Challenges in Studying Collectivization and the Famine

Source: Getty
Other Publications Remarks given at conference on “Famine in Kazakhstan
Summary
The study of the Soviet drive toward collectivization in Kazakhstan and the resulting famine comes with a particular set of challenges.
Related Media and Tools
 

The policy of agrarian reform that was pursued by Joseph Stalin culminated in the collectivization drive that began in November 1929, and which before it concluded would trigger a famine that cost between a third and a half of the ethnic Kazakh population their lives.

During the Soviet period it was of course virtually impossible to try and pursue objective research on this topic. Communist Party and Ministry archives were either closed, or made very selectively available to the most trusted of party loyalist historians.  And even they could not deviate from “official” interpretations, which varied fairly substantially through the Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev periods and then changed regularly during the final nine years of Soviet rule.

When I did my research on this period of history, during the middle of the 1970s I considered myself very fortunate to have gained access to all the periodical and other printed materials from the 1920s and 1930s that had been deposited in the special collections of Lenin Library.

Now of course a great deal more material has been made available, with scholars having some chance of securing access to archival materials that are found in Kazakhstan as well as archival material found in Moscow.  But this increased access to materials has in many ways complicated the tasks before the historian of this period rather than simplified it.

For all their value access to archives will only tell part of the story, as they recount the debate over policy and the process of its implementation that the historical actors who wrote these accounts sought to commit to paper.  This by definition makes the material that they convey subjective rather objective, and is likely to only be part of the story that unfolded at the time, and not even an accurate one.  Most of us have had on various occasions in our professional careers the responsibility to create reports or accounts for our superiors, and we know the temptation to shape events in a way that makes it appear that we are meeting their expectations. So using archives creates new responsibilities for the historian, to find multiple accounts which offer almost identical information, in order to build confidence that any particle version of history is in fact accurate.

Given what a painful period collectivization and the famine was for the Kazakh people it is hard to keep emotions out of the study of these events, and there is a natural desire to apportion blame for them.

One of challenges for the historian will be to manage to keep emotion at bay.  

I would like to focus on two suggestions in this regard.  First it is critical for the objective study of collectivization and the famine to put the policies pursued in Kazakhstan in the context of Soviet-wide policies.  There is no question that the Kremlin never paid attention to the specific cultural and economic needs of the various regions of the U.S.S.R., and then reacted very inadequately when it became apparent that the policies of collectivization were having a devastating effect on the majority of the Kazakh population.  But one must be careful not to presume that these policies were designed to annihilate any particular ethnic group.  But tragically the obverse was also not true, Moscow was unwilling to take any remedial steps to stop such annihilation when it became apparent that in Kazakhstan this was precisely what was in the process of occurring. The goals of the revolution, as interpreted by Stalin and the small group around him, were preeminent and tragically more important than the survival of people.

Finally, there are the risks associated with apportioning blame for what occurred. In some recent scholarship there has been a tendency to try and apportion blame, on this or that party official who came from outside the republic. Unfortunately the burden of responsibility for the pursuit of the policy of collectivization and the ensuing famine has to be shared among many who served in the party, from the highest levels to the lowest, as all to some degree continued to implement a policy which they knew was resulting in the substantial loss of human life from starvation.  The choices they faced were bleak; apply policies and even feign enthusiasm for them even when they knew that others would be direly affected by these policies, or risk their own arrest and possibly that of their families.  There were few heroes to be found in those years, and one should be wary of standing in judgment of the actions of human beings who faced the most difficult of choices. We should all also be thankful that we don’t face such choices today.    

End of document

About the Russia and Eurasia Program

The Carnegie Russia and Eurasia Program has, since the end of the Cold War, led the field of Eurasian security, including strategic nuclear weapons and nonproliferation, development, economic and social issues, governance, and the rule of law.

 

Comments (1)

 
 
  • Peter J. Piaseckyj
    This is a cop out. I do not notice these restraints in apportioning blame on fascists.

    The reason that we in the USA do not equate Communist crimes and Nazi crimes is because in my experience, growing up in New York City, our intellectual class was in the 20's, 30's and 40's communist or communist sympathizers.

    So how can we ask the children and grand children of these sympathizers to condemn their fathers and grand fathers in Communist sympathies and equate Communist crimes to that of the Nazis?

    In the 30's my Aunt was handed out red hammer and sickle flags when marching with her public school on 5th Avenue during Mayday by her grammar school teachers.

    Read the New York Times and the Nation Magazine from those days as well as the Pulitzer prize winning NY Times reporter Walter Duranty, the Stalinist apologist, or Irving Krystal and his pals in the 40's, part of a Trotskyite cell.
     
     
    Reply to this post

     
    Close Panel
 
Source http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/06/14/challenges-in-studying-collectivization-and-famine/bz96

More from The Global Think Tank

Eurasia Outlook

In Fact

 

45%

of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.

30%

of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.

140

charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.

2.5–5

thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.

92%

of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.

$2.34

trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.

37%

of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.

72%

of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.

90%

of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.

13%

of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.

17

U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.

40%

of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.

120

million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.

60–70%

of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.

58%

of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.

67%

of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.

50%

of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.

18%

of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.

81%

of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.

32

million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3

Syrians

now needs urgent assistance.

370

political parties

contested India’s last national elections.

70%

of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.

70%

of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.

20%

of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.

58%

of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.

$536

billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.

$100

billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.

4700%

increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.

$11

billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.

2%

of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.

78

journalists

were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
 
 
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
 
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 Phone: 202 483 7600 Fax: 202 483 1840
Please note...

You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.

请注意...

你将离开清华—卡内基中心网站,进入卡内基其他全球中心的网站。