Taken from a question I was asked.
Anonymous asked: Opinions on the crimes of USSR?
Sorry for the late response. This took me a while to make, as you’ll soon be able to tell.
The majority of them have been drastically exaggerated and overstated in western media and the education system. Nevertheless, there were some genuine wrongdoings which i do not wish to defend.
There follows a more detailed explanation (sources are listed at the bottom):
There are three questions to ask and answer when discussing the holodomor:
Yes. Very few people, if any at all, deny that a famine did occur in the years 1932-33 in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and parts of Russia and the Caucasus. The location of the famine is relevant for question two.
The traditional line of reasoning goes that the famine was planned and implemented because the Soviet Government wanted to eliminate a potential Ukrainian independence movement. There are several flaws in this line of reasoning, which I will now explain:
Location - the famine was not limited to Ukraine. As stated before, it affected Kazakhstan and parts of Russia and the Caucasus. It even affected parts of Turkey and Bulgaria (this fact in itself calls into question how a famine supposedly made by the Soviet Government could have affected territories outside their control?). But it goes further than that, the region most affected by the famine was not Ukraine, but Kazakhstan. Further still, the most severely affected regions within Ukraine itself were parts with a significant Russian minority, and thus the least likely to support a Ukrainian independence movement. Ukrainian nationalism was strongest in the far west of the country, but it was the far east which was most affected. If the Soviet Government were trying to target Ukrainian nationalists, they certainly did a bad job of it.^^
Government action in response to the famine - World War 1 and the Russian Civil War had destroyed most industry in the country. Thus, the Soviet Government had been exporting grain in order to fund industrialisation programs. The reason they exported grain rather than their plentiful stocks of gold or metal was because the Soviet Union had been prevented from exporting these things via embargoes. In 1925, a gold blockade was implemented where western powers refused to trade gold for industrial supplies. More embargoes were put in place until, in the early 30’s, western powers demanded that the Soviet Union pay for all equipment in grain. In 1930, the USSR exported 4,846,024 tons of grain. In 1931, the number increased to 5,182,835 tons. However, in 1932 there was a sharp drop in exports of grain, with only 1,819,114 tons being exported. They also began importing more grain. In 1932, 907,000 tons were imported ^^. In addition to reducing grain exports and increasing imports, in 1933 the Soviet government set up political departments to help peasants in agricultural work, as well as providing grain aid to the afflicted areas. This relief worked, and the harvest in 1933 was much better than in previous years ^^.
Correspondence between the Ukrainian and Russian governments - letters sent between Stanislav Kosior (head of the Communist Party of Ukraine) and Joseph Stalin indicate a lack of clear and honest communication on Kosior’s part - which was responsible for the initial lack of response to the famine - as well as Stalin’s urgency to take action. The letters read as follows^^:
The Political Bureau believes that shortage of seed grain in Ukraine is many times worse than what was described in comrade Kosior’s telegram; therefore, the Political Bureau recommends the Central Committee of the Communist party of Ukraine to take all measures within it’s reach to prevent the threat of failing to sow [field crops] in Ukraine
There are also isolated cases of starvation, and even whole villages [starving]; however, this is only the result of bungling on the local level, deviations [from the pary line], especially in regard of kolkhozes. All rumours about faming in Ukraine must be unconditionally rejected. The crucial help that was provided for Ukraine will give is the oppportunity to eradicate all such outbreaks [of starvation].
Stalin immediately responded:
Comrade Kosior! You must read attached summaries. Judging by this information, it looks like the Soviet authority has ceased to exist in some areas of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Can this be true? Is the situation in villages in Ukraine this bad? Where are the operatives of the OGPU, what are the doing? Could you verify this information and inform the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist party about taken measures?
Environmental causes - no doubt, environmental factors played a large role in the famine - there was drought in some areas, too much rain in others, attacks of rust and smut (fungal diseases), and infestations of insects and mice ^^.
History - Collectivisation of agriculture was largely completed in the USSR by 1932.^^ Before collectivisation, the USSR & Russian Empire had famines every 10–13 years ^^, and there had been severe famines in 1918, 1920, 1924 and 1928-29. After collectivisation had been implemented, there were only two major famines in the rest of the USSR’s existence (i.e. 59 years). One of these was the 1932-33 famine, and the other occured just after World War 2 as a result of the destruction caused by the Nazi invasion. Judging by this inforamtion, collectivisation did likely not cause the famine, rather the aforementioned environmental causes did.
Previously estimated figures of the number of prisoners in the USSR were drastically over-estimated. During the 1980s, Robert Conquest alleged that in 1939 there were 25-30 million prisoners in the Soviet Union. More modern evidence shows that the number of prisoners in 1939 was actually 2.5 million (2.4% of the adult population), and only 454,000 of thosen were political prisoners. This is 3 million less than the number of prisoners in the United States in 1996, which was 5.5 million (2.8% of the adult population).^^
The brutality and death rates in gulags has also been overstated. The death rate in gulags between 1930 and 1953 was 4%. This includes the World War 2 years. Excluding the World War 2 years, the death rate was 2.5%, which was lower than that of an average citizen in tsarist Russia in 1913. 1/3rd of inmates weren’t required to work, however for those who did work the maximum work week was 84 hours.^^
Only 10% of arrests during Stalin’s rule were for political reasons. Police, secret police and national guardsmes made up only 0.2% of the population, compared to police alone making up 1% of the population in the USA, meaning the kind of mass repression described in western media & the education system would have been unfeasible.^^
On the subject of democracy in the USSR, consider the following description by London Progressive Journal^^:
The USSR’s written constitution places power firmly in the hands of the people, and indeed, representatives were regularly elected. The primary executive body of the USSR was the Supreme Council, which consisted of representatives from two committees: the Council of Nations and the Union Council. Representatives to each were elected for a 4 year term – for the Union Council, one representative for every constituency of 300,000, and for the Council of Nations: 25 representatives per Republic, 11 from each autonomous region, and one for each municipality for a specific nationality. The Supreme Council would then elect the government for the 4 year term (i.e. the Ministers) and the Chairman, also for a 4 year term. Committees were everywhere – school clubs, committees for social events, charity work, anything and everything. To be eligible to be elected Chairman, a candidate must have had experience governing at every level – local, municipal, and regional.