Friday, June 7, 2019

Stalin’s Collectivization – ‘the Second Civil War’ – Cut Short 10 Million Lives but Created New Soviet Man, Babenyshev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 5 – Stalin’s collectivization campaign became the Soviet Union’s “second civil war,” demographer Aleksandr Babenyshev says, “a war of the poor against the better off, the city against the countryside, and the state against rural residents” and one that formed in the minds of Soviet citizens the notion that any resistance would mean unavoidable destruction.”

            That attitude which first arose among the peasantry and then spread to the cities became the foundation of the new Soviet man, a personality type which persists to this day, Babenyshev, better known under his Soviet-era pseudonym Sergey Madsudov, says in his new book, Victory over the Village: Demographic Losses of Collectivization (in Russian, Moscow, 2019).

            His new work, the summing up of more than 40 years of research both as a Soviet dissident and a Russian scholar at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, seeks to answer the question: “How many lives did the Holodomor carry off?”  The exact number is still unknown, but Babenyshev says that ten million people died prematurely during this second civil war.

            The HURI scholar discusses his work with Radio Liberty’s Dmitry Volchek ( And he suggests that “the result of this war became an unprecedented mutation – the final formation of Soviet man, ‘an individual passively prepared for the fulfilment of the absurd orders of the bosses and fearful of unexpected developments.”

            Those words are from a review of the new book by Boris Grozovsky who adds that this “new man” “did not like his work, did not when he could obey the laws, considered theft the only possible form for the redistribution of property and was completely lacking in self-respect … [he] trusted no one and saw life as a war of all against all”(

            Babenyshev’s new book makes a number of additional points and draw conclusions that are certain to spark further discussion and even controversy. Among the most intriguing are the following:

·         The Soviet censuses even in Stalin’s time were not useless as many assume: the overall figures even for republics are more or less reliable. Second, it is “incorrect” to use the word “died” in reference to losses. There were approximately 10 million premature deaths as a result of this second war, but the number of specific deaths from this campaign was four to five million.

·         The losses in Ukraine did not have “an ethnic character. In reality, Ukrainians suffered proportionately more than did the Russian residents because Russian were to a significant degree an urban population and Ukrainians were a rural one.”

·         The Kremlin did not have a plan to destroy the Ukrainians or the peasantry more generally. Instead, it wanted to extract the same amount of grain from the peasantry in bad years as in good. If that left the peasants with too little to survive, that was, for the Kremlin, collateral damage.

·         Losses among the peasants reflected not only the actions of the powers that be but also of the population. When peasants realized they would not keep any of their harvest, they simply didn’t work to the same extent. That sent the harvest down further and cost more of them their lives. Only after the confiscations happened a second and third time did the peasantry admit defeat and collect even what they could not keep.

·         The chief evil actor in all this was Stalin. He knew what was going on and insisted that grain confiscations continue at the same level.  But Ukrainian officials like Kosior made it worse by making promises they could not keep and by the fact that they began collectivization well ahead of other republics.

·         “There was resistance” to collectivization, “but one should not call it serious. It wasn’t effective unlike at the time of the civil war when soldiers returned with guns. The rural population [by the 1930s] had been disarmed.”

·         Very quickly resistance was crushed, and the peasantry was quite prepared to hand over whatever grain the government demands. They accepted this as the new reality. Stalin recognized this and told Kaganovich that the peasantry had lost and accepted it subordination.

·         Another result was that “absurdity became the norm because orders weren’t discussed. Whether they were wise or not was already not our affair,” those living under Stalin understood. Moreover, the peasants lost their love for the land and for rural work. They have not recovered since.

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