Food problems

Food problems in this period are well covered by historical documents in the materials of the KGB mentioned above (Berelovich and Danilov, 2000a, c). Table 4.5. was compiled on the basis of these materials, showing a number of reports by the KGB on food crises and mass famine in the economic regions of the USSR. These data indicate the regions affected by food crises and mass famine. If a report only mentions food shortages, peasant malnutrition, or mass protests about the lack of food, the situation is regarded as a "food crisis". If, however, it mentions mass deaths or disease due to a lack of food, the area is regarded as experiencing "mass famine".

The secret materials of the KGB are the most reliable source of information on food problems in Russia for this period and will change the traditional view of the magnitude of those problems in the 1920s. The materials show that the scale of the food crises in Russia was much larger than many Soviet and Western historians had previously believed. For example, Robert Conquest, author of The Harvest of Sorrow (2002), a book devoted to the mass famine in Soviet Russia in the post-revolutionary decades, does not mention the severe problems of 1923 to 1925. According to the KGB materials, in some agricultural regions acute food crises were continuous from 1920 to 1925 (Table 4.5.). It appears that the famine built up in 1920, reached its peak in 1921, and then abated during the next three years. In 1921-1922, ten million people suffered and millions died because of famine; in 1922-1923, millions of people suffered and tens of thousands died; and in 1923-1924, tens of thousands were left starving and thousands died (Berelovich and Danilov, 2000d).

Table 4.5. Number of reports of food crises and mass famine, from 1917 to 1925*

Year (July/July)

1917

1918

1919

1920

1921

1922

1923

1924

/18

/19

/20

/21

/22

/23

/24

/25

North

3/1

1/0

2/0

2/1

6/3

2/0

Northwest

5/1

1/1

6/2

3/1

6/0

1/0

6/4

Central

5/1

6/0

11/3

5/0

10/1

2/0

C. Black Earth

2/0

3/0

2/0

15/7

2/2

1/0

7/6

Volga-Vyatka

2/0

4/0

11/4

58/38

20/15

4/2

1/1

Middle Volga

2/0

10/4

33/25

5/3

2/1

2/2

Low Volga

1/0

10/4

30/23

7/6

7/6

Urals

1/0

16/4

32/26

14/10

1/1

N. Caucasus

11/1

19/12

5/5

1/0

4/3

West Siberia

1/0

14/11

8/6

2/2

1/1

East Siberia

1/1

3/1

5/5

Ukraine

2/0

26/18

11/10

12/9

All regions

15/3

9/1

29/5

73/18

246/163

82/61

25/14

37/29

* The numerator shows the total number of reports, including those

on food

shortages (food crises) and those on mass famine. The denominator shows only reports on mass famine, when deaths caused by famine were observed.

Source: Berelovich and Danilov, 2000a, c.

shortages (food crises) and those on mass famine. The denominator shows only reports on mass famine, when deaths caused by famine were observed.

Source: Berelovich and Danilov, 2000a, c.

An expert looking through the KGB materials would inevitably raise questions about the reliability of the agricultural statistics for the 1920s. Soviet statistical reports contain a great diversity of statistical data on the Russian economy. One problem is that some reports provide conflicting data. For example, according to one official source grain production in European Russia reached 22.9 million tons in 1924 (Sbornik statisticheskix svedeniipo Souzy SSR, 1924). The same source shows that in 1923 grain production in European Russia was 24.4 million tons, but an early Soviet statistical report for 1923 gives only 19.2 million tons as the high estimate and 15.8 million tons as the low estimate. If one takes the latter figures as the more accurate, grain production in 1924 should have been considerably less than 22.9 million tons.

Many data found in Soviet reports of the 1920s are questionable. For example, some reports even present optimistic data on the food consumption of rural and urban populations in the provinces for 1918 to 1922. The problem is that these statistics on agricultural production and food consumption only show food problems from 1919 to 1921

Table 4.6. Low and high official estimates of cereal yields in European Russia and some economic regions (centners per ha)

Regions

1920

1921

1922

1923

1924

European Russia

5.0/4.2

4.4/3.6

7.5/6.3

5.8/4.8

5.2/3.4

North

7.7/6.8

7.6/6.7

7.9/6.9

6.0/5.3

8.4/-

Northwest

7.1/6.3

8.4/7.4

6.6/5.8

5.9/5.2

7.9/-

Central

6.4/5.6

6.9/6.0

7.2/6.5

6.4/5.7

7.9/-

Central Black Earth

5.1/4.2

5.9/4.9

8.3/6.9

6.6/5.4

5.0/3.3

Volga-Vyatka

5.1/4.3

2.6/2.2

6.9/5.8

4.8/3.9

6.0/-

Middle Volga

3.0/2.5

2.0/1.6

5.4/4.4

4.7/3.5

2.6/2.4

Low Volga

1.6/1.3

0.8/0.6

4.1/3.3

3.4/2.4

0.3/-

Urals

5.5/4.6

3.9/3.4

8.4/7.1

6.0/4.8

9.3/6.3

North Caucasus

7.1/5.9

4.3/3.6

10/8.5

7.6/6.2

6.5/4.0

Western Siberia

5.3/4.5

6.4/5.4

7.6/6.4

5.5/4.3

4.5/3.1

Ukraine

8.1/6.8

6.4/5.4

9.9/8.3

8.9/7.5

7.0/3.6

Sources: for 1920 Statisticheskii ezhegodnik: 1918-1920, 1921; for

1921 Statis-

ticheskii ezhegodnik: 1921, 1922; for 1922-24 Sbornik statisticheskix svedenii po Souzy SSR: 1918-1923, 1924; for 1924 (low estimate) Kochetkov (2000).

ticheskii ezhegodnik: 1921, 1922; for 1922-24 Sbornik statisticheskix svedenii po Souzy SSR: 1918-1923, 1924; for 1924 (low estimate) Kochetkov (2000).

(when their existence was openly recognized by Soviet authorities) but do not show the severe food crises in Russia after the disastrous famine of 1922 to 1925 (which were always concealed by the authorities) (see Table 2.2.).

The same question arises if an expert analyzes the correspondence between grain production and the materials of the KGB. From 1920, Soviet statisticians applied a "correction coefficient" to field data for yields, which was subsequently raised. In general, agricultural statistics from 1919 to 1923 are more in compliance with historical documents than statistical data 1924 to 1928. Fortunately, some Soviet statistical reports contain low and high estimates of yields and grain production in the provinces, but only for the period 1920 to 1923 (Table 4.6.). Also, some authors propose their own estimates for yields based on historical documents such as data from field research (Kochetkov, 2000). This gives an opportunity to use the original (low) estimates for analyzing the food situation in this period. For example, the KGB materials confirm that mass famine in the Ukraine occurred in 1924-1925, but official statistics show only a slight decline in cereal yields (to 7.0 centners per hectare) from the average. A low estimate of yields of half that amount—

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