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2008 Writing Competition

Was the Great Famine of 1932 – 1933 caused by collectivization?

Darya Gorodnicha
Colonel By Secondary School
Ottawa, ON, Canada

Table of Contents:

A: Summary of Evidence
B: Analysis
C: Conclusion
D: List of Sources

 

Section A: Summary of evidence

The Bolsheviks felt hatred for the Ukrainian nation as a troublemaker.(1) In 1921, with the adoption of the New Economic Policy, the Bolsheviks momentarily ceased their attempt to restructure society completely.(2) And the result was an “Ukrainianization” which produced a great flowering of Ukrainian culture. Ukrainians were perceived as a threat because they had declared their independence in January 1918 and because Ukrainian governments had managed to survive territorially until 1921. The five-year plan was the forced collectivization of agriculture based on the liquidation of the kulaks.

The Soviet government inadvertently set the stage but did nothing to avert the famine. The central fact about the famine is that it did not have to happen.(3) As early as January 1928, Stalin had indicated that he saw the kulak hoarder as the villain in the procurements crisis, and believed that collectivization of peasant agriculture would provide a lever of control that the state needed to guarantee adequate deliveries at the state’s time and price. A decree of December 6 th 1932 put six Ukrainian villages on a ‘blacklist’ because they had sabotaged the grain procurements campaign, meaning the complete economic blockade, equivalent to a sentence of death by starvation.(4) In August 1933, Stalin took the opportunity to accuse the Ukrainian organization of criminal laxity in failing to meet the grain quotas, and he took charge.(5) Thus Stalin started a campaign against Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism. With the 7.7 million tonnes of grain quota in mind, the Ukrainian Soviet Regime was unable to deliver the 27 per cent intended for Ukraine, and had to lower the quota to 6.5 million tonnes.(6) By the beginning of the winter, all the grain, including the seed grain of the farms in Ukraine, had been seized by the government(7). As described by Ukrainian survivors that immigrated after World War II in a collection of eyewitness documents,(8) the peasants lived on the last remaining potatoes, killed their last remaining livestock, and ate nettles and linden leaves. By March no food at all remained, and they died.

The procurement system was a major direct factor in bringing about the famine. As a result, the situation in the countryside by 1931-1932 was largely a disaster.(9) Collectivization caused mass disorganization, resistance among the peasants, and destruction of livestock.(10) Surely, the collectivization process was facilitated by mechanization (tractors), however the machinery emphasized greatly by the Soviets was breaking down, without hope of repair and preservation(11). In 1933, Mendel Khataevich, Stalin’s lieutenant in Ukraine and the leader of the grain-procurement program, proudly stated:

“A ruthless struggle is going on between the peasantry and our regime. It’s a struggle to the death. This year was a test of our strength and their endurance. It took famine to show them who is master here. It had cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay. We have won the war!(12)

The peasants employed resistance and evasion, but the regime stuck to its guns and took everything they could find, including food and seed grain. The result was that the major grain-producing areas of the country were plunged into famine in the winter of 1932-3(13).

 

Section B: Analysis

Was the Great Famine of 1932 – 1933 caused by collectivization? To understand the Ukrainian famine, one must view it not only in the context of collectivization but also in terms of political developments.

Bohdan Krawchenko is of opinion that the peasantry, the social basis of the Ukrainian nation, was more than decimated. The Ukrainian intelligentsia was destroyed; the official national Communist leadership was destroyed. In March 1930, Stalin ordered the authorities to allow the peasants to leave the collective farms. When leaving, however, they could not in any case take their implements. By mid-1932, after several other waves of deportation of people alleged to be kulaks, the main parts of the countryside had been almost totally collectivized, in particular in Ukraine. Sheila Fitzpatrick argues that the events of 1933 had therefore nothing to do with dekulakization, which had already taken place. In August 1933, however, grain delivery requirements for Ukraine were set far in excess of the region’s capacity.

Famine occurred over a wide area of the southern part of the Soviet Union. Events of course were most severe in Ukraine, which was the breadbasket and the area where resistance was greatest. Orest Subtelny would argue that the Soviet government inadvertently set the stage but did nothing to avert the famine. It could have reduced grain exports, as they did not play such a major role in the foreign trade situation. The government could have used some of its own stocks, those that had been established for the military, to alleviate famine. The Soviets could have gone further, importing grain. They could even have allowed outside famine relief. However, the Soviets stopped the trains at the border, according to numerous eyewitnesses’ accounts. Guards would seize any food found on the train, and the person carrying it was usually arrested on charges of speculation, an offense that carried the death penalty. At the same time, the railroads were forbidden to sell tickets to Russia to people who obviously came from the Ukrainian villages. Why? The Soviets did not want the famine to be coped with successfully. By 1932, for example, the whole staff of the meteorological office had been arrested on the charge of falsifying weather forecasts in order to damage the harvest.

Dana Dalrymple argues that Stalin clearly the peasants in a negative light: they had resisted his efforts at collectivization. They also threatened the sanctity of the plan and of the procurement process. Not only were peasants not allowed out to find food, but when they did leave, they were not allowed to return with food. A physical blockade prevented anybody from bringing even a few loaves into Ukraine. Stalin’s strategy, pursued for reasons of power, is not irrational. He wanted to impose the will of the victorious party and crush the nationhood and the peasantry of a country, but instead he ruined a great agricultural country.

According to James E. Mace, with the beginning of collectivization in 1929, the Bolsheviks were eliminating everything they did not like in society, which included the peasantry, the bourgeois intelligentsia and any nationally self-assertive national groups. Ukrainians were perceived as a threat due to their declaration of independence in 1918, which led to adoption of “indigenization” policy. In 1930 there was a massive purge of Ukrainian cultural and spiritual elites, whereby churches were abolished and leaders trialed. People confessed to their nonexistent crimesand were sent into the Gulag. These political developments culminated in the great famine of 1933.

However, the famine cannot be regarded as the inevitable result of a Stalin-type, collectivized, peasant economy, states Robert Conquest. The Stalin-Kaganovich-Molotov leadership did have a decisive influence. But the Ukrainian peasantry had been fighting the occupation for some time. The first Soviet governments operated only in the cities. Throughout the countryside were peasant rebellions, with peasant chiefs leading peasant armies of as many as up to 40 000. The punishment of people who are troublemakers stems only partly from a desire to subdue them as troublemakers. And yet the idea that Ukraine was a nation, that its people had national feelings, had not established itself in the West as Polish nationhood had done, simply because Ukraine had had only very brief periods of independence. It had never become a nation in Western eyes, and as a result it was not clear that there was a people against whom Stalin could commit an act.

 

Section C: Conclusion

The Great Famine of 1932-1933 was not only the outcome of collectivization but also an important tactic in nationality policy, an attempt by the Soviet Regime to solve its Ukrainian problem once and for all. Two factors contributed to the Great Famine of 1932-1933. The first was the collapse of agricultural production brought about by collectivization. Peasants slaughtered their livestock and therefore the meat delivery quotas could not be fulfilled. Also a major problem in Ukrainian agriculture was the shortage of draught animals which reduced efficiency of the fields due to lack of tractors. The second was the drought that began in 1931 and was limited largely to the central region. The climatic conditions caused relatively poor yields in 1931, 1932 and especially in 1934, when another drought developed. However, the two factors were not the famine’s main causes, because in 1934, the year of the poorest harvest, there was no famine in Ukraine. Responsibility for the famine rest with the Stalinist leadership and the draconian grain requisition quotas, imposed on Ukraine in order to maintain the heady industrialization pace.

 


Section D: Bibliography

  1. Conquest, Robert. The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet collectivization and the terror-famine. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1986.

  2. Conquest, Robert. The Man-Made Famine in Ukraine. Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1984.

  3. Dalrymple, Dana. The Man-Made Famine in Ukraine. Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1984.

  4. Dobrus. Black deeds of the Kremlin. Detroit: Dobrus. 1953

  5. Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

  6. Krawchenko, Bohdan. The Man-Made Famine of 1932-1933. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1986.

  7. Mace, James E. The Man-Made Famine of 1933 in Soviet Ukraine. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1986.

  8. Mace, James E. The Man-Made Famine in Ukraine. Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1984.

  9. Maksudov, M. Ukraine’s Demographic Losses. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1986.

  10. Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994.

 

F O O T N O T E S

  1. Conquest, Robert. The Man-Made Famine in Ukraine. Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1984. P.4.

  2. Mace, James. The Man-Made Famine in Ukraine. Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1984. P.11.

  3. Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine, a History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994. P.413.

  4. Mace, James E. The Man-Made Famine of 1933 in Soviet Ukraine. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1986. P.8.

  5. Conquest, Robert. The Man-Made Famine in Ukraine. Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1984. P.3.

  6. Ibid. P. 6-7.

  7. Maksudov, M. Ukraine’s Demographic Losses. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1986. P.31.

  8. Dobrus. Black deeds of the Kremlin. Detroit: Dobrus. 1953. V2.

  9. Dalrymple, Dana. The Man-Made Famine in Ukraine. Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1984. P.14.

  10. Krawchenko, Bohdan. The Man-Made Famine of 1932-1933. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1986. P.18.

  11. Conquest, Robert. The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1986. P.181.

  12. Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine, a History . Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994. P.415.

  13. Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. P.139.

 

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