stalin’s forced famine killed seven million — 5/4/15

Today’s selection —  from Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore. In the early 1930s, Soviet leader Josef Stalin extracted as much grain as possible from the farmers of the Soviet Union, especially those in the Ukraine, resulting in a forced famine with an estimated 7,000,000 deaths. The main purpose was to fund his country’s rapid industrialization projects, but he also wanted to force the “kulaks” (formerly wealthy farmers that had owned 24 or more acres) into submission and bring about the “collectivization” of privately held lands. In the Ukraine, he also wanted to stave off the stirrings of an independence movement:

“[Stalin and his] small group of idealistic, ruthless magnates, mainly in their thirties, was the engine of a vast and awesome Revolution: they would build socialism immediately and abolish capitalism. Their industrial programme, the Five-Year Plan, would make Russia a great power never again to be humiliated by the West. Their war on the countryside would forever exterminate the internal enemy, the kulaks, and return the Party to the values of 1917. It was Lenin who said, ‘Merciless mass terror against the kulaks … Death to them!’ Thousands of young people shared their idealism. The Plan demanded a 110 percent rise in productivity which Stalin, Kuibyshev and Sergo insisted was possible because everything was possible. ‘To lower the tempo means to lag behind,’ explained Stalin in 1931. ‘And laggards are beaten! But we don’t want to be beaten … The history of old Russia consisted … in her being beaten … for her backwardness.’ …

A dispossessed kulak and his family in front of their home

“In November 1929, … Stalin returned refreshed from his holidays and immediately intensified the war on the peasantry, demanding ‘an offensive against the kulaks … to get ready for action and to deal the kulak class such a blow that it will no longer rise to its feet.’ But the peasants refused to sow their crops, declaring war on the regime. …

“[Stalin and the Politburo] realized they had to escalate their war on the countryside and literally ‘liquidate the kulaks as a class.’ They unleashed a secret police war in which organized brutality, vicious pillage and fanatical ideology vied with one another to destroy the lives of millions. …

“In January 1930, [Premier Vyacheslav] Molotov planned the destruction of the kulaks, who were divided into three categories: ‘First category: … to be immediately eliminated’; the second, to be imprisoned in camps; the third, 150,000 households, to be deported. Molotov oversaw the death squads, the railway carriages, the concentration camps like a military commander. Between five and seven million people ultimately fitted into the three categories. There was no way to select a kulak: Stalin himself agonized: scribbling in his notes: ‘What does kulak mean?’

“Away with private peasants!”

“During 1930-31, about 1.68 million people were deported to the east and north. Within months, Stalin and Molotov’s plan had led to 2,200 rebellions involving more than 800,000 people. Kaganovich and Mikoyan led expeditions into the countryside with brigades of OGPU troopers and armoured trains like warlords. The magnates’ handwritten letters to Stalin ring with the fraternal thrill of their war for human betterment against unarmed peasants: ‘Taking all measures about food and grain,’ Mikoyan reported to Stalin, citing the need to dismiss ‘wreckers’: ‘We face big resistance … We need to destroy the resistance.’ In Kaganovich’s photograph album, we find him heading out into Siberia with his armed posse of leather-jacketed ruffians, interrogating peasants, poking around in their haystacks, finding the grain, deporting the culprits and moving on again, exhausted, falling asleep between stops. ‘Molotov works really hard and is very tired,’ Mikoyan told Stalin. ‘The mass of work is so vast it needs horsepower … ‘ …

“The peasants believed they could force the government to stop by destroying their own livestock: the despair that could lead a peasant to kill his own animals, the equivalent in our world of burning down our own house, gives a hint of the scale of desperation: 26.6 million head of cattle were slaughtered, 15.3 million horses. On 16 January 1930, the government decreed that kulak property could be confiscated if they destroyed livestock. If the peasants thought the Bolsheviks would be obliged to feed them, they were mistaken. As the crisis worsened, even Stalin’s staunchest lieutenants struggled to squeeze the grain out of the peasantry, especially in the Ukraine and North Caucasus. …
“By the summer of 1931, a serious shortage in the countryside was beginning to develop into a famine. While the Politburo softened its campaign against industrial specialists in mid-July, the rural struggle continued. The GPU and the 180,000 Party workers sent from cities used the gun, the lynch mob and the Gulag camp system to break the villages. Over two million were deported to Siberia or Kazakhstan; in 1930, there were 179,000 slaving in the Gulags; almost a million by 1935. Terror and forced labour became the essence of Politburo business.”

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore
Publisher: Vintage Books a division of Random House
Copyright 2003 by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Pages: 44-47, 64-65

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