Saturday, February 28, 2009

Stalin's Collectivization Error

Michael Kuznetsov sent me the following in regard to post "Ukraine's Charges of Genocide":


My opinion is that if a panel of jury are convinced a priori – i.e. before the hearings start – that the defendant is guilty, such a jury is to be called a “kangaroo court”.

We should necessarily examine at least the both sides' arguments and evidence.
In this regard, I would like to recommend to start our examination from the following materials.

Writings on Soviet Famines and Agriculture, and Other Famines

Mark B. Tauger, Ph.D. UCLA
Associate Professor
Specialization: Russian and Soviet History

An excerpt from Mark Tauger’s letter:

"I would just like to point out that I and a number of other scholars have shown conclusively that the famine of 1931-1933 was by no means limited to the Ukraine, was not a "man-made" or artificial famine in the sense that she and other devotees of the Ukrainian famine argument assert, and was not a genocide in any conventional sense of the term. We have likewise shown that Mr. Conquest's book on the famine is replete with errors and inconsistencies and does not deserve to be considered a classic, but rather another expression of the Cold War.

I would recommend to Ms. Chernihivska the following publications regarding the 1931-1933 famine and some other famines as well. I will begin with my own because I believe that these most directly relate to her question.

Mark B. Tauger, "The 1932 Harvest and the Soviet Famine of 1932-1933,"
Slavic Review v. 50 no. 1, Spring 1991, 70-89, and my exchanges of letters with Robert Conquest over this article, Slavic Review v. 51 no. 1, 192-194 and v. 53 no. 1, 318-319.

Tauger, Natural Disaster and Human Actions in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933, Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 1506, June 2001.

These two articles show that the famine resulted directly from a famine harvest, a harvest that was much smaller than officially acknowledged, and that this small harvest was in turn the result of a complex of natural disasters that [with one small exception] no previous scholars have ever discussed or even mentioned. The foot notes in the Carl Beck Paper contain extensive citations from primary sources as well as Western and Soviet secondary works, among others by D'Ann Penner and Stephen Wheatcroft and R. W. Davies that further substantiate these points and I urge interested readers to examine those works as well."


Research and Scholarly Issues Webpage

Mark B. Tauger, History Department, West Virginia University

Also relevant material:
The Hoax of the Man-Made Ukraine Famine of 1932-33

Famine killed 7 million people in the USA


I am a genuine 100 percent Russian, I was born in Russia and I have lived for 59 years in Russia (the USSR). Quite a long period of my lifetime, for 25 years, from 1966 till 1991, I had lived in what is now known as the independent Ukraine, on the shores of the Azov Sea.

I have had dozens, even hundreds of friends and thousands of acquaintances in the (former) Soviet Union. But I have never encountered in the Ukraine anyone of those people whose relatives died from the so-called “Holodomor”, i.e. from the alleged “Man-made Famine” in the Ukraine.

Nor have I ever encountered anyone of those people whose relatives were ''repressed'' by the ''murderous tyrant'' Stalin.

During my lifetime I have NOT encountered one single person in the USSR (particularly in Russia and in the Ukraine) who did not have at least one member of the family killed by the German invaders. In other words, in Russia there is not a single family left intact by the WW II. For instance, 8 out of 12 members of my own family were killed during the Great Patriotic War by the German Nazists.

At the same time – I emphasize this over and over again – none of my family members or any of my acquaintances' families were ''killed'' either by Stalin’s “repressions” or by the notorious “Holodomor”.
This is my own lifetime experience.


Lawrence responds:

To begin, I did make the assumption that Vladimir Kozlov, the head of Russia’s Federal Archives Agency, had some official status in Russia. It was his comments and not the Ukrainian allegations that interested me and triggered my note. Of course I found reference to him on Paul Goble’s website ( ) and Goble’s language was excessive. I apologize for that. He uses expressions I would try not to use.

Nevertheless, Kozlov does refer to and support the well known idea that Stalin’s main reason, or at least one of his main reasons for the relocation of the Peasants was to eliminate their independence. Kozlov refers to them as enemies of the Soviet State, but I don’t know if that is true. I do believe it is true that these peasants had a larger degree of independence than Stalin was comfortable with and that the collectivization of agriculture “removed” that threat. Goble calls it mass murder and I wouldn’t say that because I don’t’ know Stalin’s motives well enough, but a very large number of peasants died during this process. My point, and perhaps it wasn’t clearly made, was that all those people died for a process and system that didn’t work..

Since Paul Goble did make the points you are responding to, your arguments are justified. However, there were only certain aspects of Goble’s note, the quoting of Kozlov that I was especially interested in.

And to put my main argument more succinctly and, hopefully, distance it from the Ukrainian charges, I believe Stalin was “winging it,” rather than operating in accordance with a coherent and well-thought out plan when he engaged in many of the acts throughout his career and the collectivization of the peasants was one such act. So many peasants died that the argument that Stalin engaged in intentional mass murder seems plausible. I haven’t studied this matter in detail but it seems far more plausible to me that this was just one of the many mistakes that Marxist-Leninist leaders made because while having the utopian ideal firmly in mind, they had no idea of the steps necessary to get there and so they engaged in one experiment after another, none of which worked very well.

I notice that you reference Mark Tauger. He is one of several historians here in the U.S. that can be described as “revisionist.” I can understand why many Russian historians would want to rehabilitate Stalin. He was a great leader during the Nazi invasion. If I were Russian that one period might be enough to make me want to forgive his other sins. And I might want to read revisionist historians in hope that they would prove that he wasn’t as bad as others have said he was.

Here in the U.S. we have a different concern. We have a very sizeable and influential “Radical Left Wing” that hung onto the “altruistic ideal” to the bitter end and then after that end created arguments to suggest that it wasn’t really the end after all and there 1) was still a hope for a better Socialist future, meaning the Soviet Union with the bugs worked out, and 2) The Soviet Leadership and Union weren’t as bad as other historians have argued. In large part these American Revisionist historians are writing to encourage each other. However they do not come out well in peer reviews in my opinion.

Someone has gone to the trouble of accumulating articles that address a great number of these Western “revisionists” : So you can see that it isn’t just Russians that have a stake in hoping some of the people and acts occurring during the Communist Heyday weren’t as bad as they have been alleged to be.

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