This book review was written by Eugene Kernes
“The history of the famine of 1932-3 was not taught. Instead, between 1933 and 1991 the USSR simply refused to acknowledge that any famine had even taken place. The Soviet state destroyed local archives, made sure that death records did not allude to starvation, even altered publicly available census data in order to conceal what had happened. As long as USSR existed, it was not possible to write a fully documented history of the famine and the accompanying repression.” – Anne Applebaum, Preface, Page 19
“The sentiment was not new: disdain for the very idea of a Ukrainian state had been an integral part of Bolshevik thinking even before the revolution. In large part this was simply because all of the leading Bolsheviks, among them Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Piatakov, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin, were men raised and educated in the Russian empire, and the Russian empire did not recognize such a thing as “Ukraine” in the province that they knew as “Southwest Russia.” The city of Kyiv was, to them, the ancient capital of Kyivan Rus’, the kingdom that they remembered as the ancestor of Russia. In school, in the press and in daily life they would have absorbed Russia’s prejudices against a language that was widely described as a dialect of Russian, and a people widely perceived as primitive former serfs.” – Anne Applebaum, Chapter 1: The Ukrainian Revolution, 1917, Page 43
“The missing feeling of “responsibility,” destroyed by collectivization, would plague Soviet agriculture (and indeed Soviet industry) as long as it existed. But although this was already clear as early as 1931, it was not possible to question the policy because it was already too closely associated with Stalin himself. He had staked his leadership of the party on collectivization and he had defeated his rivals in the course of fighting for it. He could not be wrong. A large chunk of the Central Committee plenum in October was therefore devoted to a search for alternative scapegoats. Since Stalin could not be responsible, and since senior party officials did not want to be, responsibility for the looming disaster was again sought further down the hierarchy.” – Anne Applebaum, Chapter 7: Collectivization Fails, 1931-2, Page 196
Is This An Overview:
Soviet Russian policies caused a Holodomor. A major famine within Ukraine during the 1930s. Even worse than the one they caused shorty after they took power in 1917. For centuries past before that, Ukraine was a possession of other states. Each wanted Ukraine for the region’s fertile land, to feed the occupiers population. But like many regions during the early 20th century, Ukraine sought for sovereignty. They did gain sovereignty, but could not hold it. Division within Ukraine and with various Bolshevik strategies, the Soviet regime took control of Ukraine until the Soviet regime fell in 1991. During their rule, Ukraine was Russified, especially after the famine depopulated the region. Ukrainian cultural heritage was systematically destroyed. Until the fall of the Soviet power, the famine was denied.
The policies imposed on Ukraine by the Soviet power were designed to get as much food from the peasants as possible. The effect they had was to reduce the ability to produce food. Peasants did not want to produce food that was going to be confiscated. They were even willing to destroy much of their food stores to prevent food from being confiscated. The reduction in food production under the Soviet regime, made less food available than under Imperial Russia.
A prominent policy was Stalin’s collectivization. Under collectivization, peasants generally had to give up their private property, and work on collective farms. A reintroduction of serfdom. Violence was routine. The policies were a failure, but could not blamed on the Bolsheviks. Failures were blamed on everyone else. Even those starving were blamed. Deaths due to famine were privately acknowledge, but publicly denied. Soviet propaganda worked to legitimize the persecution of anyone who did not have Soviet support, and were effective at manipulating foreign press as they were able to gain international support.
Is There Any Information On Ukraine’s History?
Ukraine means borderlands. Founded by Slavic tribes and Viking nobility, which Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians claim as their ancestor. It then belonged to Lithuania until 1569, which it then became a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Ukraine was part of the Russian empire between the 18th and 20th centuries. As regional power shifted many times, Ukraine developed a diverse cultural background, with some religious variation. Poles and Russians, saw Ukraine as a primitive and more authentic place. Subject to romantic poetry and fiction.
Ukraine had fertile lands. Poles and Russians did not want to lose access to the agricultural breadbasket should Ukraine become an independent state. The Ukraine identity was formed nonetheless, often defined in opposition to the occupying foreigners. Poles and Russians wanted Ukraine, therefore undermined Ukrainian sovereignty claims.
Ukrainian national aspirations were deemed a threat to Imperial Russia. Peasants were already gaining economic influence. Wealthier, literate, and better organized peasantry would have demanded greater political rights. When Russia collapsed in 1917, and the Austro-Hungarian empires collapsed in 1918, Ukrainians decided that it was time to establish their own state.
What Was The Political Structure Of Ukraine And Russia?
Although Ukraine did not have sovereignty, they expressed their hope like other states without sovereignty, through literature and art. Russia had banned Ukrainian intellectual activities such as books and culture.
Ukraine did gain independence in 1917, but temporarily. They could not develop a functioning bureaucracy, public administration, or effective military might to defend against invasion. Russia, Germany, and Austria were attempting to undermine Ukrainian nationalism. The Soviets, under Lenin’s authorization attacked Ukraine in January 1918. The attempt to conquer Ukraine failed when German and Austrian troops supported a Ukrainian general.
There was a political division within Ukraine. There were those who wanted Ukrainian national movement, and those who supported the Bolsheviks. Bolsheviks were a radical faction who agitated Russia and appealed to the masses. Led by Lenin, and after taking political control of Russia, they considered themselves to be the vanguard of the proletariat, a dictatorship of the proletariat. They sought absolute power, and were willing to use violence and terror to abolish alternative political powers.
The leaders of the established USSR, did not see Ukraine as a distinct economic region, but as Southwest Russia. They were prejudiced against any Ukrainian identity from an early age. Seeing Ukrainians as primitive former serfs. The USSR Marxists ideology had contempt for Ukrainians, whom they saw as peasants who had no class consciousness.
Lenin supported cultural autonomy and self-determination, unless it did not work for Lenin. After the Bolsheviks failed to maintain control of Kyiv after a few weeks, they still invaded Ukraine with teams to confiscate peasants’ grain. The strategies changed to false flag operations. Russian troops were disguised under a banner of Soviet Ukrainian liberation movement to confuse nationalists. Trying to convince people to accept Soviet power. They also prevented intellectual activity and news. Arresting Ukrainians they accused as separatism.
What Is The Power Of Food?
There is power in food. Food is a political tool. Food is a weapon. Those who had food were able to get followers, soldiers, and friends. Support was lost quickly for those without food to give.
Food shortages in Russia began with the start of World War One. Imperial Russia attempted to alleviate food shortages with policies designed to centralize food distribution. Their effect was to create administrative problems without alleviating the food shortages. Soviet Russia extended the same principles, but also wanted to remove the middlemen. The Soviet result was to exacerbate the supply crisis. Lenin thought that the nationalized food distribution was an appropriate system, but that they were not sufficiently harsh, especially in Ukraine.
Under Marxist ideology, they created a hierarchy for peasants. From wealthy, middle, to poor. They called them kulaks, seredniaks, and bedniaks. A hierarchy meant to define who would be persecuted and benefit from the policies imposed.
In 1919, Soviet Russia was going through a crisis, and wanted to exploit Ukraine to maintain control of Russia. They needed food to supply the proletariat. This became known as War Communism. Taking control using violence means, and redistributing food to those deemed essential by the state. Imperial Russia confiscated food since 1916, which the Provisional Government continued to do so. Forcing peasants to sell all their grain at state dictated prices, except those needed for agriculture and consumption. In practice, War Communism meant most people went hungry. Trotsky supported the requisitioning of food at all costs, for that would have meant civil war between kulaks and other elements in the villages. Seeking to deepen divisions, which would create anger and resentment to further Bolshevik policies.
To obtain food, Russians and Ukrainians used illegal invisible markets, rather than non-existent state companies. Illegal markets gave people access to food, but the Bolsheviks blamed them for the continuing crisis. Bolsheviks wanted formal markets. The Bolsheviks thought that their policy was meant to make people richer rather than poorer, but never blamed their own policies for the failures.
What Were The Results Of The Food Requisitions?
The policy backfired. The Cossacks revolted against the Red Army (Bolshevik’s army), which included the Cossacks that had previously supported the Bolshevik’s. The local Bolshevik leaders, requested an end to gain requisitions. Moscow did not consider their views. The requisitions were left in place, but were unsuccessful. Only a fraction of the requested food was taken. The Bolshevik’s were expelled from Ukraine a 2nd time in Summer on 1919, fueling a gargantuan violent peasant uprising. The uprising and rebellion taught the Bolsheviks that Ukraine was an intellectual and military threat.
Ukraine’s military was defeated, but not their intellectual ideals. Nationalism that could attract foreign allies, who could become a threat to USSR. Ukraine peasants wanted socialism, a socialist revolution but not a Bolshevik revolution. They wanted their own representatives, not communists. They wanted redistribution, but wanted to work the land on their own. They did not want another serfdom. They wanted respect for their intellectual and cultural heritage. These ideas resonated during the 1920s.
What Information Is There On The 1920s Famine?
During 1920, Lenin requisitioned all gain from the peasants. All grain, which included those needed for consumption and for future planting harvest. This caused agriculture production to plunge. Not only did the people needed to plant were off fighting in World War One, but the farmers that were there did not want to plant food they knew would be confiscated.
There was also a drought, causing major crop failure. Bad weather would have caused problems, as it did in the past. But weather combined with confiscatory food collection policies, along with a lack of labor, produced a catastrophe. 95% of the normal harvest did not materialize. Prior droughts were planned for with the preservation and storage of surplus gain. But in 1921, there was no surplus grain as they had been confiscated. Resulting in famine.
The 1921 famine, was not kept secret. The regime even tried to help the starving. Setting up a famine committee with various leaders. Local committees were formed. Even international aid. International aid came from Red Cross, Jewish Join Distribution Committee, various European countries, and American Relief Administration. America was a large source of aid, which wanted to expand the aid network into Russia.
America wanted all Americans released who were held in Soviet prisons, and immunity from prosecution to ARA workers. Hoover thought that aid would be stolen if it was not controlled, and that Americans would be accused of espionage. Americans were actually collecting information. Lenin did not appreciate the demands, but had to relent to gain famine relief. The Communist Party was meant to control the distribution of food to gain credibility, but the American aid was allowed to proceed which saved many lives.
Soviet leadership needed currency, and secretly sold gold and other valuables abroad to obtain guns, ammunition, and industrial machinery. They would even sell food internationally, during the famine, to obtain their equipment. The ARA left Russia due to this policy.
Ukraine did receive aid eventually. The famine seemed under control by 1923, but the delayed caused many unnecessary deaths. There were those who thought that the opposition to relief in Ukraine was politically inspired. Some thought that the famine was instrumental, to end the Ukrainian peasant rebellion. Grain requisition broke up communities, and forced many to leave home to search for food. Those who remained were weakened and demoralized by the starvation, which prevented armed struggles.
In 1921, Lenin even launched a New Economic Policy which included an end to compulsory grain collection, and made free trade temporarily legal. In 1923, the Soviets wanted to appeal to non-Russian minorities under an indigenization program. Giving status to different languages and cultures. By making Soviet power more familiar to Ukrainians, the idea was to reduce Ukrainian demands for sovereignty. Lenin was even willing to indulge Ukrainian national emotions to prevent losing Ukraine again.
These strategies were considered a step backwards by idealists of Marxism-Leninism. New Economic Policy were considered a transient deviation. Considered a way to give time for the peasants to become enlightened on Soviet ideals, in which communist policies would return.
NEP evolved into state capitalism. Markets functioned under heavy state control. Mandatory grain procurements were replaced with a tax. Grain was allowed to be sold for money. Even with this very limited market economy, food became more available.
What Were The 1930s Policies That Impacted The Famine?
1927 was 10 years that the Communist Party took control of Russia. Living standards were lower in the USSR than under the tsars. Food distribution was according to status, and was still scarce.
Lenin’s death during 1924 caused an internal power struggle in which Stalin organized support to remove Trotsky, who was the main rival to power. Stalin sided with the people who supported NEP, against Trotsky’s supporters of opposed NEP as that would have created a new capitalist class and enriched the kulaks. In 1927, Trotsky was exiled, and Stalin changed sides to support those who opposed NEP. Stalin radicalized Soviet policy, and wanted to remove any political rivals.
Trade was reclassified as criminal behavior. There were people who stored grain to wait until prices would have increased. This was considered evidence of conspiracy. Anyone refusing to sell grain to the state at set prices would be arrested. These policies, brought NEP to an end.
Under the new policies, peasants that worked hard on their land would have become kulaks, enemies of the people. If peasants remained poor, they would have been worse off than American peasants, who they were competing with. Peasants had a choice of either ideologically approved poverty or dangerously unacceptable wealth. This was an economic trap from which peasants could not find a way out. Working badly would have meant hunger. Working well would have been punished by the state. Success became an enemy. Efficiency became thought of with suspicion. Stalin understood that the policies destroyed an incentive to produce grain.
Stalin understood that smaller farms created poor peasants, while kulaks were more productive due to bigger properties. Although larger farms would have been more productive, this would have legitimated kulaks which was unacceptable. The resolution was collective farming. Unification of small peasants into larger collective farms. The peasants were forced to give up private small lands, to aggregate the resources, and join collective farms.
Collectivization claimed would have made farms more efficient, contain better management techniques, and utilize modern technology. Land and equipment would be shared. Harvesters would have been leased to collective farms. Soviet government created a Five-Year Plan which included how the workers should behave. Former peasants, now workers, were meant to work in shifts, and compete to overproduce. This also created a shortage of natural resources, which were going to be mined by peasants.
Collective farms were different, but would generally require members to give all private property into the collective. Some peasants remined in their homes, but others would be moved to collective homes. None would have owned valuables. Peasants would be paid wages, usually in the form of food and other goods, in small quantities.
Stalin thought that exploitation of peasants was the key to industrialization. Using the same methods of colonialization as historic empires. Stalin was not willing to rely on foreign loans. Which left only the colonization of the peasants. To obtain internal accumulation for the Soviet industry. Peasants would pay tribute to improve the rate of industrial growth. Stalin was willing to sacrifice peasants to industrialize the USSR, and prepared to remove them off their land. There were other options available, but were avoided in favor of terror. Forced collectivization appeared to be inevitable and unavoidable. Collectivization was Stalin’s policy, with Stalin’s reptation at stake.
Young urban enthusiasts went to farms to help, but they were inexperienced. Local authorities needed to manage chains of command and conflicting priorities. Village councils were inefficient either because of their duties, or to protect their neighbors. The inexperienced used wrong seeds for the soil, and provided bad advice.
Ukrainians heard rumors of more requisitions, and possible further famine. They decided to hide as much of their valuables such as food as possible. Communist Party leaders in Ukraine had expected a famine in late 1932, and thought that it could be prevented. They asked Stalin to follow the example from the 1921 famine. To halt grain exports, stop the punishing grain requisitions, or ask for international aid. There was some domestic aid offered to the peasants, but not enough. Rather, the Soviet leadership exacerbated the Ukrainian famine while preventing the peasants from leaving to search for food. Motivated by hunger and political ideology, there were teams of policemen and party activists who entered peasant homes and took everything edible.
Although Stalin did not order a famine, that was the effect in practice. To protect their property from collective farms, some slaughter their animals and the used or concealed the meat. There were cases in which peasants released their animals into the street. Ukrainians had to give up their grain reserves which would have caused them to starve, or they could hide grain reserves and risk arrest which would have confiscated the food and therefore also starve. Even willing to destroy their property. Peasants thought it better to destroy everything than hand their property to the authorities. The destruction was seen as a deliberate act of sabotage.
To fulfill quotas, collectivization brigades used intimidation and torture. Violence and terror did lead many peasants to relinquish their property to collective farms. This was through coercive means rather than enthusiasm. Outcomes of peasant efforts no longer belonged to the peasants. Internal responsibility was destroyed by collectivization. As there was no rewards for more efforts, previously self-reliant farmers worked as little as possible. They did not even maintain the machines which frequently broke down.
It was not the bourgeoise that caused the famine, but Soviet Union’s policy of collective farms. Everyone understood that collectivization had caused the shortages. Stalin received reports which detailed the problems on the collective farms.
In 1932, Stalin decided to appear as more benevolent. When it was obvious that Ukraine could not obtain the required amount of grain, Stalin allowed them to produce less than required. Even though the quota was reduced, it was still unrealistic, yet had to be collected.
Brigades were sent to collect any food. Any food that was being cooked was tossed, and an inquiry began as how they were able to obtain the food. Those who were not starving, were suspicious.
Brigades were tasked with searching other villages then their own to prevent sympathetic views. As familiarity would have caused the activists to protect locals, the activists needed to be changed frequently. There were local activists who understood that their orders would have meant the death of their neighbors, and therefore did not carry out their orders. Activists themselves were searched as well, by other activists. Collaborators in the regime were not spared. Perpetrators sometimes met resistance and violence from their robbed neighbors. The brigades were composed of Ukrainian peasants themselves, stealing their neighbor’s food.
What Kind Of Persecution Was There During The 1930s Famine?
Ukraine was turned into a Soviet state through the Holodomor and the persecution of Ukrainian intellectual and political class. The purpose was to destroy the possibility of any Ukrainian national ideas, and prevent Ukraine from challenging Soviet unity. While the peasants were dying due to famine, the Soviet secret police persecuted Ukrainian intellectual and political elites. Anyone connected to the propagation of Ukrainian language or history were liable to be publicly shamed, jailed, sent to labor camp, or executed.
10 years under Bolshevik control, the Bolsheviks could not fulfill their promises, they offered scapegoats. Collectivization was not a policy allowed to be questioned. Collectivization was associated with Stalin. Stalin was not allowed to be wrong. Stalin nor party officials could not be held responsible for the failures of collectivization, therefore the responsibility was delegated to scapegoats.
Starting in 1929, with various waves, many sent to prison or the Gulag, or shot. The persecutions gained more aspects over time. Which included anyone who the political police decided on. Anyone who criticized the Communist Party were liable to be persecuted. Those persecuted were considered counter-revolutionaries. Anyone who were not in a collective farm were considered counter-revolution, as enemies. Eliminating dissidents, and those not insufficiently enthusiastic. Those considered enemies lost their property rights, and legal standing.
Those who fit into the category of kulaks became expansive. Any activity that produced unearned income became a kulak. Some became called kulak because they did not join a collective farm.
Famine was made worse by the methods used to destroy previous values, such as dignity for human life. Even churches and village rituals were attacked using ideological justification. Bolsheviks were atheists who considered churches part of the old regime. Churches provided a link to the past, which Bolsheviks wanted to remove. Churches provided a social function as a gathering for peasants, a place not controlled by the state. They were centers of opposition to the state. The attacks on the Church caused the priests to become convinced that the Soviet Union was an Antichrist organization. Peasants did not want to be part of collective farms for material reason and spiritual ones, as they did not want eternal damnation.
Collectivization destroyed social relations, with unforgivable acts. Those who participated in violence could not return to their old ways. Family relations were also changed, for parents could no longer protect their children. Children were instructed to denounce their parents. Traditions were destroyed. Before collectivization, villages tended to have self-rule with elections. After collectivization, elections were a façade for state determined candidates to espouse neighbors to join the Soviet project.
Women protested because they were less likely to be arrested. Women had less to fear from physical retribution. Should the women have been attacked, the peasant men would have had a legitimate reason for them to join the protest. Men would have had the reason of defending the honor of wives, mothers, and daughters.
With collectivization, the peasants became dependent on the state. They had no money or property. Peasants could only leave home with permission, but permission was denied. The inability to leave meant the reintroduction of serfdom.
During the famine, the starving were considered perpetrators rather than victims. Which gave the state justification to refuse to help the starving. Responsibility for food shortages and mass deaths, were laid on those who were dying.
The methods used to persecute the population became more extreme and violent. Propaganda language masked reality. People tried their best to prevent thinking about the events they were participating in. Repetition of hateful tasks and claims, made it easier to continue them. Propaganda made the persecuted appear less then citizens, less than human.
How Was The 1930s Famine Covered Up?
Until the Ukrainian independence of 1991, the story of the 1932-3 famine was not told. USSR refused to acknowledge any history of famine. Destroying archives and altering death records to conceal what happened. Population and mortality statistics were manipulated to match party rhetoric. Soviets did not keep records of the victims, therefore denying the deaths.
Stalin’s officials wanted to conceal the starvation statistics. But the dead bodies were found on the streets, because no one had the strength to bury them. The officials were denying what was happening, even as it was happening in from of them and visitors. The reports tried their best to prevent blaming food shortages on people leaving, rather they blamed those facing repression due to unfulfilled grain procurement obligations. Ukrainian communists referred to problems or difficulties, rarely to famine. They knew what was happening, but survived by observing Soviet taboos. Privately the famine was acknowledged, but not in the public. Soviet officials used euphemisms.
Soviet leadership wanted foreign approval for domestic reasons. Starting from 1917, foreigner publications were stationed in the USSR, to support the propaganda. Publications even from America. They supported the USSR achievements, for the publications saw what the Soviet’s wanted them to see. They were encouraged to dismiss information about food shortages, which some did.
Franklin Roosevelt was interested in USSR policies, and then supported their claims. They began to actively dismiss negative news about the USSR. As the famine worsened, information control by the USSR got stricter. Visits to famine ravaged regions were refused. Support from international politics meant that USSR propaganda worked.
How Did People Survive?
As the famine grew deeper, rebellion ceased. Those who starved were physically enfeebled and could not fight. Satiating hunger was the overwhelming drive. The extreme forms of hunger made any effort exhausting, which included various diseases connected to lack of food.
Survival was difficult. Either through performing human taboos, discovered willpower, or saved by someone with willpower. They ate just about anything. Flora or fauna. Brigades did their best to spoil food. As people were starving, the spoiled food was still eaten. Survivors of the famine witnessed cannibalism or necrophagy.
Villages had special boxes set up for anonymous information about hidden grain deposits. It was popular to inform on others, because part of the found food was a reward to the informants.
What Are The Outcomes Of the Famine?
During World War Two, the Red Army retreated from Ukraine using a scorched earth policy. Nazi officials knew about the famine conditions before capturing Ukraine, and decided that there was nothing that would have helped the Ukrainians even if they wanted to. Ukrainians were considered a racially inferior race by the Nazi, therefore could be discarded. Although the Germans cut off food supplies, the Nazi were less efficient than Soviets in preventing peasant traders. Ukrainian famine was considered a myth coming from Nazi propaganda. Nazi occupation caused uncertainty about the famine.
By 1959-1970, as Ukrainian population was depleted by war, famine, and purges, this gave many Russian’s opportunities to migrate to the regions. Ukrainians left behind assimilated into the Russian majority. Russification of Ukraine through destruction of culture and memory had caused many to not consider them to have a separate history. Ukrainians began to have confused loyalties.
There are many references to Imperial and Soviet Russia. The references provide a limited background on Russia.
The chronology of the events can be confusing. Generally with a linear progression, but often providing information by context and therefore sharing historical associations. Sometimes there appears to be time skips with details left out.