“The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”
(Attributed to Stalin)
Before moving onto other aspects of Stalin’s regime between 1927/8 and 1953, it is worth raising a historical debate that has taken place regarding Stalin. The debate rages over just how many people in the Soviet Union died under the government led by Stalin. This question is of great significance especially to those citizens of the modern Ukraine who lived through the famines of the Collectivization era.
Certainly it is undisputed that, during the period of Collectivisation, “the Russian country-side degenerated into something akin to civil war” (C. Condon, (1991) The Making of the Modern World, p.244).
Certainly Stalin’s government was responsible for events that led to violence and loss of life: The Soviets ordered the confiscation of kulak homes and possessions. The kulaks, in turn, often responded by burning their homes and slaughtering their livestock rather than hand them over to the state. There is a huge mass of historical material to demonstrate that police, secret police and even the army were sent into the countryside in order to impose Stalin’s laws. In this time many peasant families were arrested, deported to Siberia, while people were indiscriminately shot and unco-operative villages burnt to the ground. Further, the process of Collectivisation led to famine in the USSR. But what exactly was the death toll? It is difficult to know given the nature of the totalitarian regime.
According to the Twentieth Century Atlas – Death Tolls the following sometimes contradictory estimates of deaths due to famine have been made by numerous sources:
- 3,333,000 total non-deliberate famine deaths in the USSR (estimate by Rummel).
- 3,100,000 – 3,200,000 in just the Ukraine in 1933 alone (estimate by Nove)
- 4,400,000 in just the Ukraine between 1927-38 (estimate by Maksudov)
- Total: 5,000,000 – 7000,000M in just the Ukraine (estimate by Mace)
- 3,350,000 in USSR, 1933 (estimate by Osokin)
- Total in USSR in 1932-33 alone: 4,000,000 – 5,000,000 in USSR (estimate by Wheatcraft)
- Total in USSR in 1926-37 alone: 11,000,000 (estimate by Conquest)
It is important to note, that these figures do not include estimates of deliberate deaths by the regime during the famine / collectivisation era. Those deaths are often included in statistics related to the 5 Year Plans and the Great Terror. That said, Heidenrich is cited as identifying an additional 7,000,000 deliberate “kulak” deaths during this era.
To put this in context, another author, Rummel, is cited as claiming that, in addition to deaths by famine, during the entire Stalin period, the Soviet government was responsible for the deliberate deaths of 51,755,000 people. This is perhaps a “high estimate”. Most writers seem to suggest that the total was more like 20,000,000.