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1932-33 Soviet Famine

1932-33 Soviet Famine

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The journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, discovered the existence of widespread famine in the Soviet Union in 1933. He knew that his reports would be censored and so he sent them out of the country in the British diplomatic bag. On 25th March 1933, the Manchester Guardian published Muggeridge's report: "I mean starving in its absolute sense; not undernourished as, for example, most Oriental peasants... and some unemployed workers in Europe, but having had for weeks next to nothing to eat." Muggeridge quoted one peasant as saying: "We have nothing. They have taken everything away." Muggeridge supported this view: "It was true. The famine is an organized one." He went to Kuban where he saw well-fed troops being used to coerce peasant starving to death. Muggeridge argued it was "a military occupation; worse, active war" against the peasants. (1)

Muggeridge travelled to Rostov-on-Don and found further examples of mass starvation. He claimed that many of the peasants had bodies swollen from hunger, and there was an "all-pervading sight and smell of death." When he asked why they did not have enough to eat, the inevitable answer came that the food had been taken by the government. Muggeridge reported on 28th March: "To say that there is a famine in some of the most fertile parts of Russia is to say much less than the truth; there is not only famine but - in the case of the North Caucasus at least - a state of war, a military occupation." (2)

On 31st March, 1933, The Evening Standard carried a report by Gareth Jones: "The main result of the Five Year Plan has been the tragic ruin of Russian agriculture. This ruin I saw in its grim reality. I tramped through a number of villages in the snow of March. I saw children with swollen bellies. I slept in peasants’ huts, sometimes nine of us in one room. I talked to every peasant I met, and the general conclusion I draw is that the present state of Russian agriculture is already catastrophic but that in a year’s time its condition will have worsened tenfold... The Five-Year Plan has built many fine factories. But it is bread that makes factory wheels go round, and the Five-Year Plan has destroyed the bread-supplier of Russia." (3)

Eugene Lyons, the Moscow correspondent of the United Press International pointed out in in his autobiography, Assignment in Utopia (1937): "On emerging from Russia, Jones made a statement which, startling though it sounded, was little more than a summary of what the correspondents and foreign diplomats had told him. To protect us, and perhaps with some idea of heightening the authenticity of his reports, he emphasized his Ukrainian foray rather than our conversation as the chief source of his information. In any case, we all received urgent queries from our home offices on the subject. But the inquiries coincided with preparations under way for the trial of the British engineers. The need to remain on friendly terms with the censors at least for the duration of the trial was for all of us a compelling professional necessity." (4)

Eugene Lyons and his friend Walter Duranty, who were both very sympathetic to Joseph Stalin, decided to try and undermine these reports by Jones. Lyons told Bassow Whitman, the author of The Moscow Correspondents: Reporting on Russia from the Revolution to Glasnost (1988) "We admitted enough to soothe our consciences, but in roundabout phrases that damned Jones a liar. The filthy business having been disposed of, someone ordered vodka." Lyons justified his actions by claiming that the Soviet authorities would have made life difficult as newsmen in Moscow. (5)

Duranty published an article in the New York Times on 31st March 1933, where he argued that there was a conspiracy in the agricultural sector by "wreckers" and "spoilers" had "made a mess of Soviet food production". However, he did admit that the Soviet government had made some harsh decisions: "To put it brutally - you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the Bolshevik leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socialism as any General during the World War who ordered a costly attack in order to show his superiors that he and his division possessed the proper soldierly spirit. In fact, the Bolsheviki are more indifferent because they are animated by fanatical conviction."

Duranty then went on to criticize Gareth Jones. He admitted that there had been "serious food shortages" but Jones was wrong to suggest that the Soviet Union was enduring a famine: "There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from disease due to malnutrition, especially in the Ukraine, North Caucasus, and Lower Volga." He then went on to claim that Jones description of famine in the Soviet Union was an example of "wishful thinking". (6)

Eugene Lyons has argued: "Throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in years of juggling facts to please dictatorial regimes - but throw him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of equivocation. Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised human being alive when the facts he so painstakingly garnered from our mouths were snowed under by our denials." (7)

Gareth Jones wrote to the New York Times complaining about Duranty's article in the newspaper. He pointed out that he was not guilty of "the strange suggestion that I was forecasting the doom of the Soviet regime, a forecast I have never ventured". Jones argued that he had visited over twenty villages where he had seen incredible suffering. He accused journalists such as Duranty and Lyons of being turned "into masters of euphemism and understatement". Jones said that they had given "famine" the polite name of "food shortage" and "starving to death" is softened to read as "wide-spread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition". (8)

Sally J. Taylor, the author of Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990) has argued that Lyon's record on the famine was appalling: "He had been among the earliest to hear of it, suggested at first by the investigations of his own secretary and confirmed later by the findings of Barnes and Stoneman. But Lyons declined to go into the famine-stricken area.... The zealous Lyons fulminated about moral and ethical issues, but he had shown little inclination himself to interrupt what was an unusually successful social life in Moscow." (9)

Arthur Koestler lived in the winter of 1932-33 in Kharkiv in the Ukraine. When he visited the countryside he saw starving young children that looked like "embryos out of alcohol bottles." Traveling through the countryside by rail was "like running the gauntlet; the stations were lined with begging peasants with swollen hands and feet, the women holding up to the carriage-windows horrible infants with enormous wobbling heads, stick-like limbs, swollen, pointed bellies." Later the Soviet authorities began to require that the shades of all windows be pulled down on trains traveling through the famine areas. To Koestler, it was most unreal to see the local newspapers full of reports of industrial progress and successful shock workers, but "not one word about the local famine, epidemics, the dying out of whole ' villages.... The enormous land was covered with a blanket of silence." (10)

Victor Kravchenko was a soviet official who witnessed these events: "People dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause. They had been trapped and left to starve, each in his home, by a political decision made in a far-off capital around conference and banquet tables. There was not even the consolation of inevitability to relieve the horror.... Everywhere were found men and women lying prone, their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless." (11)

Walter Duranty and Eugene Lyons were not the only journalists in the Soviet Union who attacked Gareth Jones for his account of the famine. Louis Fischer questioned Jones estimate of a million dead: "Who counted them? How could anyone march through a country and count a million people? Of course people are hungry there - desperately hungry. Russia is turning over from agriculture to industrialism. It's like a man going into business on small capital." (12)

William Henry Chamberlin was eventually allowed into Kuban that autumn. Chamberlain argued in the Christian Science Monitor: "The whole North Caucasus is now engaged in the task of getting in the richest harvest of years, and shows few outward signs of recent poor crops." (13) However, Chamberlain told officials at the British Embassy that he estimated that two million had died in Kazakhstan, a half a million in the North Caucasus, and two million in the Ukraine. Historians have estimated that as many as seven million people died during this period. Journalists based in Moscow were willing to accept the word of the Soviet authorities for their information. Walter Duranty even told his friend, Hubert Knickerbocker, that the reported famine "is mostly bunk". (14)

Something in his face as he gobbled and retched; something animal, desperate, fearful; appetite and disgust mingled in the two actions of gobbling and retching, brought a sudden doubt into Pye's mind. The man is starving, he thought. Were the others starving? Was there the same look in their eyes as in his? Were they, like him, pale and agonised with starvation? Was this market a kind of scavenging; like cats he had seen in the very early morning? Were they famished animals fighting over refuse?

The doubt haunted him on his way back to his hotel. He saw hunger everywhere; in the faces that hurried past him, and in the patient queues, and in the empty shops, dimly lighted and decorated with red streamers, whose windows contained only busts of Marx and Lenin and Stalin. Stone busts exposed to ravenous eyes. Instead of bread, the law and the prophets offered as tasty morsels to a famished population....

Pye thought things out over dinner. In the first place it was absurd to imagine that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat would serve such an excellent meal to him, a foreigner, if their own people were going short.... He must keep his head. Not get hysterical. The great English Liberal newspaper wanted facts, the truth, and not impressions of sudden emotional reactions.

A few day sago I stood in a worker’s cottage outside Moscow. A father and a son, the father, a Russian skilled worker in a Moscow factory and the son a member of the Young Communist League, stood glaring at one another.

The father trembling with excitement, lost control of himself and shouted at his Communist son. It is terrible now. We workers are starving. Look at Chelyabinsk where I once worked. Disease there is carrying away numbers of us workers and the little food there is uneatable. That is what you have done to our Mother Russia.

The son cried back: “But look at the giants of industry which we have built. Look at the new tractor works. Look at the Dniepostroy. That has construction has been worth suffering for.”

“Construction indeed!” Was the father's reply: “What’s the use of construction when you have destroyed all that’s best in Russia?”

What that worker said at least 96 per cent of the people of Russia are thinking. There has been construction, but, in the act of building, all that was best in Russia has disappeared. The main result of the Five Year Plan has been the tragic ruin of Russian agriculture. I talked to every peasant I met, and the general conclusion I draw is that the present state of Russian agriculture is already catastrophic but that in a year’s time its condition will have worsened tenfold.

What did the peasants say? There was one cry which resounded everywhere I went and that was: “There is no bread.” The other sentence, which as the leitmotiv of my Russian visit was: “All are swollen.” Even within a few miles of Moscow there is no bread left. As I was going through the countryside in that district I chatted to several women who were trudging with empty sacks towards Moscow. They all said: “It is terrible. We have no bread. We have to go all the way to Moscow to get bread and then they will only give us four pounds, which costs three roubles (six shillings nominally). How can a poor man live?”

“Have you potatoes?” I asked. Every peasant I asked nodded negatively with sadness.

“What about your cows?” was the next question. To the Russian peasant the cow means wealth, food and happiness. It is almost the centre-point upon which his life gravitates.

“The cattle have nearly all died. How can we feed the cattle when we have only fodder to eat ourselves?”

“And your horses?” was the question I asked in every village I visited. The horse is now a question of life and death, for without a horse how can one plough? And if one cannot plough, how can one sow for the next harvest? And if one cannot sow for the next harvest, then death is the only prospect in the future.

The reply spelled doom for most of the villages. The peasants said: “Most of our horses have died and we have so little fodder that the remaining ones all scraggy and ill.”

If it is grave now and if millions are dying in the villages, as they are, for I did not visit a single village where many had not died, what will it be like in a month’s time? The potatoes left are being counted one by one, but in so many homes the potatoes have long run out. The beet, once used as cattle fodder may run out in many huts before the new food comes in June, July and August, and many have not even beet.

The situation is graver than in 1921, as all peasants stated emphatically. In that year there was famine in several great regions but in most parts the peasants could live. It was a localised famine, which had many millions of victims, especially along Volga. But today the famine is everywhere, in the formerly rich Ukraine, in Russia, in Central Asia, in North Caucasia - everywhere.

What of the towns? Moscow as yet does not look so stricken, and no one staying in Moscow would have an inkling of what is going on in the countryside, unless he could talk to the peasants who have come hundreds and hundreds of miles to the capital to look for bread. The people in Moscow warmly clad, and many of the skilled workers, who have their warm meal every day at the factory, are well fed. Some of those who earn very good salaries, or who have special privileges, look even, well dressed, but the vast majority of the unskilled workers are feeling the pinch.

I talked to a worker who was hauling a heavy wooden trunk. “It is terrible now” he said. “ I get two pounds of bread a day and it is rotten bread. I get no meat, no eggs, no butter. Before the war I used, to get a lot of meat and it was cheap. But I haven’t had meat for a year. Eggs were only a kopeck each before the war, but now they are a great luxury. I get a little soup, but it is not enough to live on.”

And now a new dread visits the Russian worker. That is unemployment. In the last few months very many thousands have been dismissed from factories in many parts of the Soviet. Union. I asked one unemployed man what happened to him. He replied: “We are treated like cattle. We are told to get away, and we get no bread card. How can I live? I used to get a pound of bread a day for all my family, but now there is no bread card. I have to leave the city and make my way out into the countryside where there is also no bread.”

The Five-Year Plan has built many fine factories. But it is bread that makes factory wheels go round, and the Five-Year Plan has destroyed the bread-supplier of Russia.

The village soviet lied to the district, and the district lied to the province, and the province lied to Moscow. Everything was apparently in order, so Moscow assigned grain production and delivery quotas to the provinces, and the provinces then assigned them to the districts. And the village was given a quota that it couldn't have fulfilled in ten years! In the village soviet even those who weren't drinkers took to drink out of terror. It was clear that Moscow was basing its hopes on the Ukraine. And the upshot of it was that most of the subsequent anger was directed against the Ukraine. What they said was simple: you have failed to fulfill the plan, and that means that you yourself are an unliquidated kulak.

People dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause. Everywhere were found men and women lying prone, their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless.

In the middle of the diplomatic duel between Great Britain and the Soviet Union over the accused British engineers there appears from a British source a big scare story in the American press about famine in the Soviet Union, with "thousands already dead and millions menaced by death and starvation."

Its author is Gareth Jones, who is a former secretary to David Lloyd George and who recently spent three weeks in the Soviet Union and reached the conclusion that the country was "on the verge of a terrific smash," as he told the writer.

Mr. Jones is a man of a keen and active mind, and he has taken the trouble to learn Russian, which he speaks with considerable fluency, but the writer thought Mr. Jones's judgment was somewhat hasty and asked him on what it was based. It appeared that he had made a forty-mile walk through villages in the neighborhood of Kharkov and had found conditions sad.

I suggested that that was a rather inadequate cross-section of a big country but nothing could shake his conviction of impending doom....

Jones told me there was virtually no bread in the villages he had visited and that the adults were haggard, guant and discouraged, but that he had seen no dead or dying animals or human beings.

I believed him because I knew it to be correct not only of some parts of the Ukraine but of sections of the North Caucasus and lower Volga regions and, for that matter, Kazakstan, where the attempt to change the stock-raising nomads of the type and the period of Abraham and Isaac into 1933 collective grain farmers has produced the most deplorable results.

It is all too true that the novelty and mismanagement of collective farming, plus the quite efficient conspiracy of Feodor M. Konar and his associates in agricultural commissariats, have made a mess of Soviet food production. (Konar was executed for sabotage.)

But - to put it brutally - you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the Bolshevist leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socializaton as any General during the World War who ordered a costly attack in order to show his superiors that he and his division possessed the proper soldierly spirit. In fact, the Bolsheviki are more indifferent because they are animated by fanatical conviction.

Since I talked to Mr. Jones I have made exhaustive inquiries about this alleged famine situation. I have inquired in Soviet commissariats and in foreign embassies with their network of consuls, and I have tabulated information from Britons working as specialists and from my personal connections, Russian and foreign.

All of this seems to me to be more trustworthy information than I could get by a brief trip through any one area. The Soviet Union is too big to permit a hasty study, and it is the foreign correspondent's job to present a whole picture, not a part of it. And here are the facts:

There is a serious shortage food shortage throughout the country, with occasional cases of well-managed State or collective farms. The big cities and the army are adequately supplied with food. There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.

In short, conditions are definitely bad in certain sections - the Ukraine, North Caucasus and Lower Volga. The rest of the country is on short rations but nothing worse. These conditions are bad, but there is no famine.

The critical months in this country are February and March, after which a supply of eggs, milk and vegetables comes to supplement the shortage of bread - if, as now, there is a shortage of bread. In every Russian village food conditions will improve henceforth, but that will not answer one really vital question - What about the coming grain crop?

Upon that depends not the future of the Soviet power, which cannot and will not be smashed, but the future policy of the Kremlin. If through climatic conditions, as in 1921, the crop fails, then, indeed, Russia will be menaced by famine. If not, the present difficulties will be speedily forgotten.

On my return from Russia at the end of March, I stated in an interview in Berlin that everywhere I went in the Russian villages I heard the cry; “There is no bread, we are dying,” and that there was famine in the Soviet Union, menacing the lives of millions of people.

Walter Duranty, whom I must thank for his continued kindness and helpfulness to hundreds of American and British visitors to Moscow, immediately cabled a denial of the famine. He suggested that my judgment was only based on a forty-mile tramp through villages. He stated that he had inquired in Soviet commissariats and in the foreign embassies and had come to the conclusion that there was no famine, but that there was a “serious food shortage throughout the country... No actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.”

While partially agreeing with my statement, he implied that my report was a “scare story” and compared it with certain fantastic prophecies of Soviet downfall. He also made the strange suggestion that I was forecasting the doom of the Soviet régime, a forecast I have never ventured.

I stand by my statement that Soviet Russia is suffering from a severe famine. It would be foolish to draw this conclusion from my tramp through a small part of vast Russia, although I must remind Mr. Duranty that it was my third visit to Russia, that I devoted four years of university life to the study of the Russian language and history and that on this occasion alone I visited in all twenty villages, not only in the Ukraine, but also in the black earth district, and in the Moscow region, and that I slept in peasants’ cottages, and did not immediately leave for the next village.

My first evidence was gathered from foreign observers. Since Mr. Duranty introduces consuls into the discussion, a thing I am loath to do, for they are official representatives of their countries and should not be quoted, may I say that I discussed the Russian situation with between twenty and thirty consuls and diplomatic representatives of various nations and that their evidence supported my point of view. But they are not allowed to express their views in the press, and therefore remain silent.

Journalists, on the other hand, are allowed to write, but the censorship has turned them into masters of euphemism and understatement. Hence they give “famine” the polite name of “food shortage” and “starving to death” is softened down to read as “widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.” Consuls are not so reticent in private conversation.

My second evidence was based on conversations with peasants who had migrated into the towns from various parts of Russia. Peasants from the richest parts of Russia coming into the towns for bread. Their story of the deaths in their villages from starvation and of the death of the greater part of their cattle and horses was tragic, and each conversation corroborated the previous one.

Third, my evidence was based upon letters written by German colonists in Russia, appealing for help to their compatriots in Germany. “My brother’s four children have died of hunger.” “We have had no bread for six months.” “If we do not get help from abroad, there is nothing left but to die of hunger.” Those are typical passages from these letters.

Fourth, I gathered evidence from journalists and technical experts who had been in the countryside. In The Manchester Guardian, which has been exceedingly sympathetic toward the Soviet régime, there appeared on March 25, 27 and 28 an excellent series of articles on “The Soviet and the Peasantry” (which had not been submitted to the censor). The correspondent, who had visited North Caucasus and the Ukraine, states: “To say that there is famine in some of the’ most fertile parts of Russia is to say much less than the truth: there is not only famine, but - in the case of the North Caucasus at least - a state of war, a military occupation.” Of the Ukraine, he writes: “The population is starving.”

My final evidence is based on my talks with hundreds of peasants. They were not the “kulaks”- those mythical scapegoats for the hunger in Russia-but ordinary peasants. I talked with them alone in Russian and jotted down their conversations, which are an unanswerable indictment of Soviet agricultural policy. The peasants said emphatically that the famine was worse than in 1921 and that fellow-villagers had died or were dying.

Mr. Duranty says that I saw in the villages no dead human beings nor animals. That is true, but one does not need a particularly nimble brain to grasp that even in the Russian famine districts the dead are buried and that there the dead animals are devoured.

May I in conclusion congratulate the Soviet Foreign Office on its skill in concealing the true situation in the U.S.S.R.? Moscow is not Russia, and the sight of well fed people there tends to hide the real Russia.

While foreign visitors apparently traveled with few restrictions, the Kremlin seems to have regarded the foreign press in Moscow as a more serious threat to spread word of the famine to the West. Consequently, efforts were made to keep reporters from observing or even learning about the famine. Travel restrictions were placed on the reporters to keep them out of the countryside, while an internal passport system was imposed on Soviet citizens in December 1932 in order to keep starving peasants away from the cities.

Nevertheless information about the famine seems to have been commonplace within the Moscow press corps. Western travelers returned to Moscow with reports of what they had found, and correspondents discovered that they could verify such accounts by checking the suburbs and railroad stations of the major cities. Peasants seemed to flock to such locations despite the efforts of the authorities. Still more important, several reporters learned that they could slip onto trains and spend days or weeks in stricken areas despite the travel ban. During the early months of 1933, Ralph Barnes of the New York Herald Tribune made such a trip, as did Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge of the Manchester Guardian. Thus information about the famine seems to have been plentiful among the correspondents in Moscow, and it seems unlikely that any reporter could have been unaware of its existence. According to Eugene Lyons, "the famine was accepted as a matter of course in our casual conversation at the hotels and in our homes." William Henry Chamberlin has gone even further by stating "to anyone who lived in Russia in 1933 and who kept his eyes and ears open the historicity of the famine is simply not open to question."

Reporters who circumvented the travel ban and then avoided the censors by mailing their dispatches were, of course, risking the loss of their posts. The Soviet denial of re-entry to Paul Scheffer in 1929 was an example of what could happen to such a correspondent, and there were few in the Moscow press who were willing to take the chance. Moreover, other reporters might have stood up to the Soviets had they been convinced that their dispatches would have been received with interest. What concerned them was that the early famine accounts were greeted with indifference or disbelief by the public and with outright hostility by liberals. A few years before, word of famine in Russia might have been big news in the West. With the rise of fascism and with Litvinov and Stalin making anti-fascist overtures to the West, however, reporters sensed that the news value of the famine had diminished. The West seemed in no mood to accept the fact that millions were dying in Russia and that the starvation was the result of deliberate Soviet policies.

Most of the reporters took shelter behind the censorship and kept quiet about the famine. They wrote about it only when they left Russia, and even then they found that their accounts were met with disbelief. Eugene Lyons, for instance, returned to New York late in 1933 and began to write cautiously about the famine. Soviet sympathizers and liberals treated him as a renegade, he recalls, though his first descriptions of the famine fell far short of the horrible conditions that he knew had existed.

A few correspondents, among them Duranty and Fischer, went beyond mere compliance with the censorship. While most of their colleagues passively accepted the famine cover-up, they echoed Soviet denials of the famine and blasted anyone who carried word of conditions to the West. Their distortion of the news, then, went beyond the demands of the censorship and was a vital factor in convincing the West that there was little or no truth to the famine stories. Moreover, by their active role in the cover-up they made it more unlikely that the foreign press in Moscow might force some kind of showdown with the censors or confront the West with the truth about Soviet conditions.

The reason for Fischer's participation in the cover-up apparently, was his belief that the truth could only damage Soviet efforts to gain diplomatic recognition, stall Litvinov's anti-fascist initiatives, and, most important, set back the Five-Year Plan. Though he seemed to waver at times, for the most part Fischer seemed convinced that the Soviets were on the eve of creating a better way of life. He seemed anxious to buy time for the Kremlin so that it could bring the nation through the difficult period and into the socialist epoch.

Duranty also seems to have served the Kremlin for the same reasons he had in the past. Perhaps, as Lyons, Chamberlin, and Muggeridge have charged, Duranty had received money and special treatment from the Soviets over the years. Yet it is difficult to think of Duranty as just a Soviet hireling. For years he apparently had admired the Soviets and had been convinced that they were doing what was best for Russia, even though the cost in lives and suffering was high. It is possible, of course, that this apparent admiration was only a mask or a ruse to cover the fact that he was a paid Soviet apologist. Yet, lacking proof of that, it seems probable that Duranty responded readily to the famine cover-up, with or without Soviet prompting of money, because he had come to believe that few in the West were tough enough or realistic enough to understand that the harsh modernization program was necessary.

The first reliable report of the Russian famine was given to the world by an English journalist, a certain Gareth Jones, at one time secretary to Lloyd George. Jones had a conscientious streak in his make-up which took him on a secret journey into the Ukraine and a brief walking tour through its countryside. That same streak was to take him a few years later into the interior of China during political disturbances, and was to cost him his life at the hands of Chinese military bandits. An earnest and meticulous little man, Gareth Jones was the sort who carries a note-book and unashamedly records your words as you talk. Patiently he went from one correspondent to the next, asking questions and writing down the answers.

On emerging from Russia, Jones made a statement which, startling though it sounded, was little more than a summary of what the correspondents and foreign diplomats had told him. To protect us, and perhaps with some idea of heightening the authenticity of his reports, he emphasized his Ukrainian foray rather than our conversation as the chief source of his information.

In any case, we all received urgent queries from our home offices on the subject. The need to remain on friendly terms with the censors at least for the duration of the trial was for all of us a compelling professional necessity.

Throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in years of juggling facts to please dictatorial regimes-but throw him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of equivocation. Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised human being alive when the facts he so painstakingly garnered from our mouths were snowed under by our denials.

The scene in which the American press corps combined to repudiate Jones is fresh in my mind. It was in the evening and Comrade Umansky, the soul of graciousness, consented to meet us in the hotel room of a correspondent. He knew that he had a strategic advantage over us because of the Metro-Vickers story. He could afford to be gracious. Forced by competitive journalism to jockey for the inside track with officials, it would have been professional suicide to make an issue of the famine at this particular time. There was much bargaining in a spirit of gentlemanly give-and-take, under the effulgence of Umansky's gilded smile, before a formula of denial was worked out.

We admitted enough to soothe our consciences, but in roundabout phrases that damned Jones as a liar. The filthy business having been disposed of, someone ordered vodka and zakuski, Umansky joined the celebration, and the party did not break up until the early morning hours. The head censor was in a mellower mood than I had ever seen him before or since. He had done a big bit for Bolshevik firmness that night.

Bloody Sunday (Answer Commentary)

1905 Russian Revolution (Answer Commentary)

Russia and the First World War (Answer Commentary)

The Life and Death of Rasputin (Answer Commentary)

The Abdication of Tsar Nicholas II (Answer Commentary)

The Provisional Government (Answer Commentary)

The Kornilov Revolt (Answer Commentary)

The Bolsheviks (Answer Commentary)

The Bolshevik Revolution (Answer Commentary)

Classroom Activities by Subject

(1) Malcolm Muggeridge, Manchester Guardian (25th March 1933)

(2) Malcolm Muggeridge, Manchester Guardian (28th March 1933)

(3) Gareth Jones, The Evening Standard (31st March, 1933)

(4) Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (1937) page 575

(5) Bassow Whitman, The Moscow Correspondents: Reporting on Russia from the Revolution to Glasnost (1988) page 69

(6) Walter Duranty, New York Times (31st March 1933)

(7) Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (1937) page 575

(8) Gareth Jones, New York Times (13th May, 1933)

(9) Sally J. Taylor, Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990) page 202

(10) Arthur Koestler, The Yogi and the Commissar (1945) page 142

(11) Victor Kravchenko, I Chose Freedom (1947) page 118

(12) Sally J. Taylor, Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990) page 235

(13) William Henry Chamberlin, Christian Science Monitor (13th September, 1933)

(14) Walter Duranty, letter to Hubert Knickerbocker (27th June, 1933)


Holodomor is the name given to the mass starvation in the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33. Occurring between the Russian Revolution and the Second World War, the Holodomor was denied by the Soviet Government until only a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. This state controlled secrecy kept Western historians in the dark about the starvation, and only until the 1980’s did the West take scholarly interest in the history of the Ukrainian Famine, and the idea that the Famine was, at least in part, man-made.

But the history of the Holdomor is still contested. Census data and Soviet records have been analyzed since the initial look at the situation in the 1980’s, and still no conclusion is accepted by all sides. Records are inconsistent and the number of people who died as a result of the famine varies between historians, ranging from 3 million to 14 million dead. Causes of the starvation are debated, and the nature of the Famine as a weapon of Stalin’s regime against the Ukrainians is central to the debate. Many parties in modern Ukraine want to define the Holodomor as an act of genocide, while Russia today opposes that point of view, as do many modern historians.

Another photo from the 1935 publication "Muss Russland Hungern?" (Must Russia Starve?)

1932-33 Soviet Famine - History

They called it The Secret Holocaust of Ukraine..WHY? because many didn't know and Soviet Union guarded it - keeping journalist out and denying it of it's existence. Here are some links, Also, please do not throw statements out only if you have intelligent statements instead of starting arguments.

and please do not start an argument on this tread trying to debate "it wasn't a secret, heck my aunt Ethel knew about it."

Well, it's not all that surprising that a famine in Eastern Europe isn't widely-known in the West. The USSR kept itself fairly isolated at the time, and at any rate back then it was understood that if a country wished to starve its own masses, well, that was a country's right as a sovereign nation. It's a rather sad testament to the litany of horrors of the Soviet Union that this is just another in a long line of such atrocities.

However, the Holodomor is hardly a secret.

Every history of the Soviet Union of that time, or biography of major Soviet figure of that era (Stalin, Khrushchev, etc.) has covered it to the degree relevant to the work. And while I've never read a book that is specifically about the Holodomor, there are many such English-language works.

You're spot on. I went to school here in the US and not once did we ever study this. What led me to research this was I am currently reading The Bielski Brothers and wanted to research it more online-it led me to the famine on 32 and 33. What is interesting is how food was used as a form of genocide. How a government can starve it's people intentionally. I noticed not many books written on this time but did find one. Hopefully, it will arrive in the next week so I can read first account.

Anyway, thanks for the replies!!

Chicago, December 18th, 1933, a rally calling attention to famine in Ukraine is attacked by communists and other leftists, 100 hurt.http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1. -side-red-riot

There was plenty of knowledge to activate communists and other Soviet sympathizers . It is quite remarkable, 80 years later, USSR ceased to exist, Russia is ruled by semi feudal, semi-criminal cleptocratic oligarchy, but old insticts are still strong. As of 2014-2016, American leftists of all shades volunteered themselves as useful idiots for Putin regime and its aggression against Ukraine. From Chomsky and Hedges to rank&file, from Counterpunch to message board lunatics, leftists self-organized to demonize Ukrainian revolt and to justify/deny Russian aggression. It must be a genetic condition.

What did world leaders do at the time to try to save people from the famine?

The USSR continued to export confiscated grain and other foodstuffs from Ukraine and tried to conceal the famine from the world. In fact, many world leaders knew about the famine thanks to diplomatic and journalistic reports and did nothing.

“Throughout the following summer and autumn, Ukrainian newspapers in Poland covered the famine, and Ukrainian politicians in Poland organized marches and protests. The leader of the Ukrainian feminist organization tried to organize an international boycott of Soviet goods by appealing to the women of the world. Several attempts were made to reach Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president of the United States. None of this made any difference.

The laws of the international market ensured that the grain taken from Soviet Ukraine would feed others. Roosevelt, preoccupied above all by the position of the American worker during the Great Depression, wished to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. The telegrams from Ukrainian activists reached him in autumn 1933, just as his personal initiative in US-Soviet relations was bearing fruit. The United States extended diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union in November 1933.”

“The Soviet Union didn’t ask for assistance in 1932 and 1933 partly because Stalin didn’t want the world to know that collectivization, which he was trumpeting as a great triumph – he didn’t want people to know that it was a real disaster. He didn’t want people inside the Soviet Union to know and he didn’t want people abroad to know.

I think that for Putin, Ukraine represents a challenge a little bit the way Ukrainian sovereignty was a challenge for Stalin. But, of course, the second reason was that he was using this general famine to target Ukraine. He wasn’t interested in saving people. He wanted the peasants, as a group, to be weakened and he didn’t want people to survive. So there was no effort to collect international aid.”

“Other international factors worked against the famine’s receiving the international attention it deserved. Official British, Italian, German, and Polish documents…show that, although diplomats were fully aware of the famine and reported on it in detail, governments chose to remain silent. The Holodomor took place during the depths of the great Depression and in a period of profound political crisis in Europe, which saw the rise of fascism and the coming to power of of Adolf Hitler in Germany in early 1933.”

—Bohdan Klid and Alexander J. Motyl, The Holodomor Reader

The Soviet Famine, 1932

Addeddate 2016-05-18 16:39:42 Bookplateleaf 0006 Camera Canon EOS 5D Mark II Cat_key 1315544 External-identifier urn:oclc:record:1157512112 Foldoutcount 0 Identifier sovietfamine193235cair Identifier-ark ark:/13960/t98676r4r Invoice 1 Note The Soviet famine of 1932–33 is an event in human history which is still little understood. While there is a consensus among Western scholars that such an event took place, the causes, geographical extent, and the severity in terms of excess mortality are today still being extensively debated. One reason for the debate stems from the lack of hard demographic and economic evidence that would conclusively define the event, particularly from the Soviet Union before 1987. To fully appreciate the content and significance of of the Cairns' reports, they must be placed within an historical context. The task is to broadly outline what took place in the Soviet countryside over fifty years ago. To accomplish this, the following topics are addressed: collectivization of Soviet agriculture Soviet agriculture during the First Five-Year Plan 1928–32, and the famine of the 1932–33. Ocr ABBYY FineReader 11.0 Openlibrary_edition OL25920581M Openlibrary_work OL17343573W Page-progression lr Pages 162 Ppi 500 Scandate 20160524185458 Scanner scribe1.alberta.archive.org Scanningcenter alberta Year 1989

The Great Famine

The Soviet Union’s ‘Great Famine’ between 1932 and 1933 may have resulted in the deaths of nine million people. The ‘Great Famine’ was a man-made affair and was introduced to attack a class of people – the peasants –who were simply not trusted by Joseph Stalin. There is little doubt that Joseph Stalin, the USSR’s leader, knew about this policy. He had once stated in front of others that given the opportunity he would have liked to have removed the whole Ukrainian peasant population of twenty million but that this was an impossible task.

The ‘Great Famine’ – known as the ‘Holodomor’ (Hunger) in the Ukraine – was based on the fear Stalin had that the peasants simply could not be trusted to support his government in Moscow and uphold the revolutionary ideals of the Bolsheviks.

Stalin ordered in to agricultural areas troops and the secret police, who took away what food they could find and simply left rural villages with none. Those who did not die of starvation were deported to the gulags. What happened was kept as a state secret within the USSR. This happened in the Ukraine, the Urals, to the Kazakhs – anywhere where there was a large peasant population.

There is little doubt that the peasants of what was to become the USSR welcomed the revolutions of 1917. This does not mean that they were ideological supporters of Bolshevism, but that they recognised that the revolutions meant that the great land estates that existed at the time would be broken up and that they would benefit by becoming the new owners of that land. Very many peasants regardless of where they lived were conservative in their outlook. They believed that what they grew was theirs and that they could do with it what they pleased. A profitable year meant that more animals or seed could be purchased with the possibility of even more land. However, this did not fit in with the beliefs of either Lenin or Stalin. Fearing that the cities would be starved of food after the disaster of War Communism, Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP). However, to him it was only ever going to be a temporary measure. Lenin viewed the city workers as being the powerhouse of the Russian Revolution and on one occasion wrote “let the peasants starve” when it became clear that they had embraced what Lenin would have viewed as anti-Bolshevik beliefs – such as private land ownership, making profits etc.

In 1927, the USSR faced a food shortage. This had been brought about by a poor harvest that year but Stalin became convinced that the peasants themselves were responsible for the grain shortages in the cities as a result of hoarding and keeping the market short of food thus increasing its price. He ordered thousands of young Communists from the cities to go to the countryside and seize grain. This was the start of a policy, known as the ‘Great Turn’ that left millions to starve.

Stalin developed a win-win strategy. If a peasant handed over his surplus grain, the state would get what it wanted. Any who did not were labelled ‘kulaks’ and, therefore, were ‘enemies of the state’ and suitably punished – along with their grain being confiscated.

Collectivisation was introduced to restructure the USSR’s agriculture. However, it soon became clear that this policy was not going to end the grain shortage. Stalin blamed the kulaks and ordered “the destruction of the kulaks as a class.” No one was quite sure as to what determined a ‘kulak’ but no one in Moscow was willing to raise this issue with Stalin. The kulaks were divided into three groups those to be killed immediately, those to be sent to prison and those to be deported to Siberia or Russian Asia. The third category alone consisted of about 150,000 households, one million people. Stalin believed that such a brutal policy would persuade others in agricultural regions to accept the rule of Moscow and that resistance would end. Stalin wrote to Molotov, “We must break the back of the peasantry.”

The deportations started in 1930 but sparked off numerous localised rebellions. These were brutally suppressed by the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, and when it became clear that the peasants and the government were effectively at war, the peasants responded by slaughtering their animals (26 million cattle and 15 million horses) and destroying what grain they had. This confirmed in the mind of Stalin what he had long thought – that the peasants could not be trusted and that they had to be eradicated or brought to heel.

This clash between Moscow and the agricultural regions occurred in the Ukraine, north Caucasus, the Volga, southern Russia and central Russian Asia.

By December 1931, famine was rife throughout these regions. Nothing had been put in place by the government to help out those it affected. In fact, on June 6 th , 1932, Stalin ordered that there should be “no deviation” regarding his policies.

Stalin refused to recognise the enormity of what he was doing even to the Politburo. When he was challenged at one meeting to tell the truth, he told his accuser to become a writer so that he could continue writing fables. He even accused the head of the Bolsheviks in the Ukraine of being soft on peasants when this commander asked Stalin to provide his troops with more grain as they were starving.

Throughout the whole era of the famine there is no evidence that Stalin was willing to change his policy by any degree. He even introduced the Misappropriation of Socialist Property Law – this stated that anyone caught stealing just one husk of grain was to be shot. Internal travel within the USSR was made all but impossible as the government had total control over the issuing of the internal passports that were needed to travel. Stalin labelled the peasants ‘saboteurs’ who wanted to bring down the Soviet government.

No one will ever know for sure how many died. However, it is generally accepted that within the Ukraine between 4 and 5 million died one million died in Kazakhstan another million in the north Caucasus and the Volga and two million in other regions. Over five million households were affected either by deportation, prison or executions.

Stalin was later to admit to Winston Churchill that it had been a “terrible struggle” but that it was “absolutely necessary”.

World`s Attitude

The issue of Ukrainian famine still rises many disputes among historians and politicians. For example, Russian government still denies the facts of the Soviet genocide in Ukraine. However, more than 20 countries acknowledge the famine in Ukraine in 1932-33 as a genocide of Ukrainian nation. The list of these countries includes Australia, Andorra, Argentina, Brazil, Georgia, Ecuador, Estonia, Spain, Italy, Canada, Colombia, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Slovakia, the USA, Hungary, Czech Republic, Chile, as well as the Vatican as a separate state. Recently, House of the United States Congress has adopted the resolution declaring the famine as a national genocide.
In 2006, Holodomor of 1932-33 was officially declared as the genocide of Ukrainians by the Ukrainian government. Each forth Saturday of November people all over Ukraine light candles in the memory of those who have suffered and passed away during Ukrainian genocide of 1932-33.
Photo source: depositphotos.com. All photos belong to their rightful owners.

Famine in Non-Ukrainian Villages

46 Writings and discourses that maintain there was no ethnic element to the Famine are found infrequently in Ukraine in the period since 1988. Nevertheless, they are worth recounting briefly because they offer a new dimension to the topic that may eventually be explored more fully. It should be recalled that there were several large ethnic communities living in Ukraine during the Stalinist period, of which the German and Jewish communities were the most notable. Both of them suffered considerable losses during the years 1932-33. Very little has appeared on the Germans, but in a lengthy article on the causes and consequences of the Famine, Vasyl’ Marochko asserts that the situation in the national districts essentially did not differ from the plight of Ukrainian villages. He observes that the only outside country that recognized the scale of the Famine was Nazi Germany, which organized broad assistance for ethnic Germans living in Ukraine. However, some Germans refused to accept this aid because they were fearful of Soviet reprisals.59 Clearly, Hitler’s regime may have had more selfish motives than aiding kin in the Soviet Union, and some Volksdeutsche offered a warm welcome to the invading forces of the Wehrmacht in 1941. A more detailed picture has emerged of the Jewish settlements, principally from Jewish regional newspapers in contemporary Ukraine.

  • 60 Yakov Konigsman, “Golodomor 1933 goda i upadok yevreiskogo zemledeliya,” Evreiskiye vesti, No. 17- (. )

47 Thus Yakov Konigsman contests the theory that the Famine in Ukraine was the deliberate policy of the Soviet government, which singled out Ukrainians for destruction—this theme represents the more extreme version of the genocide theory. He argues that the Famine affected different areas of the Soviet Union, such as Kazakhstan and the Volga region, and encompassed members of different nationality groups. His main thesis is that the Famine resulted from the criminal policies of Stalin’s regime which, despite a relatively poor harvest, tried to requisition as much grain as possible from the villages for export. The Famine, in Konigsman’s view, signaled the decline of Jewish settlements in Ukraine. The start of such habitation dated back to Imperial Russian times, and Russia’s efforts to convert Jews to Orthodoxy by tying them to the land. By the late 19th century, he points out, only 3 % of almost 2 million Ukrainian Jews, were working in agriculture, whereas 97 % resided in towns and cities. The revolution and Civil War had a devastating impact on Jewish settlements, reducing the Jewish population by about half compared to the numbers in 1914. However, the years 1921-22 saw a revitalization of colonization efforts by Zionist activists, who favored settlement in the Ukrainian south and the Crimean peninsula. Zionist cooperatives received support from Jewish organizations in the United States. A number of such cooperatives emerged in Crimea and employed over 1,600 Jewish peasants by 1923.60

48 By August 1924, the Soviet authorities were overtly supporting the policy of settling Jewish working people, and as a result Jewish colonies began to develop in Crimea and South Ukraine, based on the administrative districts of Freifeld, Neufeld, Blumenfeld, Kalinindorf, and Stalindorf. Similar colonies appeared in other parts of the USSR, such as Belarus, the Smolensk region of Russia, and the Caucasus. Jewish settlers were hostile to collectivization and the upheaval it posed for their settlements. However, by 1930, 93 Jewish collective farms had been founded in Ukraine, with a population of 156,000 peasants, which was 10 % of the entire Jewish community of the republic. Konigsman maintains that collectivization was a destructive process. People lacked motivation, and requisitions undermined the stability of the kolkhoz and brought famine to the Jewish regions. Some American Jewish organizations (Agrojoint, Komzet), upon learning of the outbreak of famine in the Kherson region, attempted to help the communities, but their support was not accepted by the Soviet authorities. Konigsman reports that starving Jews attempted to escape to the cities and even to the Jewish region of Birobidzhan in the Soviet Far East. By 1937, only 68 Jewish kolkhozes remained, and the number of peasants in them had fallen to 109,000, a decline of 30 %.61

  • 62 Etia Shatnaya, “Pod rodnym nebom,” Evreiskiye vesti, No. 21-22 (November 1993): 15.
  • 63 Iosif Shaikin, “Na yuge Ukrainy,” Evreiskiye vesti, No. 1-2 (January 1994): 6.

49 One memoir relates the Jewish experience of the Famine in Kherson region. The author is a native of the village Sudnyakove in Khmel’nyts’kyi region, but moved with her parents to Kherson as part of a Jewish colonization venture organized by Agrojoint in 1928. They settled in the village Rodonsk and the company built them houses. When the Soviet authorities collectivized the region, the settlers were deprived of their horses and tools, but retained their cattle. In 1932-33 the father received 30 poods of grain for his labor on the kolkhoz, and 22 poods were exchanged for some sheep. When requisitions began, the family had to make bread from mustard flour, the grandfather died, and the author became swollen from hunger, although she survived. The malnourished children received one meal a day at school—some thin soup with beans.62 Another author takes issue with those who have maintained that the Famine in Ukraine was organized by Jews (see below) and argues that Jews suffered from the event as much as any other group. In Ukraine, she states, the death toll for Jews was second only to that for Ukrainians and Russians, because the Famine targeted people based not on national identity but on the region and class affiliation, i.e., peasantry. Mikhail Siganevich from Kalinindorf recalled that the harvest in 1932 was satisfactory. His family received 20 poods of grain, but this amount was requisitioned in the fall of that year. The village schoolteacher ordered all children to bring 5 kilograms of grain to donate to the state, and his mother was obliged to give up what grain remained. The family endured the winter eating rotten vegetables. Though the Siganevich family survived, many of the neighbors perished.63 There is little to distinguish such stories from those of Ukrainian villages.

50 Another article by Marochko is worth citing as a final example in the category of non-Ukrainian victims during the Famine. Though the Famine was not limited to Ukraine, he remarks, starvation tended to affect primarily those areas in which many Ukrainians lived, such as the Kuban region, along the Don River, and Kazakhstan. Though members of other nationalities suffered, it was primarily because they were unfortunate enough to reside in Ukraine (Russians, Jews, and Germans). In 1932, he points out, there were 2.6 million Russians in Ukraine, and most Russian peasants lived in nine national districts. Like their Ukrainian counterparts, they resisted collectivization and by 1932 those in all the Russian national districts were starving. The 1932 famine was also unique in that it affected cities as well as villages. Thus various cities were facing crises: Kyiv, Berdyakhiv, Zhytomyr, Uman, Zaporizhzhya, and others. He challenges the perspective that Jews occupied the prominent party and government posts and played some role in organizing the Famine by observing that they were also sufferers, but also somewhat absurdly participates in this discussion by suggesting that Russians and Ukrainians occupied more of such positions than Jews.64 This article overall seems to contradict his earlier contribution to the debate in that it suggests that the Famine may well have been directed primarily against Ukrainians, but affected other groups by the simple factor of geography that these peoples happened to be in the locality and therefore suffered as well. On the other hand, a regime that intended to eradicate Ukrainians for their nationalist views, or for their potential alliance with the Poles, might have taken steps not to alienate other national groups living in the republic. In general, this question has received little attention from historians and requires a fuller treatment.

There was a wave of migration due to starvation, although authorities responded by introducing a requirement that passports be used to go between republics, and banning travel by rail.

Internal passports (identity cards) were introduced on 27 December 1932 by Soviet authorities to deal with the mass exodus of peasants from the countryside. Individuals not having such a document could not leave their homes on pain of administrative penalties, such as internment in a Gulag (Soviet work and reeducation camps). The rural population had no right to passports and thus could not leave their villages without approval. The power to issue passports rested with the head of the kolkhoz, and identity documents were kept by the administration of the collective farms. This measure stayed in place until 1974.

The lack of passports could not completely stop peasants' leaving the countryside, but only a small percentage of those who illegally infiltrated into cities could improve their lot. Unable to find work or possibly buy or beg a little bread, farmers died in the streets of Kharkiv, Kiev, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Vinnytsia, and other major cities of Ukraine.

2 Answers 2

To quote Felix Wemheuer - Famine Politics in Maoist China nad the Soviet Union:

One question that remains unanswered is why the Chinese Communists learned so little from the Soviet experience of famine. The three famines after the October Revolution ought to have given rise to a clear awareness that a radical transformation of society could lead to famine. The famine of 1921–1922 was no secret it was reported in the international media. What is more, during the famine of 1931–1933, many Chinese cadres lived in the Soviet Union, and yet I have so far not found a single direct reference to the Soviet famine in the speeches of Chinese leaders. It remains unclear how much the Chinese government really knew about the extent of the loss of life caused by the Soviet famines of 1931–1933 and 1947. Mao criticized the Soviets for their exploitation of the peasants and believed it was a mistake to “dry the pond to catch the fish.” However, the Chinese Communists made the same mistakes as their Soviet counterparts and changed policies in 1962 only after millions of Chinese peasants had paid the “tuition fee” (xuefei) with their lives. Did the interaction between the Communist parties and the peasants result in famines even if leaders like Mao realized Stalin had gone too far in exploiting the countryside?

I would add: The great famine in the SU and the great leap famine have similarities: The overall goal of industrialization, hence feeding the cities by starving the countryside, grain exports during ongoing famines. But how the respective governments arrived at causing, and later ending, the famines are very different.

To directly adress the questions:

Did Chairman Mao and his cult know about the Soviet famine before starting the collectivization in China?

Probably, but we don't know how much they knew. There was a land reform in 1950-1952, collectivization started in 1955 (and I have not found sources how much land was collectivized by 1959), then followed the great leap famine in 1959-1961. The most immediate causes for the great leap famine and the huge losses of life - 20 to 40 million people - where IMO:

  • fall in agricultural production in the preceding years,
  • grain exports
  • brutal requisitioning of food in the countryside, which would include seed stocks and cattle fodder
  • . to feed an urban population that had grown by 20 million in the preceding years and whom had access to ration cards, unlike the peasants

Conversely, the measures taken in '61 to end the famine where sending back urban dwellers into the countryside (out of the rationing system), importing grain and easing the requisitioning.

During the 50ties, China had set up a system where excess grain produce was bought by the state for a fixed price and then redistributed, mostly to cities, the army and export, but also as disaster relief for rural population. It appears there was never a hard lower limit on how much grain a family should keep, the guidelines appear to hover around at least one jin (600g) of grains a day, more typical 400-500 jin per year. In the years preceding the famine, official public sources openly discussed grievances of peasants who claimed (wrongly or rightly) that too much grain was requisitiond from them. Later the party line became that these peasants where hoarders who did not want to share food with the cities. This was likely true in some cases, but the way the whole issue was politiziced madie (at least that's what I gather) impossible for the party to actually assess the situation in the countryside.

If he did why he followed in Stalin's footsteps?

The situation in China before the great leap was different from the SU on the onset of the great famine, while there are broad similarities between both famines there are also important differences - It is IMO not correct to say Mao followed Stalins footsteps.

If he didn't know that, why?

p.s.: This is maybe tangential to the question - here's two explanations from party sources:

Textbooks that came out during the early 1970s, after universities had been reopened and students had to attend CCP history classes, discuss the Great Leap at some length. They argue that, in the initial years after the communist takeover, China suffered under the pressure of having to imitate the Soviet Union and, therefore, ended up in the same kind of crisis as was encountered in Eastern Europe in the early 1950s. Mao Zedong analyzed the situation and came to the conclusion that socialism in China had to be different from socialism in Russia and Eastern Europe. He strongly criticized Stalin’s approach to the political economy of socialism and came up with the idea that, in developing its own economy, China mainly had to rely on its enormously large workforce. In discussing the experience of organizing cooperatives in the Chinese countryside, he convinced himself that Chinese peasants supported the idea of collectivization and, thus, that the reorganization of the countryside would work out much better in China than it had in the Soviet Union. This is why Cultural Revolution textbooks on Party history argue that the Great Leap was the first success that the Party, under Mao’s leadership, could claim with regard to distancing itself from the Russian experience and in finding its own path towards socialism – a path that would be fundamentally different from what the Communist Party of the Soviet Union summarized as its own experience in the “Short Course of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,” which was instituted under Stalin’s leadership.

Note that the famine is not mentioned. After Mao's era, the hisoriography changes:

The Great Leap is seen as an early example of Mao Zedong’s development of “ultra-leftist” ideas about socialism in China, which would turn out to be highly erroneous. The 1981 “Resolution on Some Questions Concerning the History of the Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China” states:

The 2nd Plenary Session of the 8th Party Congress passed the resolution on the general line and other points of fundamental importance. The correct side about this resolution is its reflecting the wish and strong demand of the masses to change the state of underdevelopment of our economy. Its mistake consisted in underestimating the role of economic laws. However, because of the lack of experience in building socialism and a lack of knowledge regarding the laws of economic development as well as the overall economic situation in our country, but even more so because Comrade Mao Zedong as well as many comrades from the central to the local levels became self-satisfied and arrogant as a result of our victory, we started to become impatient in expecting success and to overestimate the role of subjective willingness and subjective endeavour.

The Great Famine is still not depicted as such: “During the years 1959 to 1961 the economy of our country came across severe problems, and the state as well as the people had to suffer great damages because of mistakes that had been committed during the Great Leap Forward and the Campaign against Rightists, as well as because of natural calamities having taken place. On top of that, the economy was badly affected by the Soviet Union perfidiously tearing contracts into pieces.”

Source for both quotes: Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, Re-Imagining the Chinese Peasant: The Historiography on the Great Leap Forward, in: Kimberley Ens Manning and Felix Wemheuer (editors), Eating Bitterness: New Perspectives on Chinas great Leap forward and Famine

Watch the video: Soviet Famine of 1932: An Overview (June 2022).


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