You are on page 1of 10

Conquest Book Lies About 1932-33 Ukraine Famine

Originally published in Challenge-Desafio, newspaper of the Progressive Labor Party, March 4, 1987, pp. 10-13. Part I of this series exposed the lies in a film, "Harvest of Despair," about the Soviet Union in the 1930s. This article continues the discussion by focusing on a book that spreads similar lies. Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror- Famine by Robert Conquest claims to give the evidence that during 1932-33 Soviet leaders, chiefly Joseph Stalin, deliberately starved over 10 millino people to death, most of them in the Ukraine. The book and film paint a horrific picture. If true, a reasonable person might conclude the soviet Union in the 1930s was as bad as Nazi Germany under Hitler, or even worse, as some conservatives have argued. Communism is presented similar to the way the ABC-TV mini- series "Amerika" portrayed a Soviet-occupied US. But the story they tell is not true! Nor is it anything like the truth. IN order to concoct a fairy tale in which Ukrainian nationalists are the heroes and working- class communists the villains, Conquest's book like the film reviewed in the last article --must ignore all the best research on this period done by bourgeois scholars. A lie can be told in a sentence; to refute the lie adequately takes many pages. This essay examines Conquest's evidence and shows where and how he is guilty of lying. Future essays will discuss the political motives behind these falsehoods; what really happened in the USSR during the 1930s; and what are the correct lessons to be drawn from the events of the 1930s in the USSR.

Why This Subject Is Important


Capitalists the world over hate the idea of communism. Ever since the Bolshevik (communist) Revolution of 1917, they have hired "experts" to produce learned-looking books, with thousands of footnotes, to "prove" their anti-Communist lies. Theexternal trappings of scholarship -- academic language, footnotes, etc. -- are used by the anti-Communists as a method of propaganda. In this way they disguise their lies under the appearance of a concern for the truth. Works like Conquest's are aimed at people who read such things, but do not really know how to evaluage them. Teachers, journalists, managers, scientists, media people, and others are persuaded to spread the capitalists' lies to others. Books like Conquest's play an important role in the capitalists' attacks on the fight for a better world.

Who Is Robert Conquest?

In 1978 The Guardian, a leading British newspaper, published an expos of the "Information Research Department" of the Foreign Office, set up in 1947 to start a "propaganda counter-offensive" against the USSR. According to The Guardian, "Senior officials concede that past material was heavily `slanted.'... Robert Conquest, the schlar and author, who has been frequently critical of the Soviet Union, was one of those who worked for IRD> He was in the FO [Foreign Office] until 1956. 1 Comquest's first US publisher was Praeger, the official CIA `front' publisher for its anti-communist propaganda and forgeries during the `50s and `60s. If a Soviet author were disclosed as a purveyor of government "disinformation," he would always be identified as such in the capitalist press. But no one mentions Conquest's background, no doubt for fear of casting doubt on the accuracy of his "research."

Book Fabricates Numbers of Deaths


By far the most striking claim made in both film and book is the colossal number of deaths from starvation they cite. According to the film, "in less than two years, 10 million people die -- seven million of them in the Ukraine -- three million of them children." 2 According to Conquest, "the number dying in Stalin's war against the peasants was higher than the total deaths for all countries in World War I" (p. 4). Even more dramatically, in the second sentence of the preface Conquest writes in the actions here recorded about twenty human lives were lost for, not every word, but every letter, in this book. Conquest's total estimate is 14.5 million "total peasant dead as a result of the dekulakization and famine" (p.301). Since 1979 a long scholarly dispute has raged over the number of `excess deaths" in the USSR between the two official Soviet censuses in 1926 and 1939. This debate is never referred to once in either his book or the film, and for good reason. The debate shows up Conquest & Co. for the liars they are. The only work on the Ukrainian famine to have appeared in a nonmigr scholarly journal is by James Mace, head of the governmentfunded Ukrainian Famine Commission. 3 Before Conquest's book appeared, this article was the only attempt to put a scholarly face on the Ukrainian nationalists' fable. Mace's fraudulent research procedures prompted Stephen Wheatcroft, a leading historian of the USSR, to complain about "the standard of academic discussion of this very important topic, which in my opinion has seriuosly deteriorated in recent years. Dr. Mace's contribution adds to this deterioration." 4 In the best and most recent discussion of the question of `excess deaths," Barbara A.Anderson and Brian D. Slver estimate that "excess deaths" -- defined as any "unusually large number of deaths" between 1926 and 1939 "among people who were alive" in 1926 -were probably between 3.2 and 5.5 million for the entire USSR 5 (this is consistent with demographer Frank Lorimer's 1948 estimate, the basic weork that Conquest and Mace are trying to discredit).

In fact Anderson and Silver appear to believe the total figure to have been far short of that. Using their High Mortality [Rate] Assumption, which "approximates the mortality rates that Lorimer thought actually prevailed in the USSR as a whole in 1926-27, which were higher than those officially reported," by 1939 there might have been only 500,000 "excess deaths" among persons alive in 1926. 6 This would include not only the famine but also: the so- called "purges" of the `30s; the collectivization movement and attendant peasant rebellions against it; war deaths in the 1938 war in Mongolia against Japanese forces. In addition, there were serious epidemics of at least two highly contagious and often fatal diseases: typhus and malaria. "Quiescent during most of the period of the New Economic Policy I.e. 1923-29), epidemic typhus resurged once more at the end of the 1920s ... Typhus certainly played a prominent part in these horrors, possibly raging more fiercely than in 1921-22." 7 Five hundred thousand persons diedo f typhus during 1921-22. Malaria was probably epidemic as well. Both typhus and malaria would tend to be more severe among a population weakened by malnutrition, like during the widespread famine of the Civil War years (1918-22) 7a Taking Anderson and Silver's Low to medium Fertility and Medium to High Mortality Estimate ranges, we arrive at a "population deficit" among those under 12 in 1939 of between 0 and 9.4 million. Some large proportion of these are would- be births which would have been expected but did not occur. "Given the available information, it is impossible to determine for certain what proportion of the population deficit is due to births that did not occur and what proportion is due to excess deaths of infants and children." 8 The total for those over 12 in 1939 is between 0.5 and 3.2 million (both sets of figures are for the entire USSR). Fertility would certainly have been low during the great disruptions of the collectivization movement; the famine; industrialization, when working hours were long and living standards low, and millions of peasants were flocking to the cities to man the new factories. Anderson and Silver take great pains to point up the "errors" in estimating numbers of deaths made by Mace and Steven Rosefielde, from whom Conquest draws his fugres. Earlier articles by Wheatcroft also attacked Rosefield, Mace, Conquest, and Maksudov, the Soviet migr upon whom Mace and Conquest draw heavily. Concerning the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine, Anderson and Silver note:

Mace's estimate of eight million "Ukrainians who died before their time" is a "population deficit" rather than excess deaths, and therefore includes millions who were never born; Mace's method of estimation makes no allowqnce for a decline in the number of births among Ukrainians during the famine years. "Yet there was undoubtedly a sever decline in the number of births during those years." A large number -- perhaps 3 million or more --persons listed as Ukrainian in the 1926 census were probably listed as Russians in the 1939 census. 9

In 1949 Naum Jasny, a Russian migr economist, estimated that 5.5 million people died in the famine. By 1961, realizing he had misunderstood the census data, Jasny had revised his estimate to "hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million" in the whole USSR who "died in the winter of 1932/33." 10 In the light of all responsible research, this figure appears reasonable. That famine -- death from hunger -- existed, and was related to the struggle ove forced collectivization of the peasantry, should not be doubted. But the `estimates" made by Conquest and in the film are ridiculously excessive and dishonest.

Anti-Stalin Lies
Both the film and Conquest's book claim Stalin personally plotte dthe genocide of the "Ukrainian nation." This nonsense too has been refuted by recent Western scholarship. for example,as long ago as 1974 the fanatically anti-Stalin Sovietologist Stephen Cohen showed that Stalin won leadership of the Communist Party in the late 1920s because his plan had the support of most active communist leaders, and not because he had "plotted" to "stack" the Central Committee, etc. 11 The move to forcibly collectivize the peasantry and to declare war on the "kulaks" or rich peasants ha very wide support in the soviet working class. Working-class party cadre and local party organizations were more radical than Stalin and the Politburo, pressing for rapid collectivization and attacks on the betteroffpeasants far more vigorously than the leadership did. Equally important, the Party leadership got its information on the situation in the countryside from these forces. 12 Far from being "hypocritical," then, Stalin's article of March 1930, "Dizzy With Success" really was, as it is claimed to be, an attempt to restrain radical workers in the countryside from forcing too many easants into collective farms too fast. We will return to this question in the fourth article in this series, "What Really Happened"?

The So-Called `Press Cover-Up'


Like the film, conquest's book claims the famine in the Ukraine remained relatively unknown in the West because of dishonest or proSoviet reporting among Western journalists. They single out for special condemnation the reporting by Walter Duranty of The New York Times, who had just won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Russia when the famine started. The film quotes British journalist Malcom Muggeridge calling Duranty a liar. 13 So does Harrison Salisbury, also a former Moscow correspondent for the Times, in the post-film discussion. And so does Conquest (pp. 309; 319; 320-1). The immediate source for Conquest and the rest is an article by marco Carynnyk in the neo-conservative journal Commentary (Carynnyk researched this question for the film). This is the same

man who, as last week's article showed, knew of phony film and still photos in the movie "Harvest of Despair," yet admitted the fraud only after three years, and only then when publicly exposed by a Canadian researcher. The basic complaint against duranty is that he never appeared in print in the `30s with an estimate of famine deaths in the Ukraine of more than 2 million. However, according to Eugene Lyons, extreme anti-Communist and later a Reader's Digest editor, Duranty privately made much higher estimates, up to 7 million, to Lyons himself, and up to 10 million a few days later to a British diplomat. 14 In other words, Duranty is being blamed for not publishing the higher figures, whihc Conquest and Carynnyk believe to have been correct. Duranty also wite in a more "objective," less militantly antiCommunist way, than did many other corerspondents. Naturally Carynnyk and the rest hatehim for this, too. Carynnyk's article is the source used by Conquest. Mace, however, refers once to James W. Crowl's book, Angels In Stalin's Paradise, a more in-depth attack on Duranty's and Luis Fischer's reporting on the USSR. 15 His evidence too is merely that Duranty did not report his worst estimates. Crowl's intense anti-Communist bias makes hjis interpretations of the evidence unreliable. For example, he sttes: "Thought it can not be proven that duranty was ever paid by the Soviets, it is conceivable thathe was paid handsomely to remain [in the USSR] during 1933." 16 Crowl's evidence occasionally helps us to see through his favorite sources. IN Assignment in Utopia (1934), Lyons claimed Umansky, Soviet press chief, told Western reporters that onh those who denounced the account of the Ukrainian famine by Gareth Jones, Manchester Guardian correspondent, would get inside information about the upcoming trial of British engineers (the "Metro-Vickers Trial"). This tale, picked up by Carynnyk (pp. 34-5), is the source for the film'sstatement that "Correspondents are bluntly told tht if they want access to the trial, they are not to mention the famine in their dispatches" (transcript of film, pp. 18-9; see Conquest, p.309). In a 1972 letter to Crowl Lyons wrote this meeting was "not" a general meeting of Western correspondents; the "blunt warning" disappears, "nor did Oumansky have to do more than `hint' as to what should be done." The attempt to "brige" Duranty and the rest disappears! Lyons even stated he was not certain Duranty attended this meetin with Uspensky. 17 In the light of the demographic analyses by Wheatcroft and Anderson and Silver, Duranty's estimate of 2 million deaths, mainly from diseases associated with malnutrition, may even be on the high side. Certainly it is a far more honest estimate than those of Conquest and the rest.

Eye-Witness Sources As Evidence

"You made a point about proof. In this sort of history we do nt have proof... Yet... the incontrovertibility of the evidence can be plain even when it is not documentary or complete." -- Robert Conquest, on the Ukrainian famine 18 There were plenty of Western journalits writing about the famine at the time. Judging from the excerpts reprinted in exile accounts of the famine, few if anyh of them witnessed actual death from starvation. Most described deserted villages and malnourished people, and were told of widespread starvation by others. 19 The first-hand evidence of actual starvation is from eye- witness accounts. As Wheatcroft notes, "eyewitness evaluatiohs are often found to be exaggerated." To this Mace could only respond: "when it comes to non- migr historiography fo the famine, Dalrymple's article is about all that we have" (Dalrymple's article is entirely made up of Western press reports). Mace admits that the chief non-Soviet sources abut the famien are from migrs. 20

Eye-Witness and migrs


"It seems to me not amiss to speak of the danger of trusting to the representations of men who have been expelled from their country ... such is their extreme desire to return to their homes that they naturally believe many things that are not true, and add many others on purpoe; so that with what they really believe, and what they say they believe, theywill fill you with hopes to that degree that if you act upon them you will incur a fruitless expense." -- Macchiavelli 21 Most of the accounts of the famine, published at different times by notoriously right-wing nationalist groups, are by Ukrainian migrs. In his otherwise very favorable review of Conquest's book, Craig Whitney states the usual suspicions of these sources: "This last example was written by an exile ... one of the many accounts by migrs that Mr Conquest has had to rely on... Unfortunately, in his zeal to make his case, he has sometimes gone too far [emphasis added; here follows an eye-witness account] ... The endnote gives as the source a book called The Black Deeds of the kremlin, edited by S.O. Pidhainy in 1953. Nowhere in the notes or in th ebibliography is the credibilityof this source even discussed. As it happens, like several other of Mr Conquest's principal sources, the book was published by Ukrainian migrs in Canada and the United States not long after World War II. 22 The only evidence Conquest gives for his assertion that the Soviets blockaded all shipments of food to the Ukraine from outside the USSR is also taken from such migr compilations. Whitney contines: "... far more debatable is the thesis that the famine was specifically aimed as an instrument of genocide against the Ukraine. The clear implication of this book is that the author has taken the side of his Ukrainian sources on this issue, even though much of his evidence does not support it well [emphasis added]. Mr. Conquest's attempts to document the claim that while people were starving in the Ukraine

they were being well fed just across the border in Russia fall far short of a rigorous standard -- a few citations from The Black Deeds of the Kremlin and other exile sources do not make the case." 23 The only evidence the film gives for this supposed "blockade" is from the Ukrainian Orthodox bishop appointed under the Nazis. Both Soviet and anti-Soviet sources agree that Stepan Skrypnyk, nephew of the anti-semitic pogromist (mass murdered) Simon Petlyura, was made bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the name of Metropolitain Mstyslav by the Naais even though he had never even been apriest, solely because of his ferocious nationalism and Nazi collaboration. 23a Clearly there was starvation in some places. There are a few brief accounts by Soviet historians and novelists. 24 Ukrainian exile "research"{ on the famine and its extent is another matter. Fanaticaly nationalistic, often writtn by Nazi collaborators (like Hrihory Kostiuk and Konstantine Shteppa), anxious to cover upor justify their actions by depicting communism in negative terms, and underwritten by right-wing natinoalist groups or CIA-funded outfits like the Munich-based Institute for the Study of the USSR (1951-69), the "research" in these sources is fraudulent or non- existent. Often, as in the case of the Pidhainy volumes, it is nothing more than purported "eye-witness" accounts transcribed. The book by Canadian researcher Douglas Tottle, who exposed the fraudulence of the film in Toronto last November (see previous article) will also deal with Pidhainy's Black Deeds of the Kremlin. Tottle has traced several of the photos used in Volume 2 and shown them toi be fakes. IN addition, he has shown that at least one of the contributors to the Black Deeds volume -- Hai-Holovko -- is guilty of mass murder while a Nazi collaborator during WWII. No doubt this is true of some of the other contributors as well. None of the published accounts by Ukrainian nationalists can be taken at face value. Wheatcroft's warning, quoted above, is relevant here. "Eyewitnesses" often have good reason to tell their interviewers what they bveliev ethe interviewers want to hear, to imaginately invent, and so on. This is particularly so in the ideologially-charged Cold War. A good contemporary example are the many "eye-witness" storeis by Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian refugees reaching Thailand that they have seen "American P.O.W's" in Vietnam.The League of Families, a conservative, pro-Reagan group representing families of american soldiers missing in action from the Vietnam War, investigates all such "sightings." To date every single one has turned out to be false! 25 Like south-East Asian refugees, anti-Communist Soviet migrs who depend on various fascist- nationalist groups and the US government have little incentive to produce objective accounts. Much of conquest's book, most of the sttements made in the film, and virtualy everything in Ukrainian exile literature, or articles like Mace's, are composed of this stuff.

Conquest and the rest also use a good deal of other fraudulent, antiCommunist "scholarship." As in his earlier (1968) work The Great Terror, this makes up the bulk of his book. Most of these "sources" are memoires. Many of them have been shown up as frauds by other anti-Communist scholars (a note on some of them is included at the end of this essay). Other are basically erroneous, often dishonest, "scholarship" like Mace, or Conquest's own work. One expert on the Soviet history of the 1930s has described Conquest's work this way: "For no other period or topic have historians been so eager to write and accept history-by- anecdote. Grand analytical generalizations have come from secondhand bits of overheard corridor gossip. Prison camp stories (`My friend met Bukharin's wife in a camp and she said...') have become primary sources on central political decision making. The need to generalize from isolated and unverified particulars has transformed rumors into sources and has equated repetition of storeis wiht confirmation. Indeed, the leading expert on the Great Purges [Conquest] has written that `truth can thus only percolate in the form of hearsay' and that `basically the best, thought not infallible, source is rumor.' "...Such statements would be astonishing in any other field of history. Of course, historians do not accept hearsay and rumor as evidence. Conquest goes on to say that the best way to check rumors is to compare them iwth one another. This procedure would be sound only if rumors were not repeated and if memoirists did not read each other's works." 26

Fight Anti-Communist Slanders!


Stripped of these sources and those of Ukrainian exile "researchers," very little remains of Conquest's "research." Like conquest's earlier book, The Great Terror, Harvest of Sorrow is an attempt to make the very idea of building a commujist society appear illegitimate. This book, together with the film reviewed in last week's article, will soon be used in high school and college courses. There will be public forums, "hearings," newspapers and television shows. These lies are very valuable to the capitalists in their fight against eh ideal of an egalitarian, communist society. We should attack and expose them wherever they appear.

Notes
1. David Leigh, "Death of the Department that Never Was," The Guardian (London, England), Jan. 27, 1978, p.13. Back 2. Film transcript, p. 8 ("Firing Line" Special Edition: "Harvest of Despair," Sept. 24, 1986. Southern Educational Communications Association, Box 5966, Columbia, SC 29250). Back

3. James Mace, "Famine and Nationalism in Soviet Ukraine," Problems of Communism (United States Information Agency), May-June 1984, pp. 37-49. Back 4. S.G. Wheatcroft, "Ukrainian Famine" (letter), Problems of Communism, March-April 1985, p. 133. Back 5. Barbara A. Anderson and Brian D. Silver, "Demographic analyis and Population Catastrophes in the USSR," Slavic Review, 44, No. 3 (1985), p. 528, Table 2. Back 6. Anderson and Silver, p. 527. Back 7. John T. Alexander, "Typhus in Russia," in Joseph L Wierczynski, ed., The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History, Vol. 40 (Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1986), p. 127. Back 7a. Malaria apparantly spread widely in the countryside because the mosquitoes that carry the diseae bit more people due to the reduction in livestock as a result of collectivization. Peasants who rebelled at being forced to join collective farms slaughtered their livestock for food or sale, rather than surrender them. Back 8. Anderson and Silver, p. 530. Back 9. Anderson and Silver, p. 532. Back 10. See note 4 above. Back 11. Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888- 1938 (New York: Vintage PB, 1973), p. 327 and elsewhere. Back 12. See the excellent article by Lynne Viola, "notes on the Background of Soviet Collectivization: Metal Worker Brigaes in the Countryside, Autumn 1929," Soviet Studies, 36, No. 2 (april, 1984), pp. 205-222. Back 13. Film transcript (see note 2 above), p. 27. Back 14. Marco Carynnyk, "The Famine the `Times' Couldn't find," Commentary, November 1983, pp. 37-9; Conquest, p. 320. Back 15. The Man-Made Famine in Ukraine, Robert Conquest, Dana Dalrumple, James Mace, Michael Novak (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1984), p. 34. Back 16. James W. Crowl, Angels in Stalin's Paradise: Western Reporters in Soviet Russia, 1917 to 1937, "A Case Study of Louis Fischer and Walter Duranty" (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1982), p.158. Back 17. Crowl, p. 161. Back 18. Man-Made Famine, P. 37. Back 19. See, for example, "The Great Famine in Ukraine: The Unknown Holocaust" (Jersey City, NJ: The Ukrainian Weekly, 1983), pp. 74-81. Back 20. Dana Dalrymple, "The Soviet Famine of 1932-1934," Soviet Studies, 15 (January, 1964) and 16 (April, 1965). Back 21. Quoted in J. Arch Getty, Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 211. Back 22. New York Times Book Review, October 26, 1986, p. 12. Back 23. See Conquest, p. 327 and p. 391, note 17 through 20. Back

23a. The Soviet source on "metropolitain Mstyslav" is Olexiy Kartunov, Yellow-Blue Anti-Semitism: A documental story about the anti-Semitic activity of the Ukrainian nationalists (1900-1980). Odessa: "Mayak", 1981, p. 65. The anti-Communist source is John A. Armstrong, Ukrainian Nationalism, 2nd edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), pp. 201; 203; 204-5. Back 24. Several Soviet sources refer to some famine in guarded ways, as do several Soviet works of fiction. Most or all of them were published between November 1961, when Khrushchev violently attacked Stalin at the 22nd Party Congress, and October 1964 (or shortly thereafter), when Khrushchev was tossed out by Kosygin, Brezhnev and others. Thus they are part of a general attack on Stalin tied to Khrushchev's own political aims. This does not mean that everything these sources say is necessarily false. But neither is it necessarily true. A number of the books published during this period, as well as Khrushchev's own memoires, have been shown to contain glaring falsehoods and inaccuracies. Back 25. Report Concerning Misinformation on the Issue of American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action in Southeast Asia, June, 1985, esp. 11. 17-20, published by the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, 1608 K Street, N.W., Washington DC 20006. [Note added March 1996: See now H. Bruce Franklin, M.I.A., or Mythmaking in America, Rutgers University Press, 1993, for a thorough refutation of the whole "POW/MIA" myth.] Back 26. Getty, p.5 and p. 222, note 12. Back. Back to first article of this series; or Forward to the next article of this six-part series.