Russian Civil War: Famine (1920-22)


Figure 1.--The suffering of the Russian people did not end with Wold War I, the Bolshecik Revolution, and the Civil War. The distruction and devestation resulted in a terrible famine, made worse by the Bolshevik willingness to use food as a weapon. The most vulnerable were the children. This photograph was taken somewhere in the Volga region (1921-22).

Millions of Russians were killed in the Russian Civil War, both soldiers and civilians. Estimates suggest 10-15 million people perished. The World War I and the Civil War which followed it, devestated Russuia. Agricultural and industrial production was a fraction of pre-War levels. Estimates suggest that industrialm production was about 15 percent of pre-War levels. Agricultural producion was only about 35 percent of pre-War levels. And the disruptions resulting from the War were made even worse as a result of a drought (1920-21). Horses needed on the farm became difficult to find. This is important because at the time, Russian farms were not meganized. Tractors were almost entirely unknown. Cattle during the same period declined from 58 million to 37 million. Many were appropriated by the warring armies. One estimate indicates the number of horses declined from 35 million to only 24 million (1920). Food shortages were widespread. Not only had agricultural production declined, but the peasants were unwilling to sell their harvest for paper money which was essentially worthless. The distribution of essential commodities virtually broke down. The country's transportation system was badly damaged by the fighting, further complicating the food situation. Large numbers of children orphaned in the fighting were sarticularly at risk. The American relief mission was overseen by Herbert Hoover. As terrible as the Civil War was, the loss of life could have been much worse. The American Relief Administration (ARA) had offered Russia food relief in 1919, despite the Bolshevik takeover. The Bolsheviks rejected the offer because of the terms involved. The ARA insisted that an American overseer was to be in charge of all food stations to ensure that the food was not distributed on a political or religious basis. The Bolsehvicks in 1921 changed their minds. Faced with a severe famine as a result of their Civil war and a severe drought, the Bolsheviks accepted the American terms. When a critic inquired if he was not thus helping Bolshevism, Hoover retorted, "Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!"

Russian Civil War (1918-20)

The Bolshevik seizure of power (November 1917) and supression of poliitical discent generated consideral opposition to the regime. It is a very complicated period. White armies composed of royalists and anti-Bolshevik republicans formed. Also non-Russian nationalists seeing the possibility of independence from Russia organized. The Western Allies intervened, at first in the hope of reopening an Eastern front against the Germans. The Bolsheviks had an advantage. They had a single-minded leadership that controlled the Western hearland. The oposition as badly divided and at tume more concerned with the anti-Bolshevik rivals than the Bolsheviks. The fighting was brutal, often without taking prisoners. Civilians were targetted by both sides. Millions of Russians were killed in the Russian Civil War, both soldiers and civilians. Estimates suggest 10-15 million people perished, mostly civilians. This was more people than died in World War I.

Devestation

The World War I and the Civil War which followed it, devestated Russuia. Agricultural and industrial production was a fraction of pre-War levels. Estimates suggest that industrialm producrion was about 15 percent of pre-War levels. Agricultural producion was only about 35 percent of pre-War levels. And the disruptions resulting from the War were made even worse as a result of a drought (1920-21). Horses needed on the farm became difficult to find. This is important because at the time, Russian farms were not meganized. Tractors were almost entirely unknown. Cattle during the same period declined from 58 million to 37 million. Many were appropriated by the warring armies. One estimate indicates the number of horses declined from 35 million to only 24 million (1920).

Food Shortages

Food shortages by the end of World War I were widespread and growing. This was a problem which began during World war I. The drfting of farm laborers and disruptions in the economy and heavily burned transport system (primarily the rails) adversely affected agricultural production. And German advances meant that important agricultural areas fll into the hands of the Central Powers, especilly in 1917. This at first affected primarily workers in the city. Not only had agricultural production declined, but the peasants were unwilling to sell their harvest for paper money which was essentially worthless. The distribution of essential commodities virtually broke down. The country's transportation system was badly damaged by the fighting, further complicating the food situation. Food shortages gradually spread to rural areas. Land owners fled their estates or were killed, this disrupted farm management. Peasants seized the land. This adversely affected immediate production as the nomal harvest and marketing system broke down. This is because of the fighting was no longer confined to a distant and defined front line, but occurred in many areas throughout the former Russian Empire. Combatant forces as they passed through rural areas would seize food from the peasants. This both left peasants without food, but disrupted both planting and harvesting. And they would use food as a weapon against the other side, including areas believed to support the other side. The American Relief Mission which came to Russia to provide food to the starving had a great deal of problems with Bolshevik officials intent on using food as a weapon and even denying transport for relief supplies. Famine was not unknow to Russia, but by 1919, perhaps one of the worst famines in Russian history was developing and deaths of tens of millions was possible.

Orphaned Children

Large numbers of children orphaned in the World War I and Civil War fighting were particularly at risk. Without parents, they had little chance of surviving, especially the younger children. Even if the mother survived, without husbands which were the bread winners, mothers were left with no means of support for both themselves and their children. A country like Britain, France, and Germany had functining civil administratins which could take in orphans and care for them. The Bolshevik Revolutin meant the collapse of the Tsarist state. And the Bolsheviks were fully engaged in the Civil War meaning basic governmental services collapsed leaving tens of thousands oforphaned children without any means of support.

American Relief Mission (1921-2)

The American relief mission was overseen by Herbert Hoover. As terrible as the Civil War was, the loss of life could have been much worse. The American Relief Administration (ARA) had offered Russia food relief in 1919, despite the Bolshevik takeover. The Bolsheviks rejected the offer because of the terms involved. The ARA insisted that an American overseer was to be in charge of all food stations to ensure that the food was not distributed on a political or religious basis. The Bolsehvicks in 1921 changed their minds. Faced with a severe famine as a result of their Civil war and a severe drought, the Bolsheviks accepted the American terms. When a critic inquired if he was not thus helping Bolshevism, Hoover retorted, "Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!" As in Europe, American food again played a role in saving millions of children and adults (1921-22). One author claims that the American food deliveries may have even saved the Soviet regime. [Salisbury, p. 442.] There were in deed worker strikes as well as a Navy mutiny at Krondstadt (Fenruary 1921). We are not sure the American relief saved the Bolshevik regime. There is no doubt, however, that it saved millions of starving Russians. Few Russians today are not rekated to a relative saved by American food aid. This American undertaking was written out of Russian history by Soviet historians during the Stalinist era. The mere mention of it could earn a term in the Gulag or worse. As a result, few Russians know about it today.

New Economic Policy (1923)

The famine and other economic failures of the Bolshevik regime led to Lennin instituting the New Economic Policy (NEP). The Russian economy was devestated by first World War I and then the Civil War which followed the Revoultion. Soviet War Communism, the seizure of factories and other productive facilities had caused further disruptions. Lenin adopted the NEP (1923). The NEP was designed as a temprary porogram to reintroduce limited private owenership back into the Soviet economy. The NEP was a considerable success. Stalin upon seizing control of the Soviet state reversed course and replaced by the First Five Year Plan (1928).

Sources

Salisbury, Harrison E. "Diplomacy: The indivisible peace," The Soviet Union: The Fifty Years (Harcourt, Brace & World: New York, 1967), 484p.






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Created: 12:12 AM 12/15/2007
Last updated: 1:50 AM 10/10/2013