Nationalism and Genocide: The Origin of the Orchestrated Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine
An indicative feature of the mass media’s portrayal of modern history is the striking contrast between the heavy volume of “Holocaust” material and the silent treatment given to the appalling record of Soviet mass slaughter, even though the number of Stalin’s victims alone vastly exceeds even the most exaggerated figures of alleged “Holocaust” victims. While names like Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau have been unforgettably engraved into our collective consciousness, few Americans recognize Vorkuta, Kolyma, or any of the many other Soviet camps where at least twenty million people are conservatively estimated to have perished. And whereas Americans have been taught to instantly recognize the name of Heinrich Himmler, hardly anyone has heard of Soviet secret police chiefs Nikolai Yezhov or Genrikh Yagoda, each of whom murdered many more people, and in less time, than Himmler is reputed to have killed.
The gruesome record is well documented. Nobel prize-winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has detailed the horrors of the Soviet concentration camp system, which held up to fifteen million prisoners at a time. In The Great Terror, British historian Robert Conquest cautiously estimated the number of Stalin’s political victims at 20 to 30 million. (Stalin once privately admitted to Churchill that some ten million kulaks had been killed for resisting the confiscation of their farms.) In Stallin’s Secret War, Nikolai Tolstoy exposes as a fraud the official Soviet claim, widely parroted by the Western media, that 20 million Soviet citizens were killed by the Axis during the Second World War. Tolstoy demonstrates that most of those 20 million were actually victims of the Soviet regime. Russian historian Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko estimates in A Time of Stalin that the Soviet rulers have killed more than eighty million of their own people to keep themselves in power.
Stalin’s single most horrific campaign was perhaps the organized mass starvation of 1932-1933, which he used as a weapon to totally crush peasant resistance to the forced collectivization of agriculture. Soviet military units confiscated all available food in vast areas, condemning the inhabitants to death by hunger. As Conquest points out, this is perhaps the only case in history of a purely man-made famine. He estimates that the campaign claimed five to six million lives, including more than three million Ukrainians. Other historians have put the number of Ukrainian famine victims at six or even seven million. An important new work on this subject is Miron Dolot’s moving memoir, Execution by Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust, which includes a valuable introduction by Adam Ulam.
In the following essay, Ukrainian historian Valentyn Moroz dissects the origins of the imposed famine of 1932-1933. He takes exception to the generally accepted view that the campaign was carried out for purely socio-economic reasons, and holds instead that the decisive motivation was Moscow’s need to maintain the multi-national Soviet Russian empire. Stalin destroyed the independent Ukrainian peasantry, Moroz writes, because it was the foundation and lifespring of Ukrainian nationalism.
— Mark Weber
In 1921, at the Tenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, it was resolved that the country’s non-Russian nations (nationalities) required assistance. / 1
a) to develop and strengthen locally Soviet statehood in such forms as are applicable to the national and social conditions of these nations;
b) to develop and strengthen locally, in their native languages, the legal system, administrative and economic organs, and government organs, consisting of local people who are acquainted with the living conditions and mentality of the local population;
c) to develop locally the press, schools, the theater, social clubs, and all cultural and educational institutions in their native languages;
d) to create and develop a wide spectrum of courses and education institutions in both the humanities and the technical and professional fields in their native languages …
Thus began the policy known as “korenizatsiia” or “return to the roots,” which is an instructive and very interesting phenomenon in the history of the modern Russian empire. In Ukraine this policy became known as “ukrainizatsiia” or “Ukrainianization.” In fact, this term was widely used in official documents during the 1920s. The Edict of 1923 described Ukrainianization with these words. / 2
… The people’s government acknowledges the necessity … of concentrating the attention of the state in the near future on broadening the knowledge of the Ukrainian language. The formal equality of the two most widely used languages — Ukrainian and Russian — has so far been insufficient. The processes of life, as experience has indicated, in reality favor the predominance of Russian. To remove this inequality the government will implement a series of practical measures which, while guaranteeing the equality of every language used on Ukrainian territory, must safeguard a position for Ukrainian corresponding to the size and strength of the Ukrainian nation on the territory of the Ukrainian nation on the territory of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
These days there is a tendency to regard this policy of Ukrainianization as a tactical ploy by Moscow to expose and destroy all patriotic Ukrainians. This is an extreme view. Obviously, Moscow had tactical considerations in introducing this policy. But it should be understood that Moscow was forced to adopt this policy. The impulse behind Ukrainianization came from far beyond the walls of the Kremlin and emerged from quite different sources.
The Revolution of 1917 stimulated a powerful renaissance among the non-Russian nations of the Russian empire, and this process continued even after these peoples were militarily subdued by the Soviet Russian forces. National development found means of self-expression even under the conditions of Soviet rule. While the facts and figures of the expansion of Ukrainainization are of interest for their own sake, even more interesting is the story of how the people involved found the means of carrying out this process of national development under the conditions of totalitarian one-party rule. This was possible because a kind of second political party, which was never proclaimed and formalized as such, existed during the 1920s. This alternate party was private enterprise.
The Tenth Congress of the Communist Party symbolically announced the introduction of the “new economic policy” or NEP in 1921 and shortly thereafter was also forced to proclaim the “korenizatsiia” policy of a return to native roots. New opportunities for private enterprise in economic life automatically also brought about a national renaissance among the non-Russian peoples. The “new economic policy” (NEP) not only meant a total change in economic life but in social and cultural life as a whole. Private entrepreneurs began demolishing totalitarianism in countless different ways. A shop owner operating his own business or a doctor with his own practice quickly became independent of the commissar with the red cloth on his table. They were soon also regarded as socially higher. And although these entrepreneurs had to recite the Communist slogans and jargon whenever required, the free market and not the Party came to govern their lives. Like the legendary genie suddenly released from his bottle, free enterprise spread swiftly.
This meant that, in practice, life became pluralistic, despite the protests of orthodox Communists concerned about the purity of party doctrine. And all this gave subconscious moral strength to the national movements. One felt able to “breathe” and express oneself at last. In Ukraine many associations of artists and writers were formed. An innovative and experimental theatrical life began to develop. In such conditions it was natural that legally sanctioned competition between the Ukrainian and Russian national influences would eventually develop. Among those who recognized this was Dmytro Lebed, who coined the theory of the “struggle between two cultures” in which the state should not intervene.
From the outset the Russians regarded Ukrainianization as a temporary political phenomenon, and accordingly sought to make it a purely formal letter, not to be taken seriously. For example, during a certain party conference an economic administrator from an outlying district, after listening to resolutions on the necessity of having administrators use Ukrainian in their official work, began speaking to his district director in Ukrainian. To this the official replied in Russian: “Speak like a human being!” But despite such resistance, a virtual army of patriotic Ukrainian academics and other culturally and politically active individuals greatly furthered the process of Ukrainianization. Supporters of this process of national renaissance came into high and sometimes even key positions. Because of Russian chauvinist resistance, Ukrainianization didn’t really begun to develop until 1925. A 1927 letter from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine to the Communist International (Comintern) dealt with numerous “distortions” regarding the Ukrainianization process. / 3
These distortions lie in the ignoring of and failure to value adequately the national question in Ukraine (which is frequently masked by internationalist phrases), particularly:
1) in the belittling of Ukraine’s significance as a part of the USSR, in the attempt to interpret the creation of the USSR as the actual liquidation of the national republics;
2) in the instruction that the party remain neutral toward the development of Ukrainian culture, in the interpretation of it as backward and “rural” compared to Russian “proletarian” culture;
3) in the attempt to maintain at all costs the dominance of the Russian language in the governmental, social, and cultural life of Ukraine;
4) in the formalistic attitude towards the development of Ukrainianization, which is often accepted only theoretically;
5) in the uncritical repetition of chauvinistic and imperialistic views about the so-called artificiality of Ukrainianization, the unintelligibility of the “Galician” language for the nation, and so forth, and in cultivation of these views within the party;
6) in the attempt to hinder the implementation of the policies of Ukrainianization in the towns and among the proletariat, confining it only to the villages;
7) in the frequent tendency to exaggerate isolated cases of distortion in the implementation of Ukrainianization, and in the attempt to portray these as an entire political system which violates the rights of national minorities (Russians, Jews, etc.).
It was characteristic of the time that the Communist Party of Ukraine could bypass the Central Committee in Russia and appeal directly to the Communist International, even though it was still a part of the all-encompassing “Soviet” Communist party. This is another indication of the pluralism and national self-expression which de facto manifested itself under conditions of Soviet rule, despite and in opposition to totalitarian doctrine.
The record shows that Ukrainianization was an important and very real development. Its impact may be compared to a torpedo exploding a dangerously threatening hole in the hull of the imperial ship of state. Millions of Ukrainian children were now being taught in Ukrainian. This was something for which several generations of Ukrainians had fought. In 1930 an astonishing 89 percent of the books published in Ukraine were printed in the Ukrainian language. That same year, the Eleventh Congress of the Communist Party of Ukraine reported. / 4
… A turbulent increase in Ukrainianization is apparent among the proletariat, particularly among its chief groups. Along with this there is an indisputable and systematic increase in the number of Ukrainians in the proletariat …. During the past three years the number of people who can read, write, and speak in Ukrainian has greatly increased …. The professional associations of Ukraine should take it upon themselves, as leaders of the masses, to ensure the availability of cultural services in Ukrainian for the working masses and also to make certain that the movement inspires the workers towards cultural and national development ….
These three elements — the schools, the press, and the Ukrainianization of the proletariat — are a strong base which will guarantee a rapid and unprecedented development of a Ukrainian culture which is national in form and proletarian in content.
All this created unease in Moscow, where it was understood that the continuation of this process would eventually mean the end of Russian hegemony in Ukraine. Two tendencies became apparent during the years of Ukrainianization that raised ominous questions about the future of the Russian empire.
Firstly, the major role of the village in the process of Ukrainianization became obvious. The village had long been recognized as the conserving bastion of national traditions. But now it was also clearly a powerful impetus for Ukrainianization in the towns and cities as well. The most talented Ukrainian national authors and cultural leaders of the 1920s were from the villages, which provided a solid base of some forty million people for the development of Ukrainianization. Ukrainian blood from the villages flowed into the veins of new Ukrainian social and cultural institutions developing in the cities. As these structures grew visibly stronger it became increasingly evident that this powerful and turbulent stream would eventually sweep aside all Russian influence. Joseph Stalin, the most important Bolshevik theoretician on the national question, clearly understood the crucial importance of the village in this process. In a speech to the Tenth Soviet Communist Party Congress in 1921 he pointed out. / 5
It is obvious that although the Russian element is still predominant in Ukrainian cities, within a short period of time these cities will doubtlessly be Ukrainianized. Forty years ago Riga was a German city, but because the village population moves to the cities and determines their character, Riga is now a Latvian city. Fifty years ago every city in Hungary had a German character, but now each is Hungarian. The same can be said for the cities of Ukraine because the village population will move to the cities. The village is the representative of the Ukrainian language and this language will penetrate every Ukrainian city and there become the dominant language.
Secondly, a clear distinction developed between archaic and modern nationalism. The first could express itself only in traditional and limited forms. It was thus able to co-exist for many years within a colonial structure, within the framework of an alien empire, and dominated by a foreign dynasty. In contrast, the modern form of nationalism was aggressive and dynamic, intolerant of colonial structures and inclined to demolish them. It was characterized by an alliance of the village and a national intelligentsia which emerged from native ethnic roots. (This modern form of nationalism brought down the European colonial empires in Asia and Africa during the 1940s and 1950s, and was accompanied by major conflicts and social upheaval.)
The process of Ukrainianization during the 1920s gave birth to a concept that had the potential of becoming an umbrella or screen behind which meaningful Ukrainian nationalism could develop under the new conditions of Soviet rule. This concept was best formulated by the writer Mykola Khvyloviy, who coined the slogans “Away from Russia!” and “We can do without a Russian conductor.” Even the titles of his essays (such as “Russian Slops”) convey the new atmosphere and direction that emerged from Ukrainianization. With this concept, Ukrainian cultural, social and even political development could be furthered using acceptable “proletarian” jargon. In his polemical dispute with Russian newspapers, Khvyloviy wrote. / 6
Today, as Ukrainian poetry follows its own direction, Moscow is no longer able to tempt it with baubles …. And this is not because this or that Ukrainian participant in the dispute is more talented than this or that Russian (God forbid!) but because the Ukrainian reality is more complex than the Russian, because we have before us different tasks, because we are the young class of a young nation, because our literature is young ….
Because our literature has at last found its own path of development, the question now lies before us: Which of the world’s literatures should we follow? In any case, not Russian literature. That is absolutely crucial. We must not confuse our political union with literature. Ukrainian poetry must move away from Russian literature and its influence as soon as possible. The Poles would never have given us Mickiewicz if their orientation towards Russian art had not ceased. The fact is that Russian literature has been weighing us down for centuries, like a master who has trained our mentality into slave-like imitation. So, to feed our young art with Russian literature is to restrain its development. We are aware of proletarian ideas without the help of Russian art. To the contrary, we, as representatives of a young nation, will more easily sense these ideas and will more quickly recreate them in suitable works of art. We will orient ourselves towards western European art, toward its style and methods.
We have philosophized enough. Let us at last use our guide. We do so not with the intention of harnassing our art to yet another foreign wagon, but in order to free it from the suffocating atmosphere of backwardness. We will go to Europe to learn, but in a few years we will return burning with a new light. Do you hear what we want, Moscow-lovers with your Russian slops? So, death to the Dostoyevskys! Let us begin a cultural renaissance!
It is also characteristic of the time that Khvyloviy came from a Russified milieu. This itself was his inspiration. Khvyloviy, who had been named Fitilov, knew from personal experience the swamp-like world of Russified Ukrainians. He thus knew best how to fight against it. The most effective preacher is a Saul converted into a Paul.
As Moscow watched, new institutions were developing that were both Communist and Ukrainian. Along with others, Khvyloviy exclaimed: “We are aware of proletarian ideas without the help of Russian art.” The next and inevitable stage in the realization of the slogan “Away from Russia!” would have been the political separation of Ukraine from Russia. And that would have meant the collapse of the Russian empire. As everyone realized, Russia without Ukraine would automatically be reduced to the small realm (khanate) of Moscovy it had once been in the 16th century before Tsar Peter I.
The successful development of Ukrainianization (and of parallel national developments in other Soviet republics) was not limited to literary life. The non-Russian nations of the USSR chalked up other important achievements that threatened Russian hegemony. One was the establishment of “native” (territorial) armies. Out of a total of 17 army divisions based in Ukraine in the late 1920s, eight were “native” divisions consisting almost entirely of Ukrainians. These divisions also used Ukrainian as the language of communication and military command. Ukrainian was also the language of instruction in some military schools. Other non-Russian peoples had similar military formations. There were two Byelorussian divisions, two Georgian, and one Armenian, as well as one Tatar regiment, one Tadzhik regiment, and so forth. National non-Russian educational systems also developed. Under the direction of the Ukrainian minister of education, Hryhory Hrynko, an educational system developed in Ukraine that differed in every way from the Russian form. In economic life Volobuyev introduced the concept by which Ukraine would develop a national economy separate from Russia. And so it went in every sphere of Ukrainian life.
Moscow understood that if this process was allowed to continue for another decade the Soviet Russian empire would break up along national lines, much as the Austro-Hungarian empire had at the end of the First World War. The Kremlin rulers realized another essential reality: the empire could only be held together with totalitarianism. And that meant totalitarianism in every sphere of life. Only absolute state power could guarantee a unified empire. Although Russian chauvinistic opposition to the Ukrainian renaissance never completely disappeared, it was ineffective during the 1920s for two reasons. Firstly, private enterprise automatically brought with it pluralism in other spheres of life. It was comparable to fresh rain falling on the young shoots of the national movement. Secondly, the national awakening unleashed by the revolution of 1917 burgeoned during the decade of the 1920s.
The historical pendulum began to swing in a different direction at the close of the 1920s. The energy of the national renaissance was depleted, indicating the beginning of a decline. The regrouped imperial forces sensed that the time had come to strike back. Their revenge took three forms: 1. The elimination of private property in the villages and the imposition of totalitarian agriculture in the form of the collective farm (“kolhosp” or, in Russian, “kolkhoz”); 2. The uprooting of private enterprise in industry and trade; 3. The annihilation of pluralism in the arts. All cultural associations were replaced by unitary cultural unions, one each for writers, artists, journalists, and so forth.
The crucial essence of this program was the annihilation of the traditional village structure, which had always been the nation’s foundation. Stalin recognized the key role of the village in the movement for national liberation. “The village is the major army in a national movement,” he wrote. “Without the village the movement becomes impossible. This is what we mean when we say that the national question is, in effect, the village question. / 7
In planning the artificial famine of 1933, Moscow sought to strike a fatal blow at the village structure, not because it was socially troublesome or economically disadvantageous, but because it was the lifespring and resource foundation of the vital national spirit. Postishev, who was sent to Ukraine in 1933 as Moscow’s plenipotentiary, stated this clearly: “The mistakes and oversight of the Communist Party of Ukraine in the realization of the nationalities policy of the party was one of the major reasons for the collapse of agriculture in l931-1932.” / 8
This one sentence is enough to show that the national question triggered the catastrophe of 1933. The Plenum in 1933 and the Twelfth Congress of the Communist Party of Ukraine in January 1934 both declared that “the greatest danger in Ukraine is local Ukrainian nationalism. / 9 This marked a turning point in the Kremlin’s nationalities policy. Until then the greatest danger in the nationalities question was officially “Russian imperialistic chauvinism.” At the Twelfth Congress of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Postishev declared that “1933 was the year of the defeat of Ukrainian nationalist counter-revolution.” / 10 Moscow thus regarded the catastrophe of 1933 as an aspect of the struggle against Ukrainian national renaissance. The village and national aspects of this catastrophe were closely interconnected.
In the spring of 1933, when millions of Ukrainian villagers were starving to death, Soviet forces carried out mass executions across Ukraine. Two population groups were targeted for extermination: the intelligentsia and Ukrainain Communists who had once belonged to other parties. The census figures of 1926 and 1939 indicate that the Ukrainian population decreased by ten percent during this period, while the number of Russians increased by 27 percent. / 11 The reason for this startling contrast was explained by a witness of the 1933 famine: “There were two villages on the border between the Ukrainain Soviet Socialist Revublic and the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic. On the Ukrainian side everything was taken away, on the Russian side there were normal corn [grain] taxes and everything went according to plan. The Ukrainians climbed onto the roofs of passing trains and traveled to Russia to buy bread.” / 12
Historians have concluded that Ukraine lost 80 percent of its creative intelligentsia during the decade of the 1930s. / 13 Thus, Ukrainian culture suffered even more acutely than Ukrainian village life. While 80 percent of the books published in Ukraine in 1930 were printed in Ukrainian, in 1934 this figure had fallen to only 59 percent. / 14 At the Eleventh Congress of the Communist Party of Ukraine in 1930 there was talk of “the turbulent rise of Ukrainialization” and of the necessity for its continuation. In 1934, at the Twelfth Congress quite a different tone prevailed. /15
Before the November Plenum alone, 248 counter-revolutionaries, nationalists, spies and class enemies — among them 48 enemies who were party members — were exposed and expelled from Ukrainian research institutes and the Ministry of Education. Since then, many more of these people have been unmasked. For example, not long ago, in December, we were compelled to close down the Bahaliy Research Institute of History and Culture because we discovered that this institute, like numerous other academic organizations (such as the Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopaedia and the Shevchenko Institute where Pylypenko was administrator), was a nest of counter-revolution.
A key question in this entire issue is this: To what extent were the repressions of the 1930s carried out for socio-economic reasons? Certainly the social and economic motivations behind this policy of repression cannot be ignored or overlooked. But these motivations must be understood within historical context. Although these repressions were social in application, they were carried out primarily to preserve Russian imperial power.
The central thesis of this essay is that socio-economic considerations played only an instrumental and auxiliary role in the policy of repression of the 1930s. The drastic socio-economic changes of this period were motivated primarily by the desire to maintain Russian imperial hegemony, and only secondarily by economic considerations. In the struggle between orthodox dogmatists and pragmatists within the Communist party in the early 1930s, the defenders of doctrine were victorious. At the same time, however, the momentum of their attack against the pragmatists gave them their imperialistic and chauvinistic impulse.
The history of the Soviet system until the Second World War is normally divided into three phases: 1. Military Communism, 1917-1921; 2. Temporary tactical retreat in the form of the New Economic Policy, 1921-1929; 3. Further development of Communism according to Marxist doctrine, from 1929. However, few historians have considered that the characteristics of the third phase are hardly pragmatic.
I would describe these three phases somewhat differently. The first phase may be called a naive Communist experiment. During this period of “military Communism” the principle of private enterprise was totally extinguished. The new Soviet state confiscated as much of the villagers’ production as it desired. (In practice this was usually as much as it could find.) A black market operated, and without it life could not have continued, even though officially it was illegal even to sell one’s own shoes. The economy quickly fell into chaos. Suffice it to mention that only one blast furnace was functioning in Ukraine in 1921.
It was obvious that this “pure Communism” would soon result in the total collapse of the new system unless the new Soviet rulers recovered quickly from their “orthodox” intoxication. The abrupt turn to pragmatism in 1921 proved effective. This NEP phase permitted extensive private enterprise in agriculture and other aspects of economic life. It ended in 1929 with a sharp return to the collectivized system. This change has been generally regarded as a return to Marxist orthodoxy after a temporary retreat. However, this view is erroneous. The socio-economic policy of the 1930s was not a return to “pure” Communist orthodoxy. It was rather a synthesis of the principle of collectivization and pragmatism dictated by exclusively imperial interests.
The Communism described in Marx’s Das Kapital is not realistic. As with any ideology, Communism in practice must take into consideration concrete national interests. The first Soviet phase of “military Communism” was only an experiment. The new Soviet rulers believed that the mythical “world revolution” and the utopian ideal of Communism would quickly usher in a worldwide proletarian paradise. These fantasies utterly ignored national considerations. The second NEP phase was a concession forced by individualistic and national factors. Only in the third phase was Communism integrated with Russian national interests. Marxist doctrine was adapted to the needs of the “Third Rome” (Moscow). (A similar process occured in China. After a series of uprooting experiments, a variant form of Communism was finally developed that might successfully serve Chinese imperial interests.)
A careful study of the Soviet collective farm system makes clear that it is not consistent with pure Communist doctrine. While the land and all agricultural implements are group property, houses, gardens, chickens, pigs, cows and many other items remained the property of individual villagers. In urban areas individuals continue to own such basic items as homes, holiday houses, and automobiles.
Beginning with the Stalin era, the Soviet system has been characterized by an ongoing combination of the collectivization principle and pragmatism. However, the nature of this pragmatism is not at all economic. If economic considerations were paramount, Moscow would long ago have disbanded the collective farms and reintroduced private enterprise in economic life. The collective farm system has brought Soviet agriculture to its knees, and the Soviet economy has still not recovered from the chronic depression caused by Stalin’s drastic experiments during the 1930s. Soviet pragmatism is thus dictated by imperial and not economic interests. The relationship between the principle of collectivization and pragmatism is adjusted according to the interests of the empire. The collective farm worker category is not a socio-economic category as much as it an imperial category, similar to the “colon” class of the late Roman era. If villagers live according to the principles of individual self-reliance and private enterprise, they maintain a vital national awareness. This consciousness makes the collapse of any empire inevitable. Imperial self-interest necessitates the destruction of the villagers’ traditional way of life. The villager is transformed into a “proletarian” who is neither tied to his land nor to his national heritage. Such rootless people easily lose touch with their native localities and migrate to the endless wastes of Siberia or Kazakhstan — from one end of the empire to the other — in search of higher wages. Moscow’s intention has been to assimilate the non-Russian half of the Soviet empire. It is also interesting to note that even during the worst economic periods of Soviet rule, there has always been sufficient liquor available in the stores. This is one Soviet product that has never been in short supply. In destroying national consciousness, liquor has been as important as official Soviet propaganda. It’s not difficult to persuade a drunk “proletarian” that as far as his national heritage is concerned “What’s the difference?”.
The collective farms are essential to the Soviet system, not because of Marxist economic doctrine (Yugoslavia gets along without them), but to maintain the empire. It is the Soviet Russian empire and not Communist orthodoxy that bans private enterprise. This is a key fact in understanding the nature of the Soviet system.
Thus, economic principles are ignored in favor of imperial interests. Not even the catastrophic economic consequences of this policy induce Moscow to change. Accordingly, the orthodox “purity” of Marxism has been abandoned. Of course, Soviet textbooks and newspapers repetitiously insist that everything is advancing “according to Marxist principles.” But whoever has the patience to read past the third page of Marx’s Das Kapital (almost no one in the Soviet Union has done so) realizes that the Kremlin ignores numerous Marxist principles. One example is the notion of “the total collapse of capitalism,” which has not occured as Marx “scientifically” predicted. Another is the Leninist thesis that the Soviet Union would not require a standing army (only a limited “people’s militia”), nor secret diplomacy, and so forth. These things are never mentioned in the USSR. While using Communist slogans for its own ends, the Soviet Russian empire has simply discarded everything about Communism that might prove advantageous to the non-Russian peoples.
The introduction of the collectivization and industrialization programs at the end of the 1920s meant that the empire once again held the reins of power tightly in its hands. During the chaos of the revolution these reins were temporarily torn from its control. State policy shifted in different directions during the 1920s in response to various forces. But when Moscow recovered and fully realized the situation, it once again adapted to the needs of the empire.
Although the impetus for the repressions of the 1930s is widely considered to have been socio-economic, often even by those who made policy, the real motivation behind the repression was a subconscious and unexpressed need to preserve the imperial system. The imperial instinct prompted the concrete social forms of the repression as well as the kind of totalitarianism that could be effective during the 1930s. If there had been no pressing imperial interests or Russian chauvinism, the repressions of the 1930s would have been only a tenth as severe. This is shown by comparing the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the Armenian massacre of 1915. Foreigners who were in Petrograd in late 1917 were astonished at how little blood was shed in the Bolshevik seizure of power. When one class fights another, many shots are fired but few people are killed. In contrast, an estimated two million Armenians were slaughtered in 1915 in an effort by the Turkish (Ottoman) empire to put an end to the Armenian national question. It is estimated that one half of the Armenian nation was murdered.
These elementary analogies are enough to show that the murder of seven million Ukrainians in 1933 could not have been motivated by socio-economic or “class” reasons alone. Conflicts claim millions of victims only in struggles between nations, as in wars, colonial struggles, and so forth, when the national question is paramount. Moscow needed a holocaust. The imposed famine of 1933 and the whole range of repressive mass killings during the 1930s were an expression of the empire’s struggle for self-preservation. It was this instinct, and not the economic doctrine of collectivization, that impelled the Kremlin to carry out the horrors of the 1930s. No one can say how “real” socialist economics are supposed to work in practice. For example, Sweden calls itself a socialist society, and some regard it as a model of socialism. But Sweden has never abolished private enterprise. And although Poland has been under complete Soviet domination since 1945, collectivized agriculture has never been introduced there.
An article entitled “The Ethnocide of the Ukrainians in the USSR,” signed by pseudonym Maksym Sahaydak, appeared in 1974 in the underground journal Ukrainian News. After quoting from Stalin’s speech to the both Soviet Communist Party Congress of 1921, predicting that the cities of the Ukraine will inevitably become Ukrainianized, the author concludes: “The invaders dreaded this as they would an inferno, and they still dread it today. Bolshevik Moscow, headed by ‘the father of all nations’ (Stalin), did everything it could to stop the Ukrainian city from becoming Ukrainianized. This was the central reason for the famine in Ukraine in 1932 and 1933.” / 16
From a historical perspective the year 1933 in the history of the Russian empire is analogous to 1848 in the Austrian empire, when the rulers in Vienna preserved the realm from dissolution by taking effective measures to repress the centrifugal national movements. This was the last great convulsion and the last effective effort for self-preservation before the final earthquake in 1918 brought about the collapse of the Habsburg empire.
. KPSS v resoliutsiiach i postanovleniia sezdov, konferentsii i plenumov TC (Moscow: 1954), Vol. 1, p. 559.
. Entsycopediia Ukrainoznavstva (1949), Vol. 1(2), pp. 547-548.
. Dva roky roboty. Zvit Tsentralnoho Komitetu KP (b) U. (Kharkiv [Kharkov]: 1927), pp. 57-58.
. XI zyizd KP (b)U. Stenohrafichnyj zvit (Kharkiv: 1930), pp. 737-738.
. X zyezd RKP(b). Stenohraficheskyj otchet (Moscow: 1963), p. 213.
. Visti BUCVK (dodatok “Kultura i pobut”), (1926).
. I. Stalin, Marksysm i natsionalno-kolonialnyj vopros (Moscow: 1935), p. 152.
. Ukrainskyj zbirnyk (Munich: 1957), Vol. 9, p. 71
. V.I. Hryshko, Ukrainskyj Ho1okost 1933 (1978), p. 77.
. Chrevonyj Shlach (Kharkiv: 1934), 2-3, p. 165.
. The Black Deeds of the Kremlin: A White Book (New York and Toronto: Dobrus, 1955), Vol. 2, p. 129.
. I. M-ko (I. Maystrenko), Do 25 richiia holodu 1933-ho roku. (Munich: Vpered, 1958), 7(92), p. 1.
. Entsyclopediia Ukrainoznavstva (Paris and New York: 1959), Vol. 3, p. 1050.
. U. Lavrynenko, Rostriliane Vidrodzheniia (Paris: 1959), p. 965.
. XII zyizd KP (b)U. Stenohrafichnyi zvit (Kharkiv: 1934), p. 380.
. Ukrainskyj Visnyk (Paris: Smoloskyp, 1975, reprint), 7-8, pp. 50-51.
From The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1986 (Vol. 6, No. 2), pages 207 – 220. This paper was first presented by the author at the Sixth IHR conference in February 1985, in Anaheim, California.
About the Author
Valentyn Moroz, historian, educator and author, has been a leading figure in the Ukrainian national movement. During the Soviet era he was a prominent anti-Communist dissident, a stalwart fighter for human rights and national freedom, and a political prisoner for 13 years in Soviet prisons and camps.
He was born in April 1936 in a village in the Volyn region of western Ukraine. After studies at the University of Lviv (Lvov), he worked as a secondary school teacher in his native region, and he taught modern history at teachers colleges. He was arrested in September 1965 on charges of “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda,” declared guilty, and sentenced to four years in a labor camp with a strict regimen. While in solitary confinement in a labor camp prison, he completed a lengthy essay entitled Report from the Beria Reserve, which was smuggled out and later published in the abroad. He was transferred to the central KGB prison in Kyiv (Kiev) and then to the notorious Vladimir prison.
In 1969 Moroz was released, but nine months later he was arrested again on a new charge of “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.” He was sentenced in November 1970 to six years of prison in strict isolation, to be followed by three years in a prison camp with a strict regimen, and then five years of internal exile. During this new term of imprisonment Moroz was treated harshly, and he went on several hunger strikes in protest.
The severity of his treatment prompted widespread protests, both within Soviet Ukraine and abroad. He and his case received considerable international publicity, and protest demonstrations on his behalf were held in front of Soviet embassies and consulates in the US and Canada. It was largely in response to the international protest campaign that Soviet authorities decided to release him. In April 1979 he was exiled to the United States. He was released at JFK airport in New York, along with four other dissidents, in exchange for two Soviet KGB agents.
Moroz then worked for a year as a Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Department of History. He completed his Ph.D. in 1982 at the Ukrainian Free University in Munich. He and his wife then made their home in Toronto, where he edited a Ukrainian journal and worked as a radio journalist. He was also prolific contributor to numerous Ukrainian periodicals in Canada and the US, and he lectured widely. In 1997 he moved back to Ukraine, and since then has made his home in Lviv, where he has been a university lecturer.