Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Could Post-1945 Famine Play the Role in Russia that the Holodomor Plays in Ukraine?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 5 – Stalin’s terror famine in 1932-1933 plays a central role in defining what it means to be a Ukrainian and is likely soon to play a similar for Kazakhstan, a pattern that raises the question as to whether the mass famine in Russian areas in 1946-1947 could play a similar role for Russians in the future, according to Yaroslav Butakov.

            In an article on, the Moscow political scientist notes that in comparison with other modern famines in Eurasia, the one that followed World War II has “up to now remained in the shadow,” one broke only in the 1990s with the publication of new data on it (

            As in the case of other 20th century famines in the Soviet Union, the famine of 1946-1947 was caused by a combination of natural disasters including drought and political decisions that made the situation worse. Had Moscow behaved differently, many of the human losses could have been avoided.

            Tragically, Butakov continues, “the famine appears to be the inevitable result of the policy of the Stalinist regime, directed at the forced extraction of production from producers” in order to finance its arms buildup, confrontation with the West, and “’cold war.’”

            Between 1946 and 1948, approximately two million Soviet citizens died from hunger, of whom about half were in the Russian Federation. Another 35 percent of the total were in Ukraine and Moldova. Other republics suffered as well. Indeed, the post-war famine was countrywide, affecting every region one way or another.

            Both drought and the loss of manpower during the war meant that famine was likely and that Moscow needed to seek help. But instead of doing so, Moscow refused the American offer of aid via the Marshall Plan and forced its east European satellites to do the same, ensuring that the famine would hit the population very hard.

            The confiscation of livestock in eastern Europe and its shipment to the USSR did little to help because a large number of the animals died or were damaged because of mistreatment on the way to the Soviet Union.  But even as production fell, the state extracted more, leaving ever less food for the population.

            To get the food, the state sent in its repressive apparatus and arrested, exiled or shot many officials and ordinary people. In no case did the force structures take into account local conditions or reduce the amount of grain and other products the collective and state farms had to hand over.

            Moscow did export some grain during this famine, but that was not the main cause of the loss of life. Instead, the chief causes were the confiscatory policies of the Soviet state and its failure to care about what happened to its own people as long as state needs were met, an attitude that unfortunately is making a comeback under Vladimir Putin.

            In his article, Butakov points to another result of the post-war famine that continues to have an impact on Russia today. Many believe “the myth” that there was a baby boom in Russia after the war, but it did not happen, in large measure because of the famine which hit women in the prime childbearing years hardest and which drove the fertility rate down.

            “Even in 1932-33, the average number of children per woman in the Russian Federation exceeded 3.5,” a number that rose to five in 1937 before falling back to 4.2 in 1940.  In the war years, the number dropped again, but it did not recover as much as many think. In 1946, it was 2.9; in 1948, 2.6; and in 1950, 3.1.

            These figures reflect the combination of male losses in World War II and female losses from the post-war famine, Butakov says, and these losses continue to cast a shadow over the country.

            Butakov repeats his assertion that “there is no basis to speak about an intentional Holodomor against Great Russia.” But for a variety of reasons, it became a victim of state policy, a greater one in percentage terms than any but Moldova.  Ukraine and Belarus were somewhat less hard hit that time because as members of the UN, they did get some aid from the West.

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