The famine of 1921

The famine of 1921

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Title: Famine in Buzuluck.

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© All rights reserved

Publication date: January 2005

Historical context

During the civil war between the Bolsheviks and their opponents of all stripes, a terrible famine occurs. Faced with the scale of the catastrophe and the imperiousness of the Soviet state, Lenin, departing from his policy of isolationism, decided to call for international aid and to let foreign organizations intervene on Russian territory.

Image Analysis

In order to collect donations, the French Children's Relief Committee, under the aegis of the Red Cross, publishes a brochure prefaced by Anatole France. It reproduces twenty-five photographs, some of which are particularly atrocious: starving children with bodies deformed by dropsy, the corpses of children, adolescents or adults. The photograph represents the dead picked up in two days and piled up in the cemetery.


Despite international aid from the American Relief Administration (ARA), Red Cross, Quakers, and the International Child Relief Union which fed 11 million people, the famine of 1921-1922 caused an estimated 5 million dead.
Somehow the Bolshevik government managed to feed only 3 million people. Lenin had first authorized the All-Russian Committee to Aid the Hungry, organized by renowned Russian intellectuals, to enter into relations abroad. One of the most active personalities is Doctor Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930), Norwegian explorer and naturalist, politician in favor of the League of Nations who had taken care of the exchanges of Russian and German prisoners of war and who was to create a passport bearing his name, under the aegis of the League of Nations, for the benefit of Russians who fled the civil war.
But, as soon as the agreements with the aid organizations were signed, Lenin banned this committee on August 27, 1921 and replaced it with a bureaucratic Central Commission for the Aid of the Hungry, which proved ineffective. At the same time, it strengthens the repression: intellectuals are arrested or expelled while priests of the Orthodox Church are executed.

  • Bolshevism
  • graveyard
  • Communism
  • Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, says)
  • Russia
  • League of Nations (League of Nations)
  • France (Anatole)


Marc FERRO, The Russian Revolution of October 1917, Paris, Albin Michel, collection "Library of the Evolution of Humanity", 1997.Malia MARTIN, Understanding the Russian Revolution, Paris, Seuil.Richard PIPES, The Russian Revolution, translated from the American under the direction of Jean-Mathieu LUCCIONI, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1993.

To cite this article

Jean-Louis PANNE, "The famine of 1921"

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