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Сергій Білокінь (Київ)

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The landed gentry

S. Bilokin

It is not quite clear where Lenin got such ideas, but he was firmly convinced that his country’s national aristocracy must be exterminated. As Stalin, a “Russianized non-Russian” was, in Lenin’s view “given to overdoing with the truly Russian sentiment,” so Lenin, formally a nobleman, lapsed into barbarous savagery. Writing on the eve of the 1917 February Revolution, he had these regrets about Russia’s first revolution of 1905:

The peasant movement achieved even greater proportions in the fall of 1905. More than a third of districts in the whole country were enveloped in the so-called “peasant riots” and real peasant uprisings. Peasants burned down up to 2,000 estates and distributed the means of livelyhood among themselves… […] Regrettably, the peasants then destroyed only one-fifteenth of the total number of noblemen’s estates, only one-fifteenth of what they should have destroyed to wipe out from the face of the Russian land the infamy of feudal large-scale landownership [103].

The Ukrainian landed gentry produced the writers Ivan Kotlyarevskyi and Mykola Hohol (Nikolai Gogol), Kvitka-Osnovyanenko and Mykhailo Maksymovych, Viktor Zabila and Yevhen Hrebinka, Olexiy Storozhenko and Marko Vovchok, Shchoholiv and Konyskyi, Drahomanov and Starytskyi, Kropyvnytskyi and Karpenko-Karyi, Panas Myrnyi and Lesya Ukrayinka, the composer Mykola Lysenko, the actress Mariya Zankovetska, the graphic artist Georgiy Narbut, and countless other figures. Now this cultural and social environment was earmarked for wholesale slaughter [104]. The gentry were among the very first victims of Bolshevism. One memoirist, a woman from the Kuban area, summed it up grimly: “Of course, the landowners and industrialists were not even mentioned any more. During the first months of the Revolution they had been plundered, thrown out and mostly killed off. [105]” From these beginnings, the liquidation of the gentry as a class spread and intensified.

As elsewhere, the same vertical chain of command was in operation here. In keeping with the customary practice, the initial decision was taken by the Politburo in Moscow. On March 20, 1925, the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. TsIK adopted a memorable resolution, signed by the TsIK chairman M. Kalinin, the TsIK secretary A. Yenukidze, and the U.S.S.R. Sovnarkom A. Rykov and entitled “On the Deprivation of Former Landlords of the Right of Land Tenure and Residence in Estates Owned by Them Before the October Revolution.” It said that thanks to the “measures” carried out since 1917 the landed gentry had been liquidated once and for all. It did not say that the same measures had also destroyed a huge amount of cultural values accumulated over the centuries in country manors, wiped out the landlords’ unique environment and way of life, and killed countless people. Otherwise, it was quite specific:

By its first decrees, the workers’ and peasants’ Soviet power abolished completely and forever the tenure of land by landed gentry. Nevertheless, the workers’ and peasants’ Government granted to certain former landlords, who at that time had not exhibited counterrevolutionary activity, the right to land allotments by work quotas on condition that they farm without hired labor, which on many occasions was also done on the basis of resolutions of village communes. It was especially important to the workers’ and peasants’ Government that former landlords farm in an efficient manner.

However, as demonstrated by the experience of seven years, former landlords allowed to remain on the land previously owned by them not only fail to farm efficiently but in a majority of cases destroy the properties entrusted to them (sic). […] At the same time this category of land users has turned out to be irreconcilably hostile to the workers’ and peasants’ Government. A significant portion of former landlords began to take an active part in the counterrevolutionary movement and for the past seven years have been engaged in overt and covert counterrevolutionary agitation against measures of Soviet Government aimed at promoting the development of peasant farming and have been exploiting and maintaining survivals of the old regime – humility and fear of the landlord – in the most backward strata of the peasantry. […]

In view of the above, the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the Union of S.S.R., pursuant to Article 1, Item “n” of the Fundamental Law (Constitution) of the Union of S.S.R., resolve:

1. Former landlords belonging to the nobility and their families shall be deprived of the right to use of land and residence on farms which were owned by them prior to the promulgation of the Decree on Land of October 26, 1917 and which are now, wholly or in part, in their actual use. […]

2. Eviction of former landlords and large landowners shall be completed by January 1, 1926, with landlords in the border provinces being evicted first of all […] [106]

This was automatically reproduced by the respective bodies in Ukraine, the VUTsVK and the Radnarkom, which issued instructions on the implementation of the Moscow edict, as well as a decree of their own. In Kharkiv, the Ukrainian resolution “On the Deprivation of Former Landlords, Large Landowners and Nonworking Tentants of the Right of Land Tenure and Residence on Farms Owned by Them Prior to Establishment of Soviet Power in Ukraine” of September 9, 1925 was signed by the acting VUTsVK chairman A. Butsenko, the acting VUTsVK secretary M. Lobanov, and the deputy chairman of the Radnarkom I. Bulat [107].

The Bolshevik leaders were fond of deriding the very notion of law and the concept of a law-governed state. But they also liked to pose as legalists. Reading the following piece of legalistic prose one would think that it was Bolsheviks who invented the state based on rule of law:

By virtue of Art. 8 of the Resolution of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the Union of S.S.R. of March 20, 1925 “On the Deprivation of Former Landlords of the Right of Land Tenure and Residence in Estates Owned by Them Before the October Revolution” (U.S.S.R. 1925 Statute Book, Part 21, Art. 136) and pursuant to Art. 3 of the Decree of the All-Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee of February 5, 1920 “On Land” (Book of Statutes of the All-Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee for 1920, Part 1, Art. 13), the All-Ukrainian Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the UkrSSR have resolved to approve the following Instructions on the stripping former landlords, large landowners, and nonworking tenants of the right to hold land and reside on farms which belonged to them before the establishment of Soviet Power in Ukraine […].

The instructions laid down “Measures for Implementation of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the Union of S.S.R. of March 20, 1925 ‘On the Deprivation of Former Landlords of the Right of Land Tenure and Residence in Estates Owned by Them Before the October Revolution’ and charged the presidiums of provincial executive committees with carrying them out to make sure that

“all persons to whom the Resolution of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the Union of S.S.R. of March 20, 1925 applies are evicted from their former estates and deprived of the right of land tenure by January 1, 1926.” [108]

Further derivative decisions to this effect were taken in turn by lower echelons, all the way to the bottom. For example, the Executive Committee of the Kiev Province created a commission to implement the measure in the area under its jurisdiction. This commission included representatives of the GPU and the Procurator’s Office (Kryvenko and Grazhul) and was chaired by head of the provincial land directorate Kulinichenko [109]. The newspaper Proletarska Pravda translated this legal prose into a mythological newspeak adapted for easy assimilation by the masses: “This decree must be used to grub up, once and for all, all landlord stumps still remaining on our Soviet land. [110]” The paper announced the formation of a commission which was to “finish all this business” by January 1, 1926 and which would welcome the “assistance of the district executive committees, village Soviets, and all public associations, as well as private persons (sic) in exposing all former landlords from the nobility still remaining in the villages.” Here, too, the personal records of former landowners did not matter – the Bolsheviks were determined to liquidate them all, as a class. This campaign was supplemented by the policy of the Narkomos, the People’s Commissariat of Education: the children of former noblemen were, as a rule, effectively barred from higher education. Uprooted and deprived of civil rights, the finest people of their time were brutally forced out to the fringes of social life, and there was certainly nothing accidental or merely unfortunate in their lingering personal tragedies [111].

Yury Butovych was seven years old in 1917. His father had a farm of 300 desyatynas [112] in the village of Troyanivka, Poltava Province. In the same year of 1917 the estate was plundered, and his father, mother, and two elder brothers were killed. Of two younger brothers who remained with Yury one died in an orphanage, and the other disappeared somewhere. Little Yury wandered stealing in trains and at marketplaces before getting to a children’s home. By sheer miracle, he graduated from an agricultural college in Kharkiv becoming an agronomist and an economist. He worked in the village of Stavyshchi in the Kiev area. There he married. His wife Tamara was 23 and his daughter Lyudmila was just 9 months old when they came for him on September 27, 1937. On November 20 he was forced to sign a confession:

“I confess that, being hostile to Soviet Power, I expressed my discontent, spread provocative rumors about an imminent war between German and the Soviet Union. […] told c[ounter]-[revolutionary] jokes with intent to defame the Leader of Peoples and [other] leaders of the Government.” He was executed on December 22, 1937 [113].

Any number of such horrible examples could be given.

These devilish schemes were meticulously planned and ruthlessly executed by the Communists. This was their way to “develop and broaden” that social revolution of theirs which they turned into a transcontinental pogrom.


103. V. I. Lenin, "Doklad o revolyutsii 1905 goda," Before 9/22 January 1917, V. I. Lenin, Polnoye sobraniye sochineniy (Complete Works), Vol. 30, Moscow, 1962, p. 322.

104. S. Bilokin, Dolya ukrayinskoyi natsionalnoyi arystokratiyi. Geneza, Book 1 (4), Kiev, 1996, pp. 132(148.

105. H. Kubanska, Ternystymy shlyakhamy, p. 34.

106. Sobraniye zakonov i rasporyazheniy. 1925. Otdel pervyi, April 3, No. 21, pp. 257(260.

107. Zbirnyk uzakonen ta rozporyadzhen. 1925. Viddil pershyi, Sept. 30, No. 67, pp. 797(806.

108. Ibid.

109. Ibid.

110. "Vyselennya pomishchykiv na Kyyivshchyni: Rozmova z zavOkrZU tov. P. I. Kulinichenkom," Proletarska pravda, 1925, Nov. 10, No. 257 (1268), p. 5.

111. See: S. Bilokin, Dolya ukrayinskoyi natsionalnoyi arystokratiyi, Geneza, Book 1 (4), Kiev, 1996, pp. 132(148.

112. Old measure of land. 1 desyatyna = 2.7 acres ( transl.

113. CSAPAU, No. 63882 FP, Box 1761, Sh. 10, 16.