The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

History Revised:
The 1932—33 Ukraine Famine

Apr 17, 2023

This article is translated from the April 7 issue #2853 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

The U.S., the European Union, Germany, and then France officially recognized the Holodomor, the deadly mass famine that struck Soviet Ukraine in 1932—1933. French legislators running the gamut from right-wing to left-wing parties requested that the president and his executive branch sign on.

Paris doesn’t want its American, German and British rivals to be the only ones standing with the Ukrainian government. They too memorialize what they describe as genocide perpetrated by Russia against Ukraine and its people. France along with the other imperialist powers is anxious to prove which side it is on, given the context of the current war where Ukraine, supported by NATO, confronts Russia.

But the fact of speaking of a mass murder by starvation, which is what the Ukrainian word “holodomor” means, serves primarily to prepare for today’s war’s aftermath. One day or another, the imperialist governments and their corporations will be competing in the market for major reconstruction contracts and supply orders to rebuild a Ukraine devastated by war. This market is already estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars.

For the big French corporations setting their sights on these contracts for construction, transport, energy, food, armaments and so on, it’s well worth it to approve of how the government in Kiev rewrites history in an ultra-nationalist way.

Stalin’s Collectivization: A Criminal Policy

Soviet premier Joseph Stalin and the bureaucracy that usurped power in the USSR decided in the late 1920s to collectivize farmland by force. The entire peasantry rose up against the policy. In Ukraine as elsewhere in the USSR, the bureaucratic and police violence of collectivization did not follow any consultation with the peasants. There was no material or political preparation which would have made the future collective farms called kolkhozes a real progress for farmers to join by choice and to improve the economy of the whole country.

Instead, the regime wanted to force the peasants to enter the collective farms and to bring their cattle. But the peasants slaughtered their cattle rather than be dispossessed of them. This was a human, social, political and economic catastrophe.

Stalinism responded with a remedy that made things even worse. To break the widespread opposition by the peasants, Stalin ordered the army to deport millions of them that he called rich farmers, or kulaks. The conditions of these deportations made them a death march. Then, to ward off famine threatening cities because of his policy, Stalin ordered troops to confiscate everything they could find in the villages, even what the peasants needed to survive.

This criminal policy broke the back of agriculture and caused the death of millions of Soviet people. Grain-growing areas suffered the highest number of deaths from starvation: 3.4 million in Ukraine, 1.5 million in Russia along the Volga River and in the North Caucasus, and 1.4 million in Kazakhstan. Given its small population, Kazakhstan paid the heaviest price for the famine Stalinism caused in 1932—1933. But other places were also bled dry by forced collectivization and deportations, as told in the 2015 novel Zuleikha, set in Tatarstan, Russia.

Bolsheviks Recognize Nationalities

Apart from its forced collectivization policy, the Stalinist regime had another reason to crush Ukraine under its boot. In the Ukrainian Soviet republic, the Bolshevik policy toward nationalities had the greatest effect. A national feeling there flourished in the aftermath of October 1917. Ukrainian language and culture developed like never before, as they were finally recognized, as were those of other once-oppressed local minorities. So the dictatorship of the bureaucracy found itself having to subdue a population which had acquired a taste for autonomy—particularly as Ukraine was the second-largest Soviet republic in terms of population and industry.

So in early 1933 Stalin sent one of his henchmen, Postychev, to put the situation in order. He sped up forced collectivization and choked off the Bolshevik policy of Ukrainization by dismissing its promoters. Many Communist leaders and writers protested by committing suicide. One was Mykola Skrypnyk, who had led the first Soviet government in Ukraine in March 1918.

The bringing to heel of nationalities by Stalinism did not stop there. During the Second World War, the dictator ordered what was almost a policy of genocide, the murderous mass deportation of entire populations. Poles, Balts, Koreans, Volga Germans, Karachays, Balkars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Crimean Tatars … Ukrainians only escaped this fate because of their numbers, as Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev said in 1956 when denouncing some of Stalin’s crimes. This was expert counsel, formulated with the cynical humor of the Stalinist bureaucrat who Stalin sent to lead the Party in Ukraine in 1938!

Nationalist Myth Hides a Wider Truth

By calling the Holodomor genocide, Ukraine’s current leaders above all conceal the extent and depth of the crimes of Stalinism, which were not at all limited to Ukraine. Ukraine’s current regime is deeply reactionary. They celebrate authentic far-right perpetrators of genocide, Stepan Bandera and Andriy Melnyk, who have become “heroes” for pro-Western Ukraine. Their troops massacred many Jews, Poles and Russians in Ukraine between 1941 and 1945.

And speaking of genocide, the Western sponsors of Zelensky’s regime know all about it. From the extermination of Native Americans by European colonizers, to the pillage of the peoples of Africa to supply slaves to French, English and other plantation owners. And huge massacres perpetrated by the imperialist powers all over the globe.

It’s logical for these great powers to echo the nationalist myths of the regime they protect in Ukraine. Their talk obscures the fact that the greatest freedom Ukraine ever knew—national and social—was established after October 1917 under the red flag of the Bolshevik Revolution and the struggle for socialism on an international scale.