Demographics, Inequality and Entitlements in the Russian Famine of 1891

TitleDemographics, Inequality and Entitlements in the Russian Famine of 1891
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsJohnson, EM
JournalSlavonic & East European Review
Volume93
Pagination96-119
ISBN Number0037-6795
KeywordsHUMANITIES, MULTIDISCIPLINARY
Abstract

Twentieth-century scholars have interpreted the Russian famine of 1891 as a Malthusian crisis. As the rural population expanded a 'demographic revolution' took place that overran land resources and outstripped food production. A crop failure then resulted in famine and the loss of an estimated 500,000 lives. However, a meta-analysis suggests that the crisis was not a failure of food availability, but a failure of food entitlements. Government records show that the amount of grain available nationwide had increased despite the crop failure, but rising costs put it out of reach for those most in need. Prior to the crisis, rapid industrialization had disrupted the traditional agricultural existence for many rural provinces and labour migration was crucial for supplementing rural income. The average migration rate between 1881-90 for the twelve Russian provinces most affected by the famine was inversely correlated with the increased death rate following the crop failure. By understanding the demographic causes for the entitlement failure that precipitated the 1891 famine, we can better understand the conditions that led to the downfall of tsarism in Russia.; Twentieth-century scholars have interpreted the Russian famine of 1891 as a Malthusian crisis. As the rural population expanded a ‘demographic revolution’ took place that overran land resources and outstripped food production. A crop failure then resulted in famine and the loss of an estimated 500,000 lives. However, a meta-analysis suggests that the crisis was not a failure of food availability, but a failure of food entitlements. Government records show that the amount of grain available nationwide had increased despite the crop failure, but rising costs put it out of reach for those most in need. Prior to the crisis, rapid industrialization had disrupted the traditional agricultural existence for many rural provinces and labour migration was crucial for supplementing rural income. The average migration rate between 1881–90 for the twelve Russian provinces most affected by the famine was inversely correlated with the increased death rate following the crop failure. By understanding the demographic causes for the entitlement failure that precipitated the 1891 famine, we can better understand the conditions that led to the downfall of tsarism in Russia.