“Stalin’s Genocides” Book Review

Naimark, Norman M. (2010) Stalin’s Genocides. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Norman Naimark states that this book was born out of a “long-term preoccupation with the history of genocide.” (pp. 7) Given the fact that the Soviets had a lot to do with that history, one can sense his concern. This is not, however, a history book. It’s more of a very long persuasive essay–one that does not fail to persuade. Naimark proposes that “it is the very enormity of the crime of systematic mass murder–intentionally perpetrated by the political elite of a state against a targeted group within the borders of or outside the state–that should distinguish genocide from other forms of mass killing.” (pp. 17) He suggests that the Soviets influenced the final terminology of the definition of the word genocide at the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of December 1948 by arguing that “social and political groups were too fluid and too difficult to define for them to be included in the convention.” (pp. 28, 37) These are his main arguments.

In the rest of the book he builds his case by citing instances that demonstrate intent on Stalin’s part to kill mostly Ukrainians and Belarusians. He also addresses the “breakneck and wildly violent attempt by Stalin to steer the economy in a different direction.” (pp. 66) This is known as the “Second Revolution.” Naimark recognizes that this reckless pace towards industrialization served as justification, to some, for the mass killing. He points out several examples of how the kulaks were dehumanized through propaganda very similar to that which Hitler used to dehumanize the Jews. Kulaks were turned into “class enemies” that needed to be wiped out. (pp. 70)

Naimark gives four characteristics of the “dekulakization campaigns” that he suggests are genocidal in nature. 1) Stalin ordered the attacks, oversaw the operations, eagerly read reports, and made it clear that resistance would not be tolerated and kulaks had to be eliminated. 2) Kulaks were counted as familial group, not as individuals, so if one person was labeled a kulak, his entire family was, too–automatically. 3) Kulaks, like the Jews and many other victims of genocide, were dehumanized and stereotyped. 4. Finally, kulaks were victims of mass killings. (pp. 71)

Naimark concludes that due to a vast quantity of lost data we may never have a clear estimate of the exact numbers, but it’s safe to say that Stalin’s regime exterminated a huge portion of its own population. (pp. 144) I thought Naimark presented his argument and evidence in a very clear and concise way that not only made sense, but persuaded me.

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