Holodomor, myth and reality

“Holodomor” or the so called “Ukrainian genocide” is a theory, according to which the  Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933 was not just an ordinary famine, but a deliberately and intentionally created ‘man-made’ famine. The term “holodomor” itself means death by hunger, and is modeled to sound similar to the word holocaust.

The capitalists have always tried to equate communism and nazism, Stalin and Mao with Hitler. In reality they don’t have anything in common when it comes to actual policy, and on the contrary nazism and communism are diametrically opposed in almost every respect.

However the capitalists still try to do this. They try to argue that Stalin and therefore communism is as bad as Hitler and nazism by claiming that Stalin was a genocidal monster.

The problem there is that they need a genocide, preferably something of the same caliber as the holocaust. Since such a genocide committed by the Soviet Union under the leadership of Stalin doesn’t exist, they instead try to fabricate one from this famine.

Many people have rightly pointed out that the Soviet Union, as well as the Russian empire, like any other semi-feudal agrarian country had frequent famines. Practically every time there was a bad harvest because of drought, flooding, too cold weather, too hot weather etc., there was a famine in some part of the Russian empire. This happened every 2 or 3 years in the Russian Empire.

This is because agriculture in the Russian Empire and in the USSR of the 1920s and early 1930s was technologically not developed and based on small scale production which barely made a surplus. The roads were also extremely bad and communications technology was almost nonexistent. Sending aid effectively in response to famines was difficult.

Famine was common before the Soviets took power and the country started to rapidly industrialize in the 30s. Before that there had been famines in some part of the Russian empire almost every couple of years. There was a famine in 1901, 1906, 1911, 1917 and so on. In the early Soviet Union this trend continued with the terrible famine of 1921-23 mostly caused by the civil war (possibly the most devastating famine in Russian history) and the grain shortages which began in 1927-28.

Therefore the fact that there was a famine in Ukraine is not so unusual. It was only a matter of time when famine would hit once again, unless agriculture was modernized and industrialized. The Soviets’ chosen method of doing that was to set up large collective farms (kolkhoz) which combined numerous small land holdings into one larger plot and used modern farming technology such as tractors provided by the state Machine Tractor Stations (MTSs).

I’d like to briefly give my thoughts on the number of victims of the Ukrainian famine. The numbers one often hears are typically based on unscientific speculations if not outright invented. One finds estimates anywhere between 2 million to a staggering 10 or 20 million. The cold-war era western “researchers” (propagandists) took the population increase from the years ’32 to ’34 and compared it to other times. They then concluded that because it was less then normally, all those people must have died.

In reality there were simply a lot less births. Granted, there were also starvation deaths, but it would be foolish to think that births wouldn’t go down during a famine. I’m sure there are other problems with their methodology but I’m not going to go into that. Recent estimates from unbiased moderate researchers puts the death toll around 2 or 3 million while far-right extremists hold on to 7 million (originally designed to be worse then the holocaust) or even 10 or 20 million.

We’ve concluded that a famine happening in Ukraine at that time was not unusual, it was common in the situation left behind by Tsarism. We’ve concluded that the number of victims is not presented accurately by anti-communist “researchers” but is incredibly inflated and unreliable.

The third thing to keep in mind is that there is no evidence, documentary or otherwise to suggest the famine was intentional or man-made, as the most far-right of the anti-communists claim. There exists no order signed by Stalin to Soviet officials ordering them to starve Ukraine, or anything like that. Possibly the most well known book about the Holodomor in this decade, Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands” claims the famine was man-made, but still cites modern researchers like Davies, Wheatcroft and M. Tauger without telling readers that all these researchers deny that the famine was man-made!

The Photographs

There are many pictures purporting to depict the famine still circulating these days. These were in fact published by the German and American pro-Nazi Press (such as Hearst Press). These pictures however, are mainly used for shock value since the existence of starvation says nothing about its causes or its severity. They are used in order to depict the monstrosity of the famine, to win sympathy to the Holodomor theory. Naturally, the famine was a humanitarian disaster but that doesn’t make the Holodomor theory any more true.

I am not exaggerating when I say these pictures were published by the Nazis or their supporters such as the American Hearst Press. On top of that most of them are not actually taken where they claim to be. Many of the photographs are actually from World War One, the American civil war, the great depression, or the Russian civil war. Since those days this array of fraudulent “Holodomor photos” has been supplemented with pictures from the siege of Leningrad, battle of Kharkov etc. Probably the best individual study of the use of fake Holodomor photos by the far-right is D. Tottle’s Fraud, Famine and Fascism.

Despite these pictures and other material published by the nazis and their American supporters, there is no evidence–not even bad evidence–to suggest the famine was deliberate or man-made.

The Export Data

The real key to the Holodomor debate is question is actually even more simple. The anti-communist argument goes that the Soviet Union deliberately starved Ukraine in order to crush nationalism, by exporting food grain for money, while there was a famine. The answer lies in the export data. Let’s take a look.

In the year 1930 the Soviet government exported 4,846,024 tonnes of grain.

In 1931 the number increased to 5,182,835 tonnes.

In 1932 which is the year when the famine began they exported much less. Only 1,819,114 tonnes. And actually imported 750,000 tonnes during the first half of 1932 and from late April 157,000 tonnes.

The amount of export further decreased the next year and another 200,000 tonnes was also imported.

The Soviet government exported only a fraction of what they normally would have and even imported over a million tonnes to be sent as food aid to Ukraine when they realized the extent of the famine. This totally debunks the genocide-theory.

“The official statistics, however, show that the procurements taken from the 1932 harvest were less than the procurements in any other year in the 1930s”
(Professor Mark B. Tauger, “What caused famine in Ukraine?”)

Soviet Industrial Revolution & the Western Blockade

But why did the Soviets export grain at all? The USSR required capital for its industrial projects, machines to be bought from the West etc. They planned to acquire this capital from two sources:

1) Selling oil, gold, minerals, agricultural goods such as cotton and other products to the West.
2) Selling consumer goods on the Soviet Union’s internal market.

The initial plan was not to export so large an amount of food grain at all. Most of it was to be sold on the internal market anyway. However, Western powers introduced a blockade on Soviet oil and Soviet gold currency.

“The government collected grain and sent it to the West, but not to starve part of a country’s population to death, but because there was no other way it could pay for the supply of equipment. All of Stalin’s hopes were on a new harvest. It turned out to be a small one, however, since the country was struck by a drought. The USSR was unable to buy food in exchange for gold (the gold blockade) or currency (as a result of the embargo there was none). Attempts were urgently made to get supplies of grain from Persia, where they had agreed to accept gold. The authorities did not have time, however, as a catastrophe was already underway. Famine Victims, Kuban, 1932 Famine Victims, Kuban, 1932 Between 1932 and 1933, thousands and thousands of people died and it was only after this that the West was once again renewed to accept oil, timber and precious metals from the Soviets.”
(Oriental review, “Who Organised the Famine in the USSR in 1932-1933?”)

The USSR as an agrarian country relied on selling raw materials. The biggest items of export before the Industrialization were cotton, coal, oil and various agricultural crops. Paradoxically the only way out of this trap of agrarian backwardness was to industrialize. But where to get the funds for it? It would be completely unreasonable and in contradiction with material reality to except the Soviet Union to not export at all during the 1932-33 period. The thing that caused problems for them were the economic blockade and the poor harvests of the early 1930s, both circumstances out of their control.

As a last ditch effort one might argue; “why not halt all industrialization and give all possible food to the citizens?” The reason should be obvious, halting all industrialization, all projects currently on the way was impossible. Also the purchases of machines had to be paid for somehow even if the bigger project was postponed.

Secondly the Soviets did slow down the industrialization to the degree that they cut exports when it became clear there was a severe the famine. They only exported large amounts before the famine, when it was still possible to do so without danger. This is generally forgotten when right-wing anti-communists reverse the causality of this event by claiming it was the exports which caused the famine, despite the exports being reduced and the government importing food instead when the famine hit.

Thirdly, halting industrialization wouldn’t have been a good solution to Russia’s troubles. Famine was extremely common not because of industrialization, but because of the opposite, lack of industrialization. Stopping the project to modernize the country would only have prolonged the chronic food-insecurity of the country. The only good way to solve the “grain question” as the Soviets called it, was to modernize the country and thus increase crop yields with the use of machines, scientific methods and infrastructure.

The first cause of the famine: weather

Let us now discuss actual causes of this famine.

Like most famines particularly in less technologically developed countries, like the USSR certainly was at the time, the main cause is bad weather conditions, which lead to poor harvests.

“In 1927, a drought shortened the harvest in southern areas of the Ukrainian SSR and North Caucasus. In 1927–28 the winter tillage area was badly affected due to low snow levels. Despite seed aid from the State, many affected areas were not re-sown. The 1928 harvest was affected by drought in most of the grain producing areas of the Ukrainian SSR” (Tauger, Ibid.)

There was also another terrible drought that lasted through the entirety of 1932-1933 in Ukraine as well as crop diseases such as grain rust, but going into detail about this is beyond the scope of this article. (I have a more recent article which deals extensively with these causes)

“The evidence that I have published and other evidence, including recent Ukrainian document collections, show that the famine developed out of a shortage and pervaded the Soviet Union, and that the regime organized a massive program of rationing and relief in towns and in villages, including in Ukraine, but simply did not have enough food. This is why the Soviet famine, an immense crisis and tragedy of the Soviet economy, was not in the same category as the Nazis’ mass murders, which had no agricultural or other economic basis.” (Tauger, Ibid.)

The second cause of the famine: kulak terrorism

It may seem like a stretch to some, that sabotage by a minority of the population could play a part in a famine. It needs to be stated that it only contributed to the already difficult situation, it did not cause the famine.

But how influential were the rural capitalists known as kulaks? They were about 10% or 11% of the population, and in fact Ukraine had a larger kulak population then most of the USSR.

Kulaks had acquired control of a large amount of the village plots during the NEP period of 1920-1927. Kulak speculation on the food market caused a shortage already in 1927 when the marketed share of grain was only one third of the pre-war years although production had exceeded pre-war figures.

In 1920 when the NEP was implemented and the Soviet Union moved from War-Communism, to a temporary stage where a free market existed, the much feared consequences of the market became evident. Despite the previous land reform nearly 3 million peasants, were quickly once again without land, because the kulaks had driven them bankrupt and then bought their land cheaply. This resulted in 10-11% of the population (kulaks) owning so much land and also horses and machinery compared to the rest of the peasant population that they produced 56% of the marketed food. The kulaks largely decided if the towns would eat or not.

Most peasant holdings were so small they produced no marketable grain. All their produce was consumed by the peasant families themselves. Kulak farms however, produced a significant surplus. They were large plots, employing many farm workers and using horses and tractors.

In 1927 the government began the grain procurement policy as a response to kulaks refusing to sell their grain at the regulated price. This was class struggle. The kulaks knew they had an advantage because they effectively controlled food supply and expected the government to surrender to their demands and increase food prices and deregulating the economy, thus increasing the profits and power of the kulaks. This would’ve signified a restoration of capitalism and would’ve doomed the attempt of building socialism. The kulak policy of selling on the black market, and refusing to sell grain at regulated prices (hoarding) was illegal in the USSR, but the kulaks felt themselves strong enough to openly challenge Soviet law and the entire Soviet system. Instead of bowing to the kulaks’ demands the government chose to confiscate the illegally hoarded grain.

In response the kulaks refused to farm more then a minimal amount. This way there’d be no grain to procure. This sparked resentment among the landless peasants and the collective farm (obschina) movement was re-kindled. The Bolsheviks had supported the peasantry’s  demand for seizing unused landlord and kulak land since 1905 and now they issued a decree making it legal for the poor peasants to do the same, take kulak land and farm it. The kulak response was murderous, they killed many communist organizers and collective farmers. The government responded with deportations of kulaks.

Finally to prevent their property falling into the hands of the poor the kulaks began destroying it. It is a good concrete example of this terrorism and how it could impact the food growing to look at the amount of machinery, food and particularly livestock deliberately destroyed by the kulak saboteurs and the segment of the well-to-do middle peasants who were fooled into doing so by the kulaks. This was escalation of the on-going class struggle in the countryside between the rural poor and the rural rich. The hatred for the kulaks had accumulated over decades, but now the poor peasants were in a position to do something about it. Finally the government proclaimed its policy of “eliminating kulaks as a class”, that is, taking away their wealth and status, reducing them to common farmers. The kulaks launched their final desperate offensive:

The kulak capitalists owned most of the livestock and machinery, while most peasants only owned one horse or cow. 27 million peasant households (more then a third of the entire peasant population) owned not a single horse. The devastation was most extreme in the case of cattle and work horses which the kulaks owned the largest share of but also bulls, oxen, pigs, sheep and goats. Particularly the shortage of horses for plowing contributed to the famine.

livestock slaughterstats


The famine was not deliberate or man-made. It was caused by difficult weather conditions and the general backwardness left by Tsarism in the country. As there exists no evidence of deliberate genocide, and the case relies entirely on the false assumption that the USSR kept exporting more and more food grain, completely disregarding the famine, I can confidently say that the Holodomor has been debunked as a myth and a fabrication.

It is revealing to look at who the people spreading this myth are. In the 1930s they were the Nazi press and their American collaborators. In the modern era their work was carried out by cold-war anti-communists and far-right Ukrainian emigrés. The myth is still widely propagated those elements, together with Ukrainian neo-nazis. The Holodomor myth is the work of Goebbels.


The Holodomor myth is the work of Goebbels


Export and import data
The Years of Hunger. Soviet Agriculture 1931-1933, Davies and Wheatcroft

Official Soviet export and import data
СССР в цифрах ЦУНХУ Госплана СССР. Москва 1935, page 574, 575

Official Soviet data for marketed and produced food grain cited here

Numbers for livestock destruction

Kulak sabotage

Ludo Martens, Another view of Stalin

Gold & Oil Embargo

5 thoughts on “Holodomor, myth and reality

  1. Pingback: The “Holodomor” explained | ML-Theory

  2. Pingback: The “Holodomor” explained – PoderObrero

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