American Kulaks

 

My friend the Crazy Uke is a mortgage guy; he’s getting me another refi. Years ago – oh, decades – we sat up all night in the back booth of a college restaurant and argued politics; now we sit around the kitchen table of the house he helped us buy, sign endless forms and documents, then pour a drink and agree about politics. I changed. He didn’t. As the son of Ukrainian DPs, he had anti-Soviet and anti-statist ideas poured into his marrow as he grew up, and his accounts of his parents’ lives during the famine and the war were not inconsiderable elements in my political education. It’s one thing to have a college bull session about the Cold War; it’s another to argue with a guy who was actually detained by the KGB and kicked out of the Eastern Bloc.

The Ukrainian famine is one of those episodes known more to anti-commies, I suspect; if I’m right about that, it says something about the people who regard such episodes as inconvenient anomalies and insist we talk about smallpox-infested blankets. But I remember hearing about how people were hauled away for harboring wheat – Kulaks! Wreckers! – and so I got a jolt when I read a NYT article last month about the Administration’s pivot on the health-care mandate question. Uh, well, yeah, it’s a tax, I guess, they said, and they cited some interesting Supreme Court law:

In their lawsuit, Florida and other states say: “Congress is attempting to regulate and penalize Americans for choosing not to engage in economic activity. If Congress can do this much, there will be virtually no sphere of private decision-making beyond the reach of federal power.”

In reply, the administration and its allies say that a person who goes without insurance is simply choosing to pay for health care out of pocket at a later date. In the aggregate, they say, these decisions have a substantial effect on the interstate market for health care and health insurance.

In its legal briefs, the Obama administration points to a famous New Deal case, Wickard v. Filburn, in which the Supreme Court upheld a penalty imposed on an Ohio farmer who had grown a small amount of wheat, in excess of his production quota, purely for his own use.

The wheat grown by Roscoe Filburn “may be trivial by itself,” the court said, but when combined with the output of other small farmers, it significantly affected interstate commerce and could therefore be regulated by the government as part of a broad scheme regulating interstate commerce.

If you’ve read Amity Shlaes’ “Forgotten Man,” this isn’t a total surprise, but to put in the modern web vernacular: Wow. Just – wow. So a guy grows wheat for himself, and bang! he’s a Kulak, too – not because he intended to sell the wheat, mind you, but he could have, and everyone did it, then prices would collapse and Walker Evans would have to go out and reshoot the Midwest to capture the new wave of human misery.

Something to keep in mind when someone says “if they can do this, they can do anything.” They’ve already done that. They already can do anything. I don’t know what’s worse: that it still exists as a decision the government could cite, or the fact that the administration thought it would be a good idea to bring it up to defend their tax.

By the way, the Crazy Uke’s parents are still alive, hale and sturdy. They lived long enough to see Ukraine declare its independence; they lived long enough to go home for a visit without Intourist minders.

Things change.

There are 20 comments.

  1. Profile Photo Member

    Interesting that, to defend a policy most Americans oppose, the administration cites a case that’s up in Dred Scott country for sheer repellence to ordinary Americans.

    • #1
    • August 10, 2010, at 5:51 AM PDT
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  2. Profile Photo Member
    James Lileks: …not because he intended to sell the wheat, mind you, but he could have, …

    As I understand it, the rationale is slightly different. It’s not that the mere presence of the wheat might somehow affect prices. It’s that by growing wheat for his own consumption, he’s not buying it from other wheat growers, who are adversely affected. Not sure which is worse.

    • #2
    • August 10, 2010, at 6:00 AM PDT
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  3. Mel Foil Inactive

    Amazingly enough, not even the Christian Scientists were left with an escape hatch. I’m not one of them, but I thought that if any group could opt-out it would be them. But no.

    Christian Science and the health care reform legislation, June 2010

    http://christianscience.com/media-inquiries/files/2010/06/FAQs-June-2010.pdf

    • #3
    • August 10, 2010, at 9:26 AM PDT
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  4. tabula rasa Member

    James: Your post reminds me why it’s so important that we read the eyewitness accounts of the Soviet (and you could add Chinese, Cambodian, Burmese etc. etc) horrors from the people who really experienced it.

    That’s why we should read Solzhenitsyn, Scharansky, Koestler, Vasily Grossman instead of the filtered B.S. the country got from Walter Duranty (when will the Pulitzer Board revoke his award?), Lillian Hellman, the Webbs, and Joseph Davies (the American ambassador who witnessed some fo the show trials and pronounced them the epitome of due process). The authentic accounts of life in totalitarian society give it to us without sugar-coating or equivocation.

    And while I’m on the subject, one of the great masterpieces of the Soviet era is Grossman’s Life and Fate, a book the KGB tried, but failed, to suppress. In my view, it’s the best novel of the last fifty years of the 20th century. A brilliant, masterpeice that demonstrates the evil of both Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism.

    • #4
    • August 10, 2010, at 9:48 AM PDT
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  5. Profile Photo Member

    I’ve often wondered whether the “smallpox blankets” accusation wasn’t a total canard.

    Germ theory was established by Pasteur in the 1860’s, yet British and American settlers are accused of using infected blankets to effect genocide of Native Americans as early as the 1720’s.

    Sounds sort of like a forerunner to the “CIA invented AIDS” scare.

    • #5
    • August 10, 2010, at 10:11 AM PDT
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  6. Mel Foil Inactive
    Kenneth: I’ve often wondered whether the “smallpox blankets” accusation wasn’t a total canard.

    Germ theory was established by Pasteur in the 1860’s, yet British and American settlers are accused of using infected blankets to effect genocide of Native Americans as early as the 1720’s.

    Sounds sort of like a forerunner to the “CIA invented AIDS” scare. · Aug 9 at 10:11pm

    Michael Medved tackles the subject in, “The 10 Big Lies About America: Combating Destructive Distortions About Our Nation”

    Excerpt: http://preview.tinyurl.com/38t9gdc

    • #6
    • August 10, 2010, at 10:58 AM PDT
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  7. John Davey Member

    Creeping Socialism

    Creeping Islamism

    It’s always the baby-steps, the small things that we let slide by, that pave the way for the big things. Acceptance of the seemingly insignificant is the doorway to the shockingly inconceivable.

    Just finishing The Forgotten Man right now. Roosevelt & the current Administration seem to frame change in the same way: Small things, we should all do our part for each other. As it gains more acceptance, the door has been opened for the “Now Choke On This” moment. It makes me tired.

    America is like a boiling pot. A little more heat each day. It takes a looooong time with tremendous heat until it reaches the boiling point, and then we finally change direction. I was born in the late sixties, and witnessed the despair of the seventies, finally seeing a rebirth in the eighties. Why do we have to live through it again?

    Government policies, like taxes, are always predicated on what someone might do. With extra wheat. With extra cash. With their own health care. It is all about controlling people.

    • #7
    • August 10, 2010, at 11:07 AM PDT
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  8. Profile Photo Member

    The same has been said about “sin taxes.” Economist Robert Murphy once wrote about how he recalled years ago that proponents of “sin taxes” upon alcohol and cigarettes denied as ridiculous the claim that such taxes would eventually be imposed on food. Now, we have got sin taxes as well as prohibitions on certain kinds of food. The slippery slope argument is one that ought to be heeded.

    • #8
    • August 10, 2010, at 12:32 PM PDT
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  9. Cas Balicki Inactive

    My dad spent time as one of Stalin’s gulag guests, so needless to say there was no love lost for Commies around our house when I was growing up. Eventually dad trekked out of Siberia with his mates and joined up with the British Expeditionary Force and fought the Germans through Africa and Italy. The last battle he fought was at Monte Casino. Needless to say in the evil, twisted derby of monstrosity between the Russians and the Germans, for my dad it was six to five and pick ’em. I would only add that my father took two bullets at Monte Casino and is, as near as I can tell from pictures of him and his buddies, the only one of his group to survive.

    • #9
    • August 11, 2010, at 3:02 AM PDT
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  10. The Mugwump Inactive
    Cas Balicki: My dad spent time as one of Stalin’s gulag guests, so needless to say there was no love lost for Commies around our house when I was growing up. Eventually dad trekked out of Siberia with his mates and joined up with the British Expeditionary Force and fought the Germans through Africa and Italy. The last battle he fought was at Monte Casino. Needless to say in the evil, twisted derby of monstrosity between the Russians and the Germans, for my dad it was six to five and pick ’em. I would only add that my father took two bullets at Monte Casino and is, as near as I can tell from pictures of him and his buddies, the only one of his group to survive. · Aug 10 at 3:02pm

    I’m guessing your dad was with the Polish Carpathian or Krakow division. The Polish side of my family was wiped out by the war except for a great aunt who survived as a farmer in the southern Polish city of Zakopane.

    • #10
    • August 11, 2010, at 4:16 AM PDT
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  11. Cas Balicki Inactive

    I don’t know the division, as outside of pointing out his buddies in the photo album he have who had died, my dad did not speak about the war. I remember one time a buddy and had gotten ourselves in a load of trouble by taking off on a road trip. Our destination was Vancouver, Canada. When we got back there was hell to pay as neither my buddy nor I had asked permission to go. When my dad asked me what came over us, I sassed back that we wanted to see the mountains. We lived on the prairies and I had the temerity to sneer at my dad, “Haven’t you ever wanted to see the mountains?” Without so much as lifting an eyebrow my father replied, “I’ve seen better.” Being too young and too stupid to let up, I again sneered, “Yeah where?” The answer came back, “The Himalayas.” These guys were so deep into Siberia that they actually trekked past or near the Himalayas somewhere on their route to Persia then on to the Levant, as I believe it was called then. Do I feel like an idiot sometimes? You bet!

    • #11
    • August 11, 2010, at 4:40 AM PDT
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  12. The Mugwump Inactive

    Cas, it’s too bad your dad won’t speak about the war. Escaping Siberia would be a story in itself. Few people are aware that the Poles continued to contribute to the allied war effort following capitulation in 1939. Enough escaped to field an entire army corp (about 15,000 men) fighting alongside the British. The Poles also contributed a considerable number of pilots to the RAF during the Battle of Britain. There’s a wonderful scene in the movie “Battle of Britain” where a Polish training squadron disregards orders to attack incoming German bombers. Also, the story of the Polish home army rising against the Nazis in late ’44 while the Russians looked on with indifference is as brave as it is tragic. Check out Youtube sometime with key words “Polish Army.” You will be proud.

    • #12
    • August 11, 2010, at 5:11 AM PDT
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  13. Kozak Member

    Coming from a Ukrainian background I had the same experience. My dad didn’t live to see the USSR die, but my mom did, and went back for a visit.

    I used to soak up the stories in my childhood, listening to the elders tell their tales of Stalin, then the war. My dad lived under just about every form of government tried in the 20th century. Born in the Austro- Hungarian empire, grew up under a Romanian Monarchy, College under Romanian Fascists, “liberated” by Stalin thanks to the Ribbentrop Pact. Incorporated into the Reich, spent the last part of the war avoiding “liberation” by Stalin, liberated by Patton, lived under the Military Government, and finally a DP to America who became a citizen and voted for the first time in his life in his late 40’s. Of course we lived in Chicago, so it was a one party state again….

    • #13
    • August 11, 2010, at 5:19 AM PDT
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  14. Cas Balicki Inactive

    Paules, I will. There is a Polish movie that I managed to get a bootleg of that should be mandatory viewing for anyone enamoured of the Russian war effort entitled Katyn. The Russians did not just stand idly by; they killed the whole of the Polish Officer Corps in their custody. I must warn you, though, if you do get a chance to see the movie, it is not easy viewing. It is the story of the Katyn Massacre as told through the eyes of some of the wives that survived the 22,000 officers and other leaders killed by the Russians. It is enough to make my blood boil to think these vile commies were allowed to sit on the Nuremburg tribunal in judgement of others. Another little known fact of the war is that the Polish underground was the best in Europe, way better than the French. One singular achievement was the sub rosa theft of the first enigma machine as told in the book, The Man Called Intrepid–a great read by the way.

    • #14
    • August 11, 2010, at 5:35 AM PDT
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  15. tabula rasa Member

    Cas: I too hope your dad will tell you more. After forty years of near silence, my dad finally wrote a short memoir of his war experiences. He drove a Sherman tank from D-Day + 3 until he lost most of his upper right arm in October 1944. The memoir was difficult for him to write, but it is priceless, especially since died a year ago.

    • #15
    • August 11, 2010, at 6:09 AM PDT
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  16. The Mugwump Inactive

    Cas, my understanding is that the Katyn massacre occurred following the Russo-German partition of Poland. The uprising of the Polish home army occurred later, though once again the Russians were culpable for the results. There’s a wonderful movie made a few years back called “Enigma” with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard that ties in the Katyn massacre with the work being done a Blechley Park. Great period piece.

    • #16
    • August 11, 2010, at 6:24 AM PDT
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  17. Brad B. Inactive

    I became a conservative in high school largely because of my friendship with an anti-communist immigrant from Ukraine. His recounting of stories passed down about the Famine and gulags got my obsession with anti-communist literature started. By the time I had graduated high school, I had read 1984, Animal Farm, Homage to Catalonia, We, Darkness at Noon, We the Living, and Brave New World.

    I think the best way to turn a young liberal into a conservative is to have them read the writings of the disillusioned ex-Communists of the 1930s and 40s. Those guys were intellectual giants.

    • #17
    • August 11, 2010, at 7:19 AM PDT
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  18. Cas Balicki Inactive

    ~Paules, as I understand Katyn, your assumptions above are accurate. What the Russians seem to have done is gone through the portion of the country they occupied and selected those individuals with any leadership ability and arrested them in order to make the populace easier to control. In essence it was a decapitation. The actual massacre was carried out in April / May 1940. The plan is thought to have originated with Lavrentiy Beria, who proposed the elimination of the whole of the Polish Officer corps earlier that year to Stalin. About 8,000 of the victims were army officers captured when the Soviets invaded Poland after signing the Ribbentrop Pact. The balance of those murdered were what would be normally termed the country’s intelligentsia: Professors, Doctors, Priests, Lawyers, etc. The Soviets, of course, blamed the Germans. German involvement was limited to uncovering the massacre site (1942?) once they overran Poland on their way to points east and defeat. The Nazis I suppose were trying to show Poles that they weren’t as bad as the Soviets, so they dug up the bodies. Every skull found had a bullet hole in it.

    • #18
    • August 11, 2010, at 8:26 AM PDT
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  19. The Mugwump Inactive

    Cas = (Casimir?)

    • #19
    • August 11, 2010, at 9:04 AM PDT
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  20. Cas Balicki Inactive

    Yes and Casimir is English for Kazimierz.

    • #20
    • August 11, 2010, at 9:16 AM PDT
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