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  • Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum
  • Alan Whitehorn
Anne Applebaum, Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, New York: Penguin/Random House, 2017. Pp. 461, cloth, $35.00 US.

Anne Applebaum is a prominent American journalist and author of several books on Russia and Eastern Europe. Among her related books are Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe (1994), the Pulitzer prize-winning Gulag: A History (2003), and Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944–1956 (2012). Her latest book, Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, is an important addition to her impressive array of volumes.

The title of Applebaum's book is at times reminiscent of Maurice Hindus's Red Bread: Collectivization in a Russian Village (1931), an early account and partial witness to some of the suffering of Ukrainian peasants in the name of promised revolutionary progress. Applebaum's Red Famine's central focus is on the Holodomor—the planned Stalinist state-directed extermination of Ukrainians by hunger in the early 1930s. The famine combined with the mass purges and exile of vast numbers to the gulag camps culminated in the death of about four million Ukrainians. According to R. J. Rummel, as noted in his book Death by Government, the Soviet Union perpetrated one of the largest mass atrocity crimes (what he labeled "democide") of the twentieth century. Yet, ironically the Holodomor is a topic that has been studied too little, too late, or often left out altogether. It was certainly denied at the time by the Soviet Kremlin perpetrators and is still denied by a great many Russians today, including the current Russian president Vladimir Putin. For some, events in Ukraine were simply subsumed as part of the more general heading of pan-Soviet purges in Russian history.

Today with an independent Ukraine, there is growing interest in and support for research on the topic of the Ukrainian famine genocide. Anne Applebaum's book builds upon the pioneering works of Harvard University's Ukraine Famine Project with Robert Conquest's The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine (1986) and James Mace's "The Man-Made Famine of 1933 in Soviet Ukraine" in Roman Serbyn and Bohdan Krawchenko eds., Famine in Ukraine, 1932–1933 (1986) and his "Genocide in the U.S.S.R." in Israel Charny, ed., Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review (1988), all published more than three decades ago. There is now more freedom to discuss the topic of the Holodomor, greater access to government archives, and a renewed political will, particularly in Ukraine, to explore the difficult and deadly years of the 1930s. More recent academic volumes include Lubomyr Luciuk, ed., Holodomor: Reflections on the Great Famine of 1932–1933 in Soviet Ukraine (2008); Norman Naimark, Stalin's Genocides (2010); and Andrij Makuch and Frank Sysyn, eds., Contextualizing the Holodomor: The Impact of Thirty Years of Ukrainian Famine Studies (2015).

Historically, there has often been a challenge in comparative genocide studies as to where to include the communist genocides, such as those which occurred in Stalin's Soviet Union, Mao's China, and Pol Pot's Kampuchea/Cambodia. How well do these cases fit the formal definition and analytical features of genocide? For example, were those state-directed mass atrocities primarily driven by targeting a certain class or [End Page 120] ethnic/national group or both? Critical gaps exist, in significant part, because the United Nations definition of genocide only lists the following groups to be protected as "national, ethnical, racial or religious," but does not include other social groups, such as the political category of "class." Many have suggested it should. The Holodomor, as outlined in Applebaum's book, provides another example of why.

According to Applebaum, the Holodomor was an ideologically-driven political man-made famine by the totalitarian despot Josef Stalin. It was part of an all-out class war marked by the birth of the first five year plan (1928–1932) which signaled the acceleration of the forced collectivization of agriculture (1929/1930) and demanded that the countryside generate significant funds for the rapid industrialization of Soviet cities. In terms of Marxist-Leninist ideology, it involved the...


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