Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 24, 2017

Bitter Harvest

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor

“Bitter Harvest”, opening today at the AMC 25 Theater in New York is the first narrative film treatment of one of the 20th century’s greatest human disasters, the death by famine of millions of Ukrainians due to Stalin’s forced collectivization. The Ukrainians call this the Holodomor. The subject matter alone would make this film worth seeing, no matter your take on what is arguably a highly-charged question for many on the left. Beyond that, it is a dramatically compelling film about the life of a prototypical young Ukrainian from this period, a young man named Yuri (Max Irons, the son of Jeremy) who is torn between the peasant life of his native village and the allure of cosmopolitan Kiev where several his friends have gone to become part of the socialist experiment. For Yuri, Kiev is a place where he can also develop as an artist under the tutelage of instructors imbued with the revolutionary fervor of the pre-Stalinist USSR.

Filmed in the agricultural heartland of Ukraine, “Bitter Harvest” begins with a depiction of the daily lives of peasants that in the 1920s followed patterns that had existed for hundreds of years. It is circumscribed by the growing season, the harvest, religious observations and festivals. Considering the deep roots of Ukraine’s agrarian society, there would be clashes with the new communist authorities under the best of circumstances.

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  1. I have been under the impression that Russian peasents suffered just as badly during this collectivation period as the Ukrainians.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — February 24, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

  2. An interesting comment on the film, which I have not yet seen, but which now I want to see even more than I did after just seeing the promos. What I particularly appreciated is the background information on how the left had regarded in the past the question of the Great Ukrainian Famine and for many decades denied the very fact of the starvation of millions of Ukrainian peasants, never mind the regime’s policies that led to that great crime.

    I would like to get in touch with the author of the review, if he would be so kind as to contact me via email or FaceBook.

    Comment by Roman Serbyn — February 25, 2017 @ 3:53 pm

  3. The unique aspect of the Holodomor was its cover up. Orwell could relate it only in the allegory “Animal Farm” which was promoted secretly only by the CIA. Bitter Harvest reveals this to the astute observer with the appearance of the Gareth Jones and Duranty characters; fleeting but powerful.

    Comment by JameSmace — February 26, 2017 @ 3:07 pm

  4. The “famine” stopped at the Russian border. There were no Russian deaths, only deaths in those parts of Russia occupied by Ukrainian exiles and minorities who were targeted by the Kremlin.

    Comment by JameSmace — February 26, 2017 @ 3:10 pm

  5. “Bitter Harvest”, opening today at the AMC 25 Theater in New York is the first narrative film treatment of one of the 20th century’s greatest human disasters….the Holodomor.

    In English, yes, but back in 1991, just before the USSR vanished off the map, the Dovzhenko Film Studio in Soviet Ukraine released Holod-33 (“Famine-33”), which is about a Ukrainian farm family slowly disintegrating through starvation, stealing rides on freight trains to find anywhere they can work and eat. The film is entirely in Ukrainian, and I’ve never found a copy on YouTube with official subtitles. The picture was directed by Oles Yanchuk, and was allegedly based on Vasyl Barka’s The Yellow Prince (a novel that was never translated into English as far as I can tell).

    One of the (possibly-dodgy) subtitled copies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9f4DANxeGY

    The Russian equivalent is Chekist, a 1992 film about a secret police commissar during the Revolution running a “murder room” in an abandoned slaughterhouse, featuring shot after shot of groups of five naked men and/or women getting gunned down by an execution squad; they have all been judged counterrevolutionaries. Directed by Aleksandr Rogozhkin, this is a deliberately stripped-down motion picture and very downbeat; the commissar loses his mind from the stress. The difference between the two is that the Holodomor has become this foundation element of Ukranian nationalism while any of the anti-Soviet films made in the early Russian Federation went nowhere after the 1990s ended.

    Comment by Heywood Floyd — February 27, 2017 @ 10:36 am

  6. I suspect that a film so packed out with British luvvies is designed to appeal to the Ukrainian right, rather than tell the full truth.

    Not even the Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who first wrote about the “Soviet famine”, claimed that the famine was confined to Ukraine.

    “ I walked along through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, ‘There is no bread. We are dying’. This cry came from every part of Russia, from the Volga, Siberia, White Russia, the North Caucasus, and Central Asia.“

    Stalin represented the bureaucratic reaction within the Russian revolution, but not even Trotsky’s Left Opposition described Stalin’s forced collectivisation as “genocide”.
    In fact, the Left Opposition had advocated collective agriculture since the mid-1920’s.
    Throughout this period Stalin maintained his alliance with Bukharin.
    Both supported the continuation of the NEP.
    This not only enriched the Kulaks, but also the NEP-men in the cities, who linked the peasants to the domestic and international markets.

    It was the dramatic fall in world grain prices, beginning in 1929, which affected farmers in many countries, that led to Stalin’s adventurist lurch towards forced collectivisation.
    e.g. in Canada, farmers who’d received $2.19 a bushel for wheat in 1919, were lucky to get $1 by 1929.
    This fall in prices seriously affected the USSR’s ability to earn international currency and thus import machinery.
    In the space of 3 years (1929-32), the Soviet government increased the number of collective farms from 3.9%-61.5%.

    The Left opposition argued that the technical framework for Collective farms needed to be created before they could succeed.
    This required a faster rate of industrialisation, producing tractors, agricultural equipment and fertilisers.
    It could be financed by progressive taxes on the Kulaks and NEP-men and carried out at a realistic pace.
    In this way, the middle peasants would be attracted to the collectives out of economic rationality.
    In the absence of this, they would resort to economic sabotage – slaughtering their livestock, leaving the land untilled, withholding grain from the cities.

    Which is exactly what happened;
    Stalin could only carry out such a policy by using bureaucratic repression.
    The resultant dislocation and passive resistance seriously affected the Ukraine.
    But it wasn’t the only area where this happened.
    It wasn’t a deliberate policy of genocide.

    Comment by prianikoff — February 27, 2017 @ 11:58 am

  7. Following JameSmace’s comment, I just want to remind people that the Soviet famine of 1932-33 was a thing. There was an equally severe (in terms of death rates—not total deaths) famine in the neighboring Lower Volga region, a part of the RSFSR. There may have been “Ukrainian exiles” (an interesting term) in the area, just as there were “Russian exiles” in the Eastern Ukraine, but that’s besides the point. There was a famine in the neighboring North Caucuses, and a famine in neighboring KazakhАSSR. The latter was by most accounts the most devastating of all, causing the death of up to a quarter of the population. there was also a less severe famine in Siberia.

    Proportionately the Ukrainian and Kazakh republics suffered the most, but this does not mean they were targeted for genocide.

    Note that “jamesSmace” is obviously not James Mace the Holodomor historian, who’s dead. I realized this halfway through writing this comment, though I probably should have realized it sooner given the sheer absurdity of jameSmace’s claims.

    Comment by max — February 28, 2017 @ 10:34 pm

  8. The Chekist was was one of the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen. Watching the clips nowadays, it seems like such a quaint artifact of “decommunization.” Ukraine—due to its peripheral status and lack of oil—got stuck in the 1990’s. Hence, Ukraine’s “decommunization” is only getting started.

    Comment by mlinchits — February 28, 2017 @ 10:56 pm

  9. btw, jameSmace has no relation to james e mace, the holodomor historian. ignore his comments.

    Comment by mlinchits — February 28, 2017 @ 10:57 pm

  10. Who will look honestly with facts and figures to document such events?
    Why are there humans denying that other humans do horrible things to one another?
    The facts and the denials wrestle in eternity.

    Comment by Enquiring Mind — March 3, 2017 @ 7:12 pm

  11. This is an important film that should be seen by anyone interested in world history and politics. As cinema, it is beautifully filmed but poorly acted and poorly directed. A mediocre love story has been allowed to obscure an atrocity against humanity.That is a great shame as more people could learn about this episode of history if the film showed more respect for its subject matter.

    Comment by CineMuseFilms — April 17, 2017 @ 12:36 am

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