Red Famine -Stalin’s War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum - 2017
During the Holodimar, or the Great Famine (1932 to 1933) millions of Ukrainians died of starvation (estimates range from as high as 12 million to at least four million) not from crop failure or climate disasters but because of the policies of Joseph Stalin (ruler of Russia from 1927 to 1953).
Several of the most featured writers on my blog left the Ukraine to
find a better life. Among them are Clarice Lispector, Irene Némirovsky, Gregor Von Rezzori and Joseph Roth. Many Yiddish writers fled the Ukraine, an area of deeply rooted virulent anti-Semetic feelings going back centuries. Arguments about the Ukraine have been a big factor in American politics. Of course those speaking know next to nothing about the history of the region.
Basically starting with Lenin, Soviet leaders felt that they had a choice, save the Revolution in Russia by taking the massive grain production from the Ukraine to feed Russians or letting millions of Russians starve which would turn the Russians against the Bolsheviks. Lenin made a decision to sacrifice the Ukrainian people to save Communism in Russia. He made no effort to hide this as Applebaum very throughly documents in quotes from his speeches. Stalin continued this policy to horrible consequences. Stalin seems to have gone from the pure pragmatic views of Lenin to a personal hatred for everything and everyone Ukrainian.
Prior to the Russian Revolution grain was produced on farms run by their owners, called “Kulaks”. The more they produced the more they made. Stalin saw the Kulaks as the enemy of communism. He began a process know as collectivism in which many farms were combined into one unit run by officials, often with no agricultural experience, who were ordered to deliver all their products to other Russian officials (or Stalinist Ukrainians) to be sent to Russia. The peasants no longer had any incentive to work hard, to produce as much as they could. Instead they focused on finding a way to feed their families. Stealing was no longer a vice to them as their land had been stolen.
Applebaum goes into lots of detail on how this was carried about. Failure to achieve your goals could send an official to a Gulag or even a death sentence. Quotas were continually raised. Only a fool would protest. This resulted in Ukrainian peasants having any food they had, any seed grain, any farm animals confiscated. Peasant families were often thrown from their houses with nothing but their clothes. Workers began to leave the farms to try to find work in city factories. Many simply roamed the highways until the collapsed from starvation. In the mean time an attack on Ukrainian culture began. School instruction was to be in Russian only. Churches were closed. Intellectuals were arrested on the slightest failure to praise the policies of Stalin. Any sense the Ukraine was an independent entity was wiped out.
Things got even worse for the Ukrainians when the Nazis attacked. At first the Ukrainians welcomed the Germans hoping they would make things better. They of course did not. Anti-Semitic feelings were widely held by Ukrainians. Many saw Communism as initiated by Jews and welcomed their slaughter. They may have not understood that the Nazis saw Slavic people as only one step above Jews. If successful all Ukrainians would have been replaced by Germans.
After the war, the official Soviet policy was the Great Famine never happened.
Applebaum details the efforts to keep the true historical facts of the Great Ukrainian Famine from being lost.
I highly recommend Red Famine- Stalin’s War on the Ukraine to all interested in a country far more talked about than understood.
The Politically inclined as well as those interested in 20th century literature, art and Jewish history will savor this book.
Anne Applebaum is a staff writer for The Atlantic and a Pulitzer-prize winning historian. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Agora Institute, where she co-directs Arena, a program on disinformation and 21st century propaganda.
A Washington Post columnist for fifteen years and a former member of the editorial board, she has also worked as the Foreign and Deputy Editor of the Spectator magazine in London, as the Political Editor of the Evening Standard, and as a columnist at Slate as well as the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs. From 1988-1991 she covered the collapse of communism as the Warsaw correspondent of the Economist magazine and the Independent newspaper.. there is more detail on her website.
I look forward to reading her new book (from her website)
“Twilight of Democracy explains the lure of nationalism and autocracy. In this captivating essay, she contends that political systems with radically simple beliefs are inherently appealing, especially when they benefit the loyal to the exclusion of everyone else.
Despotic leaders do not rule alone; they rely on political allies, bureaucrats, and media figures to pave their way and support their rule. The authoritarian and nationalist parties that have arisen within modern democracies offer new paths to wealth or power for their adherents. Applebaum describes many of the new advocates of illiberalism in countries around the world, showing how they use conspiracy theory, political polarization, social media, and even nostalgia to change their societies.”