Again, since this site is under development and looking for a sponsor. I have gleaned some passages from several books that I hope will give readers some perspective on the horrors of Bolshevik Communism. Only in the last decade has the world learned that Communism in Russia was by far the most brutal and sadistic of totalitarian states in the West. And most importantly it shows that ideologies do not slaughter and torture other people, but rather it is human nature to do so when groups seek to dominate and control others. That is, genocide, is part of our natural tribal instinct and must be controlled by an understanding of human nature or the genetic traits that make us human. Also, I would like to recommend a new book that has just been released in the United States: The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. It is a brilliant look at this most hideous of ideologies to enslave mankind. I have not had time to finish the book, so excerpts from it will have to wait.
Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime by Richard Pipes
The Bolshevik Party was a unique institution. Organized as a conspiratorial group for the specific purpose of seizing power and making a revolution from above, first in Russia and then in the rest of the world, it was profoundly undemocratic in its philosophy and its methods of operation. The prototype for all subsequent totalitarian organizations, it resembled more a secret order than a party in the normally accepted sense. Its founder and undisputed leader, Vladimir Lenin, determined on the very day he learned of the outbreak of the February Revolution that the Bolsheviks would topple the Provisional Government by armed force. His strategy consisted of promising every disaffected group what it wanted: to the peasants, the land; to the soldiers, peace; to the workers, the factories; to the ethnic minorities, independence. None of these slogans were part of the Bolshevik program and all would be thrown overboard once the Bolsheviks were in power, but they served the purpose of alienating large groups of the population from the Government.
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The Bolsheviks took power for the express purpose of beginning widespread armed conflict, first in Russia and then in Europe and the rest of the world. Beyond the borders of what had been the Russian Empire, they failed. But inside them, they succeeded well enough. The Civil War, which tore Russia apart for nearly three years, was the most devastating event in that country's history since the Mongol invasions in the thirteenth century. Unspeakable atrocities were committed from resentment and fear: millions lost their lives in combat as well as from cold, hunger, and disease. As soon as the fighting stopped, Russia was struck by a famine such as no European people had ever experienced, a famine Asian in magnitude, in which millions more perished.
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The consequence was the eruption of a virulent anti-Semitism, first in Russia, then abroad. Just as socialism was the ideology of the intelligentsia, and nationalism that of the old civil and military Establishment, so Judeophobia became the ideology of the masses. At the conclusion of the Civil War, a Russian publicist observed that "Hatred of Jews is one of the most prominent features of contemporary Russian life; possibly even the most prominent. Jews are hated everywhere, in the north, in the south, in the east and in the west. They are detested by all social orders, by all political parties, by all nationalities and by persons of all ages." By late 1919, even the liberal Kadets were afflicted with the poison.
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In every respect except for the absence of a central organization to direct the slaughter, the pogroms of 1919 were a prelude to and rehearsal for the Holocaust. The spontaneous lootings and killings left a legacy that two decades later was to lead to the systematic mass murder of Jews at the hands of the Nazis: the deadly identification of Communism with Jewry.
In view of the role this accusation had in paving the way for the mass destruction of European Jewry, the question of Jewish involvement in Bolshevism is of more than academic interest. For it was the allegation that "international Jewry" invented Communism as an instrument to destroy Christian (or "Aryan") civilization that provided the ideological and psychological foundation of the Nazi "final solution." In the 1920s the notion came to be widely accepted in the West and the Protocols became an international best-seller. Fantastic disinformation spread by Russian extremists alleged that all the leaders of the Soviet state were Jews. Many foreigners involved in Russian affairs came to share this belief. Thus, Major General H. C. Holman, head of the British military mission to Denikin, told a Jewish delegation that of 36 Moscow "commissars" only Lenin was a Russian, the rest being Jews. An American general serving in Russia was convinced that the notorious Chekists M. I. Latsis and Ia. Kh. Peters, who happened to be Latvians, were Jewish as well.
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Indeed, these attempts at social revolution in Europe achieved the very opposite result of that intended: they discredited Communism and played into the hands of nationalist extremists who exploited the population's xenophobia by stressing the role of foreigners, especially Jews, in inciting civil unrest. In Hungary, the collapse of Bela Kun's regime led to bloody anti-Jewish pogroms, and in Germany the Communist revolts gave credibility to the anti-Semitic propaganda of the nascent National-Socialist movement. It is difficult to conceive how right-wing radicalism, so conspicuous in interwar Europe, could have flourished without the fear of Communism, first aroused by the putsches of 1918-19: "The main results of that mistaken policy were to terrify the Western ruling classes and many of the middle classes with the specter of revolution, and at the same time provide them with a convenient model, in Bolshevism, for a counterrevolutionary force, which was fascism."
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Material self-interest, and not only in the narrow commercial sense, was a powerful motive for turning into a Communist mouthpiece. The willingness faithfully to follow the Party line through all its zigzags ensured a writer or an artist of unstinting support by the Party's effective and well-financed propaganda machine: with its help many a mediocre writer became a celebrity and even a best-selling author. Examples include Romain Rolland, Lion Feuchtwanger, Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and Howard Fast, whose productions have in due course sunk into well-deserved oblivion. English fellow-traveling authors had access to Victor Gollancz's Left Book Club, which at the height of its popularity in mid-1939 distributed pro-Soviet nonfiction to fifty thousand subscribers. Books of a similar orientation under the Penguin imprint sold in the six figures. This happened at a time when Darkness at Noon, by the disenchanted Communist Arthur Koestler, a book that in time attained the status of a classic, had in England an initial printing of one thousand copies and total first-year sales of less than four thousand. George Orwell's Animal Farm was rejected by fourteen publishers on the grounds of being too anti-Soviet. Western journalists could make a name for themselves by being accredited to Moscow, and there enjoy a style of life quite beyond the reach of their colleagues at home, provided they wrote only what the Soviet authorities approved: the alternative was disaccreditation and expulsion. And, of course, for venturesome and politically sympathetic businessmen there was money to be made from concessions and trade. From Moscow's point of view, sympathizers inspired by venal motives were the most dependable of all, because, having no ideals to begin with, they were immune to disillusionment.
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Fellow-travelers were mesmerized by Stalin's tyranny: instead of seeing it as the crassest violation of Communist claims to democracy, they interpreted it as a guarantee of Communism's purity, since by eliminating politics and all the sordid infighting that went with it, it enabled the Communists to concentrate on what they assumed to be the movement's ultimate objective. Paradoxically, as soon as the Communist leaders themselves began to admit to failures and crimes, which happened after Stalin's death, fellow-travelers deserted them in droves. Soon the breed vanished. For the idealistic fellow-travelers, self-delusion was a necessity: they would ignore oppression and mass murder in the name of an ideal rather than subscribe to a more humane policy whose pragmatism robbed them of utopian dreams.
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Various explanations have been advanced for this about-face, which resulted in Mussolini's expulsion from the Socialist Party. The least charitable holds that he was bribed--that he came under strong pressure from French socialists, who provided him with money to publish his own newspaper, Ii Popolo d'Italia. The suggestion is that, in effect, Mussolini sold out. It is more likely, however, that his motives were political. After nearly all European socialist parties had violated their pacifist pledges and backed their governments' entry into the war, he seems to have concluded that nationalism was more potent fare than socialism. In December 1914, he wrote: "The nation has not disappeared. We used to believe that it was annihilated. Instead, we see it rise, living, palpitating before us! And understandably so. The new reality does not suppress the truth: class cannot destroy the nation. Class is a collectivity of interests, but the nation is a history of sentiments, traditions, language, culture, ancestry. You can insert the class into the nation, but they do not destroy each other."
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Seen in perspective, Lenin owes his historical prominence not to his statesmanship, which was of a very inferior order, but to his generalship. He was one of history's great conquerors: a distinction not vitiated by the fact that the country he conquered was his own. His innovation, the reason for his success, was militarizing politics. He was the first head of state to treat politics, domestic as well as foreign, as warfare in the literal sense of the word, the objective of which was not to compel the enemy to submit but to annihilate him. This innovation gave Lenin significant advantages over his opponents, for whom warfare was either the antithesis of politics or else politics pursued by other means. Militarizing politics and, as a corollary, politicizing warfare enabled him first to seize power and then to hold on to it. It did not help him build a viable social and political order. He grew so accustomed to storming on all "fronts" that even after asserting undisputed authority over Soviet Russia and her dependencies, he had to invent ever new enemies to fight and destroy: now the church, now the Socialists-Revolutionaries, now the intelligentsia. This belligerence became a fixed feature of the Communist regime, culminating in Stalin's notorious "theory" that the closer Communism approached final victory the more intense grew social conflicts-a notion that justified a bloodbath of unprecedented ferocity. It caused the Soviet Union in the sixty years that followed Lenin's death to exhaust itself in entirely unnecessary domestic and foreign conflicts that eviscerated her both physically and spiritually.
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The Communist experiment is often labeled "utopian." Thus a recent history of the Soviet Union, far from sympathetic, bears the title Utopia in Power. The term, however, is applicable only in that limited sense in which Engels used it to criticize socialists who did not accept his and Marx's "scientific" doctrines, by making in their visions no allowance for historic and social realities. Lenin himself was forced to admit toward the end of his life that the Bolsheviks, too, were guilty of ignoring the cultural realities of Russia and its unpreparedness for the economic and social order that they tried to impose on it. The Bolsheviks ceased to be utopians when, once it had become obvious the ideal was unattainable, they persisted in the attempt with resort to unrestrained violence. Utopian communities always postulated the concurrence of their members in the task of creating a "cooperative commonwealth." The Bolsheviks, by contrast, not only did not care to obtain such concurrence, but dismissed as "counterrevolutionary" every manifestation of individual or group initiative. They also displayed a constitutional inability to deal with opinions different from their own except by abuse and repression. For these reasons they should be regarded not as utopians but as fanatics: since they refused to admit defeat even after it stared them in the face, they satisfied Santayana's definition of fanaticism as redoubling one's efforts after forgetting one's aim.
Marxism and Bolshevism, its offspring, were products of an era in European intellectual life that was obsessed with violence. The Darwinian theory of natural selection was promptly translated into a social philosophy in which uncompromising conflict occupied a central place. "No one who has not waded through some sizeable part of the literature of the period 1870-1914 "writes Jacques Barzun, "has any conception of the extent to which it is one long call for blood, nor of the variety of parties, classes, nations, and races whose blood was separately and contradictorily clamored for by the enlightened citizens of the ancient civilization of Europe." No one embraced this philosophy more enthusiastically than the Bolsheviks: "merciless" violence, violence that strove for the destruction of every actual and potential opponent, was for Lenin not only the most effective, but the only way of dealing with problems.
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But even the one difference separating the two men--that Lenin did not kill fellow-Communists and Stalin did so on a massive scale--is not as significant as may appear at first sight. Toward outsiders, people not belonging to his order of the elect--and that included 99.7 percent of his compatriots--Lenin showed no human feelings whatever, sending them to their death by the tens of thousands, often to serve as an example to others. A high Cheka official, I. S. Unshlikht, in his tender recollections of Lenin written in 1934, stressed with unconcealed pride how Lenin "mercilessly made short shrift of philistine party members who complained of the mercilessness of the Cheka, how he laughed at and mocked the 'humanness' of the capitalist world." The difference between the two men lay in the conception of the "outsider." Lenin's insiders were to Stalin outsiders, people who owed loyalty not to him but to the Party's founder and who competed with him for power; and toward them, he showed the same inhuman cruelty that Lenin had employed against his enemies.
Beyond the strong personal links binding the two men, Stalin was a true Leninist in that he faithfully followed his patron's political philosophy and practices. Every ingredient of what has come to be known as Stalinism save one--murdering fellow Communists--he had learned from Lenin, and that includes the two actions for which he is most severely condemned: collectivization and mass terror. Stalin's megalomania, his vindictiveness, his morbid paranoia, and other odious personal qualities should not obscure the fact that his ideology and modus operandi were Lenin's. A man of meager education, he had no other source of ideas.
In theory, one can conceive a Trotsky, Bukharin, or Zinoviev grasping the torch from the dying Lenin and leading the Soviet Union in a different direction than Stalin. What one cannot conceive is how they could have been in a position to do so, given the realities of the power structure at the time of Lenin's illness. By throttling democratic impulses in the Party in order to protect his dictatorship, and by imposing on the Party a top-heavy command structure, Lenin ensured that the man who controlled the central party apparatus controlled the Party and through it, the state. And that man was Stalin. The revolution inflicted on Russia staggering human losses. The statistics are so shocking that they inevitably give rise to doubts. But unless someone can come up with alternate numbers, the historian is compelled to accept them, the more so that they are shared alike by Communist and non-Communist demographers.
The following table indicates the population of the Soviet Union within the borders of 1926 (in millions):
Early 1920: 140.6
Early 1921: 136.8
Early 1922: 134.9
The decrease--12.7 million--was due to deaths from combat and epidemics (approximately 2 million each); emigration (about 2 million); and famine (over 5 million).
But these figures tell only half the story, since obviously, under normal conditions, the population would not have remained stationary but grown. Projections by Russian statisticians indicate that in 1922 the population should have numbered more than 160 million rather than 135 million. If this figure is taken into account, and the number of émigrés is deducted, the human casualties of the Revolution in Russia--actual and due to the deficit in births--rise to over 23 million--two and a half times the fatalities suffered by all the belligerent countries in World War I combined, and a loss nearly equal to the combined populations at the time of the four Scandinavian countries plus Belgium and the Netherlands. The actual losses were heaviest in the age group 16-49, particularly in its male contingent, of which it had eradicated by August 1920--that is, before the famine had done its work--29 percent.
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Failure was inevitable and imbedded in the very premises of the Communist regime. Bolshevism was the most audacious attempt in history to subject the entire life of a country to a master plan, to rationalize everybody and everything. It sought to sweep aside as useless rubbish the wisdom that mankind had accumulated over millennia. In that sense, it was a unique effort to apply science to human affairs: and it was pursued with the zeal characteristic of that breed of intellectuals who regard resistance to their ideas as proof that they are sound. Communism failed because it proceeded from the erroneous doctrine of the Enlightenment, perhaps the most pernicious idea in the history of thought, that man is merely a material compound, devoid of either soul or innate ideas, and as such a passive product of an infinitely malleable social environment. This doctrine made it possible for people with personal frustrations to project them onto society and attempt to resolve them there rather than in themselves. As experience has confirmed time and again, man is not an inanimate object but a creature with his own aspirations and will--not a mechanical but a biological entity. Even if subjected to the fiercest dressage, he cannot pass on the lessons he has been forced to learn to his children, who come into this world ever fresh, asking questions that are supposed to have been settled once and for all. To demonstrate this commonsensical truth required tens of millions of dead, incalculable suffering for the survivors, and the ruin of a great nation.
The Great Terror by Robert Conquest
But it was not until 1988 that, on this as on other aspects of Stalinism, full accounting of the impact, the method, and the motives appeared in Soviet publications. The deaths in the terror-famine cannot have been lower than 6 to 7 million. The death toll among the peasantry over the whole period 1930 to 1933 is given in the recent Soviet literature as around 10 million--higher than the dead of all the belligerents put together in the First World War. That is, it was all on a scale as large as that of the subsequent "Great Terror." These events are not the subject of this book, except insofar as they are a part of the preparation for the full scale Stalinist regime. (The present writer has in fact dealt with the 1930-1933 terror in The Harvest of Sorrow; indeed, in a sense, the two books form a sequence on Stalinism in the 1930s.)
There seems little doubt that the main issue was simply crushing the peasantry, and the Ukrainians, at any cost. One high official told a Ukrainian who later defected that the 1933 harvest "was a test of our strength and their endurance. It took a famine to show them who is master here. It has cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay. We have won the war." In fact, we find that mass terror was now already in existence in the countryside, and thousands of police and Party officials had received the most ruthless operational experience.
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But he was even more concerned with the effect on the Party. Many Communists had been severely shaken. Some had committed suicide; others had gone mad. In his view, the worst result of the terror and famine in the country was not so much the sufferings of the peasantry, horrible though these were. It was the "deep changes in the psychological outlook of those Communists who participated in this campaign, and instead of going mad, became professional bureaucrats for whom terror was henceforth a normal method of administration, and obedience to any order from above a high virtue." He spoke of a "real dehumanization of the people working in the Soviet apparatus."
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For the moment, however, the new "unity" of the Party was celebrated. In January 1934 its XVIIth Congress, the "Congress of Victors," assembled. The 1,966 delegates (of whom 1,108 were to be shot over the next few years) listened to the unanimously enthusiastic speakers. Stalin himself set the theme: "Whereas at the XVth Congress it was still necessary to prove the correctness of the Party line and to fight certain anti-Leninist groupings, and at the XVIth Congress, to finish off the last supporters of these groupings, at the present Congress there is nothing to prove and, it seems, nobody to beat."
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When it became apparent that Hitlerism was not going to collapse--a conclusion Stalin seems to have reached at the time of the Nazi Roehm Purge in June 1934--Stalin was not to be inhibited by doctrinal reasons from coming to an arrangement with the new dictator. The difficulty was rather that Hitler appeared to be quite intransigently anti-Communist. As Hitler built up Germany's military and economic power, Stalin began a complex approach. Hitler's evident military threat could be blocked in two ways: by force or by agreement. If force was to be necessary, then a powerful antifascist alliance needed to be built. If agreement were possible, it could best be achieved from strength. So from the mid-1930s, Soviet foreign policy, and Comintern tactics, were directed to creating a system of Party and State alliances against German power.
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In 1937 and 1938, Yezhov sent in to Stalin 383 lists, containing thousands of names of figures important enough to require his personal approval for their execution. As Yezhov was only in power for just over two years--and, in fact, his effective working period was rather less-this means that Stalin got such a list rather more often than every other day of "persons whose cases were under the jurisdiction of the Military Collegium." A samizdat historian of the 1 970s indicated that the lists included 40,000 names. However, a Soviet periodical now tells us that at a recent plenum of the Central Committee, the total number shot, whose names appeared on lists signed by "Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich, and Malenkov," though perhaps over a longer period, was given as 230,000. At any rate, we can envisage Stalin, on arrival at his office, as often as not finding in his in-tray a list of a few hundred names for death, looking through, and approving them, as part of the ordinary routine of a Kremlin day. We are told in recent Soviet articles that on 12 December 1937 alone, Stalin and Molotov sanctioned 3,167 death sentences, and then went to the cinema.
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Such things are worth recording. But at the best of times, they were most exceptional. The norm was callous brutality, or at best cloddish indifference to death and suffering. A Soviet writer remarks of the interrogators, "They were all sadists of course. And only a handful found the courage to commit suicide. Pace by pace, as they followed one routine directive after another, they climbed down the steps from the human condition to that of beasts. . . . But this happened only gradually." The few humane officers and guards did not anyhow survive Yezhov's purge of the NKVD. His new intake of NKVD troopers were well-trained, well-fed, heartless young thugs. Any display of human sympathy, they had firmly implanted in them, was a concession to bourgeois feeling and a form of treachery in the class struggle. As the Purge broadened, it also got worse.
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The cellars of the Lubyanka were really a sort of basement divided into a number of rooms off corridors. Later on, in ordinary routine, the condemned handed in their clothes in one of these rooms and changed into white underclothes only. They were then taken to the death cell and shot in the back of the neck with an eight-shot automatic. A doctor then signed the death certificate, the last document to be put in their files, and the tarpaulin on the floor was taken away to be cleaned by a woman specially employed for that purpose. (Execution with a small-bore pistol is not, as might seem, very humane. Of the 9,432 corpses exhumed at Vinnitsa, 6,360 had needed a second shot; 78, a third shot; and 2, a fourth shot, while many others had been struck over the head with some blunt object to finish them off. Again, we are told in a recent Soviet article that in the mass graves at Kuropaty the sand thrown above a new batch of those executed could still be seen moving some time later.)
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In 1938, even from Stalin's point of view, the whole thing had become impossible. The first substantial question an interrogator asked was, "Who are your accomplices?" So from each arrest, several other arrests more or less automatically followed. But if this had gone on for a few more months, and each new victim named only two or three accomplices, the next wave would have struck at 10 to 15 percent of the population, and soon after that at 30 to 45 percent. There are many theories of Stalin's motives throughout the whole horrible business, and the question of why he stopped the mass Terror at this stage has puzzled many commentators. But we can see that the extreme limits had been reached. To have gone on would have been impossible economically, politically, and even physically, in that interrogators, prisons, and camps, already grotesquely overloaded, could not have managed it. And meanwhile, the work of the mass Purge had. been done. The country was crushed.
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The fate of the prisoner who had the good fortune to escape being taken to the execution cellars was to be dispatched to a Corrective Labor Camp. The Corrective Labor Codex defines three types of camp: 1. Factory and agricultural colonies where "people deprived of freedom" are "trained and disciplined." (Article 33); 2. Camps for mass work which includes those in "distant regions" for "class-dangerous elements" requiring "a more severe regime." (Article 34); 3. Punitive camps for the "strict isolation" of those "previously detained in other colonies and showing persistent insubordination." (Article 35).
The first category was mainly for very minor offenses against factory discipline, and for petty thieves. All sentenced under Article 58 or by the Special Board went initially to category two.
The labor camp was one of the pillars of Stalin's whole system. Concealment of its nature from the West was one of his most extraordinary triumphs. For the evidence on the camps was, by the late l940s, overwhelming and detailed. Thousands of former inmates had reached the West, and their wholly consistent stories were supported by a good deal of documentation, such as the many labor-camp forms and letters reproduced in David J. Dallin and Boris I. Nicolaevsky's Forced Labour in Soviet Russia and, indeed, by the Corrective Labor Codex of the RSFSR, produced with much effect by the British delegation to the United Nations in 1949. Yet it was possible for Western intellectuals to disbelieve this material, and to join in Soviet-sponsored campaigns condemning all who revealed it as slanderers.
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A detailed list of camp groups covering 35 clusters was given as early as 1937 (a cluster usually included about 200 camps of around 1,200 inmates each). In 1945, on the basis of reports from Poles allowed to leave under the Soviet--Polish treaty, a far more comprehensive account was given, together with a map, showing 38 administration clusters and groups (including 8 under Dalstroy--the "Far Eastern Construction Trust"). In 1948, Dallin and Nicolaevsky, on the basis of careful research, were able to list and describe the operations of 125 camps or camp clusters, mentioning that a number of others had been reported but not wholly confirmed.
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The first great camps were in the Solovetsky Monasteries in the far north. Here, in Tsarist times, the monks of the oldest tradition of isolation from the world had withstood a siege from 1668 to 1676, defending their faith in the Old Belief against the reformism of the time. When the camps were set up, some of the old monks were retained for a time to teach the convicts how to operate the fisheries. They were later liquidated for sabotage. At the Solovetsky camps, health conditions were very bad. Epidemics reduced the population from 14,000 to 8,000 in 1929 and 1930. In general, these were bad times in all the camps springing up around the White Sea. The average life span in them between 1929 and 1934 "did not exceed one or two years." This was almost always due to corruption and inefficiency among the jailers. The remedy was a conventional one. "The G.P.U. commission would come down from Moscow and shoot half the administration, after which convict life returned to its normal horror." The original Solovetsky "Camp of Special Designation" was changed in 1936 into a "Prison of Special Designation," and in 1939 the surviving prisoners were transferred by sea to Norilsk and Dudinin.
The statute on Corrective Labor Camps which governed the later period was adopted on 7 April 1930. The camps took their modern form at a time of vast expansion of the network.
The most careful estimates of the camp population over the pre-Yezhov period run as follows: In 1928, 30,000; In 1930, over 600,000; In 1931 and 1932, a total of nearly 2 million in "places of detention" can be estimated from figures given for the allotment per prisoner of newspapers, and a Moscow scholar recently estimates that of "over" 15 million dekulakized in the collectivization of 1930 to 1932, 1 million of the males of working age were sent directly to labor camps.
In 1933 to 1935, Western estimates run mainly at the 5 million level (70 percent of them peasants), and in 1935 to 1937, a little higher. But recent Soviet analysis suggests that (omitting deportees held in NKVD "Special Settlements") the true figure may be lower, in the 2 to 4 million range. A Soviet textbook of the 1930s gives the maximum numbers at forced labor (katorga) in Tsarist times as 32,000, in 1912, and the maximum total of all prisoners as 183,949.
TO THE CAMPS
This established system awaited the new intake. After sentence, the prisoners were crammed into Black Marias, of a type originally produced before the Revolution; they had then been designed for seven persons, but by narrowing the cellular partitions to a minimum, now took twenty-eight.' Then, usually at night, they were loaded into the railway wagons taking them to their destination, either cattle wagons which had carried twelve horses or forty-eight men in the Tsarist wars and now held up to a hundred prisoners, or the specially made "Stolypin trucks," named after the Tsarist Minister--though, as a Soviet writer says, "Why were these appalling narrow penal wagons called Stolypin trucks? They were of quite recent origin"--which often held twenty to thirty people in six-man compartments. These journeys to the camps might last months. For example, one prisoner describes a forty-seven-day railway journey from Leningrad to Vladivostok. Such trips are sometimes described as worse than the camps themselves. The crowded goods wagons were practically unheated in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer. Inadequate food and drinking water and sanitary arrangements caused great suffering and a high death rate. A foreign Communist complains of spending six weeks in a ship's hold, on "one of the widest rivers in the world," with only seven fluid ounces of drinking water a day.
The train guards, from the so-called convoy troops of the NKVD, were particularly brutal and negligent. During transport to the camps, the NKVD's regulation mania was not even formally observed when it came, for example, to rations. Sometimes there was nothing to drink the "tea" ration from. Often rations gradually got smaller and smaller, and the guards started failing to distribute them at all. Even the water to be provided was often forgotten for a day or two. A Soviet woman writer complains of the suffering caused by the provision of only one mug of water a day for all purposes on the long run from Moscow to Vladivostok.
A Pole who collated the accounts of his countrymen deported in 1939 and 1940 remarks: "It seems almost impossible for any human being, when not experiencing any particular sensations of anger or vindictiveness and when not in danger of thereby being deprived of it himself, persistently to refuse to hand in a bucket of water to fifty or sixty human beings shut in under such conditions. It is a fact that these men did refuse to do so, and could keep up this attitude throughout journeys lasting four, five and six weeks. There were whole days of twenty-four hours when not a drop of anything to drink passed into the cars. There were periods even of thirty-six hours."
The writer adds that in examining "many hundreds" of accounts, he has noted one case of a guard passing in an extra bucket, and five others of the doors being opened for ten minutes or so to relieve the fetor of the cars. Of the doctors or medical orderlies attached to each train, he found a few cases of "a little more than blank indifference" to particular children, and two records of decided kindness. The brutalization Bukharin had noted in the Party had reached down and everywhere reinforced a more archiac brutality. These train journeys were highly debilitating. A Soviet writer, later rehabilitated, describes a party of men being marched from Vladivostok Transit Camp to the embarkation point for Magadan immediately after coming off the train, without food. After several had collapsed and died, the remainder refused to go on, whereupon the guards panicked, started kicking the corpses, and shot a number of others.
There is an interesting postwar account in the British Medical Journal of a medical examination of twenty-four women, former inhabitants of East Prussia, who had just escaped to western Germany after returning to the Eastern Zone from Soviet labor camps. On their way to the latter, they had been packed about eighty to a truck, and they lived on bread and a spoonful of sugar a day. But the worst deprivation was the lack of water. It was estimated that about 40 to 50 in one transport of 2,000 women died en route. In one of the camps described, it was estimated that about half the women died in the first eight or nine months, mostly from intestinal diseases.
It was usual for political prisoners to be robbed almost at once of their most valued possessions, such as warm clothing and good footwear, either on the journey or immediately on arrival at camp. This was done quite openly under the eyes of the guards. The old criminal underworld of Tsarist Russia, which since the Time of Troubles had developed as an extraordinary milieu with its own dialect and its own law, had been greatly reinforced, and its character much modified, by the tumults of the Civil War and the famine of the early l920s. Already then, the bezprizorniye, the homeless orphan children assembling in gangs and living by their wits, had become a problem. Collectivization and other social experiments disrupted millions more families and provided large reinforcements to these now maturing criminals.
The percentage of "criminals" was around 10 to 15 percent, but the majority of these were of the petty embezzler type, rather than urkas proper, who were seldom more than around 5 percent of a camp total. In some camps, indeed, there were none or almost none--particularly the more severe camps like the one described in Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, where almost all prisoners were in under Article 58, as interpreted by the Special Board. In other camps, their rule, which led to the slow murder of many politicals at night in the barracks when guards did not dare to interfere, was the norm. By 1940, the NKVD was often more fully in control, permitting only, in mixed camps such as Kargopol, regular rape hunts. Even these were largely suppressed in 1941. But later, a considerable relapse seems to have taken place. And in no case was there any serious interference with ordinary robbery and beating up.
Soviet sources as long ago as the l960s confirmed all this. General Gorbatov relates: "While we were in the Sea of Okhotsk misfortune befell me. Early in the morning, when I was lying half-awake as many of us did, two "trusties" came up to me and dragged away my boots which I was using as a pillow. One of them hit me hard on the chest and then on the head and said with a leer: "Look at him--sells me his boots days ago, pockets the cash, and then refuses to hand them over!" Off they went with their loot, laughing for all they were worth and only stopping to beat me up again when, out of sheer despair, I followed them and asked for the boots back. The other "trusties" watched, roaring with laughter. "Let him have it!" "Quit yelling--they're not your boots now." Only one of the political prisoners spoke up: "Look, what are you up to? How can he manage in bare feet?" One of the thieves took off his pumps and threw them at me."
Similar things happened to Gorbatov on several other occasions. Once, buying a tin of fish from a "trusty," he had his money stolen, together with letters and photographs of his wife, by criminals who refused to return even the latter. (When he opened the tin, it was full of sand.) He was surprised to see that the guards did nothing to discourage this sort of thing. At the Maldyak gold-field camp in the Magadan area, where he served his sentence, there were 400 politicals and 50 common criminals. The latter had all the privileges and in one way or another did the politicals out of much of their meager food ration: "Work at the goldfield was pretty killing, particularly so considering the bad food we were given. The "enemies of the people," as a rule, were detailed for the heaviest jobs, the lighter work being given to the "trusties" or common criminals [I]t was they who were appointed foremen, cooks, orderlies, and tent seniors. Naturally enough the small amounts of fat released for the pot chiefly found their way into the bellies of the "trusties." There were three types of rations: one for those who had not fulfilled their quota, another for those who had, and a third for those who had exceeded their quota. The latter automatically included the "trusties." They did little enough work, but the tally clerks were of their persuasion and so they swindled, putting to their own and their mates' credit the work that we had done. As a result the criminals fed well and the politicals went hungry."
Outside the camps proper--that is, in the transit camps and stations--the criminals continued to be almost completely out of control. One of their customs was to gamble with one another for the clothes of some strange political; the loser then had to pull them off the victim and hand them over to the winner. This game was also played for prisoners' lives. A Hungarian who was in Vorkuta in 1950 to 1951 reports it played by fifteen-year-old juvenile criminals, the loser then knifing the chosen victim. These young delinquents, usually aged from fourteen to sixteen, were seldom seen in the usual camps, being held in special centers. They were far more terrifying than any other element in Soviet society: their egos were completely unsocialized. Killing meant nothing at all to them. They formed the hard core of the "hooligan" youth element which still persists in the Soviet Union and, politically speaking, may be thought to form the potential storm troops, on one side or another, in any future upsets in the country.
Gorbatov mentions a criminal with fingers missing who explained to him that he had "lost" a political's clothes to another criminal, and before he could steal them to hand them over, the political had been transferred. So he was at once tried for negligence by his mates and sentenced to the loss of his fingers. The criminal "prosecutor" demanded all five, but the "court" settled for three. "We also have our laws," the victim commented. In another case, one who, in a mass rape aboard the convict ship Magadan, had taken a woman the leader of his band had marked down, had his eyes put out with a needle. Another leader, also on a convict ship, had gambled his brigade's bread ration away at cards. He was tried and cut to pieces.
In fact, the criminals (who had such names as "The Louse," "Hitler," and "The Knout"), known at the time of the Purges as urkas and later as blatniye, in the l950s had come to call themselves "Those with the Law"--that is, their own code.
One of its provisions (though the urkas later split into two factions on the issue) was refusal to work. Since the urka groups had sanctions just as effective as any disposed of by the camp administration, nothing could usually be done about this. One commandant is reported given the urkas jobs in the camp which existed only on paper. As Gorbatov describes above, the criminals in effect had arrangements with the authorities to ensure that the politicals worked on their behalf as well as on their own.
[. . . . . ]
SETTING UP CAMP
In general, the great expansion of the Yezhov period was marked by the setting up of new camps. For example, in the Archangel area, the Kargopol "camp," consisting of a number of smaller camps in a radius of about thirty-five miles, containing in 1940 about 30,000 prisoners, was founded in 1936 by 600 prisoners who were simply put out of the train in the middle of the forest and who built their own barracks and fences. The death rate had been very heavy. The Polish and German Communist prisoners had died first, followed by the national minorities from Asia.
Pasternak, certainly drawing on the experiences of friends who had suffered, described in Doctor Zhivago the setting up of a new camp: "We got off the train.--A snow desert. Forest in the distance. Guards with rifle muzzles pointing at us, wolf-dogs. At about the same time other groups were brought up. We were spread out and formed into a big polygon all over the field, facing outward so that we shouldn't see each other. Then we were ordered down on our knees, and told to keep looking straight ahead in front on pain of death. Then the roll-call, an endless, humiliating business going on for hours and hours, and all the time we were on our knees. Then we got up and the other groups were marched off in different directions, all except ours. We were told: "Here you are. This is your camp."--An empty snow-field with a post in the middle and a notice on it saying: "Gulag 92 Y.N.90"--that's all there was. First we broke saplings with our bare hands in the frost to get wood to build our huts with. And in the end, believe it or not, we built our own camp. We put up our prison and our stockade and our punishment cells and our watch towers, all with our own hands. And then we began our jobs as lumberjacks."
In exactly the same way, a Pole describes being marched, in rags, to a spot on the frozen tundra where there was no more than a sign: "Camp Point No. 228." The prisoners dug pits to live in and covered them with branches and earth. The food was simply raw rye flour, kneaded with water.
Another prisoner describes being marched to a temporary camp which would not hold, however squeezed, more than one-fifth of the prisoners. The others were left out in the mud for several days. They began to light fires made of bits of parts of the barracks, and were charged and beaten up by the guards. Twice a day, they had one-third of a liter of soup, and once a day about half a kilo of bread.
On entry into an established camp, prisoners were allotted their categories for work. This might be done by a quick examination of the prisoners' legs. A certificate of "first-class" health was required for the heaviest tasks. (A Soviet writer describes one being issued to a political four hours before her death from scurvy.) Then they were marched to the barracks, where, typically, "two hundred men slept in fifty bug-ridden bunks," on boards or mattresses "full of heavy and hard-packed sawdust."
Crowding was intense. The former director of a Kemerovo works describes negotiating with the NKVD for 2,000 slave laborers. The trouble was not the number, but how to accommodate them in the existing camps in the area. The officials concerned were shown around a camp which appeared to be packed solid, but the commandant agreed with his superior that yet another layer of bunks could be put in.
There would be a stove, though not adequate to warm one of the Arctic huts "because the orderlies only brought in ten pounds of coal dust for each stove, and you didn't get much warmth from that." In a corner would be the twenty-gallon latrine tank which prisoner orderlies carried off to empty daily--' 'light work for people on the sick list!"
The company, apart from the complement of urkas who in a nonpenal camp would be lording it in the corridors, were of a varied lot of "politicals." There would be saboteurs--specialists and engineers. At first they mostly had technical jobs, but, as the mass purges grew in scope, so many engineers and specialists flooded the camps that the chance of appointment to a technical position which had previously saved so many of them became proportionately rare.
There were certain special categories. In Kotlas, there was a whole group of men of eighty years and older who had been sentenced in Daghestan as part of the "liquidation of feudal remnants." And about 3,000 Moscow homosexuals were in camp at the "Third Watershed," on the Baltic--White Sea Canal. But usually the intake was mixed.
An account of the Dzhezkazgan camp in a Moscow article of the Khrushchev period mentions a former Ambassador to China, a soloist from the Bolshoi Opera, an illiterate peasant, an Air Force general. Common were soldiers, intellectuals, and especially Ukrainian and other nationalists, on the one hand, and members of religious sects, on the other. Solzhenitsyn points out that the Baptists were in the camps simply for praying. For this (at the time he writes of), "they all got twentyfive years, because that was how it was now--twenty-five years for everybody." There are many reports of sectarians being beaten or sent to the isolator cells for refusal to work on Sundays. A priest, beaten blind, was noted in 1937.
As in all times of trouble and oppression, the millenarian sects flourished. In the great slave empires of the past, similar voices had always spoken for the oppressed and hopeless. Now they sometimes preached that the horrors of the present were a special trial, and that from the Russian people, degraded and demoralized, a "race of saints" would arise. Even twenty years later, in Vorkuta, we are told that there was more religious organization (and sharper national feeling) among the minority groups still settled there after their camp experiences than in other districts.
Prisoners' rights were virtually limited to making written protests and complaints. The result: "Either there was nothing or it was rejected." Such applicants made a prisoner unpopular with the authorities.
In the penal camps proper, however, there was considerable freedom of speech: "Somebody in the room was yelling: "You think that old bastard in Moscow with the moustache is going to have mercy on you? He wouldn't give a damn about his own brother, never mind slobs like you!" The great thing about a penal camp was you had a hell of a lot of freedom. Back in Ust-Izhma if you said they couldn't get matches "outside" they put you in the can and slapped on another ten years. But here you could yell your head off about anything you liked and the squealers didn't even bother to tell on you. The security fellows couldn't care less." The only trouble was you didn't have much time to talk about anything."
Almost every account quotes cases of people who remained devoted to "the Party and the Government" and attributed their arrest to error. These bored and annoyed the other prisoners considerably. In some cases, though not in all, they turned informer. There were, in any case, a number of these by common NKVD practice. Informers who were recognized as such were always killed sooner or later. If the NKVD had been unable to extricate them in time, it made no complaint about their deaths. Herling gives an account of a revenge taken on a notorious former NKVD interrogator who was recognized in the camp, and when badly beaten up, but not killed, complained to the guards, who did nothing to save him so that he was finally killed a month later after endless persecution and attempts to appeal.
[. . . . . ]
A genuine caste feeling seems to have been arising, with the prisoner beginning to be regarded as actually an inferior being, just as in ancient times. The sentiment gradually spread that "mere contact" with the prisoners was "an insult to a free man." "It is considered inadmissible for a non-prisoner to eat the same food as a prisoner, to sleep under the same roof, or have any friendly relations with him." Things reached the stage where the head of a camp admonished the man in charge of the disinfestation chamber for allowing a shirt belonging to a free mechanic employed in the power plant to be put in with the prisoners' clothes for delousing. As a recent Soviet article puts it, a camp commandant did not regard the prisoners as human.
Free citizens in Kolyma sometimes tried to help prisoners they came in contact with. In particular, we are told, "doctors, engineers, geologists" would try to get their professional colleagues employed according to their capacities. A geologist now described as "a hero of the north" lost his own life owing to an attempt to defend some of the Kolyma inmates. One of his interventions is described: "These people might die!" "What people?" the representative of the camp administration smiled, "These are enemies of the people."
[. . . . . ]
There are many accounts of camp officials, and even doctors, who came to regard the prisoners as their personal serfs. This selection of slaves was sometimes similar even in detail to the illustrations of books about Negro slavery, as when the chief of a Yertsevo camp section, Samsonov, honored the medical examination with his presence, and with a smile of satisfaction felt the biceps, shoulders, and hacks of the new arrjva1s. It has been maintained that the Soviet forced labor system might be considered as "a stage on the way to a new social stratification which might have involved slavery"--that is, in the old-fashioned overt sense--though the trend was changed by later events.
A Soviet critic has remarked that: "the whole system in the camps Ivan Denisovich passed through was calculated to choke and kill without mercy every feeling for justice and legality in man, demonstrating in general and in detail such impunity of despotism that any sort of noble or rebellious impulse was powerless before it. The camp administration did not allow the prisoners to forget for a single moment that they had no rights at all. . . ."
In the 1940s, "a prisoner had to take his cap off at a distance of five paces when he saw a warder, and keep it off till he was two paces past him." Solzhenitsyn tells of a muddled count, leading to recount after recount, and another time an extra count when a missing prisoner has been found: ""What's all this about?" the chief escort screamed. "D'you want to sit on your asses in the snow? That's where I'll put you if you like and that's where I'll keep you till morning!" And he sure would. He wouldn't think twice about it if he wanted. It'd happened plenty of times before and sometimes they had to go down on their knees with the guards pointing their guns at the ready."
[. . . . . ]
In most of the main camp areas, there seem also to have been established special and highly secret "Central Isolation Prisons" covering a given group of camps. To one such, in Bamlag, we are told that some 50,000 prisoners were "transferred" for execution in the two years 1937 and 1938. The victims were tied up with wire like logs, stacked in trucks, driven out to a selected area, and shot.
The Hungarian Communist writer Lengyel, himself a camp veteran, describes one of these special extermination camps in the Norilsk area, as what is evidently intended as authentic background, in his story "The Yellow Poppies": the camp is wound up first by the execution of the remaining prisoners, and then by special NKVD squads who move in and execute all the staff and guards. Owing to the permafrost, it is impossible to bury the bodies, and they are piled into veritable hills and covered with truckloads of earth, the whole matter remaining unknown even in neighboring camps, and even when the camp site itself is later reoccupied as a prison hospital.
[. . . . . ]
THE PENAL EMPIRE
In the vast empty spaces in the north and the Far East, areas as big as fair-sized countries came under complete NKVD control. There were many camps scattered through the Urals, in the Archangel area, and more especially in and around Karaganda and on the new railway being built from Turkestan to Siberia. But in these, the NKVD administered only comparatively small enclaves. Even in the huge Karlag complex around Karaganda, where there were about 100,000 prisoners, they were in camps scattered over an area the size of France among other settlements, mostly of deported "free" labor. (These so-called free exiles were men and women whose innocence was absolutely clear even to the examining judges. In some areas, they were often little more than vagabonds, sleeping under bridges, begging their bread, and seeking work or even arrest to save themselves from starvation.)
[. . . . . ]
In a camp there described in the Khrushchev-period press, inmates did a twelve-hour day. The food ration for 100 percent norm was 800 grams of bread per day. Nonfulfillment of norms, through whatever cause, automatically entailed a reduction of the bread ration to 500 grams. This was just above starvation level; any further reduction to 300 grams (as a punitive measure) meant certain death. Work at the surface gold sites was performed in accordance with a strict division of labor. Two men had to start a bonfire, and this had to be done without matches, by the ancient method of striking sparks with flints. Another man had to fetch water from the frozen river and melt it. Next, the deeply frozen ground had to be softened, then excavated, and the sand passed through sieves in search of gold.
[. . . . . ]
The millions of slave laborers at the disposal of Gulag played an important economic role, and indeed became accepted as a normal component of the Soviet economy.
An ad hoc Committee of the United Nations appointed under resolutions by UNESCO and the ILO, and consisting of a prominent Indian lawyer, a former President of the Norwegian Supreme Court, and a former Peruvian Minister of Foreign Affairs, reported in 1953 in a sober document leaving no doubt of the "considerable significance" of forced labor in the Soviet Union.
State-owned slaves were common in the ancient world. For example, the Launion silver mines were operated by Athens on that basis. The Romans, too, had their servi publici. The Head of the Department of War Engineering Armaments, RSFSR, wanting some hundreds of prisoners for urgent work during the war, was told by the NKVD official responsible that there was a shortage. "Malenkov and Voznesensky need workers, Voroshilov is calling for road builders. What are we to do? The fact is we haven't yet fulfilled our plans for imprisonment. Demand is greater than supply."
We think of the lumber camps as typical. But the best estimate seems to be that (of the comparatively low camp population of early 1941) only about 400,000 were held at lumbering. The other main categories were:
Hired out to various State enterprises 1,000,000
Construction & maintenance of camps 600,000
General construction 3,500,000
[. . . . . ]
This was the last stage in the camps. When worn down, debilitated to the degree that no serious work could any longer be got out of them, prisoners were put on substarvation rations and allowed to hang around the camp doing odd jobs until they died. This category is recognized in Soviet as well as foreign books. Gorbatov, who describes the usual symptoms, confirms that to go sick was ordinarily fatal. For if you did, you had your ration cut and from that point there was no way out. This corps commander was at one time able to sweep the camp office floors, and there found an occasional crust to keep him going. He was himself saved from death by a friendly doctor who got him transferred to an easier post. In general, throughout the period, all our sources emphasize that survival for any length of time was rare in most camps except among those qualifying for "functions"--office jobs or other work enabling them to escape the main labor of the camp in question.
bad periods "the camps of the disabled and unfit . . . became the most
populous, and the largest labor brigades were those of the woodcutters and the
gravediggers." The dead were buried in pits, with small wooden tags
attached with string to their legs.
[. . . . . ]
A recent Soviet article puts it that "their death was caused by unbearable toil, by cold and starvation, by unheard-of degradation and humiliation, by a life which could not have been endured by any other mammal."
In another we read, "I often hear the word "lucky" from those I am recording. I was lucky--the firing squad was replaced by twenty-five years of hard labor; lucky--I waited for hours on the tundra to be shot but wasn't; lucky--I was transferred from general work to the meteorological station; lucky--I had enough time to take my daughter to my parents before the arrest; lucky. . . . One day we shall learn how many people died in the prisons and camps and how many returned.
[. . . . . ]
As we have said, by mid-1938 the NKVD itself, at the lower, operational level, had already wished to stop the progress of the Purge for obvious reasons. At the rate arrests were going, practically all the urban population would have been implicated within a few months. But it was caught in its own system. It was impossible for it not to arrest a man who had been denounced as an agent of Hitler. And an interrogator who did not demand the names of accomplices from each of his victims would soon himself come under denunciation for lack of vigilance or enthusiasm. By this time, the idea had grown among prisoners that the more denunciations they made the better; "Some even held the strange theory that the more people were jailed the sooner it would be realized that all this was nonsense and harmful to the Party. . . . My neighbor on the plank bed in the camp at Kolyma had once been head of the political department of a railway. He prided himself on having incriminated some 300 people. He said, as I had often heard in prison in Moscow, "The worse it is the better it is-- like that, it will all be cleared up more quickly"."
And, in fact, this was of some effect in the railway context (though no doubt elsewhere as well). The Byelorussian leaders complained that the NKVD had arrested every second railway official and that the system was near paralysis.
Weissberg recounts the arrest in the spring of 1938 of the secretary of the Kharkov medical council. A man with an excellent memory, he knew the names of all the doctors in the city and denounced them all, pointing out that he was in an especially good position to have recruited them and that they were in any case largely from hostile social classes. He refused to name any of them as the leader of the plot, claiming that post for himself. The doctor told his cell mates that he had been inspired to take this course by reading about the case of a witch burning in Germany at the time of the Inquisition when a young theologian charged with intelligence with the devil had at once pleaded guilty and named the members of the Inquisition as his accomplices. The interrogators were unable to torture him, as he had confessed, and the case went up to the archbishop, who put an end to the business.
[. . . . . ]
But on the whole, in the atmosphere of the late 1930s, fascism was the enemy, and a partial logic repressed or rejected any criticism of its supposed main enemy, the USSR. The Western capitals thronged with "the thousands of painters and writers and doctors and lawyers and debutantes chanting a diluted version of the Stalinist line."
Appeals in favor of the trials were made by various Western writers, Feuchtwanger, Barbusse--even the sensitive Gandhi fan, Romain Rolland. In the United States, a manifesto attacking the Dewey Commission was signed by a number of authors, poets, professors, and artists--Theodore Dreiser, Granville Hicks, Corliss Lamont, and others.
[. . . . . ]
One of the achievements of Stalinism was, in effect, that in spite of the fact that plenty of information was available contradicting the official picture, it was possible to impose the latter upon journalists, sociologists, and other visitors by methods which, on the face of it, seem crude and obvious, but which worked splendidly. Tourists visited Russia on a bigger scale in the Yezhov period than ever before. They saw nothing. The nighttime arrests, the torture chambers of the Lefortovo and the crowded cells of the Butyrka, the millions of prisoners cold and hungry in the great camps of the north were all hidden from them. The only dramatic scenes were the three great public trials. And these, too, were strictly controlled and did not depart much from a prepared script.
The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine by Robert Conquest
The endless struggle against the kulak was much discussed in the Party and its organs in the earlier part of 1929, but no decision on how to deal with him was then reached. It was only in May 1929 that the Council of People's Commissars produced a formal definition of a kulak farm. It regularly hired labour; or had a mill or butter-making or similar establishment; or hired out agricultural machinery or premises; or had members engaged in commercial activities or usury or other income not from work -- specifically including the priesthood.
[. . . . . ]
And so we enter the epoch of dekulakization, of collectivization, and of the terror-famine; of war against the Soviet peasantry, and later against the Ukrainian nation. It may be seen as one of the most significant, as well as one of the most dreadful, periods of modem times.
[. . . . . ]
As was officially stated, by "kulak", we mean the carrier of certain political tendencies which are most frequently discernible in the subkulak, male and female'. By this means, any peasant whatever was liable to dekulakisation; and the 'subkulak' notion was widely employed, enlarging the category of victims greatly beyond the official estimate of kulaks proper even at its most strained. Moreover, contrary to the original instructions, dekulakization was in no way confined to the maximum collectivization regions.
[. . . . . ]
Thus, by a strange logic, a middle peasant could become a kulak by gaining property, but a kulak could not become a middle peasant by losing his. In fact the kulak had no escape. He was 'essentially' a class enemy, a sub-human. Yet the naming of the kulak enemy satisfied the Marxist preconceptions of the Party activist. It presented a flesh-and-blood foe accursed by history; and such a target made for a far more satisfactory campaign than mere abstract organizational change. And it provided a means of destroying the leadership of the villagers, which might have greatly strengthened the resistance, strong enough in all conscience, which they offered to collectivization.
[. . . . . ]
As to the division into categories, figures we have (from a district of the Western Province) show 3,551 households listed as kulak -- 447 in the first category, 1,307 in the second, and only 1,297 in the third. That is, 63% of the kulaks were to be shot, imprisoned or deported even at this stage. Moreover, the local instruction orders that those remaining, allotted marshland or eroded forest land and made to carry out forest or road labour, were to be prosecuted upon any failure to meet compulsory procurements, and so were also well on their way to deportation. (If these figures are to be taken as roughly applicable in general, then of the million odd 'kulak' families, 630,000 were in groups I and II, and 370,000 in group III. In any case the definition of categories was flexible, just as that of the kulak himself was, and soon these figures were to be greatly exceeded.)
[. . . . . ]
Among the activists, however, Stalin succeeded to a certain degree in his aim of inciting 'class struggle' in the villages, or at least struggle between friends of and victims of the regime. The necessary hatreds were inflamed; the activists who helped the GPU in the arrests and deportations "were all people who knew one another well, and knew their victims, but in carrying out this task they became dazed, stupefied. . . They would threaten people with guns, as if they were under a spell, calling small children 'kulak bastards', screaming 'bloodsuckers!' ... They had sold themselves on the idea that the so-called 'kulaks' were pariahs, untouchables, vermin. They would not sit down at a 'parasite's' table; the 'kulak' child was loathsome, the young 'kulak' girl was lower than a louse. They looked on the so-called 'kulaks' as cattle, swine, loathsome, repulsive: they had no souls; they stank; they all had venereal diseases; they were enemies of the people and exploited the labour of others... And there was no pity for them. They were not human beings; one had a hard time making out what they were -- vermin, evidently. This last paragraph is from Vasily Grossman. Himself Jewish, and the Soviet Union's leading writer on Hitler's holocaust, he draws the analogy with the Nazis and the Jews. A woman activist explains, 'What I said to myself at the time was "they are not human beings, they are kulaks" ... Who thought up this word "kulak" anyway? Was it really a term? What torture was meted out to them! In order to massacre them it was necessary to proclaim that kulaks are not human beings. Just as the Germans proclaimed that Jews are not human beings. Thus did Lenin and Stalin proclaim, kulaks are not human beings'.
[. . . . . ]
As these accounts indicate, the fate of the kulaks varied. The first category, designated as stubborn class enemies, were arrested in the winter of 1929-30. In Kiev jail they are reported at this time shooting 70-120 men a night. A prisoner, arrested because of his church activities, mentions that in the GPU prison in Dnipropetrovsk, a cell for 25 held 140 -- from which, however, one or two prisoners were taken each night to be shot.
One 'kulak' sent to Poltava prison in 1930 tells typically of 36 prisoners in a cell built for seven, then of one for 20 holding 83. In prison, rations ranged from 100 grammes to 150 grammes of'doughy black bread a day, with about 30 dying every day out of the prison total of some 2,000. The doctor would always certify 'paralysis of the heart'.
As to their families, a usual story is of the Ukrainian village of Velyki Solontsi where, after 52 men had been removed as kulaks, their women and children were taken, dumped on a sandy stretch along the Vorskla River and left there. A former Communist official tells of how in one village in the Poltava Province, with a population of 2,000, 64 families were dekulakized in December 1929, and 20 more driven out of their homes, to live as best they could nearby. In March an order was issued forbidding villagers to help them, and 300 of them, including 36 children and 20 old people, were marched to some caves three miles away, and forbidden to return. Some escaped. But in April the 200 remaining were shipped to the Far North.
The deportation of the kulaks was an event on so large a scale that it is often treated as a mass phenomenon merely, a move of millions. But each unit among these millions was a person, and suffered an individual fate.
Some destined for exile never reached it. One kulak, in Hrushka hamlet, Kiev Province, took a photo of his old home as he left it. He was arrested, and shot the same evening.
Generally speaking, the really old were simply left behind to whatever life they could find. In one village an activist told an American that though forty kulak families had been deported, 'we leave the very old, ninety years or over, here, because they are not a danger to the Soviet Power.
A Soviet writer describes a typical scene: "From our village . . .the 'kulaks' were driven out on foot. They took what they could carry on their backs: bedding, clothing. The mud was so deep it pulled the boots off their feet. It was terrible to watch them. They marched along in a column and looked back at their huts, and their bodies still held the warmth from their own stoves. What pain they must have suffered! After all, they had been born in those houses; they had given their daughters in marriage in those cabins. They had heated up their stoves, and the cabbage soup they had cooked was left there behind them. The milk had not been drunk, and smoke was still rising from their chimneys. The women were sobbing -- but were afraid to scream. The Party activists didn't give a damn about them. We drove them off like geese. And behind came the cart, and on it were Pelageya the blind, and old Dmitri Ivanovich, who had not left his hut for ten whole years, and Marusya the Idiot, a paralytic, a kulak's daughter who had been kicked by a horse in childhood and had never been normal since."
One 'kulak' describes a line of deportees in the Sumy Province stretching as far as the eye could see in both directions, with people from new villages continually joining, and later embarking on the train which, in eight days, took them to four 'special settlements' in the Urals.
On 26 May 1931, a train of sixty-one cars, holding some 3,500 members of kulak families, left Yantsenovo, a small station in the Zaporizhia Province, arriving at their Siberian destination on 3 June. Another train leaving Rostyh on 18 March 1931, consisted of forty-eight cars, carrying over 2,000 deportees. Generally speaking, in fact, the wagons carried some forty to sixty people. They were locked in, with little air or light. On the train, typically, a loaf of bread (giving 300 grammes each) and half a pail of tea or thin soup were provided for ten persons, though food did not arrive every day. In some cases tea or soup was replaced by water.
Up to 15 and even 20%, especially young children, are reported dying in transit, as was to be the case again in the 1940s, with the mass deportations of minority nationalities. Of course, the deportees were in every sort of physical condition, some of the women pregnant. A Cossack mother gave birth on a deportation train. The baby, as was usual, died. Two soldiers threw the body out while the train was on the move.
Sometimes the deportees were taken more or less directly to their final destination. Sometimes, they remained in local towns, treated as transit points, till their next transports came -- particularly in Vologda and Archangel in the North.
In Archangel all the churches were closed and used as transit prisons, in which many-tiered sleeping platforms were put up. The peasants could not wash, and were covered with sores. They roamed the town begging for help, but there were strict orders to locals not to help them. Even the dead could not be picked up. The residents, of course, dreaded arrest themselves. In Vologda city too, forty-seven churches were taken over and filled with deportees.
Elsewhere in the North, one of modern Russia's most distinguished writers describes how, In Vokhrovo, the district capital, in a little park by the station, dekulakized peasants from the Ukraine lay down and died. You got used to seeing corpses there in the morning; a wagon would pull up and the hospital stable-hand, Abram, would pile in the bodies. Not all died; many wandered through the dusty mean little streets, dragging bloodless blue legs, swollen from dropsy, feeling out each passer-by with doglike begging eyes.., they got nothing; the residents themselves, to get bread on their ration cards, queued up the night before the store opened.
Whether through such transit points or otherwise, the exiles finally reached their destinations in the taiga or the tundra.
Some of them -- those being taken to the extreme north of Siberia -- faced a further hazard, on the great rivers flowing down to the Arctic Ocean. A modern Soviet novelist describes kulaks being shipped down the Siberian river Ugryum on rafts, most of which are lost in the rapids.
On the Siberian taiga, if there was a village, they were crammed in somehow; if there was not, 'they were simply set right there in the snow. The weakest died'; those who could, cut timber and built shacks: 'they worked almost without sleeping so that their families would not freeze to death'.
[. . . . . ]
A recent work on the Siberian Military District's help in the collectivization gives an interesting picture of the soldiers getting true information from their families. In one battalion alone, in October 1931, 16% of the letters received were of 'anti-Soviet' character, in November 18.7%; in the first seventeen days of December 21.5%. Conversations between soldiers, as reported by informers, are full of such remarks as that the authorities 'rob everybody without distinction, and tell us they are liquidating the kulak'. Counter-revolutionary soldiers' groups were unmasked, for having tried to establish connections with the countryside through soldiers on leave, and in one case even issuing a leaflet.
In some regions of the Ukraine and the North Caucasus, an OGPU officer tells us, military aircraft were used. In the North Caucasus one squadron refused to strafe the Cossack villages. It was disbanded and half its personnel executed. Elsewhere in the area, an OGPU regiment was annihilated. The notorious Frinovski, then Commander of the OGPU Border troops, who commanded the repression, reported to the Politburo that the rivers had carried thousands of bodies downstream. After these revolts some tens of thousands of peasants are reported shot, hundreds of thousands sent to camps and exile.
[. . . . . ]
One of the rational arguments for collectivization was to assist industrialization, not merely in the Left's fashion of exploiting the peasantry to provide investment funds, but also to release the surplus population for factory work. But this was, of course, an argument not for the collectivization but for the modernization of agriculture, and the assumption that collectivization would in fact modernize, was, to say the least of it, premature.
Famine due to 'resettlement' of nomads also took a great toll in Kirgizia (where there were 82,000 nomad households out of 167,000: 44,000 households were settled, and 7,895 houses built for them with three baths); and among the Tatar and Bashkir minorities in Western Siberia. A leading Party official in Chelyabinsk told a foreign Communist that 'the famine has been of great benefit to us in the Urals, in Western Siberia and in the Trans-Volga. In these regions the losses from starvation have mostly affected the alien races. Their place is being taken by Russian refugees from the central provinces. We are, of course, not nationalists, but we cannot overlook this advantageous fact'. (That Stalin held the same view, not only in these areas but even more strongly vis-à-vis the Ukrainians, was to be demonstrated over the following year). The mortality of these Muslim and Asian peoples, such as the Bashkirs, the Chelyabinsk official attributed in large part to their failure to transfer from a nomad to a settled existence as the plan required.
[. . . . . ]
Whether they returned to their village, or had never left it, most of the victims met their deaths at home. Of a Ukrainian farm population of between twenty and twenty-five million, about five million died -- a quarter to a fifth.
[. . . . . ]
So the Ukraine now lay crushed: its Church destroyed, its intellectuals shot or dying in labour camp, its peasants -- the mass of the nation slaughtered or subdued. Even Trotsky was to remark that, 'nowhere do repression, purges, subjection and all types of bureaucratic hooliganism in general assume such deadly proportions as in the Ukraine in the struggle against powerful subterranean strivings among the Ukrainian masses towards greater freedom and independence'.
Stalin's measures must have seemed to him to be adequate to his purpose. If they were not, it was because he underestimated the power of national feeling to take these blows and, after all, survive.
[. . . . . ]
Nowadays the term 'genocide' is often used rhetorically. It may be worth recalling the text of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, adopted by the General Assembly on 9 December 1948, which came into effect in 1950 and was ratified by the USSR in 1954: ARTICLE I: The contracting parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and punish. ARTICLE II: In the present Convention genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: a) Killing members of the group; b) Causing grievous bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
It certainly appears that a charge of genocide lies against the Soviet Union for its actions in the Ukraine. Such, at least was the view of Professor Rafael Lemkin who drafted the Convention. But whether these events are to be formally defined as genocide is scarcely the point. It would hardly be denied that a crime has been committed against the Ukrainian nation; and, whether in the execution cellars, the forced labour camps, or the starving villages, crime after crime against the millions of individuals forming that nation. The Large Soviet Encyclopaedia has an article on 'Genocide', which it characterizes as an 'offshoot of decaying imperialism'.
[. . . . . ]
When a district committee secretary said that enough seed should be left to kulaks to sow and feed their children, he was attacked: 'don't think of the kulak's hungry children; in the class struggle philanthropy is evil'. Up in Archangel, in 1932-3, the destitute children of deported 'kulaks' were not given school lunches or clothing vouchers available to others.
There was logic in this attitude. An economic class, such as the 'kulaks', which the regime was concerned to crush, consists of children as well as adults. Moreover, Marx's idea that economics determines consciousness was applied in a very direct fashion -- for example, the surviving children of kulaks, even if separated from their families, carried their social stigma in their identity documents, and on that basis were denied education and jobs, and were always liable to arrest in periods of vigilance.
The involvement of children in their family's offences was traditional. From the shooting of the fourteen year old Tsarevich in 1918, to that of the fourteen year old son of the old Bolshevik Lakoba in 1937, is a logical step. In the 1930s children, like wives, were often sentenced under the rubric ChSIR -- Member of the Family of a Traitor to the Fatherland -- a charge impossible to disprove.
[. . . . . ]
There are many such descriptions of the physical condition of the children. Grossman gives one of the fullest descriptions of how they looked, and how it got worse as the famine closed in: 'And the peasant children! Have you ever seen the newspaper photographs of the children in the German camps? They were just like that: their heads like heavy balls on thin little necks, like storks, and one could see each bone of their arms and legs protruding from beneath the skin, how bones joined, and the entire skeleton was stretched over with skin that was like yellow gauze. And the children's faces were aged, tormented, just as if they were seventy years old. And by spring they no longer had faces at all. Instead, they had birdlike heads with beaks, or frog heads -- thin, wide lips -- and some of them resembled fish, mouths open. Not human faces'. He compares this directly with the Jewish children in the gas chambers and comments, 'these were Soviet children and those who were putting them to death were Soviet people'.
[. . . . . ]
Most, though, seem to have been little more than children's prisons. Even so, many children passed through the police-run homes and went on to respectable careers. Others were recruited to crime. And others, by a horrible irony, became suitable material for entry into the ranks of the NKVD itself. Even the comparatively humane Cheka children's homes of the 1920s had already been recruiting ground for the Secret Police. At the Belovechensk 'children's colony' near Maikop in the North Caucasus, we are told that 'half of the boys who were inmates in the school were sent, on reaching the age of sixteen, to special NKVD schools to be trained as future Chekists'. These were often from the more unsocialized criminal element. One, who had earlier escaped on two occasions with some friends, once murdering a peasant, once setting fire to a church, was some years later recognized by a local resident under arrest in Baku, as one of his Secret Police interrogators.
[. . . . . ]
Physical elimination, straightforward killing, was indeed also a possibility. 'When the problem became too peat for local officials bezpeizornie are reported shot in large numbers. The decree legalizing the execution of children of twelve or over was not indeed to come into force until 7 April 1935. But this extending of all penalties down to the age of twelve may also seem to have certain implications when it comes to the Party's interpretation of Marxism. If economics determines consciousness, by the age of twelve the full class consciousness may reasonably be supposed to be established beyond eradication. However, the record of starving infants in 1933, or deporting them in 1930, certainly shows that at times of heightened 'class' struggle those a good deal younger had to take their chance. The point being perhaps, rather, that twelve years old was the limit the Party felt was overtly defensible.
[. . . . . ]
To this figure of three million or more children dead in 1932-4, we must add the victims of dekulakization. If, as we have estimated, some three million dead are to be reckoned in this operation (not counting the adults dying later in labour camp), all accounts agree that the proportion of child deaths was very high, and all in all it can scarcely have been less than another million, again mostly the very young. To these four million odd victims of actual infanticide we should perhaps append the number of children's lives ruined or deeply scarred in the various ways we have noted: but this is beyond quantification.
[. . . . . ]
"The Death Toll"
There has been no official investigation of the rural terror of 1930-33; no statement on the loss of human life has ever been issued; nor have the archives been opened to independent researchers. Nevertheless, we are in a position to make reasonably sound estimates of the numbers who died
First, we should consider the total loss for the whole cycle of events, both in the dekulakization and in the famine. In principle this is not difficult
We need only apply to the population given in the Soviet census of 1926, the natural growth rate of the years which followed, and compare the result we obtain with that of an actual post-1933 census.
There are a few rather minor reservations. The 1926 census, like all censuses even in far more efficient conditions, cannot be totally accurate, and Soviet and Western estimates agree that it is too low by 1.2-1.5 million, (about 800,000 of it attributed to the Ukraine). This would mean an increase of almost half a million in the death roll estimates. But the convenience of an official established base figure, that of the census, is such that we shall (conservatively) ignore this in our calculations. Then again, 'natural growth rate' is variously estimated, though within a fairly narrow range. More of an obstacle, at first sight, is the fact that the next census, taken in January 1937, is unfortunately not available. The preliminary results seem to have been before the authorities on about 10 February 1937. The census was then suppressed. The Head of the Census Board, O.A. Kvitkin, was arrested on 25 March. It turned out that 'the glorious Soviet intelligence headed by the Stalinist Peoples' Commissar N.I. Yezhov' had 'crushed the serpent's nest of traitors in the apparatus of Soviet statistics'. The traitors had 'set themselves the task of distorting the actual numbers of the population', or (as Pravda put it later) 'had exerted themselves to diminish the numbers of the population of the USSR', a rather unfair taunt, since it was, of course, not they who had done the diminishing.
The motive for suppressing the census and the census-takers is reasonably clear. A figure of about 170 million had featured in official speeches and estimates for several years, a symbolic representation of Molotov's boast in January 1935 that 'the gigantic growth of population shows the living forces of Soviet construction'.
Another census was taken in January 1939, the only one in the period whose results were published, but in the circumstances it has always failed to carry much conviction. All the same, it is worth noting that even if the official 1939 figures are accepted, they show huge population deficit, if not as large as the reality.
But on the matter of the total of unnatural deaths between 1926 and 1937, the 1937 census totals are decisive, and these (though no other details of that census) have been referred to a few times in post-Stalin Soviet demographic publications. The most specific gives a population for the USSR of 163,772,000, others, a round 164 million.
The total, in the lower projections made over previous years by Soviet statisticians, and on the estimates of modern demographers, should have been about 177,300,000.
Another, rougher approach is to take the estimated population of 1 January 1930 (157,600,000) and add to it Stalin's statement in 1935 that 'the annual increase in population is about three million'. This too gives a figure of 178,600,000, very near our other projection. The Second Five Year Plan had also provided for a population of 180.7 million for the beginning of 1938, which also implies between 177 and 178 in 1937. Oddly enough, the Head of the Central Statistical Administration in Khrushchev's time, V.N. Starovsky, attributes Gosplan's 180.7 million to 1937, comparing it with the census figure of 164 million even after adjustment' - a phrase which implies significant upward inflation: an 'adjustment' of 5% would mean as a base figure the 156 million given to the Soviet scholar Anton Antonov-Ovseenko by a more junior official. But, in accord with our practice elsewhere, we will conservatively ignore the 'adjustment'. Without it Starovsky implies a deficiency of 16.7 million. The explanation may be that the Gosplan figure, like most Gosplan figures, is for the beginning of October 1937- in which case the deficiency would be about 14.3 million. But in this book's first edition I took a conservative interpretation (and ignored, too, even higher projections by Soviet demographers of the period) and accepted a deficiency of no more than 13.5 million.
However, in a source not then available to me, today's leading Soviet scholar of the collectivization states the population deficit in January 1937 as 15-16 million (V.P. Danilov in Arkheograficheski Ezbegodnik za 1968 god, Moscow, 1970, p 249). My lower estimate at least shows that my approach was indeed 'conservative', and is testimony to a sober and unsensational approach to the facts.
This 15-16 million is not entirely death. We have to subtract those unborn because of the deaths or separation of their parents and so on. Further study of this and similar periods of population catastrophe shows that it might be as high as 26-30 percent of the total deficit. This could give c. 4.5 million, leaving us with c. 11 million actual dead in the dekulakization and the famine.
(Another approach is to note that in 1938 there were c. 19,900,000 peasant households. In 1929 it had been c. 25,900,000. At an average of 4.2 persons per peasant family, this means c. 108,700,000 peasants in 1929 and c. 83,600,000 in 1938. With 24.3 million moved to towns, this should have been c. 105 million, a deficit of c. 21 million. Allowing for date and the unborn, this gives over 13 million dead.)
Taking it as 11 million odd we must add those peasants already sentenced, but dying in labour camp after January 1937 - that is, those arrested as a result of the assault on the peasantry of 1930-33 and not surviving their sentences (but not including the many peasants arrested in the more general terror of 1937-8). This gives, (as we shall estimate later), not less than another 3.5 million, which would make the total peasant dead as a result of the dekulakization and famine about 14.5 million.
We must next consider the way in which this fearful total is divided between the dekulakization and the famine. Here we are on less certain ground.
It seems to be felt in demographic circles that of the fourteen million plus odd peasant deaths due to the rural terror, the casualties fell about equally between the two causes: that is about seven million plus from dekulakization and about seven million plus in the famine. However, we can examine this proposition in more detail.
Of the 14.5 million, the 3.5 million odd dying in camps in the post-1937 period must be largely those sentenced before the decree of May 1933, though it certainly included an important component from the desperate villages of the Ukraine and the Kuban of the famine period. These last are not, however, specifically victims of the famine itself, and to discover the death roll from starvation we must go back to the eleven million dead before 1937, and attempt to divide that figure between deportation and famine victims.
We may start with the victims of the famine: and here we begin with the deficit in the Ukrainian population. (As we have said, this does not account for the whole of the famine victims, but unofficial figures imply that about 80% of the mortality was in the Ukraine and the largely Ukrainian areas of the North Caucasus).
For the deficit of Ukrainians we must first turn to the faked 1939 census, since, as we have said, no figures by nationality -- indeed nothing but the gross population result -- has been published even now from the genuine 1937 census on which we have hitherto relied.
The official figure for the Soviet population in the 'census' of January 1939 was 170,467,186. Western demographic work indicates that the real numbers were probably about 167.2 million. (Even this last figure indicates a sharp recovery from 1937, in spite of an estimated two to three million dead in camps or by execution in 1937 and 1938. It appears to be explained in part by natural and in part by legal factors. Recovery in the birthrate after disaster or famine is normal; the copulation and fertility rates which have gone down drastically in them improve later. On the official side, in 1936 abortion was made illegal, and contraceptives ceased to be sold; and other measures were taken).
Of the official figure of 170,467,186 the census gives Ukrainians as 28,070,404 (as against 31,194,976 in the 1926 census). There is no way of telling how the 3.4 million inflation in the 170.5 million is distributed, and it is normally assumed that each nationality group was proportionately exaggerated (though the better concealment tactics might imply a special attempt to give the Ukrainians an extra boost, considering their poor showing).
Given no more than equal exaggeration, the true Ukrainian figure in 1939 should have been about 27,540,000. But the 31.2 million of 1926 should have risen to about 38 million in 1939. The deficit is therefore about 10.5 million. Allowing about 1.5 million for unborn children, this gives a deficit of 9 million Ukrainians up to 1939.
This does not all represent death. By 1939 heavy pressures were being put on Ukrainians outside the Ukraine to register as Russian, and a significant transfer certainly took place. A Soviet demographer grants that between the 1926 and 1939 censuses 'the low rate of growth (!) in the number of Ukrainians is explained by the lowering of the natural growth as a result of a poor harvest in the Ukraine in 1932', but adds that 'people who formerly thought of themselves as Ukrainians, in 1939 declared themselves Russians'. And we are told, for example, that people with forged documents often changed their nationality, as Ukrainians were always suspect to the police.
This applied not in the Ukraine so much as among the Ukrainians elsewhere in the USSR. There were 8,536,000 of them in 1926, including 1,412,000 in the Kuban. The remnant of the Kuban Cossacks are definitely reported as being re-registered as Russian, but by now their numbers must have been very much lower than in 1926. Elsewhere it seems to have been a matter of pressure on individuals, and was doubtless a long-term process - even in the 1959 census there were over 5 million Ukrainians in the USSR outside the Ukraine. If we assume a transfer of as many as 2.5 million from the Ukrainian to the Russian listings, that leaves us with 9 minus 2.5 = 6.5 million actually dead.
Subtracting about 500,000 for the Ukrainian dead of the dekulakization of 1929-32, we are left with six million dead in the famine.
This would be divided into five million in the Ukraine and one million in the North Caucasus. The figure for non-Ukrainians may be as little as one million dead. Thus the total famine deaths would be approximately seven million, about three million of them children. As we have pointed out, these are conservative figures.
A further clue to the numbers dying in the famine, or in its worst period, may be found in the difference between the Census Board's estimate of the population made shortly before the 1937 census, and the actual figures of that census. The prediction is 168.9 million; the actuality 163,772,000- a difference of just over five million. 'This is believed to be accounted for by the non-registration of deaths in the Ukraine after late October 1932 which meant that such figures were not at the disposal of the estimators; and in consonant with the other figures we have for deaths in the famine as a whole.
We also have a number of less direct estimates of the famine deaths, including some based on official leaks.
A Russian-born American citizen who had a pre-revolutionary acquaintance with Skrypnyk visited him in 1933, and also met other Ukrainian leaders. Skrypnyk gave him a figure of 'at least' eight million dead in the Ukraine and North Caucasus. He was also told by the Ukrainian GPU chief Balitsky that eight~nine million had perished: Balitsky added that this figure had been presented to Stalin, though only as an approxmation. Another security officer writes that, perhaps at an earlier stage, the GPU gave Stalin a figure of 3.3-3.5 million famine deaths. A foreign Communist was given figures of ten million deaths for the USSR as a whole.
Another foreign worker in a Kharkov factory, when the famine was still far from over, learnt from local officials that Petrovsky had admitted a death roll, so far, of five million.
Walter Duranty told the British Embassy in September 1933 that 'the population of the North Caucasus and Lower Volga had decreased in the past year by three million, and the population of the Ukraine by four to five million', and that it seemed 'quite possible' that the total death roll was as high as ten million. It seems reasonable to suppose that Duranty's figures derive from the same source as those, also never printed, given one of his colleagues by another high official (see p. 310): or at any rate from similar official estimates circulating among authorities on the spot.
An American Communist working in Kharkov estimated a death roll of 4.5 million, from starvation alone, with millions more from the diseases of malnutrition. Another American was told by a high Ukrainian official that six million had died in 1933. A Ukrainian-Canadian Communist who attended the Higher Party School of the Ukrainian Central Committee was told that a secret report to this Committee gave a figure of ten million dead.
As to other areas, decreases proportionally as high as the Ukraine, or nearly so, are reported in the Central Volga, Lower Volga and Don regions. The Director of the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant, Lovin, told a foreign correspondent that more than a million had died in the Urals, Western Siberia and the Trans-Volga.
These estimates, it should be noted, are not all necessarily comparable, since it is not always clear - though it sometimes is - if the total deaths in the Ukraine alone are referred to; or to what date the figures refer; or to whether deaths from famine-related diseases are included.
In any case, even the confidential official reports vary by several million. Nor need we assume that exact or even approximate figures were available (as, in fact, the report of Balitsky's estimate explicitly admits). As Leonid Plyushch says, 'party members cited a figure of five or six million.., and others spoke of about ten million victims. The true figure probably lies in between'.
While our figure of c. eleven million premature deaths in 1926-37 remains firm, the c. seven million share of it in famine deaths is best described as reasonable or probable. If it is correct it leaves c. four million of the deaths to dekulakization and collectivization (or those taking place before 1937).
Among this four million are included the dead of the Kazakh tragedy. Among the Kazakhs the population deficit between the 1926 and 1939 censuses (even accepting the latter's figures) was 3,968,300 minus 3,100,900: that is, 867,400. Correcting the 1939 figure by the national average (as we have done for the Ukrainians) gives us 948,000. But the 1926 population should have grown to 4,598,000 in 1939 - (on the very conservative assumption that the average USSR growth rate of 15.7% prevailed, whereas in fact other Soviet Muslim populations grew much faster). That is, the population should have been over 1.5 million higher than it was. If we allow 300,000 for unborn children and 200,000 for successful emigration from the areas closest to Sinkiang, we have a death roll of one million.
Thus we are left with three million as the 1926-37 deficit attributable to the deportation of the kulaks. We have already discussed the numbers deported, and the reported death rates. Three million is a figure which is consonant with our estimates (if 30% of deportees died, it would mean 9 million deported; if 25%, then twelve million would be the deportation total).
By 1935, in one approximate view, a third of an estimated eleven million deportees were dead; a third in 'special settlement'; and a third in labour camp. Estimates of the total 1935 labour camp population run at around the five million level, and up till the mass arrests of officials in 1936-8, these are always reported as 'overwhelmingly', 70~80%, peasant.
Of the four million odd peasants probably in camp by 1935, most probably survived until 1937 or 1938, but thereafter the likelihood is that no more than ten percent ever saw release, and we must thus, as we have noted, probably add a minimum of another c. 3.5 million deaths to the peasant account.
Throughout, our conclusions are based either on exact and certain figures, or on reasonably conservative assumptions. So when we conclude that no fewer than fourteen million odd peasants lost their lives as a result of the events recounted in this book we may well be understating. In any case, the eleven million odd excess dead shown by the 1937 census is hardly subject to serious amendment. The famine figures seem both reasonable in themselves and consonant with the census's shortfall; as do the dekulakization figures.
Why we cannot be more exact is obvious. As Khrushchev says in his memoirs, 'I can't give an exact figure because no one was keeping count. All we knew was that people were dying in enormous numbers.
It is significant that statistics (even if unreliable) of the mortality of cattle were published, and those of human mortality were not -- so that for fifty years we have had some account of what happened to the livestock but not what happened to the human beings. In much published speech a couple of years later Stalin was to say that more care should be taken of people, giving as an example something that supposedly happened to him in exile in Siberia: by a river-crossing with some peasants, he saw that they made every effort to save horses from being swept away, but cared little for the loss of a man, an attitude he deplored at some length. Even for Stalin, whose words seldom revealed his true attitudes, this was -- and particularly at this time -- a complete reversal of truth. It was he and his followers for whom human life was lowest on the scale of values.
We may now conveniently sum up the estimated death toll roughly as follows:
Peasant dead: 1930-37: 11 million
Arrested in this period dying in camps later: 3.5 million
TOTAL: 14.5 million
Dead as a result of dekulakization: 6.5 million
Dead in the Kazakh catastrophe: 1 million
Dead in the 1932-3 famine: 7 million (5 in the Ukraine, 1 in the North Caucasus, 1 elsewhere)
As we have said, these are enormous figures, comparable to the deaths in the major wars of our time. And when it comes to the genocidal element, to the Ukrainian figures alone, we should remember that five million constitutes about 18.8% of the total population of the Ukraine (and about a quarter of the rural population). In World War I less than 1% of the population of the countries at war died. In one Ukrainian village of 800 inhabitants (Pysarivka in Podiia), where 150 had died, a local peasant ironically noted that only seven villagers had been killed in World War I.
In the events which we have been describing the 'casualties' in a general sense, the 'walking wounded', constitute whole populations. Our concern, in this chapter, has been to establish as closely as may be possible the actual dead. But we need not for a moment forget the dreadful effects suffered, and far into the future, by individuals and nations.
Moreover, further terrors, inflicting yet further death on much the same scale, faced the survivors.
Let us once more emphasize that the figures we have given are conservative estimates, and quite certainly do not overstate the truth. And if we cannot be more exact, it is because the Soviet regime will not let us. It is not only a matter of Stalin concealing the true facts back in the 1930s.
We owe a number of useful details to honest and courageous Soviet scholars and writers: but, even today, Moscow permits no real investigation of these monstrous events. Which is to say that to this degree the regime remains the accomplice, as well as the heir, of those who fifty years ago sent these innocent millions to their deaths.
[. . . . . ]
In the case of the 'kulaks' dead or deported in 1930-32, there is no problem. They were the victims of conscious governmental action against 'class enemies'; Communist officials were discussing the necessity of 'destroying' five million people even before the measures had taken effect;' and Stalin himself, to all intents and purposes, later admitted the extent of the slaughter. When it comes to the great famine of 1932-3, however, a great effort was made at the time -- and is still to some degree persisted in today -- to obscure or obfuscate the truth.
[. . . . ]
Petrovsky himself is reported by a peasant as walking through a village past all the dead and dying. He also promised a crowd of starving peasants at Chornukhy that he would speak of it in Moscow, but perhaps did not do so. When a factory official told Petrovsky that his employees were talking of five million people having already died and asked what he should tell them, he is quoted as answering, 'Tell them nothing! What they say is true. We know that millions are dying. That is unfortunate, but the glorious future of the Soviet Union will justify that. Tell them nothing! '
But we know that the top Moscow Stalinists too knew of the famine. Molotov visited the Ukrainian countryside late in 1932 and is reported to have been approached by district officials who told him that there was no grain and that the population was starving. Kaganovich is also reported in Poltava in the winter, receiving the same information from local Party veterans, who soon found themselves expelled. As for the others in the Politburo, Khrushchev tells us that Mikoyan was approached by Demchenko, First Secretary of the Kiev Provincial Committee, who asked him if Stalin and the Politburo knew what was going on in the Ukraine. Demchenko went on to describe a train pulling into Kiev station loaded with corpses it had picked up all the way from Poltava.
Khrushchev himself says that 'we knew... that people were dying in enormous numbers'. That is, the high party circles in Moscow among whom he moved were well aware of the facts. Indeed, when the veteran revolutionary Fedor Raskolnikov defected, when Soviet Ambassador to Bulgaria, his open letters to Stalin made it clear that the inner party knew perfectly well that the famine had been, as he put it, 'organized'.
[. . . . . ]
When she told all this to Stalin, he reproached her for collecting ‘Trotskyite gossip’, had Pauker, head of his bodyguard, arrest the offending students, and ordered the OGPU and the Party Control Commission to institute a special purge of the students in all colleges who had taken part in the collectivization. The quarrel which led to Nadezhda Alliluyeva’s suicide on 5 November 1932 seems to have taken place on this very issue.
In addition to all this, as we have noted, Stalin got reports from the OGPU of millions dying in the famine.
[. . . . . ]
But perhaps the most conclusive point in establishing the deliberate nature of the famine lies in the fact that the Ukrainian-Russian border was in effect blockaded to prevent the entry of grain into the Ukraine. In fact 'Troops were stationed at the borders of the Ukraine to prevent them from leaving'. On the trains and in the stations OGPU men would check travelers for travel permits. The last station between Kiev and the border, Mikhaylivka, was surrounded by an armed OGPU detachment, and all without special passes were held, and loaded on freight trains back to Kiev next morning. Of course, some nevertheless got through. People 'tried extraordinary tricks, used fictitious stories, merely to travel' to Russia, 'to buy a little of something edible in exchange for the last fur coats, for carpets and linen, to bring it home and so save their children from dying of hunger'
[. . . . . ]
As to Stalin's personal guilt (and that of Molotov, Kaganovich, Postyshev and the others) it is true that, as with Hitler's responsibility for the Jewish holocaust, we cannot document the responsibility in the sense that any decree exists in which Stalin orders the famine.
But the only possible defense, such as it is, would be to assume that Stalin merely ordered excessive requisitions out of ignorance of the true position, and had no mens rea; and this is contradicted by the powerful considerations which we have examined.
We may add that the banning of foreign reporters from the famine areas is, indeed, a further tacit admission by the authorities of what was going on.
We may sum the matter up as follows:
1. The cause of the famine was the setting of highly excessive grain requisition targets by Stalin and his associates.
2. Ukrainian party leaders made it clear at the start to Stalin and his associates that these targets were highly excessive.
3. The targets were nevertheless enforced until starvation began.
4. Ukrainian leaders pointed this out to Stalin and his associates and the truth was also made known to him and them by others.
5. the requisitions nevertheless continued.
Such are the major points. We may add as subsidiary evidence:
6. bread rations, even though low ones, were established in the cities, but no such minimum food allowance was made in the villages.
7. grain was available in store in the famine area, but was not released to the peasants in their extremity.
8. orders were given, and enforced as far as possible, to prevent peasants entering the towns, and to expel them when they did.
9. orders were given, and enforced, to prevent food, legally obtained, being brought over the republican borders from Russia to the Ukraine.
10. the fact of famine, and a particularly frightful famine at that, is fully established by witnesses - high Communist officials, local activists, foreign observers and the peasants themselves. Nevertheless, it was made illegal, within the USSR, to suggest that there was a famine; Soviet spokesmen abroad were instructed to deny that famine existed; and to this day the phenomenon is not admitted in the official literature, (though confirmed, fairly recently and fairly rarely, in certain Soviet fiction).
The only conceivable defense is that Stalin and his associates did not know about the famine. This appears impossible to maintain in the face of the above. The verdict must be that they knew that the decrees of 1932 would result in famine, that they knew in the course of the famine itself that this had indeed been the result, and that orders were issued to ensure that the famine was not alleviated, and to confine it to certain areas.
When it comes to motive, the special measures against the Ukraine and the Kuban were specifically linked with, and were contemporaneous with, a public campaign against their nationalism. In these, and the other areas affected, the apparent concern in the agrarian sphere proper was to break the spirit of the most recalcitrant regions of peasant resentment at collectivization. And when it comes to the Party itself the result, and presumable intention, was to eliminate those elements insufficiently disciplined in the suppression of bourgeois-humanitarian feelings.
[. . . . . ]
The main lesson seems to be that the Communist ideology provided the motivation for an unprecedented massacre of men, women and children. And that this ideology, perhaps all set-piece theory, turned out to be a primitive and schematic approach to matters far too complex for it. The sacrifices were made, (of other people), and they were in vain.
The question whether the present leaders of the USSR would be willing to kill tens of millions of foreigners, or suffer a loss of millions of their own subjects, in a war is sometimes canvassed nowadays. The fact that the older leaders were direct accomplices in the actual killing of millions of Ukrainians and others, in order to establish the political and social order prescribed by their doctrine, and that the young leaders still justify the procedure, may perhaps be regarded as not without some relevance. Thus, as we have suggested earlier, the events described in this book cannot be shrugged off as part of the dead past, too remote to be of any current significance. On the contrary, until they can be freely and frankly investigated the present rulers of the USSR remain -- and ostentatiously so -- the heirs and accomplices of the dreadful history. . . .