... Regarding your comment about my essay: your argument of the periodic famines in the Russian countryside is very strong and persuasive! As for the collectivization of the agriculture, I agree with you that it was the precondition for victory in WW2. (I have expressed this opinion in my Stalin-book). But I cannot define as a triumph a terrible civil war, that implied the disappearing of every rule of law and made the very large, arbitrary killing by Ezov possible. Only in this sense I speak of «horror» (as you have written, Stalin himself spoke of a «fearful» period). Sometimes history is tragic: in its last stage the struggle of Toussaint Louverture was a racial war and in this sense was horrible, but at the same time this struggle was a great step to emancipation of the black people and of the mankind.
Best, Domenico Losurdo
Dear Professor Losurdo:
Here are my thoughts on your exchange with Nicolas Werth.
I’ll begin with Werth. He is an inveterant anticommunist. I have caught him in one or two blatant lies, though not in this exchange with you.In my opinion, Werth’s intervention here rests on some misconceptions, no doubt deliberate ones:
* Werth refers to “the archives”, and especially to the 7-volume series on the “Tragedy of the Soviet Countryside”, as though their existence resolved anything. It doesn’t.
I have possessed a copy of this 7-volume work since it was published. It is a useful compilation of primary documents. But documents, in themselves, prove nothing, and the same is true of this collection.
* Werth refers repeatedly to “the peasants.” There was no such group. The Russian (and Ukrainian, etc.) peasantry was sharply differentiated. For example, a huge number had no land at all. Another large number had very small parcels of land. They were called “batraki” (the landless) and “bedniaki” (the poor, either landless or with very little land).
These peasants lost nothing by entering kolkhozes or sovkhozes. So the notion that collectivization was a “war against the peasantry” is a smokescreen.
* Collectivization did not cause the famine of 1932-33. That was caused by bad weather conditions. Both Davies and Wheatcroft and Mark Tauger – the greatest scholars in the West on this subject – agree here. Tauger believes that Davies and Wheatcroft exaggerate the extent to which collectivization was one of several primary causes, and attributes the famine primarily to bad weather.
* Collectiviation was a great success in that it stopped the periodic famines that had plagued Russia (including Ukraine) every 3-4 years for a millennium. The famine of 1932-33 was the very last such famine – except for that of 1946-47. Wheatcroft has recently argued that this was caused by catastrophic weather conditions and not by Soviet government mismanagement.
Viewed in this light, collectivization in the USSR was one of the greatest feats of social reform of the 20th century, alongside the industrialization of the USSR. It saved millions of lives that would have been lost in future famines, which would have continued to recur with regularity.
Of course, it also enabled industrialization and victory in WW2. That was no small accomplishment. But even setting this aside, collectivization stopped the endless cycle of famines, saving millions.
In addition, one must say this: those whom the famine of 1932-33 killed were from all classes of the peasantry, the rich as well as the poor. In previous famines, rich peasants had thrived, merchants had hoarded grain for higher prices, and only the poor had starved. This, no doubt, is one of the reasons collectivization is so hated by Werth and reactionaries generally: it removed the privilege of the rich and protected the poor.
Bukharin’s plan could not possibly have permitted industrialization, and therefore would have meant that the Nazis would have won the war. In addition, the capitalist elements in the countryside were growing rapidly under the NEP. This would have continued.Incidentally, Trotsky’s plan was the same as Bukharin’s here.
* Werth refers to the “massive importation of American grain” in the ‘70s and ‘80s. So what? Collectivization stopped periodic starvation, as it was supposed to do. See the famous quotation from Stalin, as he talked to Winston Churchill.
In a famous passage in his memoir of World War II, Hinge of Fate, Churchill quoted Stalin as saying:
“Ten million,” he said, holding up his hands. “It was fearful. Four years it lasted. It was absolutely necessary for Russia, if we were to avoid periodic famines, to plough the land with tractors.”
I quote this passage in a short article here:
Russia and the Ukraine are far more northerly than is the USA. The point is that, having industrialized, the USSR could pay for the importation of grain when necessary. Collectivization allowed for industrialization and stopped the cycle of famines.
* Werth is completely wrong about the “mass murders of 1937-1938.” These were not in the least a “prophylactic cleansing” – though this explanation is the one being promoted now by anticommunists generally.
I’ve done a lot of research on this and intend to write a book on it in the future. For now, see my article here:
"The Moscow Trials and the "Great Terror" of 1937-1938: What the Evidence Shows."–
Here I have included links to all the interrogations of Ezhov that have been made public, along with translations of them into English, as well as to some other interrogations. They are very enlightening.
In a recent volume of documents on 1937-1938 (in Russian) t Khaustov, an inveterate anticommunist, concedes that Stalin believed the reports Ezhov was sending him about bands of rebels and oppositionists. Arch Getty showed a decade ago that Ezhov murdered far more people than the Politburo ever contemplated. It was Ezhov, not Stalin and the PB, that set “quotas” for arrests and executions. Stalin and the PB had called for “limits.”
* The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact has been demonized by the anticommunists and crypto-Nazis in Eastern Europe, aided by their allies elsewhere. But they have it completely wrong.
+ Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia were colonial possessions of Poland, obtained by conquest from Soviet Russia in 1921 and then “settled” by Polish “settlers” (osadniki), largely former military officers, in order to “Polonize” them.
+ Ukrainians and Belorussians were a majority in these areas but Poland progressively took away their rights to use of their languages, to schooling in those languages, to government employment, and in general discriminated against them in many ways.
+ The large Jewish population of these areas was similarly subject to official discrimination.
+ Poland added to this imperialist conquest when it took the Teszczin area way from Czechoslovakia at the time of the Munich sell-out in 1938.
+ Finally (for now): The Soviets did not send in the Red Army until September 17, 1939, after the Germans had informed them that, in their view, Poland as a state no longer existed. This meant that Germany would not abide by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact division of spheres of influence. The Germans officially warned the Soviets that “new states” – i.e., a pro-Nazi Ukrainian Nationalist state – would arise in W. Ukraine and W. Belorussia if the Red Army did not come in.
+ The Germans were, in fact, correct – Poland as a state had ceased to exist when its government, along with its military leadership, interned itself in Rumania on September 17 1939.
I have a long article, with 17 or 18 web pages of evidence, on this question at
The article is the first link on the left. All the other pages are evidence.
Note that Winston Churchill agreed with the Soviet incursion into what had formerly been Eastern Poland.
The Germans almost seized Moscow and Leningrad as it was! If the USSR had not entered former Eastern Poland, the Wehrmacht would have started its invasion much closer to the Soviet heartland than it did and most likely captured Leningrad and Moscow.
To sum up:
* The “Danilov volumes” prove nothing, though they are useful as any collection of documents is useful;
* The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was not only salutary, but essential. Far from a crime or an “invasion”, the USSR acted as any state would have done in entering Western Poland to keep the Wehrmacht as far as possible from its pre-1939 borders.
* Collectivization was a success in ending the endless cycle of famines and in permitting industrialization.
* Collectivization did not cause the famine. No doubt the famine would have been less severe if it had not coincided with collectivization. But that was almost sure to happen anyway. The main thing is: This famine was the LAST famine.
* The “Terror” – really, the Ezhovshchina – of 1937-1938 was the result of Ezhov’s conspiracy, along with that of some of the First Secretaries. Of course it was horrible. But Stalin and the PB did not undertake it.
I should mention here that, in my Russian-only book (with my Moscow colleague Vladimir Bobrov) I have an essay in which I show that Bukharin knew about Ezhov’s conspiracy but did not mention it in his interrogations or at trial. If Bukharin, Rykov, et al. had done this, Ezhov could have been stopped and the mass murders either avoided or curtailed. Bukharin’s, and the Right’s, responsibility for Ezhov’s mass murders has not been pointed out elsewhere.
When you read the MS of my Kirov book you will note that we have much evidence that the conspiracies alleged in the three public Moscow Trials, plus the Tukhachevsky trial, did exist – they were not at all “fabrications” by Stalin or anyone else.
As for your own contribution, I must be honest: I find it to be excellent!
You have certainly made arguments that I have not encountered elsewhere, and certainly have not thought of myself.
I would like to translate it into English and circulate it – that is, if you agree.
Also, do you have a version in Italian? I would like to send it to some friends in Italy.
I like very much your response about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: “s’il y a course au
compromis avec Hitler, Stalinel’aperdue”. Imagine anyone objecting to the Soviets signing the M-R Pact in the face of Munich!
I would only add that the M-R Paact was not only defensible – it was essential, and quite probably saved the USSR, and thereby all of us, from defeat in the war.
That said, there are a few points where I would disagree with you somewhat. They all boil down to this: In my view, you cede too much to Werth, every single one of whose claims is false.
Trotsky, for example. All the evidence we now possess points to Trotsky’s having been guilty of all the charges made against him in the Moscow Trials. This includes a good deal of evidence from the Trotsky Archives at Harvard and at the Hoover Institution, as discovered by Pierre Broué, a famous Trotskyist.
I would disagree that collectivization was “La période la plus horrible estcelle de la collectivisation del’agriculture.” As I stated above, in my view it was a triumph.
Naturaly the Bolsheviks made many errors in carrying it out. They were the first; it had never been done. Pioneers always make errors; in fact it is impossible to be an innovator without making errors.
The Chinese and North Vietnamese learned from these errors, and carried out collectivization in different ways. The end result was, I think, fewer casualties. But they had the Soviet example to learn from.
For “most horrible” I’d vote for the Ezhovshchina – which, as I have argued above, Werth and all the other anticommunists falsify. Werth has absolutely no evidence that it was an attempt at “nettoyageprophylactique” – this is just verbiage. It was a disaster, of course, but a disaster for which Bukharin, so sacred to the anticommunists and to Khrushchev in his day, bears significant responsibility.
I do not agree that “the Stalin period” was a “horror”. I think you do not really agree either.
But of course it was tragic, in that errors were made that led to socialism being sidetracked, and then betrayed altogether. It led to Khrushchev – and Khrushchev and his ilk were nourished during the Stalin period. Therefore, obviously, reactionary developments were taking place. We need to study to discover what they were.
But in sum, I think your essay is excellent! I know that Werth will not accept a word of it.
So much the worse for him. His father, Alexander Werth, was an honest observer, in my estimation, and his books are well worth reading today, all of them. Nicolas Werth’s are what I call “propaganda with footnotes.”
My apologies for writing at such length.