The Food Crisis in Petrograd on the Eve of the February Revolution

Sergey Nefedov


According to official documents from the tsarist government and the works of many historians, the beginning of the February Revolution was a food riot caused by “food panic”. It is believed that the panic was triggered by rumours about the establishment of a rationing system and whether there was enough bread in Petrograd. This article studies bread availability in Petrograd and the dynamics of its sale to the public. It is demonstrated that the food crisis in Russia began in October 1916, when, in conditions of galloping inflation, the government imposed fixed prices on grain, leading manufacturers (both landowners and peas- ants) to refuse to sell grain for devaluing paper money. Due to short supply, bread stocks in Petrograd were running low; at the end of January 1917, the Minister of Agriculture Rittich ordered that the flour norm handed out to bakeries be limited to 35,000 poods, which meant the daily norm per capita was 1 pound (409 g) of baked bread. In the absence of a rationing system, food was given out very unevenly, and there was not enough bread for a large proportion of those standing in line. This forced them to start queuing as early as possible (during the night or even as soon as evening came) to be able to get their bread in the morning at the opening of the bakeries. The shortage of bread resulted in food panic. The first period of the food panic in the beginning of February coincided with when the opposition circles were preparing a mass demonstration for the opening day of the State Duma on 14 February. Alarmed by the preparations, on 10 February the municipal government ordered residents to be given five days’ worth of flour in advance. This stopped the panic, but led to a sharp decline in the city’s grain stocks. Consequently, on 18 February the government reduced the flour distribution to bakeries again, which caused another wave of panic. On 23 February, women standing in bread queues began revolting: on 24 February, a general strike broke out, and the February Revolution began. It was caused by the incompetence of the government and its inadequate measures in a crisis situation. Despite all the efforts later made by the Provisional Government, the supply of Petrograd was never restored, so the bread shortage led to new political crises during 1917.


Petrograd; 1917; February Revolution; food crisis; hunger; supply difficulties


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