Friday, November 15, 2013

Holodomor symphony

Less than a year ago I wrote in a blog:
When people tell you, as they do with monotonous regularity that unlike the Fascists and the Nazis the Communists meant well and wanted to build a fair and just society though everything kept going wrong, remind them of the men, women and children deliberately starved to death in the name of that ideology. Millions of them, murdered pitilessly. We must never forget.
There have, sadly, been more discussions of this kind in my life and, probably, in the lives of some of my readers but, I am glad to say that the terrible crimes of the Communism, particularly crimes against peasants are getting to be better known. (Just to remind people, I also posted about that here, here and here (China rather than the Soviet Union). At various times (too numerous to link to) I have referred to the horrors of collectivization. I imagine some of my readers might be getting rather tired of the subject. Bear with me, please.

A friend forwarded a link to a very interesting article in World Affairs about Stephan Maria Karl, "a young Austrian composer who is currently writing a symphony about the Holodomor, the famine-genocide of 1932–1933 that took the lives of some 3 to 4 million Ukrainians". The interview with Herr Karl is fascinating. He feels that his compatriots and, indeed, people in other countries need to know more about the Holodomor and the horrors of that deliberately created famine to destroy the peasantry, to punish those who refused to accept Communist ruling and to hurt as much as possible the Ukrainian people.
For a historically conscious person who believes in justice, the international community’s ignorance about the Holodomor is as disgraceful as the inadequate coming to terms with other, all too tragically numerous, genocides: Congo, 1886–1908; Armenia, 1915; Soviet Union, 1917–1989; Algeria, 1954–1962; China, 1958–1969; Cambodia, 1975–1979; Ethiopia, 1975–1978; Rwanda, 1994; and Darfur, 2008. And that’s not counting the many hitherto unacknowledged genocides committed by the colonial powers.

The international community’s understanding of the Holodomor might be promoted if Ukraine were to exert permanent pressure on it (as does Poland with respect to the Katyn massacre) and to develop an adequate coming to terms with the issue at home. Ukraine could then serve as a model for Russia and the international community.

It’s been my experience, however, that surprisingly many Ukrainians avoid an intensive confrontation with the Holodomor, be it out of annoyance with history and politics, be it out of fear of the truth and the pain that comes with it, be it out of more quotidian concerns. As a result, the Holodomor elicits fruitless controversies both between Russians and Ukrainians and between Ukrainians themselves. Needless to say, these controversies divert attention from the essential fact that millions of innocents died.
In the circumstances, it is a little unfortunate that Herr Karl himself fudges things a little. Holodomor was a terrible crime of mass murder but so was the rest of Stalin's policy of collectivization that included forcible confiscation of all grain and thus the creation of artificial famine across the Soviet Union: Russia including Siberia suffered, as did Georgia, Kazkhstan, Central Asia and, in 1940, the Baltic States.

Here are a few facts:
Due to high government production quotas, peasants received, as a rule, less for their labor than they did before collectivization, and some refused to work. Merle Fainsod estimated that, in 1952, collective farm earnings were only one fourth of the cash income from private plots on Soviet collective farms. In many cases, the immediate effect of collectivization was to reduce output and cut the number of livestock in half. The subsequent recovery of the agricultural production was also impeded by the losses suffered by the Soviet Union during World War II and the severe drought of 1946. However the largest loss of livestock was caused by collectivization for all animals except pigs.[38] The numbers of cows in the USSR fell from 33.2 million in 1928 to 27.8 million in 1941 and to 24.6 million in 1950. The number of pigs fell from 27.7 million in 1928 to 27.5 million in 1941 and then to 22.2 million in 1950. The number of sheep fell from 114.6 million in 1928 to 91.6 million in 1941 and to 93.6 million in 1950. The number of horses fell from 36.1 million in 1928 to 21.0 million in 1941 and to 12.7 million in 1950. Only by the late 1950s did Soviet farm animal stocks begin to approach 1928 levels.

Despite the initial plans, collectivization, accompanied by the bad harvest of 1932–1933, did not live up to expectations. Between 1929 and 1932 there was a massive fall in agricultural production resulting in famine in the countryside. Stalin and the CPSU blamed the prosperous peasants, referred to as 'kulaks' (Russian: fist), who were organizing resistance to collectivization. Allegedly, many kulaks had been hoarding grain in order to speculate on higher prices, thereby sabotaging grain collection. Stalin resolved to eliminate them as a class.

The Soviet government responded to these acts by cutting off food rations to peasants and areas where there was opposition to collectivization, especially in Ukraine. Many peasant families were forcibly resettled in Siberia and Kazakhstan into exile settlements, and most of them died on the way. Estimates suggest that about a million so-called 'kulak' families, or perhaps some 5 million people, were sent to forced labor camps.

On August 7, 1932, the Decree about the Protection of Socialist Property proclaimed that the punishment for theft of kolkhoz or cooperative property was the death sentence, which "under extenuating circumstances" could be replaced by at least ten years of incarceration. With what some called the Law of Spikelets ("Закон о колосках"), peasants (including children) who hand-collected or gleaned grain in the collective fields after the harvest were arrested for damaging the state grain production. Martin Amis writes in Koba the Dread that 125,000 sentences were passed for this particular offense in the bad harvest period from August 1932 to December 1933.

The deaths from starvation or disease directly caused by collectivization have been estimated as between 4 and 10 million. According to official Soviet figures, some 24 million peasants disappeared from rural areas but only 12.6 million moved to state jobs. The implication is that the total death toll (both direct and indirect) for Stalin's collectivization program was on the order of 12 million people.
I am rather looking forward to hearing Herr Karl's symphony when it is written, particularly as it will be, according to him, a synthesis of tonal and atonal structures "in a dramatically meaningful whole". But we must not forget that Holodomor was part of the great crime of collectivization that was then repeated by Mao and others.

1 comment:

  1. There might in some future telling of history be another genocide which is recorded. That of tens of millions of Africans who unnecessarily died of malaria because they were denied the use of DDT by Western environmentalists. Not to mention the bio-fuel mandates of the EU and the USA, which essentially amounts to rich people burning poor peoples food in their cars, so they can feel smug about themselves averting a threat which only exists in computer models decades from now. I wonder what Prince Charles thinks about that.