The biggest factor was nationalism. The USSR was one large super-state made up of many smaller states that had been independent countries in the past; sort of like the United States, if Texas, California, and Idaho had all spoken separate languages for centuries and considered themselves, to varying extents, different races before being united under one federal government.
It is known as the Holodomor. The communist induced famine killed up to 3.9 million people between 1932-33 in Ukraine alone.
The reasons for the famine are a subject of scholarly and political debate. Some scholars suggest that the man-made famine was a consequence of the economic problems associated with changes implemented during the period of Soviet industrialisation. There are also those who blame a systematic set of policies perpetrated by the Soviet government under Stalin designed to exterminate the Ukrainians.
So what was life like during the famine?
The Soviet structure changed multiple times in history. I’m going to talk about the pre-1989 system. There’s a lot of really weird “communist” administrative names that get used, so it gets pretty confusing.
The Soviet system is based around the idea of “soviets”, which roughly means workers’ council. Furthermore, the administrative system is split between the actual government and the Communist Party.
June 22, 1941, Germany invades the Soviet Union
Why did they invade the Soviet Union?
Operation Barbarossa was an operation created out of necessity as much as anything else. The previous successful campaigns against Poland and France were successful, but were costly to the German economy. Germany lacked key resources, particularly oil. Germany’s attempts to produce synthetic oil in any great quantity had been unsuccessful. Russia offered Germany a huge supply of oil, plentiful supplies of labor for German industry and to a more ideological degree, lebensraum, the notion of living space for the German people.
A Soviet propaganda poster from 1944 depicting legions of German soldiers destined to die in the Russian winter thanks to Hitler’s orders.
If you read the journal entries from Wilhelm Hoffman who was fought and died in Stalingrad, this poster hits even harder. When they showed up they thought it would be a quick fight and they would be home by Christmas. As time went on the entries go from arrogant to impressed with the “Russian spirit” to disheartened at how long its taking to sack the city and the lack or reinforcements to despair once they are resigned to their fate that they will either freeze/starve to death or be killed by the Russians.
“The street is no longer measured by meters but by corpses … Stalingrad is no longer a town. By day it is an enormous cloud of burning, blinding smoke; it is a vast furnace lit by the reflection of the flames. And when night arrives, one of those scorching howling bleeding nights, the dogs plunge into the Volga and swim desperately to gain the other bank. The nights of Stalingrad are a terror for them. Animals flee this hell; the hardest stones cannot bear it for long; only men endure.“