A quick exchange of pleasantries, then Natasha… gets to work at a table or in the window of our coffee shop, often for hours at a time.

Natasha Naumenko will tell you the drought was intermittent and not severe enough by itself to cause the Soviet Famine.

There was more at play, she will tell you.

It is Natasha’s conviction that the victims were institutionally starved of incentive and initiative as well as food.

She writes, “…I show that in the short run collectivization of agriculture in the Soviet Union contributed to the 1932-1933 famine that killed seven to ten million people.”

The Soviet state owned the fields and the crops. In many ways it owned the peasants who worked them. (Orwell’s “Animal Farm” was inspired by these deprivations.)

Russian armies were damned by a lack of technology in the First World War which led Stalin to insist on diverting the harvests to finance industrialization.

Some historians classify the confiscations in Ukraine as an act of genocide. The Law of Spikelets (meaning handfuls of grain) punished peasants for gleaning leftovers from their own fields. Identity cards were introduced to stop the frantic exodus from the countryside.

Natasha is a Ph.D. candidate in Economic History at Northwestern University. The work on her thesis takes her to Moscow regularly.

She was raised in Novosibirsk, Siberia and earned her masters at the first private Russian university established post-Communism, the New Economic School. Her goal is a professorship in the U.S. or Europe.

You would never guess that Natasha spends a considerable amount of her time in the company of human tragedy. She smiles for the camera.



  1. Vasily

    I believe this refers to the Soviet famine (not “the Russian famine”)
    – sorry, the sensitivity of the subject may require bit more precise wording.
    The Soviet famine should not be exclusive to Russia or associated with Russians only.
    The study refers to Ukraine and Kazakhstan as well as to Russia as parts of the USSR, as quite rightly termed in the quotation.

    • Pat Shiplett

      Thanks, Jack. I think this is very much in line with the ideas about property rights and personal liberty you’ve been articulated over the years we’ve had political discussions. Natasha emphasizes that very point in her recent paper.

      I can’t help but wondering if denying a livable minimum wage isn’t something like subjecting Ukrainian peasants to the Spikelet’s laws. These individuals were starved for the benefit of an economy they weren’t allow to benefit from.

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