Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine

TIME: 18:00 – 19:00, 7th November 2017

VENUE:  The Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP

SPEAKER: Anne Applebaum, Author of Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, Professor and Historian

CHAIR: Dr Andrew Foxall, Director of Research, The Henry Jackson Society

Dr Andrew Foxall

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Henry Jackson Society my name is Andrew Foxall I oversee the work that we do on issues relating to Russia and Eurasia, and it’s appropriate I think institutionally we wanted to host an even relating to Russia and Eurasia today because it is of course the centenary of the Bolshevik revolution, and as I said we thought institutionally it was important to mark that somehow. Who better in some senses to mark it with us than this evening’s speaker, Anne Applebaum and it will be known I’m sure to most of you, she is a columnist at the Washington Post, she is the author of several books a number of which have won prestigious awards including most notably Gulag: A History which won the Pulitzer prize in 2004 and more recently Iron Curtain which won the Cundill prize for historical literature in 2013.

She is a professor in practice at the London School of Economics and Science where she runs the arena project, research activities that relate to disinformation and propaganda in the twenty first century. She is formerly as well deputy editor of the Spectator, Warsaw correspondent at the Economist, I could go on but I won’t I think I’ve spoken enough thus far. Anne I am delighted to say is here to speak to us this evening about her new book Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. It is a tremendous, tremendous book copies are available to buy outside they are priced at £20 and Anne assures me that she is willing to sign copies if any of you wish to do so. Anne, please.

Anne Applebaum

Thank you. Thank you well it is indeed an honour to be here on this incredibly auspicious evening and thank you all for tearing yourselves away from your lives and jobs to listen for a few minutes about the longer term effects of events that took place in St Petersburg exactly 100 years ago. In some way we all live in the world that Lennon created, sometimes I wake up in the morning and I feel very much that I am still surrounded by Lennon but and you know we are still fighting some of the things that he set into motion.

My book on Ukraine famine, we were just discussing it outside just before and the question was why write it now, what is it what we know now that we didn’t know before. Bob Congress as many of you will know the great British authority on Soviet history did write a book on the Ukrainian famine in the 1980s. The reason I decided to tackle it again was that I came to realise in the course of writing earlier books that this is a story that thanks to archives can now be told in a different way. We can both understand a little bit better how it happened, why it happened and we can also establish I think now beyond doubt that it was intentional and I think we can also understand better what the reasons for it where.

Let me give you just a very brief outline of what the argument of the book is because really the story begins at a particular moment, it begins in the spring of 1932 and the spring of 1932 is a moment of real crisis in the Soviet Union. Peasants all across the country are beginning to starve, there are secretly police reports and letters coming in from all across the country from the North Caucus’s, from Western Siberia as well as Ukraine and they are already telling some of the really terrible stories that we know increase in number later on. So they speak of children swollen with hunger and families eating grass and acorns, peasants fleeing their homes in search of food, people dying in railway stations. In March there was a medical commission which was sent out to examine some villages near to Odesa and they found corpses lying on the streets with nobody strong enough to bury them.

People begin to start writing letters to Stalin, there were a couple of letters that struck me, one letter including in the book one of them went like this ‘Dear Stalin every day 10-20 families die from famine in the villages. Children run off and railway stations are overflowing with fleeing villagers. There are no horses or livestock left in the countryside. The bourgeoisie has created a genuine famine here, part of the capitalist plan to set the entire peasant class against the Soviet government.’ Of course the bourgeoisie had not created the famine, the famine had been started by Stalin’s policy of collectivisation. And this is you will remember is Stalin’s policy his agriculture reform which forced peasants to leave their own farms and their own land which they owned in some cases for decades or for centuries and to move into State farms. This had very much been Stalin’s personal idea, it was his response to the constant food shortages in the Soviet Union, he argued for it in the central committee, it was even really the argument for collectivisation was part of how he came to power. He defeated all of his rivals in this argument that this should happen and that this was the best way forward, he had logic to it, he derived it directly from Marxism. It was an argument about how we need bigger farms but these can’t be capitalist farms, we need something more efficient and we need to prointeranise the peasants and make them into State employees so that they are not a source of opposition to the State.

This began in 1929 and 1930 and it led to probably the biggest and most violent rebellion against the Soviet state that ever happened and maybe it compares to the Gulag rebellions that took place after Stalin died in 1954. But you had peasants that went into their own barns and they dug up guns left over from the civil war and they began shooting at party activists and others who were forcing them to collectivise. They resisted in all kinds of other ways they slaughtered their livestock, they refused to cooperate with the system. You had both panic on the part of the secret police at that time called OPGU then they were the KGB who were putting down rebellion all over the Soviet Union but especially in Ukraine. The major bulk of rebellion was in Ukraine something like three quarters of the incidents took place there and Moscow became very conscious that that was happening.

The disaster was already starting to create food shortages all across the Soviet Union and it was also starting to create real discontent inside the Bolshevik party with Stalin himself. In the summer of 1932 you get I think you get probably the last genuine internal party conspiracy against Stalin it was called the renuntat affair, and a group of young Bolsheviks began writing conspiratorial letters, setting up meetings, we need to get rid of Stalin. Stalin got word of it that autumn. It was also the moment that Stalin’s wife killed herself that Fall and although that may have been for many reasons, she may have been mentally ill, she may have been depressed, at the time many people said and this is a story Stalin would have known, many people said she killed herself because of collectivisation has been such a disaster. People are dying in the countryside it is the Bolsheviks party’s’ fault, this is the worst catastrophe that our party has committed since the revolution that had only been ten years before.

At that moment Stalin had a choice. He could have scaled back he could have said right we are changing the policy, which by the way he eventually did do but he could have stopped the hunger from spreading. He could have said for example we won’t export food anymore, at that point the Soviet Union was exporting grain to Britain actually and to Western Europe. He could have said we are going to ask for international aid which is something that the Bolsheviks did a decade earlier in 1920 and 21 there was a famine in Russia at that time and American and foreign aid groups came into help. He could have stopped requisitioning grain from the peasants he could of said right they can keep their own grain I understand that people are going hungry, we can stop this process we can allow people to recover and survive and so on.

Instead what Stalin did and you see this moment of intense drywell he is writing letters to Kokanovic who is his close conspirator and who is also his great expert on Ukraine, he is writing letters to the Ukrainian communist party leaders who at that time are actually asking him, begging him to let up on Ukraine, to stop taking grain out of Ukraine. He’s at a moment of real anxiety, party rebellion, his wife’s death has also disturbed him and he begins to speak very obsessively about the civil war. He starts talking about the Ukrainians in the context of the civil war. At first when I was doing the research at first it confused me, he began talking about them as inaudible referring to one of the great Ukraine nationalist leaders from the civil war era. He begins talking about Polish intervention which is also something that happened in the Bolshevik civil war. What happens is that he remembers his own experience of the civil war which he spent in Ukraine, which I will go back to in a second, and what he decides at that moment is that instead of letting up on Ukraine he decides to make use of the crisis. He has this crisis and he uses it to get rid of a problem and the problem is the problem of Ukraine and its one that has bothered him since 1917 really, the 100 years ago that we are marking, we are remembering this year.

What he does is he passes a series of decrees and a series of commands which specifically effect Ukraine so there is a wider Soviet famine but he targets a series of decisions for either mostly or only Ukraine. One of them is he blacklists Ukrainian towns and villages that haven’t been giving up enough grain and also ones which are showing particular signs of being part of the rebellion. He blacklists them so they are not allowed to receive any food and they are also not allowed to receive anything else actually any manufacturing goods, salt, pots and pans, anything. He increases the requisitions in Ukraine so he demands more rather than less grain from the peasants. He refuses the Ukrainian communist’s requests for aid and most of all he draws a cordon around Ukraine so the Ukrainians are not allowed to leave the republic. Some of them did get away, some had gotten away earlier but at that moment they begin blocking the access between the villages and the cities, they begin blocking the roads to Russia and Belarus and they don’t want peasants to leave Ukraine. At this moment after making all of these decrees they begin to send activist teams into Ukrainian villages where they go house to house and they take not just grain and not just corn but corn, beans, squash, peas, vegetables, sometimes they take livestock, sometimes they take pets, sometimes they take food that’s stored in cupboards. They remove all the food from people’s houses and if you remove all of the food from people’s houses and you tell them they are not allowed to leave then you have artificially created a famine. This essentially what happens between about December, January, February into March of 1933.

In the spring of 1933 there begins to be this incredible spike in the death rate in Ukraine which cannot be explained by anything else other than the decisions taken a couple of months earlier. The stories which I began with get worse, people try to escape are blocked in by roads, they die along the roadsides, they gather in railway stations they die there, they die in their homes. There are whole villages that are emptied out there are no people it is eerily empty. People who travel through the republic at that time talk about there aren’t even many dogs barking because of course people killed the dogs and ate them before dying. There are terrible stories about cannibalism about children’s parents who can’t bear to watch them starve to death so murder them. There is an enormous mortality in Ukraine, the best estimates that we have now guess the number of dead between about 1931-1934 in Ukraine, un-natural deaths meaning people who died from the famine is just under about 4 million people. So this is a major event it has been organised by Stalin and it has and immediate effect.

In the wake of that event he takes one more shot. So the Ukrainian famine unlike as I said the general Soviet famine is also followed by a wave of mass arrests which are targeted at the Ukrainian leadership and intelligence so writers, artists, museum curators, historians almost anybody who somehow is connected to the Ukrainian national movement and in particular once again anybody who is connected to the idea or the suggestion that there should be a sovereign or independent Ukraine or any of the pre-Bolshevik Ukrainian political parties. There is a mass arrest and the Ukrainian leadership is in effect purged, that is accompanied by a huge purge of the Ukrainian communist party which actually is deepened again and repeated again in 1937, the Ukrainian communist party is replaced completely, there are no people left who can even remember 1917 and Ukraine is effectively ‘Sovietised’ and the famine achieves that for the next couple of generations.

The question is why he did this and one of the things that happened when I was writing this book, my last book was about a lot of different countries over a number of years and I originally thought the nice thing about this, if there is a nice thing about writing about the Ukraine famine is 2 years in one country, 1932-33 a pretty straightforward narrative. But as I said as I was reading about the period, when I read Stalin’s letters to his colleagues, even as I read the police reports that described what was going on in Ukraine in 1929 and 30 I realised that the book actually had to begin earlier.  The book actually starts in 1917 because that’s the year not just of the revolution but it is also the year of the Ukrainian revolution and it didn’t last long and it didn’t control much but for a very brief period in 1917 and 1918 there was a Ukrainian state and it did declare independence and it did seek to have its own identity outside of the Russian empire and outside of the Soviet Union. It had its own representatives in inaudible even at one point a US diplomat was sent to Kyiv as a representative so there was beginning to be a sense of independence.

This state was from the very beginning considered a huge threat by the Bolsheviks. Lennon saw it as a threat because he was afraid that if they lost Ukraine they would lose access to grain, the book goes into great detail about his obsession with grain and that was of course because he knew the original Russian revolution had been started by food riots in St Petersburg and Moscow and he was afraid of those repeating themselves. But Stalin himself had been very involved in Ukraine in that period as well. Stalin was the cognisor of nationalities in the first Soviet government and one of his jobs was to monitor the situation in Ukraine.

He spent a lot of 1918 and 1919 in Ukraine, going back and forth to Ukraine and certainly monitoring what was going on there. He knew, he was particularly fearful of this Ukrainian national movement largely because it was it was very radical, it was revolutionary in its own way but it was not Bolshevik. So they argued for redistribution of land although they didn’t ever achieve that, they argued for sovereignty and independence, they argued for a new kind of state. What the Bolsheviks couldn’t tolerate was another revolution, an alternate revolution and the idea that there could be one or there could be some kind of other government in Kyiv of all places which is a city they felt particularly close to, a city that Russians felt a particular relationship to even to this day, more on that in a minute, was absolutely impossible. So the Bolsheviks invaded Ukraine first in 1918 very briefly occupied the capital then retreated and they came back a second time and ran Ukraine briefly again in 1918. They then had to retreat a second time after a massive peasant rebellion directed actually at them, in 1918 Ukraine sort of collapsed into anarchy and chaos, peasant anarchists and peasant populists of all kinds often very anti-Bolshevik and anti-Russian occupying huge parts of Ukraine, threw the Bolsheviks out and actually in that moment of anarchy in 1918 and then actually really 1919 that was the one time during the civil war where the Bolsheviks genuinely feared they were about to lose.

The anarchy in Ukraine allowed the white armies to come back into the Soviet Union, General Denikin who was one of the runaway Generals came back through Ukraine, up through Russia he got within about 200 miles of Moscow before giving up but that was the moment of crisis when the Bolshevik state might have collapsed. Stalin remembered that, he referred to it later and it was one of the things the Bolsheviks talked about a lot was the so-called lesson of 1919 – we need to treat Ukrainians specially, we need a specialist policy for Ukraine. And it was a specialist policy for Ukraine in the 1920s it was allowed all kinds of leeway that other parts of the Soviet Union where not allowed, there was a programme called Ukrainisation which allowed a certain amount of, certain number of Ukrainian intellectuals to be active, allow people to teach the language and have it be the main language of the Republic. But this was by the end of the twenties, this was the movement that Stalin had begun to fear again, he feared it was too powerful and it was this movement that he then eliminated with both with the famine and the subsequent mass arrest.

That’s in a very brief outline, that’s the argument with the book which is that Stalin’s obsession with Ukraine that dated from an earlier period is what led him to carry out the famine and the destruction of the Ukrainian leadership class. There are a number of side stories which I tell as well, there is almost a British angle in that one of the specifies of this famine is the lengths to which Stalin went to cover it up. It was a famine that even as it was happening, nobody was allowed to speak about it, after it was over it was absolutely forbidden ever to talk about it or discuss it to the extent that a census was conducted in 1937 that showed too many deaths and far few people particularly in Ukraine the census was repressed. A falsified census was then produced in 1939. So this was something that statistically and bureaucratically and politically, Stalin never wanted to discuss again.

He also went to great lengths to assure that nobody wrote about it and that Western journalists didn’t write about it and the book tells the story of how that cover up was organised focussing in particular on two journalists, one of them was called Walter Duranty and he was the correspondent for the New York Times in Moscow and he was actually British by origin. Duranty was, is the villain of the story. He in effect collaborated with the Soviet Union in covering up the famine he made a decision not to write about it. There is actually a foreign office report, conversation with him where he tells a foreign office official at some point in 1932 well I think maybe 10 million people have died and the foreign office official notes it is too bad Mr Duranty has decided not to share this information with his American readers.

The hero of the story is also British there is a Welsh journalist called Gareth Jones who was in his late twenties, I have a lot of sympathy for him because he was a freelance journalist which is something I was also in my twenties, and he made a great effort to expose the famine. He actually got himself to Moscow, partly on the grounds that he talked his way into accreditation on the grounds that he was Lord Jones’ secretary which he had been very briefly. He took a train too Kharkiv which at that time was actually the capital of Ukraine, he got off half way to Kharkiv out of the train and he started walking down the train tracks through the heart of Ukraine at the height of the famine and then collected information which he later produced and he wrote about in the British press where upon Duranty denounced him and tried to undermine what he had written. So in a way one of the earliest examples of fake news, dis-information and how authoritarian states interact with journalists is found in this famine story and it’s also explained in the book.

I suppose in closing one of the unexpected things that happened while I was writing the book which I started in about 2011, 2012 I started gathering the original material and one of the things that happened while I was writing it was that Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014. A lot of people said you are so brilliant that you predicted that this would be such an interesting and important subject and I was presented with the opposite I had to talk people into letting me write this, it seemed so obscure and you know who knew where Ukraine was three years ago, but anyway now we do.

One of the oddities for me of watching that invasion take place and one of the reasons I took a lot of interest in it as a journalist was that I could see not history repeating itself in the sense that Putin was conducting artificial famine but I could see for Russians even in today, there is something special about Ukraine that makes them care more about the nature of the Ukrainian government. So this wasn’t how they would have reacted to when, let me put it differently, when there were young people on the Maidan in central Kyiv waving EU flags and calling for democracy and rule of law and denouncing corrupt leaders, what Putin saw there was not just another rebellion or pro-democracy protest that might have taken place in you know Kurdistan, what he saw was a direct threat to himself. He saw the nature of the Ukrainian government as a threat to the Russian government, rather to his idea of what Russia should be because of course if Ukrainians could have democracy and if they could be integrated with Europe and be part of the West then ordinary Russians might say why can’t we be, we are similar to Ukraine, we do have cultural things, there is a lot inter-marriage, languages are related, Kyiv is a city to which we trace our origins as well if Kyiv is western why isn’t Moscow?

So because of that fear, because of the fear that a different government in Ukraine, a different political system in Ukraine was not just a sort of an ordinary problem but an extensional threat much as Stalin saw the Ukrainians as an extensional threat to the Bolsheviks that he felt the need to invade Crimea then to invade eastern Ukraine.

I said that was the final note but just one more thought. I mean the story is, it did take place 80 years ago and it is a piece of Soviet history but in this part of the world as in all parts of the world the past has a way of having echoes into the present and this story has a number of ways both the one I just described but also in the sense that because it was so suppressed and because it was never spoken about and because it was so thoroughly wiped off the historical record, the Ukrainian famine has continued to echo in Ukrainian politics and still does today. The first time it was mentioned in the Ukraine public was in the 1980s right after the Chernobyl accident, it had not been discussed for several decades but after the Chernobyl accident which you will also remember was initially covered up before Gorbachev revealed it to the world, a Ukrainian poet gave a well-attended and remarked upon speech in which he said look this kind of silence is killing us, this is what happened during the famine, this is what has happened now. The speech was both the moment that the famine was remembered and it was the moment that the Ukrainian national movement resurrected itself. Of course the national movement gathered strength it led to a vote on Ukraine’s independence and in the early 1990s exactly the thing that Stalin was afraid of, mainly that Ukrainian independence would break apart the Soviet Union is in fact what happened.

Putin knows that piece of history as well, the challenge that the Ukraine posed to the Soviet Union meant that it couldn’t stay together and I think Yeltsin thought there was no point in keeping the Soviet Union together and that was the beginning of the end of the empire.

So the famine has contemporary residence it is a story that hasn’t quite been told in this form before because it is only really now archival material is available, has been worked on and gone over by a decade of Ukrainian historians and I hope you enjoy reading it, so I will stop there thanks.

Dr Andrew Foxall

We now have 25 minutes give or take 1 or 2 minutes for questions, I can see a few hands going up here and there. If I may though I will ask the first question. I mean you say throughout the book you sort of gave the story of Gareth Jones and you do tell a number of side stories within that, one of them relates to this key question which I suppose historians have grappled with on the famine itself which is this question of genocide. Does the famine constitute a genocide or is it as you very eloquently described more or solely politically motivated famine?

Anne Applebaum

So the genocide debate is very important to Ukrainians because they feel that recognising the famine as a genocide is akin to recognising the damage which was done to them in the 1930s. So there is a section in the book which looks at the question both from, well I should start by saying I think this is really a legal question not an historical question and I felt it was important to write the history you know before drawing conclusions and I think it is in the longer term something for lawyers to decide rather than me but I know that the person who invented the word genocide was a Polish-Jewish lawyer called Raphael Lemkin from what is now western Ukraine  and that is not entirely accidental, he knew the history of the region, this is part of the world where nationalities come and go and where the possibility of one or the other being wiped out was very real. When he originally defined the term it fits perfectly with the idea of the Ukrainian famine, his definition was genocide is an attempt to wipe out a nation not just physically but also culturally as nation destroying its churches, its languages, its culture as well as people.

Later on when the word genocide became part of international law, it did so in slightly different circumstances it do so after the Second World War where people had immediately in their minds the memory of the Holocaust and also when the Soviet Union itself was part of the group of nations who were writing the law. The UN convention on genocide was written of course with Soviet participation which was very important at the UN in the 1940s. The way the law came to be understood it’s funny if you actually read it, it still sounds fairly expansive but it came to be understood as the word came to be defined as ‘an attempt to kill every single member of a nation in the manner that Hitler attempted to kill every single Jew.’ The Ukrainian famine isn’t that in the sense that it wasn’t an attempt to kill every single Ukrainian and there were some Ukrainian perpetrators as well although that is very common in other genocides that some members in an ethnic group participate in the murder of their co-members. So it became more difficult to classify the famine under international law however international law is what the leading nations who decide it is and I think a return to the original definition of the word would be at this point useful and I think the classification of the famine as a genocide is absolutely correct.

Lemkin himself actually wrote in the 1950s, I think he published an essay on Ukraine and on what had happened in the Ukraine in the 1930s and how that fit his definition perfectly of genocide so he certainly would of classified it that way. As I said it has become more complicated because of the way international law has treated the term I explain that in the book a little bit there are now books and books and books on Lemkin and on the history of genocide and classification of the term but by his definition by the broadest definition it certainly counts.

Dr Andrew Foxall

Struan your next please.

Question 1

Thank you so much just a question you talk about the parallels perhaps with today and it has always been a concern of mine that the Kremlin is at its worst when it combines a dangerous surprise with a reaction that is a combination of fear and ruthless opportunism. I wonder to what extent that played out whether in crisis today but especially in the famine.

Anne Applebaum

So opportunism is a really good description of how Russian strategy always works. People often say this about Stalin well did he really want to conquer all of Europe and was that thing that international revolution was that real, I mean the answer is yes it was real. They thought in those terms, they spoke about the coming international revolution, they planned for it and ok in the 1920s it didn’t look that realistic but at the moment in 1945 when they were suddenly able to expand into Europe they leapt at the opportunity and did it and that is a little bit how Russian strategic thinking works. There are these unbelievably grand, almost ridiculous plans we will conquer the world, we will lead the international revolution, we will be the leading nation of it and then what they would do is grab the opportunity to fulfil them when they came up and that’s a little bit how the current regime in Russia thinks now.

I mean I think the current Russian regimes goal is to break up the European Union, break up NATO, get America out of Europe and have useful, lucrative, bi-lateral relationships with each European country in which it can be the dominating partner at the expense of smaller countries particularly within its own neighbourhood. Also to unpick the unification of Germany and get Germany out of the West and into some kind of other camp I mean that seems to be what their strategy is and this strategy sounds ludicrous I mean how could they destroy Europe, how could they destroy NATO but you know the last couple of years have shown that when they see the opportunity to fulfil that ridiculous, outrageous and ludicrous plan they take it. They might not succeed in their plan in the long term and they might do what happened to the Soviet Union, Putin’s regime may fall apart before he is able to fulfil it but they might also do a lot of damage in the meantime in trying which is exactly how you can look at Soviet policy in Europe in the 1930s and 40s.

So I think opportunism is the right word and actually if you look at for example Stalin’s attitude towards Ukraine during the famine was the same I mean I don’t know that he started out in 1929 thinking I am going to have collectivisation and that’s how I am going to get rid of Ukraine or the problem of Ukraine rather, but when he saw this moment in 32 where there is mass chaos he seizes the opportunity both to reassert his power and say right no, I’m not backing down I’m going to be even more bloodthirsty than you thought I was I am going to kill several millions of Ukrainians and other peasants. He took the opportunity to do it so opportunism is actually exactly the right word to use.

Dr Andrew Foxall

I can see some hands going up please do continue to put your hands up as Anne is answering the questions and I will try to catch you and if you could as well introduce who you are and if you represent any particular organisation when you ask your questions. Gentlemen in the middle wearing the poppy.

Question 2

My names John Wilkin, you mentioned the need to go back to 1917, if you think the sheer scale of Stalin atrocities mean that you tend to overlook the fact that between 2 and 3 million people were murdered on Lennon’s watch, do we need to remember particularly on this anniversary that the regime was evil from day 1?

Anne Applebaum

You can’t out dislike Lennon for me, maybe that is not the right verb. I have actually just written something that was published today about the Bolsheviks and I think you are right we underestimate the degree to which Lennon, Stalin’s opportunism was an echo of Lennon’s opportunism and the fanatism and the extremism of that first group of Bolsheviks who really came from having been very fringed figures at the beginning of the year in the beginning of 1917 to running the country by October is an important lesson about the power of extremist thinking in situations of chaos.

Lennon set a pattern that all of his comrades later followed and you know. The idea of violence, the centrality of violence to the Bolshevik revolution was there from the beginning. One of the expressions that Marxists had always talked about class warfare and other socialist parties in other parts of Europe I think class warfare was kind of a metaphor for I don’t know struggle or comrade disagreement or something. For the Bolsheviks class warfare meant real warfare we are going to murder the ruling class and that was true from the very beginning and the ruling class by the way defined as anyone who disagrees with us.

Dr Andrew Foxall

The gentleman on the back row.

Question 3

Hi my name is Mike Parish, very interesting talk a couple of points. Something you didn’t mention in your talk I don’t know if it is mentioned in your book where the requisition expeditions that took place during the civil war era did they perhaps have a lasting effect in creating and antagonistic attitude and culture within the communist party towards the peasants in general did that sort of feed in to what happened. Secondly you mentioned you were able to go into the archives, was the preservation of archival material about the famine in any way some covert out to resistance or is it just the fact the communists however much they might have been happy keeping factual materials it does seem a slight contradiction.

Anne Applebaum

So the grain requisitions that begin in 1917 are very much covered in the book and in a way they set the pattern for what happens later on and Stalin has an experience himself, he is actually part of a grain requisition not in Ukraine but in Stalingrad which during the civil war he led a grain expedition there which was very successful because it was incredibly bloody and they murdered a lot of people and they got a lot of grain and shipped it to Moscow. He remembered this as a moment of great success as I said so much so that he renamed the city after himself. So absolutely it is part of the story, part of why they resented the peasants and where part of the sort of mythology in how the peasants are blocking the revolution.

I mean there was a whole very elaborate ideology that accompanied the famine you know and a whole propaganda campaign against the peasants, against the so-called rich peasants and there are very, very few but there are some very good memoirs of people who were part of activist teams first in 1929 and then again in 1931 and 32 who talk about how they were so motivated by this hatred of the peasants. You know with the pro-authoritarians are striving towards the future and you backward hate-seeds, you’re illiterate, you have no shoes, you’re blocking us by preventing us from having grain so that tradition was part of the mental landscape that allowed people to carry out the famine. I mean think about what it took for people to go in really very poor people’s homes and take all of their food. You had to be either very frightened or very hungry or very ideologically motivated I mean I think all three of those things where are work.

So the archives are an interesting subject the Ukrainian archives are among the most open and easiest to use in Europe, that’s just an interesting point about Ukraine which is quite different from Russia now although I worked in Russian archives very happily in the past. You can more or less walk in and show them your driver’s licence and they will let you read whatever you want which by the way is not true in Germany where you have to fill out elaborate forms and apply to use things and so on.

What the archives have, it is true that there are some things missing there is a part of the secret police file that Ukrainian historians think was either destroyed or removed for which there is a corresponding set of files in the corresponding Russian archives which where the orders to activists. So if people where sending out orders to particular teams and organising kind of lower level police orders from 1932 and 33 which are missing. First of all we have the archival record of the autumn so Stalin’s letters to colleagues, his letters to the Ukrainian communist party, their letters to one another, their expressions of alarm, dismay and distress as the famine begins to kick in. We have the letters which others wrote to Moscow including the one I quoted at the beginning of various peasants writing in saying how terrible it is.

We also have, the other thing the system had is that at some point or another it was a centrally planned system they had to know more or less how many people there really were so even though the census was repressed there are other kinds of records for food distribution and for hospital records and for birth and death records that Ukrainian demographers have been working on now for nearly a decade. So there are quite a lot of pieces of the story that are in place both as I say at the highest level park bureau communications, conversations which behind the scenes were very open about the famine and also the lower down records of how many people live in Ukraine and what they are doing. So putting those two things together you do get a pretty good picture of what happened.

The other thing you have in Ukraine is a really large now oral history record some of which was compiled after the Second World War when Ukrainians where able to leave the Ukraine and allow them to end up in Germany in DP camps in Canada and North America and really at that time they began collecting memoirs. There is then a set of oral history projects that take place in the 1980s and 1990s both in the diaspora and inside Ukraine and then there is this massive effort conducted by and funded by the Ukrainian government a little bit later on to compile, collect, put into these massive volumes really everything memoirs, letters, oral history kind of province by province and let Ukraine put together that record. So there is actually a lot of different kinds of material which are now available.

I found this actually working on the Gulag as well there were things that the bureaucrats just had to know in order to know how many resources to send to Siberia to have an estimate of what they were going to get back. You know they had to ship people around the country so there are transport records and so on so there had to be some records kept to know what was going on and it was a massive system of archives which some of which is missing but not everything. So that’s probably too more of an answer than you wanted it is one of my favourite subjects.

Question 3

What’s the context for the famine coming to an end and what do we draw from it, what lessons do we learn from that?

Anne Applebaum

That’s a good question. The famine came to an end in the summer of 1933 when the new harvest happened it was partly brought in by outsiders the State brought in people from Russia and Ukrainian cities to bring in the famine because it was so difficult to collect since so many people were missing. The harvesters where brought in and the requisitions stop so the activist teams that have been going from village to village stop functioning and the very high quantity of grain requisition also stops. Peasants are allowed to keep more of their grain and keep more of their food and gradually towards the end of 1933 when people by the way are still dying of hunger even towards the end of that year and into 1934 but the pressure on the peasants is let up. So first there is a decision to carry out the famine then there is a decision to stop it.

There isn’t a moment, well there is sort of a moment when they stop the requisitions and people are allowed to eat again very slowly some of the villages start to revive. Because it is an artificial famine it is not caused by drought it’s not caused by pesticides it’s caused by artificial collections of food so when people are allowed to eat again the stop dying…

Audience member

Do we know why?

Anne Applebaum

The assumption would be because it had achieved its purpose which was to stop the peasant rebellions, to eliminate the possibility of Ukrainian sovereignty, to frighten people so that they wouldn’t rebel again so that they wouldn’t become part of this national movement. One of the other, it is very clearly laid out in the book, Stalin always believed that peasants were an important part of the national movement and another one of his obsessions was in the relationship between the countryside and the intellectuals so they worried a lot about Ukrainian intellectuals going into the countryside to meet peasants. If you had a record of having done that you were more likely to be arrested. So when they eliminated enough peasants and eliminated the intellectuals there they ceased to be worried about this revival of Ukrainian sovereignty and I think that is the reason that it stops.

Dr Andrew Foxall

Ok I am aware that we are running out of time so there are a number of hands what have gone up if you could just keep your questions short at the moment please we will start with the gentleman on the front row.

Question 4

Thank you for the presentation. You mentioned Walter Duranty of course he was one of the useful idiots I saw something somewhere that he was actually corrupt and was paid to write good stories, a person who exposed all of this was Malcom Muggeridge who wrote for the Manchester Guardian of all places. So there where people who managed to expose what was going on. Two things occurred to me Kristof was a Ukrainian did he have a role in all of this and didn’t the Nazis miss a trick in the Second World War, many Ukraine’s regarded the Germans as liberators but the Nazis treated everyone as sub-humans and if they had a bit more common sense…

Anne Applebaum

Those are excellent questions. Duranty was the interesting thing about him was that he was not left wing not a communist like some other journalists in Moscow at the time. He had this attitude of I’m a pragmatic realist, you can’t make an omelette without making eggs, I’m being objective about the Soviet Union and that by the way was why he was so valuable to Stalin because he had this attitude of I’m just realistic. My guess about him was actually not that he was corrupt but that he was vain and his Pulitzer Prize which he had been rewarded a year or two earlier was for articles on collectivisation and what a success it was and how great Stalin’s industrial policy was and the idea that he would have to take it all back was too difficult. He was at that time very famous he was probably one of the most famous journalists in the world he was you know Roosevelt admired him and he went back to New York and was vetted a hero because he understood what was going on in the Soviet Union. So there was this moment where there was this crisis of confidence in the West as you will remember it was the great depression people wanted some good news from Moscow and Duranty was here is a new way, here is a different alternative and Duranty was supplying that and I think the idea that he would lose that role was unpleasant for him.

The answer about Kristof yes he was involved and one of the interesting things about Kristof secret speech when he finally denounces Stalin in 1956 is he doesn’t mention the Ukrainian famine in fact he doesn’t really mention Ukraine he keeps that off the record and just focuses on the 1937 purges which he doesn’t feel as responsible for. One of those sort of legends about him is that he felt very guilty about the famine and supposedly that is why he gave Crimea to Ukraine but that’s one of those myths. But he did deliberately avoid talking about it for the rest of his life.

The Nazis are also, there is a discussion on the famine after math and there is a section on the Nazis you are absolutely right that many Ukrainians welcomed them as saviours you know you are going to save us from this terrible regime and so on. Unfortunately for them the Nazis had a very similar attitude to Ukraine as Stalin did and they saw it as a giant source of grain and they were actually even more openly than Stalin willing to say right we are going to take the grain and we are going to starve everyone else to death. Hitler had something called the hunger plan you know where he would take Ukraine’s grain and he would let Russia starve and there is some correspondence in which it’s not him but it’s his lower down officials talking about well maybe 50 million people will die in Russia but at least the Germans will get food from Ukraine. So the Nazi’s had a similarly colonial attitude towards Ukraine as well. Initially they were welcomed but then the Ukrainians turned on them to obviously.

Dr Andrew Foxall

I am going to take three final questions now but I am going to take them all at once if I may so we will start with you sir.

Question 5

I am Ken Flagg member from the Western Isles. Your proposition that Russia is trying to take over the world is that not more appropriately applied to the US having regard to multiple assignations of foreign leaders by the CIA not mentioning overt wars justified by allies?

Question 6

What was the response in the West, especially the UK because in 33 there were articles by Malcom Muggeridge in the Manchester Guardian as well as Gareth Jones so there was quite a lot of reporting but was there any response, did this change people’s perception, government’s perception of Stalin?

Question 7

You offered the correlation between the Ukraine, EU and Putin might you be tempted to say a word about the effectiveness of sanctions as they stand particularly in relation to Ukraine but also where you believe post-Putin’s Russia policies will be over the next 100 years?

Anne Applebaum

I will go backwards so I think sanctions have been unbelievably effective I mean shockingly so which you can see to which the lengths the Russians have gone to try to pick them apart and the fury of which they talk about them. Remember that our sanctions on Russia are not directed at Russian industry or ordinary Russians they are directed very specifically at particular people and those people are chosen deliberately because they are people who are particularly close to Putin in fact they are thought to be the people who control his money.  Remember they were originally set in order to prevent Putin going farther in Ukraine which they did effectively do actually somewhat to my surprise because I didn’t think that would be the case but the combination of sanctions plus the Ukrainian army getting itself to act together and fighting back in Eastern Ukraine has stopped them you know at least for now so we have had a couple of years of reprieve thanks to the sanctions.

I also think that there are a lot of signs the Russian government is pretty sick of the war in Ukraine it’s not a great propaganda success anymore, it didn’t really do what it was meant to do they didn’t manage to create some independent East Ukrainian state, they underestimated the degree to the extent the Ukrainians didn’t want that and instead they have this more problem territory in Eastern inaudible which you know is catastrophic, anarchic and violent and it’s not really clear that it is the model that anybody wants to follow. So I think they have been very successful.

The response of the West, Muggeridge did smuggle some material which he published because remember at that time in Moscow everything you wrote had to go through a censor to leave the country and you’re permission to stay there and be a journalist was dependant on if the regime would accept you so it’s complicated to blame all the journalists on the one hand because they didn’t tell and it is true they had real restrictions. Duranty is special because he went out of his way to deny the famine and to put down Gareth Jones for example but most of them were trying to keep their jobs. Muggeridge smuggled some material out that was in the Guardian they didn’t use all of it, it was published anonymously and also it coincided I think with Hitler’s rise to power and because of that got less attention. Remember a lot of other things were going on in 1933 so it got less attention than it might have done.

Generally speaking though if you think about how it is that news rises to the level of being of popular or a national concern at that moment in time the Ukrainian famine never rose people did know about it, the foreign office knew about it from some information they had, the Poles knew about it from communications across the border, weirdly the Italians have this fantastic consul who sent back these amazingly beautifully written reports describing exactly what had happened. The Germans knew about it from similar they had also until 1933 had a foreign ministry and they also had people. So people knew and there were press reports and there was Jones’s article appear in the Evening Standard I think actually and a few other papers but it didn’t because first of all Duranty was the authority, he was the person who everybody believed I think he won that argument in certainly the US, in New York nobody every challenged his view and he was very definite there is no famine and there is a famous article that said Russians are hungry but not starving in which he explicitly puts down Gareth Jones and is patronising about him and says oh he’s this young very enterprising young man but unfortunately has not seen the full picture. So he won that argument and as I said people were looking to the Soviet Union for some kind of inspiration at that moment, they were afraid of Hitler so the Vatican for example were very weary also knew some things but didn’t want to say anything in public because they were worried because they wanted to balance out Stalin. So the answer is no people sort of knew but it didn’t rise to the level of national debate of anybody doing anything about it or any serious efforts being made so that’s the answer to that.

As for whether America is trying to destroy the world over Russia, I will just agree to disagree.

Audience member

You are aware of the CIA assignation of foreign leaders and lies to get people to go to war?

Anne Applebaum

It’s a theme for a different discussion we are having a different conversation here.

Dr Andrew Foxall

Ok well thank you Anne for a tremendous and thoughtful talk.


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