Book Review: Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine

by Tim Jones5/24/18
What happens when a country tries to social engineer its way to paradise:”You have to break a few eggs in order to make an omelette”  •   Anyone that has interest in historical atrocities committed in the name of Marxist utopianism should read Anne Applebaum’s recently published book Red Famine: Stalin‘s War on UkraineSolzhenitsyn put the spotlight on Soviet Russia’s brutality in his book The Gulag Archipelago where he documented the harshness of the remote, frigid and isolated Siberian outposts where so many Russians were exiled to hard labor and depravity for no other crimes than being born in the country and being a victim of Stalin‘s paranoia in his efforts to create total state control and conformity.

Much of that same paranoia is on display in Red Famine and how it also played out in Stalin’s attempt to implement Marxist ideology. His brutality was built on his delusional ideas on how to create the Communist workers paradise out of Marx’s economic writings that promoted the idea of the perfect egalitarian state in reaction to what many at the time perceived to be the inequities and failures of capitalism. The following is a general description of the contents of Ms. Applebaum’s book from the inside cover:

In 1929, Stalin launched his policy of agricultural collectivization – in effect a second Russian Revolution – which force millions of peasants off their land and onto collective farms. The result was a catastrophic famine, the most lethal in European history. At least five million died between 1931 and 1933 in Soviet Russia. But instead of sending relief the Soviet state made use of the catastrophe to rid itself of a political problem. In Red Famine, Anne Applebaum argues that more than three million of those dead were Ukrainians who perished not because they were accidental victims of a bad policy but because the state deliberately sought to kill them.

Stalin had a specific ax to grind with Ukrainians after he took power upon Lenin’s death. The book describes in the early chapters how Ukraine wanted to maintain its own identity and quasi-independence from the Communist government centered in Moscow, and rebelled at times following Russian Revolution of 1917. At its core, since Communism (and Socialism) demand absolute conformity, Stalin was not going to put up with the Ukrainians attitude. And he had a particular dislike for the peasants and kulaks (a term given to wealthier peasants and landowners) who he claimed to be enemies of the State just as he did for all those he exiled to the Siberian hard labor camps so well chronicled by Solzhenitsyn. He smelled the odor of successful capitalist enterprise along with a spirit of independence and rebellion in the vast soil-rich land of the Ukraine that was called the breadbasket of Russia. Therefore, the Ukrainians needed to be brought to heal and collectivized under the heavy hand of government oversight.

As a part of his Five Year Economic Plans, the ultimate in a command-and-control economy, there were to be quotas assigned to the peasants and kulaks that were so outrageous they were impossible to meet but Stalin demanded it regardless of how irrational the policy. He commanded his bureaucrats and soldiers to go to the Ukrainian farms and confiscate every last reed of grain, including everything else for the Ukrainians to consume in order to stay alive, when the quotas weren’t met. The end result was mass starvation so horrific is it beyond belief. This took place in 1932 and 1933 when millions died as a direct result of the Soviet Russian dictatorial government with estimates ranging between three and seven million.

There is a term for this period in history. As in the same way the word ‘holocaust’ was assigned to Hitler’s program of methodical mass extermination, this one is called Holomodor for the Ukrainian genocide.

Although it was not designed for systematic extermination like the Holocaust, in the end, that’s exactly what it became. Under the pretense of demanding the Ukraine provide the grain necessary to feed the rest of the country as well as provide for hard currency in the way of selling it to foreign markets, collectivization (a euphemism for state confiscation of private property) was another step in Stalin’s consolidation of dictatorial power.

Ms. Applebaum goes into amazing detail in describing the incredible suffering. The cruelty matches that as perpetrated by Hitler and maybe in some ways even worse. In the desperation to stay alive, she describes how mothers and fathers abandoned or killed their own children and how cannibalism was not uncommon across the Ukraine. All sense of community and decency among family members and fellow citizens was turned upside down where everyone began fending for themselves in the ultimate display of nihilism.

Faced  with terrible choices, many made decisions of a kind they would not previously have been able imagine. One woman told her village that while she would always be able to give birth to other children, she had only one husband, and she wanted him to survive. She duly confiscated the bread her children received at a local kindergarten, and all her children died. A couple put their children in a deep hole and left them there, in order not to watch them die … “Fear became our constant companion: it was an awesome dread of standing helplessly  and hopelessly along before the monstrous power of the State.”

And in another description of the sheer desperation of the starving Ukrainian peasants:

To survive, people ate anything. They ate whatever rotten food or scraps whatever the brigades overlooked. They ate horses, dogs, cats, rats, ants, turtles. They boiled frogs and toads. They ate squirrels. They cooked hedgehogs over fires and fried birds’ eggs. They ate bark off of oak trees. They ate moss and acorns. They ate leaves and dandelions, as well as marigolds and orach, a kind of wild spinach. They killed crows, pigeons and sparrows.

These “brigades” were the Communist Party officials who in the process of implementing Stalin’s program of collectivizing Ukrainian farms and peasants under total state control left absolutely nothing for anyone to eat. One can see what happened as described in the above quote. It was all the result of an ideology that was rooted in complete untruth and irrationality of a man-made utopian scheme.

Years after the Holomodor, one Communist Party operative described how they dealt with the horror of what they had done and how they turned reality inside out:

“To spare yourself mental agony you veil unpleasant truths from view by half-closing your eyes – and your mind. You make panicky excuses and shrug off knowledge with words like exaggeration and hysteria. The language of propaganda helped mask reality … In order to smear the reality out of recognition with word camouflage.”

In furthering the effort to ‘mask reality’ there was help from the New York Times  journalist Walter Duranty, living in Moscow where he wrote for the newspaper on Soviet Russia events. It was his writing that informed the American people what was happening at the time. The following is what he wrote on March 31st, 1933 according to Ms. Applebaum’s research: “There is no actual starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.” This was media misinformation, bias and corruption not unlike what we see today. And possibly the first time euphemisms began to be used in journalism perverting informational language that is so pervasive in the political correctness of modern times.

While Duranty was living in Moscow, Ms. Applebaum also describes how the Soviet government made sure he was well taken care of in order to get favorable coverage: free living quarters, a car, immediate access to all Party officials including a couple of interviews with Stalin, and even a mistress. “Duranty’s missives from Moscow made him one of the most influential journalists of the time.”

When a British journalist by the name of Gareth Jones began reporting the truth as to what was really happening to Ukrainians due to mass starvation, Communist Party officials felt betrayed since they coddled him in the same way as the did with Duranty. In a challenge to Jones’ reporting, Duranty indicated in one of his columns that Russians were hungry but not starving.

Duranty continued, using an expression that later became notorious. ‘To put it brutally – you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.’ He went on to explain that he made ‘exhaustive inquiries’ and concluded that ‘conditions are bad, but there is no famine.’

In the end, the Holomodor perpetrated by Communists and the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazis were all part of the same ideological spectrum of totalitarianism, they just differed in name. They share the same intellectual history that began with Kant who defined modern philosophy by essentially declaring there are no absolutes nor objectivity but only subjectivism. This was the beginning of the moral relativism and eventual triumph of personal and customized interpretation of reality as a result of the rejection of absolute truth that exists today.

A line from Kant can be traced directly to Stalin and Hitler. From Kant came Hegel, whose concept of dialecticism defined the idea of secular progressivism and the  perfectibility of man that would eventually supplant Christian eschatology (history and destiny of humanity as guided by God) that had existed for over a thousand years.

Following in Kant’s and Hegel’s footsteps came Schopenhauer (the world as will) and Nietzsche (without God the only thing that remains in the affairs of humans is the will to power) who were thinkers instrumental to the rise of Nazism and fascism, and to Marxism and Marx (man reduced to a material economic being without a soul), the father of Communism and Socialism.

Red Famine is the story of man’s search for heaven on earth and how it will always go wrong in the most evil and cruel ways when man plays God in social engineering his way to paradise.

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3 Responses to Book Review: Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    If one looks into the origins of those Stalin exterminated, it becomes clear that he had a special dislike of Ukrainians and Jews.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Stalin, as an ideologue of socialist totalitarianism, saw statism as essential. This meant that he had no use for subsidiary nationalism, of which the Ukrainian and Jewish versions were probably the strongest in the Soviet Union. He also, according to Robert Conquest’s study of the Terror Famine (Harvest of Sorrow), nearly exterminated the Kazakhs around this time. Their name is very similar and perhaps related to that of the Cossacks, who are largely Ukrainian — and were anti-Soviet during the Russian Civil War.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I don’t think this history lesson is taught in “Central Planning 101: What Can Go Wrong?”

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