Sunday, 05 August 2012 17:00

Seventy-Five Years After Stalin's Great "Operation Kulak" Reign of Terror

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Seventy-five years ago, on August 5, 1937, one of the most horrific — and most ignored — episodes in human history began. “Operation Kulak” ("kulak" meaning rich peasants) was the Soviet Union’s effort to repress those farmers who had a little more than other farmers (according, at least, to the definitions of the Communist Party), and who resisted collectivization. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (pictured) had begun the development of “Operation Kulak” the previous month, when he contacted all the regional Party leaders as well as the NKVD (roughly the Soviet equivalent of the Gestapo and SS in Nazi Germany), asking each person for an estimate of the number of kulaks in their area. The NKVD issued Order 00447, which required that all kulaks and other "criminals" — members of the clergy, former officials of the Tsarist government, former party members, and former members of opposing political parties in Tsarist Russia — be either liquidated or sent to the Gulag.

The already-oppressed Russian Orthodox Church lost 85 percent of its clergy in this action. Russians who attended church services were also arrested en masse. Countless numbers of individuals not in any specific category, but who were deemed “wreckers” of the Soviet economy — engineers, railway workers, and factory managers — were also arrested. Stalin did not rely upon the NKVD or the local Communist Party leaders to find these notional culprits by themselves; instead, he told each of them how many of these anti-Soviet people were in their region and ordered that they be arrested. In October of that year, for example, Stalin directed the arrest of 120,000 of these enemies of the state.

The utter arbitrariness of Stalin’s dictated numbers of regime enemies meant that many people were arrested who simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The NKVD conducted sweeps of markets and railway stations, arresting sufficient numbers of Soviet subjects to meet the quota. Simply being a relative of someone already arrested was often enough evidence of guilt. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s magisterial Gulag Archipelago recounts many heartbreaking stories of shattered lives and calculated Soviet cruelty. 

Once these unfortunates were arrested, the determination of their guilt was foregone. The prisoners in the clutches of the NKVD were shoved into jail cells so crowded that the inmates had to take turns sleeping. Or, if the arrested person was put in a single cell, NKVD guards watched him around the clock to make sure that he never was allowed to sleep. Interrogation was by “conveyor belt” in which the arrested person was questioned constantly, often for days on end, and of course brutally beaten and tortured. The objective was not to discover anything in particular, as nearly all those arrested had done nothing at all. Rather, the goal was to coerce confessions to imaginary crimes, and often to implicate others so that they too might be arrested.

The objective of Operation Kulak was not to end the “wrecking” of the Soviet economy or to end any imagined exploitation by the kulaks of other farmers. The objective was simply to create pure terror in the minds of all subjects in the Soviet empire. And no one was immune. Premier Vyacheslav Molotov’s own wife was arrested and sent to the Gulag. (The first request Molotov made of the new Soviet leaders after Stalin died was that his wife be released.) Seventy percent of the members of the 17th Communist Party Congress were arrested and executed. 

Even the NKVD itself was not spared. In early 1939, Nikolai Yezhov, who had replaced Genrikh Yagoda as head of the NKVD in September 1936, was himself arrested, tortured, and executed. Yezhov, who had arrested almost two million people as “wreckers” and enemies of the state in his brief tenure as head of the NKVD, himself confessed to the same crimes before his execution. (His wife, soon after his arrest, committed suicide.) Genrikh Yagoda, after Yezhov took his position in early 1937, had been arrested and tortured, and on Stalin's orders, Yezhov’s successor, the odious Lavrenti Beria, also was arrested and executed after Stalin died. No one, except for Stalin himself, was immune to the stifling and real fear that Bolshevik rule brought to the nation. 

The purging by Stalin extended to the GRU, Soviet military intelligence, which was intended to compete with the NKVD in penetration of the Free World. (For example, U.S. State Department official Alger Hiss, an accused Soviet spy who was convicted of perjury, was controlled by the GRU and not the NKVD — or the KGB, as it would ultimately be called.) The purging of the vast majority of military officers in the Soviet Union, which laid the way for its utter incompetence in the Winter War against Finland and the first year of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, came close to ending the Soviet empire — something that Stalin’s hack, Kliment Voroshilov, directly told Stalin during the early days of Operation Barbarossa (the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during WWII).  

The terrorizing of professional experts such as engineers insured that incredible incompetence would plague the Soviet economy for a long time afterward. The “kulaks,” whose crime was often simply having a cow or a few chickens, were the hardest working peasants, and the destruction of their agricultural work meant that the citizens of the Soviet Union for years would suffer from general malnutrition. 

Most appalling was the general indifference of journalists and politicians in the West to this great reign of terror. The Ukrainian people had already suffered millions of deaths, including vast numbers of children, through Stalin's deliberate policy of withholding food from the entire rural area of the Ukraine and closing off all exits (even while Stalin exported millions of bushels of wheat). Reporters who saw that crime largely ignored it, even through the stench of death and the silence of the countryside resembled something out of Hell. The silence in the West was deafening. Communists in America, France, and Britain still raved about the notional benefits of the new Soviet Constitution and the democratic nature of Stalin’s rule.   

Ironically, historians in the West continued for decades to accept at face value Soviet claims of industrial advance (supposedly the fair price for Stalin’s terror); however, in the last 40 years many books have exposed that "advance" as a fraud. Ex-Marxist Eugene Lyon’s book Workers Paradise Lost remains an inestimably valuable resource in debunking the notion that anything good was accomplished by the Soviets.

4 comments

  • Comment Link Lee Sunday, 19 January 2014 13:57 posted by Lee

    Here is an exerpt from the book "The Gathering Storm" by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, chapter "The Soviet Enigma". This is Churchill's description and interaction of Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Ambassador. This exerpt was in 1939. Churchill wrote his books to try to prevent another deadly world war.
    (Beginning of Exerpt)
    The figure whom Stalin had now moved to the pulpit of Soviet foreign policy deserves some description, not available to the British or French Governments at the time. Vyacheslav Molotov was a man of outstanding ability and cold-blooded ruthlessness. He had survived the fearful hazards and ordeals to which all the Bolshevik leaders had been subjected in the years of triumphant revolution. He had lived and thrived in a society where ever varying intrigue was accompanied by the constant menace of personal liquidation. His cannonball head, black moustache, and comprehending eyes, his slab face, his verbal adroitness and imperturbable demeanour, were appropriate manifestations of his qualities and skill. He was above all men fitted to be the agent and instrumetn of the policy of an incalculable machine. I have only met him on equal terms, in parleys where sometimes a strain of humour appeared, or at banquets where he genially proposed a long succession of conventional and meaningless toasts. I have never seen a human being who more perfectly represented the modern conception of a robot. And yet with all this there was an apparently reasonable and keenly polished diplomatist. What he was to his inferiors I cannot tell. What he was to the Japanese Ambassador during the years when, after the Teheran Conference, Stalin had promised to attack Japan, once the German Army was beaten, can be deduced from his recorded conversations. One delicate, searching, awkward interview after another was conducted with perfect poise, impenetrable purpose, and bland, official correctitude. Never a chnk was opened. Never a needless jar was made. His smile of Siberian winter, his carefully measured and often wise words, his affable demeanour, combined to make him the perfect agent of Soviet policy in a deadly world.

    (next paragraph in exerpt)
    Correspondence wth him upon disputed matters was always useless, and, if pushed far, ended in lies and insults, of which this work will presently contain some examples. Only once did I seem to get a natural, human reaction. This was in the spring of 1942, when he alighted in England on his way back from the United States. We had signed the Anglo-Soviet Treaty, and he was about to make his dangerous flight home. At the garden gate of Downing Street, which we used for secrecy, I gripped his arm and we looked each other in the face. Suddenly he appeared deeply moved. Inside the image there appeared the man. He responded with an equal pressure. Silently we wrung each other's hands. But then we were all together, and it was life or death for the lot. Havoc and ruin had been around him all his days, ether impending on himself or dealt by him to others. Certainly in Molotov the Soviet machine had found a capable and in many ways a characteristic representative-always the faithful Party man and Communist disciple. How glad I am at the end of my life not to have had to endure the stresses which he had suffered; better never be born. In the conduct of foreign affairs, Mazarin, Talleyrand, Metternich, would welcome him to their company, if there be another world to which Bolsheviks allow themselves to go.
    (end of exerpt)

  • Comment Link Lee Sunday, 19 January 2014 13:30 posted by Lee

    It was August of 1942 during World War 2. Nazi Germany and Russia were at war and hell-on-earth and suffering and sorrow prevailed in Europe and in Russia. The Allies had not yet won all of the battles in the North Africa theatre, which preceeded invasion of Europe according to the master plans of the British Empire and the United States of America. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Averell (representative of FDR) and others flew to Moscow primarily to explain to Stalin and convince him that invasion of Europe could not happen in 1942, and they would attack the Axis powers in North Africa. Churchill went to Cairo, Egypt and Teheran, Iran along the way. Churchill had serious and sober business of reorganizing the chain of command, including a top General, in North Africa and the Middle East.

    Now to the main point of this post which is the conversation between Churchill and Stalin regarding the Kulaks. I will copy an exerpt from the book "The Hinge of Fate" Chapter "Moscow: A Relationship Established" Page 434 - 435 by Winston Churchill:
    Stalin had invited Churchill to a night of a few drinks at his home on the night before he left Moscow, which Churchill agreed to.
    (Beginning of exerpt from book)
    It was now past midnight, and Cadogan had not appeared with the draft of the communique.

    "Tell me," I asked, "have the stresses of this war been as bad to you personally as carrying through the policy of the Collective Farms?"

    This subject immediately aroused the Marshal (Stalin).

    "Oh, no" he said, "the Collective Farm policy was a terrible struggle."

    "I thought you would have found it bad," said I "because you were not dealing with a few score thousands of aristocrats or big landowners, but with millions of small men."

    "Ten millions," he said, holding up his hands. "It was fearful. Four years it lasted. It was absolutely necessary for Russia, if we were to avoid periodic famines, to plough the land with tractors. We must mechanise our agriculture. When we gave tractors to the peasants they were all spoiled in a few months. Only Collective Farms with workshops could handle tractors. We took the greatest trouble to explain it to the peasants. It was no use arguing with them. After you have said all you can to a peasant he says he must go home and consult his wife, and he must consult his herder." This last was a new expression to me in this connection.

    "After he has talked it over with them he always answers that he does not want the Collective Farm and he would rather do without the tractors."

    "These were what you call Kulaks?"

    "Yes," he said, but he did not repeat the word. After a pause, "It was all very bad and difficult-but necessary."

    "What happened?" I asked

    "Oh, well" he said, "many of them agreed to come in with us. Some of them were given land of their own to cultivate in the province of Tomsk or the province of Irkutsk or farther north, but the great bulk were very unpopular and were wiped out by their labourers."

    There was a considerable pause. Then, "Not only have we vastly increased the food supply, but we have improved the quality of the grain beyond all measure. All kinds of grain used to be grown. Now no one is allowed to sow any but the standard Soviet grain from one end of the country to the other. If they do they are severely dealt with. This means another large increase in the food supply."

    I record as they come back to me these memories, and the strong impression I sustained at the moment of millions of men and women being blotted out or displaced for ever. A generation would no doubt come to whom their miseries were unknown, but it would be sure of having more to eat and bless Stalin's name. I did not repeat Burke's dictum, "If I cannot have reform without injustice, I will not have reform." With the World War going on all round us it seemed vain to moralize aloud.
    (End of exerpt)

  • Comment Link Gordon Freeman Monday, 06 August 2012 09:05 posted by Gordon Freeman

    bah I meant to say "dont even try to say its biased"

  • Comment Link Gordon Freeman Monday, 06 August 2012 09:02 posted by Gordon Freeman

    Every person of history and interested in politics should read "The Black Book of Communism" which is written by former soviet officials and survivors so dont even try saying its unbiased as it has constant references to other crimes against humanity by other nations (including USA/Britain) in order to put the horror of the soviet experiment into perspective.

    Sad but good article, you will not see this in the mainstream media.

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