The Kazakh Famine of the 1930s: another “Harvest of Sorrow”

Continuing the theme of this sad day, I will share a story I just learned about.

In this video from the Library of Congress, Sarah Cameron summarizes her forthcoming book: “The Hungry Steppe: Famine, Violence, and the Making of Soviet Kazakhstan“.

There are some similarities with the Holodomor (subject of Robert Conquest’s famous book, “The Harvest of Sorrow”) in that a forced collectivization campaign led to a massive man-made famine in a region that under normal circumstances was a major food exporter.  While you could say the Ukraine was the breadbasket of the USSR, Kazakhstan was its stockyard.

Unlike the Ukrainian peasants that fells victim to the dekulakization campaign, however, the Kazakhs were nomads, whose lifestyle was adapted to raising livestock in a vast territory of marginal land. Unlike in the case of the Ukraine SSR, a desire to stamp out Kazakh national identity and aspirations does not appear to have played a role as such. Furthermore, nomads did not fit any class category in “scientific” Marxism — but eventually the know-it-all social engineers in Moscow decided that the “backward” nation needed to be modernized, the nomads forcibly settled, and animal husbandry brought more in line with “modern” practices.

The result was disastrous — the number of cattle fell by 90%, and deaths from starvation were actually a higher percentage of ethnic Kazakhs than had been reached even in the Ukraine (where absolute numbers were of course larger). Combined with the flight of about another million Kazakhs to neighboring Soviet republics or to China, this actually made ethnic Kazakhs a minority in Kazakhstan until 1999.

Eventually, the Soviets were forced to backtrack. Their satrap in Kazakhstan, erstwhile co-executioner of the Tsar and his family Filipp Goloshchekin, was made a scapegoat and dismissed, but his protégé (and alleged former lover) Nikolai Yezhov — head of the NKVD during the Great Purges, which are known in Russian as the “Yezhovshchina” to this day — ensured he stayed unharmed. Only after Yezhov’s downfall and execution did Goloshchekin’s turn come: he was eventually executed by firing squad at Kuibyshev (Soviet-era name of Samara) as part of a group of “especially dangerous prisoners”.

During the Q&A, Dr. Cameron was, of course, asked why this episode is barely known in the West, while there is at least some awareness (not enough) of the Holodomor. She attributes this to the large Ukrainian diaspora in the West vs. the barely existent Kazakh one, as well as to the fact that Kazakh nomadic culture prizes oral history over the written word and stone memorials. (Dr. Cameron recounts that, when she asked where a monument to the victims had been built, she was told “in Almaty” [the former capital] and spent days touring the city, only to find a sign indicating a such a monument would be built there in the future.) The language barrier presumably plays a role too: Russian speakers can generally read Ukrainian (the two languages are closer than Dutch and German), but the Turkic Kazakh language is another matter.

(Kazakhstan itself, meanwhile, has been transformed radically, with the discovery and exploitation of vast natural resources (including but not limited to both oil and uranium). Since the 2000s, the country has seen very rapid economic growth, slowed down recently by a dip in world oil prices.)

As great and appalling as I knew the body count of communism to be, the story of the Kazakh man-made famine was new to me. There is scholarly discussion about whether it constitutes a genocide (which implies intent to decimate or eliminate an ethnic group) or a democide (a mass killing of genocidal proportions with motivated other than ethnicity). But for the victims and their kin, it would be cold comfort that they died as the results of a colossal deadly foul-up rather than deliberate intent. Whether they died from premeditated murder or from “Depraved indifference to human life”, if you like.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!

 

 

3 thoughts on “The Kazakh Famine of the 1930s: another “Harvest of Sorrow”

  1. If Doctor Cameron’s no doubt extensive researches had bothered to include Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Gulag Archipelago’, she’d have had a forty-year head start on this project, for this disaster is addressed therein.

    • It’s also addressed, but not in such detail and at such length, in Robert Conquest’s “The Harvest of Sorrow”, which is mostly about the Holodomor. I’m sure the book will pay tribute to TGA

  2. […] The Kazakh Famine of the 1930s: another “Harvest of Sorrow” There are some similarities with the Holodomor (subject of Robert Conquest’s famous book, “The Harvest of Sorrow”) in that a forced collectivization campaign led to a massive man-made famine in a region that under normal circumstances was a major food exporter. While you could say the Ukraine was the bread basket of the USSR, Kazakhstan was its stockyard. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s