The Harvest of Sorrow

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The Harvest of Sorrow
Cover of the first edition
AuthorsRobert Conquest
Original titleThe Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine
CountryUnited Kingdom
Soviet famine of 1932–33
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication date
9 October 1986
Media typePrint

The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine is a 1986 book by British historian Robert Conquest published by the Oxford University Press. It was written with the assistance of historian James Mace, a junior fellow at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, who started doing research for the book following the advice of the director of the institute.[1] Conquest wrote the book in order "to register in the public consciousness of the West a knowledge of and feeling for major events, involving millions of people and millions of deaths, which took place within living memory."[2]:149

The book deals with the collectivization of agriculture in 1929–31 in Ukraine and elsewhere in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin's direction, and the Soviet famine of 1932–33 and Holodomor which resulted. Millions of peasants died due to starvation, deportation to labor camps and execution. Conquest's thesis was characterized as "the famine was deliberately inflicted for ethnic reasons—it was done in order to undermine the Ukrainian nation", or that it constituted genocide.[3][4]:507


In 1981, the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute approached Conquest with the project of a book on the 1932–33 famine.[5] The Ukrainian National Association, a New Jersey-based group with a hard-right tradition (its newspaper Svoboda was banned by Canada during World War II for its pro-German sympathies), sponsored the work with a $80,000 subsidy.[6] The grant was earmarked for Conquest's research expenses, including the assistance of historian James Mace, a junior fellow at the institute and Conquest protégé.[1][6] In accepting the sponsorship, Conquest was perceived as being in the pocket of the Ukrainians.[7] In response to those claims, Conquest stated: "I did not do the book specifically on the Ukraine. About half the book is on the non-Ukrainian side, the rest of the Soviet peasantry—there is a whole chapter on the Kazakhs, for example. The sponsors made no attempt whatever to suggest what I should write. In fact I'm in trouble with some of them for refusing to drop the 'the' from 'the Ukraine.'"[7]

The United States Congress promoted awareness of the Holodomor and set U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine, which was authorized in 1985 and headed by James Mace.[8] The commission conducted archival and oral history research under a $382,000 congressional appropriation,[6] leading to a final report conclusion in 1988 that "Joseph Stalin and those around him committed genocide against the Ukrainians in 1932-33." Mace's research formed the basis for Conquest's book.[6][8] For Mace's wife Nataliya Dzyubenko-Mace, the commission was instrumental in alerting the American public and politicians to these horrific crimes, helping rouse American society from "political lethargy".[1]

The Harvest of Sorrow had a clear moral intent, namely that if the older Soviet leaders were direct accomplices in an artificially contrived famine and the younger leaders today still justify such procedure, then it followed that they might be willing to kill tens of millions of foreigners or suffer a loss of millions of their own subjects in a war.[7] Conquest stated: "I don't think they want to blow Western populations to pieces. But if they came to America and imposed the collective farm system, then they might well organize a famine."[7]


According to David R. Marples, the book served as an indicator of divisions in Western scholarship on the subject. Marples writes that Conquest's book was "generally well received though Conquest admitted subsequently that he had lacked sources to confirm his estimates of death tolls."[4]:507

In an 1987 review for the Population and Development Review, L. A. Kosiński describes it as a "carefully reasearched book based on a variety of sources—including eyewitness accounts, letters, official Soviet documents and press releases, reports and analyses of both Soviet and feorign scholars, and Soviet fiction [...]." According to Kosiński, Conquest "presents the shocking story of a 'revolution from above,' to use Stalin's words, that shook Soviet society and left a long-standing impacts." Conquest's account of the events is that of "a war declared by an arrogant, revolutionary regime on the peasantry and on certain national communities within the country (mainly Ukrainians and Kazakhs), resulting in total victory for the central power at an exorbitant cost."[2]:149

Conquest's thesis that the famine constituted genocide and was deliberately inflicted is controversial[5](p. 9) and remains part of the ongoing debates on the Holodomor genocide question,[4]:507 with Vladimir N. Brovkin describing it in an 1987 review for the Harvard Ukrainian Studies as a challenge to the "revisionist school" of historians[9]:234 and Alexander Nove stating "the Ukrainian countryside suffered terribly. But Conquest seems prone to accept the Ukrainian nationalist myth."[4]:507

Largely accepting his thesis was Geoffrey A. Hosking,[5]:7 who wrote that "Conquest's research establishes beyond doubt, however, that the famine was deliberately inflicted there [in Ukraine] for ethnic reasons—it was done in order to undermine the Ukrainian nation." Peter Wiles of the London School of Economics stated that "Conquest had 'adopted the Ukraine exile view [on the origins of the famine of 1932–33], and he has persuaded this reviewer.'"[4]:507

Dissenting from his thesis was Craig Whitney, who stated in The New York Times Book Review that "[t]he eyewitness testimony may be reliable, but far more debatable is the thesis that the famine was specifically aimed as an instrument of genocide against the Ukraine. The clear implication of this book is that the author has taken the side of his Ukrainian sources on this issue, even though much of his evidence does not support it well."[4]:508 While generally praising the book, Nove wrote that "the majority of those who died in the famine were Ukrainian peasants is not in dispute. But did they die because they were peasants, or because they were Ukrainians? As Conquest himself points out, the largest number of victims proportionately were in fact Kazakhs, and no one has attributed this to Stalin's anti-Kazakh views."[4]:508

Later scholarship has been divided on the question as well. Marples states: "Hiroaki Kuromiya notes that those who examine the famine from a general Soviet perspective downplay any specific Ukrainian factor, while specialists on Ukraine generally support the concept of a genocidal famine."[4]:508 Marples states that the most "notable work in the school of writing that maintains that the famine was not genocide" is by R. W. Davies and Stephen G. Wheatcroft. Marple quotes a letter from Conquest to Davies and Wheatrcroft stating that "he does not believe that Stalin deliberately inflicted the 1933 famine."[4]:508


The Harvest of Sorrow won Conquest the Antonovych prize in 1987 and the Shevchenko National Prize in 1994.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Vlad, Mariya. "James Mace, a Native American with Ukrainian blood". Welcome to Ukraine. Retrieved 30 November 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b Kosiński, L. A. (1987). Reviewed Work: The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine by Robert Conquest Population and Development Review, 13(1), 149–153.
  3. ^ Tauger, Mark (1991). "The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933" (PDF). Slavic Review. 50 (1): 70–89. (footnote 4) For examples of the genocide thesis, see Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Marples, David R. (May 2009). "Ethnic Issues in the Famine of 1932–1933 in Ukraine". Europe-Asia Studies. 61 (3): 505–518. doi:10.1080/09668130902753325.
  5. ^ a b c Sysyn, Frank (2015). "Thirty Years of Research on the Holodomor: A Balance Sheet". East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies. II (1): 4–16. doi:10.21226/T26P4M. ISSN 2292-7956. Retrieved 30 November 2020 – via Holodomor Research and Education Consortium.
  6. ^ a b c d Coplon, Jeff (12 January 1988). "In Search of a Soviet Holocaust". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved 30 November 2020 – via Montclair State University. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ a b c d Hillier, Bevis (19 November 1986). "Havest' of Soviet Terrorism Reapead by Historian Conquest". Los Angeles Times Times. Retrieved 30 November 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ a b U.S. Embassy Ukraine Kyiv (30 November 2006). "The Holodomor and the Politics of Remembrance: The Legacy of Stalin's 1932–33 Famine". U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Brovkin, Vladimir N. (1987). Robert Conquest's Harvest of Sorrow: A Challenge to the Revisionists. Harvard Ukrainian Studies, 11(1/2), 234–245.