Shame­fully, some on the Left even to­day re­vere Stalin — and are in de­nial over the 4 mil­lion he starved to death in a grotesque Marx­ist ex­per­i­ment. Now a chill­ing new book re­moves any doubt about his guilt . . .

Irish Daily Mail - - News - by Do­minic Sand­brook

ONE day in the sum­mer of 1933, in a vil­lage in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, a lit­tle boy woke on top of the fam­ily stove. He was starv­ing — not just hun­gry but gen­uinely starv­ing.

‘Dad, I want to eat! Dad!’ he cried. But the house was cold and from his fa­ther there came no an­swer.

The boy went over to his fa­ther, who was ap­par­ently still asleep. There was ‘foam un­der his nose’, he re­mem­bered. ‘I touched his head. Cold.’

A lit­tle later, a cart ar­rived laden with bod­ies ‘ly­ing like sheaves’. Two men came into the house, lifted his fa­ther’s body into a sack and threw it onto the cart. Then they were gone.

The boy left home af­ter that. He wan­dered the empty fields, sleep­ing in sta­bles, scrab­bling for grains, ‘swollen and ragged’. But some­how he sur­vived. Some four mil­lion of his fel­low Ukraini­ans were not so lucky.

The famine that struck Ukraine in late 1932 and 1933 was one of the most lethal catas­tro­phes in Euro­pean his­tory. In the West, it is nowhere near as well-known as it should be. In Ukraine it­self, how­ever, the

Holod­mor — lit­er­ally, ‘hunger ex­ter­mi­na­tion’ — is of­ten seen as the equiv­a­lent of the Holo­caust, a gi­gan­tic, man-made op­er­a­tion to mur­der mil­lions of peo­ple.

And be­hind it was not just one man — Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union from the mid-Twen­ties to 1953 — but an en­tire warped ide­ol­ogy which sought to re­make a peas­ant so­ci­ety ac­cord­ing to a Utopian Com­mu­nist blue­print.

Even now, in an age when we are reg­u­larly as­sailed by im­ages of hor­ror and suf­fer­ing, the details of the Holod­mor are heart­break­ing. Starv­ing chil­dren, mass graves, vig­i­lantes, even can­ni­bal­ism: the famine saw hu­man na­ture stripped to the bone.

‘I was so fright­ened by what had hap­pened that I could not talk for sev­eral days,’ re­called one woman who es­caped af­ter her ema­ci­ated body was mis­tak­enly thrown into a mass grave. ‘I saw dead bod­ies in my dreams. And I screamed a lot.’

To­day, al­most un­be­liev­ably, there are still those who deny the famine hap­pened. In­deed, in Vladimir Putin’s Rus­sia, the ar­chi­tect of the famine, Stalin, is rou­tinely pre­sented not as a mon­strous tyrant but as an ad­mirably strong leader who made Rus­sia walk tall in the world.

THANK good­ness, then, for the jour­nal­ist and au­thor Anne Ap­ple­baum, whose new book, Red Famine, leaves no room for doubt about Stalin’s re­spon­si­bil­ity for what hap­pened in Ukraine.

Nor does she spare us the grim details of the fate of mil­lions of in­no­cent men, women and chil­dren who had the mis­for­tune to find them­selves guinea pigs in his mon­strous Marx­ist ex­per­i­ment.

The roots of the famine lay in the tor­tured, blood-stained re­la­tion­ship be­tween Rus­sia and Ukraine, a source of in­ter­na­tional ten­sion and hu­man suf­fer­ing to this day.

The word Ukraine means ‘bor­der­land’. Once, much of it be­longed to the Pol­ish-Lithua­nian Com­mon­wealth, but then it was con­quered by the emerg­ing Rus­sian Em­pire.

Ever since, Rus­sian na­tion­al­ists have seen it as an in­te­gral part of their Eurasian do­min­ion: even to­day, Mr Putin’s apol­o­gists of­ten call it ‘New Rus­sia’ or ‘Lit­tle Rus­sia’. Af­ter the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion of 1917, Ukraine made a bid for free­dom, only to be crushed by the Red Army and turned into a re­pub­lic of the new Soviet Union. Even so, both Lenin and Stalin re­garded Ukraine with in­tense dis­trust.

The Ukraini­ans were too up­pity, too dif­fer­ent. They in­sisted on speaking their own lan­guage; their peas­ants were too con­ser­va­tive, hold­ing onto their vil­lage tra­di­tions; they were in­suf­fi­ciently en­thu­si­as­tic about the bright new Marx­ist fu­ture their Krem­lin masters promised to build.

And then, at the end of the Twen­ties, came dis­as­ter. De­ter­mined to con­sol­i­date his rule af­ter suc­ceed­ing Lenin at the top of the Com­mu­nist sys­tem, and in­creas­ingly im­pa­tient to break peas­ant re­sis­tance and move to­wards Utopia, Stalin or­dered the col­lec­tivi­sa­tion of the en­tire Soviet coun­try­side.

The word ‘col­lec­tivi­sa­tion’ sounds tech­ni­cal, a lit­tle dry, even bor­ing. But the hu­man con­se­quences were pro­found and dra­matic.

The prin­ci­ple it­self was sim­ple. Richer, more suc­cess­ful peas­ants had to be ‘liq­ui­dated’, by star­va­tion, mur­der or ex­ile. The rest would be herded into vast state-run farms where they would toil cease­lessly for the greater Soviet good, in­stead of for pri­vate profit.

The col­lec­tivi­sa­tion drive had Stalin’s fin­ger­prints all over it. A dif­fer­ent Soviet leader might have pro­ceeded more cau­tiously, and in­deed some Bol­she­viks thought he was go­ing too far, too fast.

But Stalin ar­gued that col­lec­tivi­sa­tion was sim­ply good Marx­ism. If they wanted to build so­cial­ism on earth, he said, they needed to smash the peas­ants.

How, af­ter all, could they have a truly socialist so­ci­ety if they still al­lowed peo­ple to farm for them­selves and make money? What fol­lowed was hor­ri­fy­ing. As Stalin’s thugs roamed the fer­tile Ukrainian coun­try­side, seiz­ing grain that he could sell abroad — which would al­low him to buy the in­dus­trial ma­chin­ery he des­per­ately wanted — re­ports of grow­ing hard­ship be­gan to trickle back to Moscow. By spring 1932, se­cret po­lice re­ports were full of peas­ants stream­ing from their homes in search of food, chil­dren swollen with hunger, fam­i­lies liv­ing on grass and acorns, even bod­ies ly­ing in the streets of Ukraine’s cities. Some sug­gested this must be part of a se­cret ‘cap­i­tal­ist plan to set the peas­ant class against the then Soviet gov­ern­ment’. But Stalin did noth­ing. Far from in­ter­ven­ing to help the af­flicted, he blamed Ukrainian na­tion­al­ists, told the se­cret po­lice to search ever more closely for hid­den grain sup­plies, and even or­dered black­lists of farms and vil­lages. In part, this demon­strated his mor­bid sus­pi­cion of Ukraine’s

in­de­pen­dence as­pi­ra­tions — some­thing he had in com­mon with his Tsarist pre­de­ces­sors and, in­deed, the Rus­sian lead­er­ship of to­day.

But it also re­flected his Marx­ist men­tal­ity, which saw class en­e­mies ev­ery­where and treated or­di­nary peo­ple as pawns in his cal­lous ide­o­log­i­cal game.

So it was that as 1932 gave way to 1933, with Stalin con­tin­u­ing to or­der re­lent­less grain req­ui­si­tion­ing, hunger be­came star­va­tion.

Ap­ple­baum de­scribes the process in chill­ing de­tail. As your body starves, it con­sumes its stores of glu­cose. Next it eats fats. In the third stage, some weeks later, it be­gins to eat its pro­teins, can­ni­bal­is­ing tis­sues and mus­cles.

Fi­nally your skin be­comes thin, your eyes dis­tended, your belly swollen. Death even­tu­ally comes from star­va­tion or from in­fec­tions such as pneu­mo­nia, ty­phus and diph­the­ria. Ei­ther way, your fate could hardly be more hor­ri­ble.

As mil­lions be­gan to die, hu­man feel­ing per­ished with them. In one of count­less dread­ful anec­dotes, Ap­ple­baum de­scribes how a 15year-old farm girl was beg­ging be­side the queue out­side a Com­mu­nist-run bread shop. As each per­son passed, the girl asked for crumbs. Fi­nally, she asked the shop­keeper, who shouted at her and hit her so she fell to the ground. ‘Get up!’ the shop­keeper said, kick­ing her. ‘Go home and get to work!’ But she did not move; she was dead.

A few peo­ple in the queue started cry­ing. ‘Some are get­ting too sen­ti­men­tal around here,’ the shop­keeper said. ‘It is easy to spot en­e­mies the peo­ple.’

In an­other vil­lage, a lit­tle boy teased other chil­dren with jam and a loaf of bread that his fam­ily had man­aged to ob­tain. The other chil­dren be­gan throw­ing stones at him; they only stopped when he was dead.

SOME­TIMES fam­i­lies turned on them­selves. One man was so en­raged by the sound of his chil­dren cry­ing for food that he smoth­ered his baby in its cra­dle and killed two other chil­dren by smash­ing their heads against a wall.

In the prov­ince of Vin­nyt­sia, a farmer tried to suf­fo­cate his starv­ing chil­dren by light­ing a fire and block­ing the chim­ney. When they screamed for help, he stran­gled them with his bare hands.

There were even tales of peo­ple re­duced to can­ni­bal­ism. In one vil­lage, the po­lice ar­rested a man who had gone mad af­ter his wife died. A neigh­bour asked him why he seemed bet­ter fed than ev­ery­one else. ‘I have eaten my chil­dren,’ the man said, ‘and if you talk too much, I will eat you.’

Later, in the camps of Stalin’s gu­lag, a Pol­ish woman met hun­dreds of ‘un­happy, bare­foot, half-naked Ukraini­ans’ who had been sen­tenced for can­ni­bal­ism.

Their chil­dren, they told her, had died of hunger; then, driven mad by grief and star­va­tion, the par­ents had cooked and eaten them. But af­ter­wards, ‘when they came to un­der­stand what had hap­pened, they lost their minds’.

Whether the famine counts as geno­cide re­mains a con­tro­ver­sial ques­tion. Ukraini­ans of­ten say yes; Rus­sians and their sym­pa­this­ers say not. In a sense, though, the ques­tion is im­ma­te­rial. What mat­ters is that as a re­sult of Stalin’s pol­icy, mil­lions of lives were ex­tin­guished and mil­lions more blighted by ap­palling suf­fer­ing.

From a Western per­spec­tive, what is truly shame­ful is that many out­side ob­servers re­fused to ac­cept the truth or tried de­lib­er­ately to cover it up. Welsh writer Gareth Jones trav­elled through Ukraine in March 1933 and re­turned to break the news of a ‘cat­a­strophic’ famine.

Al­most im­me­di­ately, the New York Times’s man in Moscow, Pulitzer Prize-win­ning Wal­ter Du­ranty, pub­lished a re­ply un­der the head­line ‘Rus­sians Hun­gry But Not Starv­ing’. There was no famine, Du­ranty said, dis­miss­ing Jones’s re­port as part of a Bri­tish gov­ern­ment propaganda drive.

A few months later, Du­ranty, who lived in lux­ury in a Moscow apart­ment, went even fur­ther. ‘Any re­port of a famine in Rus­sia,’ he told Amer­i­can read­ers in Au­gust 1933, ‘is to­day an ex­ag­ger­a­tion or ma­lig­nant propaganda.’

Since Du­ranty was bet­ter con­nected than Jones, many peo­ple who ought to have known bet­ter be­lieved him. As Ap­ple­baum writes, as late as 1986, when the great his­to­rian Robert Con­quest pub­lished a ground­break­ing book on the famine, en­ti­tled Har­vest Of Sor­row, the Left-wing Lon­don Re­view of Books ran a scathing re­view dis­miss­ing it as yet more anti-Com­mu­nist propaganda.

Even to­day, shame­fully, there are those on the Left who still make ex­cuses for Stalin.

But no one who reads Ms Ap­ple­baum’s book, which is based on ex­ten­sive work in Rus­sian and Ukrainian ar­chives, can have any doubt about the hideous death toll in 1932 and 1933, or about the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Stalin and his Com­mu­nist al­lies.

THE only place her book can ex­pect a frosty wel­come is Moscow, where Mr Putin has ac­cused the West of ‘ex­ces­sive de­mon­i­sa­tion of Stalin’, which he sees as a ‘means of at­tack­ing Rus­sia’.

In­deed, a poll of 1,600 Rus­sians only three months ago found that fully 38 per cent con­sid­ered Stalin the great­est Rus­sian of all time, fol­lowed by Mr Putin on 34 per cent. That tells its own story.

As for the Ukraini­ans, they have come to see the Holod­mor as the cen­tral mo­ment in their mod­ern po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural his­tory — a sym­bol of their suf­fer­ing at Rus­sian hands, but also a spur to their na­tional self-de­ter­mi­na­tion.

In that sense, Mr Putin, who fan­cies him­self as Stalin’s heir and still sees Ukraine merely as Lit­tle Rus­sia, is surely doomed to fail.

But none of this can make up for the lives lost, the starv­ing chil­dren, the griev­ing par­ents, the mass graves, the de­serted vil­lages.

‘We can­not lie peace­fully in our graves,’ the Ukrainian poet and po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dent Mykola Ru­denko once wrote, look­ing back on the Holod­mor many years later. ‘We, the dead, are un­able to rest.’

We can­not bring back Stalin’s vic­tims. But in re­mem­ber­ing them, per­haps we can help them rest.

‘I ate my chil­dren — and if you talk too much I will eat you’

Bru­tal: Stalin or­dered his thugs to seize grain in Ukraine

Hor­ror: A vic­tim of the Ukrainian famine lies in the street

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