Purges of the Opposition, 1928-32

Mongolia Table of Contents

A decisive clash between leftists and rightists occurred at the Seventh Party Congress from late October to December 10, 1928. After forty-eight days of debate, party chairman TserenOchiryn Dambadorj was exiled to Moscow, and other rightist members were expelled as the left seized control of the party and the government. With their power now secure at the top and with party opinion united on major policy goals, the leftists accelerated their programs.

Strong Soviet backing was assured by Josef Stalin, who in the meantime had triumphed over his political foes in Moscow. In addition, after 1927 Soviet caution toward China no longer was necessary; Stalin was no longer constrained by his relationship with Chiang Kai-shek's Guomindang (Kuomintang in Wade-Giles romanization), or Chinese Nationalist Party, which had broken with the Chinese Communist Party and had consolidated its rule over eastern China from Nanjing. Both domestic and international changes had freed Mongolian leftists for radical changes.

Policies confirming the party line of developing the country along noncapitalist lines were ratified by the Fifth National Great Hural in December 1928. As conservative officials were eliminated from the government, Choybalsan was chosen as head of the National Little Hural. The leftist leaders called for the immediate confiscation of feudal property, the development of a five-year plan, the collectivization of stockbreeders, the ouster of Chinese traders, and the implementation of the Soviet trade monopoly. These extreme measures followed standard Soviet economic policy. In less-sophisticated Mongolia, however, the economic situation seemed to defy such planning. The basically nomadic society was largely illiterate, and there was no industrial proletariat; the aristocracy and the religious establishment held a large share of the country's wealth; popular obedience to traditional authorities continued to be widespread; the party lacked grass-roots support; and the government had little organization or experience. Nevertheless, the party was receptive to Moscow's directives; and the Mongolian revolutionaries made mistakes similar to those of the Soviets through an excess of zeal, intolerance, and inexperience.

The first harsh repression of opposition came in 1929. Under the direction of Choybalsan, more than 600 feudal estates (herds and fixed property) were confiscated and were given to members of the laity and to monks who left their monasteries. In 1931 and 1932, the property of more than 800 religious and secular leaders was seized, and more than 700 heads of households were killed or imprisoned. The antireligious campaign was three-pronged: ordinary monks were forced to leave the monasteries and enter the army or the economy; monks of middle status were put in prison camps; and those of highest rank were killed. Collectivization followed expropriation, and by 1931 more than one-third of the stock-raising households had been forcibly communized.

The brutal collectivization of herdsmen was rapid, and it caused bloody uprisings. Although the Eighth Party Congress from February to April 1930 had recognized that the country was unprepared for total socialization, the party reaction to opposition was to reenforce its measures nevertheless. The massive shift from private property to collectivization and communization was accelerated. The party then attacked the entire monastic class, the nobility, the nomads, and the nationalists, while purging its own ranks. The government imposed high and indiscriminate taxes, confiscated private property, banned private industry, forced craft workers to join mutual aid cooperatives, and nationalized foreign and domestic trade and transportation.

Extremism produced near-disaster. The power of the monks and the feudal nobles finally was broken, Chinese traders and other foreign capitalists were ousted, and still greater dependence on Soviet aid was required. The mechanical imposition of communes on an unprepared nomadic sheep-herding and cattle-herding society, however, resulted in the slaughter of 7 million animals in three years by angry and frightened herders. Mongolia's economy, which rested entirely on animal husbandry, was severely affected. The failure of communes, the hasty destruction of private trade, and inadequate Soviet supplies contributed to spreading famine. By 1931 to 1932, thousands were suffering severe food shortages, which, together with the people's reaction to terror, had brought the nation to the verge of civil war. Finally the government was forced to call in troops and tanks; with Soviet assistance, it suppressed the spreading anticommunist rebellion in western Mongolia.

In May 1932, a month after anticommunist uprisings in western Mongolia, the Comintern and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union directed the Mongolian party to end its extremism. The next month, the party Central Committee rejected its prior policy as "leftist deviation" and expelled several top leaders as "leftwing adventurers." Choybalsan announced that "the overall development of our country has not yet entered the stage of socialism, and also it is wrong to copy Soviet experience in every single thing." The entire socioeconomic pattern was swiftly changed. The collective farm experiment was dropped, worker cooperatives were abandoned, the cattle tax was reduced, and herders and peasants again were allowed to hold private property. Foreign trade, still channeled exclusively to the Soviet Union, continued to be controlled by the state, however. Under continuing Soviet protection and domination, Mongolia now settled down to a period of gradual social change.

An underlying reason for Moscow's reversal of the course of Mongolian socialism had been the growing Japanese threat. The September 18, 1931, Mukden incident had opened the way for Japan to establish Manchukuo (Japanese-controlled Manchuria). Mongolians were not alone in the fear that Japan might try to establish a Japanese-controlled Mongolian monarchy, Mengkukuo.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress