Soviet Policy towards Ukraine

Lenin argued that Ukrainian was simply a peasant dialect rather than evidence of a distinct nationality. But this was misconceived and ignored Ukrainian national sentiment, which was shown clearly in the free elections of November 1917 when Ukraine overwhelmingly voted for its own national parties. When the Bolsheviks finally overran Ukraine, they had to concede at least to some of its national feeling.

Over the next nine years or so Ukrainian culture was allowed to flourish and many Ukrainian officials and supporters were given government posts. However Moscow could not overcome its fear of Ukraine and the potential impact of Ukrainian nationalism on the Soviet Union. By 1929 the Soviet government had begun a violent and massive purge against, first non-Communist and then Communist, cultural and official figures. This included the almost complete extermination of the leadership of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

Stalin believed “the national problem was in essence a peasant problem” and the attack on Ukrainian culture was now combined with an attack on the Ukrainian peasantry, which formed the majority of the Ukrainian population. Stalin’s Secret Police Chief in Ukraine, Balitsky, spoke of a “double blow” at the nationalists and kulaks.

By 1927, Stalin’s ascendancy over the USSR was virtually complete. His next step was to transform the USSR into a socialist state for which agriculture was the only available source of capital. The collectivisation of agriculture was seen as a way of giving the state direct control over farm production.

The collectivisation of agriculture was approved in December 1927 and was made part of the Five Year Plan, the cornerstone of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP). But five months later Stalin abandoned NEP in order to race ahead with collectivisation to maximise grain production for the market. The speed of collectivisation in Ukraine was double that in any other region of the former USSR.

Next: Dekulakisation and collectivisation

Propaganda poster 1920s - "All land to the peasants"

The first bread for the state