War Means No Food, No Food Means War

Russia was already in a food shortage leading up to 1917.  World war one had left a major portion of the country hungry and poor.  Russia’s grain harvest had left a large surplus in previous years, so there is no surprise that Russian officials estimated there would be plenty of grain to go around in years of war.  They were very wrong however.  By the end of the war nearly all food supplies were being redirected to the military, leaving civilians (especially peasents) to fend for themselves.  This lead to even more civil unrest and conflict in 1917 and the following years.   Similar to the unrest seen in the years leading up to the 1905 revolution

The russian government’s answer to the food shortage started with the creation of a State Committe  of Food Supply.  This committe attempted to regulate the grain that was produced and the price in which the grain was sold.  Neither goal was reached and as a result grain and other food prices continued to skyrocket.  As the people in russia grew increasingly hungry they resorted to stealing and ransacking stores.  The unrest and need for food lead to the creation of the “Bagman.”


Bagmen were individuals who worked privately and sometimes for certain organizations, to bring food to the people.  They pretty much formed a black market for food.  As the government continued to  attempt to regulate/ ration food supplys and distribution bagmen smuggled food from surplus areas to the hungry areas.  The government went through extreme measures to stop these bagmen. If a bagman was caught, in almost all cases the grain they had was confiscated.  A quote found on seventeen moments in soviet history shows the desperation these bagmen incountered on a daily basis.  “I am a bagman,” said he, “but I do not understand why we are being called bad names … I never would have come two thousand versts if the land committees had given us what we need … We are hungry … You have no idea how we suffer. Famine is no respecter of paperlaws … give us bread!”





Freeze, Gregory. Russia a History. Vol. 3rd. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.