Saturday, November 26, 2005


Today is the day Ukrainians remember Holodomor--death by hunger. In 1932-33, roughly one-fourth of Ukraine's population died of starvation attributable to Josef Stalin's program to collectivize agriculture throughout the Soviet Union.

The plan to replace small family-owned farms with fewer large, mechanized collective farms (kolkhozy) in an effort to improve productivity and simplify the task of moving grain from the farms to the cities had disastrous results almost from the start. Unable to demonstrate to the peasants (kulaks) how they might benefit from turning over their farms to the state, collectivization was dependent on coercion. Thus, collectivization meant "dekulakization."

According to Geoffrey Hosking's The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within (p. 160), Stalin told a meeting of agronomists in 1929, "Either we go backward, to capitalism, or we go forward, to socialism. . . . What does that mean? It means that we have passed on from a policy of limiting the exploitative tendencies of the kulaks to a policy of liquidating the kulaks as a class."

The outcome of Stalin's policy--perhaps thirty million dead throughout the Soviet Union as a consequence of the forced collectivization of agriculture--combined with the means used to implement collectivization--murder, forced starvation, deportation--suggests that Holodomor may have been, as the Ukrainians insist, a case of genocide. Russia's leaders, perhaps concerned about demands for reparations, are unwilling to concede the point. Regardless, Holodomor stands as one of the greatest atrocities in a century filled with totalitarian crimes.

For more on Holodomor, see this BBC story.