Author Topic: Famine of 1891 1892  (Read 18210 times)

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Offline HerrKaiser

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #15 on: April 02, 2008, 11:11:45 AM »
The estimated number of deaths caused in 1892 as the result of the famine ranges between 375,000 and 650,000 people. This number only includes about half of the deaths caused by cholera and typhus in the famine regions as the other half can't be conclusively tied to the famine.  (Ref: Richard G. Robbins “Famine in Russia, 1891-1892” pp 171-172). Meaning that the overall death rate in Russia rose by 25% to 30% in the year 1892 (same source).

I do not know the estimated number of deaths that occurred in 1891 as a result of the famine. Those numbers were not included in the book.

I should add that while several hundred thousand people died during the famine over eleven million people were affected by the famine in some way – either by disease, starvation, being forced to flee their land in search of better conditions. (Ref: Leslie A. Clarkson “Feast and Famine” pp 132)

thanks for the numbers. It tends to be a bit mute when dealing with tragedies, but as a numbers guy, it seems this famine was less severe than even the ones today on parts of the world. If Russia had a 30% death rate normally, and 11 million were affected by this famine, and 'only' an average of 500,000 died from it, that's a rate of on 4.5%, much less than normal attrition or other devastating famines or disease.
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Offline pandora

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #16 on: April 02, 2008, 05:05:15 PM »
While the numbers may not seem that problematic, it's the principle of the matter. If you research famine and England, famine and America, famine and Germany, for those same years, there aren't any "hits" on the computer. Russia was a powerful country not a third world country.

Offline HerrKaiser

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #17 on: April 02, 2008, 06:38:12 PM »
Russia was a powerful country not a third world country.

Oh? Russia clearly had a reasonably strong military presence, but its society was so largely peasants that it is hard not to define it in those days as "third world". Even the latter 20th century super power status was based on miliatary might rather than its average standard of living for its citizens.  :(
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Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #18 on: April 02, 2008, 09:20:31 PM »
thanks for the numbers. It tends to be a bit mute when dealing with tragedies, but as a numbers guy, it seems this famine was less severe than even the ones today on parts of the world. If Russia had a 30% death rate normally, and 11 million were affected by this famine, and 'only' an average of 500,000 died from it, that's a rate of on 4.5%, much less than normal attrition or other devastating famines or disease.

You are welcome for the numbers, but I need to clarify one point. Perhaps you did research on your own and that is what you are referring to when you mention an average "30% death rate normally," however, if you are referring to the numbers in my previous post, then you have made a mistake. I did not mean that Russia had an average death rate of 30%. I meant that in the year 1892 the average death rate rose by 25-30%. In other words, about 30% more people died in Russia in 1892 than died on average the year before. I do not know what Russia's overall average annual death rate was prior to 1892.

I’m not quite sure how to respond to the rest of your post, Kaiser. I don’t want to offend you. I do see your point and I agree with one part of what I think you are saying, but I disagree absolutely with the other.

I’m well aware that there have been far worse tragedies throughout history and at present. That said I have never seen the point of comparing one tragedy with another. How does one calculate and compare pain? Death can be calculated, suffering, emotions, and in this case the economic ruin (at least for a certain period of time) of millions of peasants cannot. I imagine that for the surviving 10,500,000 people affected by the famine, people who already had virtually nothing, who had to live mainly off tree bark and ferns for more than a year, who probably saw at least one relative die, who may have had their family separated, and in some cases were even forced to engage in degrading behavior like beggary and prostitution just to survive, the famine must have been devastating enough despite their physical survival.

Personally, regardless of the sad occurrence of far more catastrophic famines and disasters, I can’t imagine any government would consider losing 500,000 people in one year a triumph. Governments have been toppled for far less.

You are the numbers guy by your own admission. I’m not being sarcastic, either, I mean this sincerely. How many relatives on average do you think that each and every one of those dead Russians had? There had to have been at least a few million people (probably several million actually since most Russians at that time had very large families, but I'll aim low) who lost at least one relative in the famine. Let’s say each of the dead Russians had only five relatives (and I think that is an extremely low estimate). That’s leaves 2,500,000 relatives who were affected by famine deaths. Raise that number to eight relatives and you are left with 4,000,000 people affected. Would losing only the one relative have been a consolation to them? I doubt it.

Now let us consider how each loss would affect the families involved. The loss of a sibling for example would be difficult and painful, of course, but the family could probably survive that economically. Unless that sibling were, say, an elder son who was the only bread winner. It would be the same thing regarding the loss of a father or husband. If they lost a father, husband, or any other primary bread winner, that loss could easily have left the peasant family completely destitute. Not the same thing as being dead, but misery enough. If the mother was lost then who would care for the children? An older sister, perhaps, maybe a grandmother or an aunt, assuming there was one on hand, and in some cases there probably wasn't. Even so, that would be a tremendous loss as anyone who has lost their mother in childhood (or even adulthood) can attest. Then there is the fact that most peasant women actively worked on the farms, etc., so a wife or mother’s loss might easily have harmed a peasant household economically, too.

My point is that raw numbers alone don't tell the whole story. There weren't "only" 500,000 victims in this famine.

You are right that Russia was in some ways similar to a modern third world country during the 19th and early 20th century. I think it would be pointless and unfair to compare Russia to either 19th century England or America since their systems of government were too different. At the same time it is equally pointless and unfair to compare Russia to modern sub-Saharan Africa or India (the modern third world), because despite certain similarities, there are also glaring differences. Russia was a unique case.

That leaves the question of who created these nearly third world conditions. Who was to blame? IMO the Tsars cannot, and should not, be blamed entirely. There were other factors involved. Yet as the primary - often the sole - authority they do share much of the blame for not helping to alleviate the problems in Russia. It is true that they did, eventually, attempt to institute some reforms and industrialize the country, but it was a haphazard effort at best in most respects. The attempt to educate the peasants during the Tsarist period (arguably one of the best ways to raise anyone out of poverty) was even more hodgepodge and pathetic. Alexander III and his son’s intractable natures and narrow-minded view of politics (and often life in general) made them incapable of instituting substantive, and IMO necessary reforms, as more innovative and ambitious rulers might have done. It also left them oblivious to many of the warning signs regarding future unrest. Their knee-jerk reaction to any unrest was simply to crack down on the supposed trouble makers. It never occurred to either one of them to investigate why there was so much dissatisfaction and to try and change the dynamic within Russia. Their pride would not let them even consider compromise. Whether or not reforms would have been successful is debatable. I know it wouldn't have been an easy task by any means. In my opinion, however, it speaks volumes about both men as rulers that they never even tried.

The greatest tragedy of that period was not the famine itself. The famine – or rather the way the government handled the famine – just serves as one example of how the Tsarist government operated. A bizarre combination of denial, despotism, ineptitude, reactionary policies, oblivion, and awkwardly expressed (and often belated) compassion. It also serves as an example of what caused the rage that so many peasants acted upon, by harming their former landowners, etc., after the Revolution. The real tragedy IMO is that Russia as a whole was forced to suffer one form of dictatorship only to have it replaced by an even more foul system.
« Last Edit: April 02, 2008, 09:22:56 PM by Nadya_Arapov »

Offline pandora

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #19 on: April 03, 2008, 05:01:54 PM »
Russia was a powerful country not a third world country.

Oh? Russia clearly had a reasonably strong military presence, but its society was so largely peasants that it is hard not to define it in those days as "third world". Even the latter 20th century super power status was based on miliatary might rather than its average standard of living for its citizens.  :(

Whatever...but as Nadya has pointed out very nicely I might add, death and especially death in a country where it could have been prevented by its ruler is more sad than arguing over what defines a 3rd world country.

Offline HerrKaiser

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #20 on: April 04, 2008, 09:09:02 AM »
who is arguing? what do you mean by "whatever"?

Third world status DOES impact how a nation's people's would be cared for and adequately (or not) fed, etc. My point was that it is somewhat misleading to draw comparisons between highly developed, economically sound nations with no "peasant" class to third world status nations in terms of expectations of misery as well as access to solutions.
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Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #21 on: April 04, 2008, 08:50:13 PM »
Third world status DOES impact how a nation's people's would be cared for and adequately (or not) fed, etc. My point was that it is somewhat misleading to draw comparisons between highly developed, economically sound nations with no "peasant" class to third world status nations in terms of expectations of misery as well as access to solutions.

No one has suggested that Russia ca 1892 was anything like England, France, America, or any other industrialized Victorian nation. However, by the same token, Russia's situation was not comparable to modern third world nations like Haiti, Chad, or Sudan, either! Alexander III, unlike the leaders of most modern third world nations, had access to an enormous treasury. As for their lack of modernity and inability to find solutions, whose fault was it precisely that his nation was so backward? If the government was it self largely to blame for the nation’s lack of modernity, and then the country suffered because of that lack, whose fault was that? I would assume it would be the fault of the government in question. Also, what do you mean by “expectations of misery?”  Is there a certain level of misery that is acceptable because one’s government is either corrupt or incompetent?


Offline Terence

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #22 on: April 04, 2008, 09:44:48 PM »
Third world status DOES impact how a nation's people's would be cared for and adequately (or not) fed, etc. My point was that it is somewhat misleading to draw comparisons between highly developed, economically sound nations with no "peasant" class to third world status nations in terms of expectations of misery as well as access to solutions.

No one has suggested that Russia ca 1892 was anything like England, France, America, or any other industrialized Victorian nation. However, by the same token, Russia's situation was not comparable to modern third world nations like Haiti, Chad, or Sudan, either! Alexander III, unlike the leaders of most modern third world nations, had access to an enormous treasury. As for their lack of modernity and inability to find solutions, whose fault was it precisely that his nation was so backward? If the government was it self largely to blame for the nation’s lack of modernity, and then the country suffered because of that lack, whose fault was that? I would assume it would be the fault of the government in question. Also, what do you mean by “expectations of misery?”  Is there a certain level of misery that is acceptable because one’s government is either corrupt or incompetent?



I've followed this discussion w/ interest.  Some very valid points made here, but we are just 21st century observers, it's really impossible for us to place it all in context...what these principals felt or thought.  But..at least some here today give these issues thought and examination.

The one thing that comes to my mind after reading here is when thinking of Tsarist reaction to famine in 1891-92, and the method of govt. at the time, that this all would have been much different if Alexander II hadn't been assassinated.  His freeing of the serfs and subsequent murder surely influenced his son who went in the other direction, away from anything approaching sympathy with the underclasses and liberalizing influences.

Hoping this made some sense,
T

Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #23 on: April 04, 2008, 10:12:42 PM »
Alexander II’s death was tragic for many reasons. Obviously, because the method of death was so horrific, but also because of the political ramifications caused by it. Alexander III was always far more reactionary than his father. Alexander II’s death wasn’t the cause of his conservatism, but it certainly increased it. Sadly, we will never know what Alexander II might have been able to accomplish had he lived longer. Alexander II wasn't a liberal in the traditional meaning of the word, but he certainly was by Romanov standards. Another tragedy was the early death of his son Nicholas ("Nixa") who might also have been a more progressive Tsar, comparatively speaking, than his brother Alexander III was. We will just never know.

As for what Alexander III felt and thought, honestly, his feelings are of little consequence to me. I'm more concerned with his actions (or lack thereof) with regard to the famine and politics in general. His thoughts and feelings are only partially documented in his diaries and letters and are subject to conjecture. His actions on the otherhand are very well-documented.

Offline Terence

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #24 on: April 04, 2008, 10:38:47 PM »
As for what Alexander III felt and thought, honestly, his feelings are of little consequence to me. I'm more concerned with his actions (or lack thereof) with regard to the famine and politics in general. His thoughts and feelings are only partially documented in his diaries and letters and are subject to conjecture. His actions on the otherhand are very well-documented.

Thanks for your thoughts.

I don't think I was particularly addressing what Alexander III thought or felt, or than how it may have led to his actions...or inaction.

I'm curious, why do you think Nixa would have been so different?  All hypothetical I understand, but an interesting premise.

T

T

Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #25 on: April 05, 2008, 12:28:57 AM »
I’m sorry I seemed shrill before, Terence. I didn’t mean to be. I only meant that while you are right, we will never have an exact knowledge of  AIII's thoughts feelings, motivations, etc., we do know what actions Alexander III took, and I don’t feel that it is unfair to criticize him for those actions regardless of his feelings.

It's not that I have any great dislike for Alexander III as a person. I have great sympathy for Alexander III as a human being, he lead an exemplary private life, and came to the throne in the wake of a horrendous tragedy. It is simply that I have no respect for him as a political leader and no admiration for his policies. IMO his reactionary beliefs prevented from ruling effectively and often blinded both to the social and political problems facing his country and to possible solutions for these problems. He refused to even consider compromising on matters of policy and this refusal had dire consequences for the country as a whole both during his reign and in the decades to follow.

As for Nixa, based on what I’ve read he strikes me as more intelligent than Alexander III, more like his father. He possessed an intellectual curiosity that both Alexander III and Nicholas II, unfortunately, lacked. Their parents and tutors even commented on the fact that Nixa was the more talented and intelligent of the two brothers. I don’t think Nixa possessed the same reactionary tendencies that Alexander was known to have even at a young age. I’m not suggesting that Nixa would have been a bleeding-heart, or extremely liberal, I doubt that would have been the case, but I have always thought he might have been more inclined to carry on with his father’s reforms than Alexander III was. We will just never know.

A quote about Nixa from "The Romanovs," by John Van der Kiste (p.40)

"A precocious child, his intelligence developed quickly and he asked serious questions which impressed  if not disquieted his tutors. In September 1864 the Tsarevich (Nixa) celebrated his twenty-first birthday. The precocious youth had developed into a well-read adult with his father’s liberal leanings, marked artistic interests, and graceful manners…”
« Last Edit: April 05, 2008, 12:30:36 AM by Nadya_Arapov »

Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #26 on: April 05, 2008, 02:00:35 AM »
Just for comparison here is a description of the young Alexander III from “Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy from Peter till the Abdication of Nicholas II,” by Richard Wortman (2006) pg 248

"He was always described in terms that emphasized his distance from the norms of genteel behavior. Such opinions can hardly have remained unknown to him, and from childhood he regarded the polite society of the court with suspicion and fear.

Alexander's intelligence also was regarded as deficient. His mother, his teachers, and governors agreed about his poor aptitude for study. Nicholas learned amazingly fast, Sasha with difficulty, Maria Alexandrovna remarked in 1853 when Alexander Aleksandrovich was eight years old. Indeed in their religious lesson, Vladimir Aleksandrovich, two years his junior, was doing better than Sasha, "who is somewhat indolent," his mother wrote. From the start, Alexander found reading and writing extremely difficult. He never mastered grammar, punctuation, or spelling...

Alexander showed little grasp of abstract concepts. His companion, N.P. Litvinov, wrote in his diary, in 1862, "Alexander Aleksandrovich's nature, with his clearly practical aptitudes is not given to theoretical intellectualizations..." This dislike of embellishment, idealization, and abstraction commended him to those who distrusted the sophistication of educated Western society as something alien to the Russian character..."

Offline halen

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #27 on: April 05, 2008, 02:11:55 PM »
I too am following this thread with interest. At the beginning of the thread it was mentioned that Nicholas was on the committee for the relief famine. What exactly was his role and responsibilty? Are there any letters, diaries, and other primary documents that shed light on how Nicholas conducted the relief effort and more importantly, how he conducted himself in this tragedy?

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Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #28 on: April 06, 2008, 02:13:20 AM »
I posted this in another thread, but I think it may address one part of your question. Sadly, I haven't seen any letters or diaries entries of Nicholas' regarding the famine. I'm not sure that he ever made any mention of it in his diaries or correspondance. If he did, and others have read these entries, I would certainly be interested in reading them, too. Most of his diary entries seem to have concerned personal matters, not political matters as a young man.

Nicholas was president of the Special Committee on Famine Relief.

From the autobiography of the US Minister to Russia, Andrew D. White:

"At a later period I was presented to the heir to the throne, now the Emperor Nicholas II. He seemed a kindly young man; but one of his remarks amazed and disappointed me. During the previous year the famine, which had become chronic in large parts of Russia, had taken an acute form, and in its trains had come typhus and cholera...

From the United States had come large contributions of money and grain; and as, during the years after my arrival, there had been a recurrence of the famine, about forty thousand rubles more had been sent me from Philadelphia for distribution. I therefore spoke on the general subject to him, referring to the fact that he was president of the Imperial Relief Commission. He answered that since the crops of the last year there was no longer any suffering; that there was no famine worthy of mention; and that he was no longer giving any attention to the subject. This was said in an off-hand, easy-going way which appalled me.

The simple fact was that the famine, though not so widespread, was more trying than the year before..”
« Last Edit: April 06, 2008, 02:16:55 AM by Nadya_Arapov »

Offline Nadya_Arapov

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Re: Famine of 1891 1892
« Reply #29 on: April 06, 2008, 02:25:38 AM »
Also from Richard Wortman's "Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy," page 322

"Nicholas rarely expressed opinions in State Council, the Committee of Ministers, or the governmental committees he chaired. D.N. Liubimov, a member of the Committee on Famine Relief, remarked that Nicholas sat at its meetings quietly, keeping his views to himself..."