The reasoning behind a great famine


June 13, 2006 by AK

That is, Golodomor or Holdomor in (the) Ukraine (let’s add Kazakhstan, the West and South Siberia, the South Urals, the Upper and Lower Volga, the North Caucasus). I’m trying to understand the logic that may have led Moscow to act against the peasants of Ukraine.

It seems that the Bolshevik regime had these priorities in mind from the start:

— Destroy old elites
— Destroy old social networks
— Prevent new elites from rising
— Prevent people from forming new social networks

In 1917–1920, the Bolsheviks were out to crush old imperial elites. The upper- and middle-classes of the Russian Empire were multiethnic but mostly Russophone. To focus on this task, the Reds would for a while tolerate various ethnonationalists, autonomists and regionalists. When the old imperial elites were subdued and disenfranchized (literally: members of the privileged classes could not vote; their children were barred from universities and colleges), it was time to do away with other elites, such as the old Bolshevik guard and the various “nationalists.” Hence a partial shift of focus onto a new class of victims: first the imperial, the Russophone and the properly Russian (up to the late 1920s), then the “ethnic” and the local (the 1930s onward).

In addition, the logic of collectivization dictated that the more successful peasants be partly destroyed, partly intimitated into total submission. The Antonov uprising (1919–1921) in Russia’s Tambov region (put down with the help of poison gas and Chinese communists) was one of the reasons why the Bolsheviks abandoned the so-called “war communism” and left the peasantry more or less alone for nearly a decade. By the late 1920s, though, collectivization was on the agenda and thus, peasants became a potential problem again.

But in Russia proper, the peasantry seemed relatively weak then: the Red Terror of the Civil War had pacified, as it were, the rich Cossack areas; the 1920 famine had devastated the Volga region; the memory of the Antonovschina was a cooling-down factor in the Black Earth belt; non-black-earth areas were too busy surviving to rebel; Siberian farmers and Pomorye fishermen were too few and far between. Belarus had a reputation for compliance. But the Ukraine…

(Whoever ran the Communist party in the Ukraine in 1932 would be almost certainly purged by 1939. However, if the average Ukrainian peasant believed that “the Jews” had something to do with the famine, it may have given him another reason to collaborate with the Nazis on all issues, including the Final Solution. Still, a poor excuse.)

1 comment »

  1. Alexei,

    For archival documents on the Antonov uprising, check out ???????????? ????????? ? ?????????? ???????? ? 1919-1921.

    If I get some time I’ll give my comments about the Ukrainian famine sometime tomorrow.

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