Soviet famine of 1932–33

Famine in the USSR, 1933. Areas of most disastrous famine marked with black. A – grain-consuming regions, B – grain-producing regions. C – former land of Don, Kuban and Terek cossacks, C1 – former land of Ural and Orenburg cossacks. 1. Kola Peninsula, 2. Northern region, 3. Karelia, 4. Komi, 5. Leningrad Oblast, 6. Ivanovo Oblast, 7. Moscow Oblast, 8. Nizhny Novgorod region, 9. Western Oblast, 10. Byelorussia, 11. Central Black Earth Region, 12. Ukraine, 13. Central Volga region, 14. Tatar, 15. Bashkortostan, 16. Ural region, 17. Lower Volga region, 18. North Caucasus Krai, 19. Georgia, 20. Azerbaijan, 21. Armenia.[1]
Depopulation of Ukraine and southern Russia, 1929–33

The Soviet famine of 1932–33 was a major famine that killed millions of people in the major grain-producing areas of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, Northern Caucasus, Volga Region and Kazakhstan,[2] the South Urals, and West Siberia.[3][4] The Holodomor in Ukraine and Kazakh famine of 1932–33 have been seen as genocide committed by Joseph Stalin's government.[5][6] It has been estimated that between 3.3[7] and 3.9 million died in Ukraine[8] and 2 million (40% of all Kazakhs) died in Kazakhstan.[9][10][11][12]

The exact number of deaths is hard to determine due to a lack of records,[8][13] but the number increases significantly when the deaths in the heavily Ukrainian-populated Kuban region are included.[14] Older estimates are still often cited in political commentary.[15] In 2007, David Marples estimated that 7.5 million people died as a result of the famine in Soviet Ukraine, of which 4 million were ethnic Ukrainians.[16] According to the findings of the Court of Appeal of Kiev in 2010, the demographic losses due to the famine amounted to 10 million, with 3.9 million direct famine deaths, and a further 6.1 million birth deficit.[8] Later in 2010, Timothy Snyder estimated that around 3.3 million people died in total in the Ukraine.[17] In 2013, it was argued that total excess deaths in the Ukraine could not have exceeded 2.9 million.[18]

Stalin and other party members had ordered that kulaks were "to be liquidated as a class"[19] and so they became a target for the state. The richer, land-owning peasants were labeled 'kulaks" and were portrayed by the Bolsheviks as class enemies, which culminated in a Soviet campaign of political repressions, including arrests, deportations, and executions of large numbers of the better-off peasants and their families in 1929–1932.[20]

Major contributing factors to the famine include: The forced collectivization of agriculture as a part of the Soviet first five-year plan, forced grain procurement, combined with rapid industrialisation, a decreasing agricultural workforce, and several bad droughts. The famine is seen by some historians as a deliberate act of genocide against ethnic Ukrainians and Kazakhs while other critics dispute the relevance of any ethnic motivation, as is frequently implied by that term, and focus instead on the class dynamics between land-owning peasants (Kulaks) with strong political interest in private property, and the ruling Communist Party's fundamental tenets which were diametrically opposed to those interests.[21]:507 In addition to the Kazakh famine of 1919–1922, these events saw Kazakhstan lose more than half of its population within 15 years due to the actions of the Soviet power. The famine made Kazakhs a minority in their own republic. Before the famine, around 60% of the republic's population were Kazakhs, but after the famine, only around 38% of the population were Kazakhs.[22][23]

Gareth Jones was the first Western journalist to report the devastation.[24][25][a]


Unlike the previous famine of 1921–22, Russia's intermittent drought was not severe in the affected areas at this time.[26]

Historian Mark B. Tauger of West Virginia University suggests that the famine was caused by a combination of factors, specifically low harvest due to natural disasters combined with increased demand for food caused by the industrialization and urbanization, and grain exports by the Soviet Union at the same time.[27] The industrialization became a starting mechanism of the famine. Stalin's First Five-Year Plan, adopted by the party in 1928, called for rapid industrialization of the economy, with an emphasis on heavy industry. With the greatest share of investment put into heavy industry, widespread shortages of consumer goods occurred while the urban labor force was also increasing. Collectivization employed at the same time was expected to improve agricultural productivity and produce grain reserves sufficiently large to feed the growing urban labor force. The anticipated surplus was to pay for industrialization. Kulaks who were the wealthier peasants encountered particular hostility from the Stalin regime. About one million kulak households (some five million people) were deported and never heard from again. Forced collectivization of the remaining peasants was often fiercely resisted resulting in a disastrous disruption of agricultural productivity. Forced collectivization helped achieve Stalin's goal of rapid industrialization but it also contributed to a catastrophic famine in 1932–33.[28]

A similar view was presented by Stephen Wheatcroft, who has given more weight to the "ill-conceived policies" of Soviet government and highlighted that while the policy was not targeted at Ukraine specifically, it was Ukraine who suffered most for "demographic reasons".[29]

Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Professor of History at Michigan State University, states that Ukraine was hit particularly hard by grain quotas which were set at levels which most farms could not produce. The 1933 harvest was poor, coupled with the extremely high quota level, which led to starvation conditions. The shortages were blamed on kulak sabotage, and authorities distributed what supplies were available only in the urban areas. The loss of life in the Ukrainian countryside is estimated at approximately 5 million people.[30]