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Ralph Reiland

Ralph R. Reiland: Collectivism & hypocrisy in Russia

| Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
A participant holds a placard with a portrait of Stalin during a march by Communist Party supporters to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow, February 23, 2013. Russia celebrates those serving in the nation's armed forces every year on February 23. (REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)
A participant holds a placard with a portrait of Stalin during a march by Communist Party supporters to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow, February 23, 2013. Russia celebrates those serving in the nation's armed forces every year on February 23. (REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)

Martin Amis begins his book “Koba The Dread,” about the gulag and murderous crimes of Josef Stalin resulting in upward of 20 million deaths between 1922 and Stalin's death in 1953, with several quotes about Soviet collectivization of agriculture by forcibly confiscating land and food output from the peasantry and the resulting famines.

Amis drew from Robert Conquest's book “The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivism and the Terror-Famine”: “Horse manure was eaten, partly because it often contained whole grains of wheat.” Amis also wrote: “Conquest quotes Vasily Grossman's essayistic-documentary novel ‘Forever Flowing' regarding widespread hunger and deaths from starvation: ‘And the children's faces were aged, tormented, just as if they were seventy years old. And by spring they no longer had faces. Instead, they had birdlike heads with beaks, or frog heads — thin, wide lips — and some of them resembled fish, mouths open.'”

“Cannibalism was widely practiced,” writes Amis. “In the late 1930s, 325 cannibals from the Ukraine were still serving life sentences in Baltic slave camps.” Peasants were making meat pies from the organs of corpses.

“On 11 June 1933,” reports Amis, “the Ukrainian paper Visti praised an ‘alert' secret policeman for unmasking and arresting a ‘fascist saboteur' who had hidden some bread in a hole under a pile of clover.”

The term “fascist saboteur” in Stalinist and communist ideology refers to a starving peasant who tries to hide a smidgeon of his output — a crime of illicit individualism and theft from the collective.

Elimination of individual ownership in agriculture, state confiscation of farms and output, and turning peasant landowners into cogs in industrialized, state-owned food production all find their roots in “The Communist Manifesto,” written in 1847 by political and economic theorists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

“In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property,” they wrote. “Precisely so: that is just what we intend.” And: “(T)he theory of the communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”

Translated into the time of Stalin's famines, that anti-private-property command meant the widow of a peasant, a man who'd been starved to death after his farm's collectivization, should be imprisoned for burying a piece of meat in the frozen soil.

The definition of hypocrisy? After this aforementioned famine and genocide, allegedly performed to create a blissful world of equality and classlessness with no private ownership or riches, Fortune magazine reports that Hermitage Capital Management CEO Bill Browder, a major investor in Russia in the 1990s, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July that the jockeying for the position as wealthiest person in the world, as assessed by Bloomberg's tracker, between U.S. tech titans Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, and Bill Gates, each worth around $90 billion, is eclipsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin's $200 billion personal fortune — un-collectivized.

Ralph R. Reiland is associate professor of economics emeritus at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (

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