Famine of 1946-1947

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Subject essay: Lewis Siegelbaum

Of the three major famines that occurred in the Soviet Union (1921-1922, 1932-1933, 1946-1947) we know the least about the last. This is partly due to the greater effectiveness of the Soviet government in controlling information after the Second World War, and partly a consequence of historians’ preoccupations with earlier periods of Soviet history. It is clear, however, that as in the other two cases (and as indeed seems endemic to famines worldwide) a combination of factors was responsible for mass starvation in the Soviet countryside in 1946-47.

Among these, of course, was the Great Patriotic War. The war deprived Soviet agriculture of a great deal of its productive resources. By 1945 kolkhozes had only 42 percent of the number of horses and 38 percent of the number of working-age men that they had had before the war. Sown area dropped from 117.7 million hectares in 1940 to 84.0 million in 1946. The end of the war brought men back to the countryside, but in smaller numbers than had departed. This was not only because of casualties, but because many peasant soldiers chose not to return to, or stay on, the farms.

Secondly, 1946 was a year of severe drought especially in Moldavia, most of Ukraine, and parts of the central black-earth and lower Volga regions. The grain harvest was only 39.6 million tons as compared to 47.3 million in 1945 and 95.5 million in 1940, the last full year before the war. Finally, state policies contributed significantly. Procurement quotas in 1946 remained high and grain deliveries were only slightly lower than in the previous year (17.5 million tons as against 20 million). A decree of September 19, 1946 “On Measures to Liquidate Breaches of the [Kolkhoz] Statute” required the return of all kolkhoz lands that had been used for private (that is, family) purposes. To make matters worse — for the kolkhoz peasantry — the phasing out of rationing and the devaluation of the ruble on December 14, 1947 virtually wiped out savings accumulated during the war.

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