Thursday, August 23, 2007

Building a peaceful world on empty stomachs.

D. Moor (Orlov), 1921

This is a very famous poster by Dmitry Moor (Orlov) – a classic political poster artist. His style was based on black and white ink drawings with the emphasizing color accents. His pseudonym Moor was taken from Friedrich Schiller’s melodrama “The Robbers”, and suited his temper well – he was stern and energetic, lacking humor sometimes.

“Help!” shows a Russian starving peasant and a broken wheat crop. By 1921 the Civil War between the Red Army and the White army was almost over. The war seriously destabilized the country’s economy: the population decreased by 10 mln people, industry output was 7 times smaller compared to the pre-revolution level, all consumer goods were in permanent shortage. The Communist Government tried to replenish the income by the same old measures – through extraction of food from peasants. But the War Communism years exhausted the agriculture. There were not many kulaks (prosperous peasants) left, so the farming was not effective. Besides the peasants lacked incentive – why work harder, if the yield was to be confiscated anyway. The government responded by increasing the quotas for food requisition putting forward the famous slogan “Those who don’t work – don’t eat”. The peasants were left enough food to barely survive, so when the draught of 1921 emerged, the fierce famine struck.

Lenin made the most of the situation. The famine was weakening the peasantry, which still was the major political force in the country and it also allowed to attack the Russian Orthodox Church: the churches were striped on the ground that the valuables would help the starving victims. Also the communists were receiving international aid and kept selling their own grain abroad at the same time, as they desperately needed funding to retain power. The famine took millions of lives and along with the Kronshtadt Rebellion forced Lenin to change the political course and ease the extreme tension in the society. This new policy was called NEP.