Motives for the crime of genocide
The Convention on Genocide does not demand proof of the perpetrator’s motives. At the same time, establishing the motives for why a crime was committed can help determine the criminal intent of the perpetrator of a crime.
The key to understanding the motives for creating an artificial Holodomor can be found in a letter from Stalin to Kaganovich from 11 August 1932. We quote the relevant extract.
: […] 3) The most important thing now is Ukraine. The current situation in Ukraine is terribly bad. It’s bad in the Party. They say that, in two regions in Ukraine (Kiev and Dnipropetrovsk, I think) around fifty district committees have spoken out against the grain requisition quota, calling it unrealistic. Things are no better, so they say, in the other district committees. What is this? It’s not a party, but a parliament, and a caricature of a parliament. Instead of managing the districts, Kosior has been manoeuvring between the directives of the Party Central Committee and the demands of the district committees: Now look where he’s ended up. Lenin was right that a person who doesn’t have the courage to go against the tide at the necessary time can’t be a real Bolshevism leader. Things are bad with the soviets. Chubar is no leader. And it’s bad with the GPU. Redens isn’t up to being in charge of the fight against counter-revolution in a republic as large and specific as Ukraine. If we don’t immediately set to straightening out the situation in Ukraine, we could lose Ukraine. Remember that Pilsudski never rests, his espionage capabilities in Ukraine are far stronger than Redens and Kosior realize. And remember too that, in the Ukrainian Communist Party (500 000 members, ha ha !), there are not just a few (no, not a few!) rotten types, conscious and unconscious ‘petliurites’, and also direct agents of Pilsudski. As soon as things get worse, these elements will lose no time in opening up a front within (and outside) the Party, against the Party. The worst thing is that the Ukrainian leaders don’t see these dangers
It can’t continue like this.
a) to take Kosior away from Ukraine and for you to replace him, while remaining secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party;
b) after this transfer Balytsky to Ukraine for the post of head of the Ukrainian GPU (or the Authorized Representative of the GPU in Ukraine, since there isn’t, I don’t think, the post of head of the GPU of Ukraine), while keeping his position as deputy head of the SGPU, and make Redens Balytsky’s deputy for Ukraine;
c) in several months after this replace Chubar with another comrade, say, Hrynko or somebody else, and make Chubar Molotov’s deputy in Moscow (Kosior can be made one of the secretaries of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party;
d) Set ourselves the task of turning Ukraine as soon as possible into a real fortress of the USSR, into a truly exemplary republic. No money should be spared on this.
Without this and similar measures (economic and political consolidation of Ukraine, in the first instance its border raions, and so forth), I repeat, we could lose Ukraine.
The economic and social crisis which gripped the USSR at the beginning of 1932 threatened the Soviet regime. Famine caused by the campaign against kulaks, forced collectivization, bad organization of the kolkhozes, their poverty, the merciless and never-ending confiscation of grain for export so as to pay back foreign debt, resistance from the peasants who didn’t want to recognize the “new serfdom” and work without pay, problems with industrialization, all of these things aroused doubts in the Party and in the correctness of the chosen path, concealed, or sometimes open opposition. An economic crisis could become political.
Some Russian government officials – O. Smirnov, V. Tolmachov, M. Eismont – expressed the view that Stalin was responsible for the failure of grain requisitions, and blamed him. On 27 November 1932 Stalin called a joint session of the Politburo and the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party at which he spoke out against Smirnov’s group. He said that anti-Soviet elements had penetrated kolkhozes and sovkhozes in order to organize sabotage and destructive measures, and that a significant percentage of rural communists had the wrong attitude to kolkhozes and sovkhozes. Stalin called for the use of coercion to eradicate sabotage and anti-Soviet phenomena, and stressed: “It would be unwise if communists, , working on the premise that the kolkozes are a socialist form of management, did not respond to the blow inflicted by these particular kolkhoz workers or kolkhozes with a devastating blow”..
The greatest threat to Stalin’s power was in his view Ukraine. He was clearly disturbed by the resistance of the Ukrainian Politburo to the passing of a grain requisition quota and the adoption of the “5 ears of wheat law” (see Items 15, 16 and 17). Stalin was afraid of a union between “petlurites” and Pilsudski, and suspected Ukrainian communists of having connections with the Poles. It is typical that having written “The most important thing now is Ukraine”, he put the words “most important thing” in italics. Stalin was most afraid of losing Ukraine which over the period of Ukrainization had developed its own nationally oriented communist –Soviet elite (Ukrainians made up the absolute majority of the members of the Ukrainian Communist Party) and was trying to get the territories of adjoining regions of Russia and Byelorussia where there was a majority Ukrainian population, for example, Kuban joined to Ukraine. This elite was carrying out an active policy of Ukrainization there, and could generally in the conditions of crisis exercise its rights and declare its withdrawal from the USSR.
The policy of Ukrainization by the end of the 1920s had gone well beyond the boundaries set by the Bolsheviks. Ukrainian national consciousness had by that stage taken on proportions which placed the united structure of the USSR in jeopardy. Ukraine was endeavouring to carry out autonomous policy, including with regard to international relations. One of the leaders of the CC CPU, Volodymyr Zatonsky, asserted that the first aim of Ukrainization was the consolidation of the Ukrainian SSR as a State organization within the framework of a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Such a course of events could not suit Stalin and his henchmen. If the process in Ukraine continued in the same direction, this would significantly influence all processes in the USSR, since Ukraine at that time was a single national and State unit which could stand up to pressure from the Kremlin. For these reasons Stalin went out for direct war against Ukrainian peasants as the social resistance to the State organism. He decided to pay the villages a preventive devastating blow so as to eliminate the threat to his regime. As James Mace very accurately expressed it back in 1982: “Stalin wanted to destroy the Ukrainian people as a political factor and as a social organism. This was the motive of the crime.
Kuban was the second after Ukraine and single region of the USSR where more than two thirds of the population were ethnic Ukrainians. .Of all regions with a dense Ukrainian population, it was the one most under the influence of Ukraine. Kuban was also a centre for Cossacks who were no less favourite targets for Stalin than Ukrainians and were constantly subjected to repression by the Soviet regime. Furthermore, like in Ukraine, there was great resistance to collectivization. It was thus no chance that Stalin considered the Kuban Cossacks to be a source of danger for his power.
The definitive element for a crime being classified as genocide according to the Convention is that there was direct intent to eliminate the members of a particular group by virtue of their being part of the group. The actions set down in the provisions of Article II of the Convention clearly demand the presence of certain subject factors, including intent, to make the crime that of genocide: “the actions indicated in Article II must have been committed with intent to eliminate [the defended] group totally or a part of it”.
Did Stalin have the intention to organize an artificial famine? Scholars are divided in their answer to this question. One group of researchers believes that the mass famine was begun deliberately, organized from back in 1930 in order to reduce the vital capacity of the Ukrainian people, turning them into slaves who would meekly work in kolkhozes and not make any encroachments against the Soviet regime. Another group considers that Stalin’s policy was criminal however explains the famine as being caused by a complex political situation, the wish to modernize the economy, and payment of interest on foreign loans. This group denies direct intent to organize an artificial famine and does not agree with the classification of Holodomor 1932-1933 as an act of genocide.
In our view it is not possible to say definitely whether Stalin had a plan in advance for eliminating a part of the Ukrainian peasants by organizing an artificial famine. Here it is useful to apply the approach taken by researcher into famine in the USSR Andrea Graziosi who made a summary of different explanations given for the cause of Holodomor.. He asserts that the famine in the third quarter of 1932 had the same causes as the famine in the first half of 1931 – non-fulfilment of an excessive grain requisition quota. While in October 1932 Stalin took the decision to use famine to destroy the peasants of Ukraine and Kuban who provided the greatest resistance to the “new serfdom”. For example, all the actions of the Communist Party leadership of the USSR beginning from October 1932 suggest direct intent to organize Holodomor and political repression against those who obstructed these plans.
On 22 October 1932 Stalin gave the Molotov and Kaganovich Commissions special powers with regard to Ukraine and Kuban in order to meet the grain requisition quota. The decisions adopted by Party and Soviet bodies at the initiative of these commissions (Items 16-22, 43-47) show the intent to deprive the peasants of the grain distributed to them as remuneration for work done, and to confiscate other food (meat, potatoes) by means of blanket searches and fines in kind. Harsh punishments were introduced for peasants and local functionaries (“saboteurs” with Party tickets in their pocket”) who distributed grain to starving peasants for their labour. Hundreds of them were executed and thousands arrested and convicted (Item 28).
Indication of the intention to destroy the Ukrainian “opposition” and place responsibility on it for deliberately organizing famine can be found as well in the plans of OGPU and their implementation. At the end of November 1932, Stalin sent Vsevolod Balytsky from OGPU with special powers to Ukraine. His task, set out in "Operational Order of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR No. 1” which spoke of “organized sabotage of the grain requisitions and autumn sowing; organized mass-scale thefts in kolkhozes and sovkhozes; terror against the most steadfast and consistent communists and activists in the village; the deploying of dozens of petlurite emissaries; the distribution of petlurite leaflets” in Ukraine. From this it drew conclusions regarding “the undoubted existence in Ukraine of an organized counter-revolutionary, insurgent underground which has links abroad and with foreign intelligence services, mainly, the Polish military headquarters”. The order ended by setting out the task: “the basic and main task is an urgent breakthrough, uncovering and crushing the counterrevolutionary insurgent underground and inflicting a decisive blow against all counterrevolutionary kulak-petlurite elements which are actively opposing and sabotaging the main measures of the Soviet regime and Party in the villages.”. In Operational Order No. 2 from 13 February 1933 of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR, Balytsky was already summing up the implementation of Stalin’s Order: operational activist group No. 2 “has uncovered a counter-revolutionary, insurgent underground in Ukraine which covered up to 200 raions, around 30 railway stations and depots, a number of points on the border zone. In the process of liquidating it, its link was established with foreign Ukrainian nationalist centres (UNR, “UVO”, UNDO) and the Polish Military Headquarters. This meant that OGPU was provided with a ready strategy for uncovering artificially organized counter-terrorist organizations.
Stalin’s awareness that “the national issue is in essence a peasant issue”,prompted him to solve both the national and the peasant problems together. A plan was set in motion for destroying the national political elite, the representatives of which were accused of being in conspiracy with peasant saboteurs (see Stalin’s letter to Kaganovich from 11 August 1932). On 14 and 15 December 1932, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party passed two secret resolutions (Items25, 26, 47, 48), which brought in special national policy with regard to Ukrainians (it did not apply to other ethnic groups). According to these resolutions, responsibility for the food crisis was placed not only on the peasants, but also on the Ukrainian political elite.
On 20 December 1932, at Kaganovich’s suggestion, the Politburo of the CC CPU, passed a decision to seek an increase in supplies of grain for which on 29 December an order was issued to hand over all kolkhoz funds, including the seed fund (Item 27). None of this can be described as anything else but as deliberately depriving the peasants of their last reserves of grain they owned.
On 1 January 1933 a telegram was sent from the “leader, teacher and friend of all peasants” (Item 29). It was made up of two points, the first being that those who voluntarily handed over to the State “previously stolen and hidden grain” would not face repression. The second point stated that those who continued to hide it would face the harshest forms of punishment. All grain which was not recorded had to be handed over. If they didn’t hand it over there would be a search. If they found grain, the punishment was the death penalty or 10 years imprisonment. If they didn’t find it, they would take away, as a fine, other foodstuffs. Stalin’s telegram resulted in the merging of searches and fines in kind. Furthermore, Stalin had been informed about the results of previous searches (Item 27) and knew that there was no grain in the villages, and that the requisition quota could not be met. This was his “devastating blow”, which demonstrates the intention to remove food from the peasants in order to organize famine.
A Directive from Sovnarkom and the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party from 22 January 1933 prohibited the exodus of starving peasants to other regions in search of food. This must also be viewed as deliberate acts aimed at depriving the starving of their last options for finding food for their families.
The political repressions of 1933 (Items 39, 40 and 41) in their turn demonstrate the intention to destroy the political and intellectual elite of the republic.
The intention to destroy the peasants through starvation was reflected in the words of the Second Secretary of the CC CPU Mendel Khatayevych from 1933: “A fierce struggle is waging between the peasants and our regime. This is a fight to the death. This year has become the test of our strength and their resilience. The famine has proved to them who is boss. It cost millions of lives however the kolkhoz system will last forever. We’ve won the war!”
The Perpetrator of the crime
The main organizer and ideologue of the genocide was Joseph Stalin himself. Three of his hendhmen – Lazar Kaganovich, Viacheslav Molotov and Pavlo Postyshev – were the direct organizers of Holodomor in Ukraine and in Kuban. It was carried out also by the Party – State apparatus of the All-Soviet Communist Party (Bolshevik) Party, the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine and the North Caucuses Territory Committee of the All-Soviet Communist Party (Bolshevik) Party (Stanislav Kosior, Vlas Chubar, Mendel Khatayevych, Boris Sheboldaev, Anastas Mikoyan) and the repressive-punitive bodies of the OGPU and GPU of the UkrSSR (Vsevolod Balytsky, Henrikh Yagoda, Stanislav Pedens) and the courts.
Thousands of local activists, members of committees of poorly-off peasants directly implemented Party-State decisions regarding searches and confiscation of grain and other food.
As follows from the conclusion of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda of 1998 – “the offender is considered guilty since he knew or should have known that the acts he committed would destroy in part or totally the group”. – Stalin and his henchmen should be considered guilty of genocide. They knew of the size of the harvest, knew and understood the consequences of confiscating food and preventing peasants from leaving regions gripped by famine.