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Authors: Miron Dolot

Execution by Hunger

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The Hidden Holocaust


W · W · Norton & Company · New York · London

Copyright © 1985 by Miron Dolot

All rights reserved.

The text of this book is composed in Times Roman, with display type set in Bauer Topic Medium. Composition by The Haddon Craftsmen, Inc.

First published as a Norton paperback 1987

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Dolot, Miron.

Execution by hunger.

1. Ukraine—Famines, 1932–1933—Personal narratives. 2. Collectivization of agriculture—Ukraine. 3. Soviet Union—Economic policy—1928-1932. I. Title.

HC337.U5D59 1985 363.8'0947'71 84—16568

ISBN: 978-0-393-30416-9

W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10110


W.W. Norton & Company, Ltd.

Castle House, 75/76 Wells Street London WIT 3QT

to those Ukrainian farmers who were
starved to death
during the Famine of 1932–1933,
my only regret being
that it is impossible for me
to fully describe their sufferings

HIS IS one of the rare eyewitness accounts of the Great Famine which struck several regions of the Soviet Union in 1932–33. The author experienced its horror as a young lad in a Ukrainian village, and Ukraine was one of the areas struck most cruelly by the disaster: it is estimated that five to seven million Ukrainians starved during that terrible year. Famine also raged over other parts of the USSR. In the Soviet Asian republic of Kazakhstan, half the native population fell victim to its ravages.
But Ukraine, along with the North Caucasus (also severely stricken), is normally the most fertile area of the vast country, hence all the more paradoxical and poignant the tragedy that overwhelmed the second most populous nation of the Soviet Union.

Famines when caused by natural factors such as drought and crop failure are terrifying phenomena. But what endowed the one of 1932–33 with special horror was that it was both caused and compounded by the policies of the Soviet government or, more specifically, those of Stalin, by that time the absolute dictator and the main author and enforcer of the scheme that caused the deaths of millions of his countrymen, as well as untold sufferings to the entire rural population of the USSR.

The somber tale begins somewhat earlier. Since 1921—the end of the Civil War—the Soviet peasants had been left in relative peace, free to cultivate their own plots in return for the obligation to turn over part of their produce to the government at a price fixed by the latter. This policy led to a remarkable recovery of the Soviet countryside from the ravages of the Revolution and the Civil War. The Soviet Union, just as Imperial Russia before 1914, had become a major exporter of the grain. Yet, by the same token, this partial toleration of free enterprise in the countryside stuck in the throat of the more doctrinaire of the Communist rulers. Marxism-Leninism, they argued, taught that the existence of a multitude of small units in agriculture (the landed estates, of course, had been expropriated in the Revolution) was both inefficient and politically dangerous. Inefficient because small-scale production in agriculture was allegedly uneconomic, conducive to low productivity and absorbing too much of the labor force of the country. Dangerous, because unlike in the other branches of the economy, the government did not completely control the producers; if not paid adequate prices, they could withhold their products from the state.

Already in 1926–27, the Communist rulers began to squeeze the peasants and farmers (then constituting some 80 percent of the population): the more prosperous among them were subjected to heavy taxes; the prices for grain were arbitrarily cut by 20 percent; increased pressure and growing persecution of the most efficient producers lowered incentives to the peasantry as a whole to produce and sell grain. Had the government planned to cause a food shortage, it could not have devised a more effective way. And indeed in 1928 deliveries of foodstuffs to the state fell off sharply.

Instead of adopting what would have been the commonsense solution of the problem, i.e., raising the prices paid to the producers, the government embarked on a drastic campaign against the peasantry as a class. The year 1928 marked the beginning of what a Soviet poet writing during the period of de-Stalinization described as (the government's) “war against the nation.” The peasants were not to be bargained with through the market forces, or offered incentives to produce more. They were to be coerced and regimented, so that they would become not merely employees, but virtual slaves of the state, just as their ancestors in Imperial Russia before 1861 had been serfs of individual landlords.

The machinery for that transformation was to be the collectivization. The individual holdings of some 25 million peasant households were to be amalgamated into approximately 250 thousand collective and state farms. Land, cattle, farm implements, in some cases even their dwellings, were to be taken from the individuals and transferred, in theory to the peasant community, in fact to the state. In name the collective farm was an agrarian cooperative, in reality, as the “reforms” were being implemented between 1928 and 1930, it was much closer to a penal colony whose inmates' work, cooperation, indeed the entire manner of life was prescribed from above and run by outsiders, often people quite ignorant both of agriculture and the local conditions. Mr. Dolot portrays vividly the havoc and confusion wrought by forcible collectivization in his native village. His picture must be magnified several thousandfold to obtain an idea of what was happening throughout the Soviet Union in those years.

Since the Communist Party did not trust any peasants, even those completely loyal to the regime, to enforce this servitude upon their fellows, it sent into the countryside 25,000 of its members, mostly young Communists, the “thousanders” of this book. And as the latter shows, most of them were fanatical Communists, indoctrinated to view the peasant as a “petty capitalist” and “class enemy,” and utterly without scruples when it came to browbeating the villagers to join the collective farm.

Faced with this challenge to his immemorial ways of life and what he viewed as the robbery of his property, the peasant, whether in Russia, Ukraine, or Central Asia, fought desperately against this spoliation. The government sought to facilitate its task by trying to split its victims and turn them against each other. The only ones who were against collectivization, and hence subject to persecution, the official line went, were the
, i.e., the more prosperous stratum of the peasantry. Yet those whom official propaganda presented as such and as exploiters of their fellow villagers were for the most part simply more efficient producers, and as such the benefactors of the countryside and the nation, rather than the “bloodsuckers” and “parasites” of the opprobrious oratory of the Communist propagandists. With official blessing, the village riffraff was incited to acts of violence against the
, they and their families were being thrown out from their homes, beaten, men occasionally lynched, and their property plundered.

Yet for all such divisive tactics, collectivization was being resisted by the peasantry as a whole. In their despair the villagers were drawn at times to terrorist acts against their oppressors. As against those incidents, the authorities instituted systematic terror against the entire class. The most active resisters were executed and their families exiled to the barren northern regions. In the course of one year, 1929–30, some five to eight million people were thus repressed. Others were resettled outside of their native regions, forced to clear swamps and eroded areas. The secret police and even army units were sent into the recalcitrant villages.

Unable to counter force with force, the peasants turned to passive resistance. One, and from the government's point of view the most dangerous, manifestation of it was the villagers slaughtering their livestock rather than surrendering it to the
. In 1928, the USSR had 32 million horses; by 1934 the figure stood at 15.5 million. In January and February 1930 alone, 14 million head of cattle were destroyed. Confronted with this disaster, the government called a halt to its war. In what was surely a masterpiece of hypocrisy, Stalin in March 1930 announced that the local officials had
in compelling villagers to join the collectives and in forgetting that his and the Party's instructions insisted that membership in them had to be through
accession. As he wrote, “Who would wish for such abuses, for that bureaucratic ordering of the collectivization movement, for those unworthy threats against the peasant?” And graciously he allowed those peasants who wished to do so to leave the collectives. How voluntary the process had been is best illustrated by the following figures: before Stalin's pronouncement, on March 1 the number of collectivized households stood at 57.6 percent for the whole country. Two months later the figure was 23.6 percent. One can imagine the chaos and the damage done to agriculture in that one terrible year.

But the peasant had won not a victory but a reprieve. By the end of 1930 the government resumed its drive to regiment the rural population into the collective farms. Force was this time combined with slight concessions to the peasant's longing for something he could call his own. He was now allowed to retain the so-called garden plot—about half an acre per household, and sometimes a single cow. By September 1931, 60 percent of rural households were again within the collectives. But the damage already done to the rural economy was soon to contribute to a disaster surpassing even that of 1929–30.

The collectivization drive was synchronized with the Soviet government's first Five Year Plan, which was designed to industrialize in a hurry the hitherto predominantly rural country. An essential ingredient in the plan was the acquisition of foreign machines, patents, and experts. How were those imports to be paid for? At the time the only way for the Soviet Union to earn large quantities of foreign currency for the sinews of industrialization was through the exports of raw materials. Hence the increasing pressure on the already devastated and impoverished countryside to extract from it grain not only for the Soviet Union's growing urban population, but also for export. In 1930, with the harvest of 83.5 million tons, the regime extracted from the peasants 22 million and exported 5.5. In the next year the country, largely for the reasons already adduced, produced 14 million tons less, but the regime squeezed out of the terrorized peasantry 22.8 million and exported 4.5. It did not take an agronomist to see that this was a path to disaster, yet the regime went on raising its quotas for compulsory deliveries. In 1932 there were portents of serious crop failures in large areas, including Ukraine, as early as the spring, and yet the state procurement plan was fixed at the highest amount yet, 29.5 million tons. By the end of the year people were already starving—the USSR exported 1.5 million tons of grain, an ample amount to feed the six to eight million people estimated to have perished from hunger in the course of 1932–33.

Such then is the background of the events described in Mr. Dolot's book. When it became clear in the course of 1932 that the quota for state grain procurement could not physically be met, Stalin in his fury ordered all the available stocks to be seized, no matter what the consequences for the local population. It is not an anti-Communist refugee, but a Soviet author during the Khrushchev era when one could allude to such things, who wrote the following about the results of a visit by a lieutenant of Stalin's to one of the afflicted areas: “All the grain without exception was requisitioned for the fulfillment of the Plan, including that set aside for sowing, fodder, and even that previously issued to the
as payment for their work.” And another Soviet source: “Many
experienced great difficulties with provisionments. There were mass cases of people swelling up from hunger and dying.” These two sentences appear in the middle of a lengthy technical article which, in general, takes a very positive view of collectivization, even though, as it was the fashion under Khrushchev, it reprimands Stalin and his henchmen for their “errors.” Today, of course, in line with the partial rehabilitation of Stalin, it is unlikely that a Soviet author would be permitted to be so indiscreet about what really happened during those terrible years.

Was Stalin's policy motivated by the need to extract all the available grain for feeding the cities and export, the goal against which the preservation of a few million peasants' lives was deemed unimportant, or was it also, as our author implies, a deliberate attempt to stamp out Ukrainian nationalism and thus solidify the
domination of the Soviet Union? This is a hypothesis strongly argued by several other writers, not all of them, by any means, Ukrainian. And to be sure, already by 1930 Stalin sought to make
nationalism the main psychological bulwark of the Soviet regime and his own personal power. Anything even remotely resembling nationalism or demands for autonomy for other of the numerous nationalities of the USSR was being stamped out by him and his henchmen even before 1930. And in the great purges of 1936–39, those officials and intellectuals suspected of even the slightest sympathy with Ukrainian national aspirations were ruthlessly repressed. In a previous great famine that struck many parts of the USSR, including Ukraine, that of 1921–22, the Soviet government did not seek to prevent its victims from fleeing the stricken areas in search of food, and it called upon the capitalist nations to help and succour the suffering millions. In 1932–33, the Kremlin sought to keep the news of mass starvation from spreading even within the USSR, so that the inhabitants of other regions remained ignorant of what was happening in Ukraine and North Caucasus. Far from outside help being sought, the government banned the import of food into these stricken areas. The militia and GPU (political police) detachments barred starving people from leaving their villages, and trying to save their own and their families' lives. Some news of course trickled out. In a poem which when discovered by the authorities was to cost him his life, the Russian poet Mandelstam wrote of Stalin: “Ten paces away and our voices cannot be heard. The only one heard is the Kremlin mountaineer, the destroyer of life and the slayer of peasants.” In the West, there were just some very sparse and muted echoes of the manmade disaster. And so all the more valuable and heartrending is this testimony of the death of the once peaceful and self-reliant Ukrainian village.

Adam Ulam
Director/Russian Research Center
Harvard University

BOOK: Execution by Hunger
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