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The Politics Of Genocide

Ukrainian legislative assembly, the Rada has passed a resolution calling for recognition of the mass starvation event in early 1930’s Ukraine known as “Holodomor” as genocide. While there is no question that millions of people died of hunger in 1932-1933 in the Ukraine and in other parts of the Soviet Union, the genocide recognition is problematic because the name implies not only mass death, but mass murder, and not just murder, but murder directed at the extermination of a specific ethnic group.

With genocide, unlike in the case of natural or even man-made disasters there are victims and perpetrators, those who did the dying and those who did the killing. In the view of the Rada and as previously reported in these pages, mass starvation in the Ukraine was an intentional result of Stalin’s mass collectivization campaign of the early 1930’s. Stalin needed to fend off starvation in the cities where the technocratic and government elites were concentrated as well as feed the enormous Red Army. Since the country was still in ruins after the civil war of 1918 – 1920, there was simply not enough food to accomplish this goal without food confiscation from the peasantry on a mass scale.

This confiscation would of course cause mass starvation among the peasants, but that outcome was not only necessary, but desirable from Stalin’s point of view. Stalin saw the peasantry and especially the relatively affluent peasantry, as a highly reactionary element that would never accept collectivization and socialism. Thus in Stalin’s mind the intentional starvation of the peasantry simultaneously achieved two key goals: feeding the cities and the military and eliminating a key anti-revolutionary element of the population.

While collectivization was not limited to the Ukraine and neither was mass starvation, the Ukraine, being the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, was disproportionately affected.

So yes, there were victims and perpetrators, the dead and the murderers. There was a policy that had this mass death event as one of its goals. These are the necessary conditions for genocide, the “cide” part that is. The sufficient condition is the focus of the mass murder policy on a certain “genus” or ethnic group, specifically because of who that group is and with the purpose of exterminating it in as complete a manner as possible. This condition was met in the Jewish and Armenian genocides. The Ottoman Turks killed Armenians because they were Armenians and the Nazi Germans killed Jews because they were Jews.

There is no evidence however that Stalin targeted the Ukrainians for extermination. For example, Ukrainian city dwellers in places like Kiev and Kharkiv were not targeted, while peasants in places like Belorussia, Moldova, and Russia itself, were. This is precisely the point made by Russian media in response to the Rada’s resolution. It is thus my opinion that while the intentional starvation of Soviet peasantry by Stalin was a horrific historic event that should be memorialized and studied, it does not meet the standard for genocide.

The Politics Of Genocide

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