The Famine of 1921-22

Throughout the time of the Russian Revolution, we have seen many different instances of food shortages; in some form or another. With the famine of 1921-22, the food shortages started to become, in nature, very political. During this time, the government would take food from the peasants and give it to those in the Red Army. While this ultimately caused unrest amongst the general population, the situation was made worse when the peasants suffered a crop failure in the Volga basin during the spring of 1921, which resulted in the famine that killed about five million people. In the picture above, which says, “remember the starving,” you are able to see an example of one of the many pleas that came from the peasants, desperate for help from the government.

As a result, the Bolsheviks were forced to “run back” to the Western states in order to prevail during this time of need. In Maksim Gorky’s appeal on behalf of the All-Russian Committee to Aid the Hungry, Gorky attempted to use famous Russian’s in order to gain sympathy for their country; referencing people such as Pavlov and Tolstoy. Additionally, Gorky also attempted to appeal to the “do good” side of the West, stating that “Russia’s misfortune offers humanitarians a splendid opportunity to demonstrate the vitality of humanitarianism” (Gorky, Appeal for Relief).

In a report from November of 1921, an American man wrote about the haunting sights he saw upon his visit to the area in famine. During this he describes the dead bodies that he saw and the people eating everything they could. At one point he even described how he found it odd that there were no dogs wandering about, only to then find that the dogs had all been killed and eaten. According to the man, he believed the area to truly be in suffering. At the end of his terrifying descriptions, the man came to the conclusion that the US should continue to support Russia in their time of need and aid them in the planting of wheat, which would ultimately allow the Russian’s to better support themselves, without the US having to give continuous aid for too long. However, while this aid continued until 1923 and helped to end the famine, the Russian government was exporting a certain amount of the grain given to the relief effort, in order to make more money for themselves; thus the reason behind the aid having to be given for so long. This is something which I believe shows how the government viewed politics as being vastly more important than the wellbeing of their people.

Works Cited

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1921-2/famine-of-1921-22/

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1921-2/famine-of-1921-22/famine-of-1921-22-texts/american-descriptions-of-the-volga-famine/

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1921-2/famine-of-1921-22/famine-of-1921-22-texts/gorkys-appeal/

Freeze Book: Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a history. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 1997. Print

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11 thoughts on “The Famine of 1921-22

  1. Great post Casey! I liked your detailed description of this unfortunate event. I particularly “liked” the part about how there were no dogs around. This really signified the lack of food that they had. It is hard for me to even imagine being hungry enough to kill an animal so that really hit home with me. Nice job!

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  2. Awesome post Casey! I like the detail you used in the last paragraph. Including the report really brought the event to life. I can’t believe that the dogs were all killed and eaten, so sad 😦 Times were most certainly tough at this moment in time.

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  3. You are definitely correct that the famines were politically charged, as the famine was both positive and negative for Lenin. He was directing a campaign to rob the Church to feed the hungry, and the 1921 New Economic Policy sparked a capitalist system where individuals starting making money selling grains and the like. Nice work!

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  4. Great post, very disturbing to see how these regions (Ukraine in particular) would face not only this famine, but an artificially created one, the Holodomor, in the early 1930s.The political nature of this famine would only be further intensified under Stalin’s policies later on. Definitely shows the transition from the idealism and revolutionary spirit of the Russian Revolution, to the authoritarianism of the Bolsheviks.

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  5. Picking up on what others have noted, I also think the famine highlights how closely connected politics, society and the agrarian economy were. As Kevin notes, this famine preceded one that was even more catastrophic in Ukraine during collectivization. I’d be interested in learning more about your sources and how you used them. What more did you learn about the U.S. role in the famine relief program?

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    1. In terms of the US involvement in the relief effort, I learned that it was headed by the American Relief Administration who not only employed Russians, but also imported food and grain to those in need. According to one source, the initial plan was for the US to help only children, but once they saw how bad life was for those affected, they decided to provide a greater amount of aid. However, sources also showed that the Russian government not only took some of the aid received in order to benefit themselves, but they also had spies infiltrate the ARA. Ultimately, despite the large amounts of relief given by the US, the Bolsheviks never acknowledged the help.

      These were the sources I head used to learn more about the aspect of US involvement!
      http://news.stanford.edu/pr/2011/pr-famine-040411.html
      http://alphahistory.com/russianrevolution/great-famine-of-1921/http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/introduction/famine/
      http://blog.newspapers.library.in.gov/jewels-starvation/
      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/transcript/famine-transcript/

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  6. I like how you mentioned how the Soviet government saw politics a more powerful tool compared to the well-being of their own people. The fact that the common folk had to result to eating dogs and scraps while the government sold the imported grain showed how revolution was always on the brink for the government.

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  7. The American’s perspective was what caught my interest the most. He saw that the Soviets were treating the people so poorly but still wanted to support them. Interesting since the Americans did not support the Reds during the civil war. My guess is he just wanted to help the people that he saw in need.

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  8. You have done an excellent job noting the connections between politics and geography. Famines are clearly very influential on the government and lead huge problems for the citizens, as they are usually the ones who suffer the most. It is also very interesting to see how governments react to these situations and how they attempt to help or ignore their citizens. Great job!

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