004). He informs us that Stalin was a maniac who avoided spending his life in a mental institution only because he embraced “the movement and the moment that can overturn the natural order of things”.
The crimes of the insane Stalin and his criminal gang are thus raised to the cosmic level, as they strove to bring down the very heavens. It may legitimately be asked, what was the “natural order of things” in Russia when the Bolsheviks began to implement their “murderous dogmatism and inhuman sternness”?
It was of course the rule of the Tsarist Romanovs, complete with a tiny parasitical ruling class, a very small middle class, and a hundred-fifty million largely illiterate poverty-stricken semi-slaves, charged by nature with the task of generating wealth for their rulers and the Western capitalists who had been invited to participate in their exploitation.
Part of the natural order was evident in the existence of my maternal grandmother, who emigrated from the Ukraine to the US in the 1890s. She bore eight children, of whom five survived. The three born in Russia died in infancy of tuberculosis, undernourishment and lack of basic medical care. As a statistic, Rose Abrams may be multiplied by many millions, to whom may be added other uncountable deaths resulting from puerperal fever, by then a preventable illness.
While my grandmother and millions of other women suffered, the Romanovs and their adherents dined on golden plates, consumed mountains of caviar and oceans of champagne, and in Monte Carlo often lost in a night estates that could have sustained decent lives for many thousands of their slaves. But this was apparently a course of existence that was as natural as the morning dew on the rose.
Tsarist Russia was only one example of the traditional Western class society, and in classifying it as part of the natural order of things Montefiore makes a transparently normative judgement – this is the way things are supposed to be. I am unsure whether he understands the implications of what he has written.
I am also unsure whether they are understood by the many admirers of his book, such as Antony Beevor, another anti-Communist fabulist, who is quoted on the cover of the Phoenix edition, calling it “Outstanding… gives a completely fresh light to the era”. Unconsciously or not, by sharing Montefiore’s cosmology these admirers acknowledge that the “natural” society is one in which the vast majority of the population serve the interest of the ruling minority. The corollary is that any other type of society, such as one in which the majority of the population serve their own interests, is inherently unnatural. As Montefiore indicates, a sane person would never advocate such an unnatural state of affairs.
Had Montefiore been alive in 1776 or 1789 he might have justified Tsarist rule by referring to The Divine Right of Kings to rule their subjects without let or hindrance. But by 2004 the more advanced propagandists of the market economy had generally abandoned God and replaced him/her/it with natural law, the same one that instills a love of profit in all human beings from the day of their births.
Nevertheless, the notion of a class society ordained by Divine will lived on in the West even while the evil Bolsheviks were razing the foundations of the natural universe. Their destructive activities included introducing universal suffrage for women, establishing access to free health care and education for all citizens, and repudiating the debt incurred by the Tsarist monarchy to Western capitalists. It would be of interest to hear Montefiore’s views on the relation between the British National Health Service and the natural order of things.
In 1970 I met Clarence Kelland, an agricultural laborer in his 80s who lived in a tiny stone house in the hamlet of Beesands on the southern coast of Devon. He told me bitterly that he had received a medal from the Queen for having worked on the same farm for 50 years. During most of his life virtually all the meat consumed by his family came from poaching – rabbits, hares and occasionally deer. In his childhood and youth he had been sent to church every Sunday, where he had to recite the following prayer:
God bless the Squire and his relations,
And keep us all in our proper stations.
As an advocate of the natural order of things, Montefiore would doubtless be eager to accommodate the assistance from the Deity that has been of such utility in the past. This prayer would be an appropriate emblem for his book.
In any case he has performed a service by reducing the tidal wave of rubbish about Communism and the Soviet Union to the single, elementary proposition that class society, including rule by monarchs, is the natural order of things. No more blather about democracy, freedom and human rights
The fact that human beings have not lived in class societies for most of their existence and that such societies therefore cannot be considered as representing a “natural order” is irrelevant in this context. The fact that class societies have arisen in specific historical circumstances and that for many years large numbers of people have been trying to do away with them is also irrelevant, since such people are obviously insane in the eyes of Montefiore, other propagandists, and their admirers. The clearest evidence of such insanity is that it involves resisting the ruling class with violence. The clearest evidence of the sanity of the ruling class is that it uses violence to perpetuate its rule.
The notion that we are rational beings who are capable of drawing conclusions about the real world, formulating concepts and attempting to use them as a basis for building a society without a class hierarchy is also irrelevant, like many other ideas that developed during the 18th century Enlightenment. It is not a coincidence that the Enlightenment was anathema to the Nazis, nor is it a coincidence that it has been explicitly or implicitly identified as the root of all our troubles by modern and post-modern so-called philosophers and sociologists, and their predecessors such as Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt.
The policies of the rulers of the capitalist world show that keeping us all in our proper stations is still the overriding aim of government, and that fulfillment of this aim includes making every effort to ensure that all previous attempts to rearrange the stations in which we are to be kept must be branded as evil.
Montefiore’s book is discussed below in the section “Josef Stalin – the embodiment of evil”.
The purpose of the propaganda industry
For well over 100 years the theme of the Communist threat to civilization has been re-stated, implicitly and explicitly, in a huge range of variations in all available media, from scholarly treatises to popularized histories, TV documentaries, Internet sites and movies. Since 1945 the production and distribution of anti-Communist propaganda has developed into a giant industry that provides sustenance for hundreds of thousands if not millions of people, from academics and journalists to employees of government agencies such as the Swedish Forum for Living History.
The industry has not shown any signs of slowing down following the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Communism was pronounced dead in the mainstream media. On the contrary, productivity seems to be increasing as new revelations and perspectives are generated continuously, although on close examination most of them are remarkably similar to the old ones.
If Communism died with the Soviet Union in 1991, why does the torrent of propaganda continue? What are the rulers of the capitalist system afraid of? Why this apparently unending expense of time and effort to repeatedly demonstrate a supposed historical fact, i.e. that Communism was and is a catastrophic failure?
The answer is that the purpose of the propaganda today is the same as it has always been. It is designed to discredit the alternative to capitalism, to present the capitalist system as the only viable option, the desirable achievement of a superior civilization.
The need to do so is intensifying as the global socio-economic crisis that has been evolving since the early 1970s continues and deepens following the crash of 2008-2009. The inhabitants of the OECD countries must remain convinced that There Is No Alternative (Margaret Thatcher), despite all the evidence to the contrary. This requires large-scale falsification and/or misrepresentation of history, such as the standard attempts by mainstream historians to divorce capitalism from Fascism.
The purpose of anti-Communist propaganda is definitely not to encourage fulfillment of the announced goals of defending human rights while promoting peace, prosperity, freedom and democracy for all.
An exhaustive treatment of the enormous propaganda barrage would take much more time and space than I have at my disposal. In the text below I have selected several representative samples. Most of them focus on the Soviet Union, which remains the main target, even after its dismemberment.
Marxism as the basis of the Communist movement
Anti-Communist propaganda normally involves direct or indirect attacks on Marxism, i.e. the method of describing and analyzing reality that was formulated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and its subsequent development and application. There is no need to “prove” the validity of Marxism, since it is demonstrated daily. But a few comments are in order.
For mainstream propagandists, the primary problem with Marx, Engels and their successors is that they start with the facts and use them as a base for developing hypotheses and theories. The dominant tendency among mainstream historians, economists and sociologists is to start with ideas, hypotheses and theories and then search for facts that might confirm them. The theories they elaborate and the facts they select are governed by their class backgrounds and their pre-determined views of society.
A good practical example of Marxist historical analysis is provided by the previously mentioned chapter in Capital, Vol. 1 on the struggle to limit the working day.
Bourgeois thinking is illustrated in John Locke’s famous Second Treatise on Civil Government (1690): “The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property.” This confident statement is in direct contradiction to historical reality, but Locke has served for centuries as a pillar of bourgeois thought, and his ideas are still current (see discussion of Richard Pipes below).
A good example of the approach used by Marx and Engels is in The German Ideology: “The first premise of all human history is the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organization of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature”, i.e. how they produce the necessities of life.
The Marxist approach is known as dialectical materialism, Marxist theory of society as historical materialism. Its principles can be summarized as follows:
Dialectics: a) Things, phenomena and processes cannot be understood in isolation, but only by considering their relations with other things, phenomena and processes. b) Nature is in a state of continuous motion and change. c) Development involves a continuous process of quantitative changes which lead to qualitative changes that often occur rapidly and abruptly. d) Internal contradictions are inherent in all things, phenomena and processes, for they all have negative and positive sides, a past and a future, something dying away and something developing, and the conflict between these opposites constitutes the internal content of the process of development. These conflicts can be creative or destructive.
Materialism: a) The world is not the embodiment of an “absolute idea,” a “universal spirit,” or “consciousness”. It is by its very nature material, and the multifold phenomena of the world constitute different forms of matter in motion. b) Philosophical idealism (including “post-modernism”) asserts that only our consciousness really exists, and that the material world exists only in our consciousness, in our sensations, ideas and perceptions. Marxist materialism holds that the material world is an objective reality that is outside and independent of our consciousness; that matter is primary, since it is the source of sensations, ideas, consciousness, and that consciousness is secondary, derivative, since it is a reflection of matter. c) In contrast to idealism, which denies the possibility of knowing the world and its laws and does not accept objective truth or the authenticity of our knowledge (see Karl Popper), Marxist materialism holds that the world and its laws are fully knowable, that our knowledge of the laws of nature, tested by experiment and practice, is authentic knowledge having the validity of objective truth, and that there are no things in the world which are unknowable, but only things which are as yet not known, but which will be disclosed and made known by the efforts of science and practice.
It is obvious from the above that the Marxist approach is essentially historical, comparative and dynamic, since nothing can be understood without reference to its origins, i.e. the contradictions/conflicts from which it has arisen, as well as the context in which it develops and is eventually modified and/or transformed as a result of both internal and external contradictions/conflicts.
It is also clear that this applies with particular urgency to the study of historical events and processes. Disassociation of such events and processes from their social-economic contexts and the contradictions/conflicts that gave or are giving rise to them is the essence of all mainstream history. That is why mainstream historians and other propagandists want to reduce history to a series of accidental happenings and decisions by individuals (see previous text on Peter Hayes).
For example, World War 1 is normally presented as a clash between Great Britain, France and the US on the one hand and Germany and Austria on the other, as if these “countries” were “accidentally” at war with each other. The fact is that it was the ruling classes of these countries who were at war with each other, and they were able to persuade the classes which they ruled to do the fighting for them.
In the same way, neither the War of Intervention, nor World War 2 or the so-called Cold War is normally presented as a clash between capitalism and Communism. The interests of the owners of Western corporations are not included in the mainstream account. Nor is the current struggle to save civilization from Islam normally presented as the continuing effort of the Western ruling class to establish world dominion, which it is.
Denial of the realities of class and class conflict shows that the mainstream version is essentially anti-historical, because it involves construction of abstract motives that serve as explanations and excuses for action. These include everything from making the world safe for democracy to defending human rights and fulfilling national destinies, as well as analyses of the purported psychology of various national leaders.
The anti-historical character of the mainstream version is also reflected in the assumption that the current state of society – capitalism – is both permanent and desirable.
For example, in standard anti-Communist propaganda Marxism is presented as at best an “impossible utopia”, and at worst as a fiendish plan for enslavement of all humanity. “Utopia” usually refers to the absurd idea that the working class could successfully exercise power and run the economy of a modern society. The enslavement theme refers to the perpetual terror that is predestined for the inhabitants of a society controlled by Marxists.
The main line has always been that capitalism is inherently efficient, and a socialist “planned economy” is inherently unworkable. The supposed failure and collapse of the “utopian” Soviet economy is central to anti-Communist propaganda, and has attained the status of eternal truth.
Bloody revolutions – England, America, France and Russia
The period between the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 is the focal area of propaganda against the Soviet Union, and is generally considered to be an unparalleled eruption of violence, especially in the late 1930s. This is reflected in J. Arch Getty and Oleg. V.Naumov’s The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks 1932-1939 (1999). In general, the views of Getty and Naumov represent a consensus of Western mainstream historians.
The great social and economic changes that have occurred over the past 4 centuries were enabled to a great extent by revolutions in England, North America, France and Russia. These revolutions in turn can be traced to deep contradictions within society that were rooted in class conflict.
The initial stages of these revolutions can be measured in weeks or months, but the conflicts that gave rise to them and the continued conflicts that were inherent in the revolutionary process persisted and were not resolved for many years. All of them involved violence, bloodshed and widespread premature death, although in the mainstream version of history (and in the version preferred by the anti-Communist so-called Left) these phenomena are normally connected exclusively with the French and Russian Revolutions.
The English Revolution can be dated from 1640 to 1688, and even beyond. The American Revolution can be dated from 1776 to the end of the Civil War in 1865, when the contradiction between slavery and the Constitution was resolved, at least in the legal sense. The French Revolution can be dated from 1789 to 1870, when Louis Bonaparte’s empire collapsed. The Russian Revolution can be dated from 1917 to the end of World War 2, when the USSR finally achieved a measure of stability.
All four revolutions show a similar pattern of development. Each of them was launched by an alliance consisting of different classes and class fractions against a ruling power which was regarded as a common enemy. The perspectives of the allied classes were not identical. For example, the grievances of English peasants and small farmers against King Charles 1 were not the same as those of the merchants, embryo capitalists or rural bourgeoisie. But their differences were subordinated to a common aim, which was to overthrow the monarchy. The English revolution involved the execution of King Charles 1, which may or may not have been more reprehensible than the execution of the Russian Tsar, depending on your point of view.
The alliance uses violence to achieve its primary goal of displacing the existing ruling apparatus. In the next phase, inherent conflicts between the members of the alliance come to the surface and cannot be ignored. Compromise becomes impossible. More violence ensues, this time between the former allies. The conflicts are not resolved until one of the classes or a combination of class fractions establishes a more or less permanent hold on power. But the conflict between the triumphant class(es) remains latent and in one form or another continues into a later period, as when the transformation of agricultural laborers and small farmers in England into a landless proletariat culminated in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Another example is the conflict in the US between the southern slaveholding aristocracy and the free farmers and industrial capitalists in the north.
Since the subject of class conflict is normally excluded from mainstream history, the deadly conflict between the members of the original revolutionary alliance is often disguised by formulas such as “the children of the revolution devour each other”, which is attributed to various sources and often applied to the history of the Soviet Union. But the reality of class conflict does not depend on subjective judgments.
When Oliver Cromwell ordered his soldiers to kill poor farmers and agricultural workers who were demanding an equitable redistribution of land and wealth, he was not committing infanticide. He was defending the interest of the rising bourgeoisie who had once been allied with the same poor farmers against the King. For the core issue of the English Revolution, like other revolutions, was property.
Class conflicts that center on ownership of land and the rest of the production system have continued until the present day throughout the Western market economy, although they are not acknowledged as such in the mainstream version.
The English Revolution that culminated in 1688 in the establishment of Parliament as the supreme power included restoration of the monarchy under the dominance of the bourgeoisie. It is widely regarded as the foundation of modern parliamentary democracy, and as one of the prime enablers for the development of modern jurisprudence as well as economic growth. It also signified the birth of the United Kingdom of England, Ireland (now Northern Ireland), Scotland and Wales, as the English bourgeoisie established dominion.
Measured in premature deaths due to violence, disease and starvation, the cost of the ascendancy of the English bourgeoisie as the rulers of England, Ireland and Scotland was high. The figures below are based on Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers, byMichael Barone (2007). Barone is described by his publishers as “a senior writer with U.S. News & World Report and a contributor to Fox News Channel”. He is the principal co-author of the biannual Almanac of American Politics and the author of Our Country, The New Americans, and Hard America, Soft America.
The figures given by Barone are confirmed by Edward Anthony Wrigley and Roger Schofield in The population history of England, 1541-1871: a reconstruction (2002).
Premature deaths in the English Revolution, 1640-1688
Population x rate of premature deaths Total deaths
England: Population approximately 5.1 million x 3.7% = 190,000
Scotland: Population approximately 1 million x 6% = 60,000
Ireland: Population approximately 1.6M x 41% = 660,000
Total: Population approximately 7.7 M Deaths 910,000
The total number of deaths corresponds to approximately 12% of the population. The mayhem was generated by the inhabitants of the islands, since there were virtually no foreign troops involved, as in the War of Intervention 1918-22. The effects of the revolution’s progress in terms of premature deaths are largely ignored, possibly because they were far more deadly than corresponding internal conflicts in the Soviet Union prior to World War 2 and after the War of Intervention.
In the United States the counter-revolution led by the southern slaveholding upper class led to the Civil War. According to Wikipedia, this
remains the deadliest war in American history, resulting in the deaths of 620,000 soldiers and an undetermined number of civilian casualties. Ten percent of all Northern males 20–45 years of age died, as did 30 percent of all Southern white males aged 18–40. Victory for the North meant the end of the Confederacy and of slavery in the United States, and strengthened the role of the federal government.
Recent estimates state even higher figures (See “U.S. Civil War Took Bigger Toll Than Previously Estimated, New Analysis Suggests”, Science Daily September 22, 2011.)
The number of deaths exceeded the total in all other wars in which the United States has participated.
The first phase of the revolution in Russia was not particularly bloody, partly because many of the soldiers commanded by the counter-revolutionary forces refused to fight. For example, when the Tsarist general Kornilov attempted to carry out a coup d’état and led a march on Moscow, his troops were met by an unarmed “army of agitators” who convinced them that if they obeyed their commanding officers they would be acting against their own interests, prolonging the War and opening the way to a restoration of the Tsar. Kornilov’s troops deserted in large numbers, as did others commanded by White officers, who “could never forget how their soldiers refused to obey them not under the fire of mortars but in a hurricane of words”. See Der europäische Bürgerkrieg 1917-1945: Nationalsozialismus und Bolschwismus (1987), by the conservative German historian Ernst Nolte (quoted in Losurdo).
In February 1918 Lenin announced: “It can be said with certainty that, in the main, the civil war has ended …there is no doubt that on the internal front reaction has been irretrievably smashed” (Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War, 1987).
The subsequent War of Intervention by the Western powers resulted in the premature deaths of approximately 14 million people, but can hardly be attributed to the revolution itself.
In the mainstream histories that I have read the 1930s are known as the period of Stalinist Terror. Getty and Naumov summarize the results of repression by the Stalin government in the 1930s as follows (emphasis added):
If we add the figure we have for executions up to 1940 to the number of persons who died in GULAG camps and the few figures we found on mortality in prisons and labor colonies, then add to this the number of peasants known to have died in exile, we reach a figure of nearly 1.5 million deaths directly due to repression in the 1930s. If we put at hundreds of thousands the casualties of the most chaotic period of collectivization (deaths in exile, rather than from starvation in the 1932 famine), plus later victims of different categories for which we have no data, it is likely that ‘custodial mortality’ figures of the 1930s would reach 2 million: a huge number of ‘excess deaths.
The number of the deaths in prisons and labor camps that were due to natural causes such as old age is not given.
For several reasons (see below) a famine occurred in the Soviet Union around 1932. In The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933 (2004), R. W. Davies and Stephen G. Wheatcroft estimate the number of premature deaths – “registered excess mortality” – at 2.25 million.
Combining their figures with Getty and Naumov’s gives an approximate total of 4.25 million premature deaths in the USSR as a result of repression and famine. In 1930 the population of the Soviet Union was approximately 160 million. The fatalities in the USSR thus correspond to 3% of the population, or roughly one-quarter of the rate during the English Revolution.
For the inhabitants of Ireland and Scotland, the period 1640-1688 was only the beginning. It was followed by more than two hundred years of brutal exploitation, repression, genocide, ethnic cleansing and occasional starvation. The ethnic cleansing of the Highlands of Scotland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries is described in the first volume of Capital.
According to Peter Berresford Ellis, Peter and Seumas Mac A’Ghobhainn in The Scottish Insurrection of 1820 (2001), in the course of an attempt to secure independence for Scotland, on 16 April 1746:
…the Scottish and English armies met on Culloden Moor (in Scotland). The English, led by the Duke of Cumberland, defeated the Scots and began one of the worst persecutions of a nation known to history, earning the title ‘Butcher’ Cumberland for their leader. The Scottish survivors were chased from the field of battle and slaughtered. For two days the wounded and dead of the Scottish army lay where they had fallen, guarded by English soldiers so that no medical or burial parties could get to them. Looting was officially organized and £5 was paid for the head of every ‘rebel’ brought to Major-General John Huske, the English Commander at Fort Augustus. Towns and villages were razed to the ground, people slaughtered wholesale and those that managed to escape massacre were imprisoned, executed or deported. Cumberland, as a ‘final solution’ to the Scottish problem, proposed the wholesale transportation of clans to the colonies which developed into the notorious ‘Highland Clearances’.
On May 15, 1746, Parliament decided that all prisoners in Scotland should be removed to England for trial and execution, as they had been in 1715, again violating Clause XIX (of the Treaty of Union 1707); not that Parliament was concerned with breaking the Treaty, all pretensions of a Union had gone and Scotland was militarily annexed to England as Wales had been centuries before. From August 1746, the wearing of tartans, plaids, kilts, trews, etc. were banned, thus taking away the Scottish pride and sense of belonging to a unique people.
The brutality of English rule in Ireland generated a number of revolts and bloody repressions over the centuries. Somewhat more than a year before the Russian Revolution 1917, a rising occurred in Dublin on Easter Sunday 1916. The participants were either killed in action or executed. One of the leaders was the socialist James Connolly, who was severely wounded in the fighting. He was tried by a British military tribunal as he lay on a hospital bed. The British then strapped him to a stretcher, propped it against a wall and shot him dead.
The rising sparked a full-scale revolt, as Connolly had hoped. The British response involved formation of the infamous Black and Tans, a military force that was employed by the Royal Irish Constabulary, which was under British command. They indulged in widespread plunder, arson, murder and rape and received a satisfactory wage of 10 shillings per day from His Majesty’s government as a reward for their efforts. The atrocities they committed are comparable with those of the White forces in Soviet Russia.
When will Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George and the rest of the British leaders 1916-1923 be arraigned in the dock of history for the crimes they commissioned in Ireland?
Recurring revolutionary patterns
However, the body counts and the misery resulting from the subjugation of the working classes in Ireland and Scotland to the rule of the English bourgeoisie, like the crimes against the English working class documented by Marx and Engels, comprise only one of the central aspects of a comparison between the Russian Revolution and the others mentioned above. This also applies to the vast ethnic cleansing of so-called “Loyalists” that followed the American Revolutionary War, which is mentioned in passing by Getty and Naumov.
The period following the expulsion of Western troops by the Soviets clearly parallels the course of other revolutions. The internal conflicts included a struggle between the remainder of the capitalist class and the Soviet government. Equally decisive was the conflict within the Communist Party between the supporters of Stalin’s policies and those of Bukharin, the “Right Deviation” described above.
As in the British, American and French revolutions, the central issue of the Soviet revolution was property, or more exactly control of property. The conflict between the Stalin government and Bukharin and others who favored the continuance of capitalist property relations, mainly but not only in agriculture, could not continue indefinitely. Socialism cannot be built on a structure of private property in land and/or industry. The Bukharinites represented, consciously or not, the interests of the capitalist class.
The Stalin government also discovered that within and outside the armed forces and the Communist Party itself a number of groups were developing plans to seize power. It became evident that several of these groups were in contact with foreign powers, not least Germany. However, it also appears that the German and Czech secret services conspired to plant evidence that incriminated Soviet Communists in treasonous activities.
Building the world’s first socialist economy
In the text below the term “socialist economy” refers to a society in which the principal systems for production, distribution and exchange are owned by the working class, the main goal of production is to satisfy the needs of the urban and agricultural working class, economic activity is centrally planned, production of commodities for private profit is largely absent, and producers do not compete with each other for profits.
The development and performance of the economy of the Soviet Union cannot be evaluated without considering the fact that the country was under siege during its entire existence. The siege included blockades, embargoes, political and technological isolation, and war or threats of war. No industrial capitalist country has ever developed under such conditions.
Intensive debate and discussion led the leaders of the Russian Revolution to the correct conclusion that developing a socialist economy would require a large and rapid increase in the productive capacity of society, and that this in turn would require industrialization. It was also clear that a renewed attack would be launched sooner or later by the Western powers, and that it could not be repelled without an industrial base that would enable an adequate defense capability.
The framework for development was unfavorable, to say the least. The War of Intervention had reduced industrial and agricultural capacity to 20% or less of the 1913 level, when Russia was the most industrially backward country in Europe (Alec Nove). If this had been the case in capitalist Britain at the end of World War 1, the state of its economy in 1940 would have been easy to predict, assuming that it remained capitalist. It would have been a disaster for the majority of the population.
None of the industrial countries in Western Europe had developed without large amounts of investment capital. A good deal of it had been accumulated through war, piracy, plunder, outright theft, widespread enslavement of indigenous peoples, and dispossession of domestic agricultural laborers, as in the UK during the 16th-18th centuries. Development of the US economy during the 19th century involved large injections of British capital, accumulated as above and through massive exploitation of the British working class (see quotes from Engels in Chapter 8).
There was virtually no investment capital available in Russia in the mid-1920s. Obtaining it was the key problem. The situation was described by Joseph Stalin at the Plenary Meeting of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, July 1928:
In the capitalist countries capital for industrialization was usually obtained by robbing other countries, by robbing colonies or defeated countries, or with the help of substantial and more or less enslaving loans from abroad.
You know that for hundreds of years Britain collected capital from all her colonies and from all parts of the world, and was able in this way to make additional investments in her industry. This incidentally explains why Britain became at one time the ‘workshop of the world’.
You know also that Germany developed her industry with the help, among other things, of the 5,000 million francs which she levied as an indemnity on France after the Franco-Prussian war.
One respect in which our country differs from the capitalist countries is that we cannot and must not engage in colonial robbery, or in the plundering of other countries in general. That way, therefore, is closed to us. Neither does our country have, or want to have, enslaving loans from abroad. Consequently, that way too is closed to us.
What then remains? Only one thing, and that is to develop industry, to industrialize the country, with the help of internal accumulation…
But what are the chief sources of this accumulation? As I have said, there are two such sources. First, the working class, which creates value and advances our industry, secondly, the peasantry.
The way matters stand with the peasantry in this respect is as follows. It not only pays the state the usual taxes, direct and indirect; it also over-pays in the relatively high prices for manufactured goods… and it is more or less under-paid in the prices for agricultural produce…
This is an additional tax levied on the peasantry for the sake of promoting industry, which caters for the whole country, the peasantry included.
In addition to direct and indirect taxation of the agricultural sector, the Soviet solution involved mechanizing and collectivizing agriculture in order to make it more efficient and more productive. This had the added advantage of enabling large numbers of people to migrate to the cities, where there was a shortage of industrial manpower.
Soviet economists had identified what they called “hidden unemployment” in the countryside, meaning that output could be maintained at the same or higher levels if agriculture were reorganized on a more efficient basis. This was one of the main arguments for collectivization.
When the Soviet government launched the first 5-year development plan in 1929 it was immediately ridiculed by expert economists in the West as another proof of the futility of Marxism. Fifty years later the laughter had died down.
The Economic Report of the President that was presented to the un-indicted war criminal Ronald Reagan by the CIA in 1985 confirmed previous findings by the Agency and Western economists. It showed that growth in the Soviet economy 1928-1975 was higher than in the US and other OECD countries. The Soviet growth rate “implies a nearly 8-fold increase in GNP (Gross National Product) over that period, compared to a US increase just over 4-fold”. (David Kotz and Fred Weir, Revolution From Above, 1997.)
These figures do not take account of the devastation caused by World War 2 in terms of 25 million premature deaths and physical destruction that reduced industrial output by up to 30% in some areas. According to Kotz and Weir, after the war “economic recovery was swift, and by 1950 prewar levels of industrial output had been surpassed…” This was not due to the introduction of capitalist production relations.
In 1947 the Soviet Union became the first of the European countries involved in World War 2 to cancel food rationing. Meat rationing in the capitalist UK was not removed until 1954.
Although the growth rate of the Soviet economy slowed during the second half of the 1970s, the economy did not stop growing. The reasons for the slowdown were complex, and are traceable among other things to a lack of flexibility in the centralized planning system, mistaken policies in terms of setting growth rates and reducing capital investment, and the gradual introduction of profit targets. For example, former minister Molotov claimed that since Soviet society in the 1970s was much more complex than in the pre-war period, the planning system should be revised to comprise a long-term (15-20 year) overall plan and shorter (2-3) year plans that could be modified quickly if required.
Are the growth figures reliable?
The CIA figures were largely ignored or criticized as inaccurate by Western experts.
Kotz and Weir give the example of a Soviet economist named Grigory Khanin who in the early 1980s announced that both Soviet and Western estimates of growth in the USSR were grossly exaggerated. His findings were widely publicized, with help from the conservative Heritage Foundation of Washington DC. The Foundation claims that its “mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense” (which involves large and growing government purchases from the weapons industry). Within a few years “everyone” knew that socialism in the USSR was an economic failure.
However, the rulers of the US were not convinced. In 1991 the first Bush administration asked a group of five “distinguished American academics” to perform a third-party evaluation of the estimates from the CIA Office of Soviet Analysis. They found that the CIA’s report was “professional and appropriately reasonable and cautious”, with no indication of “systematic misrepresentation”. The CIA estimates were based on “the best-known methodologies”, and included careful explanations of “unavoidable uncertainties”.
In contrast, the US economists rejected Khanin’s analysis, stating that it was “methodologically…naive” and that it was impossible to “reproduce his results”.
Nevertheless, the conviction that the CIA estimates were wrong has been perpetuated in the Western media and is now part of the received truth.
Both the media and economists in the West have ignored a study cited by Kotz and Weir. Michael Boetsky of the US Department of Commerce applied the CIA’s methodology to estimates of GNP growth in the US and West Germany. He found that the results were 32% lower than the official estimates for West Germany and 13% lower than those for the US.
The positive picture of Soviet economic performance is confirmed in Robert C. Allen’s Farm to Factory, Princeton University Press 2003. Allen is professor of Economic History at the University of Oxford.
According to Marxist economic theory, production in a modern society comprises two sectors – one for industrial goods and one for consumer goods. Robert Allen discusses a theory developed by Soviet planners according to which focusing investment on heavy industry would generate a spill-over that would enable expansion of the consumer-goods sector. Allen writes: “The important historical question is whether this approach actually delivered the goods”. Needless to say, this question is rarely asked in the mainstream version of history.
Allen shows that the approach did deliver the goods, as the implementation of the two Five-Year plans for intensive industrialization 1929-1934 and 1934-1939 generated dramatic increases in the output of consumer products and the general standard of living during the 1930s.
This helps to explain the widespread support for the Stalin government and its policies among the urban working class. The majority of agricultural workers also supported the government’s policies for collectivization and industrialization. Although Allen is incorrect on collectivization, which he calls a “catastrophe” (see below, The Process of Collectivization), his general assessment of the Soviet economic advance in the 1930s is based on an objective approach that is unfortunately uncommon in the West:
By the late 1930s, the production of manufactured consumer goods had increased almost 80 percent. While this increase is important in understanding the growth of the economy in the 1930s, it also has important implications for the study of politics.
The totalitarian model views the state as exclusively oppressive and the population as disaffected and controlled through terror. Historians are questioning this monolithic model. Fitzpatrick (Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, 1921-1934, 1979) has suggested that the upwardly mobile workers and peasants who formed the new intelligentsia and administrative hierarchy supported Stalinism since they were its beneficiaries. Siegelbaum (Stakhanovism and the Politics of Productivity in the USSR 1935-1941, 1988) has suggested that Stakhanovites also gained from the system and, therefore, had a reason to support it. Thurston (Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941, 1996) has gone furthest in suggesting that Stalinism enjoyed wide support among urban workers.
The formation of political attitudes is complex and not immediately reducible to economics, but the standard of living does matter. What we have shown… is that many people did benefit materially from the economic development of the 1930s. The gainers included the new administrative elite and the Stakhanovites. The millions who migrated to the industrial cities were a much bigger group of beneficiaries. By the late 1930s, urban residents and industrial workers, teachers and bureaucrats had economic reasons for supporting the Soviet state.
Other important measures of the working-class standard of living
Improvements in GDP and production of consumer goods are important measures of a society’s general standard of living, but they are not the only ones. For example, monitoring the mindless offerings of commercial television stations in Western Europe and North America for twenty-four hours leads to the conclusion that the intellectual standard of living in these regions is abysmally low, bordering on the nonexistent.
As previously indicated, at the time of the Russian Revolution the vast majority of the inhabitants of the embryo USSR were illiterate and poverty-stricken, heirs to centuries of oppression in a class society in which Western capitalists were eagerly hunting for bonanzas.
Eliminating illiteracy was one of the earliest primary goals of the Soviet government and of all subsequent attempts to build socialist economies, from China to Cuba, Vietnam and Nicaragua, where teachers were targeted on the hit lists prepared by war-criminal Reagan’s Contra forces. Methods developed in Cuba are currently being applied to eliminate illiteracy in Venezuela and elsewhere, including New Zealand, to the distress of the mainstream Western media.
It should also be noted that Western imperial powers have never made anything but cosmetic attempts to combat illiteracy in colonies or neo-colonies, and have actively and violently combated all efforts by others to do so. This is perfectly understandable. Literacy promotes knowledge, and “Knowledge is power”, as Lenin pointed out. By 1940 illiteracy in the Soviet Union had been reduced to virtually zero.
The overwhelming majority of Soviet citizens participated in and benefited from the general program for social development that was initiated by the Soviet government in the 1920s. It intensified during the 1930s and lasted for approximately 75 years. It is unprecedented in capitalist countries. It should be emphasized that the benefits gained by the working class in the capitalist countries were the result of class struggle, not on conscious decisions by capitalists to devote the resources of society to the welfare of the majority, i.e. the producers.
A general account of the achievements of the Soviet Union is given by Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny in Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union (2004):
Soviet socialism had many problems… and did not constitute the only conceivable socialist order. Nevertheless, it embodied the essence of socialism as defined by Marx – a society that had overthrown bourgeois property (sic!), the ’free market’ and the capitalist state and replaced them with collective property, central planning, and a workers’ state. Moreover, it achieved an unprecedented level of equality, security, health care, housing, education, employment, and culture for all of its citizens, in particular working people of factory and farm…
The Soviet Union not only eliminated the exploiting classes of the old order, but also ended inflation, unemployment, racial and national discrimination, grinding poverty, and glaring inequalities of wealth, income, education, and opportunity. In fifty years, the country went from an industrial production that was only 12 percent of that in the United States to industrial production that was 80 percent and an agricultural output 85 percent of the US.
Though Soviet per capita consumption remained lower than in the US, no society had ever increased living standards and consumption so rapidly in such a short period of time for all its people. Employment was guaranteed. Free education was available for all, from kindergarten through secondary schools (general, technical and vocational), universities, and after-work schools. Besides free tuition, post-secondary students received living stipends. Free health care existed for all, with about twice as many doctors per person as in the United States. Workers who were injured or ill had job guarantees and sick pay. In the mid-1970s, workers averaged 21.2 working days of vacation (a month’s vacation), and sanitariums, resorts, and children’s camps were either free or subsidized.
Trade unions had the power to veto firings and recall managers. The state regulated all prices and subsidized the cost of basic food and housing. Rents constituted only 2-3 percent of the family budget; water and utilities only 4-5 percent. No segregated housing by income existed. Though some neighborhoods were reserved for high officials, elsewhere plant managers, nurses, professors and janitors lived side by side.
The government included cultural and intellectual growth as part of the effort to enhance living standards. State subsidies kept the price of books, periodicals and cultural events at a minimum. As a result, workers often owned their own libraries, and the average family subscribed to four periodicals. UNESCO reported that Soviet citizens read more books and saw more films than any other people in the world.
Every year the number of people visiting museums equaled nearly half the entire population, and attendance at theaters, concerts, and other performances surpassed the total population. The government made a concerted effort to raise the literacy and living standards of the most backward areas and to encourage the cultural expression of the more than a hundred nationality groups that constituted the Soviet Union. In Kirghizia, for example, only one out of every five hundred people could read and write in 1917, but fifty years later nearly everyone could…
…the overall equalization of living conditions in the Soviet Union represented an unprecedented feat in human history. The equalization was fuelled by a pricing policy that fixed the cost of luxuries above their value and of necessities below their value. It was also furthered by a steadily increasing ‘social wage,’ that is, the provision of an increasing number of free or subsidized social benefits. Beside those already mentioned, the benefits included paid maternity leave, inexpensive child care and generous pensions.
Although Western propagandists have often mocked the Soviet Union for rule by an elite, they seldom inspect its nature very closely. This elite amounted to perhaps 100,000 people, about one-tenth of 1% of the households in the USSR (est. population 280 million in 1980). It comprised high officials in the Communist Party, including youth organizations, in ministries at both the national and regional level, in the armed forces and security agencies, and in large enterprises and trade unions, as well as the heads of scientific, educational, cultural and media institutions (Kotz and Weir).
The first and most essential point is that the members of the elite did not constitute a ruling class in the true sense of the term. They did not own property and could not accumulate wealth, since the Soviet Union was non-capitalist. The country was owned by the people through the medium of the State, not by a tiny minority of private shareholders. The elite therefore possessed no significant assets that could be inherited by their children or relatives.
The second essential point is that each new generation of members of the elite came from the working-class (urban and agricultural) and had obtained their expertise through the Soviet educational system and the virtually unlimited career opportunities that were offered by Soviet society.
…it is the consensus of Western specialists that, apart from the very highest officials in the Soviet system, the average members of the Soviet party-state elite were not assured that they could pass on their elite status to their offspring. While the children of the elite had advantages in getting into the best schools and using contacts to get good jobs, one analyst found that most of the children of the top elite and their spouses took jobs in the intelligentsia ‘but not necessarily over the elite threshold.’ The most common careers for children of the top elite were in academia, journalism, diplomacy and foreign trade (they seemed to prize the ability to travel abroad)…
Part of the disparity with capitalism was illustrated dramatically by an article in Fortune magazine in 1988, which reported with alarm that the Soviet Union accounted for 25% of the world’s scientists and engineers, but only 6% of the world’s population.
The invisible factor – imperialism
Economic growth was the foundation of the development of the Soviet Union, but comparisons of its performance with that of Western capitalist nations normally omit a key factor.
Imperialism as a major component in capitalist economic development is missing from Kotz/Weir and Allen as well as all other Western analyses known to me. In fairness to Allen, I should point out that he makes an oblique adjustment by comparing growth in the USSR to that of non-OECD countries, i.e. those which did not have colonial empires. He writes that even including the slowdown after 1975 “the USSR’s overall record from 1928 to 1989 was still better than that of all major non-OECD countries with the exception of Taiwan and South Korea”. Until the mid-1990s the economies of these two countries were subject to State control at a level unknown within the OECD, and were anything but “free markets”. They were also given preferential treatment by the US, for political reasons. After Western capitalists forced them to open their markets to foreign investment, their economies crashed in 1997.
Inputs from wars, piracy and colonial/neo-colonial empires, including the narcotics trade (McCloy), have comprised a major factor in the growth of all major capitalist industrial economies. Imperial rule enabled acquisition of vital raw materials at artificially deflated prices and also provided markets for goods produced in the imperial countries, as well as profitable investment opportunities. We have previously pointed out that the vast network of slave- and semi-slave labor has also made a major contribution to growth in the imperial countries.
The Soviet Union did not profit from exploitation of colonies or neo-colonies. Quite the opposite. As Allen and others have indicated, although industrialization was at first centered on Russia, Soviet economic policy involved sharing the benefits of industrialization among all the republics of the USSR. The so-called satellite nations of Eastern Europe after 1945 were by no means economic colonies. The standard of living in many of them was in fact higher than in the Soviet Union, e.g. in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. I am not aware of any Western imperial system in which the inhabitants of the colonies had or have a higher standard of living than those of the imperial power.
The aggregate wealth of the Western capitalist societies is based on exploitation of both the domestic and foreign working classes. By and large the Western trade-union movement has concentrated on improving the condition of the domestic working class, and in general only Communist union leaders have denounced the imperial system. Once in a while a Social Democrat-dominated trade union in Sweden or another Western European country protests against brutal treatment of workers or child laborers in the neo-colonies – but the protest usually fades away in a few days, as the headlines subside.
The refusal or incapacity of ostensibly progressive Social Democrat politicians and labor leaders to condemn the imperial system and struggle for solidarity with the exploited working class in the neo-colonies is one of the major components of anti-Communist propaganda. This is essentially a silent endorsement of capitalism.
It is the converse of the Social Democrats’ active participation in the propaganda war, as illustrated by the establishment of the Swedish Forum for Living History. The objective function of the Social Democrats is to transmit the ideology of the ruling class to the working class. That is why they support the so-called market economy and ignore its deadly effects. This requires perpetual condemnation of the Soviet Union and all other Communist countries, including Cuba, and even of non-Communists such as Hugo Chávez.
The position of the anti-Communist Left is a more complex variation on this theme, which is discussed in Chapter 17.
The myth of collapse
As noted above, it is widely assumed and repeatedly claimed that the inherent futility of attempts to build socialism explains the demise of the Soviet Union. This version ignores the historical background as well as the actions and policies of the Gorbachov government.
By the late 1920s, two major and contradictory tendencies could be identified within the Soviet government and the Communist Party of the USSR. On the one hand, Stalin and his supporters were convinced that socialism could be built in the Soviet Union despite the failure of revolutions elsewhere in Europe. Like any other attempt to build socialism in a capitalist world, this would require a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, i.e. rule by the working class, which would involve a constant struggle against attempts to preserve or restore capitalist property relations, or capitalist production goals. It would also require implementing Lenin’s policy of building an alliance between the industrial working class and agricultural laborers.
The term “dictatorship of the proletariat” reflects the assumption that class conflict would not automatically disappear, because even within the new Soviet Union there were people who wanted to either restore capitalism or at the least retard the development of socialism. This applied in agriculture, where private farms existed, and within the administrative bureaucracy, which unavoidably included significant numbers of the former middle class, who had had a virtual monopoly on education under the Tsar.
If the working class could not maintain its rule, the bourgeoisie would regain power.
Industry, financial institutions and the national infrastructure had been nationalized. The main outpost of private property and production for profit was the agricultural sector. Roughly 90% of the rural population were poor peasants, and the rest were better-off farmers – known as kulaks – who profited from a) financial transactions with poor peasants, such as loans and advances on harvest output, b) acquisition of holdings from bankrupt peasants, and c) extorting higher prices for grain and other products purchased by the State for distribution in urban areas.
As noted above, the development policy of the Stalin government was based on the assumption that agriculture had to become more efficient and more productive, and that collectivization was the key to achieving this.
The opposing tendency centered around a group whose leading figures were Nikolai Bukharin, Aleksei Rykov and Mikhail Tomsky. They were Marxists and members of the Soviet Communist Party, but were essentially Social Democrats. And like many Social Democrats then and now, they believed that a relatively peaceful transition to socialism was possible, that class struggle could be avoided, that so-called market forces could be harnessed in the interests of the transition, and that the proponents of the market would eventually realize the superiority of socialism and support it. Bukharin went so far as to advocate maximization of private profits, and urged the kulaks to enrich themselves.
The position of the Bukharin group is reflected in the later policies of Deng Xiaoping and other Communists who aimed at establishing a market economy in China. The first step according to them was for everyone to get rich, which would automatically facilitate the development of socialism. This is a distorted version of the neo-liberal mantra that “all boats float higher on a rising tide”.
The conflict between the two tendencies is best illustrated in the Political Report of the Central Committee to the 16th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in June 1930, given by Josef Stalin. He referred to the Bukharin group as the “Right Deviation”, in contrast to the policies of Leon Trotsky and his supporters, who were referred to as the “Left Deviation”. The Trotskyites believed among other things that socialism could not be built in the Soviet Union unless there were successful revolutions in other European countries, and that it was impossible to create an alliance of workers and peasants. Stalin analyzed the Right Deviation as follows:
It cannot be said that the Right deviators do not admit the possibility of completely building socialism in the USSR. No, they do admit it, and that distinguishes them from the Trotskyists. But the misfortune of the Right deviators is that, while formally admitting that it is possible to build socialism in one country, they refuse to recognize the ways and means of struggle without which it is impossible to build socialism… They think that socialism can be built on the quiet, automatically, without class struggle, without an offensive against the capitalist elements. They think that the capitalist elements will either die out imperceptibly or else grow into socialism. Since, however, such miracles do not happen in history, it follows that the Right deviators are in fact slipping into the viewpoint of denying the possibility of completely building socialism in our country.
Nor can it be said that the Right deviators deny that it is possible to draw the main mass of the peasantry into the work of building socialism in the countryside. No, they admit that it is possible, and that distinguishes them from the Trotskyists. But, while admitting it formally, they will not accept the ways and means without which it is impossible to draw the peasantry into the work of building socialism… They think that the chief thing now is not a high rate of industrial development, not collective farms and state farms, but to ‘release’ the elemental forces of the market, to ‘emancipate’ the market and to ‘remove the shackles’ from the individual farms, up to and including those of the capitalist elements in the countryside. Since, however, the kulaks cannot grow into socialism, and ‘emancipating’ the market means arming the kulaks and disarming the working class, it follows that the Right deviators are in fact slipping into the viewpoint of denying that it is possible to draw the main mass of the peasantry into the work of building socialism.
The Right deviators do not take the stand of forming another party, and that is another thing that distinguishes them from the Trotskyists. The leaders of the Right deviators have openly admitted their mistakes and have accepted the Party line. But it would be foolish to think on these grounds that the Right deviation is already buried. The strength of Right opportunism is not measured by this circumstance. The strength of Right opportunism lies in the strength of the petty-bourgeois elemental forces, in the strength of the pressure on the Party exercised by the capitalist elements in general and by the kulaks in particular…
The issue seems clear enough. Either the revolution was going to move forward and continue building socialism – or it was not. Bukharin and his supporters represented a retrograde movement that would lead to a gradual return to capitalism. For there is no half-way solution. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Temporary retreats from specific policies may be required occasionally by adverse circumstances, but socialism cannot be built by restoring capitalism.
The conflict between the policies represented by Stalin and Bukharin continued throughout the 1930s and was reflected in the mass repressions of 1937-1938 (see below, Bloody Revolutions). It continued throughout the subsequent history of the Soviet Union. Supporters of “petty-bourgeois liberalism”, i.e. supporters of “market forces” and a decentralized economy, gradually strengthened their positions within both the Communist Party and the administrative bureaucracy. Following the election of Mikhail Gorbachov as head of state in 1985 they became powerful enough to implement a program for dismantling socialism and restoring capitalism.
The demise of the USSR is often called a triumph for war-criminal Ronald Reagan, who supposedly sent the country into bankruptcy by forcing it to increase military spending. However, military spending as a percentage of Soviet GNP remained largely unchanged between 1950 and 1990. It is therefore difficult to understand why such spending would suddenly have caused a collapse in the late 1980s.
The Soviet Union did not collapse as a result of the supposed failure of socialism, or of Ronald Reagan’s policies. It was betrayed and dismantled from within at the highest level.
Gorbachov moves to restore capitalism
The socio-economic structure of the Soviet Union was based on centralized economic planning, public ownership and State management of the systems for production, distribution and exchange, and the leadership of the Communist Party. Foreign policy emphasized solidarity with the international working class and opposition to imperialism.
It was therefore logical for the market enthusiasts headed by Gorbachov to focus on:
- Disabling the economic planning system
- Promoting private ownership and profit maximization
- Disabling the Communist Party
- Severing links with the international working class
- Abandoning the struggle against imperialism.
Gorbachov started by promising to launch programs and reforms that would solve a number of problems which had accumulated over the previous 20-25 years. These problems had been identified by Gorbachov’s predecessor, Yuri Andropov. In a plan for reform that was published in 1982, Andropov (in Keeran and Kenny)
…outlined the main economic problems facing the country: inefficiency, waste, poor productivity, a lack of labor discipline, slow growth in living standards, and insufficient quality and quantity of some consumer goods and services – particularly in housing, health care, and food. In defining the problem of consumer goods, Andropov distinguished his approach from Khrushchev’s. Andropov stressed that living standards did not reduce themselves (sic!) to simple competition with the West for greater incomes and more material things. Rather, socialist living standards meant much more: ‘the growth of the consciousness and cultural level’, ‘reasonable consumption, a rational diet,’ quality public services, and ‘a morally and aesthetically adequate use of free time.’
According to Andropov, poor planning and outmoded management, the failure to utilize scientific and technological innovations, reliance on extensive rather than intensive methods of production, and the lack of labor discipline caused the economic shortcomings. Andropov called for the ‘acceleration of scientific and technological progress.’ Andropov visualized a modernization of production through the application of computer technology. Beyond this, he called for standing commissions on energy that would correct the ‘uneconomical use of resources’…
According to Zhores Medvedev, Andropov’s efforts, particularly to reduce waste, brought ‘immediate and striking’ results. Newspapers began openly criticizing inefficient farms and incompetence in the food industry.
In foreign affairs, Andropov had no taste for the kind of retreats and unilateral concessions that would mark Gorbachev’s foreign policy. Andropov upheld the policy of peaceful co-existence and the avoidance of war, but he insisted that the principle of class struggle still prevailed internationally. In the 1970s, he repeatedly warned that by raising issues of ‘dissidents’ and ‘human rights’ and by increasing the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, the imperialists were actually intensifying their ideological and psychological warfare against the Soviet Union.
Andropov’s approach to foreign policy was based on recognition of the international class struggle, solidarity with the international working class and continued support for other countries that were menaced by imperialism, such as Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, Angola and Mozambique.
On the other hand, in 1985 Gorbachov began by erecting a lofty rhetorical platform for solving all existing problems on the basis of glasnost, which was supposed to open a new era of public discussion and criticism. The platform was not based on Marxist analysis. He also emphasized the importance of a détentewith the imperial powers, principally the US, and a program for international disarmament that would guarantee world peace. This attracted a great deal of popular support, since Soviet citizens regarded war as the worst of all eventualities, with very good reason. Positioning his government as the leading advocate of disarmament helped distract attention from the negative content of his domestic policies. Within a short time, the policy of détente became a policy of abject subordination to US demands.
One of Gorbachov’s chief lieutenants was Alexander Yakovlev, who called himself a social democrat. Together, they started a massive campaign aimed at discrediting Stalin and “Stalinism”, which turned out to be code for “socialism”. This involved a widespread purge of the major newspapers. Reporters and editors who supported socialism were replaced by others who could be relied on to sing the praises of the market economy, including private ownership of the production system, and “democracy”, another code word which signified the end of the Communist Party’s authority and its replacement by an imitation of Western bourgeois democracy.
Gorbachov had privately identified the Communist Party as the main obstacle to the restoration of capitalism. In 1987 and 1988 he and Yakolev ordered the media to revise the history of the party and of the Soviet Union itself. According to the new version the party had presided over a continuous economic disaster that had generated a crisis which Gorbachov claimed was much greater than anyone else realized. It could only be solved by reforms.
The rhetoric of reform began with the concept of “socialist pluralism”, which quickly evolved into “pluralism of opinion” and then “political pluralism”, a condition in which bourgeois parties and a Communist party coexisted. This was paralleled by a new notion of “various forms of socialist property”, which soon became “various forms of property”, i.e. private and publicly owned. The proportion of private to public property which was supposed to solve the USSR’s problems was never clearly defined.
In 1987 Gorbachov’s government delivered a fatal blow to the Soviet economy in the name of reform. The centralized planning agency Gosplan specified the outputs required from industrial enterprises to fulfill the overall economic plan. Industrial capacity was planned and adjusted in response to the general plan. The requirements for production and allocation of resources were transmitted in the form of orders from the State ministries in charge of the various industrial sectors.
By this time the Gorbachov group controlled the Politburo. They forced it to approve a plan that would reduce the volume of orders from the State ministries by 50%. Cutting orders in half meant that the remaining capacity would be used to produce goods to be sold on the “market”. Since the market was virtually non-existent, it would have to be created, although instructions for doing so were vague.
There was a good deal of opposition to this reform within the Politburo and the administrative bureaucracy, as well as the general public. Gorbachov and Yakolev orchestrated a media campaign that denounced all opposition and warned of a return to “stagnation”. As noted above, the Soviet economy had slowed down, but it was not stagnating.
The Gorbachov group had their way, and “the economy went into a tailspin from which it never recovered” (Kotz and Weir). Although Kotz and Weir believe that Gorbachov was at first sincerely interested in preserving and improving socialism, the evidence shows that he, Yakovlev, Eduard Shevardnadze and his other supporters intended to destroy the Soviet socialist system. In an interview in the 1990s in the French newspaper Libération, which I have unfortunately lost or misplaced, Shevardnadze said that in 1984 they had already decided to introduce capitalism but could not say so publicly.
This explains the Gorbachov group’s basic methodology, which was also used by Deng Xiaoping and his supporters. Each step in the dismantling of the socialist economy was labeled a reform. This also applied to the internal and external attacks on the Communist Party. Just as the restoration of capitalism was disguised as “reform”, those who wanted to preserve the power and socialist orientation of the Communist Party were labeled “conservatives”, and those who were bent on its destruction were called “reformers”, “democrats” and even “radicals”. Once the Western media had understood the real meaning of these terms, they became champions of the Gorbachov group.
Soviet society was descending into chaos economically, politically and ideologically. Black became white, and down became up. Yakovlev supervised a massive neutralization of party members who had understood or begun to understand the real goals of the Gorbachov government. The new directors of the media provided a gigantic and confusing smokescreen. “In addition, the idea that a General Secretary of the CPSU would advocate doing away with his own party seemed preposterous” (Keeran and Kenny).
The rhetorical inversion of reality reached a peak in 1991-1992 after Yeltsin and his supporters unilaterally dismembered the USSR into separate “countries”. When Yeltsin hoisted the flag of the Tsar over the new Russia he was hailed in the Russian and Western mass media as a “radical reformer”. Those who wanted to turn the clock back 75 years to a despotic autocracy were called “radicals”.
In 1988 the Gorbachov government reduced Gosplan to a virtual nonentity and continued to encourage production for private profit. Over the next couple of years sharp-witted bureaucrats realized that privatization of public property could make them rich, and that no one could stop them. Those who protested were labeled “Stalinists”, which then and now identifies opponents of capitalism as bloodthirsty anti-democratic monsters. By the end of 1988 the major economic institutions were falling apart. This had nothing whatsoever to do with the supposed faults of socialism. It was the direct result of conscious policies implemented by the Gorbachov government.
Wages were increased dramatically in 1988, in direct contradiction to previous Soviet economic policy, which maintained a balance between the amount of money in circulation and the value of goods and services that were available. This was one of the reasons why inflation did not exist in the USSR.
The output of consumer goods did not rise in 1988-1989, and since purchasing power suddenly outstripped the value of the goods available, inflation was the inevitable result. In addition, the traditional State subsidies for food production were reduced or eliminated, so that food production fell and prices rose. As the “market” generated increasing chaos, hoarding by both consumers and industries was another inevitable result.
Older Western viewers may recall contemporary media reports of shortages, long queues outside shops, galloping inflation and increasing unemployment, phenomena which had been eliminated long before. This was said to be a natural result of failed socialist economics. In fact it was a natural result of the intentional disruption of the functioning socialist economy and its replacement by “market forces”.
The propaganda machine installed by Gorbachov and Yakovlev continued to condemn the socialist economy as the source of all evil and to openly champion a market economy as the salvation. In September 1990 the Gorbachov government announced the so-called 500-Day Plan, which was the coup de grace. It called for installation of a capitalist economy within about 18 months. By this time central control of the economy had more or less disappeared.
The results were disastrous. For the first time since the launch of the original 5-Year Plan in 1929, Soviet GDP began to decline, by 2.4% in 1990 and 13% in 1991. Foreign trade, almost all of it with the disappearing socialist countries in Eastern Europe, fell by 50%.
Over the next few years, as Yeltsin came to power in Russia and dismembered the USSR, the economy of the former Soviet Union went into free fall. The collapse of production was accompanied by massive plundering of the wealth that the urban and agricultural workers of the Soviet Union had created and accumulated since 1929.
Private appropriation of the Soviet people’s property was undoubtedly the greatest theft in world history. It was eagerly applauded by Western capitalists, economists, politicians and the media, and it was aided and abetted by Western banks and so-called advisers such as the Swede Anders Åslund and the American Jeffrey Sachs, who had previously been involved in the ruin of the Bolivian capitalist economy.
The Western propaganda machine continues to attribute the economic and political collapse of the Soviet Union to a failure of socialism, an “unworkable” and “utopian” delusion. But the collapse was the direct and inescapable outcome of an assault on socialism that aimed at the restoration of capitalism. The results were catastrophic for the workers of the former Soviet Union. They are in general identical to the conditions of life for the vast majority of the inhabitants of the imperial neo-colonies.
The results were also the logical outgrowth of the Right Deviation described above. As it turned out, Stalin and his supporters were correct in claiming that following the policies of the Bukharin group would lead to a restoration of capitalism and a major defeat for the working class. As early as the 1970s, Gorbachov’s forerunners within the Soviet Communist Party were calling for “reform”. In Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates: From Bukharin to the Modern Reformers (1975), cited in Keeran and Kenny, Moshe Lewin wrote (emphasis added):
The impact of a personality like him (sic!) [Bukharin] cannot be freely acknowledged, either because of political constraints that are today stronger than those under Khrushchev, or because of the lack of political and historical training among the debaters who sometimes do not know much about such affinities. It is astonishing to discover how many ideas of Bukharin’s anti-Stalinist program of 1928-29 were adopted by current reformers as their own and how much of their critique of past practices followed his strictures and prophecies even in their expression… Quite obviously in the present situation the question is no longer how to industrialize a peasant country, but how to run an industrial giant. The environment of the 1960s and 1970s is very different from that of the 1920s… However, actual arguments used in both periods coincide astonishingly.
It is sometimes claimed that the so-called nomenklatura, the bureaucratic elite, were responsible for the demise of the Soviet Union and appropriated the wealth of the country. This is misleading. Many members of this elite opposed Gorbachov’s policies and did not partake in the grand larceny. It is the ideological heirs of Nikolai Bukharin who bear the guilt – those who paid lip-service to socialism but were dedicated to capitalism.
The majority of the Soviet people did not approve of Gorbachov’s policies, but by the time they realized what was happening it was too late. On 17 March 1991 a referendum was held on a single question – whether the USSR should be maintained. The referendum was not allowed in Armenia, Georgia, Moldavia or the Baltics, which were already controlled by anti-socialists. Of the 174 million people who voted, 76.4 were in favor of preserving the USSR. As far as I know, a majority of this size has never been recorded in a referendum in a Western country.
At about the same time, the people voted for Boris Yeltsin as an alternative to Gorbachov, who was on his way to becoming the most hated man in the Soviet Union. Yeltsin was a member of the Communist Party, and his electoral program did not include any mention of restoring capitalism or dismembering the USSR. In a matter of months he betrayed the trust that the people had placed in him, and by the end of the year the USSR had ceased to exist as a political entity.
The process of collectivization
Collectivization was one of the cornerstones of the new socialist economy, and it is normally linked by mainstream historians to Stalinist repression. It is interpreted as one of the key indicators of the evil of Communism. According to Getty and Naumov, collectivization of agriculture
…was an unqualified disaster, provoking one of the greatest human tragedies of modern times. Wild radical collectivizers descended on the villages, closing churches and attacking priests and other traditional village leaders. Grain was seized without any regard for peasants’ needs for food and seed… Any resistance was attributed to “kulak sabotage” and was met by deportation to Siberia, arrest, or execution. Many peasants were unable to plant because the seed had been taken; others refused to plant in protest. Rather than give up their animals to the new collective farms, peasants slaughtered horses, cows, pigs and sheep in huge numbers… When the meat was gone the peasants starved. Soviet meat production would not recover for decades. The loss of animal traction power, and the regime’s inability to provide tractors in adequate numbers, paralyzed agriculture. The regime’s inability or unwillingness to calculate rational targets for planning and harvesting, along with the chaos in the countryside that was partly effect and partly cause of the government’s miscalculation, hamstrung agriculture across the land, and bad weather was the coup de grace, producing (sic!) mass starvation.
The sources for Getty and Naumov’s discussion of collectivization are given as Moshe Lewin, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A study of Collectivization (1968); R. W. Davies, The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivization of Soviet Agriculture, I929-1930 (1980) and Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalin’s Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization (1994).
Research by Professor Mark B. Tauger of the Department of History, West Virginia University does not support Getty and Naumov. Much of the text below is based on his “Soviet Peasants and Collectivization, 1930-1939: Resistance and Adaptation”, in Rural Adaptation in Russia, Stephen K. Wegren (ed.) (2005). Tauger refers to Fitzpatrick (above), a study by Lewin published in 1985, and other sources with similar perspectives. He writes that
…this scholarship minimizes the extent to which peasants made any adaptation to the new system and instead focuses on opposition, rebellion and resistance as indicative of peasants’ responses to collectivization… Many if not most of these authors… see any possibility of support for the system as unlikely and scarcely worthy of mention.
[Tauger shows that] …on the basis of standard social science source criticism and new evidence… resistance was not the most common response, and that more peasants adapted to the new system in ways that enabled it to function and solve crucial agricultural problems.
Collectivization was thus not “an unmitigated disaster”. In a previous section on dialectical materialism it was pointed out that “the dominant tendency among non-Marxist historians, economists and sociologists is to start with ideas, hypotheses and theories and then search for facts that might confirm them”.
Tauger confirms this statement in restrained language:
In writing about (peasant) resistance, scholars would naturally seek out evidence that demonstrates resistance, and would thus use a selection of sources biased towards resistance from a source base that was already biased in that direction, which inherently makes their sources unrepresentative.
While the standard interpretation sees collectivization as a policy aimed at enabling the government to obtain grain at lower prices, starting with a so-called grain crisis in the late 1920s, Tauger points out that this distorts the government’s motives because it neglects “the central agrarian context of famines”. The country had been struck by famines in 1917, 1920-21, 1924 and 1927-29, in the cities as well as the countryside. Although the Soviet leaders blamed the famines partly on shortages generated by speculators, they identified the main cause as “the backwardness of traditional peasant agriculture”. It was not certain whether the peasants could produce enough to meet their own food needs.
In 1926 Stalin said that “Soviet agriculture could not grow without industrial development to provide necessary equipment”. This reflects a central theme of the development plan – the reciprocal relationship between industrial and agricultural growth. Apart from ideological issues, the main goal of collectivization was to make Soviet agriculture more efficient and more productive.
It was not “to end the economic power of the peasantry and establish control over food production” (Getty and Naumov).
The first step was to set up several dozen large mechanized state-owned farms, known as sovkhozy, in contrast to cooperatives, known as kolkhozy. In 1928 these farms were established on land that was not owned by peasants, in Siberia, Kazakhstan, the Volga basin and other regions. They were seen as a prototype test for collectivization, and were therefore “not established to exploit the peasants”. The sovkhozy were modeled on a fully mechanized farm of 95,000 acres (http://www.innovators.net) in the state of Montana that had been established by Thomas Campbell, the “Wheat King”.
The annual production goal of the sovkhozy was 1.5 million tons of grain. By 1930, output was double the original target. The government was therefore convinced that large-scale mechanized farming could solve the problem of agricultural productivity, and spent tens of billions of rubles on agriculture over the next ten years, which mainstream historians usually disregard.
Apart from Tauger’s work, none of the Western accounts of collectivization that I have read make any mention of the new mechanized sovkhozy.
Tauger states that the collectivization process was “disruptive and often violent”, and was not “necessarily the best means to achieve the regime’s objectives”. He does not identify alternatives. But he underlines that the Stalin government aimed at modernizing agriculture, not at reproducing serfdom or “committing genocide”.
Peasant resistance and other responses
While the new sovkhozy were demonstrating the effectiveness of mechanized agriculture, the first collectivization campaign was launched in the winter 1929-1930, when “by far most of the protests occurred”. According to the mainstream version the peasants “fiercely resisted collectivization” from then onward. InStalin: The Court of the Red Tsar” (2004), Simon Sebag Montefiore claims that “…the peasants refused to sow their crops, declaring war on the regime”. He does not provide a source for his claim.
According to Tauger, the most important document cited by the mainstream historians is a long report submitted in March 1931 by the OGPU, which was the main Soviet secret police agency until it was reorganized in 1934. The report specifies 13,754 protests by peasants in 1930, and states that 2.5 million people were identified as having been involved in 10,000 of them. Assuming as Tauger does that about one-third more protests occurred than those the OGPU reported, a total of about 3.3 million people were probably involved. Tauger writes that “clearly many more people protested against collectivization than against any agrarian policy since the civil war (sic!) of 1918-1921”.
But the rural population of the Soviet according to the 1926 census was more than 120 million, of whom about 60% were over 15 years of age. This means that the 3.3 million protesting peasants represented approximately 5% of the adult rural population.
Tauger (emphasis in original):
To the extent that this document (the OGPU report) is correct, and even if it understates the total number of protesters, it indicates that the vast majority of Soviet peasants, some 95 percent based on the data in this document, did not engage in protests against collectivization.
The document does not indicate that the peasants “declared war on the regime”.
Tauger refers to a 2002 study confirming the infrequency of protests (Tracy McDonald, “A Peasant Rebellion in Stalin’s Russia”, in Lynne Viola, ed., Contending with Stalinism,2002). This study shows that in one district “protests involved a small minority of villages and even of peasants”, less than 3% of the existing villages.
Tauger then asks what the peasants were protesting against. According to the OGPU report, 68% of the actions of the 5% who protested in February-April 1930 were against collectivization, and the rest against “the anti-religious campaign, grain procurements, food shortages and other problems”. Of the 13,754 “disturbances” listed in the report, 150 involved armed protesters.
There is no question that many of the local and regional officials and personnel who had been assigned to the collectivization campaign of 1929-1930 used coercive and sometimes violent measures. This clearly contradicted the government’s instructions, as well as the principles that had been expressed on several occasions by both Lenin and Stalin. Neither they nor anyone else with a grain of common sense or a knowledge of Russian history were capable of believing that the productivity of the Soviet agricultural sector could be increased by forcing peasants into collectives against their will.
Joseph Stalin’s article “Dizzy with Success” was published on 2 March 1930 as a direct response to the coercive actions. It was based on secret reports of violations by officials and protests by peasants. Stalin condemned the officials and emphasized that collectives had to be formed voluntarily.
Tauger reproduces a table showing the number and percentage of peasant disorders suppressed by force in February-March 1930, which he cites from V. P. Danilov et al (eds.), Tragediia Sovetskoi Derevni, 1999-2002.
Tauger points to the “vast increases in protests in March and April”, which “must have reflected” the appearance of Stalin’s article. “Many sources show that peasants all over the USSR read this article, since it was published in virtually every newspaper…” The article is often cited by mainstream historians as proof of Stalin’s fiendish duplicity and guile. For Getty and Naumov, it shows that “even Stalin recoiled from the chaos”. But it was not a response to “chaos”, as they claim. It was obviously addressed to the 5% of the peasants who were protesting as well as to the officials who were violating established collectivization policy.
Tauger refers to a study of peasant rebellions in 1826-1849 which found that peasants rebelled when they were forced to act in contradiction to their traditions, when they were forced to “do something that they did not comprehend”, or when they perceived official directives as false or misleading (Bokarev, L. V, Bunt I Smirenie. “Krest’ianski mentalitet i ego tol’ v krest’ianskom dvizhenii”, in V.P. Danilov et al.(eds.) Mentalitet I agrarnoe razvitie Rossii (XIX-XX vv.), 1996.)
In 1929-1930, most peasants did not understand the nature of collectivization or its goals. Mainstream historians “have documented the bizarre rumors” that spread through the villages in 1930, some of which identified collectivization with serfdom. This explains why… the vast majority of the protests, as the 1931 OGPU report indicated were “resolved by explanations and persuasion”.
OGPU reports from the central Russian province of Riazan provide further examples of this pattern: when kolkhoz organizers conducted sufficient explanatory work, collectivization proceeded successfully. In one village, organizers forced the kolkhoz on the peasants and they resisted, while in a neighboring one, organizers explained it at length and peasants joined… And the 1931 OGPU report’s evidence that most protests were not violent rebellions, and its implication that resistance was not the majority response of the peasants, both imply in turn that such adaptive responses must have been at least as widespread as resistance, if not more widespread.
Tauger discusses the question of why the overwhelming majority of peasants did not protest or rebel against collectivization.
Some peasants did not reject collectivization and even supported it. In March 1929 peasants suggested at a meeting in Riazan okrug (district) that the Soviet government should take all the land and have peasants work on it for wages, a conception not too distant from the future operation of kolkhozy. An OGPU report quoted one middle peasant in Shilovskii raion (region), Riazan okrug, in November 1929 to the effect that ‘the grain procurements are hard, but necessary; we cannot live like we lived before, it is necessary to build factories and plants, and for that grain is necessary… In January 1930, during the (collectivization) campaign, some peasants said, ‘the time has come to abandon our individual farm. It’s about time to quit those, [we] need to transfer to collectivization’.
Another document from January reported several cases of peasants spontaneously forming kolkhozy and consolidating their fields, which was a basic part of collectivization… Bokarev’s analysis summarized above suggests a reason why many peasants did not rebel against collectivization: the kolkhoz in certain ways, especially in its collectivism of land use and principles of egalitarian distribution, was not all that far from peasant traditions and values in corporate villages throughout the USSR. In any case, this example, and the evidence that the vast majority of peasants did not engage in protests against collectivization, clearly disproves (the) assertion… that the villages were ‘united’ against collectivization.
Did the peasants on collective farms refuse to work?
The “resistance interpretation”, as Tauger calls it, also claims that refusal to work was widespread among peasants. Tauger refers to James Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (1990), Sheila Fitzpatrick’s Stalin’s Peasants (see above), Moshe Lewin, The Making of the Soviet System (1985), and Lynne Viola, Peasant Rebels under Stalin (1996), among others.
Tauger states that the studies rely on anecdotal evidence, and do not examine the statistics for actual agricultural production. For example, according to Scott peasant resistance on a daily basis “may in the end make an utter shambles of the policies dreamed up by their would-be superiors in the capital”. All the proponents of the “resistance interpretation” argue that it had “disastrous effects on farm output”, but none of them discuss the statistics for grain harvests “in detail, if at all”. Tauger gives the following table for harvests 1930-1938, based on data “recorded and calculated by farm personnel themselves after completion of farm work”, i.e. not official figures compiled by government agencies. (Emphasis added.)
APPROXIMATE SOVIET GRAIN HARVESTS AND YIELDS, 1930-39 (MILLION
Year 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938
Harvest 67 54 48 68 67 75 56 97 73
These figures cannot be explained by the resistance interpretation. Tauger points to “clear and substantial evidence” showing that the variations in output were primarily the result of environmental factors. The famine of 1932-1933 was thus a result of “a complex of natural disasters”.
Tauger states that there was some resistance in the 1930s but that its effect on production is very difficult to document. A recent Russian study has shown that climate was the most important determinant of productivity in the Urals.
An example of the mainstream approach is provided by Fitzpatrick, who refers to a newspaper report that peasants in the Dnepropetrovsk district refused to start sowing although they had received emergency seed. Fitzpatrick draws the conclusion that Soviet peasants in general planted less land in order to reduce production.
But both archival and published sources show that peasants planted more land and produced much more grain in 1933. Tauger writes that Fitzpatrick’s press report (emphasis added)
…does not represent most peasants’ views or actions (in 1933) and is highly misleading as an indication of peasants’ responses for the entire 1930s… all such anecdotal citations from OGPU documents of peasants refusing to work are at best problematic and often meaningless… no generalizations or conclusions that most or all peasants resisted work in the farms are valid if drawn from such evidence.
The more extreme versions of the resistance interpretation claim that the collectivized farms simply didn’t work, because the peasants devoted their time to resistance, not to work. Once again, this view does not fit the facts. The harvest data in the table above indicate that “many peasants worked under very difficult conditions, even famine, to produce more and overcome the crises” that were caused by natural disasters and crop failures.
Tauger then gives a long and detailed analysis of work on collective farms in which he shows that in the early 1930s most collectives had a surplus of labor, the “hidden unemployment” referred to previously. In light of the excess of manpower the turnout for work could vary from 50% to as low as 25-30% of the total number of peasants. As collectivization proceeded, the inefficient system of individual plots was eliminated, and the degree of mechanization increased, fewer peasants could produce more grain. The superfluous peasants migrated to the cities where there was a chronic shortage of industrial manpower during the 1930s.
Early in the crisis year of 1932 there was increased resistance because “peasants were hungry, often starving, and angry at the regime and its officials”. This was compounded by shortages of seed, inadequate fodder for horses, broken-down tractors and non-payment of earnings for 1931. Conditions in the harvest period later in the year were desperate, not least because of infected crops and mismanagement by officials. Peasants responded in a variety of ways, sometimes leaving grain in the fields that they would later harvest for themselves. According to Tauger (emphasis added):
Peasants’ responses varied: some applied to withdraw from their farms, some left for paid work outside, some worked sloppily, intentionally leaving grain on the fields while harvesting to glean later for themselves.
…however, the peasants’ most frequent form of ‘resistance’ was to divide up kolkhozy into individual fields to harvest. These actions were stimulated in some cases by a rumor of a secret state decree to dissolve the kolkhozy; one North Caucasus peasant urged division of his kolkhoz because (he thought)kolkhozy in Ukraine had been dispersed… In this case as in many others, however, peasants’ actions did not have the quality of opposition or sabotage, of a clandestine attempt to undermine the state. Their demands were open, sometimes formalized in a petition to higher authorities, and honest: to be allowed to work in the way they thought best. In several cases peasants urged division of the kolkhozy to save the harvest and to provide higher procurements for the government…These demands and actions do not fit easily into the resistance interpretation because peasants explicitly stated that they intended their actions as a means to fulfill the government’s demands to produce more and to meet the procurement quotas.
The famine was still raging early in 1933. The government set up political departments at the farms and replaced officials who had violated directives against the use of coercion. Machine Tractor Stations (MTS) were established, in which industrial workers from the cities instructed peasants in the use and maintenance of tractors and other mechanized implements. New laws on labor discipline in some regions were enacted. The government provided 5.76 million tons of seed and food, the largest such allocation in Soviet history. Special sowing commissions were established in key regions such as the Ukraine, the Urals and the Volga basin. The sum total was a good harvest for 1933.
There can be no doubt that the general pattern of intensified work, improved conditions and higher output… was in fact representative of conditions throughout the country.
Tauger also refers to a report dated 22 December 1933 from the Central Blackearth district (CBO), “which was highly collectivized, a primary grain region and also a famine region”. Neither this or similar regional reports had been studied in Soviet or post-Soviet publications. The report describes the acute crisis early in the year, weak labor discipline and frequent refusals to work. It details the remedial measures, including removal of “kulak and other counter-revolutionary elements”. Fertilizer was used for the first time, more seed was treated against plant diseases, crops were weeded repeatedly, and steps were taken to combat insects. The time required for harvesting and threshing was significantly reduced. The peasants
…completed grain procurements in November 1933 (those of 1932 had lasted like threshing into spring 1933), paid off all of their seed loans, formed the necessary internal funds in kolkhozy and still managed to distribute to kolkhozniki (members of the collective) much more in labour-day payments than the previous year, thereby ending the famine in the region. The kolkhozniki also provided all their livestock with basic fodder, and built granaries, livestock shelters, clubs and other buildings.
As a result of these efforts, the CBO harvested some 24 per cent more grain in 1933 than in 1932… While weather conditions played a role in these successful results, clearly peasants worked harder and differently in 1933, during the peak of the famine, than they had earlier, and management by the politotdely(administrative chiefs) contributed to this.
There were other problems in 1933.
In at least four MTS districts, counter-revolutionary organizations were formed with plans ranging from withholding grain to the overthrow of the Soviet government. There were many bandit gangs who stole grain from threshing floors and plundered peasants’ huts, and many armed attacks and murders of activists and others.
In general, Tauger shows that like virtually all policies, collectivization had “good sides and bad”, but that the resistance interpretation “misrepresents most peasants’ actions and omits their accomplishments, and therefore presents an incorrect interpretation of Soviet rural life”. At the peak of the crisis, “peasants repeatedly demonstrated their ability to put aside their objections, to overcome adversity even at great cost, and to produce harvests that ended famines…” as they responded to negative factors such as “natural disasters (and) the ineptitude and harshness of the regime”(whichTauger exaggerates in my opinion).
His concluding evaluation of the “resistance interpretation” applies to most Western mainstream histories of the Soviet Union:
[It] seems to be an example of theory-driven or even politically motivated scholarship, in which scholars selected evidence to fit preconceived theoretical assumptions or express their hostility to the Soviet regime, but did not consider how representative and realistic their evidence actually was. The resistance interpretation, in its extreme version at least, is actually deeply unrealistic: peasants, like other people, had different attitudes and responses to the events that affected them.
The myth of the genocidal famine
Western falsifications regarding collectivization and Soviet agricultural policies before 1945 are closely linked to a central and persistent component of anti-Communist propaganda – the myth of the genocidal Ukrainian famine that was supposed to have been orchestrated by Stalin in 1932.
The version propagated at the Swedish Forum for Living History’s web site is typical. The main headline is “The great famine”. The sub-headline is “Famine as a weapon for overcoming resistance”.
The first paragraph reads “The Russian (sic!) authorities’ collectivization of agriculture and their stringent demands for deliveries of foodstuffs triggered mass famine in areas that were normally fertile. Several million died in the famine. Many scholars claim that the authorities created the famine in order to overcome resistance”.
The “many scholars” turn out to be Robert Conquest (see below) and others who remain unidentified. The text at the web site states that Conquest also claims that “Stalin… wanted to crush Ukrainian nationalism as the government simultaneously purged cultural and intellectual leaders in the Ukraine”.
As we have seen, the vast majority of Russian peasants did not resist collectivization. Although the genocide story has been repeatedly disproved, a 30-minute tour of the Internet shows that it is widely publicized. In 1988 the US Commission on the Ukraine Famine published findings which affirmed that “Joseph Stalin and those around him committed genocide against Ukrainians in 1932-1933”. The Commission was apparently established by the US Congress. The Executive Director of the Commission was James E. Mace, who according to Wikipedia “worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. Following the advice of Omeljan Pritsak, the director of the Institute, he started doing research for Robert Conquest’s book on the Great Famine in Ukraine, The Harvest of Sorrow”.
In 1995 Mace was appointed Professor of Political Science at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Ukraine, where he died in 2004. Wikipedia: “The Order of Yaroslav Mudry, 2nd Class was awarded posthumously to Mace by President Viktor Yushchenko, in 2005”. This was the same President Yushchenko who proclaimed that the Jew-killer Simon Petliura and the Jew/Polack-killer Stepan Bandera are national Ukrainian heroes.
A brief review of the history of the genocide-famine myth illustrates the complicity of the mass media and leading academic institutions, as well as their cooperation with and reliance on Nazis and Nazi sympathizers.
Fabricating the genocide-famine myth
The subject has been studied in detail by the Canadian Douglas Tottle in Fraud, Famine and Fascism: The Ukrainian Genocide Myth from Hitler to Harvard (1987). The book is unfortunately out of print but can be downloaded in PDF-format at http://rationalrevolution.net/special/library/famine.htm, and the text is also reproduced at http://books.google.com/books?id=5wkJi1jvL3UC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Tottle&ei=nJfzS_70KJ-2yQTc5JyiCA&cd=1#v=onepage&q&f=false
Tottle’s introductory section “Acknowledgements” is worth quoting:
I am deeply indebted to many persons of Ukrainian background, both Canadian born and of post-war immigration, who shared with me their personal knowledge of the events discussed in this book. Their assistance in translating necessary materials is very much appreciated. I would like to particularly thank those of the post-war immigration who had the courage to offer or verify information about the presence of former Nazi war criminals and collaborators presently hiding behind the good name of the Ukrainian Canadian community. Nor do I wish to forget the valued assistance of Ukrainian academics from four universities for their assessments, criticisms and encouragement in the preparation of this book.
Finally, I am honored by my acquaintance with Jewish survivors from Western Ukraine and Poland. They related to me their experience of Ukrainian Nationalist pogroms and police round-ups, verifying the experience of others with Ukrainian Nationalists as willing tools of the Nazis in town, country and concentration camps. Particularly helpful were the personal memoirs and written accounts made available to me by Galician Jews who survived the death camps or who survived in the forests. Canada is greatly enriched by their presence among us. Without their inspiration, which greatly encouraged me to get to the truth on a whole number of questions, this book could not have been completed.
The first media reports alleging that the Soviet government was purposely starving people in the Ukraine appeared in Nazi newspapers in 1933. The British press reproduced some of the stories in 1934, and in 1935 they were published in the Hearst newspapers in the US. William Randolph Hearst was not only a Nazi sympathizer but also contributed actively to distribution of Nazi propaganda in America.
In February 1935, Hearst newspapers such as the Chicago American and the New York Evening Journal published the first in a series of articles about the famine by one Thomas Walker. The articles included pictures of starving peasants allegedly taken by Walker in the spring of 1934. Walker was billed as a “noted journalist, traveler and student of Russian affairs who has spent several years touring the Union of Soviet Russia”.
Louis Fischer, an American journalist in Moscow who wrote for The New Republic and The Nation, quickly discovered that Walker had entered the USSR from Poland with a transit visa on 12 October 1934, spent a few days in Moscow, and then took the trans-Siberian train to the Manchurian border, where he exited from Soviet territory on 25 October 1934. He had not been near the Ukraine. Walker was in fact a convict who had escaped from Colorado State Prison, where he was serving an 8-year term for forgery.
The pictures in Walker’s articles were fakes. Some showed soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, identified as Red Army troops, and some had been taken during the famines that occurred during the War of Intervention. One of the pictures that was supposed to represent starving Ukrainians in the summer of 1932 showed people wearing winter clothes. The photographs were also widely circulated in the Nazi media, and in Muss Russland hungern? by Dr. Ewald Ammende, a Nazi sympathizer. This book was published in Germany in 1935 and based on sources from the Fascist press and Ukrainian emigrant publications. An English language edition entitled Human Life in Russia, was published in 1936. Tottle shows that it has been a recurrent part of the genocide-famine myth.
Another American who contributed to the Hearst propaganda campaign was Fred Beal,
a union organizer in the US who was convicted of murder in connection with a strike in Gastonia, North Carolina. In 1930 he fled to the USSR, where he worked in a tractor factory in Kharkov. In 1933 he returned to the US. He was arrested and started to serve a 20-year prison sentence.
While Beal was in prison he began to write articles for the Hearst press about a famine in the Ukraine which he had witnessed. Beal claimed to have “overheard” a plan to generate a famine. He also claimed to have conferred with the President of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, to whom he “reported”, according to Simon Sebag Montefiore, Robert Conquest and Dana Dalrymple, another propagandist who was a professor at Harvard.
A few years after Beal started writing for Hearst, his sentence was commuted to four years. He later served as a witness for the House Un-American Committee during the post-World War 2 witch-hunt in the US.
However, an American named Wolynec worked at the tractor plant in Karkhov from 1931 to 1935. He was not a member of the Communist Party. He knew Beal for two years. He stated that Beal could neither speak, read nor write Russian or Ukrainian.
Montefiore does not explain in which language Beal “reported” to the Ukrainian President about his supposed travels in the Ukraine, nor why the Ukrainian Executive Committee would request a report from an American tractor-factory worker who could not communicate in Ukrainian or Russian. Curiously, Montefiore makes no mention of the blood-curdling articles written by Thomas Walker.
If a famine was indeed planned by officials of the Soviet Communist Party, how did Beal get close enough to hear their discussions? Was he invited to their meetings? Why? How did he understand what they said? The only source for Beal’s stories is Beal himself. There were no corroboratory witnesses.
Either Montefiore knows Beal was a liar, or he doesn’t. If he does know, Montefiore is himself guilty of fraud. If he doesn’t know, he is disqualified from writing about the so-called genocidal famine. He should immediately consult Tottle’s book.
Tottle documents the continued and persistent use of fake and falsely attributed photographs, including Walker’s, in Nazi and other Western publications both before and after World War 2. The pictures appeared in Black Deeds of the Kremlin, published in 1953 by Fascist Ukrainian emigrant organizations in the US. The book is full of praise for the Jew-killer Simon Petliura and for Roman Shukeyvych, a Ukrainian nationalist hero who led one of the military units set up by the Nazis in the Ukraine during World War 2.
One of the book’s co-authors was Alexander Hay-Holowko, who served in the SS and was propaganda minister in the Nazi-backed so-called Ukrainian government that was led by Stepan Bandera. The people who supported publication of the book included Anatole Bilotserkiwsky, also known as Anton Shpak, who served in the Ukrainian Nazi police and personally participated in mass executions of Jews.
1953 was also the year that The Ninth Circle, by Olexa Woropay, was published in the UK by admirers of Stepan Bandera. Woropay claimed that his description of the genocidal famine in the Ukraine was based on “research” in refugee camps in Germany after 1945. The names of the refugees were not given. He used Walker’s photos to support his story.
In 1964 an article in the journal Soviet Studies byan American agricultural expert named Dana G. Dalrymple claimed that 5.5 million people had been killed by the genocidal famine in the Ukraine. He used a simple statistical method to establish this figure. He collected 20 different claims for the number of deaths, ranging from 1 to 10 million, and then calculated the average. His sources included Walker, Nazis, and Nazi sympathizers such as Doctor Ammende (see above).
Dalrymple was apparently dissatisfied with the body count. In 1965 he published “The Soviet Famine of 1932-1934: Some Further References”. This included an estimate of 15 million by one Dr. Horsley Gantt, who indicated that the new figure was supplied to him by “Soviet authorities”. None of them were identified.
In 1981 the Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University launched the Famine Project, whose members included Robert Conquest and James E. Mace.
In 1983 The Ninth Circle, complete with fake photos, was republished by Harvard University to “commemorate the 50th anniversary of famine-genocide in Ukraine”. It was edited by Mace, who also wrote the introduction.
In the same year, Mace published Famine in the Soviet Ukraine, using the same sources and the same fake photos. Mace refers to Walker but dates the latter’s visit to the Soviet Union as 1933, instead of the correct 1934.
Mace wrote a “Historical Introduction” to the 1984 reprint of Human Life in Russia, which also features the fake photos. He praises accounts by Walker and other journalists “based on what they had witnessed in the Ukraine in 1933”, although Walker had never been there to witness anything.
In a detailed discussion of other publications based on fraudulent material, Tottle points out that previous to his appointment as head of the Congressional Commission on the Ukraine Famine, Mace published an article in the journal Problems of Communism in which he completely ignored World War 2 as a cause of depopulation in the Ukraine.
The efforts of Harvard’s propagandists were echoed by the film Harvest of Despair, produced by Ukrainian nationalists in Canada. It was based on “virtually all (the) outdated and undocumented stills commonly used in the famine-genocide campaign”. The film was awarded a Gold Medal and the Grand Trophy Award at the 28th International Film and TV Festival in New York in 1983.
Harvest of Despair was exposed by Tottle at a meeting in Toronto with a panel of Ukrainian nationalists that included Marco Carynnyk, who had participated in writing and research for the film.
“Confronted by this author in the discussion portion of the meeting, that the stills and footage used in the film were fraudulent, the panelists were forced to admit openly that this author’s charges were true. Though reluctant to acknowledge the full extent of the fraud, deliberate deceit was confirmed. As the Toronto Star (20 November 1986) reported:
“Researcher Marco Carynnik, who says he originated the idea of the film, says his concerns about questionable photographs were ignored. Carynnik said that none of the archival film footage is of the Ukrainian famine and that ‘very few photos from ‘32-33’ appear that can be traced as authentic. A dramatic shot at the film’s end of an emaciated girl, which has also been used in the film’s promotional material, is not from the 1932-1933 famine, Carynnik said.
‘I made the point that this sort of inaccuracy cannot be allowed,” he said in an interview. ‘I was ignored’.
“Perhaps this is why, to use the term of B. S. Onyschuk, vice-chairman of the Ukrainian Famine Research Committee, Carynnyk was ‘let go’ from the film before its completion”.
Robert Conquest perpetuates the lies
The big breakthrough for the genocide-famine myth was the publication of Robert Conquest’s The Great Famine in 1986. About fifteen years earlier The Guardian had revealed that Conquest was employed for many years by MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service (see Chapter 10, Re-targeting the Soviet Union). Disseminating disinformation is his profession.
The book is based largely on interviews with or publications by German and Ukrainian Fascists, some of whom are mentioned above. Other sources include employees of the US propaganda operation Radio Free Europe.Conquest also reproduced a number of fake photographs, including Walker’s.
Tottle: “A key chapter of Harvest of Sorrow – Chapter 12: ‘The Famine Rages’ – can serve as an example of Conquest’s subjective bias, reliance on unverifiable claims, and methodology of selection and evaluation.
“Chapter 12 contains 237 references. Over half (more than 120) are to rightist Ukrainian émigré sources, of which 50 alone refer to Black Deeds of the Kremlin. Woropay’s Walker-illustrated, partly anonymous Ninth Circle is cited 14 times. Other references include Communism the Enemy of Mankind(published by the youth wing of the OUN-Bandera), 1935 Hearst press accounts, the CIA-funded Harvard Refugee Interview Project, and the McCarthy-era US House Committee on Communist Aggression (1955). Works of fiction are liberally used as if bona fide documentation. For example, 13 references are to a novel allegedly by Vasily Grossman, published in New York.
A revealing example of Conquest’s “scholarship” can be seen in his selection of the following account for Chapter 12. A foreign correspondent reports that, near Kiev, he witnessed the following scene:
‘In one hut they were cooking a mess that defied analysis. There were bones, pigweed, skin, and what looked like a boot top in the pot. The way the remaining half-dozen inhabitants (of a former population of forty) eagerly watched this slimy mess showed their state of hunger’.
It turns out that the foreign correspondent is none other than Thomas Walker, the man who never was. Even more incredible, in his reference note for this quote, Conquest has backdated the issue of this Hearst press article from 1935 to ‘February 26 1933’.
According to Wikipedia, Conquest has retracted his claim that the famine resulted from a deliberate policy of the Soviet government. This may be due to Tottle’s and/or Tauger’s refutation of his work.
However, neither the EU Parliament nor the Forum for Living History has been informed of the facts. A resolution adopted by the EU Parliament on 28 October 2008 commemorated “the Ukraine artificial famine (1932-1933)” and stated that it “was cynically and cruelly planned by Stalin’s regime in order to force through the Soviet Union’s policy of collectivization of agriculture against the will of the rural population of Ukraine”. As we have seen, there is no evidence for this claim.
The continuous recycling of Nazi propaganda about the “genocide-famine” by the US Congress, the EU, the Forum for Living History and other bastions of anti-Communism reflects Western support for the German proxy war on the Soviet Union in 1941, and parallels the recycling of Nazis and Nazi policies in the so-called Cold War that is discussed in Chapter 10.
Famine in the USSR 1932-1933
There was a famine in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s, and it was not confined to the Ukraine. It was traceable to several factors, including extremely bad weather conditions as well as widespread plant disease. The result was a drastic decline in the grain harvest, from, 67 million metric tons in 1931 to 54 million in 1932 and 48 million in 1933.
The Soviet government was in a bind. The shortage of industrial manpower was persistent. Unless the urban workers could be fed, there would be famine in the cities and the industrialization program on which the future of the country depended would be crippled. Unless the peasants could be fed, there would be famine in the countryside. Previously contracted exports of grain to finance purchases of needed plant and equipment had to be cut back. As information on the disastrous harvest reached Moscow, quotas for procurement of grain had to be reduced repeatedly, contrary to Western propaganda, but in the prevailing conditions even the reduced quotas involved hardship.
As far as exports are concerned, Tauger notes:
“The harvest decline also decreased the regime’s reserves of grain for export. This drop in reserves began with the drought-reduced 1931 harvest and subsequent procurements, which brought famine to the Volga region, Siberia, and other areas. Soviet leaders were forced to return procured grain to those areas in 1932. The low 1931 harvest and reallocations of grain to famine areas forced the regime to curtail grain exports from 5.2 million tons in 1931 to 1.73 million in 1932; they declined to 1.68 million in 1933. Grain exported in 1932 and 1933 could have fed many people and reduced the famine: The 354,000 tons exported during the first half of 1933, for example, could have provided nearly 2 million people with daily rations of 1 kilogram for six months. Yet these exports were less than half of the 750,000 tons exported in the first half of l932. How Soviet leaders calculated the relative costs of lower exports and lower domestic food supplies remains uncertain, but available evidence indicates that further reductions or cessation of Soviet exports could have had serious consequences. Grain prices fell in world markets and turned the terms of trade against the Soviet Union in the early 1930s, its indebtedness rose and its potential ability to pay declined, causing Western bankers and officials to consider seizure of Soviet property abroad and denial of future credits in case of Soviet default. Failure to export thus would have threatened the fulfillment of its industrialization plans and, according to some observers, the stability of the regime.
While the leadership did not stop exports, they did try to alleviate the famine. A 25 February 1933 Central Committee decree allotted seed loans of 320,000 tons to Ukraine and 240,000 tons to the northern Caucasus. Seed loans were also made to the Lower Volga and may have been made to other regions as well. Kul’chyts’kyy cites Ukrainian party archives showing that total aid to Ukraine by April 1933 actually exceeded 560,000 tons, including more than 80,000 tons of food. Aid to Ukraine alone was 60 percent greater than the amount exported during the same period. Total aid to famine regions was more than double exports for the first half of 1933. (Emphasis added.)
A footnote in Tauger’s text includes the following:
“According to the commercial counselor of the British Embassy in Moscow, writing in late 1931, ‘failure [by the Soviet government] to meet its obligations would certainly bring disaster in its train. Not only would further credits cease, but all future exports, all Soviet shipping entering foreign ports, all Soviet property already in foreign countries would be liable to seizure to cover sums due. Admission of insolvency would endanger the achievement of all aspirations based on the five-year plan and might indeed imperil the existence of the government itself’… German Chancellor Brüning told a British diplomat in Berlin in early 1932 that if the Soviets ‘did not meet their bills in some form or other, their credit would be destroyed for good and all’…”
Tauger writes that the “harsh procurements” displaced the famine from the cities to the countryside, and points out that even if grain exports had been completely cut off, the famine could not have been prevented. He also refers to “the chaos in the Soviet Union in these years”, and states that “The harvest of 1932 essentially made a famine inevitable”.
Tauger then partially contradicts himself and refers to the low harvest of 1932 as a “mitigating circumstance”, which apparently means that it did not make a famine inevitable. He states that the Stalin government was responsible for “the deprivation and suffering of the Soviet population in the early 1930s”, and that the famine was the result of “a failure of economic policy”.
Tauger’s statement that the famine was caused by a “failure of economic policy” is somewhat ambiguous. As far as I can see, the economic policy based on achieving industrialization and collectivization as quickly as possible was imperative if the Soviet Union was to survive and develop, particularly because a renewed military attack by the Western powers was inevitable. The alternative was a restoration of capitalism as proposed by the followers of Bukharin and others. This would have involved a disaster, as the post-1991 history of the former Soviet Union demonstrates.
The failure was in the implementation of the economic policy by local and regional officials who disobeyed central directives and tried to establish collectives by coercion. In addition to the constant external threat, other negative factors included inadequate technology and a shortage of trained party personnel. Among other things, the latter resulted in unjustified identification of some peasants as kulaks. As far as the Ukraine is concerned, this was expressed in the History of the Ukrainian SSR (Republic) that was published in Kiev in 1977. An extract from the chapter “Struggle against distortions of the party line in the building of collectivization” is cited by Tottle:
On the path of establishing the collectivization movement were placed great difficulties which were conditioned by the newness and complexity of the process, the age-old peasant tradition of private ownership, technical-economic obsolescence, and the great shortage of cadre (trained personnel). These difficulties were complicated by the capitalist encirclement in which the Soviet state found itself and the intensification of class struggle in the rural areas. In these conditions, the distortions of the party line toward the building of collectivization, which were noticed in the first stage of solid (sic!) collectivization, were especially dangerous. The leadership of a number of regions, in pursuit of high percentages of collectivization, instead of persistent and painstaking organizational mass work among the peasantry, took (instead) the path of coercion. Many mistakes and distortions were made by responsible workers of Shepetytsky, Tulchyn, Proskuriv and various other regions where, during the last twenty days of February 1930, the level of collectivization in some districts jumped from 10-15 to 80-90 per cent.
Distortions in the movement for collectivization were also tied to the phenomenon (sic!) that republican (Republic-level) and local organizations did not always issue correct instructions. Thus, in the Ukraine, regional and district party committees received, on February 24, 1930, a directive to collectivize the steppes by the end of the spring sowing campaign, and the entire Ukraine by the autumn of 1930. This was a vulgar violation of the directives of the party concerning the rates and methods of collectivization.
A particularly dangerous distortion of party policy in regard to the collectivization movement was the incorrect approach taken toward the middle peasantry in various districts. Accomplishing the course of collectivization, the party guided itself by the Leninist approach that successes in the socialist transformation of agriculture were dependent to a large extent on the attitude of the middle peasantry. Nevertheless, there were cases of dealing with the middle peasantry as if they were kulaks. As was noted in a letter to party organizations from the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) of April 2, 1930, the policy of strengthening the alliance with the middle peasantry with the support of the poor peasantry, and in conditions of merciless struggle against the kulaks, began to be replaced by the policy, hostile to Leninism, of commandism in relations with the middle peasantry.
All these distortions and mistakes, which had nothing in common with the Leninist line of the party, were useful to the kulaks, the bourgeois nationalists, the right-opportunists and Trotskyists.
It should be noted that the term kulak was not some sort of misconceived ideological distortion. It referred to the approximately 5% of peasant households who owned more than 15% of the land under cultivation. They also owned grain mills and blacksmith’s forges, rented farm machinery and animals to poorer peasants, and lent them money as well. They were naturally interested in maintaining grain prices as high as possible. A glimpse of their activities is given by Elena Nikolaevna, whose father’s farm failed and was purchased by a kulak for ten bags of flour.
The kulaks did not stand by idly when the collectivization program was launched. They were actively engaged in sabotage. Tottle quotes Frederick Schuman (1904-1981), Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government at Williams College (MA) 1936-1968, who traveled in the Ukraine in 1932:
Their [kulak] opposition took the initial form of slaughtering their cattle and horses in preference to having them collectivized. The result was a grievous blow to Soviet agriculture, for most of the cattle and horses were owned by the kulaks. Between 1928 and 1933 the number of horses in the USSR declined from almost 30,000,000 to less than 15,000,000; of horned cattle from 70,000,000 (including 31,000,000 cows) to 38,000,000 (including 20,000,000 cows); of sheep and goats from 147,000,000 to 50,000,000; and of hogs from 20,000,000 to 12,000,000. Soviet rural economy had not recovered from this staggering loss by 1941.
Some [kulaks] murdered officials, set the torch to the property of the collectives, and even burned their own crops and seed grain. More refused to sow or reap, perhaps on the assumption that the authorities would make concessions and would in any case feed them.
As noted above, coercion included treating so-called middle-peasants as kulaks, which was a serious mistake. The results were described by the American journalist Louis Fischer: “I myself saw, all over the Ukraine in 1932, huge stacks of grain which the peasants had refused to gather and which were rotting… Then those same peasants starved” (The Nation, 29 May 1935, cited by Tottle).
Dr. Hans Blumenfeld (1892–1988) was a Canadian architect and city planner, born in Germany. In 1978, he received the Order of Canada. At the time of the famine he was working as an architect in the Ukrainian city of Makayevka. Tottle quotes from Blumenfeld’s Life begins at 65: The Not Entirely Candid Autobiography of a Drifter (1987):
There was indeed a famine in 1933, not just in the Ukraine, but also in… the Lower Volga and the North Caucasus; and Makeyevka, located near the junction of these three regions, felt the full impact of it… Only once did I see a child with spindly legs and a swollen belly; it was in the garden of a nursery school at the hand of a nurse waiting for the doctor. Nor did I ever see a corpse lying in a street… There is no doubt that the famine claimed many victims. I have no basis on which to estimate their number…
Probably most deaths in 1933 were due to epidemics of typhus, typhoid fever, and dysentery. Waterborne diseases were frequent in Makeyevka; I narrowly survived an attack of typhus fever…
[The famine was caused by] a conjunction of a number of factors. First, the hot dry summer of 1932, which I had experienced in northern Vyatka, had resulted in crop failure in the semiarid regions of the south. Second, the struggle for collectivization had disrupted agriculture. Collectivization was not an orderly process following bureaucratic rules. It consisted of actions by the poor peasants, encouraged by the Party. The poor peasants were eager to expropriate the kulaks, but less eager to organize a cooperative economy. By 1930 the Party had already sent out cadres to stem and correct excesses… After having exercised restraint in 1930, the Party put on a drive again in 1932. As a result, in that year the kulak economy ceased to produce, and the new collective economy did not yet produce fully. First claim on the inadequate product went to urban industry and to the armed forces; as the future of the entire nation, including the peasants, depended on them, it could hardly be otherwise.
In 1933 rainfall was adequate. The Party sent its best cadres to help organize work in the kolkhozes. They succeeded; after the harvest of 1933 the situation improved radically and with amazing speed. I had the feeling that we had been pulling a heavy cart uphill, uncertain if we would succeed; but in the fall of 1933 we had gone over the top and from then on we could move forward at an accelerating pace.
The evidence that I have published and other evidence, including recent Ukrainian document collections, show that the famine developed out of a shortage and pervaded the Soviet Union, and that the regime organized a massive program of rationing and relief in towns and in villages, including in Ukraine, but simply did not have enough food. http://www.artukraine.com/famineart/tauger.htm
Paranoid delusions of the Soviet government
The Soviet government’s awareness of external threats and its conflict with domestic opposition, as during the process of collectivization, is normally ascribed to paranoia. The prevailing view is expressed by Getty and Naumov, who underline “the subjective perceptions of those administering terror”. They claim that as a result of the War of Intervention (which they call the “civil war”) “the Stalinists always believed themselves figuratively surrounded, constantly at war with powerful and conniving opponents”. (Emphasis added.)
It is doubtful that many historians would discuss the history of the French Revolution without reference to the attempts by European monarchies to overthrow the French Republic and restore the rule of The Bourbons by violence. Between 1792 and 1802. France was at war with Great Britain, the Holy Roman (Austrian) Empire, Prussia, Spain, Portugal and various German principalities. It would also be difficult to deny that these international conflicts had a significant effect on the internal development of the Republic.
Few historians would maintain that the leaders of the French Republic “believed themselves figuratively surrounded, constantly at war with powerful and conniving opponents”.
However, the international context in which the Soviets were trying to build the world’s first socialist economy is generally ignored by mainstream Western historians. Although the disastrous consequences of the War of Intervention are documented by a few economic historians such as Alec Nove, the effects of the war on the economic and therefore the political development of the Soviet Union normally do not merit attention. Those who mention the war either trivialize it or reduce it to a hobgoblin that fed the paranoia of the Bolsheviks.
Thus Getty and Naumov refer to a “three-year civil war that pitted the Reds (Bolsheviks and their allies) against the Whites (politically, almost everyone else). More than a dozen capitalist states backed the Whites…”
Several stratagems are at work here. First, the parenthetical “Bolsheviks and their allies” clearly suggests that the revolutionary forces were a minority. “Their allies” in fact comprised the overwhelming majority of workers and peasants in Russia and other parts of the former Tsarist empire. The claim that the Whites corresponded to “almost everyone else” is misleading in the extreme because everyone else was mainly a tiny minority comprising remnants of the Tsarist aristocracy and the Russian bourgeoisie, which was never very numerous, as well as Ukrainian nationalists such as the Jew-killer Simon Petliura (see above) and a minority of landowning peasants. The effect of this sly distortion of history on an uninformed reader surely reinforces the common misconception of the Russian Revolution as a minority movement led by “professional revolutionaries”.
Morgan Phillips Price, an eyewitness to the Revolution, wrote that “The democracy [the Bolshevik government] has the vast majority on its side but the small body of industrialists and bankers is, with foreign assistance, fighting a stubborn battle for its existence as a class” (Dispatches from the Russian Revolution,1997).
The imperialist powers were also aware of the depth of popular support for the Bolsheviks. A memo to the British war cabinet in July 1919 (cited in Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution, 1990) illustrates the point: “It is impossible to account for the stability of the Bolshevik government by terrorism alone… When the Bolshevik fortunes seemed to be at the lowest ebb, a most vigorous offensive was launched before which the Kolchak forces are still in retreat. No terrorism, not even long suffering acquiescence, but something approaching enthusiasm is necessary for this. We must admit then that the present Russian government is accepted by the bulk of the Russian people”.
Getty and Naumov’s phrase about capitalist states “backing” the Whites could have been translated into clear text by the authors. The translation would specify that Russia was invaded by the forces of 14 nations, that upwards of 200-300,000 foreign troops were stationed on Russian soil by the end of 1918, and that Western capitalists provided large quantities of money and war materiel, without which the Whites would have been unable to continue armed combat. Nor do the authors suggest that Lenin’s repudiation of the Tsarist debt to Western banks and individual capitalists might have influenced Western policies.
Unsurprisingly, Getty and Naumov go on to state that there was “almost unimaginable cruelty on both sides”. There always is in such conflicts. But the revolutionary forces did not win the support of the peasants by destroying villages and massacring their inhabitants, as the Whites did. Nor did they drop poison-gas bombs on the populace, as British warplanes did in 1919 on Churchill’s orders (Ponting).
The peasants “In the final analysis, preferred the arbitrary and oppressive Soviet institutions to the return of the Whites… Despite difficulties they did supply recruits. Seventy seven percent of the 4 million strong Red Army was made up of peasant conscripts in 1920. They did give large quantities of grain to supply the needs of the army and a proportion of what the city needed, although they received next to nothing in exchange. Even more significantly, there was nowhere in the entire empire where significant numbers of peasants supported the Whites”. (Christopher Read, From Tsar to Soviets: The Russian people and their revolution 1917-21, 1996.)
For thousands of years the ruling classes in the Western market economy had been suppressing revolts and maintaining as well as extending their power with extreme and calculated violence and brutality, as shown in Chapter 8. For the Western historiographers of the Soviet Union, the endless slaughter and exploitation is of no significance. The rule of the Russian Tsar, which was a byword for bloody cruelty even in Western European bourgeois circles, is exempt from consideration.
But when the mass of Russian workers and peasants and the leaders of the Communist Party launch a so-called Terror in response to a bloody attack by the forces of capitalism, the Western guardians of morality and civilization, including Getty and Naumov, throw up their hands in outrage and exclaim “They’re using violence!”
What else could they be expected to do? In the eyes of the Western capitalists, docile submission was as always the correct alternative. This view appears to be shared by Getty, Naumov and most other Western historians. As noted above, abolishing capitalism and expropriating property owned by capitalists was the crime committed by the majority. Restoring capitalism and minority ownership was and is seen as part of the appropriate reaction.
The main effect of what Getty and Naumov admit was that a “life-and-death struggle against domestic and foreign enemies” was to generate in the minds of the Bolsheviks (the leaders of the Communist Party) “a kind of siege mentality that made them see enemies and conspiracies everywhere”.
If they did develop a siege mentality, the explanation is simple enough. The Soviet Union was in fact under siege from 1918 until it was dismantled.
Getty and Naumov obviously suggest that this mentality was the source of the all-consuming paranoia that drove the leaders of the Communist Party in years to come. According to some historians, such as Robert Thurston, the paranoia spread throughout Soviet society.
The implications of this version of history are obvious. The Soviet state was not threatened from within. There were no significant internal conflicts. Everyone was in agreement. The conflicts that led to the mass and often unjust repressions of 1937-1938 were delusional figments of paranoid mentalities. For the first – and only – time in history, the development of a revolution did not involve any conflicts, divergences or contradictions. The smooth progression of the revolution was disturbed only by the diseased minds of Stalin and his supporters.
The Western capitalists’ avowed aim of destroying the Soviet Union, their exploitation of the Russian people prior to 1917, and their support of Nazi Germany as the prime instrument for crushing the USSR was all pretense. Thus the components of the terror of the 1930s included “perceived foreign threats”, according to Getty, Naumov and many, many others.
The presupposition is that the Western powers never implemented economic and political blockades or sabotage operations. They welcomed the USSR into the community of nations and treated it with respect as an equal among equals. They never supported Mussolini and Hitler in the crusade against Communism. Western bankers and industrialists did not invest heavily in Hitler Germany and contribute to the construction of the Nazi war machine. The British did not sign a naval treaty with Hitler in 1935 that enabled expansion of the German U-boat fleet. The Spanish Republic was not attacked by Fascist forces that were supported and encouraged by Western capitalists. Hitler did not annex Austria with the acquiescence of the West. Britain and France did not deliver Czechoslovakia into the hands of the Germans and promise Hitler a free hand in Central and Eastern Europe. The French ruling class did not connive with the Nazis in the design of a new Europe. The Western powers protested vigorously against the Japanese invasion of China and the Italian invasions of Libya, Eritrea and Abyssinia, and then condemned them in the League of Nations.
The entire documented history of the world 1918-1941 is transformed into a fantasy, sprung full-blown from the diseased minds of the Bolsheviks as well as deluded historians both Marxist and non-Marxist.
But history is not a fantasy. The continuous external threat to which the Soviet Union was exposed and the presence of counter-revolutionary and anti-socialist groups within the country were primary factors in decisions to launch the repression. The citizens of the Soviet Union were not unaware of the situation, and their fears often led them to unjustly denounce others as enemies. Robert W. Thurston points to “a context of vast, popular suspicion generated in part by World War 1 and the Russian Civil War”. In addition, Party functionaries such as Nikita Khruschev and members of the security forces often took advantage of the circumstances to settle personal conflicts or enhance their positions.
During the same period, the condition of industrial and farm workers in the West had degenerated continuously, reaching disaster proportions that persisted from around 1930 onward. And while the Terror raged in the Soviet Union, American industrial workers were being gunned down in the streets by the National Guard and private keepers of the peace. But that may be only a figment of my imagination.
The show trials
Western historians often point to the “show trials” of 1936-1938 as proof that the members of the Stalin government were either paranoid or so power-mad that they saw many of their comrades as rivals and were willing to frame them on trumped-up charges. As far as I know, the term “show trials” has never been used to refer to the frame-ups of innocent citizens of Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, or the trials of Milosevic and other Serbs at The Hague.
Three trials were held in Moscow, in 1936, 1937 and 1938. In general, the defendants were charged with conspiring to overthrow the government of the Soviet Union and to assassinate Stalin and other members of the Central Committee. The prosecution claimed that they were part of a conspiracy with the exiled Leon Trotsky, who was also conspiring with the German and Japanese governments.
The existence of a conspiracy was confirmed by Trotsky himself on several occasions, as well as by Professor Vadim Rogovin of the Russian (post-Soviet) Academy of Sciences, who is favorable to Trotsky. He stated that the defendants Kamenev and Zinoviev had rejoined Trotsky and formed “the anti-Stalinist bloc in June 1932.”
Rogovin wrote a six-volume series on political conflicts within the Soviet Communist Party and the Communist International between 1922 and 1940. Stalin’s Great Terror is volume four.
Foreign observers, including diplomats and journalists, were invited to attend the trials, which were held in public. The general opinion of the observers was that the defendants had received fair trials and were guilty as charged.
One of the observers was Joseph Davies, a trained lawyer who was then US ambassador to the Soviet Union. Although the standard Western version describes the defendants as appearing to have been tortured and brainwashed, Davies stated that
There was nothing unusual in the appearance of the accused. They all appeared well nourished and normal physically.
A delegation of the International Association of Lawyers stated: ‘We consider the claim that the proceedings were summary and unlawful to be totally unfounded. The accused were given the opportunity of taking counsel… We hereby categorically declare that the accused were sentenced quite lawfully’.
In 1936 the British Labour Member of Parliament, D. N. Pritt, wrote extensively of his observations on the first Moscow Trial. In the lengthy article published in Russia Today, Pritt, after alluding to the apparently good condition of the defendants who, in accord with the observations of Davies, did not appear to have suffered under Soviet detention, wrote:
The first thing that struck me, as an English lawyer, was the almost free-and-easy demeanor of the prisoners. They all looked well; they all got up and spoke, even at length, whenever they wanted to do so (for the matter of that, they strolled out, with a guard when they wanted to).
The one or two witnesses who were called by the prosecution were cross-examined by the prisoners who were affected by their evidence, with the same freedom as would have been the case in England.
The prisoners voluntarily renounced counsel; they could have had counsel without fee had they wished, but they preferred to dispense with them. And having regard to their pleas of guilty and to their own ability to speak, amounting in most cases to real eloquence, they probably did not suffer by their decision, able as some of my Moscow colleagues are’.
Pritt was struck by the informality of the proceedings, and commented on how the defendants could interrupt at will, in what seems to have been a freewheeling debate:
The most striking novelty, perhaps, to an English lawyer, was the easy way in which first one and then another prisoner would intervene in the course of the examination of one of their co-defendants, without any objection from the Court or from the prosecutor, so that one got the impression of a quick and vivid debate between four people, the prosecutor and three prisoners, all talking together, if not actually at the same moment – a method which, whilst impossible with a jury, is certainly conducive to clearing up disputes of fact with some rapidity’.
Pritt’s view of [the prosecutor] Vyshinsky is in accord with that of Davies, stating ’He spoke with vigour and clarity. He seldom raised his voice. He never ranted, or shouted, or thumped the table. He rarely looked at the public or played for effect.’ Pritt stated that the fifteen defendants ‘spoke without any embarrassment or hindrance.’ Such was Pritt’s view of the proceedings that his concluding remark states: ‘But it is equally clear that the judicature and the prosecuting attorney of USSR have taken at least as great a step towards establishing their reputation among the legal systems of the modern world.’
The above quotations are from the well-documented article The Moscow Trials in Historical Context, by Dr. K. R. Bolton, which is available at
Trotsky’s contacts with the German and Japanese governments are discussed in
Evidence of Leon Trotsky’s Collaboration with Germany and Japan, by Professor
Grover Furr, available at
Industrial sabotage – first-hand testimony from two Americans
Getty and Naumov claim that the State acquiesced and participated “in its own destruction”. They ask “Why did large segments of society – including… the general public – accept the propositions that the country was infiltrated with spies and saboteurs and that Lenin’s old Bolshevik comrades-in-arms were traitors?”
Getty and Naumov ignore the possibility that neither the public nor the Bolshevik leadership were delusional, and do not provide a satisfactory answer to the question.
John H. Littlepage was an American mining engineer who worked in the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1937. He described his experiences in In Search of Soviet Gold, Harrap 1939, written together with Demaree Bess, an American journalist whom he met in Moscow in the 1930s.
The American John Scott was a trained welder who worked for five years on the huge project for construction of a steel plant at Magnitogorsk in the early 1930s. He later published Behind the Urals – An American Worker in Russia’s City of Steel (1989), which is available from Amazon.
Littlepage and Scott were not Communists. They are often critical of the Soviet government and Soviet policies, at times extremely critical. Littlepage writes that “Bolshevism is shot through from top to bottom with serious defects”. As a member of the Soviet working class, Scott is more sympathetic, but still critical.
Both men confirm that sabotage and anti-Soviet conspiracies were widespread in Soviet industry in the 1930s. Littlepage’s comments are particularly interesting because they have a direct bearing on the “show trials” in 1936-1938.
Littlepage’s views reflect his position in the hierarchy of American class structure. In 1927 he was “superintendent of a gold-mining property about 125 miles from Juneau [Alaska]”. He was recruited for work in the USSR by Alexander P. Serebrovsky, a professor at the Moscow School of Mines and who was visiting Alaska “to see how we mined gold”. Despite Littlepage’s open dislike of the Bolsheviks, Serebrovsky convinced him to help the Soviets develop a modern gold-mining industry, which would involve introducing American methods in mines that were operated “by antiquated methods and with primitive equipment”. He notes that the Soviet government made substantial investments in modern imported machinery.
Littlepage writes that he had never had any experience of industrial sabotage in the 14 years he was employed in the Alaskan gold mines, but that “I hadn’t worked many weeks in Russia before I encountered unquestionable instances of deliberate and malicious wreckage.
One day in 1928 I went into a power-station at the Kochkar gold-mines. I just happened to drop my hand on one of the main bearings of a large Diesel engine as I walked by, and felt something gritty in the oil. I had the engine stopped immediately, and we removed from the oil reservoir about two pints of quartz sand, which could have been placed there only by design. On several other occasions in the new milling plants at Kochkar we found sand inside such equipment as speed-reducers, which are entirely enclosed, and can be reached only by removing the hand-hold covers.
Such petty industrial sabotage was – and still is [late 1930s] – so common in all branches of Soviet industry that Russian engineers can do little about it, and were surprised at my own concern when I first encountered it…
Why, I have been asked, is sabotage of this description so common in Soviet Russia, and so rare in most other countries? Do Russians have a peculiar bent for industrial wrecking?
People who ask such questions apparently haven’t realized that the authorities in Russia have been – and still are – fighting a whole series of open or disguised civil wars. In the beginning they fought and dispossessed the aristocracy, the bankers and landowners and merchants of the Tsarist régime… they later fought and dispossessed the little independent farmers and the little retail merchants and the nomad herders in Asia. (Emphasis added.)
Of course it’s all for their own good, say the Communists. But many of these people can’t see things that way, and remain bitter enemies of the Communists and their ideas, even after they have been put back to work in State industries. From these groups have come a considerable number of disgruntled workers who dislike Communists so much that they would gladly damage any of their enterprises if they could.
In 1930 Serebrovsky was appointed head of the newly formed Non-Ferrous Metals Trust.
Moscow had poured vast sums of money into the copper and lead mines; the best modern equipment had been brought in, and experts of all kinds engaged abroad. Yet production had failed to show results at all commensurate with the amount of money and energy expended. Make allowances for the fact that raw peasants were being used for (sic!) miners and that callow engineers just out of short courses were supervising many of the mines, and still the results were terrible.
…the copper and lead mines had been directed by the leading Communist authorities in the Urals, and in particular by Yuri Piatakoff…
Conditions were reported to be especially bad in the copper mines of the Ural Mountain region, at that time Russia’s most promising mineral-producing area…
Littlepage makes it clear that both “petty” and more serious sabotage was on many occasions deliberately overlooked by local authorities, who did not report it to their superiors.
Serebrovsky sent a commission comprising Littlepage, an American metallurgist and a Russian Communist to determine what was wrong in the Urals and what to do about it. He describes a particularly serious situation at Kalata, in the Northern Urals, “…one of the most important copper properties in Russia…”, where “…production was a small fraction of what it should have been with the amount of equipment and personnel available”.
Our commission visited practically all the big copper-mines in the Urals and gave them a thorough inspection…in spite of the deplorable conditions I have described there had been few howls in the Soviet newspapers about “wreckers” in the Ural copper mines. This was a curious circumstance, because the Communists were accustomed to attribute to deliberate sabotage much of the confusion and disorder in industry at the time. But the Communists in the Urals, who controlled the copper-mines, had kept surprisingly quiet about them” (emphasis added).
Littlepage was appointed chief engineer at Kalata and succeeded in raising production to acceptable levels. But some time after his departure he was
…informed that the copper-mines at Kalata were in very bad condition; production had fallen even lower than it was before I had reorganized the mines in the previous year. This report dumbfounded me; I couldn’t understand how matters could have become so bad in this short time, when they had seemed to be going so well before I left.
Once again Littlepage was sent to Kalata to put matters right. But
A few months before I arrived, the Communist manager, who had learned something of mining under my direction, had been removed by a commission which had been sent in from Sverdlovsk, Communist headquarters in the Urals. The commission had reported that he was ignorant and inefficient, although there was nothing in his record to show it, and had appointed the chairman of the investigating commission to succeed him – a curious sort of procedure.
During my previous stay at the mines we had speeded up capacity of the blast furnaces to seventy-eight metric tons per square meter per day; they had now been permitted to drop back to their old output of forty to forty-five tons. Worst of all, thousands of tons of high-grade ore had been irretrievably lost by the introduction into two mines of methods which I had specifically warned against during my previous visit…
But I now learned that…the same Russian engineers whom I had warned about the danger had applied this method in the remaining mines… with the result that the mines caved in and much ore was lost beyond recovery… I set to work to try to recover some of the lost ground… Then one day I discovered that the new manager was secretly countermanding almost every order I gave…
Littlepage returned to Moscow and
…reported exactly what I had discovered at Kalata to Serebrovsky… He started an investigation, and in a short time the mine manager and some of the engineers were put on trial for sabotage. The manager got ten years, the maximum prison sentence in Russia, and the engineers lesser terms… The evidence indicated that they [the commission from Sverdlovsk] had deliberately removed the former manager in order to wreck the mines (emphasis added).
I was satisfied at the time that there was something bigger in all this than the little group of men at Kalata; but I naturally couldn’t warn Serebrovsky against prominent members of his own Communist Party. It has never been my policy to get mixed up in politics. But I was so sure that something was wrong high up in the political administration of the Ural Mountains that I agreed to stay on in Russia only after Serebrovsky had promised me that I would not be sent back to work in the copper mines of the Urals…
It seemed clear to me at the time that the selection of this commission [from Sverdlovsk] had their conduct at Kalata traced straight back to the Communist high command in Sverdlovsk, whose members must be charged either with criminal negligence or actual participation in the events which had occurred in these mines.
However, the chief secretary of the Communist Party in the Urals, a man named Kabakoff, had occupied this post since 1922… For some reason which was never clear to me he had always commanded the complete confidence of the Kremlin, and was considered so powerful that he was privately described as the ‘Bolshevik Viceroy’ of the Urals.
…there was nothing to justify the reputation he appeared to have. Under his long rule the Ural area, which is one of the richest mining regions in Russia, and which was given almost unlimited capital for exploitation, never produced anything like what it should have done.
This commission at Kalata, whose members later admitted they had come there with wrecking [sabotage] intentions, had been sent directly from Kabakoff’s headquarters… I told some of my Russian acquaintances at the time that it seemed to me there was a lot more going on in the Urals than had yet been revealed, and that it came from somewhere high up.
I have not been able to find any mention of Littlepage or his observations in the Western texts that I have read. One reason may be that his testimony refutes the standard claim that the accusations directed against saboteurs and conspirators were consistently unjustified.
Littlepage writes that he found other gross examples of industrial sabotage elsewhere, including “…the famous Ridder lead-zinc mines in Eastern Khazakstan, near the Chinese border…” In 1932 he was appointed chief engineer at these mines.
The Government had spent large sums of money on modern American machinery and equipment for these mines, as for almost all others in Russia at that time… But… the engineers had been so ignorant of this equipment and the workmen so careless and stupid in handling any kind of machinery that much of these expensive importations were ruined beyond repair.
Two of the younger Russian engineers there impressed me as particularly capable, and I took a great deal of pains to explain to them how things had gone wrong before, and how we had managed to get them going along the right track again. It seemed to me that these young fellows, with the training I had been able to give them, could provide the leadership necessary to keep the mines operating as they should. They were not Communists, but they had been trained under the Communist regime and apparently had the confidence of the authorities.
The Ridder mines… had gone on fairly well for two or three years after I had reorganized them in 1932. The two young engineers who had impressed me so favorably had carried out the instructions I had left them with noteworthy success…
Then an investigating commission had appeared from Alma Ata… similar to the one sent to the mines at Kalata. From that time on, although the same engineers had remained in the mines, an entirely different system was introduced throughout, which any competent engineer could have foretold would cause the loss of a large part of the ore body in a few months…
Littlepage points to flagrant examples of mismanagement, and comments
Now I am sure that every engineer will agree that such incidents cannot possibly be the result of mere stupidity, and I have already pointed out that the two engineers in these mines were unusually capable…
Once again Littlepage was sent to the Ridder mines, to determine what had gone wrong.
The engineers of whom I had spoken were no longer at work in the mines when I arrived there in 1937, and I understood they had been arrested for alleged complicity in a nation-wide conspiracy to sabotage Soviet industries which had been disclosed in a trial of leading conspirators in January(emphasis added).
When I had submitted my report I was shown the written confessions of the engineers I had befriended in 1932. They admitted that they had been drawn into a conspiracy against the Stalin régime by opposition Communists who convinced them that they were strong enough to overthrow Stalin and his associates and take over control of the Soviet Government. The conspirators proved to them, they said, that they had many supporters among Communists in high places. These engineers, although they themselves were not Communists, decided they would have to back one side or the other, and they picked the losing side (emphasis added).
According to their confessions, the ‘investigating commission’ had consisted of conspirators who traveled around from mine to mine lining up supporters. After they had been persuaded to join the conspiracy the engineers at Ridder had taken my written instructions as the basis for wrecking the mines. They had deliberately introduced methods which I had warned against, and in this way had brought the mines close to destruction… (emphasis added).
Yuri Pyatakov was one of 17 defendants who were tried and convicted at the second Moscow trial, in January 1937. He is mentioned several times In Montefiore’s book, appearing at one point as a victim of brutal torture. Montefiore and many other Western historians are sure that he was innocent. Littlepage did not believe in his innocence… [Littlepage’s spelling of Pyatokov ‘s name differs from Montefiore’s.]
In the spring of 1931…, Serebrovsky… told me a large purchasing commission was headed for Berlin, under the direction of Yuri Piatakoff, who …was then the Vice-Commissar of Heavy Industry…
I… arrived in Berlin at about the same time as the commission… Among other things, the commission had put out bids for several dozen mine-hoists, ranging from one hundred to one thousand horse-power. Ordinarily these hoists consist of drums, shafting, beams, gears, etc., placed on a foundation of I- or H-beams.
The commission had asked for quotations on the basis of pfennigs per kilogram. Several concerns put in bids, but there was a considerable difference – about five or six pfennigs per kilogram – between most of the bids and those made by two concerns which bid lowest. The difference made me examine the specifications closely, and I discovered that the firms which had made the lowest bids had substituted cast-iron bases for the light steel required in the original specifications, so that if their bids had been accepted the Russians would have actually paid more, because the cast-iron base would be so much heavier than the lighter steel one, but on the basis of pfennigs per kilogram they would appear to pay less (emphasis added).
This seemed to be nothing other than a trick, and I was naturally pleased to make such a discovery. I reported my findings to the Russian members of the commission with considerable self-satisfaction. To my astonishment the Russians were not at all pleased. They even brought considerable pressure upon me to approve the deal, telling me I had misunderstood what was wanted… (emphasis added).
I knew I hadn’t misunderstood, and wasn’t able to understand their attitude. I finally told them that if they bought these hoists they would have to act on their own responsibility, and that I would see to it that my contrary advice got onto the record. Only after I had made this statement did they drop the proposal…
I had done my duty, and the purchase had not gone through. The commission had bought the right kind of hoists in the end, and no harm had been done. I decided to say nothing about the matter to anybody. I wasn’t able to understand their attitude… It might very well be graft, I thought.
In Pyatakov’s confession he stated that in the course of the Berlin mission described by Littlepage he met with Trotsky’s son Sedov, who told him that a conspiracy was under way and would be extended to include Tomsky, Bukharin and Rykov, who were ready to join it. Sedov asked him to place orders at higher prices with two German firms, and explained that the difference in price would be kicked back and used to finance the Trotsky conspiracy.
This passage in Piatakoff’s confession is a plausible explanation, in my opinion, of what was going on in Berlin in 1931, when my suspicions were roused because the Russians working with Piatakoff tried to induce me to approve the purchase of mine-hoists which were not only too expensive, but would have been useless in the mines for which they were intended. I had found it hard to believe that these men were ordinary grafters, as they did not seem to be the kind interested in feathering their own nests. But they had been seasoned political conspirators before the Revolution, and had taken risks of the same degree for the sake of their so-called cause.
Pyatakov’s guilt is evident, and the obvious question is whether Western historians can continue to maintain that the other defendants were innocent a priori. For example, Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev were two of the best-known “Old Bolsheviks” who were convicted at the Moscow Trial in 1936 and subsequently executed. Their innocence was proclaimed by Khruschev in his “secret speech” of 1956, which is often invoked by Western experts. But “No evidence has ever emerged to suggest that Zinoviev’s or Kamenev’s confessions were other than genuine” (Grover Furr, Khruschev Lied, 2011).
Simon Sebag Montefiore refers to a meeting between Bukharin and Pyatakov shortly before the latter was convicted in a “show trial”. Montefiore claims that Pyatakov “was now a walking testament [walking testimony] to the methods of the NKVD. ‘Living remains’, Bukharin told his wife, ‘not of Pyatakov but of his shadow, a skeleton with its teeth knocked out’”.
The spectators at the second Moscow trial included the German writer Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958), who spent the last 17 years of his life in the US. His account of the trial was published as Moscow 1937 by the Viking Press in New York in the same year.
The judges, the public prosecutor, the accused, the counsel for the defense, and the experts sat on a low platform which had steps leading up to it, and there was no barrier between the court and the public. There was nothing in the nature of a prisoner’s dock; the barrier which divided the prisoners from the others reminded one rather of the support round a loge. The prisoners themselves were well-groomed, well-dressed men of a careless, natural bearing. They drank tea, had newspapers in their pockets, and often looked towards the public. The whole thing was less like a criminal trial than a debate carried on in a conversational tone by educated men who were trying to get at the truth and explain why what had happened had happened… (emphasis added).
I shall never forget how Pyatakov stood in front of the microphone, a middle-aged man of average build, rather bald, with a reddish, old-fashioned, sparse, pointed beard, and how he lectured. Calmly and at the same time sedulously, he explained how he had managed to sabotage the industries under him. He expounded, pointed his finger, gave the impression of a school teacher, a historian giving a lecture on the life and deeds of a man who had been dead for many years, named Pyatakov, anxious to make everything clear even to the smallest details so that his listeners and students should understand fully (emphasis added).
Either Feuchtwanger or Montefiore is lying. Since Feuchtwanger’s account tallies with those of other spectators, Montefiore is the culprit.
Littlepage believed that internal strife between factions within the Communist movement was an inevitable outcome of the system itself. He insists on the reality of the conflict and the sabotage that it generated.
I never followed the subtleties of political ideas and maneuvers… But I am firmly convinced that Stalin and his associates were a long time getting round to the discovery that disgruntled Communist revolutionaries were the most dangerous enemies they had…
My experience confirms the official explanation which, when it is stripped of a lot of high-flown and outlandish verbiage, comes down to the simple assertion that ‘outs’ among the Communists conspired to overthrow the ‘ins’, and resorted to underground conspiracy and industrial sabotage because the Soviet system has stifled all legitimate means for waging a political struggle.
This Communist feud developed into such a big affair that many non-Communists were dragged into it, and had to pick one side or the other… Disgruntled little persons of all kinds were in a mood to support any kind of underground opposition movement, simply because they were discontented with things as they stood.
An American welder at Magnitogorsk
John Scott started studying at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1920s and then left it in 1931 to find that the US economy was in deep crisis and there were “few opportunities for young energy and enthusiasm”. Scott was “smitten with the usual wanderlust”. He began to read about the Soviet Union, and “decided to go to Russia to work, study and lend a hand in the construction of a society which seemed to be at least one step ahead of the American”. Before he left the US he worked as a welder’s apprentice and earned a welder’s certificate. He traveled to the Soviet Union and in 1932 was hired as a welder in a huge project called Magnitogorsk for building a steelworks on an empty steppe east of the Ural Mountains.
Scott writes that many of the people who were arrested at Magnitogorsk in the course of the repression were common criminals. But he also writes:
The October Revolution earned the enmity of the old aristocracy, the officers of the old Czarist army and of the various White armies, State employees from pre-war days, business men of all kinds, small landlords, and kulaks. All of these people had ample reason to hate the Soviet power, for it had deprived them of something which they had before. Besides being internally dangerous, these men and women were potentially good material for clever foreign agents to work with… (emphasis added).
Geographical conditions were such that no matter what kind of government was in power in the Soviet Union, poor, thickly populated countries like Japan and Italy and aggressive powers like Germany would leave no stone unturned in their attempts to infiltrate it with their agents, in order to establish their organizations and assert their influence… These agents bred purges…
A large number of spies, saboteurs, and fifth-columnists were exiled or shot during the purge; but many more innocent men and women were made to suffer (emphasis added).
The only reference to Scott that I have found in Western mainstream texts is in Fitzpatrick, who omits such comments as the above.
If a defense attorney in a criminal court were to enter evidence that contradicts the prosecution’s charges, it is unlikely that the prosecutor would simply ignore it. On the contrary, a decent respect for the fundamentals of judicial procedure would require him to rebut the arguments from the defense.
A decent respect for historical accuracy would require historians to rebut evidence that contradicts their own conclusions. Why do Western historians ignore the evidence presented by Littlepage and Scott? Why don’t they at least attempt to prove that it is unreliable? The most probable answer is that evidence which is contrary to the established version of Soviet history is by its nature inadmissible.
Bolsheviks share paranoia with the West
In addition to the supposedly imaginary sabotage and conspiracies, Joseph Stalin is supposed to have imagined that his life was endangered from behind every curtain, and his status as a paranoid is an established truth among Western historians. Paranoia is also attributed to Bolsheviks in general, and Montefiore clearly enjoys making fun of the precautions taken by Molotov and his delegation on the occasion of a visit to Great Britain in 1942. It is generally accepted in the West that Stalin’s paranoia become uncontrollable after 1945.
Most Western heads of state and the members of their governments are protected by systems designed to ensure their safety. These systems are much more elaborate than any devised in the Soviet Union while Stalin was alive. The security system in the US is surely the largest, most complex and most expensive ever developed.
It is therefore logical to assume that President Obama and the members of his administration are hopelessly paranoid, as were Bush 2, Clinton, Bush 1, Reagan and the members of their governments. The same diagnosis applies to their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan.
For almost 50 years large portions of the Western public believed that their countries were in constant danger of attack by the Soviet Union, which they were not. Judging by comments on the Internet this belief has never expired. Substantial numbers of people in the West currently believe that there is a global Muslim conspiracy to conquer the Free World and impose Sharia law.
Who has fostered the paranoid fantasies of Western leaders and their subjects? Why? In the interest of determining historical truth, it is high time for Montefiore and other chroniclers to examine this neglected subject.
The varieties of moral judgment
Western mainstream historians have devoted a great deal of time to compiling, analyzing and discussing statistics that reveal the extent of repression under the Stalin government. Getty and Naumov present a table based on the archives of the Soviet security agencies (GPU, OGPU, NKVD) 1921-1939, showing the total number of people arrested, imprisoned and executed in the Soviet Union for political and non-political crimes. 1937 and 1938 were peak years. A press release from the KGB published in Pravda in February 1990 gave the number sentenced to death for political crimes 1930-1953 as 786,098, of whom about 681,00 refer to 1937/1938.
Death sentences: 1,118 in 1936, 353,074 in 1937, 328,618 in 1938 and 2,552 in 1939.
Prison sentences: 219,418 in 1936, 429,311 in 1937, 205,509 in 1938 and 54,666 in 1939.
The authors do not hesitate to pass moral judgement: “The Great Terror of the 1930s in the Soviet Union was one of the most horrible cases of political violence in modern history. Millions of people were detained, arrested or sent to prisons or camps. Countless lives, careers, and families were permanently shattered”.
To the best of my knowledge, this judgement is shared implicitly or overtly by the great majority of Western mainstream historians.
Getty and Naumov do not indicate any of the other “horrible cases of political violence in modern history”. Nor do they refer to any of the positive achievements of the Soviet society during the 1930s.
They do not define the term “political violence”. It would be reasonable to assume that it refers to violence which is ordered, authorized and/or approved by governments or government agencies. We may also assume that “modern history” is the period from 1900 onward.
World War 1, the huge conflict that ravaged Europe, including Tsarist Russia, between 1914 and 1918 was an unprecedented example of political violence. The governments of Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were responsible for preparing for the war and launching it. The US government was a latecomer, but shared responsibility.
The extent and futility of the violence was illustrated by the Battle of the Somme, which took place only 21 years before the repression of 1937 began in the Soviet Union. On 1 July 1916 units of the British and French armies attacked the German positions. By 18 November 1916 more than 1 million men had been killed or wounded, as compared to about 353,000 executions in the Soviet Union in 1937. The British/French forces had gained approximately two miles of ground. The approximate cost per centimeter is estimated at two dead men by Wikipedia. I have not verified the calculation.
In 1917, another battle centered on the Belgian village of Passchendaele between June and November. According to the British historian A. J. P. Taylor (cited in Wikipedia), German losses were 400,000 and British 250,000. Executions in the Soviet Union in 1938 totalled 328,618 according to Getty and Naumov.
Two battles that lasted a combined 8-9 months accounted for approximately 1.7 million dead and wounded, as compared to approximately 681,000 executions in the Soviet Union at the height of the repression. As indicated previously, the total human cost of World War 1 was approximately 37 million dead and wounded soldiers and civilians.
We have seen that the war was immediately followed by more political violence in the form of the Western attack on the Soviet Union, which cost the lives of about 14 million people. The total cost of the two wars was thus at least 51 million in dead and wounded.
In 1937, as repression increased dramatically in the USSR, the Japanese government went to war against China, with the tacit and overt consent of the Western powers (see above, The Far-Eastern Munich). The effects on China of this political violence are given in Wikipedia: “Most Western historians believed (sic!) that the total number of (Chinese) casualties was at least 20 million… In addition, the war created 95 million refugees”. Wikipedia continues: “Total figures on Japanese casualties in China, which include killed, wounded, and missing, range from 1.1 to 1.9 million”.
World War 2 was the direct result of political decisions that reflected the determination of Western capitalists to destroy the Soviet Union. The death toll was approximately 60 million. The holocausts in Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia were politically inspired actions. The premature deaths in post-war India and other neo-colonies are traceable to political decisions, as is the genocidal policy that Israel has been implementing for more than 60 years.
In light of the above and other figures for the capitalist holocaust given in Chapter 8, it may legitimately be asked why Getty and Naumov felt obliged to label the repression in the Soviet Union as “…one of the most horrible cases of political violence in modern history”.
Since it is improbable that they are unaware of the history of the 20th century, I have only one explanation. Their statement is a foregone conclusion. They implicitly endorse the proposition that Communism is evil, and capitalism is not.
They may believe that Communism is evil because the development of the Soviet Union generated a dramatic improvement in the condition of the working class that comprises the majority of the population.
Building a socialist society can involve violence, which is evil. Maintaining capitalism – the rule of the tiny minority – always involves violence, which is not evil. Capitalism is the system of choice for Getty, Naumov and their counterparts among Western historians. That is why they describe, analyze and evaluate events in the Soviet Union as if the rest of the world has never existed.