Monday, May 24, 2021

1921-23 Russian Famine When ‘Eating People wasn’t Considered a Crime’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 – Russians have an enormous number of anniversaries to mark. Some of them are sources of joy and pride, but others spark bitter memories about what happened to their ancestors often because of government policies. One such is the current centenary of the horrific 1921-23 famine in which millions suffered and died.

            Such anniversaries are important to keep track of not only because the way they are treated says a great deal about the position of the Russian government now but also because these events are almost invariably the occasion for the release of new documents that also shed light on the past and the present.

            On this centenary of the horrific famine brought on by Lenin’s War Communism  and a development that played a key role in the shift to the New Economic Policy, the Russian government has released new documents from the archives about a time when “eating people wasn’t considered a crime” (

            The documents show that more than 20 million residents of Soviet Russia suffered from the famine and that while officials put out that only one to five million died as a result, “independent experts” who have examined the situation, Novaya gazeta says, conclude that “no fewer than 10 million” died.

            The focus of this year’s release of archival documents about the famine is on the American Relief Administration under Herbert Hoover, a group that is estimated by historians to have saved at least 10 million Russians from death. But the newly released documents show how hostile Lenin and his regime were to this help.

            The Bolsheviks believed that the ARA wasn’t about humanitarian assistance at all but rather was a covert means for the West to undermine Soviet power, and the new documents show that Moscow used the Cheka and other security services to restrict its activities and eventually forced both it and other foreign aid groups to shut down or leave the country.


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