Victor Andreevich Kravchenko (11 October 1905 – 25 February 1966) was a Ukrainian-born Soviet defector, known for writing the best-selling book I Chose Freedom, published in 1946, about the realities of life in the Soviet Union.
- I am going to make more hell for the Communists than they dreamed possible.
- As quoted in The Kravchenko Case: One Man’s War on Stalin, Gary Kern, Enigma Books, New York (2007) p. xi
- I believe profoundly that in the struggle against Communists and their organizations, in the defense of freedom and justice, we cannot and should not resort to the methods and forms employed by the Communists.
- Letter to Senator Millard Tydings, March 9, 1950. Quoted in The Kravchenko Case: One Man’s War on Stalin, Gary Kern, Enigma Books, New York (2007) p. 493
I Chose Freedom: The Personal and Political Life of a Soviet Official (1946)
Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1946
- Having discovered that I could write and speak on my feet with some natural eloquence, I was soon an ‘activist.’ I served on all kinds of committees, did missionary work among the non-Party infidels, played a role in the frequent celebrations. There were endless occasions to celebrate, over and above the regular revolutionary holidays. The installation of new machinery, the opening of new pits, the completion of production schedules were marked by demonstrations, music, speeches. Elsewhere in the world coal may be just coal—with us it was ‘fuel for the locomotives of revolution.’
- p. 38
- Equality of income, which had been a Soviet ideal, was suddenly turned into a crime. Uravnilovka, equalization, was denounced as unworthy of a socialist society. The ‘Party maximum,’ under which Party members had been kept to an income not far above the average, was now removed, releasing torrents of greed and self-seeking in officialdom. Piecework was introduced throughout Soviet economy, even in types of work where such a system of payment was palpably silly if not impossible. With that strange Soviet genius for extremes, the evil of too many bosses was now replaced by the evil of the single and arbitrary boss, in which the last pretense of ‘workers’ control" from below was thrown overboard.
- p. 77
- Joseph Stalin was right in his charge that the leaders feared the truth. They feared it because truth was an almost counter-revolutionary and always dangerous luxury. An honest error of judgment or an unwise technical experiment might be punished by exile or prison as sabotage. To discipline a subordinate for mistakes might prove inhuman, since the police-minded authorities were likely to charge him with willful treason. The flight from responsibility tied the gigantic economic effort into crazy knots. As Golubenko said to me at the time: ‘They want us to rationalize and modernize and cut costs. That's all very fine, Comrade Kravchenko. But as soon as we do something bold or unusual we are risking our lives, aren't we? The safest way is to do nothing.’
- pp. 77-78
- The breakdown of world capitalism, the end of its ‘temporary stabilization,’ was the great consolation in Russia's travail. Our shrinking food supplies were being rigidly rationed. In the villages, famine held sway. Prisons, isolators and concentration camps were filling up with ‘enemies of the people.’ Thousands of our intelligentsia—engineers, officials, even well-known Communists—had to be liquidated as saboteurs and ‘agents of foreign governments.’ But the international working class was about to revolt! As Stalin put it, ‘The successes of the Five-Year Plan are mobilizing the revolutionary strength of the working class in all countries.’
- p. 108
- In substance we were told that the triumph of Fascism in Germany was really a disguised victory for the world revolution. It represented the last stand of capitalism, its death agony. The grimacing of the parliamentary harlequins of fake democracy was over. Even with the help of fascist and liberal lackeys, the capitalists could no longer control the discontented masses and had to resort to unadulterated terror through fascism. ‘German Fascism is the spearhead of world capitalism,’ a speaker at the Institute explained. ‘Capitalism finally has thrown off its mask. The workers of the world now face a clear choice between Fascism and Communism. Can we doubt which they will choose? The Soviet Union stands alone as the bulwark against Fascism, and the proletariat of all countries is with us. Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, comrades, are the precursors of our revolution. By revealing the true face of modern capitalism—fascism, they push the masses to an understanding of the truth. There is force in our slogan: The worse the better!
- p. 109
- On a battlefield men die quickly, they fight back, they are sustained by fellowship and a sense of duty. Here I saw people dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause. They had been trapped and left to starve, each in his home, by a political decision made in a far-off capital around conference and banquet tables.
- p. 118
- The most terrifying sights were the little children with skeleton limbs dangling from balloon–like abdomens. Starvation had wiped every trace of youth from their faces, turning them into tortured gargoyles; only in their eyes still lingered the reminder of childhood. Everywhere we found men and women lying prone, their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless.
- p. 118
- Anger lashed my mind as I drove back to the village. Butter being sent abroad in the midst of the famine! In London, Berlin, Paris I could see with my mind’s eye people eating butter stamped with a Soviet trademark. ‘They must be rich to be able to send out butter,’ I could hear them saying. ‘Here, friends, is the proof of socialism in action.’ Driving through the fields, I did not hear the lovely Ukrainian songs so dear to my heart. These people had forgotten how to sing. I could hear only the groans of the dying, and the lip-smacking of fat foreigners enjoying our butter…
- p. 122
- I know, moreover, that millions who escaped the purge were maimed in their minds and wounded in their spirits by the fears and the brutalities amidst which they lived. For sheer scale, I know of nothing in all human history to compare with this purposeful and merciless persecution in which tens of million Russians suffered directly or indirectly.
- pp. 303-304
- Genghis Khan was an amateur, a muddier, compared to Stalin. The Kremlin clique had carried through a ruthless war on their own country and people. It was the wind-up of this long war that was signalized by the appearance of a new history. It proved to be a document probably without precedent. Shamelessly, without so much as an explanation, it revised half a century of Russian history. I don't mean simply that it falsified some facts or gave a new interpretation of events. I mean that it deliberately stood history on its head, expunging events and inventing facts. It twisted the recent past—a past still fresh in millions of memories—into new and bizarre shapes, to conform with the version of affairs presented by the blood-purge trials and the accompanying propaganda.
- p. 304
- We Russians are gregarious folk, warm and talkative and quick to kindle in friendship. We wear our hearts on our sleeves. I am no exception in this respect.
- p. 308
- I considered the Kremlin capable of any outrage. Its methods by this time seemed to me little better than those of the Nazis, especially in its treatment of its own people and in the forms of organization of power. Reading or listening to anti-Hitler propaganda, I could not help asking myself inwardly, ‘But how does this differ from our Soviet atrocities?’ All the same, I refused to credit the news of a Soviet pact that freed Hitler to make war on Poland and on the rest of Europe. There must be some mistake, I thought, and everyone around me seemed equally incredulous.
- p. 332
- [H]atred of Nazism had been drummed into our minds year after year. We had seen our leading Army Generals, including Tukhachevsky, shot for supposed plotting with Hitler’s Reichswehr. The bit treason trials, in which Lenin’s most intimate associates perished, had rested on the premise that Nazi Germany and its Axis friends, Italy and Japan, were preparing to attack us. Those nations, indeed, were only the spearheads of a world coalition of capitalists sworn to destroy our socialist fatherland. The brutalities of the super-purge had been justified largely on the basis of that imminent Nazi-led assault against us.
- p. 332
- Hitlerism, we were instructed to believe, was thus merely the iron fist of the whole plutocratic, imperialistic world. A war between Nazi Germany and its capitalistic patrons was unthinkable, illogical. Now that just such a war had come, it seemed to us no less insane than the compact of friendship between the U.S.S.R. and Germany…
- p. 333
- The theatres of the capital [Moscow] were developing a great interest in German drama. In fact, everything Germanic was the vogue. A brutal John Bull and an Uncle Sam enthroned on money bags figured in the propaganda, but the Nazis were exempt from such ridicule. Hundreds of German military men and trade officials were in evidence in Moscow hotels and shops. They were busy with the gigantic program of Soviet economic help to Hitler’s crusade against the ‘degenerate democracies.’
- p. 334
- The Soviet hierarchy does not need impressive arguments to line up Party opinion. An instinct for survival does the trick. To avoid trouble one not merely believes, but believes deeply, fervently, whatever absurdity is prescribed from on high. The great Stalin knows what he’s doing—ultimately that was the sum-total of the Party reaction.
- p. 334
- The theory that Stalin was merely ‘playing for time’ while feverishly arming against the Nazis was invented much later, to cover up the Kremlin’s tragic blunder in trusting Germany. It was such a transparent invention that little was said about it inside Russia during the Russo-German war; only after I emerged into the free world did I hear it seriously advanced and believed. It was a theory that ignored the most significant aspect of the Stalin-Hitler arrangement: the large-scale economic undertakings which drained the U.S.S.R. of the very products and materials and productive capacity necessary for its own defense preparations… I was close enough to the defense industries to know that there was a slackening of military effort after the pact.
- p. 335
- Every Soviet organization is a hotbed of personal feuds, competing cliques, festering jealousies. This is almost inevitable in an atmosphere where political skill and influence are the decisive values.
- p. 343
- An American in uniform, accompanied by another in mufti, came to our car. He looked at our passports, checked them casually, without a trace of decent suspicion, and returned them to us with a smile. Informed that the civilian was a customs inspector, we had all putted out our suitcases and opened them wide. He glanced negligently at one or two, as a matter of form… We felt actually embarrassed by such absurd inefficiency and wondered where was the catch. Personal freedom is one thing, but didn't such lack of vigilance smack of anarchy, chaos? The two men lingered a few minutes, pleased to meet Russians. Then they wished us good luck and departed smiling. Somehow I had imagined that entering the United States would be a long elaborate process, requiring extensive inspections and perhaps interrogations behind closed doors.
- pp. 456-457
Quotes About Kravchenko
- The depths to which the Soviets and their supporters could sink was revealed in their subsequent treatment of Kravchenko and his family. He had to assume a new identity while the Soviet secret service monitored his movement. Members of his Russian family were harassed and some were killed. His son was sent to a gulag. During a famous libel trial in France in 1949, the Soviets brought in his former wife to testify that he was physically abusive and impotent and a KGB officer to testify that he was mentally defective. He was accused of being an embezzler and a draft dodger.
- Orville Prescott, [https://sites.google.com/site/newyorkcityapril1946/books/book-reviews-this-week-in-1946/i-chose-freedom-reviewed-by-the-nyt “I Chose Freedom Book Review”, New York Times, April 15, 1946
- Victor Kravchenko was a dissident, a defector and an unbelievably aggressive disputer. Breaking with the Soviet Union before the end of WWII, he was the first writer to blow the whistle on Stalin’s deceptive foreign policy, warning the West about the tyrant’s postwar plans. After the defeat of the Axis powers, he was the first to criticize the Soviet war effort, to record the human cost of Soviet heavy industry, to confirm first-hand the man-made famine in Ukraine, and, above all, to publicize the Soviet slave-labor|Soviet slave-labor state. He introduced the word ‘Gulag’ to the board Western public.
- Gary Kern, The Kravchenko Case: One Man’s War on Stalin, Gary Kern, Enigma Books, New York (2007) p. xi
- As the world’s most prominent defector, [Kravchenko] inspired other defections, including that of the code clerk Igor Gouzenko, who exposed the Soviet atomic-bomb spy ring in Canada and, together with other exposed agents, shocked Washington to the extent that it authorized a hydrogen-bomb program… He lived up to the title that one newspaper gave him at the start of his American career—the ‘Stalin Blaster.’
- Gary Kern, The Kravchenko Case: One Man’s War on Stalin, Gary Kern, Enigma Books, New York (2007) p. xi
- Books and written testimonies were not enough to discourage Western intellectuals. Victor Kravchenko was a high-ranking official in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union who defected to the United States during World War II… His was the first detailed exposé available to Western readers documenting the atrocities committed by Stalin and his henchmen. He depicted mass arrests and executions by the NKVD, the Gulag, the artificial famine in the Ukraine, and the atmosphere of total fear. Although a best seller, the book was met with ferocious attacks from European communist parties.
Mikhail Shifman, “Between Two Evils”, Inference: International Review of Science, Volume 5, Issue 3, Sept. (2020)
- The major anti-Communist publicity extravaganza mounted by the State Department and the CIA in France in 1949 was the Kravchenko affair. The Russian defector’s account of his experiences during the Stalin years, titled I Chose Freedom, sold 400,000 copies in France.
- Irwin M. Wall, The United States and the making of Postwar France, 1945-1954, Cambridge University Press, (1991) p. 151