Soviet famine of 1932–33

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Famine in USSR, 1933. Areas of most disastrous famine marked with black. A – grain-consuming regions, B – grain-producing regions. C – former land of Don, Kuban and Terek cossacks, C1 – former land of Ural and Orenburg cossacks. 1. Kola Peninsula, 2. Northern region, 3. Karelia, 4. Komi, 5. Leningrad Oblast, 6. Ivanovo Oblast, 7. Moscow Oblast, 8. Nizhny Novgorod region, 9. Western Oblast, 10. Byelorussia, 11. Central Black Earth Region, 12. Ukraine, 13. Central Volga region, 14. Tataria, 15. Bashkiria, 16. Ural region, 17. Lower Volga region, 18. North Caucasus Krai, 19. Georgia, 20. Azerbaijan, 21. Armenia.[citation needed][unreliable source?]

The Soviet famine of 1932–33 affected the major grain-producing areas of the Soviet Union, leading to the deaths of millions in those areas and severe food insecurity throughout the USSR. These areas included Ukraine, Northern Caucasus, Volga Region and Kazakhstan,[1] the South Urals, and West Siberia.[2][3] The subset of the famine within the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic is called Holodomor or "Execution by Hunger."

Unlike the 1921-1922 famine in the Russian SFSR, information about the famine of 1932–33 was suppressed by the Soviet authorities until perestroika and Glasnost, the political and economic reforms which eventually ended the Soviet Union in 1991.[citation needed]


The government's forced collectivization of agriculture is considered by some a main reason for the famine,[4] as it caused chaos in the countryside. This included the destruction of peasant activists' possessions, the selling and killing of horses for fear they would be seized, and farmers' refraining from field work. Authorities blamed the agitation on the kulaks (rich peasants) and kolkhozs (collectivized farmers), and accused them of sabotage. The authorities wrongly expected that production would increase as a result of agricultural collectivization, because of plans for exporting agricultural products based on attempts to industrialize.

Mark B. Tauger suggests that the famine was caused by a combination of factors, specifically low harvest due to natural disasters combined with increased demand for food caused by the collectivization, industrialization and urbanization, and grain exports by the Soviet Union at the same time.[5] Similar view was presented by Stephen Wheatcroft, who has given more weight to the "ill-conceived policies" of Soviet government and highlighted that while the policy was not targeted at Ukraine specifically, it was Ukraine who suffered most for "demographic reasons".[6]

Central authorities maintained that the collapse was caused by peasants' hiding their grain crops, despite repeated requests from local authorities that their quota be decreased. As a consequence, local activists led searches for hidden stores of grain; this caused seizure of seed corn that should have been used for sowing the next year's crop and the loss of the stocks needed to feed peasant families.

The Law of Spikelets

For those who stayed in the countryside, often the only place where any food could be found was on collective farms, but the peasants were forbidden to eat their own crops. The "Decree About the Protection of Socialist Property" – nicknamed by the farmers the Law of Spikelets – was enacted on August 7, 1932. Under the Decree, political police and party officials were allowed to confiscate unlimited amounts of grain from peasant households. Thus, taking food – even a handful of rotting grain or produce – was considered theft of "socialist property."


Farmers were dying or fleeing to the cities, where food could be bought in special state-run hard-currency stores, called torgsins, for currency, gold, silver, or other valuables. For example, two torgsins in the city of Kharkiv accepted 374 kg of gold worth 294,000 rubles from January to February 1932. By January 1932 there were torgsins in eight Ukrainian cities, by May 1932 there were 26, and in autumn 1932, there were 50 in 36 cities. At the peak of the famine in 1933, the number of torgsins reached 263.


Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933

There was a wave of migration due to starvation, although authorities responded by introducing a requirement that passports be used to go between republics, and banning travel by rail.

Internal passports (identity cards) were introduced on 27 December 1932 by Soviet authorities to deal with the mass exodus of peasants from the countryside. Individuals not having such a document could not leave their homes on pain of administrative penalties, such as internment in a Gulag (Soviet work and reeducation camps). The rural population had no right to passports and thus could not leave their villages without approval. The power to issue passports rested with the head of the kolkhoz, and identity documents were kept by the administration of the collective farms. This measure stayed in place until 1974.

The lack of passports could not completely stop peasants' leaving the countryside, but only a small percentage of those who illegally infiltrated into cities could improve their lot. Unable to find work or possibly buy or beg a little bread, farmers died in the streets of Kharkiv, Kiev, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Vinnytsia, and other major cities of Ukraine.


The famine of 1932–1933 was officially denied, so any discourse on this issue was classified as criminal "anti-Soviet propaganda" until Perestroika. The results of the 1937 census were classified as they revealed the demographic losses attributable to the Great Famine.

The government used disinformation measures against Western journalists; many contemporary correspondents in the Soviet Union are now accused of deliberate concealment of facts, being referred to as "useful idiots." The most infamous of the Great Famine deniers was Walter Duranty, a New York Times journalist whose articles downplayed the famine and its death toll.[7] A similar position was taken by the French Prime Minister Edouard Herriot, who toured the territory of Ukraine during his stay in the Soviet Union. However, other Western journalists did report on the famine at the time, including Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones who criticised Duranty's account and was banned from returning to the Soviet Union.[8]

The cube at the site for future monument for victims of the Soviet famine (1931-1933) in the center of Almaty, Kazakhstan

Estimation of the loss of life

  • The 2004 book The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931–33 by R.W. Davies and S.G. Wheatcroft, gives an estimate of 5.5 to 6.5 million deaths.[9]
  • The Black Book of Communism estimates 6 million deaths in 1932–33.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica estimates that 6 to 8 million people died from hunger in the Soviet Union during this period, of whom 4 to 5 million were Ukrainians.[10]
  • Robert Conquest estimated at least 7 million peasants' deaths from hunger in the European part of the Soviet Union in 1932–33 (5 million in Ukraine, 1 million in the North Caucasus, and 1 million elsewhere), and an additional 1 million deaths from hunger as a result of collectivization in Kazakhstan.[11]
  • Another study, by Michael Ellman using data given by Davies and Wheatcroft, estimates "‘about eight and a half million’ victims of famine and repression", combined, in the period 1930–33.[12]
  • In his 2010 book Stalin's Genocides, Norman Naimark estimates that 3 to 5 million Ukrainians died in the famine.[13]

See also


  1. Engerman, David. Modernization from the Other Shore (Google Books).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Famine on the South Siberia". Human Science. RU: NSC. p. 15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Demographic aftermath of the famine in Kazakhstan". Weekly. RU: Demoscope. Jan 1, 2003.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Ukrainian Famine". Soviet exhibit. Ibiblio public library and digital archive. Retrieved 2011-04-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Mark B. Tauger. "Natural Disaster and Human Actions in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-01-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "The Soviet Famine of 1931-33: Politically Motivated or Ecological Disaster?". Retrieved 2015-05-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Lyons, Eugene, Assignment in Utopia (Google Books)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  8. Shipton, Martin (June 20, 2013). "Welsh journalist hailed one of greatest 'eyewitnesses of truth' for exposing '30s Soviet famine". Wales Online.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Davies & Wheatcroft 2004, p. 401.
  10. "Ukraine – The famine of 1932–33". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2008-06-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Conquest, Robert (1986), The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, Oxford University Press, p. 306, ISBN 0-19-505180-7<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  12. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  13. Naimark, Norman M (2010), Stalin's Genocides (Human Rights and Crimes against Humanity), Princeton University Press, p. 131, ISBN 0-691-14784-1<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.


  • Davies, RW; Wheatcroft, SG (2004), The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931–33<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>; Harrison, Davies, Wheatcroft 2004 (PDF) (review), UK: Warwick<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value)..
  • Finn, Peter (April 27, 2008), "Aftermath of a Soviet Famine", The Washington Post<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value)..
  • Luciuk, Lubomyr Y, ed, Holodomor: Reflections on the Great Famine in Soviet Ukraine, Kingston, Kashtan Press, 2008
  • Markoff, A (1933), Famine in USSR<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Thorson, Carla (May 5, 2003), The Soviet Famine of 1931–33: Politically Motivated or Ecological Disaster?, UCLA International Institute<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Wheatcroft, SG (April 1990), "More light on the scale of repression and excess mortality in the Soviet Union in the 1930s" (PDF), Soviet Studies, Tripod<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Kondrashin, Viktor, ed. (2009), Famine in the Soviet Union 1929–1934 (PDF) (slide stack), Katz, Nikita B transl. docs.; Dolgova, Alexandra transl. note from compilers; Glizchinskaya, Natalia design, RU: Russian Archives<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.