The Darkest Years in Ukrainian History

Topics: Ukraine, Holodomor, Soviet Union Pages: 11 (4077 words) Published: April 4, 2011
The early 1930s represent some of the darkest years in Ukrainian history and was highlighted by a famine, that from 1932-1933, claimed the lives of up to six million Ukrainians. While it is counterproductive to declare that the sheer scale of devastation of the famine is greater than other massive twentieth century losses of human life, it is nonetheless strange why it is not as pervasive in the collective memory of humans as the Holocaust or Rwandan genocide is. Part of this is due to the fact that for the longest time the international community did not officially recognize that a famine had ever occurred. However, the question of causation is at the heart of this issue because there is no consensus on whom or what actually caused the famine. Some have claimed that an economic downturn accompanied by a devastating drought is what produced the famine. However, another perspective declares that the starvation of Ukraine was the result of the deliberate implementation of Stalinist policies that resulted in mass starvation. The focus of this paper will address the issue of causation and demonstrate how the famine was an intentional result of Soviet political and economic policies. Before one can examine the various factors that contributed to the creation of famine it is important to highlight the Soviet economic and political policies implemented during this era because it will effectively outline the context that this famine had occurred. In 1921 Lenin introduced his New Economic Plan (NEP) which put an end to the forced requisition of agricultural produce, limiting the control Moscow had over the Ukraine peasantry. In effect, rural areas of the Soviet Union such as Ukraine’s vast farmlands were left largely to administer their own affairs. As a result, from 1921 to 1928, the NEP had allowed the peasantry to make significant economic progress while maintaining their traditional style of life. However, this all changed when Joseph Stalin came to power. In 1928 Stalin introduced the Five Year Plan to industrialize the Soviet Union and imposed the collectivization of agriculture into state hands in order to finance his plan. Essentially the Five Year Plan sought to finance the purchase of capital with the revenue generated from the export of agricultural products. The various types of machinery and tools imported from the west were crucial in promoting the levels of industrial growth Stalin hoped to achieve in five years. To accomplish this, Stalin recognized that he needed to appropriate a much larger share of the grain production to the state, and turned to the Ukraine as a source for this grain. As one might expect, forced collectivization met resistance from the peasantry who viewed their situation as the reinstitution of serfdom and began to voice their displeasure. In response, Stalin began to introduce urban representatives in the place of peasant representatives in village Soviets who would pursue dissenters, punish those perceived to be enemies of the collective effort, and the Kulaks became the focal point of such persecution. The term kulak originally referred to the wealthiest and most prosperous segment of Ukrainian peasantry because they owned their own capital or large plots of land, and were financially capable of employing hired labour and leasing land However Stalin used the word Kulak as a blanket term for all peasants who were opposed to collectivization regardless of economic status and were all categorized as a class enemy worthy of exile or liquidation. Stalin’s Five Year Plan and forced collectivization set the stage for the famine by creating a situation in which an entire nation found itself void of sufficient food stuffs to support its current population. There were obvious political motives behind the causes of the famine. Stalin asserted that the Ukrainian peasantry formed the basis of Ukrainian nationalism and therefore stood as a threat to Moscow. This perceived threat justified the...
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