A Sickle to Butcher the Weak and a Hammer to Crush the Strong, A review and impressions of Timothy Snyder’s novel “Bloodlands” Chapters 1-5

Timothy Snyder along with several other colleagues and archival sources have put together in this book what I would consider to be an accurate and well devised interpretation of the events that occurred in eastern Europe under the influence of Stalin’s Soviet union to the East and Hitler’s Nazi Germany to the west. Snyder’s thought process and structure were fairly simple to follow with little tangents aside from archival accounts which he stresses are some of the greatest contributions to his work and I for one definitely agree with him. Though at times I feel he reiterated points far to frequently. For example; in the first chapter pertaining to the Soviet Famines of Ukraine, Snyder plays upon numerous accounts of the starvation that occurred through either personal accounts or social recollections (such as in common place songs/sayings). These accounts were explicit and well shared but I felt were to numerous in number to reiterate the setting of Ukraine in the 1920-1930’s. Snyder’s analysis and interpretations behind the ideology of Stalinism as well as the possible motives for Stalin’s actions seemed well rooted and based upon good premises with some slightly presumptuous interpretations that found to be a bit of a stretch but I suppose are still open for debate. One of the harder concepts to the wrap around throughout these chapters was primarily the duality and extremely contradictory nature of communism as an ideology. Much of Snyder’s first chapter and second chapters deals particularly well addressing the complexity of socialist/communist thought which primarily in both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union focused upon the state (particularly the chosen patron of the state) was victim to those the state has oppressed or “liberated/modernized” as the state would view it. The idea that it is the very act of starvation that is a far more rebellious an act against the state then even a full pursing may be considered. Such was the case as portrayed by Snyder during the Ukrainian famine where even legislation passed under Stalin would make even the possession of food in an area undergoing “collectivization” was considered a rebellious act against the state. for as far as Stalin was concerned there was no problem with any system of modernization implemented by the Soviet government that was in anyway wrong, rather, it was the peoples subjected to the law that are the true opponents of its success (as made evident with the blame of the famine being placed on the Ukrainian communist party for “lacking implementation” of collectivization. ¬†Also that any opposition to a necessary step toward the envisioned communist revolution was evidence to the success of the methodology. Much of this ideology is further entangled and reinterpreted with the outright elimination of numerous political entities that would, at least in Stalin’s perception, ever pose a threat to his power. Yet despite the vast amount of famine, elimination of political groups, and outright massacre of many individuals by the Soviet Union across eastern Europe or as Snyder refers to it as the bloodlands, many of it remained :swept under the rug till shortly after the Cold War. Where many archives across eastern Europe became accessible to a global community. One question I had and still have yet to truly settle is that of what Stalin did to his own populace considered a “genocide” or simply mass killings of a rather indiscriminate nature? Many of the arguments for the genocidal intent fall well into as Rafal Lemkin coined the Soviet Famines as : the classic example of Soviet genocide”. Others yet would argue against it specifically pointing out the multicultural nature of the Ukraine as well as the elimination of groups falling under a strictly “political” category and thus not necessarily associated with genocide. Despite Snyder’s evidence and historical accounts I still have yet to truly reconcile the case of outright genocide in this case myself but I find myself leaning more toward the non-genocidal view of Stalin’s actions. I see almost all of the Soviet maneuvers to be strictly state motivated more so than the ideology of the state as intent would have it to purposefully starve to death the Ukrainian peoples. I would propose that an excessive need for self-sufficiency and industrialization played a major role in the events of the 1920-1930s. Overall I have thus far appreciated Snyder’s work and anticipate no less from the sections that follow chapter 5 as Snyder focuses in on the Nazi Germany impacts upon the bloodlands.

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