That millions died in the early 1930s in the Holodomor, the Ukrainian famine triggered by Bolshevist collectivization, has become, since the demise of the USSR, common knowledge and something of a public issue in the West. But although 1.5 million people or an estimated one third of Kazakhstan's population perished in the same period, in what is sometimes referred to as the »other famine«, this tragedy is a chapter of Soviet history that has largely been neglected in international research.
Robert Kindler's seminal work is a comprehensive and unsettling account of the Soviet campaign to sedentarize and collectivize the Kazakh clans, in which some 500 000 nomads became refugees, three times more were killed, and a nomadic culture and social order were essentially destroyed in less than five years.
The Soviet authority perceived the nomads as a threat, for reasons that also apply to other centralized states but were heightened by the ambitious and ultimately deadly plans to reorganize economic life in a vast territory. Nomads were an allegedly intolerable obstacle to creating a »rational« and planned economy, a perpetual source of conflicts over land use and water, and, most importantly, their mobility and traditional clan networks effectively eluded control by the Soviet regime. Forced to meet senseless quotas for livestock and meat and then even for grain (which they could no longer obtain from local peasants, lacking cattle to trade), the Kazakhs starved to death, as did millions of their confiscated and then neglected animals, while tons of procured meat rotted for lack of storage and distribution. Clans who attempted to flee to other parts of the USSR or to China were indiscriminately marked as bandits and massacred by Bolshevik troops.
Deprived of livestock, their source of livelihood and mobility, and faced with the collapse of family networks that ensured mutual aid in times of need, the Kazakhs were incapable of resisting Soviet collectivation measures that often meant a slow death by starvation. By the time Stalin again allowed possession of livestock, lowered the quotas, and send food aid, his main political goal of controlling Kazakhstan had been realized and its population had become a minority on its own territory: Sovietization by starvation. The history of the Kazakh famine and flight is also the history of how a social system and social relations were reconfigured.