Monday, April 13, 2009

Ukrainian Genocide -- 1932-1933

I feel uncomfortable using the term “genocide” when applied to the Soviet orchestrated Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933, and probably anyone approaching this subject will feel this way. “Genocide” has been applied too often to what Hitler did for it to be readily applied to what Stalin did as well. But they are equivalent. Hitler’s assumptions had to do with racial superiority and a conspiracy theory that blamed the Jews for all Germany’s problems. So he killed Jews in ovens.

Stalin’s assumptions had to do with class rather than race. The “Capitalist” class was to be exterminated. And since Stalin was concerned about the eventual conversion of all the world to Communism, he was more circumspect in his extermination methods. No ovens for Stalin. But the Soviet Union had something just as effective, the vast wilderness of Siberia and its gulags. Actually, had he shipped the Ukranian kurkul off to Siberia he could have covered his crime a bit better, and according to the Bilinsky article, he wanted to. Absent that first choice, he had to exterminate them in situ.

Now at this point any discussion is likely to break down in a series of quibbles, for the very reason I mention in the first paragraph above. “Genocide” has already been defined and what happened in Ukraine doesn’t meet that definition very well (although Bilinsky and Ukrainian intellectuals make if fit). I’m going to set that particular quibble aside by claiming that what Stalin did was equivalent to what Hitler did. Hitler’s motives were racial superiority. Stalin’s were class superiority. Hitler got rid of millions of racial “enemies” (using his assumptions). Stalin got rid of millions of class “enemies” (using the definitions Stalin inherited from Lenin). And I have used the term “Genocide” in my title because that term implies the most heinous of acts – any “equivalent” term had a connotation of being a lesser crime. No, what Stalin and his Soviets did in Ukraine was just as criminal as what Hitler did to the Jews – all quibbling aside.

Consider the article I’ve referred to before: having to do with Russia’s senior archivist quibbling with the Ukrainians who are charging that the 1932-33 famine was genocide. The Archivist said, “the famine was the result of the errors and miscalculations of the political course of the leadership of the country in the course of the realization of collectivization.” And he insisted that he and his researchers had not found “a single document” showing that Stalin planned “a terror famine” in Ukraine.” When I wrote about this before I was most interested in the fact that Stalin and his soviets killed all these people through experimentation and a belief in an untried system. I still hold by what I wrote, but that doesn’t prevent movement in the direction of Bilinsky and Robert Conquest by adding that what this experimentation involved was equivalent to what Hitler did to races he believed were inferior. Stalin eliminated his class enemies just as Hitler eliminated his race enemies. Since the laws were written around Hitler’s “genocide,” there may be years of quibbling remaining before Stalin’s crimes are appropriately defined, but that is for the lawyers. Here, we can ignore the quibbles – or perhaps I should better say that we can try to.

The following article by Yroslav Billinsky was written in 1999 for the Journal of Genocide Research. It is entitled “Was the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933 Genocide? This is an interesting article on our subject. Bilinsky discusses the major writings on the Ukrainian Famine. I noted that he was disappointed when he looked at Conquest’s index in Harvest of Sorrow and didn’t find “genocide.” Conquest doesn’t have time for this quibble. Some other term would work just as well for him, but, of course, not for someone writing for the Journal of Genocide Research.

But Conquest wrote a whole book on this subject and doesn’t need Bilinsky to apologize for him. For example, on page 24 he wrote,

“A conversation took place in August 1917 in the Smolny Institute canteen between Dzerzhinsky (shortly to be Lenin’s Police Commissar) and Rafael Abramovich, the Menshevik leader. Dzerzhinsky said to Abramovich, “ . . . that a constitution is determined by the correlation of real forces in the country. How does such a correlation of political and social forces change?’

“’Oh well, through the process of economic and political development, the evolution of new forms of economy, the rise of different social classes, etc, as you know perfectly well yourself’.

“’But couldn’t this correlation be altered? Say, through the subjection or extermination of some class of society?’


Communist theory involves the “elimination” of Capitalism. Of course they didn’t call it “theory.” They invoked Marx who invoked Hegel on the philosophy of Historical Determinism. Consider the discussion above between the Communist Dzerzhinsky and the Menshevik Abramovich. We encountered this same sort of disagreement recently in the “Neocon” ranks. Fukuyama, invoking Hegel, said it was historically determined that Liberal Democracy would defeat all competitive systems. His followers didn’t want to wait for this to happen on its own. They wanted to hasten matters along. As Eric Hoffer would have said, Fukuyama was a “man of ideas” to be swept away by men of action. Of course the Neocon experiment was a tempest in a teapot compared to the Communist experiment. The Communist vanguard obtain control of a whole nation (unlike the Neocons) and hastened the process they believed in.

The “elimination of Capitalism” can sound almost clinical and abstract but when one moves away from “ideas” and engages in “action,” then elimination involves blood. Zinoviev is quoted in Bilinsky’s article as saying the enemies of Communism “must be annihilated.” What he said isn’t unusual or unique if one reads much Communist literature. Communist intellectuals thought of this annihilation as being akin to revenge: the Capitalists have ground the proletariat under its Iron Heel (the title of a pro-Communist novel by Jack London, btw). Now the Proletariat must rise up and throw off its chains. As the process developed, the revenge and the throwing off of the chains involved the killing of a wide variety of people in a wide variety of ways. The Ukrainian Kulak (called kurkul in Ukrainian) was not a Capitalist. He was not “rich” in any sense we would recognize – unless we applied the term to the very few who were actually rich, but that was not Stalin’s intent. As a “class,” independent farmers were opposed to State Control. It was their independence rather than their capitalistic nature that required their elimination. One only needs to think of Stalin’s purges to recognize his motivation. “Couldn’t this correlation be altered,” Dzerzhinsky is quoted as asking in1917 before the Soviets took power. Couldn’t the situation be altered by the “extermination of some class of society?”

Well, yes it could, Stalin could say in 1932 as he initiated the elimination of an offending “class” of independent people in the Ukraine.

No comments: