stalin starves more than one million to their death — 3/10/17

Today’s selection — from Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. Joseph Stalin wanted to build his country and advance the cause of communism. Central to that was his desire to build industrial factories in cities. But to do that he needed to make a massive investment in large-scale machines, purchasing them in large part from more advanced countries. The only way to afford these machines was to sell surplus grain, which required collectivizing and squeezing a surplus from the primitive farming communities in the vast and fertile lands of the Ukraine. Over time, this effort led to the death of millions of Soviet citizens:
“[After an initial attempt at collectivization that failed,] Stalin maintained that the problem with collectivization was that it had been imple­mented with just a little too much enthusiasm. It had been a mistake, he now asserted, to force the peasants to join the collective farms. The latter now dis­appeared just as quickly as they had been created. In 1930, peasants in Ukraine harvested the winter wheat, and sowed the seeds for the autumn crops, just as if the land belonged to them. They could be forgiven for thinking that they had won.
“Stalin’s withdrawal was tactical. Given time to think, Stalin and the politburo found more effective means to subordinate the peasantry to the state. In the countryside the following year, Soviet policy preceded with much greater deftness. In 1931, collectivization would come because peasants would no longer see a choice. The lower cadres of the Ukrainian branch of the Soviet communist party were purged, to ensure that those working within the villages would be true to their purpose, and un­derstand what would await them if they were not. The independent farmer was taxed until the collective farm became the only refuge. As the collective farms slowly regrouped, they were granted indirect coercive power over neighboring independent farmers. They were allowed, for example, to vote to take the seed grain away from independent farmers. The seed grain, what is kept from one crop to plant the next, is indispensible to any working farm. The selection and preservation of the seed grain is the basis of agriculture. For most of human his­tory, eating the seed grain has been synonymous with utter desperation. An in­dividual who lost control of the seed grain to the collective lost the ability to live from his or her own labor.
Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933
“Deportations resumed, and collectivization proceeded. In late 1930 and early 1931, some 32,127 more households were deported from Soviet Ukraine, about the same number of people as had been removed during the first wave of de­portations a year before. Peasants thought that they would die either of exhaus­tion in the Gulag or of hunger close to home, and preferred the latter. Letters from exiled friends and family occasionally escaped the censor; one included the following advice: ‘No matter what, don’t come. We are dying here. Better to hide, better to die there, but no matter what, don’t come here,’ Ukrainian peas­ants who yielded to collectivization chose, as one party activist understood, ‘to face starvation at home rather than banishment to the unknown.’ Because col­lectivization came more slowly in 1931, family by family rather than whole vil­lages at once, it was harder to resist. There was no sudden attack to provoke a desperate defense. By the end of the year, the new approach had succeeded. About seventy percent of the farmland in Soviet Ukraine was now collectivized. The levels of March 1930 had been reached again, and this time durably. …
“By autumn 1931 the failure of the first collectivized harvest was obvious. The reasons were many: the weather was poor; pests were a problem; animal power was limited because peasants had sold or slaughtered livestock; the pro­duction of tractors was far less than anticipated; the best farmers had been de­ported; sowing and reaping were disrupted by collectivization; and peasants who had lost their land saw no reason to work very hard. …
“More than half of the (nonspoiled) harvest was removed from Soviet Ukraine in 1931. Many collective farms met their requisition targets only by handing over their seed grain. Stalin ordered on 5 December that collective farms that had not yet fulfilled their annual requirements must surrender their seed grain. Stalin perhaps believed that peasants were hiding food, and thought that the threat of taking the seed grain would motivate them to hand over what they had. But by this time many of them truly had nothing. By the end of 1931, many peasants were already going hungry. With no land of their own and with little ability to resist requisitions, they simply had no way to ensure that a sufficient number of calories reached their households. Then in early 1932 they had no seed grain with which to plant the fall crop. The Ukrainian party leadership asked for seed grain in March 1932, but by that time the planting was already delayed, meaning that the harvest that fall would be poor.
“In early 1932 people asked for help. Ukrainian communists requested that their superiors in the Ukrainian party ask Stalin to call in the Red Cross. … Ukrainian party members bypassed [General Secretary Stanislav] Kosior and wrote directly to Stalin, taking an angry tone: ‘How can we construct the socialist economy when we are all doomed to death by hunger?’
“The threat of mass starvation was utterly clear to Soviet Ukrainian authori­ties, and it became so to Stalin. Party activists and secret police officers filed countless reports of death by starvation. In June 1932 the head of the party in the Kharkiv region wrote to Kosior that starvation had been reported in every single district of his region. Kosior received a letter from a member of the Young Communists dated 18 June 1932, with a graphic description that was probably, by then, all too familiar: ‘Collective farm members go into the fields and disap­pear. After a few days their corpses are found and, entirely without emotion, as though this were normal, buried in graves. The next day one can already find the body of someone who had just been digging graves for others.’…
“That Stalin’s own policy of collectivization could cause mass starvation was also clear. By summer 1932, as Stalin knew, more than a million people had already starved to death in Soviet Kazakhstan. … Stalin, a master of personal politics, presented the Ukrainian famine in personal terms. His first impulse, and his lasting tendency, was to see the starvation of Ukrainian peasants as a betrayal by members of the Ukrainian communist party.”
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

Publisher: Basic Books
Copyright 2010 by Timothy Snyder
Pages 32-35

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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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