Friday, November 27, 2015

Hunger and Politics

From New Statesman:
 Chronic malnutrition and famine cannot be understood, let alone prevented, if they are detached from the realities of power. Consider the role of war. As Rieff writes, “While there have been famines in times of peace, there have been few major wars without famine.” Somewhere between 50 and 72 million people died on account of the Second World War. Roughly 20 million deaths were caused by hunger, about half of them in the Soviet Union. The famine in Greece in 1941-42, when some 300,000 people perished out of a population of less than 7.5 million, was mainly a result of plunder by German occupying forces and a British naval blockade. Exacerbated by a harsh winter, the last European famine of the Second World War occurred in those regions of the Netherlands still under German occupation in 1944-45.

Going further back, the Great Irish Famine of 1845-50 and the Great Bengal Famine of 1943-44 were both artifacts of imperial rule. The Soviet famine under Lenin in 1920-22 occurred during a civil war, but the famine in Ukraine in 1932-33 was a direct result of Stalin’s policies of collectivisation. The Chinese famine of 1958-62, which Rieff describes as “probably the most lethal single event in history”, was caused largely by Mao’s disastrous rush to industrialisation. Summing up, Rieff writes: “To the extent that one can view the last part of the 19th century as the age of imperialist famines, it is equally appropriate to view much of the 20th century as the age of socialist ones.” (Read more.)

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