1934 03 the Soviet Union and the Eastern Famines

@Veles this one’s for you :wink:

Author: Spartacus and Kamil
Status: In Research

Please post any ideas or research for this episode that you want to contribute in this topic. If the episode hasn’t been assigned to an author yet, you can note your intent to write in the string too, and we will contact you to discuss.


I. Some historical background:
After the establishment of the USSR in 1922, voluntary communes and associations of small-scale agricultural producers (so-called artels) begin to emerge, which, by their tradition and ways of functioning, referred to Russian rural communities predating serfdom, known as “obshchina”.

In 1921, Lenin introduced a New Economic Policy (NEP). liberalized agricultural policy, this also meant moving away from the original plans for the nationalization of agriculture and the limited share of foreign capital. However from 1925 to 1928, the process of moving away from the NEP policy began, ending in 1929 with the complete abandonment of the program, while strengthening the pressure of the state apparatus in the economic and administrative sphere, aimed at forced creation of collective farms(Kolkhozs).

In 1929, Joseph Stalin began a policy of forced collectivization of agriculture in the USSR, despite the opposition of some influential politicians from the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (BCE), especially Nikolai Bukharin and Alexei Rykov (from the so-called right-wing opposition in the Bolshevik Party). The process of collectivization was accelerated in January 1930, mainly in regions with a high level of grain production, using mass terror aimed especially at strong economically rich peasants (in Soviet propaganda referred to as so-called kulaks). Then the terror has also been directed at poorer farmers, which which were often sent to Siberia along with their families. Between 1930-1932, this policy provoked mass resistance in the countryside throughout the USSR, especially in the North Caucasus region - where the communist authorities pacified the protests, sending in the area internal security troops of the USPD (Unified State Political Directorate) and the Red Army, which killed about 1 million people protesting against the collectivization until 1932.

II. Regarding the Holodomor

The famine of 1932-1933 in the Soviet Union, which took on particular severity in the territory of the then Ukrainian SSR (today’s central and eastern Ukraine) was a consequence of the policy of forced collectivization of agriculture and it’s ruthless execution by state organs of the USSR. Mandatory supply of agricultural products to the state exceed the production capacity of farmers. This led to the collapse of the production cycle in agriculture which in turn lead to famine and resistance and open boycott of collectivization by Ukrainian peasants. In retaliation, USPD troops destroyed farms and harvests, blocking food supplies to rural areas, which deepened the famine.

According to various estimates, about 6-10 million people died in effect of collectivization, including a minimum of 3.3 million in the territory of the Ukrainian SSR. In the years 1921-1947, as a result of three famines (in 1921-1923, 1932-1933 and 1946-1947), about 10 million inhabitants of Ukraine lost their lives.

Peasants living in the USSR tried in many ways to either resist or save themselves from forced collectivization. Selling out all livestock or slaughtering it and refraining from fieldwork were frequent actions taken by farmers. The authorities accused the kulaks of agitating against kolkhozes and sabotage, and at the same time they wrongly expected that as a result of collectivization agricultural production would increase. The authorities claimed and perhaps even believed that the collapse of grain production is the result of hiding crops by farmers and, despite requests of local authorities Government did not decrease the grain quotas.

As a result, local activists carried out searches for hidden grain, which led to the confiscation of grain for sowing, as well as supplies necessary for feeding peasant families. These actions lead to mass migration of people trying to escape the famine, authorities “replied” with the introduction of passports and the ban on travel by rail.

For those who stayed in the rular ares, often the only place where they could find something to eat was a kolkhoz field. However, taking just one ear was a crime against the USSR. Molotov and Kaganovich on the orders of Stalin developed a decree “On the protection of property of state-owned enterprises, collective farms, cooperatives and strengthening of social property.” Published on August 7, 1932, it was colloquially called the law of five ears, for taking such a number was punishable by the death penalty or 10 years of the labor camp. The convicts could not count on an amnesty. Over a year and a half, over 125,000 people have been sentenced.

III. Torgisin
Farmers died or fled to cities where food could be bought in special stores, torgsins, for currency, gold, silver or other valuables. For the state describing itself as a country of workers and peasants, the torgsins proved to be a great deal. Two torgsins in Kharkov in the period from January to February 1932 accepted from people 374 kg of gold worth 294 thousand rubles. As hunger grew, more and more of them were created. In January 1932, such stores were in eight Ukrainian cities, in May 1932 there were already 26, and in autumn - 50 in 36 cities. In 1933, the most critical year of famine, the number of torgisins reached 263.

IV. Cannibalism
Famine acted on the human psyche in a variety of ways. Some died in their homes in loneliness, others tried to save themselves by going to cities, and others carried out acts of cannibalism. During starvation, body weight drops daily. There are acute stomach pains which disappear after some time. Human falls into a lethargic state. Mental disorders, hallucinations can occur. One such example is the case of Ksenia Bolotnikova, a resident of the village of Sofijovka, who began to swell because of hunger. Because of the lack of food, lack of help, and still having a son, she killed her daughter by cutting her throat. After the murder, she put her body on the bench, covered her and went to bed. The next day, she cut off the girl’s head and put it in a pot. She cut the rest of her body to pieces and buried it in a pile of dung.

V. The Estimates
You can often hear very high estimates of the number of Ukrainian victims of collectivization. Numbers as high as 8, 10 or even 12 million. However this numbers are most likely exaggerated for political reasons as The Institute of Demography and Social Research of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in 2017 confirmed its estimates of demographic losses of the population of Ukraine as a result of the Great Famine of 1932-1933 at the level of 3.9 million people as well as estimates of total losses of the population of the USSR more than 8.7 million people.

Ok, that’s all regarding the Holodomor. I will add the more info about the overall situation in Soviet Union later this day (hopefully).


This is a very good beginning!

1 Like

I. The Great Terror - historical background
The Bolshevik Party, as a result of the armed coup of November 1917 and the civil war that broke out in January 1918 imposed a dictatorial rule over the whole country against the opposition of all social and political groups in Russia. At the time of taking power, it was an organization of professional, disciplined revolutionaries with between 5,000 and 10,000 members so-called old bolsheviks among which the party’s greatest prestige was enjoyed by members of the party from the period of its underground activity, before the February Revolution (March 1917). Pre-revolutionary underground activity was a stuff of legends in the Bolshevik Party and the source of its cadres until the mid-1930s.

II. Taking over the Party and the State
In the common belief after the death of Lenin, Stalin became the undisputed ruler of the USSR. However, it is not true, at least not entirely. In fact, between years 1929-1934 the country and party was run by an oligarchy with Stalin as it’s leader yes, but still not as an unquestioned dictator. Most members of this oligarchy were old Bolsheviks who supported him in the factional struggles of the 1920s against successive rivals to power in the Political Bureau - constituting - until the mid-1930s, the actual center of power in the Bolshevik Party and consequently in the USSR. Partly they did it for opportunist reasons - willingness to participate in power and its privileges - partly for substantive reasons - considering Stalin a pragmatic, moderate leader, and fast industrialization beyond economic calculation and collectivization - as a desirable direction for the modernization of the USSR - transforming it into an industrialized, state inhabited by workers whom they considered at least officially as a progressive, ruling class.

Several members of this oligarchy like Valerian Kuibyshev, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Jūnis Rudzutaks, Stanisław Kosior and most importantly Sergey Kirov possessed an independent political position and their own groups of supporters in the Central Committee and in the local party organizations they led, or in the government apparatus. In no case were they Stalin’s puppets and they were ready to accept his leadership only within certain limits. The so-called. Riutin’s case of 1932 is the best proof of this situation.

In June 1932, during the famine, the old Bolshevik, former Bukharin supporter, Martemian Riutin and a group of lower activists, wrote an appeal to all party members and began disseminating it.
In the document, they wrote about the destruction of villages, the fall of genuine planning, the rule of lawlessness and terror in the party and the country held by “wicked, cunning people without rules ready to change their minds ten times, careerists, sycophants, and lackeys”. They stated that Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomski were right in economic matters and Trotsky in his criticism of the regime in the party. The conclusion of the proclamation was: “Stalin and his clique will not want to and can not voluntarily give up their positions, so they must be removed by force and should be done as soon as possible”.

Stalin recognized the proclamation as calling to murder him and demanded the execution of Riutin. On September 23, 1932, Riutin was expelled from the party and arrested (OGPU, or later the NKVD had no formal right to arrest party members without the consent of their party organization) Stalin seemed to hope that the OGPU would kill Riutin without involving the political authorities. However, the OGPU presented the case to the Political Bureau. Kirov opposed the use of the death penalty and convinced most of the Politburo members. Stalin was supported only by Lazar Kaganovich. For the first time, Stalin encountered a strong resistance from his allies. This meant that he would not get their consent to the execution of party members for purely political offenses. It took Stalin over four years to break this resistance (from September 1936 to February 1937). Also, the secret police of the OGPU still considered themselves subordinate to the Politburo - and not Stalin himself. Rutin was sentenced to ten years in prison. He was murdered in 1937, along with his defenders in 1932.

For their own misfortune, Stalin’s allies did not acknowledge that he does not know the concept of partnership and considers salami tactics as his life strategy. (Salami tactics - the practice of gradual elimination (step by step) of enemies in the party like cutting slices of salami). Stalin decided to take over the full power in the Bolshevik Party and in the USSR by murdering almost all of the old Bolsheviks. In addition, he decided to terrorize the society to levels unimaginable even in the USSR and murder all those who, even if potentially in favorable conditions like war could challenge the power of the Bolshevik Party. Such were the reasons leading to the Purge and Great Terror. All of it started with the assassination of Kirov.

Stalin directed the great purge through blindly obedient old Bolsheviks like Lazar Kaganovich, Vyacheslav Molotov, younger careerists. After the murder of Kirov, an apparent calm came about for over a year. “Behind the scenes” Józef Stalin prepared staged trials. On January 26, 1935, Valerian Kuybyshev died in circumstances unexplained to this day. May 25, 1935, the Central Committee of the Communist Party dissolved the Association of Old Bolsheviks This was an introduction to a complete revision of the history of the Bolshevik Party in accordance with Stalin’s current vision, cutting social ties, the policy of social exclusion of “old Bolsheviks” and the elimination of the party tradition in favor of the Stalinist vision.

In following years more and more Old Bolsheviks were dismissed from their positions and then accused of treason or were dying in unexplained circumstances.

Severe repressions also affected foreigners and minorities living in the USSR. Poles depicted as natural enemies of the system were the main target of the repressions. On August 11, 1937, on the order of the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs, the so-called Polish operation of NKVD was started. In years 1937-1938 over 100 thousand Poles were murdered, another 100 thousand were deported from Belarus and Ukraine to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Around 30 thousand were sent to gulags.

Overall, 1.5 million people were arrested during the repressions against national minorities, of whom 700,000 were killed. Among particular nationalities, Poles and Germans suffered the most, followed by Koreans, Kurds, Greeks, Finns, Estonians, Latvians, Chinese, and Iranians

Ok, that would sum up the overall situation in the Soviet Union in the 30s. I skipped over few things like the Purge in Red Army since it’s rather obvious. However, if you want, I can post another short part of research about the everyday life during the Great Terror. If you want I can always post some more pieces of information if you think it is too little to make a video out of it. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll be able to pice it all it into one logical narrative.

But if we are done here then… Breaking Enigma next? :wink:

Edit: Almost forgot about the sources
R. Conquest Inside Stalin’s Secret Police: NKWD Politics, 1936–1939.
R. Conquest The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization an the Terror – Famine.
E. Ginzburg Stroma Ściana
R. Kuśnierz W świecie stalinowskich zbrodni. Ukraina w latach czystek i terroru (1934-1938) w obserwacjach i analizach MSZ oraz wywiadu wojskowego Drugiej Rzeczypospolitej (In the world of Stalinist crimes. Ukraine in the years of purges and terror (1934-1938) in the observations and analyzes of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and military intelligence of the Second Polish Republic)