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Another attack

Why don’t they understand Ukraine’s Holodomor as an act of genocide?
11 February, 00:00

Continued from previous issue

In 1934 the Ukrainian capital was transferred from Kharkiv to the national center, Kyiv. At the same time they combated Petliurite Ukrainization in every way, including the use of inhuman means. The Soviet government was perfectly content to have ethnic Ukrainians (or Little Russians, as they were known before the October revolution), but the state-building ones who dreamed of implementing the right to secede from the USSR, which was laid down in the Constitution of the Ukrainian SSR, were a big threat. Repressions among the titular nations looked like (but were not) ethnic purges.

In formulating this thesis, I realize that the Kremlin did not bother too much to distinguish between the state-building and ethnic Ukrainians, especially when repressions turned into carpet bombing — terror by famine. However, one peculiarity of the Kremlin’s policy in Ukraine was facilitating the development of the cultural and ethnographic aspects of national life while destroying what Stalin described as “Petlirutie Ukrainization.” My Russian colleagues ought to realize that in Stalin’s prison of nations Ukrainians were more often subjected to purges than Russians — simply because they were Ukrainians. They formed the largest national republic in terms of territory, population, and economic capacities, let alone the fact that this republic bordered on Europe. This republic had a constitution that proclaimed the right to secede from the USSR, which could be implemented in time of crisis.

Is it possible to prove that persecution of Ukrainians in the Ukrainian SSR and in the Kuban region was not another kind of ethnic purges, but was meant to prevent Ukraine from withdrawing from the Soviet Union? In August 1932, when the crisis was going from bad to worse, Stalin wrote from a health resort to Kaganovich in the Kremlin: “We may lose Ukraine… once the situation worsens.” This is a unique statement, considering that the Kremlin’s national policy was always referred to as “internationalist,” even in the top secret files. I am sure that no one will ever find direct archival evidence of what Stalin and his team had in mind when they organized the famine in Ukraine that would kill millions.

Does this mean that there is no way to prove the Kremlin’s criminal actions in Ukraine? No, it doesn’t. It is necessary to alter the course of investigation and approach the problem not in terms of motives behind the actions of the Kremlin butchers, but in terms of the mechanism of the Holodomor.

The mechanism of Stalin’s crime is revealed in publications that appeared in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor, in 2007-08. It is generalized in the National Book of Memory of the 1932-33 Holodomor in Ukraine.

To begin with, the Ukrainian and Russian researchers are split on the mechanism of the 1932-33 tragedy. Strange as it may seem, both sides demonstrate the same approach to the topic, regarding this tragedy as a single phenomenon from beginning to end. The Russians say it was a famine that engulfed the whole Soviet Union. Ukrainians insist it was terror by famine, the Holodomor. Both sides believe there was one reason behind the all-Union famine and Holodomor. It was first mentioned by the Resolution “On the Famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine and the Publication of Pertinent Archival Materials” of the CC of the Communist Party of Ukraine (Jan. 26, 1990). It read: “Archival materials show that the main reason behind the famine in the early 1930s was the grain procurement policy that was conducted forcefully, with the use of extensive repressions, and which had a devastating effect on the peasantry.”

In actuality, this devastating grain procurement policy caused a famine in the USSR in 1932-33 and in Ukraine, in 1932. The only difference between the all-Union famine and the one in Ukraine was that the latter was harder to endure, compared to other regions (except Kazakhstan where the situation became disastrous as a result of forcing nomads into the settled peasant lifestyle).

The concept of Holodomor as a whole phenomenon that stemmed from the confiscation of grain offers a distorted view of what actually happened in the blacklisted Ukrainian villages in December 1932 and in all of Ukraine in January 1933. At the time the government secretly — under the guise of grain procurements — confiscated all foods from the “debtors” (in fact, almost all the collective farms), foods that the peasants traditionally stored between harvests. This confiscation of foodstuffs created a situation in which people starved to death after two to three weeks. Such is the nature of the Ukrainian Holodomor.

Documents published and retrieved from the archives confirm the correctness of Russian researchers who say that:

- Two regions of Russia (Kazakhstan and Kuban) and Ukraine suffered the worst from the famine;

- The Kremlin lowered grain delivery quotas for Ukraine three times;

- In the second half of 1932 Ukraine supplied to the state considerably less grain than in 1930 and 1931;

- Party and government documents concerning grain deliveries were signed by Ukrainian political leaders who assured the Kremlin that there was no famine in Ukraine;

- The bulk of the Kremlin’s aid — in terms of food, seeds, and fodder — to the famine-stricken regions in the first half of 1933 was sent to Ukraine and the Kuban region.

In view of the above, the Russian researchers conclude that it is necessary to condemn Stalin’s policy, considering that he was selling grain abroad when his country was gripped by famine, in order to receive hard currency to speed up the process of industrialization. However, they see no signs of genocide in this policy of excessive grain deliveries. Most of their Western colleagues who are studying documents published in Ukraine and Russia also believe that people died of hunger, but were not murdered by famine in all regions of the USSR.

One can agree or disagree with this conclusion of Russian and Western researchers. The Ukrainian Holodomor has nothing to do with this disputable matter. It was the result of a crime engineered by Stalin and perpetrated by a group of his associates. Stalin’s motives have no documented basis but can be understood after analyzing the Kremlin’s national policy. In conditions of a grave crisis Stalin did what he did to retain his position at the top of the political system.

There are two attacking policy periods in Soviet history that have to do with the implementation of the 1919 RKP(b) program. Starting a communist revolution from the top, Lenin nationalized large industrial businesses in 1918-29 and formed a 500,000-strong army that twice attempted to enforce communism in Western Europe (through Hungary in 1919 and through Poland in 1920). Both failures are explained by the economic crisis resulting from several years of confiscation of grain from the peasants. In March 1921, Lenin changed forced grain deliveries for the tax in kind. People could now trade in surplus products.

Stalin launched the second assault in 1929-32 to boost industrialization and collectivization. Once again the relationships between the state and the peasantry acquired a confiscatory character, with the same result: economic crisis that manifested itself as an all-USSR famine in 1932-33.

On Jan. 19, 1933, the Kremlin discarded grain confiscation, instituted the tax in kind, and allowed sales of surplus products. This decision normalized relations between the urban and rural areas, but the party leadership had to abandon the 1919 RKP(b) program. Contrary to this program, there remained vestiges of free market and commodity-market relations in the Soviet Union.

The communist revolution “from the top” served as a backdrop for the Ukrainian Holodomor. Caused by grain confiscations, the famine had increased tenfold now that all foods were taken away. The confiscation campaign was prepared by Molotov’s grain procurement commissions in Ukraine and Kaganovich’s commissions in the Kuban region. Molotov worked out legislation providing for fines levied in kind on those lagging behind with grain delivery quotas. He had Stalin’s approval and forced the Ukrainian political leaders to sign appropriate decrees.

On Jan. 1, 1933, Stalin sent a telegram signaling the beginning of door-to-door searches for “concealed grain,” in the course of which all foodstuffs were confiscated. The starving members of poor peasants’ committees, led by Chekists, created a situation of total famine in the countryside. In a couple of weeks, in the second decade of February 1933, the state started feeding the starving people through the collective and state farms — provided these people could start working again. Countless documents can be published about the Kremlin’s aid to Ukraine, which was starving to death, but this aid and confiscation of foodstuffs should be considered as a single repressive campaign made up of two polarized operations.

The mechanism of terror by famine is established on a documentary basis: legislation on the confiscation of other products in the absence of grain; Stalin’s telegram to the Ukrainian peasantry of January 1; blockade of starving people as per directive signed by Stalin on Jan. 22, 1933 (the original is available). There are no documents attesting to the information blockade, but it is generally known that no one was allowed to mention the 1932-33 famine in the USSR until December 1987.

Terror by famine, aimed against the peasantry, cannot be considered as an isolated phenomenon. Nor is there anything coincidental about its occurrence simultaneously with massive repressions against the Ukrainian intelligentsia, but this is a different topic.

* * *

Everything stated in this article is an attempt to be finally heard by both parties of the debate on the Holodomor. I don’t expect brief theses allowed by newspaper format to make anyone actually change his mind. However, the above suffices to make both sides realize their weak points. Then it will be possible to start meeting each other halfway. Any topic can be argued, but the memory of the Holodomor victims must not be marred by debate.

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