Harvest of Despair



On 7 August and 22 August 1932 decrees were issued on “socialized property,” and the “struggle against profiteering,” respectively. Together these two decrees became the Law to Protect State Property. This law defined collective farm, cooperative and railroad freight as state property. Henceforth, theft or misuse of this property was to be regarded as a political crime against the state.

The law defined the minimum penalty for theft or misuse of state property at ten years imprisonment, but in practice, the most common penalty was death by shooting. The law was a response to increased theft of food, which supposedly had an organized character and was directed by kulaks. Under these new measures, peasants who stole or hid food were now committing a counterrevolutionary act against Soviet power, and were subject to the most draconian measures. It was this law that doomed the Ukrainian peasantry to death by starvation in 1932-3. Responsibility for its enforcement was placed on the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), and its secret police wing, the OGPU.