Review of Anne Applebaum’s “Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine”
The journalist Anne Applebaum is a leading popular historian of the former European Communist countries. She has published a substantial study of the Soviet Gulag camp system that won a Pulitzer Prize, and a study of the Communist takeovers of Eastern Europe.1 In Red Famine Applebaum focuses on the great Soviet famine of the early 1930s, which she portrays as imposed artificially by the Stalin regime on Ukraine, and the result of a long history of alleged Russian and Soviet hostility toward Ukraine.
This book has new information on Ukrainian culture in the 1920s, Ukrainian émigré historiography of the famine after World War II, the Ukrainian government’s use of famine history, and few other topics. Overall, however, it retells the nationalist story of the famine found in earlier publications, but inaccurately, and does not cite evidence in its sources that contradicts or undermines almost all its arguments. This review focuses only on certain indicative issues in the first part of the book, and then addresses the main problems with her depiction of the famine itself.
Red Famine is better characterized by a passage from Peter Kenez’s book on The Birth of the Propaganda State: “propaganda often means telling less than the truth, misleading people … manipulating and distorting information, lying” and addresses “audiences in simple language…”