The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


By Professor Mark B. Tauger
Associate Professor at West Virginia University
Morgantown, West Virginia
RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report
Prague, Czech Republic, 25 June 2002, Volume 4, Number 25


(This article by Professor Mark B. Tauger (, Ph.D., associate professor at West Virginia University, responds to the article by Dr. Taras Kuzio in "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" of 12 June 2002.)


Dr. Kuzio's article concerns a discussion on H-Net Russia, which began when in response to a question, I sent in a list of my recent publications (listed below) and summarized their main points. These points were that the 1933 famine was not limited to Ukraine and resulted from a shortage due to natural disasters that no other scholars have investigated. Dr. Kuzio's article distorts this discussion and misrepresents Western scholarship and my works in particular, which were the main ones at issue but which apparently almost none of my detractors had read.

Dr. Kuzio claims that Western scholars refuse to compare Soviet and Nazi crimes, and are Russia-centric. On the first point, he quotes other scholars' statements that any questioning of the Ukrainian genocide argument is "immoral and absurd." On the second point, he cites my doubts concerning Ukrainian memoirs and asserts that no one questions similar accounts of the Holocaust. He refers to my criticism of Robert Conquest's work and cites James Mace's dismissal of my work as "baseless statistical circumlocutions" and "garbage." He asserts that Western scholars ignore Ukrainian sources and publications, and that the famine left no "memory" in the Russian consciousness. Here I will briefly respond to these claims.

With respect to memory of the famine in Russia, Dr. Kuzio seems unaware of such publications as "Tragediya sovetskoi derevni," a massive five-volume collection of documents published in Russia with the support of the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, which evidences the severity of the famine in Russia as well as Ukraine, and the imprint of the famine on the consciousness of all the Soviet peoples. Dr. Kuzio's point is also problematic because Ukraine is a multinational state, all of whose citizens -- Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Poles, Tatars, and others -- were victims of the famine, as documented in recent Ukrainian publications.

Dr. Kuzio is wrong to characterize me as a Russia-centered Western scholar. I use Ukrainian sources, I have worked in Ukrainian archives, and I have published a study of the Ukrainian famine of 1928-1929 that the Ukrainian scholar S.V. Kulchytskyy described as one of the "blank spots" to which Dr. Kuzio refers. I published this in a collection of articles on Soviet history in the national republics ("Provincial Landscapes," listed below) by a group of scholars, and this publication is not unique. Dr. Kuzio's criticism of U.S. scholarship, therefore, at least as it refers to me, my associates, and many other Western scholars, is unjustified.

On the question of statistics, James Mace and other advocates of the genocide argument insist that the famine was "man-made" on the basis of Soviet official statistics that the total grain harvest in 1932 was 68.9 million tons and testimonies and memoirs from decades after the event that the harvest was excellent. Their argument therefore rests on the statistical claim that no genuine food shortage prevailed in the USSR in 1932. If it can be shown that such a shortage prevailed, this argument has to be rejected.

The official statistics, however, show that the procurements taken from the 1932 harvest were less than the procurements in any other year in the 1930s (and archival documents show that the data actually overstate the amount procured). In other words, the rural remainder for the whole USSR in that year appears larger than any other year in the early 1930s, so there should not have been a famine by those statistics. Several other scholars noted this before me, including the Ukrainian emigre scholar Dmytro Solovey. These are not "baseless statistical circumlocutions" but a fundamental problem in the evidence, which Conquest, Mace, and other recent Ukrainian scholarship never mention.

Yet there was a famine, and as the archives document exhaustively, people were dying of starvation all over the country (see the article by Wheatcroft in Getty and Manning, "Stalinist Terror," Cambridge University Press 1997). So that harvest statistic is wrong. As I show, the harvest figure that Mace and others rely on was a biological yield projection, not harvest data, and was imposed on Soviet statistics by Stalin in 1933.

I obtained the archival annual reports from the collective farms themselves, including those from more than 40 percent of the collective farms in Ukraine (the remainder of the farms did not complete and submit annual reports, apparently because of the crisis). These data show that the 1932 harvest was at least one-third below the official figures. These are data from the farms, including Ukrainian farms, data gathered and prepared by Ukrainian peasants and other villagers at the time that the famine took place.

I also show that even these data, which imply in Ukraine a harvest of less than 5 million tons instead of the 8 million-ton official figure, overstate what must have been a famine harvest. I show that these annual-report data are the only reliable data on Soviet grain production in the 1930s, and that peasants used them to resist outside officials' demanding high procurements based on Soviet biological yields.

So while Mace stands by Stalin's false statistics, backed up with memoirs written decades later, to argue that a small harvest did not occur, my evidence (which Mace calls "garbage") -- desperately put forward by Ukrainians and other peasants themselves, which Soviet leaders received and rejected -- documents incontrovertibly that the country had a famine harvest. This is why I question Ukrainian memoir accounts. Their insistence on the false assertion that the harvest was good undermines their credibility.

It is also a general principle of evidence that contemporaneous evidence concerning an event is considerably more reliable than reports decades after the event: The memoir and testimony sources on the famine date from the 1950s to the 1980s and later. Substantial critical literatures in history and psychology have demonstrated the problems of memoirs and oral history, which contrary to Dr. Kuzio's claim have been applied extensively to the literature of Holocaust memoirs and testimonies.

The evidence that I have published and other evidence, including recent Ukrainian document collections, show that the famine developed out of a shortage and pervaded the Soviet Union, and that the regime organized a massive program of rationing and relief in towns and in villages, including in Ukraine, but simply did not have enough food. This is why the Soviet famine, an immense crisis and tragedy of the Soviet economy, was not in the same category as the Nazis' mass murders, which had no agricultural or other economic basis.

This evidence also explains why it is false to describe me and other Western scholars as "deniers" of the famine. There is nothing "immoral" or "absurd" about this evidence, which comes directly from Ukrainians and other villagers at the time, and it is in no way comparable to a denial of the Holocaust.

Mace, Krawchenko, and Kuzio responded to careful research that tests received interpretations, certainly accepted scholarly practice, with derogatory comments, misrepresentations, and moral condemnations, without apparently having read all of the publications they attacked. Perhaps this is why they have encountered some opposition to their views in the United States. This kind of ad hominem attack only makes it more difficult to get at the truth behind the tragedies in Soviet history.

Mark B. Tauger, "The 1932 Harvest and the Soviet Famine of 1932-1933," Slavic Review v. 50 No. 1, Spring 1991; Tauger, R.W. Davies, and S. G. Wheatcroft, "Stalin, Grain Stocks, and the Famine of 1932-1933," Slavic Review v. 54 No. 3, Fall 1995; Tauger, "Natural Disaster and Human Action in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933," The Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, University of Pittsburgh, No. 1506, 2001 (65pp); (412) 648 9881 Tauger, "Statistical Falsification in the Soviet Union: A Comparative Case Study of Projections, Biases, and Trust," The Donald Treadgold Papers in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, University of Washington, No. 34, 2001 (82pp); (206) 221 6348 Tauger, "Grain Crisis or Famine? The Ukrainian State Commission for Aid to Crop Failure Victims and the Ukrainian Famine of 1928-1929," in Donald Raleigh, ed., "Provincial Landscapes: Local Dimensions of Soviet Power," 1917-1953, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.

By Professor Mark B. Tauger, Associate Professor at West Virginia
University, Morgantown, West Virginia
RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report
Prague, Czech Republic, 25 June 2002, Volume 4, Number 25