November 23, 2013 Holodomor

Successful farmers, the “Kulaks”, were branded as “class enemies”, an early example of the “fix and ridicule” technique Saul Alinsky would write about years later, in his “Rules for Radicals”.

In the 18th century, our Founding Fathers gave us a self-governing Republic, where authority is delegated upward from an informed electorate, and centered on individual liberty, diffuse authority, and checks & balances. Without such a system of self-government, we’d be left with a political game of chance, in which our future depends on the character of a small and too often self-dealing ruling class.

The 20th century was a time when one malignant governing model after another would assert itself, often leaving death and misery along its path to self-destruction.

These were the top down, authoritarian ideologies, where individual liberty was subsumed by the collective, and cosmic chance was all that separated benign governance from murderous authoritarianism.

Always what comes first is the Balkanization, the identification and ostracizing of one group or another as separate and apart. The Untermenschen. The Other.

You saw this principle take shape during the Chinese Communist regime of the forties through the sixties, when the “cultural revolution” killed between 40 and 70 million of its own citizens.

You’re really playing in the big leagues, when they can’t get your body count any closer than the nearest 30 million.

killing fieldsIn the “Killing Fields” of 1975-’79 Cambodia, Pol Pot and a cadre of nine or so individuals, the Ang-Ka, led the Khmer Rouge in the extermination of between 1.7 and 2.5 million, in a country of barely 8 million.

The ideological underpinnings of this kind of madness vary between regimes, but they tend to have more in common than they do of what separates them. Communism is a murderous, authoritarian, collectivist ideology with international aspirations and class obsessions. Naziism is a likewise murderous, authoritarian, and collectivist ideology, this one having nationalist aspirations and ethnic obsessions.

The Nazi holocaust of the thirties and forties is well documented, the 1914 genocide of Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Empire, less so. One of the least well known in this parade of horribles is the policy of extermination by starvation carried out by the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin, against the population of Ukraine.  Some called it “Famine-Genocide”, or the “Terror-Famine”.   In time, the deliberate starvation of millions by their own government, came to be known as the “Holodomor”.

Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, took power in Russia before the end of WWI. By 1922 they had formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

In 1928, Josef Stalin introduced a program of agricultural collectivization in Ukraine, the “Bread Basket” of the region, forcing family farmers off their land and into state-owned collective farms. Stalin claimed that these factory collectives would not only feed industrial workers in the cities, but would also provide a surplus to be sold abroad, raising money to further his industrialization plans.

holodomor-3Many Ukrainian farmers refused to join the collectives, regarding them as a return to the serfdom of earlier centuries. Stalin introduced “class warfare”, that age old bugaboo of the Left, to break down resistance to collectivization.

Successful farmers, the “Kulaks”, were branded as “class enemies”, an early example of the “fix and ridicule” technique Saul Alinsky would write about years later, in his “Rules for Radicals”.

Armed dekulakization brigades confiscated land, livestock and other property by force, evicting entire families. Almost half a million individuals were dragged from their homes in 1930-31, packed into freight trains and shipped off to remote areas like Siberia, where they were often left without food or shelter. Many of these, especially children, died in transit or soon after arrival.

Resistance continued, which the Soviet government could not abide. Ukraine’s production quotas were sharply increased in 1932-’33, making it impossible for farmers to simultaneously meet quota and feed themselves. Starvation became widespread, as the Soviet government decreed that any person, even a child, would be arrested for taking as little as a few stalks of wheat from the fields in which they worked. Military blockades were erected around villages preventing the transportation of food, while brigades of young activists were brought in from other regions to sweep through villages and confiscate hidden grain.

Holodomor-BoysEventually all food was confiscated from farmers’ homes, as Stalin determined to “teach a lesson through famine” to the backbone of the region, the rural population of Ukraine.

At the height of this political famine, Ukrainians were dying at the rate of 22,000 a day, almost a third of them children 10 and under. When it was done, an estimated 6 to 10 million Ukrainian citizens were murdered by their own government, through starvation, deportation, and outright execution.

Millions of tons of grain were exported during this time, more than enough to have saved every starving man, woman and child. Stalin denied to the world that there was any famine in Ukraine, the first use of what historian Robert Conquest called the “Big Lie” technique of Soviet propaganda.

Stalin had willing and complicit support in his lies, from leftists like Louis Fischer reporting for “The Nation”, and Walter Duranty of the New York Times. Duranty would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his “coverage”, with contributions like “any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda”.

To this day, the New York Times has failed to repudiate Duranty’s Pulitzer.

holodomor_memorial__kiev__ukraine_by_kaitou_ace-d4ia95f
“Bitter memories of childhood”, Kyiv, Ukraine

Ukrainians recognize November 23 as Holodomor Memorial Day, symbolized by a simple statue in Kiev.  A little girl, gaunt and hollow eyed, clutches a handful of wheat stalks.  On this day in 2013, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych addressed his people, marking the 80th anniversary of the Holodomor.  “Today, a little candle flame unites us in a prayer for the souls of the Holodomor victims. We also remember those who shared the last piece of bread and saved the lives of compatriots. Our duty is to carry the memory of those dreadful events forever in our hearts. We also must do everything to prevent such a tragedy in the future.”

Here in the United States, you could question 100 randomly selected individuals.  I don’t believe that five of them could tell you what Holodomor means.  We are a self-governing Republic.  All 100 should be conversant with the term.

ukraine-bitter-harvest-film-holodomor-russia-21st-century-aggression
Ukranian president Petro Poroshenko vists a monument to Holodomor victims in Kiev, November 2016. (Reuters photo: Valentyn Ogirenko)

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Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

Author: capecodcurmudgeon

I'm not a "Historian". I'm a husband, a father, a son and a grandfather. A history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. Five years ago, I began writing a daily "Today in History" story, as sort of a self-guided history course.  At some point, I committed to myself to write 365.  The leap year changed that to 366. At this point, I’ve written about 450. I make every effort to get my facts straight, but I'm as good at being wrong as the next guy. I offer these "Today in History" stories, in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Rick Long

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