Famine History: The Communists

Figure 1.--After he Communist victory in China, Mao began killing off both the land lords and the most productive peasant farmers who owned small plots. He also began a collectivization effort. The result diring the Great Leap Forward was the most terrible famine in all of world history. Famine and hunger was not limited to the Great Leap Forward. Refugeees from hunger in China continued to reach tiny Hong Kong troughout the 1950s and 60s and into the 70s. The British had to turm most of them back. Hunger is one of the reason why whereever Communism arises, peope vote with their feet.

Communist present socialism and central planning as a scientifically proven method of managing eonomies, making economies more efficent and avoilding the uncertainty and chaos of market fluctuations. Communist regimes use images of happy peasants producing boutiful harvests and well-fed workers. As with most aspects of socialism, the theory is seductive because it sounds so wonderful. Actual performance could, however, not be more different. Communist regimes have tragically not only oveseen subtantial declines in harvests, but have actually caused the worse famines in human history. No economic system has so collasally failed. The Communists also failed in industry, but the agricultural failure was more collasal and castistrophic. And in many instances caused these famines in countries that were historic bread baskets. The Communists, for example, turned Russia and Ukraine from a major grain exporting area to a country that had to import grain to fed its population. A famine has two causes. First is a dramatic drop in harvests. Second is a failure of relief operations. This explains why Communist regimes have caused so many of these terrible famines. Not only does collectivization based on Marxist theory reduce harvests, but Communist regimes have typically attenpted to prevent news of their failure from leaking out of their closed societies. To admit a famine is to admit failure which is something they can not do and continue to claim that that they have the cietific key to the future. Hiding these famines meant that tens of millions of people died. Communist leaders prefered to let their people die in the millions rather than admit failure. And if that was not bad enough, the Communists have actually created artifical famines to target people who they considered untrustworthy. This was the case in the terrible Ukranian Famine created by Stalin.

Russian Civil War Famine (1919-23)

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!"

Ukranian Famine (1932-33)

One of the greatest crimes of the Stalinist era was horific famine in the Ukraine. The famine area included both the Ukraine and the Soviet northern Caucasus, as well as Russian areas in the lower Volga River basin. Famines are historically primarily the results of natural events such as drought, heat, diseases, insect infestations, and other natural causes. The Ukranian famine was primarily caused by Stalin's program of collectivizinng Soviet agriculture, especially the forced collectivization of the Ukraine. The Ukraine had been the bread basket of Russia. It was the prize sought by the Germans in two world wars. The rich, well watered soil made the Ukraine the most productive agrivcultural area of the Soviet Union. Two issues merged which resulted in dissaster for the Ukranian people. Not only did the Ukranian peasantry resist collectivization, but there was a strong Ukranian national spirit, especially in the western Ukraine. Stalin was determined to both bring agicultural under central control, but to crush Ukrainian nationalism at the same time. Stalin not only used the famine to crush the spirit of the Ukranisn peole, but he also purged the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Stalin even purged the Ukrainian Communist party. At the cost of millions of lives, many of them children, the famine succeedded in breaking any organized redsistance on the part of the peasantry to collectivization. Stalin's purges also succeeded in smashing the Ukranian national movement. Stalin's actions in the Ukraine were not without costs beyond the deaths of Ukranians. Agricultural production plummeted. Soviet agricultural became one of the most inefficent agricultural operations in the world. Stalin bought Ukranian agricultural under his control through collectivization, he also signicantly reduced the output of Soviet agriculture.

Chinese Great Leap Forward (1957-60)

Mao and his supporters, once the Communists were firmly in power, launched a massive effort to remake the Chinese economy, convinced that "scientific" Marxist ideology and central control gave them the capacity to achieve in decades what took centuries in the West. Mao and his associates conceived of the idea that the organization of large-scale rural communes could meet the country's industrial and agricultural challenges. Capital as a result of Markist ideology had negative implications. Thus Mao decided to use labor-intensive methods to develop the economy. Rather than capital and machiery, Mao set about mobilizing manpower. This was a plan prepared by poorly educated politicans who saw themnselves as infalable soicial engineeers despite the experimental nature of their undertaking. Not involved in the planning were competent agromomists and engineers. The economic goal behind the endevor was to bypass the slow, gradual process of industrialization followed by capitalist countries. The most famous example of the Great Leap Forward approaches was communities throughout China build "backyard" steel furnaces. These furnaces required little capital to build, only the mobilization of local labor. The iron and steel profuced, however, was of such poor quality that it was virtually useless. As with much of the production in Communist countries, the product produced was actually worth less that the inputs. In the Soviet Union which possessed enmense raw material resources, productive agricultural land, highly competent technicians, and the ability to expoloit its Eastern European Empire. This the impact of Communist economics was a poor standard of living compared to the Capitalit West. China was in a much more precarious situation and, as a result, the result of the Great Leap forward was a social and economic disaster of emense proportions. The Great Leap forward and adverse weather conditions generated perhaps the most dreadful famine in human history. Millions of Chinese died in the famine resulting from Mao's Great Leap Forward. It is no accident that two of the greatest famines in world history were casused by the political leadership of the two great Communist countries--the Soviet Union and the People's Republic. The Great Leap should not only be viewed in economic terms, like the Cultural Revolution to come, there were underlying political factors. [Gabriel] Mao in the 1950s was the most important figure, but he was not a Stalinst dictator. There were other important figures in the Party. The Great Leap can be seen as anm effort to seize total control of the apparatuses of government and Communist Party as Stalin did in the Soviet Union. Other Communist Party figures had a more conservative outlook--men like Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping who saw Mao's policies as not only dangerous "adventurism", but also the underlying political implications. Many of these men wanted to follow the proven Soviet policies of transforming an agrarian society into an industrial society rather than acceppting Mao's more experimental approach. (At the time, the weaknesses of Soviet-style Communist economics were not yet exposed.)


Ethiopia (1984-85)

Ethiopia and Eritea during the Revolutuionary Era experienced one of Africa's worst famines (1984-85). The crisis began with a drought centered in Gojjam, Hararghe, Tigray, and Wollo—all provinces. They experienced record low rainfall. The drought was bad enough, but famines in the midern age are not just caused by environmental conditions, usually governments are involved. And in the 20st century, most of the terrible famines were caused, some times on purpose, by Communist Governments. And in Ethiopia, the Communist Revoutionary Goverment's policies turned a bad situation into a humanitarian disaster. The Goverment made no real effort to prepare for the crisis. And insurgencies the Government generated, drained resources needed to deal with the famine. President Mengistu announced that nearlky half of the country's Gross National Product would devoted to military spending (1984). The President created the largest standing army in sub-Saharan Africa. Allocation for health were sharply cut. There is no real accountingb of the deaths resulting from the famine. The vUnited Nations estimted 1 million deaths, but there is almost no real data supporting this assessment. It is, however, clear that the very least hundreds of thousands of people died and over a million people were made destitute. The Western media began reporting on the crisis. This was able to generate sizeable charitable contributions. One important author who has written exdtensively on famines, Alex de Waal. has criticized the United Nations policies. He also is critical of the Western chairitable effort, charging that, "The humanitarian effort prolonged the war, and with it, human suffering." [Da Waal, 1997]

North Korea (1994-98)

The North Korean famine was part of a general economic crisis which theycall the Arduous March (북한기근 / 고난의 행군) (1994-98). The North Korean were caused by ongoing economic mismanagement as well as the inherent ineffecincies of Communist state planning. North Koreaas industrialized surung the Japanese occupation and the Communists expanded the industrial base. The industry was, however, highly ineffcent, in part because of Kim's Juche policy. And Commuist agricultural policies mean hrbests far below the country's potential. All of this clim to a climax after the implosion of the Soviet Union (1992). This meant tht Soviet subsidies wre no longer available. Both domestic food production nd impprts declined precipitously. A series of floods and droughts furher reduced harbests. The indstrial economy did not generate the income needed to purchase food in international markets. North Korea is a closed society so no one knows how many people perished. There are estimates of 0.2-3.5 milliom victims. The deaths peaked (1997). Economists now believethat the death toll was on the low end of estimares, bout 0.4-0.4 million people (1993-2000). Whle this was when the death toll was the highest, food shortages continue and manNorth Koreans contunue to suffer from mal-nutrition and hunger.


Navigate the Children in History Websites:
[Return to Main famine page]
[Return to Main specific war and crises page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]

Created: 5:52 PM 11/13/2016
Last updated: 5:53 PM 11/13/2016