‘The Agrarian Policy in Ukraine’ by D. Manuilsky from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 3 No. 16. October 16, 1920.

‘nly the Red Army will give your homes and villages peace forever. Therefore, peasant, join your Worker–Peasant Army!’ Political Directorate of the Ukraine Military Region, 1920.

Dmitry Manuilsky penned this informative essay at a critical moment during Ukraine’s civil war for the premiere Soviet economic journal ‘Ekonomicheskaya Zhizn.’ Manuilsky details the the problems faced by the Soviets among Ukrainian peasants and early land reforms in the new Republic. Born in western Ukraine, Dmitry Manuilsky joined the RSDLP in 1903, was a veteran of 1905, a member of the Vperyod group, exlied, joining the Mezhrayontsy (Interdistrict Organization of United Social Democrats) on his return to Russia in 1917, and the Bolsheviks that October. In 1919, he was sent to work in the All-Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee, and later Ukraine’s Council of People’s Commissars, serving from 1920-21.

With the defeat of Denikin (but before the Polish War) the first People’s Commissars of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic were elected on May 23, 1920. They were: Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars and People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Christian Rakovsky, Commissar for Internal Affairs and Social Security A.V. Pavlovich, of Food Vladimirov Miron, of Agriculture Dmitry Manuilsky, of Health Moisei Gurevich, of Justice Evgeny Terletsky, of Communications Vladimi Ksandrov, of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection Nikolai Skrypnik of Extraordinary Commissions and Special Departments Vasily Mantsev, Chairman of the Industrial Bureau Vlas Chubar. Every single member of the first Soviet Ukraine but Manuilsky would perish in the Purges or, as with comrade Skrypnyk take their life.

Ukrainian Commissars, 1920. Rakovsky center, Manuilsky, far left.
‘The Agrarian Policy in Ukraine’ by D. Manuilsky from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 3 No. 16. October 16, 1920.

IN NO country is the agrarian question as important as in Russia, in general, and in Ukraine, in particular.

Owing to the fact that Ukraine served as a field of war operations for almost three years of continuous civil war, the agrarian question has not been definitely solved. The shifting of regimes created among the peasant population a feeling that their possession of the land of the former estates was not secure, It resulted merely in the break-up and spoliation of the cultivated estates, stock farms, and sugar refineries, in the destruction of forests, in the reduction of the cultivated area, which in some of the Ukrainian provinces declined forty per cent, in the fall of labor efficiency, in short, it caused the retrogression of Ukraine and brought her to an economic state from which she can be redeemed only by years of hard toil and the exertion of an iron will. The German occupation, Petlurism, Skoropadskykm, Denikinism, Makhnoism, — all these followed each other chronologically and brought about such a state of affairs that not a single law passed by the Soviet power during its rule in Ukraine was ever fully enforced. We must candidly admit that in Ukraine all our laws touched merely the surface of things, and that before they could reach the peasant masses they were swept aside by the swooping down of a new ataman, hetman, or White general.

‘Poor Peasant! Citizens of Poltava will fulfill the remainder of the reduced requisition. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic is placing all hope on you. You can overcome everything to fulfill requisitions sent to Poltava so city workers won’t starve. Grab the kulak by the neck! Let him give us the surplus he’s holding back, don’t let him put his bread to rot under the earth while workers are starving!’ Polatva, Ukraine Komnezamozh (Poor Peasant Committee), 1920.

Coming for the third time into Ukraine under such conditions, the Soviet power faced the task of settling the land question in accord with the full implications of the November Revolution, that is of abolishing the private ownership of large estates which still persisted under various disguised forms despite the previous decrees and acts. The mistake which the Soviet power committed last year consisted precisely in this, that new social forms of farming — agricultural communes and Soviet farms — were inaugurated before the remnants of feudalism in land relations had been removed. Last year, with large scale landownership still in existence, the peasants looked upon the attempts to socialize farming as a new form of communist state enslavement. Of the 15 million dessiatins (40.5 million acres) of arable land which had been owned by the churches, monasteries, and landlords, the Soviet power last year set aside 2,5 million dessiatins for sugar plantations and 634,000 dessiatins for Soviet farms, and this was enough to make the rich peasants in the villages vociferous against the “Communists taking the land away from the peasants.” The fact that the Soviet power turned over 12 million dessiatins of land to the peasants of Ukraine was overlooked. The resulting wave of insurrections showed how far the peasants were from the Soviet power, how little they comprehended the Soviet land measures. And the Soviet power had to take this experience into account. The new land law of the All-Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee of February 5 and the instructions of the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture which were issued later differed from the former land policy in that, first, they broke away from the practice of a too hasty, mechanical institution of Soviet farms and agricultural communes, and set themselves the task first of all of sweeping out all the remnants of feudalism; and ; secondly, that they left the practical enforcement of the law to the activity of the masses themselves, entrusting to the local land departments the task of attracting the peasants to the work of land distribution. Reviewing now the results of our land policy after four and a half months of the land distribution campaign, we can say with a clear conscience that the course taken by the Soviet power for the settlement of the land question was a correct one. The author of these lines has before him a pile of reports from local military and civil authorities as well as reports from the party organizations to the Central Committee of the party. In not a single one of them is there any mention of local dissatisfaction with our land policy. And yet these reports come from the districts where the insurrection wave of last year was at its worst. Hundreds of provincial and county non-partisan peasant conferences gave their whole-hearted approval to the new land law.

‘The Red Army has gained land and freedom. If you do not want the return of the lords, help it become stronger! Join your Worker–Peasant Army!’ Political Directorate of the Ukraine Military Region, 1920.

Indeed, this attitude of the peasants toward the new land law was but natural. If we recall the fact that the four and a half million peasant farms of Ukraine aggregated about 20 million dessiatins of land, we find that as a result of the new land law the land portion of the Ukrainian peasants has almost doubled. In some provinces, as, for instance, in the provinces of Taurida, Bkaterinoslav, Kherson, this increase led to the creation of strong peasant farms of from ten to fifteen dessiatins of land. In such regions as the provinces of Podolia, Volhynia, Chernigov and Kiev, where the scarcity of land was felt most keenly, the peasant farms will now have on the average from five to ten dessiatins of land. At the same time, the fears, expressed when the land law was being drafted, that the present land policy would ruin our sugar industry and lead to destruction of the model cultural centers of agriculture, have been proved unjustified. The new land policy made the allotment of land required for sugar plantations and experimental Soviet farms conditional upon an understanding with the peasant masses, and this produced very favorable results. About one and a half million dessiatins of land have already been secured for the sugar refineries and for the Soviet experimental farms. An average of 200 dessiatins was voluntarily allotted in each volost by the peasants for model farms and experimental stations. In a large number of counties in the provinces which have more land, as, for instance, in the province of Ekaterinoslav, the norm per volost was raised, on the initiative of the peasant congresses and conferences, to 500 dessiatins.

‘Young proletariat of the country and the city, unite!’ Vseizdat (All-Ukrainian Publishing House), 1920.

The comrades who found fault with our new land policy, arguing that it meant too abrupt a change from the extension of “agricultural factories”, which was our policy last year, to land parcellation and to individually owned peasant farms, committed the self-same error as the immoderate admirers of the law of February 5, who saw in it the final stage in the land policy of the workmen’s and peasants’ rule. They forgot that the law of February 5 in Ukraine, just as in its day the land law of November 10, 1917, in Great Russia, were but certain milestones in the land policy of the Soviet power, having as their sole object the welding of the whole peasant mass, during the primary stage of the Revolution in villages, in the fight for the abolition of large land ownership. The November period in land construction in Great Russia was followed by the so-called “Committees of the Poor Peasants” period in the Soviet land policy in the spring of 1918, which marked the beginning of the division of the peasantry along class lines. We are now approaching this division among the Ukrainian peasants. We must not overlook the fact that besides the solid usurer section (the “fist” strong arm peasants), there is in Ukraine a numerous agricultural proletariat, poor peasants possessing no horses nor agricultural implements, who, unless united for a merciless struggle against the rich peasants, the “fists”, are doomed to economic enslavement by the “fist” elements who have become enriched during the war and the Revolution. Before the Revolution, Ukraine had about a million agricultural laborers and workmen in the sugar refineries; forty per cent of all the peasant farms had no horses, cattle or agricultural implements; the distribution of the land was monstrously unequal. The landless peasants who owned only their homes constituted fifteen per cent of all the peasant population of Ukraine, the owners of puny farms of about one dessiatin constituted five per cent, peasants who owned from one to three dessiatins — twenty-five per cent, and those who owned from three to five dessiatins constituted twenty per cent. We may assume without exaggeration that the poor peasants formed the vast majority of the peasant population. The real “fist” elements who owned from ten to twenty-five dessiatins of land formed only from eight to ten per cent of the peasantry and were lost in the general mass of poor and middle peasants. Of course, the war and the Revolution effected considerable changes in the proportion of the various groups in the villages, but the small peasant farms did not become stronger even after the general redistribution of land which accompanied the Revolution of November, 1917.

Dmitry Manuilsky.

Last year we defended the poor peasantry by the organization of Soviet farms and agricultural communes; we helped them by transferring to them the land and the agricultural machinery of the former large estates; we did our best to unite and to organize them around the 1,500 Soviet farms and 300 agricultural communes which were scattered throughout Ukraine. After the Denikin campaign the Soviet farms were left without agricultural implements and without cattle, and they would have been doomed to a parasitic existence. To defend the interests of these poor peasants, who have been still more impoverished by the civil war and for whom additional land is but dead capital, is the next task of the Soviet power. Having completed in the spring of this year the campaign for the distribution of land, we will have to devote the fall of this year and the spring of the next year to campaign for agricultural implements and cattle; we will have to organize the poor peasants on economic lines for this struggle against the “fists” (Kulaks). Under the existing scarcity of agricultural implements and cattle, the workmen’s and peasants’ government is unable to get new implements and cattle for the masses of the poor peasantry. But it can and should facilitate a more equal distribution of the stock on hand. And it can carry out this task with the aid of “Committees of the Poor Peasants.” Only a network of such committees covering Ukraine will be able to uphold the economically unarmed poor peasant. The wearing out of the agricultural implements, the extermination of cattle, the depreciation of currency and the insufficient supply of manufactured goods in the villages have caused the reduction of the cultivated area in Ukraine, which suffered, in addition to all these evils, from the civil war. Already during the imperialist war, beginning with 1915, the area of cultivation was reduced each year by six per cent. Under Denikin the land of the former manors remained almost untilled. The area of untilled land and of winter crops which have perished forms sixty-five per cent in the province of Kharkov, thirty-five per cent in the province of Chernigov, forty per cent in the province of Ekaterinoslav, and fifteen in the provinces of Poltava, Taurida, and Kherson. With regard to spring tilling in Ukraine we may figure on a shortage of about thirty per cent. And if the reduction of the area of cultivation will continue at this rate, it may be expected that Ukrainian agriculture will not produce any surplus, that the Ukrainian peasants will sow just enough to provide the needs of their families. At the same time the phantom of world famine which is threatening Europe, the reports that this year’s European crop was but forty-five per cent of the pre-war average prove that the reduction of the area of cultivation has become a universal phenomenon, that the struggle for the production of grain must become as vital a task as the struggle for the production of manufactured goods, as the struggle for transport. The recovery of impaired agriculture must be included in the general plan for the economic regeneration of the country. We are preparing for commercial relations with Europe, and our grain is our gold, our best medium of exchange. To secure economic victory over the European capitalists we must prevent the disappearance of this gold and must increase its production. We must not tolerate parasitism, laziness, and inertia among the producers of grain, the peasants. For only thus can we conquer capitalism most strongly entrenched — among the small property owners of the rural districts.

Ekonomicheskaya Zhizn, June 11, 1920.

Soviet Russia began in the summer of 1919, published by the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia and replaced The Weekly Bulletin of the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia. In lieu of an Embassy the Russian Soviet Government Bureau was the official voice of the Soviets in the US. Soviet Russia was published as the official organ of the RSGB until February 1922 when Soviet Russia became to the official organ of The Friends of Soviet Russia, becoming Soviet Russia Pictorial in 1923. There is no better US-published source for information on the Soviet state at this time, and includes official statements, articles by prominent Bolsheviks, data on the Soviet economy, weekly reports on the wars for survival the Soviets were engaged in, as well as efforts to in the US to lift the blockade and begin trade with the emerging Soviet Union.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/srp/v3n04-jul-24-1920-soviet-russia.pdf

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