The Harvest of Sorrow

The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-famine by Robert Conquest

The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-famine is a book by British historian Robert Conquest, published in 1986. It was written with the assistance of historian James Mace, a junior fellow at the Ukrainian Research Institute, who, following the advice of the director of the Institute, started doing research for the book.[1]

The book deals with the collectivization of agriculture in 1929–31 in Ukraine and elsewhere in the USSR under Stalin's direction, and the 1932–33 famine 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" or that it constituted genocide.[2][3]:507


David R. Marples notes the difference in the viewpoints between the Ukrainian scholarly community and the one in the West. 1983 was the 50th anniversary of the famine and a "watershed for studies of the famine in the West". Marples notes that "Conquest's book was generally well received, though Conquest admitted that he had lacked sources to confirm his estimates of the death tolls".[3]:507

Largely accepting his thesis was Geoffrey A. Hosking, 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 1932–1933], and he has persuaded this reviewer’"[3]:507

Craig Whitney in a New York Times book review stated: "The 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".[3]:508

Alexander Nove, while generally praising the book, noted: "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".[3]: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".[3]:508

Conquest himself later retracted his view that the famine was deliberate and planned, stating the following in a 2003 letter to historians Stephen Wheatcroft and R. W. Davies:

Stalin purposely inflicted the 1933 famine? No. What I argue is that with resulting famine imminent, he could have prevented it, but put "Soviet interest" other than feeding the starving first thus consciously abetting it.[4]


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



  1. ^ Vlad, Mariya. "James Mace, a Native American with Ukrainian blood". WU Magazine. Welcome to Ukraine. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ a b c d e f 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. Geoffrey A. Hosking concluded that: Conquest’s research establishes beyond doubt, however, that the famine was deliberately inflicted there [in Ukraine] for ethnic reasons...Craig Whitney, however, disagreed with the theory of genocide
  4. ^ Wheatcroft, Stephen (June 2006). "Stalin and the Soviet Famine of 1932-33: A Reply to Ellman" (PDF). Europe-Asia Studies. Vol. 58, No. 4: 625–633 – via JSTOR.