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Starving Soviets: The Great Famine of 1921-1922

It was a tumultuous and deadly period when the Bolsheviks seized power. Much of history of the early Soviet Union centers on the rise of Lenin and Stalin, the mass killings, and the conglomeration of Soviet power. Not as much information is centered on the widespread famines that wiped countless numbers of Russians during this period. Due to the constant fighting in the Soviet Union’s early days, the Bolsheviks were forced to send numerous armies to quell any chances of further revolution and to stake their claim on Russia. Due to the widespread distribution of soldiers, the Soviets had to establish numerous, long supply lines in order to feed their troops. Such an extensive operation led to a “food dictatorship” being imposed upon the peasantry, as grain and other food supplies were requisitioned by the government in order feed the troops. Peasant rebellions against the new Soviet leadership and policies led to a gradual reduction of farming lands, causing an even greater reduction of food supplies. Despite the New Economic Policy and other initiatives to hinder uprisings, the need for more food for the military increased coupled with the decrease of farming lands and resistance by many peasants, the Soviet Union was put in a state that it could not afford even a small dip in agriculture production.

Soviet poster encouraging frugality due to the famine

Unfortunately for the Soviet Union, such an even occurred in the Spring of 1921. The Volga basin, which supplied much of the Soviet’s agriculture necessities, suffered a devastating crop failure. Hitting at the absolute worse period of time for the young Soviet Union, the nation found itself in desperate need of food. More than twenty million people within the country’s borders were impacted by this famine. More than one million Soviets living in the Volga basin region emigrated to other regions of the state. The economic and resource deficit needed to solve this problem forced the Soviet Union to alleviate the food shortages by turning to political means. This meant asking for help from the international community. Needing immediate food supplies and having no other options, the Soviet Union was forced to reach out to its Western, ideological adversaries. The American Relief Administration, directed by future United States President Herbert Hoover, supplied necessary medical and food assistance to approximately nearly ten million Soviets in need of it.

Picture of Russian soldiers unloading supplies given to them by the United States

The Famine of 1921 devastated the Soviet Union and proved to be one of the first international tests for the new leaders. Needing outside intervention in order to save many of its people, Lenin and the other Soviets suppressed their proud ideology in order to receive the international aide that they needed. The state’s mistakes coupled with unfortunate timing ultimately led to the deaths of around five million people, many of them dying of diseases caused by their weakened immune systems, a byproduct of undernourishment. As awful as the famine was, millions of more likely would have died if it weren’t for the Soviet Union reaching out to the United States for aid. The conduct by the state demonstrated the transition the Bolsheviks had made from uncompromising revolutionaries into political rulers whom were directly responsible for the welfare of their new state.

Russia: A History by Gregory L. Freeze

Famine of 1921-22 Images

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5 Responses to “Starving Soviets: The Great Famine of 1921-1922”

  1. Courtney Howell says:

    You do a great job of addressing how the Bolsheviks transitioned from revolutionaries to rulers in this post. Famine and food security issues will continue to pop up later in the history of the USSR. Maybe you could post in the future about these kinds of issues! Good job again.

  2. Amanda Rettberg says:

    I really found your post very interesting and enjoyed reading it. I knew that Russia was facing extreme famine in 1921 but I did not realize the whole extent and severity of it all. I also did not know that the United States helped the Soviet Union at all in providing them with aid. I wonder what the circumstances would have been if the United States did not help them and how long it would have taken them to relieve the extreme amount of famine throughout the country?

  3. mitch7b says:

    I really like this post, it gave me a good background of the food shortages that were plaguing Russia at the time period. I also really like how you tied in the political implications of the famine with the actions of the state.

  4. ignas bednarczyk says:

    It has long been held that famine was as deliberate a policy of Stalinism by Stalin in his Stalin’s Purges for which he is renown. As time passes, survivors die, & their children & grandchildren gradually forget- there is a need to forget terror. However history must stand & this is suggesting that the victims of famine were ‘Soviet’s’. I am sorry but your background is unauthentic & to suggest the Bolshevik’s were ‘forced’, that the famine was caused by Bolshevik resistance, is mentally retarded academically & a crime against the victims of famine before & after, as well as 1921.

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