98for98 The century in photographs: today 1921

The Independent's 98 for 98 series of photographs, chosen to represent each year, continues with this unbearable image of a starving Russian child - a stark contrast to the strength and vigour of Lenin's own iconographic profile. The famine revealed the gap between the idealism of the revolution and post-war economic reality; by March the great revolutionary leader was admitting he had made mistakes.

The immediate cause of the famine was drought, but it worsened as the economy buckled under the pressures of civil war and revolution. In August Bolshevik leaders appealed to the rest of the world to help the 18 million who were starving, or suffering from typhus and cholera. Cannibalism had been reported; in the worst hit areas, such as the Volga basin, peasants were said to be mixing clay with grain and eating twigs.

The previous year Trotsky had been ridiculed for warning Lenin that the economy was collapsing. Now he was proved right as Lenin ended state planning, requisitioned crops and allowed peasants to sell their produce on the open market.

Other countries were also contending with damaged economies: Germany's threat of "economic and political pauperisation," was unlikely to gain sympathy for its attempt to lower the reparations bill; in India, Mr Gandhi's call for a complete boycott of foreign cloth was more likely to cause economic change in other countries.

The economic causes of the Russian famine were experienced by other countries also suffering post-war transition. The political ethos was moving away from the emphasis on socialism and people's rights.

The emergence of Fascism became clear by December, when Mussolini became Il Duce, the leader of the Italian National Fascist Party. In contrast to Russia's revolution, Mussolini's first mission was to send his squad to quell the Italian Bolsheviks, break strikes and terrorise socialist workers' clubs.

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