A few words about the conference, reports, and Kulchytsky’s article
In my presentation I focused on the arguments of the many Russian and Western scholars who disagree with Ukrainian historians’ conception of the 1932-33 famine as “an act of genocide, or Holodomor, against the people of Ukraine.”
My very presentation on this tragic subject stems from the fact that I have spent many years investigating the history of the 1932-33 famine in Russia. I have written countless papers that have been published in Japan, Italy, and Sweden. In collaboration with the American historian D’Ann Penner, I wrote a monograph on the 1932-33 famine in the Soviet countryside. In the 1990s I took part in an international project organized by the Institute of Russian History at the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN) to publish documents relating to collectivization in the USSR. I was one of the compilers responsible for the third volume of this collection of documents in this series devoted to the famine of 1932-33 ( Tragediia sovietskogo sela. Kollektivizatsiia i raskulachivanie [The Tragedy of the Soviet Countryside: Collectivization and Dekulakization], vol. 3, Moscow, 2001).
My scholarly work on the famine has attracted the interest of my colleagues abroad. I have presented papers on the 1932-33 famine in the Volga region and the USSR in Boston (US), the University of Tokyo (Japan), Vicenza (Italy), and Sweden (Stockholm School of Economics). In fact, my articles focusing on a comparative analysis of the 1932-33 famine in Russia and Ukraine have been published in scholarly publications issued by prestigious research centers in Japan, Sweden, and Italy. Therefore, I am astonished by S. V. Kulchytsky’s claim that, as a researcher, I am not familiar with the works of Ukrainian historians on the subject of the famine in Ukraine, and that I don’t know about the situation in Ukraine.
I would like to clarify my response that gave S. V. Kulchytsky reason to allege my “ignorance” of the subject. Above all, what I meant was that in Russia there are no special works that analyze the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine. This is only natural because Russia’s historians have been studying the famine in Russian regions. This, however, does not mean that other historians in Russia, including me, have not studied concrete historical materials on collectivization and the famine in Ukraine, which are reflected in historical publications in Russia, Ukraine, and the West. On the contrary, as a result of increased attention to this topic in Ukraine and the Ukrainian government’s dissemination of the view that the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine had an exceptional character, compared to that in other regions of the former USSR, Russian researchers are studying the scholarly arguments of their Ukrainian colleagues with particular scrupulosity.
Now and then, our Ukrainian colleagues adopt a cunning approach, alleging that their concept of the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine is entirely a domestic matter that has no relation to contemporary Russia. Then they turn around and make statements to the contrary. Here is one fact that confirms this: the publication of a book about the 1932-33 famine by S. V. Kulchytsky, one of the leading research associates of the Institute of History at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, with the distinctive title of Why Did He (Stalin — VK. ) Destroy Us ? (i.e., Ukrainians — VK. )
It should be understood that this book, which was published in Russian, is aimed at the Russian- speaking population of Ukraine as well as Russians. In his book the author unfolds the concept of the Holodomor as “an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people” in the fullest and most accessible form. The author further found it expedient to adorn the front cover with a conception of the “Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people,” which he probably shares with Oxana Pachlovska of the Department of Arts and Philosophy, Chair of Ukrainian Studies, at La Sapienza University of Rome. “Why Stalin destroyed Ukraine,” Pachlovska writes,” is above all one of the key issues of Russian history. Until such time as the Russians recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide, as the Germans did vis-a-vis the Holocaust, their country will never become democratic. Meanwhile, the growing distance between Russia and Europe will become an abyss.” How is Russia supposed to respond to such ultimatum-like statements? This is no longer a scholarly debate but pure politics.
Therefore, straight off I would like to state the main idea of my position. Many other experts and I are resolutely opposed to this biased, politicized, and primitively ideologized formulation of this question, and we believe — and say so in our work — that the tragedy of the years 1932-33 in the USSR should serve to unite, rather than disunite, Russia and Ukraine and the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, as a joint tragedy whose lessons should serve to strengthen the historical ties that existed throughout the centuries of the coexistence of our peoples in the complex period in which Russia and Ukraine are establishing their new statehoods, a movement along the road to democracy and progress. I am profoundly convinced that researchers of the 1932-33 famine both in Russia and Ukraine should devote their efforts to this noble cause.
As it is, historical literature and journalism present two basic views of the 1932-33 famine in the USSR. The first view is advanced by adherents of the concept of the “Holodomor in Ukraine” as a specifically Ukrainian phenomenon, an “act of genocide against the Ukrainian people” carried out by the Stalinist regime. The second is advanced by their opponents, who view this famine as the result of miscalculations in the Stalinist policy of accelerated collectivization, which was an inalienable component of the more general problem of industrial modernization in the USSR, which policy was carried out by means of forceful methods in the late 1920s and early 1930s as a result of the nature of the Soviet Union and Stalin’s character.
The concept of the “Holodomor as genocide” is not corroborated by documents pertaining to the history of collectivization in the USSR, which researchers studied and introduced into wide scholarly circulation in the 1990s and the early 2000s. These documents are absolutely adequate for comprehending the causes, scope, and the consequences of the 1932-33 famine in various regions of the USSR, particularly Ukraine.
It is impossible to confirm on the basis of documents that in 1932-33 Stalin and his associates were conducting a policy aimed at exterminating the Ukrainian people or part of it. The huge complex of documentary and other sources contains no direct confirmation of this thesis, which, in our opinion, makes the very positing of the question of “genocide” simply absurd.
Meanwhile, the connection between industrialization and the famine is obvious, inasmuch as it is linked with exports during the famine. This feature of Soviet industrialization is not a Stalinist invention. For example, between 1887 and 1891 some 10 million tons of grain were exported from Russia in order to obtain sources for industrialization, which resulted in the “Tsar Famine” of 1891-92. In 1930-33, nearly 13 million tons of grain were exported from the USSR, hence the scope of this tragedy in the grain- producing regions.
The Holodomor-as-genocide theory looks unconvincing from the standpoint of the conduct of the Stalinist leadership on the eve of and during the famine. Had it been an act of genocide, it would have followed the logic of the Nazis’ actions in the Jewish ghettos during the Second World War – in other words, they would have found a final solution to the issue by halting the shipment of food and other material resources to Ukraine. But that never happened.
According to our estimates, which are based on an analysis of sources published in the third volume of the collection of documents entitled The Tragedy of the Soviet Village: Collectivization and Dekulakization , in 1933 Ukraine received a total of 501,000 tons of grain in the form of loans, an amount that was 7.5 times larger than the one sent in 1932 (65,600 tons). Russian regions (excluding Kazakhstan) received 990,000 tons, or just 1.5 times more than in 1932 (e.g., 650,000 tons).
Why did the Center deliver such a large amount of grain to Ukraine in 1933? Because the most acute situation had developed in the grain- producing regions of the Ukrainian SSR, which threatened to disrupt the sowing campaign, something that the Stalinist leadership could not allow because this republic played a special role in the country’s grain output. In our opinion, the redistribution of material resources in 1933 in favor of Ukraine, as well as other measures to strengthen its economy, do not correspond to the understanding of a government that would allow a “genocidal” policy in regard to any people.
Although Ukrainian historians allege that there were different causes of the famine in each region, documents attest that its single mechanism was the same everywhere; namely, collectivization, the state grain deliveries, the agrarian crisis of 1932, peasant resistance, and the “punishment of the peasantry by means of famine” in order to strengthen the regime and the imposition of the collective farm system. There is no other documented mechanism. In fact, the question does not concern only grain-producing raions but others, particularly Kazakhstan, where collectivization and state meat deliveries were undermining the population’s food base.
The strongest, and perhaps the most serious, argument advanced by the advocates of the “Holodomor as genocide” concept is the demographic losses in Ukraine, which are correctly estimated by S.V. Kulchytsky at between 3 and 3.5 million victims. In our view, the scope of the tragedy in Ukraine was primarily caused by that republic’s grain-producing specialty and the extremely compact population, which found itself in the zone of total collectivization. The losses were also determined by the scope of peasant resistance as well as by measures that the central government and local authorities adopted in response in order to suppress it and prevent the kolkhoz system from falling apart.
I do not deny that the 1932-33 famine and the overall economic crisis in Ukraine led the Stalinist regime to adopt preventive measures targeting the Ukrainian national movement and, in the distant perspective, its possible social basis (intellectuals, members of the state apparatus, peasants), with the imminence and onset of the USSR’s military confrontation with its enemies. However, the first and foremost cause of the tragedy in Ukraine, as in the other regions of the USSR, was not the nationalities question but the need to strengthen the collective farm system and the political order of the Stalinists in general, which was resolved by applying typical repressive methods that were linked to the victorious regime and to Stalin’s character.
In our opinion, between four and five million people outside Ukraine perished during the 1932- 33 famine – perhaps more. Today this problem is being actively investigated by Russian experts. Can we regard them as victims of the “Holodomor genocide”? S. V. Kulchytsky does not think so. He believes that the Holodomor was an act of genocide only in Ukraine, whereas there was simply a famine in other regions of the USSR. He argues that the total confiscation of all food supplies took place in the Ukrainian countryside during the state grain deliveries, but that in Russia only grain was confiscated, while other foodstuffs were not.
However, he does not cite any specific directives from the Center and relies only on eyewitness testimonies. His arguments that such documents were destroyed as a result of the criminal nature of the Stalinist regime, or that these orders were issued by Stalin and his henchmen orally, appear unconvincing, to put it mildly, to specialists on the Stalinist period. Judging by the papers that were presented by my Ukrainian colleagues at the conference, this is their general position, and it is unlikely that they will produce any serious documents related to this topic.
During the polemic that began at the end of the session, I asked S. V. Kulchytsky the following rhetorical question: “Why were people in Russia dying of hunger if only their grain was seized but other foods were not? How is one to explain the fact that they were dying if only grain was confiscated during the state grain deliveries, but other foods were not?”
While accusing me of being “insufficiently familiar with the topic on the session’s agenda,” for all Ukraine to hear, S. V. Kulchytsky himself is guilty of unpardonable mistakes (or omissions?) and is thereby leading his colleagues astray. During the conference he insisted that Stalin threw up a blockade only around Ukraine and the Kuban in order to enclose the starving people in the famine zone; they were forbidden to leave it, hence the death toll and proof of the “Holodomor as genocide.” I am talking about the notorious directive of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR (Jan. 22, 1933) on measures aimed at preventing the mass exodus of starving peasants, in keeping with which the mass departure of peasants from the Ukrainian SSR and the North Caucasus “in search of bread” had to be stopped.
Why does S. V. Kulchytsky never mention the fact that this directive was binding not only on Ukraine and the Kuban area but also on the Don region and the national autonomies of the North Caucasus region, and that on Feb. 16 it was extended to the Lower Volga area (currently the territory of Astrakhan, Volgograd, and Saratov oblasts, as well as the Republic of Kalmykia)?
Another idea of the “Holodomor as genocide” concept in Ukraine is that hundreds of thousands of Russian peasants arrived from the RSFSR to replace the millions of Ukrainian peasants who had perished in the “genocide.” In fact, the resolution of the Politburo of the CC AUCP(B) of Oct. 22, 1933, entitled “On the Resettlement of Collective Farmers in Ukraine,” concerns 21,000 collective farmers from Russian regions and Belarus ( Tragedy of the Soviet Countryside: Collectivization and Dekulakization , vol. 3, pp. 809-81). This resettlement was carried out for purely economic purposes. In fact, while peasants were arriving from Russia and Belarus, peasants in Ukraine were being moved from one oblast to another.
In conclusion, I would like to convey to your esteemed Ukrainian readers the essence of the approach to the problem of the 1932-33 famine on the part of Russian and foreign scholars who do not support the concept of the “Holodomor as genocide” in Ukraine.
- This famine was the result of the Stalinist regime’s anti-peasant policy during the first Five-Year Plan, its miscalculations, and the antihuman, criminal measures that were instituted against the peasantry, which led to the collapse of agriculture throughout the country and to famine.
- No one planned this famine, but it was exploited by the Stalinist regime in order to force the peasants to work on collective farms and to assert its chosen political course.
- The famine had regional features that determined its scope and consequences. Above all, it affected the areas of total collectivization where the authorities encountered active peasant resistance to the state grain deliveries and the threat of the ultimate collapse of agriculture.
- The famine did not target individual nations. There was no genocide specifically against the Ukrainian people; there was a joint tragedy of the Ukrainian, Russian, and other peoples of our country, which was the fault of the Soviet leadership.
The famine of 1932-33 was a tragedy that afflicted the entire Soviet countryside, particularly in Ukraine and Russia. This tragedy should therefore unite rather than disunite these peoples.
I apologize for my (possibly) emotional approach. But through the language of emotion I tried to convey established facts and the arguments that are based on them, by no means claiming that they are perfect, let alone the ultimate truth, in this public and dialog that has begun (finally!) in regard to a topic that is so dramatically acute for Ukraine, and now Russia.
Prof. Viktor KONDRASHIN, Doctor of Historical Sciences, the city of Penza