Holodomor genocide question

The Holodomor genocide question consists of the attempts to determine whether the Soviet famine of 1932–33 was mostly an ethnic genocide against Ukrainians (in the Holodomor) and against Kazakhs (in the "Goloshchekin genocide") or mostly an unintended result of the "Soviet regime's re-direction of drought-reduced[1] grain supplies to attain economic and political goals."[2] The famine killed about 5.5 to 6.5 million people in the USSR,[3]:401 including 1.3–1.5 million in Kazakhstan,[3]:414-15 and 3-4 million in Ukraine;[4] 4 million ethnic Ukrainians[5] are estimated to have perished as a result of the famine. The exact number of deaths is hard to determine due to a lack of records.[6][3]:xiv[7]

Scholars continue to debate whether the Holodomor was (on one extreme) man-made, intentional, and genocidal and (on the other) nature-made, unintentional, and ethnicity-blind. Whether the Holodomor is a genocide is a significant issue in modern politics and there is no international consensus on whether Soviet policies would fall under the legal definition of genocide.[8][9] The Holodomor has been compared to the Irish Famine of 1845–1849,[10] which has been the subject of similar controversy and debate.

Scholarly debate

Robert Conquest

Historian Robert Conquest originally stated that "it certainly appears that a charge of genocide lies against the Soviet Union for its actions in the Ukraine" in his 1986 book, The Harvest of Sorrow.[11]:272 However, in a 2003 letter to Wheatcroft and Davies, he retracted this view and stated:[12]

Stalin purposely inflicted the 1933 famine? No. What I argue is that with resulting famine imminent, he could have prevented it, but put "Soviet interest" other than feeding the starving first thus consciously abetting it.

Robert Davies

Professor of history R. W. Davies and his coauthor Wheatcroft conclude the famine was unintentional but man-made. They analyze previously unavailable archival data to demonstrate that a combination of rapid industrialization and two successive bad harvests (1931 and 1932) were the primary reason of the famine. However, Davies and Wheatcroft agree that Stalin's policies towards the peasants were brutal and ruthless and do not absolve Stalin from responsibility for the massive famine deaths. In their 2006 article, "Stalin and the Soviet Famine of 1932-33", Davies and Wheatcroft:[12]

[W]e regard the policy of rapid industrialisation as an underlying cause of the agricultural troubles of the early 1930s, and we do not believe that the Chinese or NEP versions of industrialisation were viable in Soviet national and international circumstances.

In the 2016 version of their book, The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931–1933, Davies and Wheatcroft write:[3]

In our own work we, like V.P. Kozlov, have found no evidence that the Soviet authorities undertook a programme of genocide against Ukraine. It is also certain that the statements by Ukrainian politicians and publicists about the deaths from famine in Ukraine are greatly exaggerated. A prominent Ukrainian historian, Stanislas Kul'chitskii, estimated deaths from famine in Ukraine at 3-3.5 million; and Ukrainian demographers estimate that excess deaths in Ukraine in the whole period 1926-39 (most of them during the famine) amounted to 3.5 million. Nevertheless, Ukrainian organisations continue, with some success, to urge Canadian schools to teach as a fact that excess deaths were 10 million during the 1932-33 famine. This does not mean that Ukraine did not suffer greatly during the famine. It is certainly the case that most of the famine deaths took place in Ukraine, and that the grain collection campaign was associated with the reversal of the previous policy of Ukrainisation.

Ellman critiqued Davies and Wheatcroft's view of intent as too narrow:[13]

According to them [Davies and Wheatcroft], only taking an action whose sole objective is to cause deaths among the peasantry counts as intent. Taking an action with some other goal (e.g. exporting grain to import machinery) but which the actor certainly knows will also cause peasants to starve does not count as intentionally starving the peasants. However, this is an interpretation of 'intent' which flies in the face of the general legal interpretation.

Michael Ellman

Professor of economics Michael Ellman states that Stalin's behavior constitute crimes against humanity but not genocide. In his 2007 article "Stalin and the Soviet Famine of 1932-33 Revisited", he writes:[13]:681-682, 686

Team-Stalin’s behaviour in 1930 – 34 clearly constitutes a crime against humanity (or a series of crimes against humanity) as that is defined in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court article 7, subsection 1 (d) and (h)[.] [....] Was Team-Stalin also guilty of genocide? That depends on how ‘genocide’ is defined. [....] The first physical element is the export of grain during a famine. [....] The second physical element was the ban on migration from Ukraine and the North Caucasus. [....] The third physical element is that ‘Stalin made no effort to secure grain assistance from abroad’[.] [note: at p. 97 of “Waiting for Stalin” Stephen Kotkin points out that Stalin imported grain from abroad, including Canada, to ameliorate the famine. This may not be the same as asking for “grain assistance” but it is antithetical to intentionality. Not surprisingly, Stalin didn’t want to publicize the crisis, as this would be seized upon by both internal and external critics of his regime.][....] If the present author were a member of the jury trying this case he would support a verdict of not guilty (or possibly the Scottish verdict of not proven). The reasons for this are as follows. First, the three physical elements in the alleged crime can all be given non-genocidal interpretations. Secondly, the two mental elements are not unambiguous evidence of genocide. Suspicion of an ethnic group may lead to genocide, but by itself is not evidence of genocide. Hence it would seem that the necessary proof of specific intent is lacking.

Ellman asserts that if Stalin were guilty of genocide in the Holodomor, then "[m]any other events of the 1917–53 era (e.g. the deportation of whole nationalities, and the 'national operations' of 1937–38) would also qualify as genocide, as would the acts of [many Western countries]."[13]:690–691 However, Ellman asserts that the "national operations" of the NKVD, particularly the "Polish operation", may qualify as genocide even under the strictest definition, but there has been no ruling on the matter.[13]:663–693

Stephen Kotkin

Professor of history Stephen Kotkin states that documents prove that Stalin's policies caused the famine, but also prove the famine's deaths were unintentional. Extensive documents exist demonstrating Stalin's intent for other mass killings (eg, the Great Purge), but none exist for this one. Moreover, other documents demonstrate that Stalin repeatedly provided (ultimately insufficient) food aid. As he states in a 2017 interview:[14]

We have an unbelievable number of documents showing Stalin committing intentional murder, with the Great Terror, as you alluded to earlier, and with other episodes. [....] However, there is no documentation showing that he intended to starve Ukraine, or that he intended to starve the peasants. On the contrary, the documents that we do have on the famine show him reluctantly, belatedly releasing emergency food aid for the countryside, including Ukraine. Eight times during the period from 1931 to 1933, Stalin reduced the quotas of the amount of grain that Ukrainian peasants had to deliver, and/or supplied emergency need. [....] These are the decisions that, once again, were made grudgingly, and they were insufficient—the emergency aid wasn’t enough. Many more people could have been saved, but Stalin refused to allow the famine to be publicly acknowledged. Had he not lied and forced everyone else to lie, denying the existence of a famine, they could have had international aid, which is what they got under Lenin, during their first famine in 1921-23. Stalin’s culpability here is clear, but the intentionality question is completely undermined by the documents on the record.

Stanislav Kulchytsky

Stanislav Kulchytsky and Hennadiy Yefimenko state that the famine mostly harmed people based on rural status, not ethnicity. The distribution of all-cause mortality among ethnicities in the Ukraine closely reflects the ethnic distribution of the rural population of Ukraine. The more-rural Moldavian, Polish, German, and Bulgarian populations of Ukraine suffered in the same proportion as the rural Ukrainian population, while the more-urban Russians and Jews survived the famine more successfully.[15]:64

This becomes clear when comparing Kulchytsky's table on all-cause mortality by ethnicity and the 1926 population of the Ukraine SSR in the 1926 Census:

Nationality 1926
Mortality Proportion /
Census Proportion
Total 29018187 1.0000 1909000 1.000 1.0000
Ukrainians 23218860 0.8001 1552200 0.8131 1.0162
Russians 2677166 0.0923 85000 0.0445 0.4826
Jews 1574391 0.0543 27000 0.0141 0.2607
Poles 476435 0.0164 20700 0.0108 0.6604
Germans 393924 0.0136 13200 0.0069 0.5094
Moldavians 257794 0.0089 16100 0.0084 0.9493
Greeks 104666 0.0036 2500 0.0013 0.3631
Bulgarians 92078 0.0032 7700 0.0040 1.2712

Raphael Lemkin

Professor of law and coiner of the term "genocide" Raphael Lemkin states that the famine was man-made and the Holodomor was a genocide. In his 1953 article "Soviet Genocide in Ukraine", he states that the Holodomor was the "third prong" of Soviet "Russification" of Ukraine:[16]

What I want to speak about is perhaps the classic example of Soviet genocide, its longest and broadest experiment in Russification — the destruction of the Ukrainian nation. [....] The third prong of the Soviet plan was aimed at the farmers, the large mass of independent peasants who are the repository of the tradition, folklore and music, the national language and literature, the national spirit, of Ukraine. [....] As a Soviet politician Kosior declared in Izvestiia on 2 December 1933, ‘Ukrainian nationalism is our chief danger’, and it was to eliminate that nationalism, to establish the horrifying uniformity of the Soviet state that the Ukrainian peasantry was sacrificed. [....] The crop that year was ample to feed the people and livestock of Ukraine, though it had fallen off somewhat from the previous year, a decrease probably due in large measure to the struggle over collectivization. But a famine was necessary for the Soviet and so they got one to order, by plan, through an unusually high grain allotment to the state as taxes.

Snyder states that, during the 1948 convention to define genocide, the Soviets "made sure that the term genocide, contrary to Lemkin's intentions, excluded political and economic groups." Thus the Ukrainian famine could be presented as "somehow less genocidal because it targeted a class, kulaks, as well as a nation, Ukraine."[17]:413

James Mace

Professor of political science James Mace stated that the Holodomor was genocide. In his 1986 article "The man-made famine of 1933 in Soviet Ukraine", Mace writes:[18]:12

For the Ukrainians the famine must be understood as the most terrible part of a consistent policy carried out against them: the destruction of their cultural and spiritual elite which began with the trial of the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine, the destruction of the official Ukrainian wing of the Communist Party, and the destruction of their social basis in the countryside. Against them the famine seems to have been designed as part of a campaign to destroy them as a political factor and as a social organism.

However, Bilinsky notes that Mace has been inconsistent on his position of whether the Holodomor is a genocide or not.[19]

Norman Naimark

Professor of east European studies Norman Naimark states that the Holodomor's deaths were intentional and thus were genocide. In his 2010 book Stalin's Genocides, Naimark writes:[20]:134-135

There is enough evidence − if not overwhelming evidence — to indicate that Stalin and his lieutenants knew that the widespread famine in the USSR in 1932–33 hit Ukraine particularly hard, and that they were ready to see millions of Ukrainian peasants die as a result. They made no efforts to provide relief; they prevented the peasants from seeking food themselves in the cities or elsewhere in the USSR; and they refused to relax restrictions on grain deliveries until it was too late. Stalin's hostility to the Ukrainians and their attempts to maintain their form of "home rule" as well as his anger that Ukrainian peasants resisted collectivization fueled the killer famine.

Steven Rosefielde

Professor of comparative economic systems Steven Rosefielde states that most deaths came from state action, not the poor harvest. In his 2009 book Red Holocaust, he writes that:[21]:259

There was a famine (widespread health-impairing food shortage) 1932–33 caused by two bad harvests in 1931 and 1932 attributable partly to collectivization and partly to weather (although Kondrashin and Penner contest the explanation), but it didn’t cause the killings. Grain supplies were sufficient to sustain everyone if properly distributed. People died mostly of terror-starvation (excess grain exports, seizure of edibles from the starving, state refusal to provide emergency relief, bans on outmigration, and forced deportation to food-deficit locales), not poor harvests and routine administrative bungling.

Timothy Snyder

Professor of history Timothy Snyder stated that the starvation was "deliberate"[17]:vii and that several of the most lethal policies applied only, or mostly, to Ukraine. In his 2010 book, Bloodlands, Snyder stated:[17]:42–46

In the waning weeks of 1932, facing no external security threat and no challenge from within, with no conceivable justification except to prove the inevitability of his rule, Stalin chose to kill millions of people in Soviet Ukraine. [....] It was not food shortages but food distribution that killed millions in Soviet Ukraine, and it was Stalin who decided who was entitled to what.

In a 2017 Q&A, Snyder stated he believed the famine was genocide but refrained from using the term because it would confuse people:[22]:1:30:50

If you asked me, is the Ukrainian Holodomor genocide? Yes, in my view, it is. In my view, it meets the criteria of the law of genocide of 1948, the Convention – it meets the ideas that Ralphael Lemkin laid down. Is Armenia genocide? Yes, I believe legally it very easily meets that qualification. I just don't think that means what people think it means. They think it means the attempt to kill every man woman and child, and the Armenian genocide is closer to the Holocaust than most other cases, right, but it's not the same thing.

Mark Tauger

Professor of history Mark Tauger states that the 1932 harvest was 30-40% smaller than official statistics and states that the famine was "the result of a failure of economic policy", not "a 'successful' nationality policy against Ukrainians or other ethnic groups". In his 1991 article "The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933", Tauger writes:[23]

Western and even Soviet publications have described the 1933 famine in the Soviet Union as "man-made" or "artificial." [....] Proponents of this interpretation argue, using official Soviet statistics, that the 1932 grain harvest, especially in Ukraine, was not abnormally low and would have fed the population. [....] New Soviet archival data show that the 1932 harvest was much smaller than has been assumed and call for revision of the genocide interpretation. The low 1932 harvest worsened severe food shortages already widespread in the Soviet Union at least since 1931 and, despite sharply reduced grain exports, made famine likely if not inevitable in 1933. [....] Thus for Ukraine, the official sown area (18.1 million hectares) reduced by the share of sown area actually harvested (93.8 percent) to a harvested area of 17 million hectares and multiplied by the average yield (approximately 5 centners) gives a total harvest of 8.5 million tons, or a little less than 60 percent of the official 14.6 million tons. [....] A similar calculation of the sown area in the Soviet Union (99.7 million hectares), reduced by 7 percent (based on the TsUNKhU data) to 92.72 and multiplied by the NKZ average yield of 5.4 centners, gives a total Soviet harvest of 50.06 million tons, almost 30 percent below the official figure of 69.87 -- within the range that Schiller predicted.

Davies and Wheatcroft criticize Tauger's methodology in the 2004 edition of The Years of Hunger.[24][25] Tauger criticized Davies and Wheatcroft's methodology in a 2006 article.[26] In the 2009 edition of their book, Davies and Wheatcroft apologized for "an error in our calculations of the 1932 [grain] yield" but still conclude grain yield was "between 55 and 60 million tons, a low harvest, but substantially higher than Tauger's 50 million."[27]:xix-xxi

James Mace states that Tauger's argument "is not taken seriously by either Russians or Ukrainians who have studied the topic."[28] David R. Marples states that Tauger is incorrect because there "is no such thing as a 'natural' famine, no matter the size of the harvest. A famine requires some form of state or human input."[29]

Stephen Wheatcroft

Professor of Soviet economic studies Stephen G. Wheatcroft, a coauthor with Davies, states that that the Holodomor was primarily caused by economic reasons and that the Holodomor is best classified as "man-made on accident", not "man-made on purpose". In his 2018 article, The Turn Away from Economic Explanations for Soviet Famines, Wheatcroft writes:[30]

We all agreed that Stalin’s policy was brutal and ruthless and that its cover up was criminal, but we do not believe that it was done on purpose to kill people and cannot therefore be described as murder or genocide. [....] Davies and I have (2004) produced the most detailed account of the grain crisis in these years, showing the uncertainties in the data and the mistakes carried out by a generally ill-informed, and excessively ambitious, government. The state showed no signs of a conscious attempt to kill lots of Ukrainians and belated attempts that sought to provide relief when it eventually saw the tragedy unfolding were evident. [....] But in the following ten years there has been a revival of the ‘man-made on purpose’ side. This reflects both a reduced interest in understanding the economic history, and increased attempts by the Ukrainian government to classify the ‘famine as a genocide’. It is time to return to paying more attention to economic explanations.

Wheatcroft also critiques authors like Anne Applebaum for "ignor[ing] [...] economic explanations":[30]

The food problems that were explained by Alec Nove, Moshe Lewin, E.H. Carr and R.W. Davies, and which most specialists used to think were responsible for creating the circumstances in which extreme policies were formulated from 1927 to 1933, are largely ignored or misunderstood by Appelbaum and by many of the current generation of specialists, who see no role for economic history. [....] Anne Appelbaum’s treatment of grain availability in Ukraine epitomises the dangers of misunderstanding the data. She uses the official grain production figures of the time (for 1930–2) as if they were reliable indicators of the scale of production. She then (for the years after 1933) switches to the official Soviet post 1954 series of data which were 20 to 30 per cent lower than those officially used at the time. This provides her with the startling, but unjustifiable, conclusion that the level of grain production in 1931 and 1932 was about the same as in 1933 and that therefore there was no grain shortage in these years. This is incorrect.