[T]he famine in Ukraine and elsewhere in the USSR was “the result of [Stalin’s] criminal policy” but that “of course, no one planned any famine” or singled out any ethnic group as its victim
Instead, he 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.
Instead, Kozlov said, “absolutely all documents testify that the chief enemy of Soviet power at that time was an enemy defined not on the basis of ethnicity but on the basis of class,” in this case the peasantry which Stalin wanted to force to join collective farms throughout whatever means he could.
I’m sure all of the millions who starved, or were shot, or were brutalized, would feel so much better to know that they were not singled out for their ethnicity, but instead for their class. Or to learn that they died because of “errors and miscalculations.” Whoops! Uncle Joe’s bad! No hard feelings! I guess it could have been worse: head archivist Kozlov could have said that the leadership just became “dizzy with success,” thereby committing mistakes that led to the deaths of millions. Or he could have said “well, to make an omelette you need to break some eggs.”
First, why is it so hard for modern Russians, who bear no personal responsibility for the deaths of millions in the early-1930s, to pay some deference to Ukrainian (and, Cossack and Kazakh) pain and sensitivities? The steadfast rationalization, minimization, and deprecation of the calamity is widespread among Russians, suggesting that they feel they would incur a substantial psychological cost to acknowledge the exceptional suffering inflicted on Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the Cossack/Tatar regions. Why? What does this say? I don’t know exactly, but it can’t be good.
Second, apropos “dizzy with success”. That was Stalin’s sick excuse for ending the first attempt at collectivization in 1930. That resulted in widespread famine and death, across all of the agricultural regions of the USSR, and even Stalin felt it necessary to back off. Given the very recent experience, Stalin and the rest of the Soviet leadership had to know that there was a very high probability–arguably 1.00–that another collectivization effort would lead to another wave of mass death. But he proceeded regardless. Sorry, “errors and miscalculations” just doesn’t cut it. (Doesn’t even cut it for the first collectivization attempt, given that early Bolshevik attempts to expropriate grain led to massive resistance, and unthinkable human carnage.) It was not a mistake. It was not an error. It was a policy. The outcome was predictable, yet pursued with bloody-minded purpose.
I will put it more strongly. It is a bald-faced lie to say, as Kozlov does, that “of course, no one planned any famine.” Given past experience, it was eminently predictable that a famine would occur as a result of the Soviet policy. And, pray tell, Mr. (or is it Dr.?) Kozlov, how is it possible to say that no one “planned a famine” when they deliberately demanded that Ukrainian peasants turn over more grain than it was possible to produce? Just because nobody wrote “We plan to cause a famine” you conclude nobody planned to cause a famine? Like Orwell said, there are some things so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.
Third, Robert Conquest has provided extensive documentation to support his claim that the attack on the Ukraine and the Kuban regions
was accompanied by a wide-ranging attack on all Ukrainian cultural and intellectual centres and leaders, and on the Ukrainian churches. The supposed contumaciousness of the Ukrainian peasants in not surrendering grain they did not have was explicitly blamed on nationalism. . . .
Thus, there are two distinct, or partly distinct, elements before us: the Party’s struggle with the peasantry, and the Party’s struggle with Ukrainian national feeling.
The war on the peasantry was driven by a mixture of ideology, and a insatiable desire to industrialize Russia. But whatever the primary motivation, Ukrainian (and Cossack) nationalism was seen as an obstacle to achieving the goals of collectivization, and so it was attacked ferociously as well. That is, there was a clear cultural component to the Soviet attack on the Ukraine.
In this sense, the Ukrainian terror famine may have been qualitatively different from the Nazi holocaust, in that the primary motivation was not to kill Ukrainians just because they were Ukrainians. But what of it? A group of people happened to have economic resources the Soviet state coveted. They also had a nascent national consciousness. Stalin believed that to seize what he wanted, he had to crush Ukraine as a nation. So he did.
That is, at best the Holmador deniers can argue that the war against Ukrainian culture was a means not an end. Does this make it any less genocidal? How much does it matter, really, if it were true (and I do not concede this) that the Ukrainian famine was not motivated by hatred of Ukrainians, but merely had a cruelly disproportionate impact on them?
And, it would be possible, I think, to construct an argument very much along the lines advanced by archivist Kozlov that the Nazi Holocaust was also directed at a class, rather than an ethnicity; and hence, that the Nazi and Soviet efforts were NOT qualitatively different. Nazi propaganda emphasized that Jews were capitalists, bankers, economic exploiters, and that their successive marginalization, expropriation, and elimination was necessary to free Germans from their predation. That is, Kozlov’s argument could be adapted to excuse the Holocaust. I’m sure there are skinheads/neo-Nazis in Germany who would be quite willing to do so.
Put differently, in the Nazi worldview, there was an extremely high association between Jewish ethnicity and membership in the exploitive class, and similarly, in the Stalinist worldview, there was an extremely high association between Ukrainian ethnicity and membership in an “enemy” class. In each case, distinctions between “class” and “ethnicity” are invidious, and obfuscate rather than clarify. Attacking the class was attacking an ethnicity. Attacking an ethnicity was attacking a class. Drawing Jesuitical distinctions between class and ethnic motivations is a travesty.
I will be very interested to learn Robert Conquest’s appraisal of Kozlov’s statements, and the material that the archives released.
The obvious official desire of the modern Russian government to absolve the Soviet Union, and Stalin, of any culpability for genocide speaks volumes about that government, and about the popular attitudes which give that government broad support in these efforts. The lengths to which the Russian government, and too many individual Russians go to defend the indefensible suggests that proprietary, possessive, and imperial attitudes towards Ukraine run strong and deep in Russia today. That does not bode well for a peaceful reconciliation in the years to come.