The totalitarian societies (Cfr. Arendt, 2007, p.62) are built as a system or machinery in which any piece —meaning, among other elements, any person that is part of its functioning— is replaceable, except for the total leader of the regime. In the dictatorships (Cfr. Arendt, 2007, p.62) there is a different kind of functioning, because these are not established as a system in which all society is part of, is an accomplice or is ruled by the laws that allow the extermination and encourage the alienation of certain groups of the civil population. The dictatorship does not necessarily permeates the whole of the individual life of the people that constitute the society; it is fixated in their public activities, in the resistance, in the political filiation, in the protests and in the actions against the regime. Hannah Arendt shows that in dictatorships the possibility of non-violent resistance exists; for example, the option of quitting public positions that would necessarily implicate committing crimes. This case is non-existent in totalitarism because there all the population is contained in the laws of the regime: there is no way of escaping it, there is no possibility for resistance. That is the new paradigm that we face in this investigation of the genocidal actions of the 20th century: the totalitarian regime. The Union of Socialist Soviet Republics was an absolute regime in which there was no other option but to obey the orders of Stalin: the punishment of disobedience was death or the Gulag, the Soviet forced working camp.
Stalin ask for a voluntary collaboration of grain from the peasant townships for exportation and for the maintenance of the cities in exchange for money and tools. Within the Five-Year Plan quotas to be met were imposed to each territory in order to give a head-start to the USSR. Ukraine was one of the counties that generated the highest amounts of grain; therefore, Ukraine’s quota was one of the highest. When the drought came -in 1921 and 1922- the grain of the peasantry was confiscated. This meant devastation for the Ukrainian people in terms of lack of food sustenance: people began to suffer from malnourishment and its effects: lack of physical strength, inflammation, faints and, later on, deaths that drove some people to commit acts of anthropophagy.
«The famine was concentrated in the rich grain-growing provinces of southern Ukraine, an area inhabited by about a third of the republic's 26 million citizens. It affected both the rural and the urban population. Most of the victims were Ukrainians; national minorities like Germans, Jews and Russians also suffered. Between the fall of 1921 and the spring of 1923, 1.5 million to 2 million people died of starvation and due to accompanying epidemics» (The Ukrainian Weekly, November 6, 1988, No. 45, Vol. LVI).
Ukraine’s desperate situation was unique, although all of the USSR also suffered on a lighter scale from lack of food and other basic supplies like clothing and medicine. “The famine of 1932–3 was described in Émigré publications at the time and later as the Holodomor, a term derived from the Ukrainian words for hunger –holod– and extermination –mor–” (Applebaum, 2017). The government asked for humanitarian aid from the West in 1921. Nevertheless, the input and money that arrived were directed to places where Russian ethnical majorities were and they interfered with its delivery to Ukraine, hence, the country continued to suffer the catastrophe. It was a Jewish collective that began to depose this situation at the end of 1921 by delivering aid not through the Soviet government, but to Ukraine and other countries directly. Later, others followed this initiative. The American Jewish community raised 16 million dollars and used 5 million for the Ukrainian operations (Cfr. The Ukrainian Weekly, November 6, 1988, No. 45, Vol. LVI).
«The situation improved at the end of the year when the American Jewish community decided to send massive help to starving brethren in the Soviet republics. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee put pressure on the ARA to organize distribution centers in Ukraine for the food parcels sent by American Jews to their friends and relatives living there. The “Joint” […] also wanted the ARA to investigate the famine situation in Ukraine, since it was getting alarming news from Ukrainian Jewry. The ARA succeeded in persuading the Soviets to allow a delegation to visit Ukraine in December of 1921» (The Ukrainian Weekly, November 6, 1988, No. 45, Vol. LVI).
One decade later, in the famine of 1932-1933 there were still vivid memories about this terrible event. The Ukrainian people were seen as an anti-revolutionary element by all the USSR, given the great propaganda resources invested in Russia in order to promote exacerbated hatred against the kulaks. The kulaks were the peasants that had certain terrains, cows, poultry, horses, etc., and could hire other peasants to work on their fields; they were considered wealthy and, therefore, with a capitalist set of ideas. First, in the decade of 1920 they were expropriated of their lands, some of them were sent to the gulag and others were executed. The poorest peasants were in charge of taking these lands and distributing them among themselves in order to cultivate and in that way perpetuate the socialist system. Once the richest seized to exist the following victims of the process were the landowners. What was said was that the kulaks were responsible for the lack of grain throughout the USSR because they refused to give the quotas stablished by the Five Year Plan: they wanted all the grain for themselves, they did not want to be in solidarity with the people. For this reason, in both famines the recollection squadrons were constituted not only by the army but also by voluntaries form all the Russian territory that went to take away the means of subsistence of the peasants. There were also Ukrainians from nearby villages that also participated in the searches with the promises of earning up to a third of what was recovered. Also, the denunciations of the hiding places were common, because the person who denounced picked up a part of what was found. Suspicions were raised when people were still alive or no member of a family had died. How were they surviving and why was there no dead people yet? «With the help of what do you live?’ With each passing day, demands became angrier, the language ruder: Why haven’t you disappeared yet? Why haven’t you dropped dead yet? Why are you alive at all?’» (Applebaum, 2017)
Holomodor was even more furious than the famine of 1921-1922 because the peasants were expropriated of the totality of the grain and animals: the squads took the crops, the grain of subsistence, the seeds for planting, the domestic animals, the cows, the hens; and, when people did not cooperate, they left the houses in ruins. It was common for people to be punished for stealing by locking them for several days in attics or dungeons where there was nothing to eat. The children disappeared and then pieces of bodies cooked by their own parents were found. The practice of eating corpses was also known, as well as eating forest animals and cats. The use of transport was strictly prohibited, a special permit was required, which is why the managers had to remove corpses from the wagons of people waiting in hiding in order to leave their villages. The stations were always full of corpses of all ages because there were more people dead than people who could pick them up. Many survived exchanging gold, jewelry and silver in exchange for grain or receiving money from abroad. Some survived because their relatives came to take them away from the villages. Many fled the country in time finding jobs in Russia. Some lucky children survived orphanages where the death rate reached 30%. Others managed to escape alive from the mass graves.
The death of more than 4.5 million Ukrainians during Holomodor, due to lack of food, diseases, deportations and assassinations was not only due to the absence of inputs and their moral and psychological consequences such as cannibalism and anthropophagy. Stalin changed the discourse in this decade: people were no longer victims of famine as in the 1920s but were now themselves the perpetrators of their fate. While the peasants died of hunger, Ukrainian intellectuals were apprehended in the cities by the police force. During the famine, the Soviet was purging the Ukrainian party by replacing with Russian officials the Ukrainians. In addition, Ukrainian was not allowed to be spoken in schools and in all official places. Besides, some areas of the country were more affected by the famine than others regardless if they were closer to the woods, rivers or frontiers (which gave them more possibilities of finding or receiving food), because in them there was a history of political resistance. Other minorities, like German, Jewish and Poles received humanitarian aid that allowed them to endure the terrible devastation of that period. We already know that no other Russian population suffered a famine alike the Ukrainian. Then why the Ukrainian population suffered as much in comparison to others?
Ukraine was a territory highly oppressed by the Soviet during decades. The Ukrainian language, symbols and identity were politically persecuted and called anti-revolutionary chauvinism. In schools and workplaces, it was forbidden to speak Ukrainian and it was obligatory to speak Russian. People with Ukrainian identity in positions of power were politically persecuted, deported and annihilated. The fever of anti-Kulak propaganda led people who saw Ukrainians begging for food scraps to starve to death because, according to it, the Ukrainians were to blame for the lack of grain in the USSR.
The foregoing leads us to conclude that Holomodor was a political genocide orchestrated by the Soviet as a punishment to the dying class of the kulaks for denying the grain to the USSR and seeking to have a national independence and an own identity from language and religion.
Arendt, H. 2007. Responsabilidad y juicio. Barcelona: Paidós.
Applebaum, A. 2017. Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine. Penguin Random House.
The Ukrainian Weekly, November 6, 1988, No. 45, Vol. LVI).