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Fourth International, June 1946


Review of the Month

The World Famine


From Fourth International, June 1946, Vol.7 No.6, pp.165-167.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The Universal Food Scarcity

The imperialist press no longer denies that there is a catastrophic universal scarcity of food. Official proclamations acknowledge that 500 million human beings are affected and President Truman declared in February that “more people face starvation and even actual death for want of food today than in any war year and perhaps more than in all the war years combined.” But the truth is that double and even treble that number are involved and that many more may die than ever died before.

May issue of Fortune magazine, whose circulation is highly restricted, contains an illuminating article entitled, The Food Scandal. According to this article “critical” conditions – that is, widespread famine – prevail in China, India, Malaya, Korea, Burma, Java, Philippines and Japan; and on the European continent in Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Poland and Portugal. Listed among countries that verge on “critical” are: the USSR, France, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Rumania, Finland, Hungary, Greece, Indo-China and Siam. These countries embrace the overwhelming majority of the world’s population. The bulk of mankind is thus already living in conditions of a world famine.

Pronouncements by Herbert Hoover and President Truman about the duration of the famine are false. They depict the situation as if it will endure only for a period of approximately 100 days, or until the new harvests come in. The above-cited Fortune article sums up as follows the report of the Combined Food Board at the recent UNRRA convention in Atlantic City:

Starvation and hunger are inevitable for large groups of populations of Europe and Asia. The world bread-grains crisis will not end in 1945-46. The 1946-47 outlook gives cause for continuing profound alarm, especially since stocks will have been reduced to the minimum.

The consensus of authoritative capitalist opinion is that even under favorable conditions the situation may not be ameliorated before 1948. Given the best possible weather conditions, the recovery of agriculture in Europe and Asia would nevertheless be seriously retarded by the devastation of war, by poor seed, lack of fuel, feed and fertilizer, by shortages in manpower, agricultural equipment, draft animals, etc. etc.

The London Economist, foremost capitalist economic publication in the world, warns in its April 6 issue of the danger that “the next year may be even worse than this year:’ and goes on to add:

Only a coincidence of fortune as good next year as this year’s has been bad can secure an improvement. Any more bad luck will ensure a measureless calamity.

The Situation in Meats and Fats

The meaning of these words is plain enough. Let us analyze more closely the basic factors of this “measureless calamity.” The production of meats, fats and oils is obviously difficult to restore and requires several years. The imperialist rulers of the world do not even bother to pretend otherwise. The official British White Paper on the world famine, euphemistically entitled, The World Food Shortage admits that “world supplies of meat may be expected to continue short of world requirements for some time.”

So far as fats are concerned, the same authority declares:

Compared with before the war, the supply of vegetable oils is below normal from the Far East, from India and from tropical Africa. European production of animal fats has fallen off. Whaling was interrupted during the war, and this year’s production has been interrupted by severe weather. World exports of fats in 1946 will be little more than half of prewar ...

The sole hope therefore lies in supplies of cereals. Yet it is precisely here that the shortages are most acute.

The production of wheat in Europe (excluding the USSR) has dropped to approximately half of pre-war levels. The Food White Paper estimates that 1945 crop failures in India amounted to 25 percent: in South Africa, 40 percent and in French North Africa, 70 percent. The latter area, normally an exporter of wheat, has been and remains a famine area. India alone requires immediately 4 million tons of wheat in order to maintain rations of 960 calories. This is the estimate of the Indian Food Delegation which came to the United States to buy wheat and which had to return home virtually empty-handed.

The world’s chief exporters of grain are the United States, Canada, Argentina and Australia. But Argentina’s last harvest was only 60 percent normal, while Australia suffered a decline of almost 20 percent. At the same time, Canada’s bumper crop failed to materialize. Only the United States, which has harvested six consecutive bumper crops, has been able to maintain its agriculture at high production. The world wheat stocks in these main exporting countries have meanwhile declined by more than half – from the peak of 45.5 million tons in 1943 to 22.4 million in the current year.

The Stocks of U.S. and Canada

The bulk of these stocks is in the United States and Canada, the only countries today which can still assure their populations a diet above subsistence levels. A poor crop in the United States in 1946-47 would not only aggravate shortages at home but extend the duration of the world famine well beyond the year 1948.

With respect to rice, the situation is even worse. Japan, normally an importer of rice, has suffered a decline of one-third in her harvests. India is two million tons short of her pre-war rice output; China, more than six millions.

The chief rice exporting countries are Burma, Siam, French Indo-China, Korea and Formosa. If these countries were able to maintain their rice exports at pre-war levels, the total would not cover even the current crop shortages. But they are not in a position to export. The British Food White Paper asserts:

In the three leading rice exporters, Burma, Siam, and Indo-China, which normally exported six million tons annually, this year’s crop will barely suffice for domestic needs.

It then goes on to estimate that “total export supplies (of rice) in 1946 amount to 2.4 million tons,” and adds: “Recovery will be slow.” This means that countless millions in the Orient are doomed unless they obtain wheat. But they will get only an infinitesimal fraction of what is needed.

London and Washington fix the total amount of wheat necessary to tide over this year at “about 32 million tons.” This arbitrary figure falls far short of the actual requirements. From all the available data, it would cover merely the needs of Europe. For Europe’s 1945 harvest (excluding the USSR) was 28 million tons below the pre-war average of 59 millions. To this shortage of 28 million tons must be added the 4 million tons of imports without which Europe was unable to get along with prewar harvests. This shortage of 32 million tons is, if anything, an underestimate for Europe in view of the lack of meats and fats. As a matter of fact, food experts last year fixed Europe’s 1946 needs at 50 million tons (Time magazine, April 2, 1945). The British Food White Paper estimates Europe’s current needs at 15.6 million tons, or less than half the normal pre-war levels.

The Remaining “Deficit” Areas

This leaves only 16.4 million tons for the remaining “deficit” areas – the Far East, India, South Africa and North Africa. The actual amount required is unquestionably at least double this figure, since not less than 16 million tons are needed simply to make up for the wheat and rice crop shortages in Japan, China and India. North Africa was unable last year to avert famine conditions with imports of 2 million tons. It needs at least this amount again. This still leaves other areas unaccounted for, namely: South Africa, Philippines, Malaya, Java, etc. etc. The official over-all estimate of 32 million is therefore arbitrary and obviously computed on a basis far below minimum nutritional levels. There is more than ample evidence to prove this. Suffice it to cite Times correspondent Cabell Phillips who wrote from Washington that “the hungry nations require approximately 20,000,000 tons of wheat between now and the end of July simply to hold the line against starvation. The maximum available from all visible supplies is between 11,000,000 and 12,000,000 tons.” (New York Times, April 28. Our emphasis.)

In other words, the official estimate of 32 million tons is utterly fictitious. But even this amount is not forthcoming. A “deficit” of 8 to 9 million tons is acknowledged by the British White Paper which envisages the maximum possible export in 1946 of 23.7 million tons of wheat. This deficit signifies the margin between life and death for more than one billion human beings. The truth is that the perspective of “holding the line against starvation,” that is, of maintaining hunger rations, the best that can be hoped for by the peoples of the Far East, India, South Africa, North Africa and Europe is growing dimmer and dimmer.

A Summary Of The Facts

Here is a succinct summary of the situation as given by the May Fortune magazine:

When the wheat needs of deficit countries for the first half of 1946 were estimated at 17 million tons last year, the United States promised to ship six million tons, at the rate of a million tons per month. Other surplus producing nations, principally Canada, Argentina and Australia, were supposed to match this amount, leaving an anticipated shortage of five million tons that the world’s hungry people would just have to do without. But by mid-March the estimated needs had risen to 21 million tons, the anticipated shortage to nine or ten million; and the United States was behind in its shipments by at least 250,000 tons for the year’s first quarter.

“Shortages” keep piling up on “shortages.” The actual wheat shipmentsfrom the United States are just as far below the promises as the official estimates are below the real needs. According to official Department of Agriculture figures (New York Times, May 8), total US wheat shipments for the current year have been:

(in millions of tons)


















May (first week)






Thus, by the first week in May, US shipments were 694 thousand tons behind. Literally with every passing day, the margin between life and death is growing thinner and thinner for the world’s hungry people. It is noteworthy that the abrupt decline in US wheat shipments took place almost simultaneously with the public proclamation by President Truman of the world food emergency and the adoption of measures that would allegedly increase wheat exports (increase in extraction rate of flour, cuts in weight of bread loafs and other “economy” measures). But the editors of Fortune calculate that fully one-half of available US wheat is being hoarded in expectation of higher prices.

An Unprecedented World Catastrophe

A famine of such cataclysmic proportions has never before afflicted society. For a parallel one would have to go back in the annals of history to a “universal famine” recorded in 879 AD. In more modern times famines have ravaged Czarist Russia and Asia, primarily China and India. It has remained for “democratic” imperialism – whose spokesmen had promised “Freedom From Want” – to bring about a worldwide famine in the “civilized” Twentieth Century that overshadows all the natural disasters of the past put together. Throughout the planet millions are perishing and must continue to perish from hunger. The only thing that remains in question is the final number of victims and the extent to which it may be possible to keep down the colossal toll of hungry death.

*   *   *   *

This is a man-made famine. The responsibility for it lies squarely upon the shoulders of the imperialists who unleashed the Second World War. The same people who cynically promised “Freedom from Want” anticipated the famine, and from the first made use of it for their own predatory purposes.

In May 1945 the editors of Fortune wrote:

The Allied war chiefs knew that the liberation of Europe was bound to produce the most violent dislocation of history ... That the Allies would have to arrive with civilian supplies, with food and raw materials, was generally understood.

The Allied war chiefs made skillful use of this “knowledge.” Thus in August 1940 Winston Churchill pledged that “we can and will arrange in advance for the speedy entry of food into any part of the enslaved area.” He told the peoples of Europe, including those of Germany and Austria, to rest secure in “the certainty that the shattering of the Nazi power will bring to them all immediate food, freedom and peace.”

The American imperialists harped on the same theme, After the invasion of North Africa, Victory, OWI’S propaganda magazine, drew the following picture of what happens upon the arrival of the Allies:

Food distribution centers, community restaurants, and clothing centers were set up…. Thousands of tons of sugar, powdered and condensed milk, wheat and concentrated vitamin preparations arrived for distribution to civilians ...

When the reality of Allied occupation of Italy (and later in the rest of Europe) – with food rations below those under the Nazi regime came into glaring contradiction with these glowing pictures, the OWI abruptly ceased making any more promises. In place of food the “liberated” peoples received Allied bayonets.

The Facts Were Suppressed

In August 1945 the International Wheat Council, which met in London, warned of an overall wheat shortage. Its figures were suppressed. Washington continued the policy of restricting wheat acreage. Historians of the future will record that amid the greatest world famine in history farmers were subsidized not to produce wheat above their quotas.

According to the English Food White Paper “the full gravity of the position became apparent in mid-December 1945.” Again the news was suppressed. Instead Herbert Hoover was sent abroad as Food Commissioner. His task is not to feed the masses of starving people but to repeat his performance after the First World War when he doled out soup-kitchen relief to crush the revolutions in Europe.

Following the armistice of World War I, Woodrow Wilson obtained $100 million from Congress for European relief. As head of the American Relief Administration, which functioned until June 1922, Hoover used the funds in large measure to supply the White Guard armies in the Russian Civil War of 1919-21. He failed in the attempt to overthrow the workers’ state established by Lenin and Trotsky, but he did succeed in destroying the Soviet Republic in Hungary and entrenching there the dictatorship of Horthy. In Poland he backed Pilsudski. He aided the Finnish counter-revolution and was instrumental in stabilizing the bloody rule of Mannerheim.

The Situation In World War II

The American imperialists accomplished their work in Europe at a relatively cheap price at the time. Europe’s condition was not as catastrophic after the First World War as it is today. The export of 5 million tons of foodstuffs in a period of 8 months following the 1918 armistice helped to eventually stabilize capitalism in 23 countries. Much greater amounts of food are now required. All the more ruthlessly will the American imperialists starve those peoples to death who refuse to submit to the continued rule of capitalism. At this stage, Hoover’s survey is primarily intended to select those areas in which food may be wielded most effectively as a club against the resurgence of revolutionary movements. Simultaneously he has another job to perform: to organize Western Europe as a base against the Soviet Union.

The American people are today again being inundated with propaganda, this time to help feed the starving masses of the world. The American imperialist masters have cleverly integrated this campaign with their over-all strategy of subjugating the world and propping up the rule of decayed, reactionary capitalist cliques. They aim to kill many birds with the one stone of this propaganda: To throw off their own shoulders the guilt for the world famine; to pose as noble humanitarians eager to alleviate the terrible plight of mankind; and, with a typically cynical trick, to make the overworked, underpaid, exploited American masses themselves responsible for the sufferings of the peoples of the world. If women and children are starving, that is not because a crew of imperialist madmen and incendiaries, Hitler and Roosevelt, the Mikado and Franco, Churchill and Mussolini, aided and abetted by Stalin, set fire to the world and burned the substance of its wealth. Oh no! That is because the American workers and farmers are eating too much!

This hypocritical campaign is raging while the government is permitting the food billionaires to hoard food in order to force through higher prices and while farmers are being subsidized to restrict output.

It is time that the American labor movement demand an end to this imperialist farce. It is time that the American labor movement take into its own hands the problem of feeding the starving millions of the world. Labor can accomplish this only if it launches a genuine struggle to have the whole problem of famine relief taken out of the hands of the imperialists and their agents and placed under the control of a popular organization representing the trade unions, the housewives, the small farmers. Only such a body will take the necessary steps to insure the production of maximum food and its proper allocation for relief purposes. Only the labor movement working through the trade unions, co-operatives and other mass organizations of the various countries, can insure fair and equitable distribution of food to the starving peoples of the world.

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Last updated on 9.2.2009