Alberta Communists issue open letter on U of A controversy about Ukrainian famine

The Communist Party – Alberta has issued an open letter commending the University of Alberta for resisting calls to dismiss sessional lecturer Dougal MacDonald over his comments that the Ukrainian famine was not a genocide. MacDonald made the comments on Facebook in November 2019, and immediately became the focus of an attack by right-wing voices in the Ukrainian community and beyond. Organizations like the U of A’s Ukrainian Students’ Society argue that the famine was a deliberate genocidal policy by the Soviet government, and have coined the term “Holodomor” (which means “to kill by starvation” in Ukrainian) to promote this view. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney quickly weighed in, referring to MacDonald (without naming him) as an “useful idiot” and a liar.

In fact, questioning the famine as genocide is far from idiotic. This narrative has been refuted in detail by reputable historians, particularly since the Kremlin archives have become available for study. While there is plenty of evidence that there was an emergency, there is no sign of deliberate starvation.

The “Holodomor” narrative has become official state doctrine in a small handful of countries, where state forces typically attempt to equate Holodomor skepticism with Holocaust denial.

In its statement, issued on December 21, the Communist Party noted that pressure from right-wing Ukrainian organizations has “induced several deans to issue statements of loyalty to the official revisionist position on the famine of 1932-33 in the Ukraine.” The University of Alberta has previously boasted that it is one of the world centres of propagating the Holodomor myth, which the CP identifies as an “official falsified version of history, created by fascists and other opponents of socialism in Ukraine and elsewhere.”

The CP statement notes that the Holodomor myth “arises from the triumph of Cold War propaganda over academic independence and rigour, when some people with collaborationist war records were brought into Canada under government protection and were installed into academic jobs despite questionable educational credentials. The eagerness of the Canadian government to foster cold-war rhetoric and contribute to the Red Scare resulted in giving a second life to a libel that originated as Nazi propaganda – the idea that the famine, arising from crop failures during the social upheaval of Soviet attempts to collectivize and modernize agriculture, was a deliberate genocide.”

The Communists warn that this is not an abstract debate over events past. “The need to defend the right to challenge this official state view is particularly sharp in Alberta right now. With a provincial government setting up a “war room” to combat environmentalists, and a federal government committed to promoting reactionary coups around the world and fanning Russo-phobia, it is crucially important that working people have the tools to recognize authoritarian attempts to frighten, punish and silence opponents. It is important to recognize that the techniques of vilifying opponents, and suppressing criticism with a pretence of moral outrage, will be extended to environmental activists, trade unionists, and all those who are prepared to struggle against government policies. It is equally important that they have the tools to recognize the class interests behind officially enforced doctrines, whether it is denying climate change on behalf of oil and gas corporations or demonizing Russia on behalf of aggressive US imperialism.”

The Communist Party – Alberta calls on all who oppose austerity, attacks on workers’ rights, and corporate devastation of the environment to also resist the ideological onslaught of right-wing propaganda. “Defending academic and historical criticism also means defending your own right to be heard.”

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