Victor Serge

Help for Russia

The Causes of the Russian Famine

(23 October 1921)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. I No. 3, 23 October 1921, pp. 26–27.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

They are numerous and complex. One must recall them however in order to ascertain those responsible and the consequences thereof. In a certain, but not over-important degree, they are characteristic of the Russia of the old regime which suffered almost periodic famines without the “civilized world” bothering to think about it. In four years of terrible revolutionary struggle the evil heritage of the old regime still exerted its nefarious influence upon the land. The ignorance of the peasants and their primitive methods would alone have sufficed to produce a veritable catastrophe in a year of drought. The extent of the calamity, however, is not due only to these social and climatic conditions. We must direct our attention to some others.

1. Before the war – M. Charles Rivet (of Le Temps) describes in a hook which he has devoted to the last of the Czars and to Rasputin with what superior disdain the Ambassadors of the French Republic at St. Petersburg regarded the moujiks, that enormous reserve of cannon-food for war ... At the tune when the readers of Le Temps were reading every morning that “the Cossacks were two days’ march from Berlin”, the Allies only counted on the Russian cannon-fodder to slow up the formidable war machine of the Central Powers. The figures of the Russian losses were enormous, so great that one scarcely sees war cripples in the cities and villages of Russia they are dead.

The number of bayonet attacks against the German artillery had not been multiplied without paying a fearful price in blood. The lives, the strength of the Russian fields were exhausted at last. As the destruction of transportation followed suit, as the war devoured an enormous number of horses torn from work in the fields, the death of the best, most vigorous men brought nearer the death of Russian soil. These are things which should be brought to mind from time to time.

2. The blockade – Why should one be surprised at the spectacle of thirty million Russian peasants starving to death? The Russian famine has been deliberately planned, planned and organized for wars with all the resources of modern technology. The most noted statesmen of two worlds have several times deliberated thereon. French, English and Americans, in the luxury of the salons at Versailles, deliberately condemned the innumerable Russian people to famine. The entire press approved the decision – the parliaments, millions of bourgeois voters, all cultured, patriotic, humane, Christian people raised no protest. Those who saw the poor collapsing in the streets of Petrograd and Moscow, in the winter of 1919, succumbing to gradual starvation, who have seen horses perishing in the snow in the streets of the Russian capitals every day, who remember the one-eighth of a pound of bread then distributed by the Communes to the workers, who have not forgotten that a European newspaper never entered Red Russia at that time – they know too well that the famine is the inexpiable crime of international reaction, inexpiable because committed with the fullest complacency and serenity of spirit.

An absurd crime. It has not killed the Russian Revolution. It was based on a false calculation. Revolutionists are always hungry! They know how to hold out against hunger. But the children are dead. The aged and weak are dead. The scientists, the poets – the entire helpless elite of humanity – are dead. And now they are organizing – sometimes with the assistance of intellectuals who made no protest against the blockade – relief for the survivors.

3. The civil war has raged over the provinces now devastated by the famine at least four times. Each time the armies of the reaction have pillaged the houses, destroyed the implements and murdered the men. It was in the Volga regions that the Czechoslovaks, incited by the English and French military missions, took up arms in 1918 to cut off Russia from its grain supplies in the Urals and in Siberia and starve it into submission. There it was that Savinkov and the members of the Constituent Assembly established their White government with the aid of the Allies. It was there that Koltchak launched his new offensives on the eve of his recognition by France. With every advance of the counter-revolutionary armies the White Terror decimated the peasantry, the horizon was covered the flames of burning villages, the cattle were led away, the railways torn up and the bridges destroyed ... The Daily Chronicle, Le Journal and the New York Times’ announced (let us not forget it!) these victories: “Admiral Koltchak has blown up two bridges on the Volga ...”

Everyone to-day knows in how large a degree the Russian counter-revolution was the direct crime of foreign capital. It is only too easy to name those responsible therefor.

4. The conflict between the revolutionary city and the country still in its petty-bourgeois, religious and conservative mentality, a conflict which certain elements of the counter-revolution have cleverly known how to turn to their own advantage, aided by the deplorable circumstances which compelled the Soviet government to make use of requisitions for the nourishment of its armies. The small insurrections in the Volga regions fomented by the Right Socialist Revolutionaries or by the clergy run into the hundreds. The conflict between the town proletariat and the peasant middle class, it may be stated, although it has profound economic and psychological causes, has been rendered acute by the war and by the blockade. The greater part of the excesses to which they led would have been easily avoided if the proletariat in the factories had been able to furnish the villages manufactured articles in exchange for the grain demanded. But the proletariat was fighting on seven illimitable fronts, the factories were shut down, and the counter-revolution had seized our fuel supplies Denikin, the Don and the English, Baku.

Then there are the secondary causes, which do not always bring us face to face with those responsible for the famine

5. The exceedingly primitive agricultural implements and the ignorance of the Russian peasant.

It will be easily realized that, if in 1918, that is, immediately after the victory of the workers in the streets of Petrograd and Moscow, the European proletariat had compelled the reaction to respect and recognize the young revolution, then so enthusiastic and ready for the most herculean tasks, if a small part of the energy devoted to the carrying on of the war had been expended in the improvement of agricultural implements, in the creation of irrigation canals, in the education of the peasantry the drought would not have been able to destroy in a few weeks the crops of a region larger than France ...

If, under the present state of affairs, the drought has been able to devastate the most fertile regions of Russia, it is only because the scourge raged over a soil where war had destroyed the tools an the fruit of human labor, over a people, decimated, exhausted and discouraged by infinite affliction, over a land where seed, wagons, horses, and above all knowledge are lacking because a determined attempt had been made to destroy everything.

If the beautiful plains of the Volga, burnt by the sun, seem to have become a desert, it is due to the fact that for four years the entire capitalist world has not ceased to desire the death of the revolution, of this revolutionary people.

That must not be forgotten! The day after the end of the butchery perpetrated from 1914 to 1918, the rulers of the old world, the rich, committed this second crime against humanity the blockade, the attempt to assassinate the Russian people. When the bourgeois philanthropists are stirred by the thought of the death of thousands of babies in the government of Saratov, when the scribblers who, in 1919, estimated the advantages of the blockade as an inexpensive, and, compared with military intervention, very sure method, speak of help for Russia, when Noulens is appointed to aid our starving peasants, let us not forget, comrades, to denounce the crime and to brand-mark the criminals. There still are battles to be fought; the help for Russia will inaugurate no armistice between the reaction which has starved us, and now pretends to come to our assistance in order to better accomplish its work of death, and the starved Revolution. The Russian famine is only a tragic episode of the international class-war. The American captains of industry who are sending to Petrograd and Moscow the humanitarian personnel of M. Hoover, followed by cargoes of rice and condensed milk – the same personnel whose relief for Hungary paved the way for the Horthy regime – do not doubt it. If they give at all, it is because the pressure of the masses and the troubled conscience of the mob compel them to do so; is is because they cannot do otherwise – and because they are waiting for a favorable turn of events to give the revolution a finishing blow. To watch over them, to combat them, to denounce them – for the revolutionary, that means, more than ever, helping Russia.

Last updated on 10 January 2019