Soviet famine of 1946–47

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The last major famine to hit the USSR began in July 1946, reached its peak in February–August 1947 and then quickly diminished in intensity, although there were still some famine deaths in 1948.[1] The situation spanned most of the grain-producing regions of the country: Ukraine, Moldavia and parts of central Russia. The conditions were caused by drought, the effects of which were exacerbated by the devastation caused by World War II. The grain harvest in 1946 totaled 39.6 million tons - barely 40% of 1940's yield. With the war, there was a significant decrease in the number of able-bodied men in the rural population, retreating to 1931 levels. There was a shortage of agricultural machinery and horses. The Soviet government with its grain reserves provided relief to rural areas and appealed to the United Nations for relief. Assistance also came from the Ukrainian(manly Ruthenian diaspora)and Russians from east Ukraine in North America, which minimized mortality.[2][3]

Economist Michael Ellman claims that the hands of the state could have fed all those who died of starvation.[1] He argues that had the policies of the Soviet regime been different, there might have been no famine at all or a much smaller one.[1][1] Ellman claims that the famine resulted in an estimated 1 to 1.5 million lives lost in addition to secondary population losses due to reduced fertility.[1] However, Professor of History Stanislav Kulchitsky (ru) asserts that the famine of 1946-1947 had a death toll in Ukraine that numbered rather in 300 000 for example"the tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands, and certainly not in the millions".[3]

Economist Steven Rosefielde claims that the Soviet government bore responsibility for the conditions.[4]

Robert Service argues that Stalin thought in the first instance that any reports of rural hardship were the result of peasants tricking urban authorities into indulging them.[5] During the crisis, the USSR continued to export grain,[1] with the majority of it going to soviet zone East Germany and Poland and Hungary and Tschechoslovakia to consolidate the new Eastern Bloc.[6]

Partly as a result of this famine, unlike many countries in Europe and North America, the Soviet Union did not experience a post-war baby boom. Prompted by the drought and famine of 1946-47, the so-called "Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature" was put forth which consisted in a number of ambitious projects in land improvement.

In Moldova[edit]

Between 1946 and 1947, exacly in Tansnistria there were over 300,000 recorded deaths linked to starvation (source: Arhiva Națională a RM, Fond.3085, inv. 1, dosar 129). At the same time according to "Moldova Socialistă" newsletter from 28 January 1947, the Moldavian SSR surpassed planned productions of butter (by 33.2%), sunflower oil (by 39.5%), meat products (by 32.5%), canned food (by 101.9%). 34 cases of cannibalism where discovered by authorities during the 1946-1947, but many of them remained undiscovered.

In Ukraine[edit]

From 1938 to 1949 Nikita Khrushchev was the head of the Communist Party of (Russian)Ukraine (CP[b]U), which means that he played the role of a governor for Joseph Stalin in Moscow, who was head of state of the Soviet Union and who held absolute dictatorial authority. During a brief period between February and December 1947 Lazar Kaganovich stood in for Khrushchev due to what was claimed to be an illness. Khrushchev had been a long time close associate of Lazar Kaganovich who was the head of the CP(b)U from 1925 to 1928. During that time Kaganovich had been responsible for implementing collectivization of agriculture in Ukraine and was involved with the aggressive repression of the so-called kulaks (Russian term) and kurkuli (Ukrainian term) - who were private farmers who were not members of collective farms that were labelled by the communists as being wealthy. They were deemed exploiters of the people for hiring labour, which became a monopoly right claimed by the communist state. By bringing in Kaganovich in 1947 it is an indication that Stalin wanted someone who was a hard liner against the kurkuli that was already experienced in collectivization and repressive measures against farmers that were being imposed at the time and was willing to implement them ruthlessly. This makes Stalin, Khrushchev and Kaganovich the main communist leaders responsible for the famine in Ukraine in 1946-47.

During the 1920s in Ukraine Khrushchev had been rapidly promoted by Kaganovich through various senior posts and had been his protégé. In 1929 Khrushchev moved to Moscow to continue his education, which he never completed. After the end of Kaganovich's first governorship of Ukraine in 1928, he was recalled to Moscow and replaced by Stanislav Kosior. Khruschev later replaced Kosior as head of the CP(b)U and governor of Ukraine in 1938. Kaganovich and Kosior are considered to be the key people responsible for implementing the policies which led to the earlier Holodomor famine-genocide in Ukraine, which was the most severe in 1932-33. As the absolute dictator at the time, Joseph Stalin held ultimate responsibility, since he set the overall policy for the Soviet Union and his governors had to carry out his orders in Ukraine. Joseph Stalin admitted to Winston Churchill in Yalta that his collectivization policies during that period cost the lives of 10 million people over 4 years. He would have not exaggerated such a figure, since the official Soviet policy was to conceal and downplay those issues. Kosior was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1935 for "remarkable success in the field of agriculture." [7][8]

After WW2 when Soviet rule extended to western Ukraine the similar collectivization policies which had earlier taken place in Ukraine and Russia during the 1920s and 1930s were imposed there as well. Similar to eastern Ukraine during collectivization, there was strong resistance to those and other Soviet policies from the local population which was largely suppressed by 1952. In Ukraine and Russia collectivization coincided with repression and mass famines due to excessive grain requisitions, which is recognized as the main direct policy that caused the famines. That was a policy which was developed originally by Alexander Tsurupa in 1917-1918, which became a standard repressive policy of using food as a weapon in many communist countries afterwards associated with collectivization and mass famines.

Despite poor harvests due to drought, in 1946 Khrushchev set excessive grain collection quotas for Ukraine which resulted in a massive famine.[9] Collective farms were required to hand over 52% of their harvests to the communist government.[10] Although it is has been claimed that he tried to reduce the quotas in late 1946, this was not allowed by Stalin. Khrushchev was closely associated with Kaganovich who along with Kosior were found by a court in Kiyiv in 2010 to have been the some of the main persons responsible for the Holodomor of 1932-33. Since Kaganovich was brought in to replace Khrushchev temporarily in 1947 as communist governor in Ukraine, it strongly suggests that the famine of 1946-47 was also a deliberate policy like the previous famine in 1932-33 which Khrushchev would have certainly known about since he had been part of leadership of the CP(b)U and of the Soviet Union. Stalin who was ultimately responsible for the famine of 1946-1947 was well-aware that excessive grain requisitions would cause a mass famine, similar to what he had deliberately done in 1932-33. In the spring of 1946 Khrushchev had told Stalin about the famine. Stalin who glorified himself with the title of "father of all peoples" called it a lie and did not allow it to be officially recognized or remedied, similar to the famine of 1932-33. This was in contrast to the first major Soviet famine of 1921-23 which was officially recognized and several foreign relief missions were allowed. The official death toll was 5 million persons for that famine, which was recognized in the Volga Basin. The more severe famine at the time in southern Ukraine and in the Don region was not recognized and was still subject to continued grain requisitions.[11]

The 1946-47 famine in Ukraine affected most of the country except for a areas in few western provinces where the resistance to the forced food requisitions helped to save the people from starvation. Information about the famine in 1946-47 was similarly concealed by the Soviet government as was the famine in 1932-33. Until 1988 it was forbidden for academics in the Soviet union to research those issues.[12] In the post WW2 famine of 1946-47 there were approximately 400,000 - 500,000 children and teenagers that died, who made up a third of the victims.[13] There were many recorded cases of cannibalism. It also resulted in a significant increase in various types of illnesses because of a lack of food. As in the 1930s there were groups of people who would be sent around to collect dead bodies that were put into mass graves. Similarly to 1932-33, it was mostly a rural famine.

Soviet policies such as unrealistic food production and excessive requisition quotas, forced grain collections and confiscations, low or no pay for collective farm workers and excessive taxes pushed the rural population to famine. The amount of food that was confiscated and taken out of Ukraine would have been enough to feed the population and avoid the famine. Although there was a drought and a reduced harvest, it was an artificial famine caused by the communist government in Ukraine due to its policies. Traditionally farmers were used to periodic droughts and set aside reserves for such times. Once the communist government collectivized agriculture, the land and harvest belonged to it and farmers were reduced to the status of being employees working on collective farms and were unable to set aside reserves from what they produced. Between 1946-48 in the Soviet Union an estimated 1 million tons of grain was wasted and spoiled in storage which could have also been used instead for famine relief and saved many lives. During the famine although it was not the majority of the harvest, considerable amounts of grain were still exported abroad.

In most places the post WW2 famine in Ukraine started in 1945 with the imposition of excessive grain collection policies by the Soviets. It became more severe during 1946 and peaked in the winter and spring of 1947. By the fall of 1947 it began to subside, but continued in many areas until the late 1940s. There was still malnutrition and inadequate food in the early 1950s. It affected all of Ukraine, but the mortality was most severe in the southern parts of the country. The famine was severe in central Ukraine as well. It was not as severe in western Ukraine due to a better harvest there and the fact that collectivization was only being implemented there, which had not deprived families from an independent food production source. This made full confiscation of food more difficult for the Soviet authorities because of many more point sources of food availability and production than in a collective farm system where they had much more control. Because many parts of western Ukraine are a forested mountainous region and a high level of active resistance where the geography favoured them, the population was able to hide away some food and prevent it from being taken away, which allowed more people to survive and avoid starvation. In western Ukraine the population suffered proportionally more from repression than from famine during those years compared to other parts of the country. Between 1945-1953 there were severe repressions in Ukraine including mass arrests of tens of thousands of people and mass deportations. This included the deportation into exile of an estimated 500,000 people from western Ukraine between 1946-49.[14]

In Russia[edit]

In the summer of 1946 there was a famine in the provinces of Rostov, Voronezh, Orel, Kursk and Tambov which was made worse by a poor harvest caused by drought and excessively high grain collection targets. Those were based on quotas set on too high production expectations which Stalin was unwilling to reduce in many areas. This was also a repetition of the too high quotas and excessive grain collections which led to the 1932-33 Holodomor famine-genocide which is recognized as having been a deliberate policy. The autumn and winter of 1946-1947 was the worst part of the famine, in which at least 500,000 persons perished.[15]

Two decrees were passed on June 5, 1947 which were similar to the law of August 7, 1932 for the protection of state property, which in Ukraine was known as the "Law of Five Spikelets" (Ears of Wheat) and in Russia the "Law of Three Spikelets", or simply the "Law of Spikelets." The 1947 law was not as strict as the 1932 law which included death sentences and much lengthier prison sentences for the same offenses, including for very minor thefts. The 1947 law was still very strict and made severe punishments for anyone who attacked state property such as a collective farm. It is understandable that the people would be upset with collective farms and the state which monopolized food production during the time of a famine, when the very food that they had produced was being taken away from the starving people who were dying as a result. That was precisely why the law was passed to help to push through those repressive policies and punish resistance which they knew would take place. According to the 1947 decrees attacks on state property were punishable by 5 to 25 years in prison. For even very small thefts of a few ears of wheat by starving people the punishment was up to 1 year in prison, which gave the law its name from the people. For stealing a few kilograms of grain a person could have been sent to 8 to 10 years in the gulag slave labour camps. Someone knowing of theft or preparations of theft who did not report it to the authorities could have been sentenced from 1 to 3 years in prison.[16] The word theft of grain should be interpreted with a bit of legal skepticism in that context, since the land had been previously stolen from the people during collectivization by the communist state, along with almost all other private property. Often collective farm workers were not being paid or being underpaid at the same time and people were resorting to any means to survive. It could be described as a criminal system as its basis that mistrusted and sought to repress its own population for the sake of keeping a small ideological political elite in power.

By the end of 1948 the gulag population had doubled from 1945 to 500,000 persons. The gulags had a very high mortality rate, and for many it was a death sentence being worked to death in very miserable conditions. Often they were in remote locations in Siberia or in the far East or North. In the gulags people were forced to work, which provided virtually free labour for the communist state where Lenin's principle of "he who does not work, does not eat" applied strictly. The gulags are one of the worst examples of exploitation of workers and slavery in history where human dignity was brought to a very low level. This was illustrated in a book by former gulag prison guard Danzig Baldaev.[17]

Officially the communists ruled in the name of the people, and everything was done in the name of the people, calling themselves peoples' democracies and republics. In their rhetoric and propaganda the communists often accused anyone who opposed them of being an "enemy of the people," implying that they and "the people" were synonymous. The communist mass famine starvation policies and the need for such mass repression show that the actual situation was quite the opposite : that it was a numerically small political elite trying to stay in control by force over a large majority of the population which did not support them or their policies.

An early example of a communist hate campaign was on January 24, 1919, when there was a secret Soviet decree to make a genocidal campaign against the Cossacks, who they labelled as being opposed to the revolution. During 1919-1920 there were intense de-Cossackization operations with tens of thousands of executions, expropriations of land and property and deportations of affecting 300,000 - 500,000 people. As the head of the Red Army Leon Trotsky had waged a hate and genocidal campaign against the Cossacks, pledging to "de-Cossack the Kuban." This later continued through later famines and other repressive policies which targeted them as a population group. The term of hatred "enemy of the people" was used against the so-called kulaks and kurkuli during collectivization as part of the campaign to "liquidate them as a class." Many of them had a Cossack background who were the traditional rural elite in southern Russia and Ukraine, precisely the successful and wealthier farmers than average who were being targeted as kulaks. There is a close correlation between most of the famines in the Soviet Union and the areas which were settled by Cossacks, who were primarily farmers.

Current Comparisons of Similar Policies Leading to Famines and Food Shortages[edit]

A more recent example of such hate campaigns against sections of their population used as a political weapon for the repression of the people was in Cambodia during the regime of Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. There were also policies very similar to the Holodomor with food restrictions and collectivization that led to famine. Stockpiling food in order to trade for weapons from China contributed to the famine. North Korea had a mass famine from 1994 to 1998. This period known as the Arduous March was a period peaking in 1997, with a wide range of estimated deaths from 240,000 - 3.5 million from starvation. During that time and since, when North Korea has been receiving foreign food aid and humanitarian assistance, the communist government has been spending tens of millions of dollars to develop long range missiles, nuclear weapons and other advanced weapons which it claims it needs to protect from an external threat from South Korea and the US. In its domestic propaganda, the foreign enemy threat is used as a justification for the conditions in the country, which include food shortages and poverty.

Collectivization of agriculture is the general socialist policy most closely associated with food shortages and famines.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Michael Ellman, The 1947 Soviet Famine and the Entitlement Approach to Famines Cambridge Journal of Economics 24 (2000): 603-630.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Rosefielde, Steven (2009). Red Holocaust. Routledge. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-415-77757-5. 
  5. ^ Stalin, a biography by Robert Service, page 498
  6. ^ Hanson, P. 2003: The rise and fall of the Soviet economy: An economic history of the USSR from 1945. Pearson Education Limited: London.
  7. ^ Guide to the history of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union 1898 – 1991.
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Веселова,О.М.,Марочко,В.І.,Мовчан,О.М. Голодомори в Україні : 1921-23, 1932-33, 1946-47. Злочини проти народу.- Дрогобич : Видавнича фірма «Відродження», 2008. - 273 с.. - С. 274-286 (рекомен. літер.). (English translation of the title : Holodomors in Ukraine : 1921-23, 1932-33, 1946-47. Crimes Against the People.)ISBN 978-966-538-199-0
  10. ^ Tompson, William J. (1995), Khrushchev: A Political Life, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0-312-12365-9
  11. ^ Yakovlev, Alexander, N. (2002) A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia. New Haven and London : Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08760-8
  12. ^ Веселова,О.М.,Марочко,В.І.,Мовчан,О.М. Голодомори в Україні : 1921-23, 1932-33, 1946-47. Злочини проти народу.- Дрогобич : Видавнича фірма «Відродження», 2008. - 273 с.. - C.178, - C.256
  13. ^ Веселова,О.М.,Марочко,В.І.,Мовчан,О.М. Голодомори в Україні : 1921-23, 1932-33, 1946-47. Злочини проти народу.- Дрогобич : Видавнича фірма «Відродження», 2008. - 273 с.. - C.247
  14. ^ Веселова,О.М.,Марочко,В.І.,Мовчан,О.М. Голодомори в Україні : 1921-23, 1932-33, 1946-47. Злочини проти народу.- Дрогобич : Видавнича фірма «Відродження», 2008. - 273 с.. - C.264-267
  15. ^ Courtois, S., Werth,N.,Panné,J.,Paczkowski,A.,Bartosek,K.,Margolin,J.(1999) The Black Book of Communism : Crimes, Terror, Repression. Cambridge and London : Harvard University Press. pg.233
  16. ^ Courtois, S., Werth,N., Panné,J., Paczkowski,A., Bartosek,K.,Margolin,J.(1999) The Black Book of Communism : Crimes, Terror, Repression. Cambridge and London : Harvard University Press. pg.234 ISBN 0-674-07608-7
  17. ^ Baldaev, Danzig (2010) Drawings from the Gulag. London : FUEL. ISBN 978-0-9563562-4-6

General references[edit]

  • Zima, V. F. The Famine of 1946-1947 in the USSR: Its Origins and Consequences. Ceredigion, UK: Mellen Press, 1999. (ISBN 0-7734-3184-5)
  • Nicholas Ganson, The Soviet Famine of 1946-47 in Global and Historical Perspective [2]. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. (ISBN 0-230-61333-0)
  • Cașu, I. The Famine of 1946-1947 in the Moldavian SSR: Its Causes and Consequences, in Romanian, in Cașu, Dușmanul de clasă. Represiuni politice, violență și rezistență în R(A)SS Moldovenească. Chișinău: Cartier, 2014, p. 289-333. (ISBN 978-9975-79-828-0) Russian version at:
  • Ніточко,І.І.(ред.)Голодомори в Україні : Одеська область. 1921-23,1932–33,1946-47. Дослідження, спогади, документи. Одесса : Державний Архів Одеської Області, Одеська Обласна Державна Адміністрація, Державний Комітет Архівів України. 2007 р. 460 с. ISBN 978-966-318-816-4

(English translation of Ukrainian title : Nitochko, I.,I. (ed.)(2007) Holodomors in Ukraine : Odessa Province. 1921-23, 1932–33, 1946-47. Research, memoirs, documents. Odessa : State Archive of the Odessa Province, Odessa Provincial State Administration, State Committee of Archives of Ukraine. 460 pgs.)

  • Одинока,Л.П.,Приходько,Л.Ф.,Романовський,Р.В. Голодомори в Україні. 1921-23,1932–33,1946-47. Матеріяли до бібліографії документальних публікацій.Київ : Український Науково-Дослідчий Інститут Архівної Справи та Документознавства, Державний Комітет Арїівів України. 2005 р. с.40. ISBN 996-625-026-8.

(English translation of Ukrainian title : Odinoka,L.,P., Prychodko, L.F., Romanovsky, R.V.(2005) Holodomors in Ukraine. 1921-23,1932–33,1946-47. Bibliographic materials of documentary publications. Published by the Ukrainian Scientific Research Institute of Archival Matters and Documentation Sciences, State Committee of Archives of Ukraine. Kiyiv, Ukraine. 40 pgs.)

  • Ребро,П.,П. та ін. Голодомори на Запоріжжі (1921–23,1932–33,1946-47 рр.) Статті, документи, спогади. Альманах «СПОКУТА» No.8-9. Науково-редакційний підродзіл «Реабілітовані історією» при Запоріжській облдержадміністрації. Запоріжжя : Дніпровий металург, 2008. 246 с.

(English translation of Ukrainian title : Rebro,P.,P. et al. (2008) Holodomors in Zaporizhia. (1921–23,1932–33,1946–47). Articles, documents, memoirs. Almanac of Atonement No.8-9. published by "Rehabilitated by History," a Scientific-Editorial Section of the Zaporizhia Provincial State Administration. Zaporizhia : Dniproviy Metalurh. 246 pgs.)