Michael Ellman, 2002, "Soviet Repression Statistics: Some Comments", Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 54, no. 7:
Some writers include famine victims with repression victims, but others treat them as a separate category. In this connection it should be noted that:
(1) The categorisation of famine victims is theory-impregnated. This means that it depends on one's theory either of famines in general or of Soviet famines in particular. It seems that in nineteenth century Russia peasants generally considered famines "the will of God". Naturally, if one accepts the theory of the divine causation of famines then the question of human responsibility cannot arise. Many writers ascribe a large share of the blame for famines to natural conditions (e.g. droughts). In this case a large share of the explanation for the famine deaths would be an "act of Nature", even though possibly suitable actions by the authorities might have prevented or reduced famine deaths regardless of the adverse natural conditions. On the other hand, some writers treat famines as conquerable and, when they take place, as the fault of the local political system. Given this theory of the causation of famines, then famines are crimes and the criminals are the dictator/generals/ politicians who run the country where the famine occurred. 86
(2) Whether famine deaths should be considered murder or manslaughter or something else partly depends on the information available to the leadership at the time. If the leadership was unaware of the actual situation their responsibility would be less than if they were fully informed. For example, although the Ukrainian leadership requested a reduction in grain procurement in the summer of 1932 as a result of the needs of their own people, Stalin was informed by Markevich, the deputy Narkom for agriculture, on 4 July 1932 that the 1932 harvest was average and considerably better than that of 1931.87 On 25 July 1932 Stalin, although he fully recognised the need to partially reduce the grain procurement plan of Ukrainian collective farms, thought that for the USSR as a whole the harvest had been "undoubtedly good".88 However, even if careful study of the information environment surrounding Stalin leads to the conclusion that he was inadequately informed about the true situation, this does not eliminate the possibility of criminal responsibility. That depends on the extent to which the inadequate information was itself a result of his policies, in particular the extensive repression which could have made the provision of accurate information very dangerous for the person or organisation providing it. Similarly, the absence of accurate media reports of the situation, which might have forced the government to take appropriate famine relief measures, was a direct result of the Soviet policy of use of the media as propaganda instruments.
(3) For a charge of (mass) murder or a crime against humanity (as opposed to manslaughter or criminal negligence) the question of intent is very important. While there is plenty of evidence to justify a charge of manslaughter or criminal negligence, there seems to the present author to be little evidence for murder.89 Conquest thinks that Stalin wanted large numbers of Ukrainians to die in 1933.90 This seems to the present author possible but unproven and no explanation of the deaths of Kazakhs and Russians. Of course, the general attitude of Marx and Engels and of Russian Marxists to the Ukrainian cause was unsympathetic and during the Civil War many Bolsheviks considered Ukrainian a "counter-revolutionary" language. 91 In addition, it is well known that in 1932-33 Stalin thought he was engaged in a war against wreckers, saboteurs and sit-down strikers. In a war one strives to bend to one's will, and if necessary kill, one's enemies. Many people were deliberately shot or deported. Nevertheless, evidence that Stalin consciously decided to kill millions of people is lacking. It seems to the present author more likely that Stalin simply did not care about mass deaths and was more interested in the balance of payments (which required grain exports) and the industrialisation programme. Just as the British government in 1943 was more interested in the war effort than in saving the life of Bengalis, so the Soviet government in 1931-33 was more interested in industrialisation than in saving the life of peasants or nomads.
(4) We are interested in uniquely Stalinist evil, not in events which have their parallels in many countries and thus cannot be considered uniquely Stalinist. Unfortunately, famines in which millions of people die are not unique to the USSR in the Stalin era. Not only was there one in Soviet Russia (in 1921-22) prior to Stalin's accession to supreme power, but major famines were widespread throughout the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for example in the British empire (India and Ireland), China, Russia and elsewhere. Furthermore, the world-wide death of millions of people in recent decades which could have been prevented by simple public health measures or cured by application of modern medicine, but was not, might be considered by some as mass manslaughter - or mass death by criminal negligence - by the leaders of the G8 (who could have prevented these deaths but did not do so). The present author is sympathetic to the idea that the leaders of the British Empire in the past (India and Ireland) and of the G8 in recent years are guilty of mass manslaughter or mass deaths from criminal negligence because of their not taking obvious measures to reduce mass deaths. However, if they are not condemned for this, it is not clear why - except on a very doubtful historical account of Stalin's knowledge and intentions in 1932-33 - Stalin should be convicted for the famine deaths of 1931-34 or of the other Stalin-era famines. Conquest has argued that the "only conceivable defence" for Stalin and his associates is that they did not know about the famine.92 This ignores another possible defence - that their behaviour was no worse than that of many rulers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
(5) Conquest argues that "the cause of the famine was the setting of highly excessive grain requisition targets by Stalin and his associates" .93 But it seems the grain procurements in the agricultural year 1932-33 (the main famine year) were less than in every other agricultural year in the period 1930-31 to 1939-40 inclusive. 94 This suggests that something other than procurements, namely the size of the harvest, was also an important factor. Although the low harvests of 1931 and 1932 were partly a result of the political and agronomic policies of the Stalinist leadership, they were partly a result of adverse natural conditions (weather). Hence the exclusive blame which Conquest attaches to procurement policy is one-sided and ignores the size of the harvest. Accordingly the present author considers it appropriate to place the famine victims in a different category from the repression victims, even if one judges Stalin during the famines to have been guilty of causing mass deaths by manslaughter or criminal negligence. Both categories contain huge numbers of victims, but only the latter was unusual by international standards. About 12 million people were arrested or deported, and at least 3 million died, as a result of political persecution by their own government. 95
This distinction between famines and political persecution corresponds to normal historical practice. The victims of the 1943 Bengal famine are usually considered to be "famine victims" rather than "repression victims" even though by appropriate actions the British Government could have saved many of the lives of those who died. Similarly with the Irish famine of the 1840s. It also corresponds to current international law. Unintentional famine, unlike murder or deportation, is not classified as a crime against humanity (see article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court).