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There is some contention about the scale of the food crisis in the drought years in pre-war Russia. Soviet experts believe that mass famine occurred because of the droughts. They inevitably quote the words once articulated by V. Lenin about famine occurring in drought years in pre-revo-lutionary Russia. Quite typically, one Soviet news agency (Voskresensky, 1982), when discussing agricultural development in pre-revolutionary times, claimed that mass famine occurred in Russia in 1911. According to this agency, this year mass famine was observed in 60 out of the 70 provinces of the Russian Empire, and more than 30 million peasants (20 percent of the total population) starved. The blame was laid on the tsarist regime, which had urged for increases in cereal exports at any cost. Soviet historians generally quoted the words of Vyshnegradsky, the minister of finance, who said in 1887: "Let us starve, but let us export."

Some Western experts also talk of mass famine in the years of crop failure at the beginning of the twentieth century. Gregory (1992), for example, says that the terrible famine of 1891 was followed by famine in 1897 and 1901 (p. 11). Similarly, Conquest (2002) says that before the revolution of 1917 "there had been famines in Russia—in 1891, in 1906, in 1911" (p. 56). However, other Western experts believe that the Russian Empire managed to avoid mass famine in the years of crop failure due to general improvements in agriculture and in the Russian grain market. Gatrell (1986) says that, although in 1901, 1906, and 1911 the harvest failed in European Russia, the increased importance of the Ukraine and, subsequently, of Siberia, prevented the harvest failures in the center from becoming natural disasters. He claims that the 1891 crop failure was the last in pre-revolutionary Russia to be regarded as "famine" (p. 140).

His position appears reasonable. The famine of 1891 is a well-known disaster in Russian history but there is no evidence that a similarly profound food crisis struck in any other year of drought subsequently. It is worth discussing the main reasons for the disaster of 1891 and for the absence of mass famine in 1901, 1906, or 1911.

The first reason is evident—the drought of 1891 was much more severe than any other in the pre-war period. It was an unprecedented and severe climatic phenomenon and affected a vast territory—the Middle and Low Volga, almost the whole of the Central Black Earth region, the southwest and northeast of the Volga-Vyatka region, the Northern Caucasus, the Crimea, and southwest Ukraine. It was reported that the drought also affected some central and northern regions of European Russia—the southeast part of the Central region, central districts of the Western region, and Belarus (Opyt predvaritelnogo analiza, 1933).

In 1891 there was a combination of spring drought and other vagaries of the weather. Problems had already emerged in the autumn of 1890 and winter of 1890-1891. According to information from the Department of Agriculture of the Russian Empire, the winter crop of the Central Black Earth region was damaged due to an unusually dry autumn in 1890. In addition, the winter of 1890-1891 was extremely cold. In early December there were 31 degrees of frost in the Central region of Russia and 36 degrees to the northeast of Moscow. Severe frost accompanied by strong winds swept away snow from the soil surface and in many districts it remained uncovered for many weeks. Accord ing to the TsUEG report, this was the most severe winter in Europe in the whole of the nineteenth century. It was reported that in 1890-1891, unusually cold weather spread to western Europe and even North Africa. For example, temperatures in Madrid fell to minus 7.5 degrees, and a temperature of minus 9 was registered in the city of Algeria.

In spring the thin snow layer melted in a few days providing little moisture for the soil. Up until mid-June, the dry and warm weather was interrupted several times by returning frosts which damaged the weak winter crop and prevented the sowing of spring cereals. The main area affected by the spring/summer drought spread from the Crimea to the middle and lower reaches of the rivers Don and Donets (eastern Ukraine, and Rostovskaya and Volgogradskaya oblasts), the southern part of the Volga basin (south of the city of Saratov), to the basin of the river Ural (Orenburgskaya oblast). In the Central Black Earth region great damage was caused to crops by the strong dry winds (sukhovei) which brought temperatures higher than 40 degrees and reduced the moisture in the air to below 20 percent. In European Russia precipitation reached only 44 percent of average levels during the first half of the year. The drought was initially associated with the influx of arctic air, which was transformed into a dry and hot mass.

The combination of the different climatic factors explains the enormous area of crop failure in 1891. Statistics show that in 1891 cereal yields elsewhere in European Russia were below average levels (0.7 to 0.9 tons) (Figure 3.9.). In the Volga, the Central Black Earth region and the Urals, the drought and dry winds completely destroyed the crops. The rest of the territory suffered from a severe winter followed by the dry autumn of 1890. The area of crop failure in 1891 was much larger than in any other drought year in the pre-war period. This emphasizes the unprecedented character of the natural disaster. The crop failure reached 25 percent of average levels of grain production between 1886 and 1890, and 35 percent of the levels of 1900 to 1911 (Table.3.3.).

Besides extremely unfavorable weather conditions in 1891, there were certain social and economic factors that were responsible for the emergence of mass famine that year in European Russia. Wheatcroft (1992) provides a detailed analysis of the economic situation in 1891. He points out that the growth in grain production in the last 20 years of the nineteenth century was indeed sufficiently rapid to provide for the large growth in population and in grain exports. However, in individual years, and also in clusters of years, levels did fall quite sharply. The

Figure 3.9. Cereal yield in 1891

Figure 3.9. Cereal yield in 1891

; ; 0.21-0.4 tonnes per ha | | 0.61-1.0 tonnes per ha * Moscow

famine of 1891 was primarily the result of a decline in grain yield resulting from a drought, but it followed a series of poor yield years—1890, and especially 1889, when grain production per capita was less than the officially estimated minimum at 0.3 tons of bread (Table 3.4.).

Considering that the level of grain production in the famine year of 1891 was higher than in 1889, Wheatcroft (1992) raises a reasonable question: Why did the famine occur in 1891 and not in 1889? To some extent this can be explained by the fact that the peasants had greater reserves in 1889, which were exhausted by 1891. But it is also likely to be related to two other factors: the sharp decline in the living standards of part of the peasant population in 1891, with a deterioration in rural wage rates and an increase in peasant indebtedness; and the regional incidence of harvest failure.

The geography of the crop failure seems to be the most important factor in the mass famine in 1891. Grain production in 1889 was particularly low in the relatively wealthier southern regions that had a large surplus of grain in average years (the Ukraine and Northern Caucasus) but was high in more overpopulated regions—the Central Black Earth and Volga regions. In 1891 the drought affected the Volga and Central

Table 3.4. Grain production, exports, and domestic residue per head of the population in the 50 provinces of European Russia, 1883-1900 (millions of tons and tons per capita per annum)

Year Production Exports Net Population Per capita Per capita _production net exports

Table 3.4. Grain production, exports, and domestic residue per head of the population in the 50 provinces of European Russia, 1883-1900 (millions of tons and tons per capita per annum)

883

33.95

5.24

28.71

76.85

0.44

0.37

884

37.32

5.63

31.69

77.81

0.48

0.41

885

31.67

4.55

27.12

79.11

0.40

0.34

886

35.87

6.44

29.43

80.21

0.45

0.37

887

41.69

898

32.71

81.47

0.51

0.40

888

40.15

7.63

32.52

82.72

0.49

0.39

889

30.48

6.85

23.63

84.18

0.36

0.28

890

36.86

6.40

30.46

85.28

0.43

0.36

891

28.76

3.21

25.55

86.48

0.33

0.30

892

34.46

6.62

27.84

87.68

0.39

0.32

893

48.03

10.48

37.55

88.10

0.55

0.43

894

48.65

9.42

39.23

89.34

0.54

0.44

895

43.79

8.30

35.49

90.65

0.48

0.39

896

44.66

8.01

36.65

91.94

0.49

0.40

897

37.07

7.52

29.55

93.78

0.40

0.32

898

43.07

5.67

37.40

95.16

0.45

0.39

899

49.54

6.88

42.66

96.63

0.51

0.44

900

48.32

7.64

40.68

98.38

0.49

0.41

Source: Wheatcroft (1992).

Source: Wheatcroft (1992).

Black Earth regions while grain production remained fairly high in the south. The wealthier southern provinces were able to withstand the poor harvest of 1889 with only a limited reduction in exports, but the decline in the most populated central provinces in 1891 was much more serious. These central production areas are the ones which became the main victims of the drought of 1891. These regions had traditionally supplied grain surpluses to the northern cities, although more recently these traditional production regions had been superseded by the Ukraine and Northern Caucasus as major grain surplus producing provinces. These southern surplus regions were the source of the largest grain exports of this period due to their easy access to the Black Sea. Thus the central production regions were already undergoing a decline in comparison with the newer and more prosperous southern regions.

Wheatcroft (1992) discusses which regions and which groups of the Russian population were the most vulnerable to crop failure. A fall in grain production did not necessarily lead to a decline in all peasant living standards; when grain prices rose, those peasants who were able to maintain control over their grain surpluses could end up with a higher income. Peasants who had no surpluses and who depended on the market for their own food would be the most affected by the grain shortage and the rising prices. In the northern (consumption) area, poor peasants who produced insufficient grain for their own consumption had greater prospects of industrial urban or forestry employment to supplement their incomes. In the south, the predominant means of supplementing income was to seek employment as a seasonal agricultural laborer. The problem was particularly severe here because the drought not only caused grain prices to rise, it also tended to lead to a fall in rural wages and a reduction in rural work prospects, since less labor was required to bring in the smaller harvests. It was within this group of rural wage laborers that the effect of the drought and the famine was most severe.

The crop failure caused a steep rise in grain prices in 1891 and 1892. The price of rye, for example, more than doubled, from 28.6 rubles per ton to 58.6 rubles per ton between 1882 and 1890. The problem was that this rise was accompanied by a decline in rural wages, which resulted in a sharp fall in real rural wage levels. Detailed figures for different regions indicate that the crisis was far more serious in the traditional agricultural regions than in the northern areas closer to the industrial zone. Data on peasant indebtedness and indirect tax payments also demonstrate the serious nature of the peasant crisis. Rural tax indebtedness was particularly high in the central regions, and was actually rising during the famine when indirect taxation payments were falling. The poor economic condition of the peasants was the main reason for the mass famine in the central agricultural regions.

In addition to the famine, an epidemic of cholera broke out among the peasants in the Volga region, where the drought was the most severe. Wheatcroft (1992) refers to a work of Robbins, who calculated that the average death rate in the 16 provinces of European Russia most severely affected by the famine rose from 3.76 percent (the norm for the period 1881 to 1890) to 4.81 percent in 1892. In absolute figures, the number of deaths in the famine-stricken provinces during 1892 was about 406,000 above normal. The number of cholera deaths is estimated at 103,364. Thus about 25 percent of the excessive mortality could be

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