Ukrainians are commemorating the 90th anniversary of the 1932-33 Holodomor, which literally means killing by hunger. Millions starved to death across the Soviet Union as the counterrevolutionary Stalinist regime in Moscow imposed forced collectivization on the peasantry, measures carried out with special brutality in Ukraine.
Ukrainians, Jews, Tatars and other ethnic minorities across Central Asia and the Caucasus region had long been oppressed under czarism. They couldn’t use their native language, practice their religion or control their cultural, economic and political affairs.
With the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, self-determination for all the oppressed nationalities, who had revolted against czarist tyranny, was championed by V.I. Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Ukrainian workers and farmers were among those who formed their own voluntary Soviet Socialist Republic, expanding use of their language, history and culture.
After Lenin’s death, Joseph Stalin consolidated a political counterrevolution against this communist course, driving working people out of politics and imposing Moscow’s control, crushing Ukrainians’ national aspirations. The Stalinist regime executed thousands of writers and officials who Lenin had led to advance the “Ukrainization” of Ukraine.
In 1929 Stalin launched forced collectivization of the countryside. This shattered the working-class alliance with the peasants, the backbone of the revolution, and devastated agriculture.
The brutality of these measures against the peasants was severest in Ukraine, as Moscow was determined to crush the Ukrainian people’s aspirations for self-determination. Some 3.5 million starved to death there.
To meet Moscow’s impossible quotas for grain requisitions, peasants were robbed of their harvests, leaving nothing to sell or even eat. Backed by the death penalty, this produced famine across the Soviet Union.
Leon Trotsky, who led the fight to continue Lenin’s political course, said in 1939 that a source of the “irreconcilable hostility of the Ukrainian masses” to the Soviet bureaucracy was “the suppression of Ukrainian independence.”