Russia is a mainly agricultural country that in normal times is a major food exporter. Its urban population therefore find it extremely irksome that their food supply has become highly erratic. The army is taking much of the food that would previously have gone to urban workers. Another problem is the ramshackle transport infrastructure of the empire; with so much of the railway’s capacity given over to military traffic it is often difficult to bring food to the cities in a timely manner. A result of these food supply problems is rampant inflation, which is making it harder for the urban poor to keep themselves fed even when there is food available.
The shortage of bread is making people angry. They are blaming speculators and profiteers for their woes, but also the government. Rumours have circulated for some time now that there is a pro-German clique at the heart of the Tsarist regime, whose treachery is undermining the war effort and making things ever harder for the plain folk of the empire. The murder before Christmas of Rasputin has not halted this wild speculation.
Now the authorities in Petrograd step in an attempt to bring the situation under some control. They announce that bread rationing will commence on the 14th of March (the first day of March in Russia’s calendar). This is meant to reassure people that there will be a fair distribution of bread for everyone, but the effects are not what was intended. Rumours sweep the city that rationing will mean that soon there will be no bread whatsoever available. The result is panic buying. Bakeries are emptied and fights break out as irate shoppers argue with each other and the bread merchants.
A queue for bread, guarded by Tsarist police (Blood Stained Russia – pictures from a 1918 book by Captain Donald C. Thompson)