Russian Civil War: Famine--American Relief Mission (1921-22)


Figure 1.--Here the first American food shipments reach the starving Russians, I believe in 1921. Russia after the Civil War was experiencing a famine. American food shipments were provided free and saved millions of lives. I am not sure what all the lettering on the railroad box cars (carriages) says. They may just be railroad box car reference markings. The word on bottom left above man's head. means 'dinning car' or 'kitchen'.

The American relief mission to Russia like the effort in Europe 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 along with the rest of Europe, 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 eventually accepted the American terms. The publicity campaign waged by Eglantyne Jebb and her Save the Children Fund helped shame the Bolseviks into saving their own people. 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 Bolshevik regime. [Salisbury, p. 442.] There were indeed 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 and Ukranians today are not related 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, relatively few Russians know about it today. And many of those who know about it do not understand the dimensions of the American and other Western efforts to save Russian children. Tragically a decade latter, Stalin caused a terrible famine in the Ukraine that killed over 5 million People through starvation. And because by that time he had hardened Soviet borders to the extent that the dimenions of the tragedy did not leak out to the West.

World War I: Allied Assistance to Russia (1914-17)

Russia was a critical British and French ally in World War I. Russia prevented the Germans from throwing the full force of its powerful Army at the British an French in the West (August 1914). If they had been able to do this, Paris would undoubted had fall in the first month of the War. Russia had a massive Army, but not the industril capacity to fully equip it. From an early point, the Allies struggled to get war supplies to the Russians. As a esult og German control of the Baltic and Ottoman control of Dadenelles, the Allies had to use minoir Arctic ports (Murmansk and Arkangel) and Vladisvostock in the Far East. This severely limited deliveries. This critical need to aid Russia was the gioal behind the failed Galipoli Campaign (1915). As the War progressed, food became a critical issue. Russia with control of Ukraine was the breadbasket of Europe. German advances and incompetent administration resulted in disasterous decline in harvests and deliveries to the cities. There was no competent rationing program. Some one third of Russia's able-bodied men were conscripted into the Army. Large numbers of peasants The peasants were therefore absent from the fieklds producing the usual amount of food. Food shortages began and prices rose. Food prices were four times as high as before the war (1916). As a result, strikes for higher wages became common in Russia's cities. And protests about food shortags began. [York, p. 4.]

Russian Revolution (1917)

Hunger in the cities and growing resistance among enlisted personnel led to opposition to the Tsar and his management of the War. The result was the Russian Revolution (February 1917). The Provisional Giovernmrnt attempted to establish a parlimentary democracy. It lso tried to keep Russia in the War. The Germany supplied Lennin and top Bolsheviks with Gold and enabled him to cross Germsny in a sealed train and enter Russia throuugh Dweden and Finland. Lennin's slogan was 'Peave, Land, and Bread'. This resonated with the Russian peoole, but it was control of the Soviets and allied military units that brought the Bolsheviks to power (October 1917). Lenin did not immediately make peace. The German demands were draconial. Finally Lenin accepted them nbd agreed to the Treatly Breast Litovsk (March 1918). The Allied victory in the West, however, fiorced the Germans to sgn an Armistice (Novembr 1917). The Germans were forced to rescinfd the Brest-Litiovsk Treaty..

Russian Civil War (1919-21)

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.

Famine (1918-23)

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!"

American Relief in Europe (1914-22)

American vurutally invented international humanitarian relief during World War I. There had been limited relief before, but Britaion famously failed to even prevent famine in tiny Irelabd (1840s). In contrast at the onset of World War I, the United States set out to prevent the enbattled Belgians from starving. A virtually unknown Hervert Hoover led the effort. The Germans not only invaded the country, but seized the civilian food supply to feed its Army. Hoover set up a system to distribute relief assistance in such a mannor that would keep the Belgian economy functioning. Some food was destributed freely on an emrgency basis. Hoover purchased wheat (mostly from the United States) and sold it at fixed prices to millers to prevent inflationary price mkovenments. They hen sold flour at fixed prices to bakers, and so on to consumers. Belgian muncipial authorities set up systems to distribute food in an equitable manner. Hoover began with a voluntry effort, setting up the American Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). While he favored voluntary efforts, he reakized the need for Government actiion and sought public funds. Just helping Belgium required more resources than the organization could raise through private donations. Voluntary contributions totaled $52 million to the CRB. But the organization spent about $1 billion (November 1914 - August 1919). Much of it was Belgian money in banks outside of Belgium, British and French government funds, and U.S. government loans, which came after America entered the War (April 1917). What American began in Belgium, it continued in France, Italy, and the Mid-East (peimarily to save the Arminmihs. The CRB also coordinated relief in northern France (after 1915). France was overwealmed with refugees from German occupied Belgium and northern France. American food also reached Italy. Aid to German occupied areas (especially Serbia and Polad) was mjore difficult. Suffering in Poland and Serbia was especially severe because of fighting there. CRB cooperated in a limited way with the Rockefeller Foundation to extend relief to Poland, but Britain opposed Polish relief out of fear of the Germsns benefitting. German control of central Europe made it impossible yo get food into Eastern Europe. This only changd with the Armistice requested by Germany (November 1917). This opened the way for desperatedly needed American food to reach Eastern Europe. America fced a dauntingtak. Tens of millions of people in more than 21 war-torn nations had begun to starve. President Wilson asked Hoover to head the newly created ARA. Eventually American food would help feed Germany and the other Central Powers. The only exception was Russia, but it was not bcause Hoover did not want to assist the starving Russians. The Bolsheviks incredibly refused to accept the offer of aid. .

Bolhevicks Reject Food Aid (1919-20)

The Bolshevicks did not want to admit that people were starving in the first Communist country. They refused to accept offers by America to provide food to save starving people, especially children To many Bolsheviks, Communists it did not look right for theur worler's paradice to be accepting foof aid from an evil nd inefficent capitalist state. The American Relief Administration (ARA) had offered Russia food relief in 1919 along with the rest of Europe, 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 publicity campaign waged by Eglantyne Jebb and her Save the Children Fund eventually helped shame the Bolseviks into saving their own people.

ARA Effort in Russia (1921-23)

The famine in Russia has been described as one of the greatest human disasters in Europe since the Bubonic Plague (13th century). The effort in Russia was different than the earlier effort in Russia. The Bolsheviks were committed to defeating Wesrernm capitalism and democracy. It stands as the first time in human history that any country has ever prevented an enmeny nation from starving. [Patenaude]. The American relief mission to Russia like the effort in Europe was overseen by Herbert Hoover. Even before the ARA effort in Russia began, Hoover had already probably saved more lifes than any other single infividual. As terrible as the Civil War was, the loss of life could have been much worse. 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 eventually 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!" There is no way that the ARA personnel arriving in Russua could have been prepared for wht they found. William Shafroth, the son of Colorado's governor and an ARA worker wrote home, "I have seen piles of corpses half naked and frozen into the most grotesque positions with signs of having been preyed upon by wandering dogs. I have seen these bodies and it is a sight that I can never forget." Anothrer letter describes visiting an orphanage in Kazan on the Volga with lice-ridden children 'huddled together in compact masses like a seal colony'. Many were actually not orphans, but deserted by their starving parents. Shaforth wrote, "I saw emaciated little skeletons, whose gaunt faces and toothpick legs testified to the truth of the report that they were dying daily by the dozen. The stench was nauseating." The first American relief ships arrived in Soviet Russia (September 1921). The U.S. Congress passed an appropriation to send $20 million worth of corn and wheat seed to starving Russia. To oversee the food deliveries, some 300 relief workers set out with the transport available. There were some trucks that arrived with the food, but horse, muel, camel and sleds were contracted. The ARA workers assessed needs and arranged for facilities to store the millions of bushels of corn. Of vital imporance was thousands of tons of seed which began to arrive in the Russian and Ukranian growing areas for the spring plantuing (March 1922). As in Europe, American food again played a role in saving millions of children and adults (1921-23). The menu provided the starving Russians included: corn grits, cocoa, condensed milk, white bread, and sugar. One author claims that the American food deliveries may have even saved the Bolshevik regime. [Salisbury, p. 442.] There were indeed worker strikes as well as a Navy mutiny at Krondstadt (February 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 and Ukranians today are not related 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, relatively few Russians know about it today. And many of those who know about it do not understand the dimensions of the American and other Western efforts to save Russian children.

Stalin's Engineered Ukranian Famine? (1931-32)

Tragically a decade latter, Stalin caused a terrible famine in the Ukraine that killed over 5 million People through starvation. And because by that time he had hardened Soviet borders to the extent that the dimenions of the tragedy did not leak out to the West.

Sources

Patenaude, Bertrand. The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921.

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

York, Brian. The Soviet Union (1983).






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Created: 12:12 AM 12/15/2007
Last updated: 11:31 PM 6/25/2018